IFI French Film Festival: Opening

le_nom_des_gens_51

DAY 1: Thursday 18th November

The 2010 IFI French Film Festival kicked off in appropriate style last night with the opening-night screening of Michel Leclerc’s The Names of Love (Le nom des gens). The film was followed by a gala reception where wine and cheese ensured some lively post-film conversation.

The Names of Love, which stars Sara Forestier and Jacques Gamblin, is an earthy comedy that keeps a tight reign on the political satire it is structured around. Forestier plays Bahia – a vivacious free spirit of Algerian descent – who seeks to convert right-wing men by making love (not war) to them while whispering more than sweet nothings in their ear in an attempt to influence their unconscious. When she meets Gamblin’s Arthur Martin (‘like the cookers’), she initially takes him to be another potential convert, but things of course turn out other than expected.

While often commenting on historical, cultural and racial identity in France, the film succeeds as a result of its comic charm and in particular on the back of its two leads, whose performances provide a satisfactory counterbalance. Forestier’s physical comedy and eccentricities play well along Gamblin’s low-key caution. Leclerc directs with style and controls the story tightly with clever use of narrative devices, including characters interacting with their younger selves. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly the dinner scene that brings the families of the two lovers together – recalling Basil Fawlty’s insistence on not mentioning the war at a table of Germans. Though sometimes slipping into the overly sentimental, The Names of Love proved itself to be a winner with the audience on the festival’s opening night.

The Names of Love will screen again on Friday, 26th November followed by a Q&A with Michel Leclerc.

Click here for details of the festival’s programme of events.

Steven Galvin

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We Love… Boxsets

TV Drama

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Long gone are the days when you used to rush home from the circus to watch Dempsey & Makepeace on a Thursday night at 8 o’clock on television. Nowadays rather than follow weekly installments on the box, most of us indulge ourselves with lavish boxsets that we can watch whenever we choose even if that means an all-night, whole season feast of vampires, mobsters, meth-dealers or serial killers. In conjunction with the recent article ‘BIG DRAMA little screen’  in Film Ireland‘s Autumn issue, Steven Galvin gave up his sleep-filled nights and was couchridden under a crisp-strewn duvet in order to take a look at what’s out there in the boxset-land of TV drama. Here he takes a look at 3 contemporary dramas (Mad Men, Dexter, and Breaking Bad), 3 classic dramas (Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, and The Wire) and 3 dramas that you may have missed (The Prisoner, The Singing Detective, and Deadwood).

CONTEMPORARY:

Mad Men – Season I

‘I hate to break it to you but there is no big lie, there is no system. The universe is indifferent’

Oozing style, capturing a moment of social American history on the cusp of change and populated by characters of dubious values, Mad Men is the stylish soap opera that lives off the lives it seeks to exploit. It is a world of superficial beauty, of vacuous dialogue, of empty vessels and guff that perfectly captures the depressing reality of an advertising industry populated by characters as hollow as the products they sell. Its unflinching realism refuses to renegotiate the past in terms of the present and in doing so exposes a world of undesirable creatures wallowing in their own self-congratulatory existence. What’s not to love? Its snail-like pace unfolds with a subtle and skilful dramatic plot seducing the viewer into its luscious narrative that is lit from all angles with exquisite production design and bang-on attention to detail. Has there ever been anything on television so fascinatingly ugly that looks so beautiful?

Dexter – Season I

‘I’ve lived in darkness a long time. Over the years my eyes adjusted, until the dark became my world and I could see’

Despite being a bit of a one-trick pony, Dexter is a delicious slice of depraved humour. Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is the charming sociopathic serial killer with a conscience, who works for forensics for the Miami Metro Police Department while also expertly disposing of the ‘scum’ that society has failed to punish – he kills killers. The series has no qualms fetishising violence and its many gruesome scenes are lovingly shot with cameras lingering over blood-splattered canvases. The deep red blood of the visual is always matched by the black humour of the dialogue, which energises each episode with a verve and style that drives things forward at a rapid pace. The tightly scripted episodes develop well over the first season as the overarching narrative develops into an intriguing story that brings the moral ambiguity at the heart of the series to an intriguing culmination.

Breaking Bad – Season 1

‘Fulminated mercury. A little tweak of chemistry’

Breaking Bad is a blow to the guts of television drama. What begins as a dark comedy unfolds and reveals itself as tragic drama. It follows the descent of a run-of-the-mill Joe Soap into the murky world of crime and drugs. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a middle-aged chemistry teacher who, after learning he has terminal cancer, hooks up with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) who’s now a low-level drug dealer. White uses his chemistry skills to make the purest form of crystal meth there is in an effort to make money for his family and pay for his treatment. There are some heart-breaking scenes throughout the series as both Walter and Jesse struggle with what they have become and how it has affected their relationships with those that care about them. Often cinematic in scope, Breaking Bad is never less than riveting stuff. With its pitch-perfect central performance, tightly woven narrative strands and fervent imaginative storyline,  Breaking Bad is an unpredictable, edgy series and of all the current dramas it’ll be the most fascinating to see where it goes.

CLASSIC:

Twin Peaks

‘Damn fine coffee! And hot!’

David Lynch’s foray into television was like walking down the yellow brick road of a Brothers’ Grimm story accompanied by angels & demons. It’s difficult to comprehend now what a breakthrough Twin Peaks was in popular television. It reinvented American TV drama and encouraged, even demanded, that from then on such stuff could do much more than provide an hour’s diverting entertainment. Lynch’s camera brought a cinematic style to television screens and the lush colours and production design were matched by Angelo Badalamenti’s seductive score that sweeps majestically through the series. Twin Peaks delved deep into the undergrowth of the America of white-picket fences, revealing Lynch’s obsession with the opposites at work in life – the ugliness behind the beauty; the dark behind the light; the tears behind the joy; and the evil behind the good. All of this was exquisitely wrapped in an offbeat surreal sense of humour that was proud to be ‘odd’. It is still a marvel to behold as well as still being essential viewing, having influenced so much of what came after it. It might be a while before we see the likes of it again.

The Sopranos

‘A wrong decision is better than indecision’

Taking the brutality and humour of Goodfellas and the drama and scope of The Godfather, David Chase’s excellently written television series The Sopranos is a remarkable achievement. It is based around the life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mafia captain, who starts to attend therapy after suffering panic attacks. The series explores his troubled relationship with the two families in his life – his own and the mob. The show is an extraordinary concoction of violence and humour that springs from the richly energetic writing and excellent performances. The cast of mobsters and extended families are a wonderfully imagined array of morally ambiguous characters, each of whom in their own way struggle to reconcile their public and private personas, which of course is doomed to tragic failure. Tony Soprano is a classic tragic hero dealing with ‘blind fate’. The plot constantly functions as a test through which he must work out his destiny, but ultimately he undergoes a tragic ‘fall’ that transpires through events which his own actions has set in motion – actions stemming from his own flaws and inability to reconcile his private and public roles. The Sopranos is a lethal hit. And, to quote the series once more, ‘A hit is a hit’.

The Wire

‘All in the game yo, all in the game’

The Wire is superior storytelling that intelligently and honestly explores its socio-political landscape with a fine-tooth comb and populates its world with an array of fascinating and complex characters. Each series is a thoroughly rewarding dramatic experience and is organised around a central theme: season I – the illegal drug trade; season II – the port system; season III – the city government and bureaucracy; season IV – the school system; and season V – the print news media. Its structure resembles that of a novel in that each episode resembles a chapter and makes sense as a whole, achieving an organic unity through its perfect management of plot and composition of episodes that richly fulfil its ambitious dramatic objectives. The show’s realistic portrayal of Baltimore scales lofty heights exposing the structures of power at play in everyday life and is never afraid to take a close look at the maggots it finds under the stones it turns over. With its gritty realism and refusal to offer pithy resolutions The Wire proudly charts, in the words of its creator, ‘the death of America’. A must-see experience.

ONES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:

The Prisoner

‘I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own. I resign’

Right from its terrific opening sequence, you know The Prisoner isn’t your average television drama. Made in the late ’60s, the series follows ‘Number Six’ (Patrick McGoohan), who, after resigning his job as a secret agent, is captured from his home and mysteriously finds himself trapped on an island known as ‘The Village’ populated by unquestioning inhabitants going about their lives as numbers under the watchful gaze of the island’s Orwellian type authorities. Charting Six’s efforts to escape, the series takes on the structure of a puzzle, but one that raises more questions than it answers; cleverly leaving itself open to a myriad of interpretations ranging from the social to the individual and its intriguing use of symbols feeds into the show’s allegorical readings. Its air of mystery is intensified by the often surreal atmosphere that infuses episodes and the sharp dialogue, beautifully designed sets, intense performances and swinging ’60s soundtrack ensure its addictive watchability. The Prisoner is truly a bold, original and inventive piece of television.

The Singing Detective

‘Can I go back to the ward now? I lead an exciting and vibrant life there’

Dennis Potter’s 1986  Tv show is a masterpiece of dramatic writing. It tells the tale of the physical and mental decay of a writer of detective fiction, who suffers from psoriatic arthropathy (a severe form of inflammatory arthritis) and is bedridden in a hospital. He fantasises his latest novel in an effort to deal with his illness, while at the same time dealing with his traumatic childhood memories. The Singing Detective has a skilfully crafted, multi-temporal narrative that constantly shifts between three layers: A burns victim hospital bed in the 1980s (reality); a childhood traumatic incident in London in the 1930s (memory); and a film-noir detective in the 1940s (fantasy). With a wonderful central performance by Michael Gambon underpinned by Potter’s brilliant, literary writing and mastery of form, The Singing Detective is a towering achievement in television drama.

Deadwood

‘The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back’

Deadwood, South Dakota is a grubby hell-like illegal settlement in the 1870s in a wild West truly wild, populated by every manner of oddball, misfit and bandit, all out to fill their pockets after a huge gold strike. The series traces how a civilisation is formed evolving from the vacuum of chaos into a structured organisation. Playing with fact and fiction, the series introduces historical figures into the narrative and sets up its own narrative world – a world of law searching for order. Written by Ian Milch, Deadwood is a rich tapestry of tension and rivalry that exists to torment the building of a community. Its multi-layered themes are expertly juggled. Often brutal, the series is blessed with fearless writing and boasts an outstanding ensemble cast. The sharp dialogue provides some sparkling moments and bullets of wicked humour, and in Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen has provided television with one of its most memorable monsters. Deadwood is a compelling piece of drama that often feels like a foul-mouthed Shakespeare drinking whisky while writing a Western.

Steven Galvin

Read Film Ireland‘s recent article ‘BIG DRAMA – little screen’, in which Amanda Spencer talks to directors Dearbhla Walsh, Daniel O’Hara, Ciaran Donnelly, and Robert Quinn and sees who’s taking sides in TV versus film.

Check out these DVDs and more on www.towerrecords.ie

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Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film

Basics Film-Making:The Language of Film

AUTHORS: Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland and Steven Rawle

REVIEWER: Steven Galvin

Film is a language of its own. It is a language we all understand and one we take for granted. As with every language, it has its own grammar and employs a system of signs and symbols in order to carry information and communicate. Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film sets out to explore exactly how film communicates to its audience. It does this by clearly laying out chapter by chapter the structures that allow film to be understood.

Chapter 1 focuses on semiotics and explores the system of signs employed by film in order to communicate meaning. Chapter 2 tackles narrative and considers how an audience is able to comprehend meaning from a film through its precise structure. Chapter 3 explores intertextuality and explains how films relate to each other and gain meaning through their relationship with other films. Chapter 4 turns its attention to ideology and investigates the question of what films mean and how they can be interpreted. Chapter 5 examines frames and images and has a look at the vocabulary of the moving image and how the camera shapes meaning. Chapter 6 explores the techniques employed beyond the image that construct meaning and analyses such crafts as editing and the use of sound.

Illustrative examples are used throughout the book and fulfil the dual function of visualising ideas while also providing some beautiful images. A useful case study is introduced at the end of each chapter, which contextualises the specific ideas presented beforehand within a selected film or a particular scene.

Aimed primarily at students, Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film is a more than useful introduction to the fundamentals of film grammar and its use in constructing meaning. Its appealing visual style, accurate descriptions and impressive lay-out will ensure that this becomes a well-thumbed textbook, and the writers are to be commended in the book’s employment of methods to encourage its reader to become an active interpreter of the material presented. And in doing so, the book achieves its goal of presenting complex ideas in a clear and concise fashion that engage the reader in both theory and practice.



ISBN: 978-2-940411-27-6
Binding: Paperback
Publishing Date: May 2010
Publisher: Ava Publishing
Number of Pages: 192

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Interview with ‘Perrier’s Bounty’ writer Mark O’Rowe

Perrier's Bounty

With the release of Perrier’s Bounty on DVD,  Steven Galvin talks to Mark O’Rowe, the film’s writer, about the genesis of the script, the characters he created, his career to date and his plans for the future.

Mark O’Rowe began his writing in theatre, picking up a number of prizes for his successful play Howie the Rookie in 1999, which first set out his grungy world populated by low-life ‘crims’, foul-mouthed losers and head-the-balls.

 

After that, he came to prominence in Irish cinema circles by penning the well received Intermission, which won him the IFTA Award for Best Screenplay in 2003.

Since then O’Rowe has written Perrier’s Bounty, which, as he explains below, was ‘shelved’ for a few years, and also adapted Jonathan Trigell’s critically acclaimed novel Boy A in 2007.

Film Ireland caught up with him to learn a little bit about the man behind the screenplays.

Could you tell us about the genesis of Perrier’s Bounty, where the screenplay emerged from, how long it took you to put together…

It’s a good few years old now. I wrote it after Intermission. It was an original project. I wrote it for Parallel Films – the people who produced Intermission. So off I went and did the first draft. And then, they were finding it difficult to get it financed and it went on the shelf for a couple of years. So then it was brought off the shelf and was shown around to a few people and it got a lot of interest. And so everything went fairly smooth from there and it came back to me so I could do a couple more drafts. So I suppose it was a five-to-six-year process with five of those years being on the shelf! Well, when I say ‘on the shelf’, I mean from my point of view; obviously there were people involved (Parallel Films) behind the scenes working to get it made. But for me, I didn’t go near it for a time.

 

And do you think those five years would’ve had an effect on the final product… I mean, would it’ve been a different thing had you finished it first time off?

No. It’s pretty much what it was. It’s the same story that was always there. Obviously you’re improving it, rewriting it and stuff. But more or less it’s the same story.

As always with these things, people are going to categorise it. But you’ve got a lot of genres going on in this film– obviously you’ve got your gangster stuff; there’s a road movie in there; there’s a bit of western; and there’s also a rom-com element – all interwoven. Is that something you consciously set out to do?

No…well the main thing I wanted was to do something genre-based, definitely. A movie that had people shooting guns at each other! That was probably as close as it got. As soon as I started writing it, I knew it was going to be funny – a gangster-caper type. Now everything you’ve listed there is correct, but I think they all fall under the main umbrella of gangster comedy. And I wanted to do something set within a specific timeframe… set over 36 hours – a guy trying to beat the clock type of story, with three very clear acts: one which would be night 1; the second would be the following day; and the third that would be the following night; something that was very strictly structured. And then everything came from that. You set it up as a simple familiar story: a guy owes money to a gangster; he has a certain amount of time to pay; and you wind it up throwing in a few other characters and situations and see how it plays out. Well, that sounds easy. It’s not! But that’s kind of the idea.

And was it something you wanted to do because you have a love of that type of film, something you grew up watching, or just something you wanted to tackle?

I don’t know… it becomes what it becomes. I had written Intermission and that was a sprawling, multi-character, multi-story thing, so I wanted to do something that required the discipline of the three-act structure, something that I knew would end up with a big set piece, something that would have the shoot-out, with chases, the love interest; all that kind of stuff. But to flip it on its head, whenever I could… or sort of indulge my own voice within that framework. In terms of stuff that I grew up watching – the same stuff everyone of my generation grew up with – the Scorsese stuff. So I suppose when I was teenager I got off on all that Scorsese stuff and those guys, if you want to make that connection. But the one thing I find quite weary is the Guy Ritchie thing, y’know that if you have a guy with a gun and humour – you’re very much bracketed into that. But I think this film is very much its own beast, even though it would have antecedents in that and Tarantino before that. It’s about doing my own thing.

When you talk about the characters, and obviously there’s a varied lot in the film; the two that stood out for me were the two ‘street philosophers’, – Michael’s father played by Jim Broadbent and Perrier himself played by Brendan Gleeson. Some of the best dialogue the film you’ve put into their mouths. Tell us about these two eccentrics you’ve created.

Well here’s how it happened… I suppose as I developed the script, Michael, the Cillian Murphy character, became the straight man to all these comedians. So in a way, from my point of view, Cillain had the most difficult performance. He’s the one who’s on the verge of losing his mind, but he’s the one we have to identify with. He’s the one who has to keep the film grounded while everyone around him has fun playing half-crazed lunatics. So you’ve got Jodie being suicidal and desperate to get back with this guy, you’ve got Jim thinking he’s going to die the next time he sleeps and Brendan being… here’s the thing though – they’re not really ‘philosophers’: Jim just believes he’s going to die. Simple as that. Any monologues he gets are stories, the knowledge that he has that which other people don’t, which is that he has met the Grim Reaper. And the thing about Brendan is that he’s convinced that he’s a very modern, liberal kind of guy, who is accepting of his men… of everything. Yet he protests slightly too much about being ‘hep to all that shit’, as he puts it. With him, it’s pretty much about this psychopath with very little or little or no empathy trying to come across as quite sensitive and sympathetic to his men and ideas of liberality. But the fact is he’s just a psychopath.

It’s clear from your writing that your characters are very much defined by their dialogue; is that something you bring from your theatre background or is it something that you engage with in your writing?

Yes. It started off from my writing for theatre. In theatre, you often start with someone just talking. It starts with words. Not words to describe an action but words that come out as dialogue from a character’s mouth. That character would say something and you get a clue to who they are, and the next step might be in the plot. So Perrier’s Bounty literally started off with Michael waking up to these two guys saying, ‘you have four hours to get this money to Perrier’. And then it’s a case of ‘so where will we go next’? I keep it going with dialogue. I think the fact that you take that route hopefully means that you get a lot of good supporting characters because they have to make their impact in the couple of minutes they’re on screen. Then you can leave them behind; bring them back or maybe not. But they have to stamp themselves in some way. And for me that’s through dialogue. It’s more than just writing Goon 1 and Goon 2.

You’re giving them existence outside of one particular scene…

Absolutely. And this makes it more interesting because these characters have a life of their own. It gives you a lot of freedom to come up with original takes on what’s happening, because you’re kind of making it up as you go along and you don’t know everything that’s going to happen – but of course in the long term you know where it’s all going to end.

This is your third screenplay on top of your theatre output. Perhaps you could talk about your evolution as a writer.

Well I did my Leaving Cert and that was as far and my education went. I had a few different jobs. I loved movies and literature but I was never going to get a job writing. My big love was film, but there was no way then in the ’80s in Tallaght… even if you could write a script, who would you give it to? Whereas I started to think that if I could write a play, at worst I could put it on myself… in a shed in front of people I knew! It seemed more ‘doable’. So that’s how I started writing. It seemed easier to get something out there. And that led to my career as a playwright. I remember the first time I really felt I could do something was when someone gave me a book of David Mamet plays and reading Sexual Perversion in Chicago. I read the dialogue and was amazed by it – it was just two people talking. So I started to imitate him and to get into the rhythms of that kind of speech, with people overlapping and interrupting and the poetic quality of it. Even though it was very scathing, realistic dialogue – that gave me the encouragement to write and I started to write scenes around dialogue. Earlier you asked about dialogue it my work – and there it is propelling my career! I suppose I learnt that I had to tell a story as well, try to plot something, which you kind of have to do!

And so what about the future. What are you working on at the moment? Any future screenplays coming up?

I’m working on a play at the moment. But I have a new screenplay – an adaptation of a book called Broken by Daniel Clay. I finished that quite recently and BBC films are going to be doing that next year 2011. Even though it’s not my own work, like with Boy A, you end up getting just as involved.

Finally then Mark, when you speak of your own work – how involved, if at all, were you in the production of your screenplay Perrier’s Bounty. Did you work at all with Ian Fitzgibbon (director) or is it a case of ‘my work here is done’?

You’ve got to hand it over y’know. They shot a lot of it in London and a lot of it here. I have a job. I wouldn’t be paid to be hanging around the set. Of course I was out at the set a couple of times and as any writer will tell you: it’s incredibly boring! You arrive at 10.30 thinking this is going to be the most exciting day of my life, and by lunchtime you’re trying to find someone to give you a lift home! I had a bit of involvement in the editing room at the end to give my opinion on various things – some of which they took; some of which they didn’t. But I was very happy with the job Ian did and very happy with the cast. I think it’s a good job. The photography is good, the editing, the pace, and the tone in general. Yeah, I think it all came out well.

Grand. Well Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and congratulations on Perrier’s Bounty. All the best for the future.

Cheers. Thanks.

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Shutter Island

Shutter Island

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.

As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.

Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.

And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO for details)

Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010

Shutter Island – Official Website

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The Lovely Bones.

The Lovely Bones
DIR: Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson• PRO: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Aimée Peyronnet, Fran Walsh • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jabez Olssen • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci

There is coldness at the heart of Peter Jackson’s new film as he presents his unappealing, vacuous, schmaltzy interpretation of a teenage girl’s afterlife alongside her abduction, rape and murder. It is a stomach-churning conflation of emotions that sends out far too many mixed signals throughout the film.

Saoirse Ronan plays Susie Salmon, a teenage girl in 1970’s white, picket-fence, suburban America, who is the victim of a heinous crime. After her murder, she finds herself in an afterlife limbo where she staggers between two states: her fantasies of lollipops, fashion, make-up and pop music with her other serial-killer-victim friends; and her need to find closure for both her and her family and expose her killer. Ok. New dress and a boogie? Find closure and expose killer? Oh, what to do…?

And so with the murder dealt with early on, The Lovely Bones proceeds to present the audience with the spectacle of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of an adolescent’s afterlife, as Salmon looks down on her mourning family from above. The special effects deployed to showcase Salmon’s afterlife fantasy world where everything is fine (all thanks to being brutally murdered) sees Jackson lose the plot and mishandle an embarrassing display of tacky hogwash. The scenes are crassly manufactured and rather than the visual feast Jackson laid on for us in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, we are instead served crude slop.

The film does nothing to justify its 135-minute running time. It’s all a bit of a mess  on earth as it is in limbo  with its awkward pacing, inconsequential supporting characters, unexplained and illogical actions, and an amazing ability to ignore the bleedin’ obvious. The story stumbles around the place crying out for the support of a better editor. The ending of the film is stretched out over a number of half-baked resolutions and descends into farce. And I have to mention that at one point Jackson steals David Lynch’s use of This Mortal Coil’s beautiful ‘Song to the Siren’. What for Lynch was a paean to unfulfilled desire becomes for Jackson a maudlin dirge for group hugs.

On the one plus side, Saoirse Ronan puts in a staggeringly emotive performance and consistently demonstrates the strengths of her acting talents. She elevates the material above the crass schlock it operates as. Apart from her performance, this film has Stanley Tucci playing the bespectacled, balding, neighbourhood weirdo with a performance straight from ‘Pervs R Us’ that Hollywood has produced so many times in its usual unsubtle way (God knows why he was nominated for an Oscar®). Mark Wahlberg has mastered the art of forehead acting and his cracking-up, vengeful father never rises beyond his limitations as an actor. Rachel Weisz gives nothing and seems to want nothing from the film; indeed she disappears from the family home at some stage. Susan Sarandon camps it up as the boozy jive-talking mother in her grating comic cameo role that merely adds to the whole distasteful tone of the film.

Hard to believe The Lovely Bones comes from the same director behind Heavenly Creatures. Whereas one is a fiendishly enchanting and imaginative exploration of adolescence, the other is nothing short of tasteless drivel. Perhaps David St. Hubbins was right in This is Spinal Tap when he said, ‘It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’.

Steven Galvin

Rated 12A (seeIFCOfor details)

The Lovely Bones is released 19th Feb 2010

 

The Lovely Bones – Official Website

 

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It Might Get Loud


It Might Get Loud

DIR: Davis Guggenheim • PRO: Peter Afterman, Lesley Chilcott, Davis Guggenheim, Thomas Tull • DOP: Guillermo Navarro, Erich Roland • ED: Greg Fintan • DES: Donald Graham Burt • CAST: Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White

It Might Get Loud is a rockumentary that brings together 3 generations of iconic axe-wielding poster boys.

There is Jimmy Page, who banged out vicious riffs with the then cock-strutting Tolkien warbling of Robert Plant, the groove crunching bass manoeuvring of John Paul Jones, all revved up by the immaculate power drumming of John Bonham, in what was the monolithic Led Zeppelin.

Then there is The Edge (played by David Evans), who has created a brand of sonic timbre-loving delayed guitar playing, along with the homunculur, phalacrophobic prophet The Bono (Paul Hewson), master of fills and drum rolls Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton, in what is the soundtrack-to-RTÉ’s Reeling In The Years band U2.

And finally, there is Jack White, the troubled Zero Coke-advertising highfaluterer, along with his sister Meg playing the drums like the offspring of T. Rex’s drummer Mickey Finn and The Muppets’ Animal, in what is every indie kid’s dream pop-combo, The White Stripes.

All three are brought together to offer their various opinions and personal histories of the guitar. As they each begin to describe what the guitar means to them, it becomes obvious how each of their own particular styles of play developed. Page wants to make love to it; White wants to fight it; and The Edge wants to splash it with make-up and dress it up right fancy.

White and The Edge come from opposing corners – White berating technology for killing the soul of music, The Edge embracing it in an effort to see how far he can push music. Page lies in the middle and comes from that school of thought that there are only two types of music: good and bad. The heart of the film is really their individual stories and the point of the film (i.e. bringing them together) is surprisingly quite muted and makes for the dullest sections. But, despite their differences, there’s no doubting the mutual respect they have for one another as guitarists and (probably to the detriment of the film) they don’t come to blows. I’d say The Edge would surprise you here and kick seven shades of shite out of the other two.

During the course of the film, there are individual moments of reflection on the guitarists’ memories of music. There’s a great moment where Page goes through his vinyl collection and the camera catches his unfettered pleasure as he puts on Link Wray’s 1958 blues instrumental ‘Rumble’ – you see his passion for the guitar as he can’t stop smiling as the distortion and feedback kick in and build. Beyond being a musician, he is first and foremost a lover of music. White comes alive talking about the blues musician Son House; and anyone familiar with him knows exactly where White is coming from.

The Edge’s best scene is where he strips himself of all the technology and shows you exactly what he’s playing that gets that amazing sound when its sent through the myriad of effects. I warmed much more to the man at this point. His sense of humour deserves more exposure. It’s always admirable when an Emperor is comfortable in his nakedness.

As a piece of cinema, the film lacks a developed narrative and suffers from a rather superficial examination of its subject. Nevertheless, It Might Get Loud serves its purpose well enough with plenty of moments that make this a worthwhile piece and it’s good to see this type of documentary extend its scope to cinema. Guggenheim, its director, avoids falling into too much of the muso trap, so there’s enough good stuff here for the layperson to enjoy as well. Yet, throughout it all, although it is interesting to hear them talk; rather like the Father Ted ‘Song For Europe’ episode, you keep finding yourself roaring, ‘Just play the f**king note…play the f**king note.’

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (seeIFCO websitefor details)

It Might Get Loud is released 7th Jan 2010

It Might Get Loud – Official Website

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Where The Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

DIR: Spike Jonze • WRI: Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers • PRO: John B. Carls, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Vincent Landay, Maurice Sendak • DOP: Lance Acord • ED: James Haygood, Eric Zumbrunnen • DES: K.K. Barrett • CAST: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose

This is quite a dark, brooding little tale, made all the more affective by its simplicity. A young boy, Max (Max Records), disobeys his mother (Catherine Keener) and seeks refuge in a land of monsters who adopt him as their king. The film is directed by Spike Jonze and has been adapted from Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story. But whereas Sendak’s 1963 book, which was less than 350 words long, was a fable for children, Jonze’s film is more a melancholic reflection on childhood for adults.

In the world populated by Jim Henson’s overgrown, and wonderfully realized, mondo muppet monsters, Max learns valuable lessons about who he is and what he has. This is not a world populated by the usual collection of the cartoonish opposites of the good loveable creatures versus the bad evil pantomime ones. Here we have a mixed bunch of hulking hirsute creatures that you will neither cheer for nor boo. But you will listen to and be moved by them.

Not everyone will be enamoured with what happens in this other world. Most of what occurs on the island with its dense forests, rolling sand dunes, and swooping cliffs, is random and inconclusive. The creatures, mostly somber and somewhat neurotic are simply living their lives. In between nothing really happening, Max engages in some contemplable dialogue with the monsters (who all represents facets of himself) and gets the chance to play out his problems with aggression and fears of isolation.

Having said all that, Max is actually quite an irritating spoilt little blackguard at the best of times and there can be little sympathy for him as he rallies against his home life; after all it is quite a normal life and he has a cushy number there pushing the viewer to annoyance at what he has to rage against, and that really he should be disciplined by having his Wii taken off him and no cookies for a week. But he’s a kid – and kids don’t know if they have things easy or not, for their inexperienced egocentricity means that if something bad is happening to them, it’s the worst thing in the whole wide world. And yes, it is a simple message he learns. And let’s not even start on the ending (cringe factor 9).

Yet despite this, the world that exists over Max’s rainbow is a sumptuous one to behold and the film is beautifully shot (in Australia) masterfully capturing both scenes of vast open spaces and claustrophobic tight spaces. Jonze treats it all with a low-key approach and uses a natural palette to bring this world to life.

Jonze has made Sendak’s book his own fleshing out its cerebral musings and opening it up to rich reinterpretation. Where the Wild Things Are is not what you might expect; as is often the case with Jonze. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see such a film that doesn’t feel the need to play for laughs or pander to cutesiness. A kid’s film you don’t have to bring kids to.

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Where the Wild Things Are
is released 11th Dec 2009

Where the Wild Things Are – Official Website

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Murder on the Dancefloor

Tony Manero
Tony Manero is a dark insight into the mind of a psychopath obsessed with John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever. Steven Galvin talks to Alfredo Castro, star of the multi award-winning film.

Steven Galvin: Alfredo. First of all, it was a fantastic performance.

Alfredo Castro: Thank you very much.

And I have to say, sitting in front of you here, that you have completely different eyes to the ones I saw in the film…

I hope so!

Because in the film they’re so dark. There’s a deadness behind the eyes that comes across so powerfully in your performance. Could you tell me something about your character Raúl – how you came to play him and what was it like?

Well, we didn’t rehearse at all; we just went straight into shooting the film. And I had worked on the script for a year. And then Pablo Larrain (the director) took the script and worked on it. We reached a plateau where we knew nothing about the character – no judgment about him. Just him as a result of the violence and the dictatorship he lived under at that moment – in Chile, under Pinochet. The main thing for me was to represent the impunity from death – that he can murder or kill anybody to get what he wants

And when you connect it to the political environment of that time are you saying that Raúl is a product of that society?

Absolutely, yes. Yes, he’s an animal. He’s illiterate. And he just wants to dance. And all the pollution he feels he it drops off him when he is dancing or having sort of sex – bad sex!

The dancing is his only expression of potency in so much as the sex is such a failure for him.

Yes. That’s it. Failure. The man is a failure.

Yet strange as it may seem – he is a failure, a man without morals who commits acts of violence – the viewer is quite drawn to him. You don’t hate him.

No, I don’t.

And at the end of the film, you find yourself rooting for him.

Yes – but you feel guilty…

Was that a conscious decision by yourself and Pablo? That in some way the audience feels a sense of compassion for Raúl?

Yes. We don’t agree with this new idea of the anti-hero. He is in some way a hero – for himself. But I have no moral or ethical judgement about him. I just did it. It was very hard. It was six weeks of shooting. I felt a lot of sympathy for him – pity. He’s a poor, poor man.

So the fact that he had come to that point in his life – where he had achieved nothing. Coming from a poor, uneducated background, working class…

He’s not really a working class man. He’s sort of an outsider without a class. At that moment there were two classes – those that supported Pinochet and those that didn’t. But there was another social class – outsiders. They didn’t support Pinochet nor were they against him. He’s an outsider, just trying to survive. I’m sure he’s not of a social class. But he’s living in a time of violence.

When you talk about the political background to the film, it’s interwoven into the script and yet it’s not a major part of the film. It’s not thrust in your face.

No, not at all. That was just the environment – the atmosphere of terror. At that time it was like that.

You said earlier that you worked on the script before giving it to Pablo. How did the idea come about? And could you tell me about the relationship between the two of you and the development of the script?

We had finished another movie together. It was a failure. That was Pablo’s first film. There was in that film 20 minutes where I play a gay guy who was in a psychiatric hospital. And he helped the protagonist to get out of that hell. Pablo and I got on very well and developed a friendship.

This was the first time you’d worked with Pablo.

Yes. That was the first time I did a film. I never acted in a film before in my entire life. I am a man of theatre. I have worked for thirteen years in theatre. But I had never been in film. That was my first time. Afterwards, I received a call from Pablo and he told me he saw a picture, a photograph in a book and that he would like me to see it. I went to his home and I saw the picture and I wanted to tell the story of the man in the picture. He was an American serial killer, who was sitting in a sofa in his underwear with a gun in his hand, hanging by his side as he looked out the window. It was series of photos. There was another picture with the same man with a woman giving him a blowjob and the man was still looking out the window – not sexy, no excitement at all. So we started there with the photo. And then he wrote the script with another guy, Mateo Iribarren – a very good writer – and then I worked on the dramaturgy. I didn’t write any words. Just focused on ideas and what happens, when and why. By the end we had a huge script, which Pablo then reduced to fifty or sixty pages telling the story of three days in the life of a man. Then Pablo made the link with Tony Manero because the film was released at the time the script was set in – 1977.

When Raúl tries to live out this cultural ‘American Dream’, why do you think he chose Tony Manero?

Well Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977. At that time we had tough censorship. So only American films came in – films which were meant to stop people thinking about what was going on. ’77/’78 were the worst years of the dictatorship. Many people were killed. They were the worst years of the dictatorship. Everybody was dancing disco and trying to be Tony Manero/John Travolta, whatever.  So that’s why Pablo made the link in this film.

I took the script as a kind of Greek tragedy. When the film starts, it is with failure. A man around his fifties trying to be Tony Manero, trying to live the ‘American Dream’ – but of course, it’s not going to work at all.

The scene in the dance club when the police come in to make arrests and Raúl hides: it demonstrates publicly that he’s a coward. Not being able to stand up and act for others. But instead he follows his personal desire and slips out to get to the contest. For him nothing else matters.

No. Not even love. He loves nobody. He’s a psychopath. There’s no the ‘other’ for him. The other doesn’t exist. It’s just ‘yourself’, and your dreams and your goals and you go for that. No feelings for the other. No compromise at all.

In fact, when you say no feelings for others – the only time we do see him express any sort of feelings is when he’s alone. When he’s lying on the dance floor he’s built and when he’s dancing alone in his bedroom.

Yes, all for himself. For nobody else.

There’s a particular scene that puts a new twist on the stories of ballerinas putting glass into their rivals’ shoes in order to win…

Yes. I shit on the suit! Well, y’know, in Chile, the thieves when they break into houses they always shit everywhere. They leave their mark. This is my territory. We tried to find other ways of doing that scene – with a knife, burning the suit… But we did it that way. Pablo said to me, ‘I think this guy would shit on the suit.’ So when we were shooting that day, it was planned before. There was one hour of discussion and arguments. I decided to go and do it and prepare the shit!

It’s a scene that does shock the audience. It’s one of those scenes that, even if you know it’s coming, you’re not prepared.

Yes, you don’t want to see it.

There was little dialogue in the film…

Yes. It was the idea of Pablo. This man, at the beginning, when we started the script, he talks a lot. A lot of chatting with all the people. But at the end, Pablo decided that this man would have few words – just seeing and looking and watching everybody.

Pablo uses a lot of close-ups letting the face of Raúl say more than words can.

The camera was always around me. Very near my face. It was like another eye for myself.

You were saying that your background is in theatre, so how did this experience in front of a camera compare?

I prefer the people sitting in front of me. I had to incorporate the camera into myself. I thought to myself for the five or six weeks that it was really my sight – another eye of myself, I was watching everything. In this case the camera operated for me as a witness. It was very scary.

I hope not so scary that you won’t do it again!

No! Of course not.

Thank you. A pleasure talking with you.

Thank you.

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