Interview: Patrick Cassidy

Portrait

Patrick Cassidy is a renowned Irish born composer. As well as his concert work and compositions, he scores and collaborates on film and documentary projects. Notable credits include Hannibal, Veronica Guerin, Confessions of a Burning Man, Salem’s Lot, King Arthur, Layer Cake, Che Guevara, Ashes and Snow, Kingdom of Heaven, The Front Line, L’Aviatore, The Irishman and Calvary, which is released in American cinemas this week.

Darragh John McCabe caught up with Patrick to chat about his career to date.

 

Patrick, you’re an Irish composer. Your most famous work is an Irish language symphony. And this interview is on the occasion of the soundtrack you composed to one of the biggest Irish films of the year, John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. Why are you speaking to me from Los Angeles?

Before I moved here, I’d written lots of pieces for orchestra. I’d done that symphony, The Children of Lir, which had done well in the classical charts in the United States. Ireland is a small place, and my publishing company was based in L.A., and I felt the need to try to do something on a bigger stage. Working in Ireland you might be chasing one gig a year – I just wanted to try my luck and come here.

 

But there are still strong links with home, Calvary being a case in point?

It was really nice to get to work on an Irish movie. Most of the work I do these days is in Hollywood. And everyone was quite happy with the score, which means I might be doing more work in Ireland, possibly.

 

And James Flynn, the producer of the movie, called it “the best Irish score in twenty years” at the IFTAs?

Calvary was just one of those movies where everything came together well. We started with a good script and everyone got the chance to excel. The score seems to play an important part, too – the film was a great canvas for an underscore, and that doesn’t always happen. I put a huge amount of effort into it. It was a particularly pleasant experience, actually, Calvary; just a great bunch of people, from the director to the editor right down to the sound designers, happened to be working on it. There was a great atmosphere throughout the whole of post-production.

 

Is working on a relatively small-scale Irish film a different experience to some of the bigger Hollywood films you’ve done? I’m thinking of Hannibal, Layer Cake…

You know it’s pretty much the same. The one that they both really have in common is that you never have enough time, I suppose because music is the last thing that gets put in. Say for instance with Calvary, they already had an edit that was quite close to the finished movie by the time I saw it. When the composer comes in they’re running out of time. Though I actually had around 10 weeks for Calvary, which isn’t too bad.

 

But do you think that the fact that Calvary was produced in the context of a far smaller film community made it such a pleasant experience?

That’s probably part of it. But the main thing was, we all liked the movie. And we certainly knew that it was something different. This was definitely a very Irish story that hadn’t been touched on before. It was exciting.

 

And what’s your methodology?

Well, the technology is amazing. To do film music it’s so important that you conform to picture. So I have the movie on one sceen and I’m writing music on another screen. I actually write music every day, so I have this bank of sketches and ideas. Whether I’m writing a score or a classical piece, I’ll tap into it when I need it. I think it’s really important to keep working and to keep having ideas.

 

Is it a challenge to understand what a director is looking for in a score?

Usually the biggest indicator is the temp score. When an editor is editing a movie, they work with the music editor and the director to come up with music for the rough cut. It can be anything, really; just whatever can give a strong enough guideline for what they’re looking for. Usually it’s music from other film scores, actually. It means that the scene already has a good pulse to it by the time the composer gets to it. And if you can do something better than what’s on the temp score, they’re usually pretty happy. It’s what you should be aiming for, really.

 

Calvary is now a very well-regarded film – you don’t have to name any names here, but is it the case that the worse the film, the harder it is to score it?

It’s very hard. Sometimes you can try to fix a scene with music, but you often just make it even worse. Music has to complement and enhance the emotion – it’s really incredibly important, actually, for capturing what’s special in a scene. And if the film isn’t so good, it’s hard to know what to do. If the music’s too good, it’s nearly wrong. In the same way, working on Calvary was nearly effortless. It seemed to be like I always got it right the first time, which is rare. John Michael made a lot of suggestions, all right, but he liked the approach I took with the material in general.

 

It must sometimes be difficult for a director to communicate what they want from a score if they don’t have a musical way to explain it to you.

Oh yes. It’s a whole language. And even that language can’t explain why a piece of music is beautiful or it isn’t.

 

And what are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing an opera called Dante – it’s the story of Dante’s life told through his own poetry. Not working on a movie at the moment, but probably will be soon. I was composing music before I ever got into composing for film, and standalone works of classical music are still my main focus.

 

Your biggest hit, so to speak, was a setting of Dante, right?

That was called ‘Vide Cormeum.’ I suppose that’s my most popular piece over here in the U.S. And Ridley Scott used it for both Hannibal and The Kingdom of Heaven. It’s always nice to get a hit. It became very popular – the Welsh mezzo Katherine Jenkins has covered it, and Sarah Brightman has sung it as well. It all happened because in the script of Hannibal, Hannibal went to an opera – the opera was described in the script, but nobody had written it. I was working with Hans Zimmer at the time, and he knew that I was involved primarily in choral music. He asked me when they were literally going to be shooting the scene in two weeks time. Very short notice – that’s quite typical. But I relished it.

 

Finally, can you talk a bit about your influences? And are there any film composers whom you think have been overlooked?

A lot of my favouite classical music is music that’s outside of film – Mozart, Beethoven. But there are a few film composers – I always find it kind of surprising that Ennio Morricone never won an Oscar, for example. The score for The Mission is just amazing. He might be the best film composer of the last generation. He’s done so many interesting things – you see Quentin Tarantino going back to that spaghetti western music he did. The score for Dances with Wolves, by John Barry, is a favourite too. In recent years, there have been some very poor scores – very generic, not a lot of individualism. I’m not knocking anybody – maybe that’s what the directors want. But personally I like to bring my own style to things, and if somebody hires me they know that that’s what they’re going to get.

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Cinema Review: Freefall

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DIR: Stephan Lacant • Wri: Stephan Lacant, Karsten Dahlem • Pro: Christoph Holthof, Daniel Reich • DOP: Sten Mende  ED: Monika Schindler • MUS: Dürbeck & Dohmen • DES: Petra Bock-Hofbauer • CAST: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Attila Borlan

Freefall is released in cinemas on 31st January. If I weren’t in the red, I’d probably sail-and-rail my way to King’s College Chapel, London, and spend the day celebrating Derek Jarman’s 72nd birthday. For 24 hours, his 1985 film The Angelic Conversation will play on the chapel walls. Visitors are free to come and go as they please. For the rest of 2014, actually, there’s a lot on to commemorate Jarman, inaugurator of New Queer Cinema in this part of the world, who died twenty years ago this February. I don’t think he’d consider Stephan Lacant’s Free Fall an appropriate birthday present.

Free Fall is the story of a love affair between Kay (Max Rielmelt) and Marc (Hanno Koffler), two police officers in training for the riot squad. Marc is a straight in both senses, with a wife and a child on the way; Kay (Max Riemelt) is a recreational drug user and an “anarchist,” in Mark’s words. The police life doesn’t seem to suit him. Perhaps he means to take the system down from within, a very German leftist thing to do (see Rudi Dutschke). Roommates in the training academy, they go for jogs together, and share some wistful cigarettes. (Inhale, stare at sky – cut to stars – exhale, stare at sky – sigh – exeunt.) Then Kay steals a kiss and they start sleeping with each other. Marc’s wife’s due date gets closer and closer, and he has to choose the sort of life he wants to lead.

Anyone who’s been to the Beautiful Launderette on top of Brokeback Mountain will be able to anticipate the sorts of plot twists and conflicts they’re in for here. We’re not in Berlin – the world of Free Fall is one in which homosexuality is merely tolerated. Mark’s police academy milieu, and his family, esteem strict conservative values. This is exaggerated to the extent that most of the film’s supporting characters are not developed beyond their particular standpoint on this one issue. Free Fall is a classic case of film as social intervention trumping film as work of art.

Of course, the issue is still an issue. The sight of two men having sex with each other (even if the shadows do tend to fall in very contrived ways. And what about lubrication, and condoms?) is still rare enough on the big screen for Free Fall to feel worthy and necessary. Artists very much dislike hearing that their work is worthy and necessary, though, as we all know. The actors, particularly Rielmelt, do their subtle best, but the script lets everyone down.

There are some pleasing instances of cognitive dissonance. The grainy handheld camera makes its presence felt at just the right moments – we think we’re watching a typical police drama, and our expectations are subverted. There’s also much ambiguity around the principals’ sexual orientations; they sleep with each other, but they also sleep with women. Still, if it’s pushing the sexual envelope we’re talking about, the film doesn’t really bear comparison to much contemporary European fare. Even Tom Tykwer’s 2010 Three, on which Free Fall screenwriter Karsten Dahlem was assistant director, had a far more enlightened view of sexuality, and didn’t take itself anywhere near as tiresomely seriously. Ditto Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio.

Darragh John McCabe

100 mins

Freefall is released on 31st January 2014

 

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A Second Look at ‘The Armstrong Lie’

TheArmstrongLie

Darragh John McCabe takes another look at Alex Gibney’s story of power.

Alex Gibney is one of the foremost contemporary documentary filmmakers, the natural heir to Errol Morris, and he believed Lance Armstrong. Did you? Or, like most of us, did you have your doubts, but those little yellow armbands made you hold your tongue?

And now, a film called The Armstrong Lie. Well, it can’t be denied that conning is in. Whether or not American Hustle or The Wolf of Wall Street get a few Oscars between them, box office figures have already let us know that the rogue trader’s stock is once again on the rise. Gibney’s film might help serve as a check; he shows us Armstrong’s unrepentant sociopathy at work both before and after he’s found out. Yet this is as captivating a character study as Martin Scorcese’s version of Jordan Belfort. Not because of any great complexity – if there’s one thing this film is inevitably missing, it’s a character arc, because Armstrong seems to be a less complex individual than some of the single-celled organisms I know. His single motivation is the pursuit of power for its own sake, with money merely a handy by-product.

The Armstrong Lie was going to be called The Road Home. Alex Gibney started filming Lance Armstrong during his bid for the yellow jersey in the 2009 Tour de France – his ‘comeback’ tour. Armstrong was nearly 40 and already had seven controversial wins behind him. Many were puzzled by his decision to return to cycling. Then, in 2012, it finally broke that Armstrong, along with just about all of his teammates and rivals, had been doping consistently throughout almost all his major competition wins. First a star in the sports firmament came crashing down, then the sky truly fell and professional cycling was discredited.

Gibney spends a good deal of the film showing us something like the film he would’ve made if Armstrong had never been caught, with the addition of some soul-searching narration. We see him train, and race, all the while lying to Gibney and the camera. Talking heads come in and out in and out, much like in Gibney’s previous films. The subjects are obviously well-chosen; no-one abuses hindsight, everyone is honest about how taken in they were, or, in the case of his former teammates, the degree to which they colluded. The best, most articulate interviewees, like Betsy Andreu and David Walsh, tend to be the individuals whom Armstrong has harmed the most.

Armstrong’s own interviews are extremely revealing in general, but in terms of the particulars, there’s nothing there. He obviously needs to win every argument as well as every Tour de France, so frank debates are non-starters. He gives exhaustive accounts of the concrete operations involved in his schemes, as far as he feels comfortable in talking about them and no further. Whenever he admits he’s done something bad, he uses the language of the recovering addict and talks around it. Passive verbs creep into his sentences and fester there, and his past self is spoken of like a crazy uncle or a shedded skin.

The Armstrong Lie, as the talking heads often point out, is a story of power before it’s a story of doping. Professional cycling has since been so discredited that that is no longer worth talking about. It’s Armstrong’s oddly amiable sociopathy that Gibney is fascinated with; that and the willingness with which companies like Nike and Radioshack were willing to take advantage of our need for big, redemptive stories – for myths – to make millions. The most disturbing scene is where a livid Armstrong is surprise tested by two German cycling officials, who are mortified by his display of temper. All this while his young children are in the room – just two more of the many, many people he disappointed.

 

The Armstrong Lie is in cinemas now

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Interview: Kristina Buožytė

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Darragh John McCabe sat down with Kristina Buožytė, to discuss her film Vanishing Waves, which recently screened as part of the IFI Lithuanian Film Focus.

Kristina Buožytė’s entourage is heavy-eyed and cranky, but her own smile, and eye contact, are unwavering. The Lithuanian director is in Dublin for a screening of her new film Vanishing Waves, which won best film at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2013. They’ve been travelling since 4am. The director’s manner defies fatigue – I suppose this trip is something of a victory lap, so it’s understandable, and invigorating to see. Her articulation of her ideas shares a tautness and economy with her film, in fact.

Vanishing Waves could tentatively be described as a sci-fi romance – tentatively for reasons discussed below. Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is a neurology researcher who volunteers to participate in an experimental neuron transfer with Aurora (Jurga Jutaite), a coma patient. He enters her brain and finds himself getting obsessively involved with her inner life. The film is a remarkably accomplished second feature – Buožytė’s first, the Haneke-ish The Collectress, was released in 2008. Buožytė has been working on Vanishing Waves since then – I start by asking about the film’s development.

The Collectress was for a Master’s degree. We made it very quickly. This film was different,” she says, “it was very ambitious. I spent a year and a half just working on the script with Bruno Samper, my collaborator.” I’m curious about the working relationship Buožytė has with Samper, a Frenchman with a background in visual art. He’s listed as Vanishing Waves‘ ‘creative director.’ It takes some tenacity to persevere with a project over such a long time, and over such a geographical distance – how did they make it work? Neuron transfer? “We wrote over Skype,” says Buožytė, cheerfully abashed. “Boundaries, territories, they just doesn’t exist anymore, with this technology.”

The division of labour between the pair goes a ways towards accounting for the film’s intriguing interplay between story and style – every plot development in Vanishing Waves is built around some striking set piece or other. Samper comes up with the visuals first – the house inside Aurora’s head, the lab with its striking basketweave-in-relief walls, the writhing orgy-creature that traps the couple – and the director comes up with the connections. “I deal with the mechanics,” is her self-deprecating self-description, “with where to go and how to get there. How to resolve the plot. But the film starts with the visuals.” I ask in particular about the house that seems to represent Auruora’s consciousness, a vision of psychological disintegration rendered in plywood – Alvar Alto via a glitchy 3D printer. “Oh, that house.” she says. “It took 5 months to come up with that. The inspiration was Psycho.”

This surprises me – Hitchcock’s spaces tend to be concrete and thoroughly excavated by the camera, the better to conceal their surprises in plain view. The interior of this house is dreamlike, all murkiness and uncertainty. No room looks quite the way it did the last time we entered it. But Buožytė meant the comparison to be a little more abstract than that. “Everything is an extension of Aurora,” the director says, “and the house is a character, it’s her. It’s a little of her memory, a little of her imagination, a little of her surroundings. It’s an image of how we remember.” Ah, of course. The theory of the three-tiered Bates house as a symbol of Norman’s super-ego, ego and id, respectively. I mention the monolithic sensory deprivation tank that Lukas lies in when he’s in Aurora’s mind, another important set piece. The director brightens. “Oh, that’s just Kubrick. My little reference to Kubrick. Like in Space Odyssey, it’s a symbol – he’s entering into the mystery, and there’s this box.”

With the mention of two big-time auteurs, I can’t contain myself. I toss out the weakest gambit in cultural journalism and ask about Buožytė’s big cinematic inspirations. She’s rumoured to be an Antonioni fan, and what about Altered States? And, of course, there’s Solaris. “Well, it’s hard to get away from visual influences…” Bad move. Her tone is caustic, chiding. You’re sitting in front of a filmmaker working somewhere east of Checkpoint Charlie and who uses sci-fi tropes to disentangle extreme psychological binds? Think twice before you mention Tarkovsky. “We’re living in a visual culture. I tried to comment on that. When I was a student, we heard a lot about Tarkovsky, watched his films many times…” A charged silence. “We never wanted to make that sort of film.”

Feeling chastised, I agree, a little over-eagerly. Of course not. Vanishing Waves moves so quickly, the plot working off of the rapid contraction and relaxation of tension, like the best Hollywood sci-fi. She cuts me off after that last remark. “It also wasn’t a goal to make a science fiction film. The film is about romance and desire, and all the science is real. We communicated with scientists and doctors from many different countries, so that everything about neuroscience, the way the machines work, it’s all how it would be done.” I think of Shane Carruth and Primer, but I’ve learnt my lesson and won’t try parsing the question of influence again.

Finally, I ask about Lithuania. Given Buožytė’s belief in the increasing fluidity of international boundaries, how does Vanishing Waves‘ reception at home compare with the enthusiastic reception it has gotten everywhere else? As well as the Jameson award, the film has done well at film festivals in Neuchâtel and Karlovy, and it even won the Silver Méliès, a prestigious pan-European award (for “sci-fi and fantastic” films, as it happens). She explains the situation to me. “In Lithuania, the main distribution company wouldn’t take the film. And yet other low-quality films are accepted – the sorts of films that play for maybe one or two months and disappear forever. It’s frustrating.” She says that there is a stylistic orthodoxy in Lithuania that young filmmakers need to challenge. “I believe that doing a film should never just be a repetition of old forms. ” Another intense pause. “I respect cinema too much.”

I suspect our interview is over. Harumphs come from the direction of the entourage, and eye-contact is finally broken in order to discreetly inspect a humming iPhone. There’s a Q&A after tonight’s screening, during which many categorical assumptions will surely have to be corrected and leading questions rebuked. Because she’s right – Vanishing Waves is too good to be easily classified. Buožytė and Samper are already at work on their next film, said to be an adaptation of The Prestige author Christopher Priest’s The Glamour. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years to see it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85Jj7gByrLY

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Cinema Review: Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

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Dir: Justin Chadwick Wri: William Nicholson Pro: Anant Singh DOP: Lol Crawley  ED: Rick Russell DES: Johnny Breedt • MUS: Alex Heffes • CAST: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Robert Hobbs

Nelson Mandela’s death was announced at the end of the London premiere of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. I wonder how the film affected the audience’s reaction to the news – perhaps Idris Elba’s performance moved them to shed tears they otherwise wouldn’t have? Did those scenes of vicious terror campaigns and wife-beating complicate anyone’s view of the man? Or did the film bring the great loss home, but for the wrong reasons; because it became clear that a popular culture representation of such a life can never do justice to it?

The film follows Mandela from his childhood – or, rather, we see just enough of Mandela the youth to get a sense of his tribal origins before skipping forward to Mandela the young lawyer. These sections are the film’s high points – the portrait of the young statesman as nonviolent political agitator, as charismatic womaniser and eventually, yes, wife-beater, is uncompromising. Soon he joins the ANC, meets Winnie Madikizela (Naomi Harris), who becomes his second wife, and becomes radicalised by the poverty and discrimination that is rampant in 1950s Johannesburg. Mandela renounces nonviolence and begins a terror campaign, goes on the run and is arrested. He and his allies are sentenced to life and shipped off to Robben Island. From then on, the film’s business is compression and reduction. 20 minutes for those 27 years – the decade after 1990 is positively galloped through, considering that that was when so much that was world-altering took place.

But there are greater sins than mere unevenness. Biographical films often aim for the elegance of an artful written biography by means of a sort of patterning. A theme is introduced within the story, before being reduced to a single visual cue that is repeated when significant-seeming. If you’re writing a biography, when certain past events are pertinent you can just bring them up again. But in film all you have are these few selective moments you’ve chosen to repeat. For example, whenever Mandela faces a challenge, there’s a flashback to a right-of-passage ceremony he took part in as a youth. The point is obvious, but simplistic. Political issues are reduced to internal personal struggles. What I’m getting at: Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom isn’t just unbalanced, it’s unsophisticated. Gandhi was, Lincoln was, Malcolm X was – it’s probably just a characteristic of the genre.

The film does do interesting things with the real-world subject matter. Scenes of government violence, such as the Soweto massacre, are shot with documentary realism, lending them a TV news-style feeling of actuality. The courtroom scene makes effective use of an abridged version of Mandela’s actual 4-hour speech to the judge before his incarceration. And even though Elba doesn’t look much like Mandela, his accent is excellent, far better than, say, Morgan Freeman’s in Invictus. Watts’ Winnie Mandela almost shows Elba up, and the film deals admirably well with her life during Mandela’s years behind bars. But, like many biopics, the Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom feels like a missed opportunity.

Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

146  mins

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is released on 3rd January 2014

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom– Official Website

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Cinema Review: Last Vegas

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Dir: Jon Turteltaub  Wri: Dan Fogelman • Pro: Amy Baer, Joseph Drake, Laurence Mark • DOP: David Hennings • ED: David Rennie • DES: David J. Bomba • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline: these men are near death, relatively speaking. Sorry to ruin Last Vegas for you, but that’s supposed to be the punchline. How hard you take it depends on a couple of factors – your age, your IQ, whether or not you sat through those Hangover sequels. As with said sequels, what’s missing here is a plot structure as convincing or enjoyable as the blackout whodunnit of the original.

The men are in is Las Vegas to celebrate Billy’s (Douglas) engagement to a much younger woman. Having been friends since childhood, Billy and Paddy (De Niro) are no longer speaking, and the other two hope to save the friendship. From then on it’s just like a golden wedding anniversary down the local; someone sticks a drink in your hand and insists that you enjoy the supposed incongruity of senescent debauchery. Meanwhile, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score will give anyone who hasn’t experienced it a solid idea of what it’s like to spend time in one of those glass-bottomed Las Vegas elevators.

The thing is, these actors have been around for a while for a reason – they’re really good at what they do. Every time the film wants us to laugh at Morgan Freeman’s dodgy hip or whatever, some internal reflex of actorly dignity kicks in and the joke is tossed back – at the audience, usually. Even with Kline, whose comportment doesn’t quite have the gravitas of the others’, the fact that he’s in Bob’s Burgers is enough to let us know that he gets the joke. And anyway, everyone looks far too physically fit to really be identifiable with the sorts of old men we know and just-about tolerate. So the MTV-circa-1998-style bikini-wearing competition, the 50 Cent cameo, the younger women they all improbably tangle with, none of it is plausible enough to be funny. Encourage the septuagenarians you know to spend their golden years a little more wisely than these guys.

 Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

105  mins

Last Vegas is released on 3rd January 2014

Last Vegas – Official Website

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Cinema Review: All Is Lost

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DIR/WRI: J.C. Chandor  PRO: Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman   DOP: Frank G. DeMarco, Peter Zuccarini   ED: Pete Beaudreau  DES: John P. Goldsmith MUS: Alex Ebert  Cast: Robert Redford

All Is Lost brings back all my faith in terror and death, to lift a phrase from Dorothy Parker. Robert Redford’s unnamed protagonist is sailing his yacht, the Virginia Jean, somewhere near the Sumatra Straits. One day he wakes up to find a substantial hole in his living quarters – the boat’s been struck by a stray shipping container. Frantically, he tries to patch it up. A fat storm sits on the horizon. Here his troubles begin. From then on, we watch Redford’s character react to a series of disasters and rest between them. All Is Lost is not contemplative or poetic in the traditional way of seafaring films; all we have to go on are Redford’s character’s actions. Any downtime is infused with tedium or dull anxiety. There are few instances of capital-c cinematography; pretty shots of the sun rising etc. serve to signal the approach of weather – red skies in the morning and all that.

 

So pay attention, budding scriptwriters. Just put a solitary person at nature’s mercy and you’ve got yourself a plot. Forget explication, context, even dialogue; in this case, there’s a little speech over the short prologue, a roared expletive later on, and that’s it. All we have to focus on is the man’s minute-to-minute struggle. Director J. C. Chandor recognises that the survivalist film is most absorbing when it plays like a procedural. Life of Pi the book didn’t scrimp on the particulars – urine sores and so on – but the film frontloaded the fabulism and became a different thing. All Is Lost is all about those particulars. Redford paints glue over the patched-up hole in his boat, or he figures out a way to use a plastic bag to make seawater drinkable, or he puts a dressing over a gash, all with the energy and presence most actors reserve for the big weep scene. Or – perhaps the tense cycle of disaster and relief simply supercharges every little movement? And Redford’s achievement is a total ignore-the-camera naturalism? I can’t tell. In 1972’s Jeremiah Johnson, he played the survivalist as messianic action hero, but All Is Lost will grip you more. It of course makes sense that frantic little activities are the real human reaction to disaster – to storms, the angry sea, sharks, death’s general proximity. But it’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker leave traditional action-heroism out of it. The cutting is leisurely but the camera is always smartly placed, so we see every exertion, and every fumble, clearly, without them seeming over-fluid or superhumanly frenzied – Hollywood-ised.

 

It helps that Redford is old. He looks better than most 77-year-old men, but you can really see it when he tries to clamber about the ship, or whenever there’s a close-up. His own relative proximity to death piles on the sense of the human as feebly ephemeral. Whether or not all of our endeavours are futile is not a question this film ought to be expected to answer. But in All Is Lost, not even the free market is safe from the sea – the shipping container that hits Redford’s character’s boat dribbles cheap sneakers out into the Indian Ocean.

Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

106  mins

All Is Lost is released on 27th December 2013

All Is Lost – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Moon Man

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DIR: Stephan Schesch, Sarah Clara Weber • WRI: Stephan Schesch, Ralph Martin • PRO: Stephan Schesch • CAST: Katharina Thalbach, Ulrich Tukur

What are ‘children of all ages’? Are they monsters? Do they suffer from growth hormone imbalances? Do they really have as great a capacity for enjoyment as people say they do, these divorced, or even Alzheimer’s-ridden, children? Perhaps they’re a necessary fiction, a free market fantasy – now that we’re in the age of the supra-blockbuster and films that were once ‘kid’s’ are expected to appeal to absolutely everyone forever. How do they pull it off? The Disney approach was to crib Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and then came Shrek etc., patronising children and masking jokes for 18-24 year-olds with bright colours. Recently, Wreck-It Ralph did a better job, and shared pretty things from an older generation’s past while keeping everyone involved. Moon Man director Stephan Schesch has decided to get rid of of irony completely, and, like Sylvain Chomet, he just about gets away with it.

 

The Moon Man (Katharina Thalbach) lives on, or rather, in, the moon – it’s a little like a too-small fishbowl. He’s bored up there, all alone, and one day he grabs the tail of a passing comet and takes a trip to Earth. But Earth’s bully of a President (Michael McElhatton) is afraid that he’s the vanguard of a coming invasion, and sends his army after him. Worst of all, with nothing but an empty moon to look at, children all over the world can’t sleep. It’s up to hermitic inventor-of-everything Bunsen Van der Dunkel (Pat Laffan) to help the Moon Man get back home, and to make sure that the President’s forces don’t capture him in the meantime. The film is very faithful to the Tomi Ungerer book upon which it’s based, and Ungerer himself provides narration.

 

The pacing, and the frame rate, may be too sluggish to hold the attention of those of us used to Pixar. And since the film was originally in German, the lip-sync discrepancy is off-putting; at times it’s uncomfortably like watching old episodes of Inspector Gadget. The nods to grown-ups are often forced and sometimes inappropriate, such as the strange implied sex scene.

 

But Moon Man does succeed when it stops trying to engage with the last few decades of animated cinema. Every individual image is very beautiful, since they’re so close to Ungerer’s original drawings. It’s like looking at a painting in just the way that Pixar films aren’t. CGI tends to mimic the textures of life (remember how amazing that water in Finding Nemo looked), and old-fashioned animated films often replicate textures we have experienced in other artworks – paintings, the illustrations in picture books, even, let’s say, the very young child’s experience of an ancient aunt’s garishly made-up face. The slow pace actually helps you appreciate the vivid colours and the use of line, if you let yourself get into it. The music, too, is charming, and some moony old standards (the Blue one and the  River one) are cleverly employed. See Moon Man with children (of all ages) who need to learn to appreciate life’s subtler pleasures.

Darragh John McCabe

G (See IFCO for details)

95  mins

Moon Man is released on 27th December 2013

 

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