Before even leaving school, I had tacitly accepted that I would be emigrating once college was over. Back then, it was a matter of only modest consequence. A dozen Leaving Certificate classes or so had already gone that road before our one had even given it any consideration. It was the way that things were back then. Ireland held no prospects; it offered no future. The only way up was a plane ticket out. Then the narrative changed. Somewhere in the space where I was off getting shit-faced, losing my religion, and all the rest of that adolescent-to-adult carry-on, things went and got better… unimaginably better. There were suddenly jobs, a freedom from the shackles, a strange thrill of self-determination, a sense of unquestioning self-belief… We were amongst the first of the tiger cubs and we could not believe our luck.
Now there is a generation with a contrasting tale to tell. Welcome to the poison paradise, if you will, for these are the kids who knew little other than to take things for granted. Ireland had rapidly decayed into being a materialistic society and what more susceptible acolytes of the market economy than image-conscious teenagers who were entirely unencumbered by the grimness of pre-tiger Ireland? Here, the 18-strong graduation class from the Gaiety School of Acting have chosen to peer into the abyss that such misplaced trust in the future can create, with each providing some nice autobiographical detail along the way as to how they saw the world at the age of 14 and what is important to them now. (more…)
Yes, its a rich language, Lieutenant, full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception – a syntax opulent with tomorrows. It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to… inevitabilities.
For me, Hugh’s description of the Irish language has always burned right through to the sort of people that we are. Not that this should be surprising given how this is a play that delves into how language, memory, and psyche are all immersed in each other. Consider, if you will, the following:
“Property prices will rise and rise”, “there will be a soft landing”, “the cheapest bank rescue in the world”, “at least we are not Iceland”, “we do not need a bailout”, “we will get the interest rate cut”, “at least we are not Greece”, etc.
Meanwhile, our public services crumble to dust, our children leave, and scot-free bondholders get paid back in full. Yes, on the off-chance that this is what Brian Friel meant by renewing the images of the past or fossilise, then we have taken up his suggestion only too well over the 30 years that have passed since Translations‘ first appeared on stage at Derry’s Guildhall. Unfortunately, we Irish have long since been seduced by the promise of what lies around the bend. We live in perennial, awful, inescapable, infantile hope. We bathe in the luxuriant sound of it.
By way of a further example, then, there was the recent visit of the Queen of the Commonwealth Realms to Ireland – an event that conveniently sits well with those that occurred in the Ballybeg of 1833. Step back from the immediacy of it all and you are left with a diminutive old lady being rushed through empty steel-fenced streets while most complained about traffic delays, a few practised wobbly curtsies in front of the mirror, and several more muttered dark things into their beer. The images of the past were honoured, Yolland would have envied how a cúpla focal were spoken, and it all seemed fairly unremarkable. As all of this was happening, though, men in suits spoke privately together about how much in hock Ireland was to its nearest neighbours. The royal visit may have shown that “the new names” have indeed been learned. At the same time, we live in a country that is once more an impoverished “section” of some greater and uncaring dominion.
Shadowy, questionable advisors? A paternalistic elite that thinks it knows best? Horrendous and unjust sacrifices being demanded of the weak and vulnerable? Leaders lacking moral courage? No alternatives?
Yes, the Ancient Greeks have little in common with us.
Set during the preparations for the invasion of Troy, the fleets led by King Agamemnon (Michael Bates) and his brother Menelaus (Neil Hogan) have become becalmed at Aulis. When a seer warns that they have angered the goddess Artemis and that only the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia (Aoife Moore) will bring back the winds, Agamemnon wavers at the horror of what is being demanded of him. However, feeling boxed in, he nonetheless sends for his daughter under false pretences. Bizarrely, though, the king has not counted on his wife Clytemnestra (Lesa Thurman) turning up for her child’s (purported) wedding and his demented, ditchwater-weak plan is exposed in less time than it takes for Achilles to lose his temper over a broken sandal strap or some other such calamity.
If only for it was intended to be a tragedy, it could have been a black screwball comedy that the bold Euripides has penned here.
Indeed, even though it is terribly potent to see Iphigenia gain strength initially from an acceptance of her fate and then by way of a defiant proclamation of her patriotism, the bastards still appear to win here. Even the wind instantaneously picking up would seem to give credence to this appalling notion of the need for the innocent to pay heavily for the mistakes of the guilty. This is to forget, of course, that the siege of Troy would take a decade to reach its conclusion and much more senseless slaughter would be needed to bring that result about. If such things are victory, then we have long since lost. (more…)
There was a television programme on the other night asking why Irish playwrights had generally failed to challenge the orthodoxy of crass greed during the Celtic Tiger years (my way of summarising it). Even though the question was fiercer than the attempt to answer it, it was still interesting to watch the piece in the lead up to Shiva Productions’ revival of Blood Knot – Athol Fugard’s 50-year old play about two brothers living in a shack in apartheid-poxed South Africa. Unsurprisingly, in offering up lines such as dreams being evidence enough to have one arrested, whilst lampooning racial discrimination through savage play-acting, this was a work that was never going to endear Mr. Fugard to the loony-tunes in charge. Even now, its final scenes still offer up the meaty thud of pricks being kicked, so it was not surprising to learn that those involved in its initial domestic performances did fall foul of the authorities.
Set in a corrugated one-room box next to a fetid lake, brothers Zach and Morrie endure a brittle and meagre existence together. As played by Keith Ward, Morrie is decidedly Gollum-like in his toadying appeasement early-on of the exhausted bread-winning Zach (Kolade Agboke). Meanwhile, the latter – his memory the consistency of cotton wool – is reduced to caveman utterances about his need for “woh-man”. The contrasts between the two are stark, with Morrie literate, regimented, introverted, and prone to nervy babble, while Zach is less sharp-witted, more physiological in terms of his needs, and quite unvarnished in terms of how to fulfil them. He dreams of Friday nights filled with beer, birds, and bonhomie; his brother of vacant, nameless green spots on the map of Africa. (more…)
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
From Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
You can forget all about Terence Malick’s Tree of Life juggernaut, one of the four stars of this comically quirky and quietly spiritual look at life is an enormous fir tree swaying gently in the forest. Our three other protagonists in this novel drama from director Michelangelo Frammartino, then, are a bronchial old man, a kid goat, and, um, a sackful of charcoal. Confused already? Well, throwing “world-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras” into the mix may not sound like the most obvious way of alleviating that predicament. However, what Mr. Frammartino is gently paying homage to here is this Greek philosopher’s view that the human soul passes through four states – those of man, animal, vegetable, and mineral respectively. In this respect, we can be glad that Gaspar Noé read The Tibetan Book of the Dead instead or the already-interminable Enter the Void (2009) would have gone on for longer than it took to build the Pyramids
Although a drama, the film is shot with such striking realism and seemingly callous detachment that it borders on the incomprehensible that anyone could continue to film certain events without staging an intervention. However, exhibiting a tremendous talent for staging elaborate visual gags, Mr. Frammartino’s unmissable centrepiece scene is the single take of the mayhem that the old goatherd’s dog causes as an Easter procession passes through the ancient Italian hilltop village. It is simply deadpan comedy at is finest. Equally, the pensive close-ups of actor Giuseppe Fuda are reminiscent of Rembrandt’s portraits of his ageing self in terms of their mute unvarnished sadness.
Win Win ought to be an entirely forgettable film experience, given that its comedic ideas have been sitcom chum for generations on end. For example, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is rotund, balding, hiding financial pressures from his wife, and hanging out with men who still have difficulties in letting their youthful days go. In a moment of desperation, he does something stupid, the situation inevitably becomes complicated, and he ends up being forced to confront his shortcomings. I ruin nothing in revealing this. The way this film is going to work out is only short an explanatory title card at the start. Fortunately, though, unbridled creativity is not the reason one goes to see a Thomas McCarthy offering. Instead, he tends to provide us with agreeable reminders that despite being as pathetic, flawed, and lazy as we know ourselves to be, with even just a little more effort and social awareness, the good that we can then do could be exponentially greater.
Here, Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) end up taking in listless youth Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who comes replete with bad tats and an even worse dye-job. As attempts to re-unite him with his mother in Ohio prove problematic, Mike’s eagerness to see his temporary charge on the bus back home is softened, though, when Kyle turns out to be an exceptional addition to the school wrestling team that Mike coaches. However, there are enough flies in the ointment here to keep pest control busy for a month, so things are soon buzzing off course for our good-natured hero with a guilty secret or two. (more…)
O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn’d a heaven unto a hell!
After the garish costumes and goofy antics of A Comedy of Errors in the Abbey Theatre, it was a strange sort of relief to see that director Jason Byrne’s next foray into Shakespeare would be back with the Loose Canon Theatre Company in the more experiment-friendly environs of the Project Arts Centre. Strange? Well, the marketing folks were emphasising “donkey fucking” in their promotional material for this production. However, animal rights activists need not go reaching for their placards, the scene in question is decorous enough to have pleased the Irish censor’s office a half-century ago. Instead, the performance lingers on Titiania (Catriona Ni Mhurchu)’s growing sense of horror when the charm is lifted from her eyes the following morning. Equally, the confusion and then the anguish on the faces of Hermia and Helena, as the targets of their affection behave in beastly fashion towards them, is notably emphasised here. Even the happy reconciliation of the lovers at the end transpires under the blinding glare of the rising sun.
Love hurts, right?
For all that, this is a play that takes its tongue and plants it firmly in adjacent cheek. The male fairies (Barry O’Connor and Phil Kingston) wear heavy metal t-shirts, smoke copiously, and plod about the stage. Meanwhile, Louise Lewis, as Helena, is hysterical as she frantically tries to shoo away the unwelcome attention of two suddenly ardent male suitors. Unsurprisingly, then, Bottom also gets in on the act, with a slovenly-looking Ger Kelly splendidly cast as the play’s artless self-aggrandised anti-hero, replete with a bray loud enough to wake all of Greystones. (more…)
The first time that I saw Ciarán O’Brien in a leading role was as the impressionable lovelorn Warren in a production of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth. There, he imbued the character with a memorably puppy-dog vulnerability. Warren, though, at least had time on his side in terms of maturing into adulthood. Here, Gethin, a freshly-minted film studies graduate seems to have come out the other side a hard-boiled cynic and unsympathetic observer of human life. Accordingly, in Brass Eye-fashion, he has now come up with the idea of provocatively exploring the oft-hysterical reactions to the dangers that paedophiles pose. However, whereas Chris Morris ultimately distanced himself from his subject matter through stunts and satire, Gethin foolishly puts himself right in the firing line here… with some unexpected outcomes.
Where writer Stacey Gregg initially seems to put her own stamp on this work is in a challenging comparison of such frenzied worry about perverts in the community with middle-aged mothers telling fellatio jokes whilst worrying about the sexual orientation of pre-pubescent offspring, with adolescent girls shaking and jiggling away at the older objects of their affections, and with modern technology having concocted many new ways for teenagers to humiliate and torment their peers. This questioning of our love-hate fascination with all things sexual is then emphasised by Alyson Cummins’ (underused) background of angled mirrors. However, rather than tease out this premise into something new and thoughtful, the play then turns into an exploration of privacy in a world of detailed databases of personal information, whilst building towards a twist that gives the play more of a sugar-rush ending than a starchy slow-release one. (more…)
A few photographs from the 2011 edition of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound music festival. Muggins here forgot to charge the battery before leaving, so eking out what juice was left means that the photos from the first night are particularly rubbish, with some acts even omitted as a result. Anyway…
In The Navigators (2001), Ken Loach trained his camera on the privatisation of the British railways. More particularly, he wanted to depict the economic, physical, mental, and even moral implications of unfettered capitalism on a group of hitherto happy-go-lucky labourers. In a sense, with his latest offering in Route Irish, he is returning to this same theme, as he shows how the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq have become the playground of private security firms, whose actions are subject to precious little scrutiny. However, Mr. Loach achieves this by literally bringing the war back home to the streets of Liverpool and the inability of troubled former soldier Fergus (Mark Womack) to accept that his best friend Frankie (John Bishop) could have died from being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
What follows then is a not entirely successful welding together of Mr. Loach’s social justice sensibilities with the tropes of a vengeance thriller. The main problem is really with Paul Laverty’s screenplay, which lacks both the tension and ability to disguise plot twists needed to make the latter work, whilst some of the dialogue is painfully expositional. On the other hand, the cuts to footage of the bloody carnage actually being wreaked in places like Baghdad may not exactly be subtle either. However, why should anything that appalling ever be? Moreover, its insertion into a work so pointedly set in the heart of working-class Britain allows links to be drawn between how ordinary people suffer everywhere, whilst a handful of remorseless exploiters are able to profit greatly.
That said, Route Irish ultimately has the feel of a half-baked Sunday night mini-series on television. That said, the casting is excellent and Fergus does make for an agreeably angry and single-minded anti-hero here. As with The Navigators, though, it has all come at the price of his soul.
Trace any thorny historical conflict back far enough and you could well find that its origins lie in Cain slaying Abel, Romulus killing Remus, or Set murdering Osiris. Similarly, in Things to Come (1936), the people have continued to fight long past the point where they can remember who the original enemy was or why the war even started to begin with. Indeed, in this film from Jerzy Skolimowski, we are plunged headlong into such a confusing and hostile world. Ostensibly borrowing from the so-called War on Terror in terms of Taliban fighters, water-boarding, and extraordinary rendition, there is virtually no dialogue in this film, never mind any of an expositional nature. Accordingly, all that we cab surmise about Mohammed (Vincent Gallo) is that he can handle weapons, is prepared to kill, is adept at survival measures, and has an enormous will to live, despite all of the pain, terror, and exhaustion that he is suffering from.
Indeed, what Essential Killing represents is an hour-long flight through the frozen forests of an unidentified part of Northern Europe. Mohammed does what he has to do in order to stay both alive and ahead of his pursuers. Although far from devoid of confrontations and other memorably dramatic events, the monotony of the landscape, the speechless nature of the protagonist, and the general stillness of the piece do challenge one’s ability to stay interested in this work. Therefore, despite one or two comic scenes that ensure that this is not an entirely austere work, it is best to think of this offering as being a visceral existentialist drama that affords the viewer plenty of time to ask questions regarding what he or she is witnessing. Moreover, the ambiguous ending is also a surprisingly tender one, as a voiceless human being becomes the first to show genuine generosity and compassion to another. It amounts to a single ray of hope in a world where the life of any individual counts for less and less in the face of State power.
Leena (Noomi Rapace) is a thirty-something woman who learns that her mother (Outi Mäenpää) is close to death and that she wishes to see her daughter one last time. The issue here is that Leena has become so estranged from her mother that her own husband and children are not even aware that the latter is still alive. Indeed, Leena’s first reaction is to say nothing and instead disappear off to the solitude of the local swimming pool. Here, though, she sees a vision of herself as a young girl (Tehilla Blad), which is a symbolic device that then allows debutant Swedish director Pernilla August to embark upon a twin-track tale of how Leena grew up to be this emotionally-scarred woman and what effect going to see her mother will now have upon her. The result constitues such a deeply personal narrative that it comes as no surprise to learn that the screenplay was adapted by Ms. August from a semi-autobiographical work by novelist Susanna Alakoski.
However, whereas Ms. Rapace delivers an impressively intense and emotionally-wracked performance here, the character of Leena’s husband has been underdeveloped and there are several other weaknesses in the narrative surrounding her trip back home. On the other hand, when the film concentrates on Leena’s upbringing, it is at its most potent. Essentially, her parents were Finnish immigrants to Sweden. Her father (Ville Virtanen) was a violent drunk and her mother, an enabler, who was equally capable of drinking to excess. The result was that Leena was much more responsible for her younger brother (Junior Blad) than she ever ought to have been, whilst always left feeling different from her peers. Moreover, the living conditions that both children were growing up in and what they often had to witness were appalling. (more…)
In Tell No One (2006), Gilles Lellouche plays a tough criminal who comes to the aid of a doctor caught up in extraordinary events and on the run from the law. In this thriller from director Fred Cavayé, though, Mr. Lellouche plays a trainee nurse caught up in extraordinary events, on the run from the law, and who is in need of assistance from a tough crimimal (Roschdy Zem). Yet, whereas the earlier work balanced its many action scenes with a script that offered up a few decent twists and turns, Point Blank has all of the testosterone-pumping energy that you might expect from a Hollywood offering of the same name. Indeed, it even manages to make Mesrine (2008) seem like a film about schoolgirls picking daisies by a babbling brook – a comparison partly inspired by Gérard Lanvin following up his “hard man” role in the latter with the part of an enigmatic. growling cop in this one.
Essentially, it is the sort of work that likes to turn the set into matchsticks, to make busy with the sweat, blood, and injuries, and to never feel to shy about giving an already convoluted plot a final preposterous tweak or two. Indeed, to the extent that there is a plot here, Mr. Lellouche’s character saves a man’s life, but soon has cause to regret it as he becomes an unwilling agent in getting the man out of the hospital afterwards. From thereon-in, it gets progressively sillier until a scene reminiscent of the first Terminator and Matrix movies respectively pops up to provide us with a breathless but tidy conclusion. To put it all another way, this film is nothing if not derivative city.
And, yes, fear not, for that is the epilogue at the end and not the start of some entirely undesirable fourth act.
A case of the Paddy who went into the cold here, as Irishman Johnny O’Reilly helms this Russian mystery-drama set in yet another icy and remotely-based meteorological station (the other being How I Ended This Summer (2010)). Indeed, the two films initially seem to have much in common, with a nervous newbie in Romash (Pyotr Logachev) being pushed around here by a surly superior in Drozdov (Sergey Garmash). Their relationship then looks set to deteriorate even further when they receive some bad news. However, it is at this point that the two works start to diverge in terms of plot, with this one partially becoming a police procedural drama. This change occurs when the film suddenly skips forward forty-eight hours and the police, led by Andrey (Aleksey Guskov), are on-site trying to piece together what must have taken place during the intervening period.
Unquestionably well-made, this offering does suffer, though, from the use of a number of highly familiar “MacGuffin”s, not least the possibility that an abominable snowman is out there waiting to grind the bones of some Russians to make his bread. Perhaps more problematic again is the fact that the film falls down between two stools here, with it being neither especially suspenseful nor psychological in nature. Hence, as much as you can appreciate the quality of the acting, cinematography, original music score, editing, and so forth, there remains that inescapable sense here that this ultimately boils down to being the sort of drama that you have seen many times before in a variety of other guises. A pity really.
That said, Mr. O’Reilly is understood to be working on a new project that wants to challenge a few international perceptions of what life in Moscow is really like. As such, it definitely sounds intriguing already.
First-time director Philip Koch insists that the inspiration for his dark, claustrophobic, and disturbing drama set inside of a German youth detention centre is derived solely from actual events. As such, it provides the audience with an unflinching look at life within the cramped confines of an ageing building where the teenagers spend hours each day locked up in overcrowded multi-occupant cells. In such a world, it gets explained, one either becomes a victim or a culprit and strong but introverted new inmate Kevin (Constantin von Jascheroff) is not given much time to decide which path that he is going to walk down.
Touching on themes such as depression, bullying, and abandonment by society at large, this is a minimalist work that has been shot in limp, pallid colours. It depicts a Darwinian environment where negative emotions are either treated with pills or left to fester to the point where they become truly destructive. In intimate scenes, there are tears and fears, as each boy is confronted by how remote he feels from his friends and family. In a final, harrowing act, though, these same individuals are mercilessly torturing one of their own, as the significance of a perceived act of weakness becomes magnified beyond all possible reason. The result is a despairingly grim one. Indeed, it would be nice to pretend that such a narrative arc was an exaggeration were it not for the fact that similar incidents have occurred in the Irish prison system alone, never mind those that have inspired Mr. Koch’s work. (more…)
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a genial but hopelessly inexperienced middle-aged man who is besotted by a woman old enough to be his mother, who has never been on an aeroplane or stayed in a hotel before, and who makes Andy Sitzner in The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005) seem like a cross between Don Juan and Raoul Duke. The film sees our reluctant hero unexpectedly dispatched off to an important annual insurance conference located in the Midwest town of Cedar Springs. Here, he comes under the influence of three so-called reprobates by way of characters played by John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche respectively and as much drunken fun as you can have whilst wearing a business suit quickly ensues. There is also some flimsy twaddle about winning a convention award, but the least said about that the better.
Instead, this film’s greatest strength lies in it being an uncomplicated, big-hearted, and infectiously fast-paced comedy. Admittedly, the gags are not terribly novel and the dialogue offers little by way of originality. Despite this, though, and after a pedestrian enough introductory set of scenes, the laughs do start to flow. It is no coincidence either that this improvement in the entertainment stakes comes with the arrival of Mr. Reilly’s loud-mouthed, unshakeably upbeat, and predictably dishevelled character at the hotel. In the sort of over-the-top performance that suits him down to the ground, Mr. Reilly is the rock upon which this film stands. That said, Ms. Heche succeeds in delivering a performance here that combines being sexily beguiling with being “one of the guys”, whilst Mr. Whitlock mixes arch meta-references to The Wire with the requisite straight-guy performance needed in a group of this nature. The odd man out, to some extent, is the thinly-written main protagonist of Tim. However, Mr. Helms does well enough at balancing out his character’s scarcely-credible immaturity with the fact that he is still a middle-aged man with some sense of what adult behaviour should be like. (more…)
Stephen Marshall’s documentary spends time with two religious extremists over a three-year period. The first, Aaron D. Taylor, is an American Christian evangelist who has taken it upon himself in the past to spread his version of the “Good News” in parts of west Africa and Pakistan where Islam is the predominant belief. The other is Khalid Kelly, an Irishman who converted to Islam whilst in a Saudi Arabian prison and who now fervently believes in the supremacy of Sharia law and the need for jihad. Now, there are two ways that such a documentary is typically going to cut. Either it will hold its subjects up to ridicule simply by highlighting the ludicrous nature of their world views or it will give them a sympathetic enough airing and then bring a degree of intellectual rigour to finding any substance or otherwise behind all of the silly rhetoric. Interestingly, though, while the film does seem to begin with the former in mind, a face-to-face meeting between the two subjects leads to an unexpected development, which this review does not wish to spoil.
At the same time, the problem with this documentary is that the guiding hand of its director is just too apparent. Not only does he place himself in some of the scenes (not least one where he is worrying that the Pakistani police are on their way to question him), but he provides the sort of voice-over narrations clearly intended to get the viewer to see the film from a particular and rather questionable perspective. For example, we see clips of Mr. Kelly protesting outside British police stations, meeting a deported radical cleric in Lebanon, attending a social gathering of loud-mouthed hotheads in London, and poncing around Pakistan with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Clearly, it all seems to fit into some “useful fool” narrative, yet Mr. Marshall never goes near asking thorny questions in this regard. Rather, he lets the naive Mr. Taylor be the underweight challenger to Mr. Kelly’s confident, well-rehearsed, but generally ludicrous outpourings. (more…)
It is a reflection of how confining these school-based dramas can be that it is nigh on impossible not to make reference to similar films that have gone before. As a result, combine the private school nastiness of Cruel Intentions (1999) with the elegiac menace of Elephant (2003) and the modern media approach of Ben X (2007) and you arrive at this Australian tale of the ripples caused by a deeply unsavoury incident that occurs at the end of a teenage house party. Indeed, in the film’s protagonist Darren (Oliver Ackland), there is more than a passing physical and personality-type resemblance to the titular character of the last of these three films. To put this another way, he is a very bright, but socially awkward teenager, who still possesses a surprising amount of self-confidence and moral courage for someone of his age. In opposition, then, lies his half-brother Zack (Alex Russell), the coolest guy in the school and – you won’t see this one coming – the captain of the swim team. What comes between them then is what happens to classmate Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens).
Clearly written by director Ben C. Lucas with a younger audience in mind, the result is a film that stays loyal to familiar school-drama tropes such as popularity, cliques, bullying, conformity -v- individualism, and all of that wild experimentation be it with sex, drugs, or just plain old new ideas. Equally, it is interesting how the direction delivers bite-sized scenes to a pumping soundtrack, coupled to the on-screen scrolling of what the different characters are texting each other about. Yet, if your teenage years occurred prior to the whole explosion of instant communication and social media, then this film will definitely still provide some discomfiting food for thought. Put another way, it is to this work’s definite credit how well it captures the unending self-obsession, ridiculous self-righteousness, and sheeplike behaviour of that age group. It made my skin crawl, far more out of some half-forgotten sense of familiarity rather than any adult-vision sense of distaste.
Shot in cool blues, related in snappy and elliptical fashion, and with a near total absence of adult intervention, this is a hyperreal account of modern teenage pressures. Conveniently, the whole rich-kid angle does allow for a certain exaggerated sense of arrogance through entitlement. However, the good does outweigh the bad in this offering. Also, how the cinematographer uses light in the underwater sequences is absolutely sensational!
In the amusingly silly Burn After Reading (2008), J.K. Simmons’s CIA officer despairingly listens to a synopsis of the plot to date before instructing a subordinate to “report back to me when it makes sense.” Such a remark is symptomatic of the goofy-but-cutting satirical approach that Joel and Ethan Coen have adopted in their more tongue-in-cheek offerings, i.e. the riddling of what should be deadly serious situations with amiable but ridiculous buffoons. Now, across this particular prairie comes galloping Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). At first glance, he is a quintessential Coen hero – an unwitting man who is miles out of his depth in a situation that is likely to get him seriously hurt, if not killed. However, where this version of True Grit belies its name is in its fuzzily romantic adherence to a style of Western film-making that was meant to have died out forty years ago. Hence, even a “rodeo clown” gets his cloyingly cheesy moment of heroism here. Not quite as bad as Sgt. Powell at the end of Die Hard (1988), perhaps, but not that far off it either.
Of course, LaBoeuf is not the central character here either. Rather, this honour is shared between his travelling companions of sassy and vengeful Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) and a fat one-eyed gunman in Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Even here, though, there is an incoherent tone, with the former oscilalting between being a tomboy on an imaginary adventure and providing glimpses of the dour, no-nonsense woman that she would grow up to be, whilst the latter intersperses grizzled ramblings and drunken clowning around with the occasional flash of a cold-blooded lawman who shoots first and demands to know what questions he should have asked later. Indeed, if there had to be one word only to sum up this film, then it would be “pastiche”. Hence, with a warning that vague spoilers are now on the way, we have a denouement here that goes from black comedy to a typically improbable Hollywood climax to a scene where Peter Pan defeats Captain Hook to the clunky – almost comic-book – symbolism of what takes place next. (more…)
Pablo Trapero follows up his socially-conscious female prison drama in Lion’s Den (2008) with this even more provocative depiction of the Argentine health system. In particular, where the director excels here is in how much he lets the peripheries of his compositions tell their own stories. Hence, despite a significant foregrounding of the characters, the eye is still drawn to the plaster peeling off hospital walls, the overflowing rubbish bins, the poorly-lit wards, and the hopelessly cramped and unclean treatment rooms. If this alone is not enough to remind one of Cristi Puiu’s brilliant The Death of Mister Lazarescu (2005), then the sight of intern doctor Luján (Martina Gusman) pleading with a nurse to have a patient admitted surely will. Yet, for all that, this film is ostensibly written as a thriller where an ambulance-chasing counsellor in Sosa (Ricardo Darín) falls for Luján and ends up dragging her down into his murky world of foolhardy insurance scams and poor people being ripped off by unscrupulous law firms.
Essentially, the film is based around the grim reality that some 8,000 people lose their lives in Argentina every year due to road accidents and a further 120,000 are injured. Not only does this keep the hospitals busy, but there is a booming market afterwards in pursuing personal injury claims against insurance companies. And, where there is that much money on offer in difficult economic times, then there is also corruption and fraud involving the police, hospital workers, and any number of private individuals to be found. Shot mostly at night, then, there is a claustrophobic doom-filled sense of the netherworld here. Indeed, although carancho means vulture in English, there is more of a vampiric bite to how these men feed on their prey. Moreover, with the final scene taking place in bright sunshine, the chaos that ensues is almost as if the characters have been disorientated by the scrutinising light. (more…)
All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.
From The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water by William B. Yeats
Once again we are reminded in Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry of a modern-day South Korea that is characterised by causal male chauvinism, acts of violence that are then exacerbated by a communal antipathy towards the suffering of others, and the sense of a highly unequal society where problems are measured only by how much won it will take to resolve them. Yet, it is precisely in such a world that sixty-something Mija (Yun Jeong-hie) has embarked upon a quest to find beauty in ordinary things. Unfortunately, though, her muse appears to be stillborn, as she concurrently tries to come to terms with a shocking revelation regarding her sullen and sour-looking teenage grandson Jong-wook (Lee Da-wit). As a result, Mija appears to walk around in a daze for most of the film, with the concern perennially there that she may well be slipping away into the mists of her own deteriorating mental faculties.
As with Secret Sunshine (2007), though, Mr. Lee is challenging his audience to see. In elementary poetical terms, perhaps, this may be to pay close attention to the shape of an apple, the colour of a flower, or the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves. However, as we are fast discovering through Mija’s eyes, this is far from the only truth that we can be blinded to. Yet, there is also a curious dynamic at work here. In one sense, Mija does appear to have an appreciable capacity to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Moreover, some fire does burn within her to try and express how this makes her feel. However, it is also noticeable that such fascination on her part also acts as a comfort blanket when she is confronted by distasteful reality, e.g. when Mija abruptly leaves a meeting to inspect the flowerbed outside. As such, perhaps it is overcoming the fear of recognising what we truly are that seems to be this film’s challenge. (more…)
The author’s main character is an anonymous author who’s main character is also an author who goes on to have a son by one of his own characters who then goes on to write his own story where his father is to be punished for all of the things that he has made his characters do. And some of you thought that Inception (2010) was messing with your heads? Well, here, five actors bounce in and out of the dozens of characters who populate the many nested worlds of Jocelyn Clarke’s stage adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s mind-bending first novel. The result is pantomime pandemonium, as giants of Celtic mythology dance old-time waltzes with members of the clergy, where central Dublin is overrun by cattle-rustlers, and where irksome invisible fairies, hiding in the pockets of members of the devil class, jostle for a place at the bar with inebriated students celebrating how “a pint of plain is your only man”. Make sense of it all, if you dare!
Staged by the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, this is a performance that not only captures the mischievous spirit of Mr. O’Brien’s imagination, but which also represents a sterling attempt to convey the density of his prose. Admittedly, this can all border on the overwhelming, at times, as intricacy builds upon complexity and convolution, in turn, builds upon intricacy. However, under Niall Henry’s direction, this is then balanced out by a style of acting that looks to emphasise the work’s inherent playfulness through both exaggerated facial expressions and similarly comic gestures and movements. This is then complemented by an unstinting barrage of lighting and sound cues to indicate the introduction and re-introduction of a whole host of different characters. Indeed, the entire choreography on offer here is fantastic, as the pace simply just never lets up, despite the demands that it must make of the cast. (more…)
For all its failures, the [economic] boom did liberate the Irish from the sense of history as, in James Joyce’s formulation, “a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” It banished the underlying Irish sense of doom, the bitter spectre of self-contempt that was always whispering in our ears that we would screw it all up. And then we screwed it all up.
From Enough is Enough by Fintan O’Toole
On my old website, I remember writing a piece about the cultural similarities between Finland and Ireland. Back then, I was exploring the Finnish alternative music scene. Here, it is the turn of the lesser spotted Finnish cinematic offering. Its English title (at least) sets things up nicely. Set in the dark and wintry north of the country, this is a tongue-in-cheek road journey where three inept heroes go on a mock-epic quest for a digibox so that Janne (Jussi Vatanen) can prevent his wife (Moa Gammel) from leaving him by the following morning. It is as slender as that and all of the humour is derived from the various eccentric characters that they meet along the road, not to mention playing on issues that are heavily associated with Finland, be they snow, forests, heavy drinking, saunas, mobile telephony, and more-money-than-sense Russian tourists. (more…)