We Love… St Valentine

We Love... St Valentine

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Get a bottle of Blue Nun, splash yourself with them cheap Christmas smellies your Auntie got you for Christmas, slip on your Penny’s underwear and turn up the stereo with the sweet, sweet sound of Barry White. And hey, if you have a partner that’s an added bonus. Yes, it’s that time of year, when St. Valentine comes to town. So in his honour the film lovers here at Film Ireland present their favourite lurve-themed films.

Now let’s get it on…

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Ciara O’Brien

Annie Hall – Sarah Griffin

500 Days of Summer – Rory Cashin

Wall-E – Geoff McEvoy

Pretty Woman – Gemma Creagh

Jerry Maguire – Peter White

Harold and Maude – Steven Galvin

The Notebook – Órla Walshe

Gone With the Wind – Charlene Lydon

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We Love… Soundtracks – Gladiator

 

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

Gladiator

 

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‘… Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting …’

Donnchadh Tiernan

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was the seminal cinema-going of my young life. I was twelve at the time of its release but luckily for me and one other ardent cinema-attendee, the little circled numbers on the corner of movie posters were more guidelines than rules in Ennis’ Empire Movieplex circa 2000; after assuring the cinema manager that we were fourteen (still one year south of the prescribed age given Gladiator was released as a 15 Cert film) and heeding his warning that the film contained “a awful lot of shtaking lads” we were ushered into a crowded screen, barely able to contain our glee.

That the film itself was a revelation is debatable in some circles but rest assured, to my impressionable 12-year-old mind it was the beginning of something. From the opening dolly-shots of Russell Crowe’s brawny, calloused hands thumbing ears of wheat to the colour-saturated colossus of Commodus’s arrival into Rome as emperor, it dawned on me for the first time that the various elements concocting to present the experience I was here taking in were more than a series of sharp turns on a popcorn chomping thrill-ride but art compiled in the same dense manner a composer might align notes to create a symphony. I took due note of its lead actor’s name (which I’d not heard until that point) and that of its director, and endeavoured to track down all I could by each of them and, to all intensive purposes, nerd out. I even took minor note of how different the score itself was, a genuine first for me beyond the James Bond theme. It may have been the haunting lilts of Lisa Gerrard or the rousing call-to-arms of the combat scores but I’m certain that my first mental notations of what is now my favourite score (and what I consider undoubtedly to be Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece) were of a novelty at best. To me the piece had yet to separate itself from the film as its own work of art, which is a moment I would not arrive at until almost twelve years later.

Two years ago when I commenced work on my final-year thesis (a riotously ambitious work which attempted to examine the culturally tangible ties between Apocalypse Now and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) I arrived at a difficult stepping stone whereby I could no longer work in my own bedroom without becoming distracted and at the same time could not work in the college library without having my stomach turned by the everlasting cacophony of a thousand malnourished stomachs surrounding me, churning involuntarily for want of nutrition beyond heaping of chocolate and energy drinks. I needed a soundtrack, and in a fleeting moment when allowing myself to be lured from academia by endless YouTube clips of movie badasses saying the thing that earned them the title, I came across Maximus turning his back to Commodus in the centre of the coliseum and thought, “Well there’s something I’ve not tried yet”.

The entire score album as a single clip was not hard to find and so not a minute beyond the idea’s inception I had my headphones connected to my computer’s sound-jack and Progeny (aka, track 1) pumping in my ears. It’s soothing tones, followed by those of The Wheat, allowed me to survey my handwritten plans diligently before the masterful ten-minute The Battle aided me in high-tempo typing as I churned out words with all the passion and confidence of a tightly formed Roman legion advancing on a Germanic  outpost.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting it proved to be as seminal and influential as the film itself, which reignited Hollywood’s interest in sword-and-sandals epics. For every moment of meditative calm there is a building rhythm to carry one onto the next sequence conveying violence justified “for the glory of Rome”. By the time I reached the album’s sublime conclusion (Now We Are Free) I had written enough to warrant a cigarette and taken the appropriate amount of time to do so (1:01:40, precisely the length of the score album). Suffice to say, when I returned from my break I pressed play again and kept doing so until my thesis was complete.

I love the film Gladiator. I love it first and foremost for introducing me spiritually to the art-form that would come to dominate the majority of my daily thought over the coming decade and even after that it is an out-and-out douzy of a popcorn chomper. Even more so I love Hans Zimmer’s score, for in the month preceding my thesis submission I came to equate the magical explosion of choral tribal chanting approximately two minutes into the closing track with a very special feeling. I had typed for an hour and deserved a cigarette. That, friends and film fans, is the feeling of a little victory. And in words as eloquent as I can manage, it’s the little victories that life is all about. Having found a moment in a film-score that can aurally recreate such a feeling, how could I possibly select any other?

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We Love… Soundtracks – The Blues Brothers

 

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

The Blues Brother

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‘… the soundtrack is a focal point of the film and plays a central role in the story telling of the film…’

Chris Lavery

I was first introduced to The Blues Brothers by my parents who had always loved the film. The homage to the blues genre might’ve passed me by then as a youth, and I don’t even remember liking it very much afterwards.

But I soon began to realise it was one of the funniest films I had seen, with Jake and Elwood’s increasingly farcical run-ins with the law and over the top car chases.

Over the years I found myself being drawn back to it time and time again, with it never losing its hold over me. The infectious energy of the music immediately permeating my soul as soon as the opening bars of She Caught the Katy kicks in…

The Blues Brothers Band existed a number of years before the 1980 movie. It started when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi performed as a musical duo on a Saturday Night Live sketch in January, 1976. The personas of Jake and Elwood Blues and the outline for the movie’s story was teased out during downtime at Aykroyd’s blues bar.

After a number of successful sketches on SNL, the pair gathered a band of established musicians from the blues scene of Chicago, Memphis and New York and released an album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1976.

The 1980 movie could (unfairly) be described simply as a vehicle for their music and despite the movie’s bonkers plot being very much secondary to the movie’s music, it’s still very funny. One highlight being Jake and Elwood’s run-ins with a particular brand of right wing political nut-jobs – “I hate Illinois Nazis,” laments Elwood.

But it’s the love for blues music that really shines through and stays with you after watching. Music performed with real energy by people who live and breathe blues and soul. The musical cameos are a roll-call of R&B, soul and blues legends, including Ray Charles (whose scene-stealing Shake a Tail Feather being a highlight), Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker.

Belushi had been sniffily criticised for not having the vocal talent to live up to the songs he was singing. But he more than made for it by throwing his heart and soul into every tune. Together with Aykroyd’s backing vocals and harmonica, they bring a tremendous passion and enthusiasm (despite their continual deadpan facial expressions throughout) to a range of blues and soul numbers. Each one is a stone-cold classic from a rich and varied back catalogue of blues music.

Even now, from the moment Jake and Elwood Blues show up and right up until the final credits roll I sit there with a ridiculous smile on my face and my foot-tapping wearing a hole in the floor.

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We Love… Soundtracks – Dazed and Confused

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

Dazed and Confused

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‘… the soundtrack is a focal point of the film and plays a central role in the story telling of the film…’

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

Dazed and Confused, the 1993 cult classic, opens with ‘Sweet Emotion‘ by Aerosmith. We are introduced to the high-school students who inhabit this film through the very 1970s sound of Aerosmith. From the beginning of Dazed and Confused the soundtrack is a focal point of the film and plays a central role in the story telling of the film.

The plot of this cult classic, if you are not familiar with it, is simple enough. It is the last day of school in a Texas high school in 1976 and the incoming seniors are preparing to haze the incoming freshman students. The film follows several groups of friends as they drive around town, drink, do drugs and listen to music culminating in a party at the moon tower. The plot is laid back and simple with no major drama or resolution. Richard Linklater felt his film was a more realistic representation of teenage life than some more melodramatic plots in teenage films. It focuses simply on teenagers trying to have fun, be cool and fit in.  Dazed and Confused is fun, funny and above all cool – which is why it become a cult classic.

The soundtrack is one of the main reasons that the film comes together so well and it is used with great effect to set the tone, move the plot along and above all root the film firmly in 1976 Texas – even the title comes from a Led Zeppelin song. Along with Aerosmith, Dazed and Confused makes great use of ‘Free Ride’ by The Edgar Winter Group, ‘Summer Breeze‘ by Seals & Crofts, ‘Low Rider‘ by War and ‘Do You Feel Like We Do‘ by Peter Frampton to set this unique tone of 1976’s Texas throughout the film, so even Irish teenagers in the ’90s could relate to it. The film seems to pause at various times as there is a scene where music is playing the main role. An example of this is when Matthew McConaughey’s character (in his first role) walks through the pool hall with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hurricane’ blasting out as he smoothly walks across the room. As the boys cruise around town mindlessly breaking trash cans, ZZ Top guides them on their way.

The film has a rake of stars in their early years such as Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey and the aforementioned Matthew McConaughey in a stellar role as the older guy who is a bit old for a high school party. The film ends as a few of the main characters drive to get Aerosmith tickets – “top priority of the summer” as Jason London’s character puts it. We see them chilled out in the car as ‘Slow Ride‘ by Foghat plays out – a perfect ending to an appropriate and fantastic soundtrack. There is no doubt that Dazed and Confused’s soundtrack strongly contributes to Dazed and Confused’s cult classic status and will always be a favourite of mine.

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We Love… Soundtracks – Romeo + Juliet

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

We Love…

Soundtracks

 

Romeo + Juliet

 

‘… The track list reads as a veritable who’s who of ’90s pop-rock acts…’

Deirdre Mc Mahon

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“Would m’lady care to rock?”

There is nothing quite like the near-insanity of your first crush. Teenagers, girls especially, have all sorts of ways of accruing tokens of their beloved; ring pulls from cans you counted to the letter of his name, bus ticket numbers that added up to his initials. I remember spraying my pillow with Lynx Africa, the scent pour homme of the ’90s, in a bid to make it smell like the object of my affection. So when Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was released at the peak of my teenage years in 1996, it was safe to say it found a receptive audience among my generation. With its tale of tragic young love, it was the film that launched a thousand Leonardo di Caprio crushes. I immediately went out and bought the soundtrack, which was then welded to my Discman for the next six months. Although teenage girls do not always have the best reputation for taste in music and film, I was in good hands with Baz. As the film updates this classic story to 1990s Verona beach, so to does the soundtrack reflect popular music culture of the era. The track list reads as a veritable who’s who of ’90s pop-rock acts; Radiohead, The Cardigans, Garbage, Des’ree and even our very own Mundy.

The epic tale opens with an operatic score ‘O Verona‘, telling the audience how this may be a flashy pop-culture update of Shakespeare, but it was still a film to be taken seriously. The Montagues are introduced as the rocker-punks, show-boating peacocks who drive around listening to the lyrics, “I feel just like a local God when I’m with the boys, we do what we want”. As a teenager you could feel drunk on your first sip of parental freedom. These lyrics embody the heady arrogance of this time and the empowerment of being part of a large gang. You need only sit upstairs on most double decker buses to be reminded how times may change, but human behaviour does not.

Let’s face it though, Romeo is a wimp. He’s a self-indulgent moaner whose all-consuming obsession with Rosalind is forgotten as quickly as MiniDisc players when he sets eyes on Juliet. But Romeo is anything but a wimp as he struts across an abandoned, sun-drenched stage to the soul-achingly melodic chords of ‘Talk Show Host‘ by Radiohead. Radiohead bridged the gap from shoe-gazing emo music to melancholic artistry and act as the perfect accompaniment for the introverted musings of Romeo. As an adult, his behaviour could be considered embarrassingly self-indulgent, but as a teenager it seems to validate all your feelings and how important they are.

Luhrmann also commissioned Radiohead to write a song especially for Romeo + Juliet –Exit Music (For a Film)‘ is played over the end credits and appears on the seminal album Ok Computer. As well as being inspired by the end scene of Romeo + Juliet, Yorke claims inspiration for the lyrics came from another source: “I saw the Zeffirelli version (of Romeo and Juliet) when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why, the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away. The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts. A personal song.” The human condition is a funny thing. We watch Titanic even though we know the boat sinks. Shakespeare tells the audience in the prologue that Romeo and Juliet will die, yet we still cry our eyes out when it happens.

The rest of the soundtrack may be less heavy weight than Radiohead, but not less iconic. The Cardigan’s big first hit and aptly named ‘Lovefool‘ provided the fluffy pop for Romeo and Juliet’s youthful, innocent love. Garbage’s single ‘Crush‘ provided the more edgy, tainted underbelly to this affair, with lyrics like, “I will burn for you, feel pain for you, I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart”. After all, these are two teenagers who die for one another having met a few days before. Makes the fact that my friend used to keep the discarded cigarette butts of her crush seem positively normal.

Buying soundtracks is like the Macarena – something everybody did in the ’90s. Coming from a time when you had the interminable wait from cinema to video, it was a way of making a connection with a film that has since faded away. Even now, hearing a track from Romeo + Juliet, Pulp Fiction or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels transports me back to a time of land-line phones, dolly mixtures siphoned from your parents spirit cabinet and the over-powering smell of CK One. And no modern-day ’90s revival will ever be able to recapture how it felt to be a teenager in that particular space in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Love… Soundtracks

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Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…

Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes –  or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.

Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love…  as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:

 

We Love…

Soundtracks

The Blues Brothers – Chris Lavery

 

Dazed and Confused – Ailbhe O’ Reilly

 

Gladiator – Donnchadh Tiernan

 

Romeo + Juliet – Deirdre Mc Mahon

 

 

 

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We Love… Superheroes: Darkman

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  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

 

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

 

We Love…

Superheroes

 

Darkman

‘… No contemporary superhero effort comes close to maintaining its momentum …’

Darragh John McCabe

 

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Every generation gets the superhero franchise it deserves. Christian Bale is either a giant pair of flaring nostrils or somebody’s nightmare of a merchant banker, so he fits our troubled epoch like a slim fit Brooks Brothers. And Michael Keaton’s Batman was a real Generation X-er; a dropout and a recluse, a mumbler, an awkward sort of hedonist, balding. When Sam Raimi’s Darkman came out in 1990, a year after the first of the Tim Burton Batmans, reviewers were quick to spot the debt: “Darkman wants to be Batman” is how Richard Corliss opened his review, and Roger Ebert remarked with uncharacteristic gravitas that “this Darkman character is just not as interesting as Batman.”

What did Tim Burton’s iteration of the Dark Knight offer viewers that Darkman didn’t? The latter certainly had the superhero setup to beat them all; Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist on the cusp of inventing an artificial form of skin for burn victims. Then, after his attorney girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) finds a memo that might incriminate slimy property developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels), Westlake is brutally maimed by X’s mob cronies. Demented and horribly disfigured, Westlake throws himself into his experiments, literally trying to save his own skin while being hounded by villians and trying to prevent Strack from committing vague and capitalistic crimes. Thanks to his fake skin know-how he can make perishable but verisimilitudinous masks and disguise himself as his enemies in order to get revenge / save the day. So the good doctor’s particular genius causes his collapse, comprises his superpower and could lead to his redemption; this may be the golden ratio for superhero plots in the way it puts origin story and revenge impulse in such ringing harmony. And all without a comic books pedigree – Raimi based the whole thing off a short story he wrote and just went for it, folks.

The film was a hit, but there are reasons why it didn’t do a Batman and one-inch punch the culture – and why its two sequels went off to oblivion via VHS. Darkman is an old-fashioned film about old-style American Savings and Loan community justice, less in debt to Batman, in fact, than Will Eisner’s The Spirit. The Spirit, a comic book phenomenon during the 1940s, was about a hero who returned from the dead to become anonymous and fight the sort of crime that metastasizes in the free market. Perhaps Raimi saw, in the massive discrepancy between have and have-not in the recession-free 1980s, that the country needed a saviour with the community-minded vim of the post-Depression, pre-New Deal Spirit. If things hadn’t gotten any better, Darkman might’ve stuck. I can imagine an alternative history where the decline of the American city didn’t start to stall in the late ’80s, where Hustler lost against Falwell, Pat Robertson beat Bush for the Republican nomination in 1988 and then won the presidency, Bin Laden forgot to form Al-Qaeda, and the world (the North American world) reverted to an earlier and less sophisticated form of existence, devolving into a space of simple federacy and frontier. But lucky for society, bad for art, things got better. Giuliani cleaned up Gotham, and the big city, a source of such horrified fascination for the cinema of the late ’80s and early ’90s, has forfeited its poetry to other needs – social cohesion, globalisation, the spread of capital. These days, we need to keep the international footfall high – vigilantism is difficult to imagine, because the population tends to find itself conscripted into the PR campaign. Bruce Wayne, the vigilante’s vigilante, is a billionaire, so he can do what he likes, plus he’s a playboy in the off-hours. If there’s no crime of a classically black-and-white sort to fight, all Darkman can do is pace around his grotty lair. He couldn’t deal with extraordinary rendition or the NSA, whereas the Dark Knight would have a complex and not necessarily adversive relationship with both.

But even the most cursory google will show how Darkman has earned its own eager and sweaty cult. It’s a thrilling, well-made film, after all; sort of like a comic book that reads itself to you, 24 little cells every second. No contemporary superhero effort comes close to maintaining its momentum – I rewatched The Avengers to compare, and that first hour is like Béla Tarr compared to the twenty minute decline and fall of Peyton Westlake. The action scenes are all classic comics left-to-right jobs, every punch thrown to emphasise the grotesquerie of a 2D life lived in non-stop motion. And there’s a little Tod Browning in the way faces are shot from way below, or high above, during slower-paced scenes. Raimi’s abiding fascination, after all, is with that other great genre launched out of 1930s America, the pulp horror. Most Lon Chaney pictures had Darkman’s Beauty and the Beast / Phantom of the Opera narrative. The visuals are great, too, very Evil Dead, and sort of grisly, psychedelic Harryhausen – another throwback to an earlier cinema. But every single player is miscast and not one of the characters has the gothic complexity of Keaton’s Batman, Nicholson’s Joker – perhaps because a real comic book provides a different kind of depth. By means of repetition, a myth is created, and there’s no need for individual events to make a dent in a character’s past or future. The Spirit and Little Orphan Annie both were mythic cycles with an option for eternal recurrence. By the end of Darkman, our hero has totally disconnected himself from society. If he’s to mean anything, he needs to come back, again and again, and it needs to be mobsters he’s after. It’s eternity or nothing – as our hero himself puts it, “I am everywhere and nowhere, everyone and no one. Call me Darkman.”

 

Stay tuned. Next time on ‘We Love… Superheroes’ – Richard Drumm on Catwoman

 

Check out the all the Superheroes we love…

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We Love… Superheroes – The Hulk


batman signalcopy(1)

  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

 

We Love…

Superheroes

 

The Hulk

‘… there is something cathartic, even joyous in those releases of anger, those vents of everyday frustration…’

David Neary

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Long before Batman became all broody and Tony Stark became an out-and-out dipso, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a superhero, or rather super-anti-hero, with an exceptionally relatable gift/curse balance.

Dr. Bruce Banner, typically mild-mannered scientist, first appeared in printed colour boxes back in 1962, when an atomic blast mutated him into a near-indestructible muscle-riddled green giant, the Incredible Hulk. Sure the super-strength and super-leaping and super-rage are what makes the Hulk so appealing, but what makes him interesting is his relationship to Banner. Banner does not control the Hulk, but the Hulk becomes unleashed when Banner is angered – by personal/emotional stress or impending danger.

Banner’s rage becomes the Hulk’s rage – human anger turned all the way up to 11. The Hulk is a colossal adolescent tantrum, a beast fuelled by hyper-masculine lack of control. Banner’s great intellect and genuine decency do not make him immune to human failings and weaknesses – fears, regrets, sexual frustrations and so forth combine to create this terrifying monster. But the Hulk is not a villain, and there is something cathartic, even joyous in those releases of anger, those vents of everyday frustration. Where the average person in a fit of anger might throw a book to the floor, the Hulk can throw a tank – and throw his green-eyed rage can tell right from wrong, so more often than not that tank will get thrown at a villain, if a villain wasn’t already driving the tank…

The Hulk’s relationship with the big and little screens has been more hit than miss. A beloved TV series ran for five years from 1977-82, starring Bill Bixby as the straighter-named David Banner and body-building champ Lou Ferrigno as his alter-ego. Ferrigno’s stagey rage was so convincing that it was all too easy to forgive the rather silly makeup, wig and green bodypaint he had to wear for the role.

TV movies followed, pitting Bixby and Ferrigno against other famous Marvel heroes such as Thor and Daredevil, but Bixby’s premature death in 1993 put an end to the run. Animated series of the character ran in the ’80s and ’90s, pitting the Hulk against his more sci-fi-based (and less live-action-freindly) villains, such as The Leader and evil Soviet hulk the Abomination.

In the ongoing superhero movie boom that followed the digital effects revolution and the success of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002), a Hulk movie was inevitable, and the result was the oft-and-unfairly-maligned Hulk (2003). Genre-juggler Ang Lee was a curious director to take on such a project, and while he played around with the effects as much he could, he was far more interested in the underlying psychology of Bruce Banner’s rage and the formal constructs of a film literally based on a comic book movie, with editing flowing between on-screen panels – everything short of speech bubbles. Eric Bana, doomed to never become the star he deserved to be (see also his performance in the similarly under-rated Troy) had a superb intensity as Banner, while Sam Elliott stole the show as the well-meaning but empathy-less General Thaddeus Ross, who leads the hunt for the Hulk. The effects were troublesome, and audiences bemoaned the lack of action, but there was a lot to enjoy here, including a superb battle between the Hulk and the United States Army across the American Southwest. The decision to go all-out-Freud on the Hulk’s origin was a mistake however, and as Banner’s father and primary villain Absorbing Man, Nick Nolte didn’t so much absorb the scenery as chew it up.

A semi-sequel reboot followed in 2008, and was the polar opposite to Ang Lee’s effort, drained of drama and intellect but full of Hulk smashing and monster fights. Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, indisputably the worst film yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brought very little to the table, but just about managed to outgross its predecessor at the box office. As Banner, Edward Norton didn’t so much need to vent his rage as need a firm smack in the mouth. William Hurt played General Ross as a villain of the week. Tim Roth played a Russian/British soldier on loan to the American military, who morphs into the Ken doll-genitalled Abomination. Not even a stunt cameo by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark could win this one a sequel.

After four years the Hulk made his reappearance in The Avengers, this time in the human guise of Mark Ruffalo, after Marvel fell out with Norton over him being a bit of a jerk. While only a supporting character in that superhero ensemble, The Avengers featured , in one speech about an attempted suicide by Banner, more pathos and character depth than The Incredible Hulk had managed in two hours. The film refused to dwell on the psychological implications of Banner’s powers, but in its final moments delved into the idea that Banner had come to terms with his demons, and was able to not-so-much control the brute, as control himself, and when the beast should be unleashed. “That’s the secret… I’m always angry,” he confessed, as he instantly morphed into the monster and KO’d a colossal alien nasty with one punch. It was the most audience-pleasing moment the Hulk had ever performed on the big screen, and for the first time since Lou Ferrigno last washed that green paint off his body, the Hulk’s live-action self was truly incredible once more.

 

Stay tuned. Next time on ‘We Love… Superheroes’ – James Phelan on Blade

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