Review: Five Feet Apart

DIR: Justin Baldoni • WRI: Mikki Daughtry Tobias Iaconis • DOP: Frank G DeMarco • ED: Angela M. Catanzaro • PRO: Justin Baldoni, Cathy Schulman • DES: Tony Fanning • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Herbert Gregory

Five Feet Apart is essentially a teenage romance between Will and Stella (both 17), but it is a romance with unusually high stakes. Both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and have to remain at least six feet apart from each other to avoid cross infection. In the world of Cystic Fibrosis, infection can prove fatal and infection from a fellow “CFer” is particularly risky .  [To find out why the film is not called ‘six feet apart’, you have to go see the movie.]

An early scene in the film sets the tone. Three teenage girls are joking as they discuss an event which one of them cannot attend. It only becomes apparent when two of them leave Stella on her own, that we are in a hospital room and that she is struggling to breath.

Will already has an infection which has ruled him out of a lung transplant. If the new trial drug he is on not does not clear the infection, he has no remaining options.

The initial contact between Will and Stella is anything both cordial. Stella has OCD issues and cannot abide Will’s casual approach to his “regimen” (his meds programme). After one of many arguments, Will leaves abruptly, dismissing Stella’s concerns with: “It’s just life Stella – it’ll be over before you know it”.

But there is a strong mutual attraction. Will agrees to embrace his ‘regimen’ if Stella will allow him to draw her. Will is an artist and animator of some talent. After initially refusing, Stella agrees and the relationship develops, despite some rocky patches. However, they can never kiss or hold hands. We sense early on that Will’s cavalier approach to his health and the rules may have serious consequences for both, especially as Stella gradually begins to embrace Will’s less regimented approach to his health.

They learn from the ever vigilant Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) that two previous teenage patients who became romantically involved died because they did not observe the six feet rule. Though only 17, both Stella and Will – and their mutual friend Po (Moises Arias), are well aware that their time may be short. This acts as a powerful drive in their desire to live for whatever time they have left.

Perhaps the main strength of this film is the performances from Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will in roles that are layered and very well cast. This is the first leading role for Haley Lu Richardson and more will likely follow after this performance.

This is an impressive debut feature from director Justin Baldoni (35) who has worked mainly as an actor. He also made My Last Days, a series of documentaries featuring first-hand accounts of people on their final journey. He has clearly mined that experience in developing the script for Five Feet Apart.

Five Feet Apart is not a grim film. There are plenty of comic moments as it follows the developing romance of our two heroes –  and the word hero is appropriate. But the theme of mortality is ever present.

The story is not without its faults. The absence of parents or relatives of the main protagonists until half way through the film is puzzling given the gravity of their illness. And when they do arrive, they do not add much to the narrative of the film. The plot occasionally veers down the route of sentimentality.

But for the most part, the story is gripping and very moving. It is also educational. Given that the film has already grossed a multiple of its budget in the US., it is difficult to understand why it has not secured a wider release here.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

116 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Five Feet Apart is released 5th April 2019

 

 

 

 

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Review: Walk with Me

DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP: Mark J. Francis, Max Pugh  • ED: Mark J. Francis, Max Pugh, Alan Mackay, Nicholas Chaudeurge • MUS: Germaine Franco •  CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch (Narrator) Thich Nhát Hanh

 

Walk with Me is a documentary  about life in Plum Village, a Zen Buddhist community established by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982 in southwestern France. The community live a Spartan life according to the principle of its founder, now over 90, but still a central presence despite having suffered from a stroke in recent years.

Thich Nhát Hanh is credited with introducing the concept of Mindfulness to the Western world, a practice which has been steadily growing in worldwide popularity in recent years. He features throughout the film but his presence is low key. The central theme of the film is the community and the monastic lifestyle which the male and female monks in the community follow. This involves a strict commitment to celibacy (including avoidance of any thoughts which might conflict with that principle) and to poverty.

The essence of daily life in Plum Village is a commitment to simplicity and the practice of “Mindfulness” in all tasks, though that term is rarely used. One of the features of daily life is the ringing of a resounding bell at irregular times. This signals to all residents that they must stop whatever they are doing at that point and re-connect with themselves. Thich Nhát Hanh himself seems to be the primary bell ringer.

The film appears to have been a labour of love for the directors Mark J. Francis and Max Pugh, who fill almost all of the roles behind the camera. This may have advantages in ensuring the ‘Auteurs’ achieve their vision for the film but it has disadvantages in other respects.

The directors were granted unprecedented access to the community to facilitate filming. They have reciprocated by following a respectful observational approach to the subject matter rather than an interrogatory approach.

There is little in the way of a story arc in a film that has a very leisurely, meditative pace. Some may find themselves identifying with one monk who appeared to be distracted as he yawned several times, unable to sustain the level of concentration of his peers.

Indeed, some of the more absorbing scenes take place outside of Plum Village when we follow  the monks on outings to the US. This includes one very entertaining street scene and a couple of very moving scenes where monks reconnect with their families.

Throughout the film we hear the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as narrator. The narration consists mainly of quotes from “Fragrant Palm Leaves”, a book of philosophy by the founder written over one year in 1966. This was a turning point in Thich Nhat Hanh’s life. It was the year he arrived in France having had to flee Vietnam due to his opposition to the Vietnam war and his attempts to achieve peace. It is a measure of the man that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at that time by Martin Luther King.

Unfortunately, apart from the philosophy, we hear nothing of the founder’s experiences during that time or what motivated him to establish Plum village. It would have been interesting to hear more about the genesis of the community. I would liked to have heard more from Thich Nhát Hanh about his own life, or  perhaps even to hear one of the senior monks talk about that. I would like to have known more about why people are drawn to Plum Village and what keeps them there.

Despite these elusive elements, there is an honesty at the heart of the film. Life in Plum Village is not presented as idyllic. One of the messages that emerged was that if a monk achieves a certain level of awareness, then suffering too will follow.

This documentary has a meditative immersive quality. However, it may make for challenging viewing for some at times which may require the exercise of mindfulness. But it has an honesty and integrity at its heart.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

94 minutes
Walk with Me is released 5th January 2018

Walk with Me – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Brad’s Status

DIR/WRI: Mike White  PRO: David Bernad, Dede Gardner, Sidney Kimmel, Jeremy Kleiner  DOP: Xavier Grobet • ED: Heather Persons Jon Poll, Spencer Susser • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • DES: Richard Hoover • CAST: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer

Ben Stiller is perfectly cast as Brad Sloan in this salutary tale of male middle-aged crisis. It is difficult to imagine any other actor being as credible in a role which he inhabits with a combination of humour and darkness.

As the title suggests, Brad’s Status is primarily about our hero’s pre-occupation with his status. The film is also concerned with the value we attach to status and material possessions vis-à-vis human relationships – in particular Brad’s relationship with his son, Troy and to a lesser extent, his wife.

The film opens with a voiceover from Brad lying awake in bed as his wife sleeps beside him. Brad feels life has let him down on all fronts.

The voiceover from Brad is darkly comic. It sets the tone and appears regularly throughout the film as a narrative device. That may seem like cheap exposition. But it works well as a means of contrasting Brad’s bleak perception of his lot with a different reality. He has a lot going for him. But Brad does not do gratitude. That is not unusual in human kind, but the theme is rarely observed as acutely as here.

Brad’s obsession with the status and wealth of his peers is eating away at him. The catalyst for the escalating crisis is Brad’s son, Troy, who is about to flee the nest for college. Troy is unsure which college he will qualify for. He has an important interview which will decide whether he makes it to an Ivy League College or not. This involves a journey, literally and metaphorically, for Troy and Brad, who travels with him for the interview.

Brad reflects back on his own college days when he and his friends were very happy. In the years after, Brad has lost touch with those friends, who have all become high achievers with commensurate wealth and status.

Brad started work as an idealistic young graduate in an organisation dedicated to fund raising for Charity. He has remained there. However, his idealism has completely evaporated and he bitterly regrets he didn’t follow the money. When he monitors the progress of his former friends on social media, news of their exploits propels him into a spiral of jealousy and depression.

But in order to help Troy, Brad has to resort to contacting some of those friends – and play the game of pretence. That facility for pretence is something they all still have in common.

Brad has much to be grateful for, including his wife and son, who both have a much healthier outlook on life. They also clearly love Brad. But Brad aspires to a romantic life akin to one of his old friends who has two concubines half his age. Brad’s fantasy life extends to dreaming of a similar arrangement with two of Troy’s female friends.

There is potential redemption for Brad. He genuinely loves his son. But his ham-fisted attempts to assist Troy are more hindrance than help. Troy is the adolescent, but he has not inherited the adolescent world view of his father.

One of the stand-out scenes in the film involves Brad and one of Troy’s young female friends whom Brad is secretly lusting after.

Troy is played with great assurance by Austin Abrams. He has many scenes opposite Stiller, but he consistently holds his own as a mature and thoughtful young man who has way more depth than his father. Abrams will not be short of offers of work following this outing.

Jenna Fisher as Brad’s wife Melanie is impressive as a woman doing her best to remain positive and upbeat in the face of Brad’s downbeat world view. I felt there was more scope for developing the dynamic of her relationship with Brad. She appears a bit too stoic. Michael Sheen is excellent as one of Brad’s former friends.

In some ways this is a moral tale about the value and focus we put on status and wealth over those who we truly care about. This film has many comic moments but there is a dark core to it which many may resonate uncomfortably for many.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

15A (See IFCO for details)

102 minutes
Brad’s Status is released 5th January 2018

Brad’s Status – Official Website

 

 

                  

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Review: Ingrid Goes West

DIR: Matt Spicer  WRI: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer  PRO: Jared Goldman  DOP: Bryce Forner  DES: Susie Mancini  Ed: Jack Price  MUS: Jonathan Sadoff, Nick Thorburn  CAST: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jnr. , Wyatt Russell

There have been surprisingly few films which incorporate the contemporary phenomenon of Social Media and on-line celebrity status as themes. This film addresses that and the widespread malaise of pretence which afflicts those addicted to this cult.

Directed and co-written by Matt Spicer in his debut feature, Ingrid goes West is an original and engaging story about one young woman’s journey towards her dream, i.e  becoming ‘besties’ with someone cool who has a very large following on Instagram.

Spicer and his co-writer David Branson Smith have concocted a witty and original story embedded with some disturbing home truths. It will likely guarantee Spicer a shot at directing another feature with perhaps a bigger budget – though perhaps less artistic freedom. He is very well served by his principal and supporting cast.

We learn early on that Ingrid has spent time caring for her now deceased mother – and also spent time in a mental health institution following a wedding day mace attack on the bride. Ingrid would argue the attack was understandable given that the bride (an on–line and off-line ‘friend’ of Ingrid), had neglected to invite Ingrid to her wedding.

Ingrid has what might be regarded as an unhealthy interest in on-line celebrity figures. That is not unusual nor would it regarded by many as unhealthy. Many in this film and in life subscribe to the practice. Celebrity status can derive from the number of followers one has on Instagram. Enter Taylor Sloane, an attractive young woman living on the west coast with a very large following. Ingrid decides to follow Taylor in more ways than one – hence the title of the film.

One might assume from the trailer that Ingrid goes West is a comedy – the blurb describes the film as a ‘comedy drama’. I was a little uncertain of the genre. There are many comic moments. But the film has a dark underbelly. The themes of celebrity culture and on-line presentation of so many lives as idyllic on social media are explored acutely. The development of these themes in this film may be uncomfortably close to a truth most people don’t want to embrace. It is not surprising that this is an ‘indie’ rather than a mainstream film.

I had thought romance would emerge as a means of helping Ingrid ‘find herself’. To its credit, the film does not take that route. Ingrid is gifted with such an opportunity. But Ingrid will only consider such an option if it brings her closer to her primary goal.

We might suspect early in the movie that Ingrid’s rabid pursuit of her goal does not bode well for our heroine. However, the plot developed organically and was never predictable nor formulaic. This is one of the strengths of this film. I was enjoying the set-up and characters from the get-go and not particularly concerned about the plot. The resolution may not be to everybody’s fancy, but I liked it.

Ingrid goes West has a range of quirky, though few likeable, characters.  The credibility of the characters was greatly aided by the casting. Aubrey Plaza in the lead role of Ingrid managed to convey a mixture of manic determination and vulnerability. Though Ingrid’s behaviour ranges from misguided to deluded, she manages to evoke more sympathy than one might expect.

Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor Sloane, the object of Ingrid’s attention, is very good in a role  more complex than her recent impressive turn in Wind River. One suspects that the career of Olsen and some others in this film may take an upward trajectory going forward.

Among the supporting cast, Billy Magnussen in the role of Nicky Sloane (Taylor’s brother), is excellent as the most dislikeable character I have seen for quite some time.

My favourite character was Dan Pinto, Taylor’s landlord, played by O’Shea Jackson Jnr. (son of Ice -Cube) with remarkable screen presence. Pinto is one of the few characters without a hidden agenda. Though Pinto is no saint, he exudes an integrity which is palpable and refreshing amidst an assorted range of charlatans.

The music and sound track by Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn was good and was very conducive to the mood and tone of the film.

Matt Spicer has done very well on his first outing.

 

 

Brian Ó Tiomáin

15A (See IFCO for details)

101 minutes
Ingrid goes West is released 17th November 2017

Ingrid goes West – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Drummer and the Keeper

 

DIR/WRI: Nick Kelly  PRO: Kate McColgan • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Derek Holland  DES: Louise Mathews   MUS: John Gerard Walsh   CAST: Jacob McCarthy, Dermot Murphy, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Peter Coonan, Niamh Algar

The Drummer and the Keeper, written and directed by Nick Kelly, is a product of the IFB (Irish Film Board) ‘Catalyst’ scheme. Nick Kelly has an eclectic CV. He was once the leader singer in The Fat Lady Sings and he has a track record in award-winning short films dating back to 2003. In more recent years he directed the Irish Film Archive promo featuring Saoirse Ronan as well as the iconic Guinness commercial based on Tom Crean. On the evidence of such talent, one might ask why it has taken until now for him to nail down backing for a feature.

With The Drummer and the Keeper, he has not elected to play safe with his debut. Any film that takes on the issues of mental illness or Aspergers Syndrome involves risk. This film has the ambition to take on both issues in tandem. It might have been easier to make a film about a romantic relationship between two people with mental health issues. It is to the credit of Nick Kelly that he chose to eschew that approach.

The film is based on an unlikely friendship between Christopher, a teenage youth with Aspergers, and Gabriel, a drummer in a band in his mid-twenties who suffers from a mental illness. Having read the pitch, I felt the storyline might stretch credibility. I also feared the film might stray into cliché or that it might be deemed offensive.

I hoped not.

Gabriel, (played by Dermot Murphy), a talented drummer in a band, is struggling with addiction issues and trying to conceal his mental illness from his fellow band members. He attempts to mask his illness with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, testing the patience of his fellow band members in the process.

Christopher (played by Jacob McCarthy), is a seventeen-year-old youth with Aspergers Syndrome who happens to be a very good goalie. He lives in an institution with occasional visits home to his family some of whom barely tolerate his presence. The dining table scenes make for difficult viewing.

One of the strengths of the film is that the characters of both of the leads are built up progressively and persuasively. While some of the supporting roles may be a little thinly sketched, the strength of the performance of the central characters carries the film.

Another strength is that Nick Kelly appears to have engaged in substantial research on mental illness and Aspergers Syndrome before embarking on the screenplay. This added depth to the plot and credibility to events along the way which might otherwise have appeared unlikely.

The initial meeting of Gabriel and Christopher on a football field is very funny indeed. This is not only because of  the interaction between the two lead characters but also the performance of the referee, who we later discover is one of the carers in the institution where Christopher is residing. This film is not a comedy, but there are many richly comic moments. The humour was organic to the story and never appeared contrived.

There were some impressive performances among the supporting cast including Aoibhinn McGinnity as Gabriel’s sister and Peter Coonan as a reserved band member.

I wondered if someone with mental illness and addiction issues who is passionately  committed to being a drummer in a band would have the capacity to sustain a friendship with a teenage youth who he doesn’t understand or accept initially. I grew to believe it to be possible in the course of the film – though I wasn’t sure the friendship would last. That challenge is at the heart of a film that packs a strong emotional punch.

There are other things to admire in this film. Credit to Maureen Hughes for the casting which is very well judged all round. As one might expect in a plot that involes Gabriel’s band, the soundtrack is an important element of the film. The music by John Gerard Walsh is very good indeed.

The Drummer and the Keeper heralds the arrival of a very impressive new talent. We are already looking forward to what Nick will do next.

 

Brian Ó Tiomáin

15A (See IFCO for details)

93 minutes

The Drummer and the Keeper is released 8th September 2017

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Pilgrimage

DIR: Brendan Muldowney • WRI: Jamie Hannigan • PRO: Conor Barry • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Mairead McIvor • Production Desing: Owen Power • MUS: StephenMcKeown  CAST: Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal, Richard Armitage John Lynch|

 

I have long felt that our more distant history has too rarely been explored on screen. By ‘more distant’, I mean any period prior to the 1916 Easter Rising. I was thus eagerly looking forward to Brendan Muldowney’s latest project as director, written by Jamie Hannigan, which is set in 13th century rural Ireland.

There is a degree of risk in taking on unchartered territory and there is a particular challenge in creating a terrain from such a distant era. Muldowney’s ambition has been rewarded with distribution deals for the US rights and ten further territories.

There are themes in this film which have contemporary relevance. One of the principle themes is reliance on blind faith in challenging and dangerous situations. Such faith may not necessarily guarantee deliverance as we see several times in the course of this film. Another theme is the risk of betrayal in situations where there is a struggle for military and political power.

At its heart, the film is a road movie set in Norman times. It has visual and musical echoes of the journey depicted in Roland Joffé’s The Mission. The core plot centres on a cross country journey by a group of monks who are carrying a historic holy relic across Ireland. The relic is bound for Rome at the request of the Pope. But before Rome, they must reach the mecca of Waterford.

It is trip that is fraught with danger and uncertainty in a politically unstable and violent Ireland. Along the way we see some stunning scenery. The photography at times has a bleak and mournful quality in keeping with the physical and internal journeys of the pilgrims. There is a genuine feeling of being transported back to a different Ireland replete with warring tribes, some of whom are in league with the Norman conquerors.

Muldowney’s debut feature film in 2011 was as writer/director of Savage. The production company adopted the title and retained the name of Savage Productions for subsequent productions including this one. That title could equally have been applied to this film even though Pilgrimage is set eight centuries earlier.

Some scenes in Pilgrimage are not for the faint-hearted. The film opens with an execution by stoning. That is mild fare compared to what follows. There is an extended and brutal torture sequence later on. The film felt very authentic in terms of the period detail and it could be argued that such violence was an integral part of that era. But it made for uncomfortable viewing.

There were at least four languages featured in the film (at the last count), which also seemed authentic in the context of the plot.

The ensemble cast were collectively very well cast and credible. This included Tom Holland (who has since been cast as Spiderman) in the role of the Young Novice. Holland is clearly a very talented actor and the story might have benefitted from more development of his internal and external journey in parallel with the journey at the core of the story.

John Lynch and Hugh O’Connor were also well cast among the band of brothers who as the journey progressed seemed to have a growing sense of fear and foreboding.

I had some misgivings around the portrayal of the Monk from Rome who was acting as the Pope’s envoy. This character who was essentially a religious zealot, seemed a little stereotyped.

Jon Bernthal as a Mute, despite having no dialogue, nevertheless managed to convey a great deal.

The score, composed by Stephen McKeon, was impressive from the start. The religious and monastic themes in Pilgrimage were adroitly complemented throughout by the sound-track. The music had a plaintive quality which appeared to resonate especially with the emotional journey of the monks.

 

Brian O Tiomain

96 minutes
18 (See IFCO for details)

Pilgrimage is released 12th July 2017

Pilgrimage  – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: Coming Home

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DIR/PRO/DOP/ ED:Cathal Kenna  MUS Gareth Ebbs, Conor Ebbs, Carol Anne McGowan, White McKenzie, Gavin Mulhall  CAST: Clare Waldron, Gerard Ward, Vera Finnegan, Tom & Evelyn O’Brien, Jimmy Hayes, Mary Lloyd

Coming Home, Cathal Kenna’s debut feature documentary, tells five different Irish emigrant stories. The stories are told by the emigrants themselves. There is no voice-over narrative. It is a style of documentary reminiscent of Alex Fegans’ work on Older than Ireland and The Irish Pub.

The five emigrants at the core of the film sometimes call on a supporting cast to help tell their stories. There are also some interesting off-screen characters present in the narrative. The film manages to encapsulate something of the essence of the Irish diaspora’s experience of emigration through these five interweaved stories.

The title does not apply in the literal sense. It is as much about looking back at the Ireland these people left behind as it is about a physical journey. In one case it is about a journey away from home and in another it involves a decision not to return.

Ireland has embraced emigration since the time of the Famine and before. It is embedded deep in our DNA. It is surprising that more emigration stories have not been told through film. A recent exception was Brooklyn, a 1950’s emigration story that seemed to strike a chord with many Irish people at home and abroad.

Cathal Kenna has given us both a historical and a contemporary take on emigration in this film which he directed, produced, shot and edited. It was clearly a labour of love.  Each story spans several years from 2012, when he commenced filming, up to this year. The time span allows an emotional story arc over that time for each of the participants. The conclusions to the five stories are not predictable.

The entire project appears to have been achieved without any funding from the Film Board, the BAI or the broadcasters. It is a tribute to the determination of Kenna that he succeeded in making a feature-length documentary with such meagre resources virtually single-handed. In post-production, the director added a score with the assistance of five credited musicians/ songwriters. The music complements the stories sensitively.

I would imagine Cathal had to rely a lot on ‘the kindness of strangers’ throughout this project. The credits under the title “Special thanks to:” run to six pages on the press information.

Despite the absence of funding and the small crew (one!), Coming Home is very ambitious. The stories play out in several continents – all of which are seen on location.

The success of the film lies in the candid engaging nature of the participants and in the diversity of their stories. It was quite a feat to source people who committed to sharing their unfolding and sometimes painful personal stories with the director over a number years. The journey was usually difficult and always fraught with uncertainty.

For most of the older emigrants, there was no choice but to leave in order to secure employment. Most of those featured still regard Ireland as the homeland, albeit in a conflicted sense. All were troubled by leaving those left behind. There is a sense that those who remain may miss the emigrants, but they cannot understand the emigrant’s pain unless they experience it at first hand.

There is an enduring emotional hurt bound up with being an emigrant. At the core of that hurt is loneliness and longing. The story of Clare Waldron, a woman in her 50s returning to Ireland after 30 years is particularly poignant. It would be unfair to divulge the content of the stories in any more detail.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

PG (See IFCO for details)

83 minutes

Coming Home is released 18th November 2016

Coming Home – Official Website

Film screenings:

 

 

cominghome_poster-image

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Interview: James Phelan, writer of ‘Wrecking the Rising’

sean_purcell_(peter_coonan),_ernest_timmons_(owen_mcdonnell)_and_tom_morgan_(sean_t_o_meallaigh)_selfie

 

Brian Ó Tiomáin interviews fellow Film Ireland journalist James Phelan about the scripts of his show Wrecking the Rising – a comedy drama about time travel and 1916 that broadcasts for three nights in a row starting this Saturday 23rd April. 

 

Can you tell us where the idea for Wrecking the Rising came from?

Well, will I start with an exclusive? (laughs) I’ll try to be terse but this is actually me coming clean. A few years back there was an open call for 1916 ideas to pitch in public with some prize money attached. I had this notion of battle re-enactors travelling back to the exact battle they knew by heart. And the first iteration of this was World War 2 in my basic note. But the second 1916 connected with this idea, I felt I had something. I applied for the pitch but didn’t make the shortlist. Then I passed the concept by TG4 and drama commissioner Micheal O Meallaigh. Again it would be glossing over fact to say he went for it first time. But a few months after I thought this idea was going nowhere Micheal got back in touch and said that the central idea of Wrecking had been gnawing its way into his subconscious. And that we had to do it and we did. But getting a show off the ground is never a straight line and everything gets knockbacks and setbacks – but I was chuffed the idea for this show won out.

 

After you started writing the script, did the concept evolve further over time?

The basic concept of three guys travelling back in time to the Rising where they immediately put the cat among by pigeons by accidentally killing one of the leaders on Easter Monday morning stayed intact throughout. Around the fringes there was plenty of change, and ‘evolve’ is a good word. The main change I can think of is initially the three friends all used to work in the same school but now we have a variety of occupations and they come together for re-enacting. Which was so useful. For instance, Peter Coonan’s character Sean being a site archaeologist freed us up for him to be the guy to find the time travel relic organically enough… I know – ‘time travel’ and ‘organic’ in the same sentence. I didn’t kill myself on the time travel science but we wanted it purely as a device. What works for Woody Allen is good enough for us!

 

Genre wise, what is Wrecking the Rising?

It’s a hybrid for sure of lots of genres but unified by a pretty clean concept. This project was a dream to pitch because it was ‘time travellers wreck the Rising before it even begins’. If I had to describe it as a dark comedy historical adventure drama with elements of science fiction, it would have bogged the whole thing down. Having seen it, I’m so pleased that the last episode has such a powerful emotional climax. Even if people think we’re just goofing around inside history, I think we will surprise people by making them think about both the past and present in a fresh light.

 

There’s been a huge amount of 1916 programmes already this year, are you afraid of viewer fatigue?

Of course. I’m afraid of everything. Afraid we’ll be lost in the flood. Afraid that we won’t get a chance to connect but we hope people give us a chance because we really are something radically different in relation to 1916. It’s not just marketing rhetoric but we are genuinely the antidote to all the solemn stuff. We rip through history and though we are not ripping the piss, we provide something original, outrageous, extreme but also extremely funny and thought-provoking. There’s been a lot of classical treatments of 1916 knocking around – this is more punk rock.

 

Speaking of… do you listen to specific music when you write?

Hah. I used to think that was such bollocks but now I understand why David Koepp says he wrote Panic Room to an exclusive score of heavy metal. I actually did a soundtrack for the writing of this and no,  it wasn’t diddely aye era-specific folk music. It was Springsteen’s album ‘Wrecking Ball’. The title is kind of just a coincidence but the music on that vastly underrated album has a real aggressive protest song vibe to it. While also being pretty redolent of Irish/Scottish airs. And it really fed into the script. So much so that Peter’s character within is it a big Springsteen fan who actually infuses the music into the show at pivotal and totally anachronistic times. Fair play to Tile Films and the director Ruan Magan for following through on it. We have Peter pay tribute to one song in a recurring manner that is both really funny and really moving.

 

Can you remember how you first became interested in writing and at what stage after that you thought about writing for the screen?

Well, English being my sole good subject in school guided me a bit. In fact I lie. History was decent for me too but probably because it was an English-language subject. In my secondary education in Abbeyside Dungarvan, I got great encouragement from two English teachers and when you spend your time writing essays for other people in class, it’s probably a precursor to feeding actors lines. I always liked the secret pride in that.

And before you ask – no, I wasn’t good at Irish either. I’m still not. So again, credit to TG4 to being open enough to accept ideas and scripts from everyone and everywhere. When I first sent in my ideas for Rasai na Gaillimhe /Galway Races I thought I’d probably be disqualified by having these ideas in English. Gallingly, my mother is from the smallest Gaeltacht of Ring outside Dungarvan and my Irish teacher knew she was fluent but I remain stubbornly resistant to taking any additional languages onboard.

 

Who were your major influences in film and writing?

Anytime I answer this I feel I should be all obscure and arty but the truth is I believe that film and TV are primarily entertainment. It’s occasionally elevated to art if the practitioners excel  but I love mainstream writers who please an audience while still being true to themselves. The last decade of TV has thrown up people I admire and adore on occasion. From Josh Whedon to Aaron Sorkin to Tina Fey. In film I feel like such a bore saying the Coens,  but it’s true. The variety and consistency of their work is astonishing. That said, as my recent review of Hail Caesar attests – they can still have the odd off day. And I’d have to qualify my love for Quentin by limiting it to early Tarantino. I quite like the films Diablo Cody is putting together but putting together a really satisfying body of film writing seems to getting harder and harder.

 

Are you drawn to particular genres or subject matter?

Judged on my TG4 work it would seem I have a thing for setting things over one week. That said we did Rasai Na Gaillimhe twice so it was bound to be race week twice. But also ‘Wrecking’ being set on Easter week. Other recurring things thus far – I seem to have a dark comedy obsession with moving dead bodies around. Weekend at Bernie’s must have had a bigger effect than I imagined on me. I will defend myself by saying I think it’s an inherently dramatic and often comedic situation. If you factor in my short films, I think there’s a tendency to lose body parts too. Oh, and I inject comedy into everything. The darkest material is made palpable by humour and even on their worst days, I like my characters to summon humour to cope or improve a situation or just be defiant. It’s a trait in Wrecking... for sure, where even in the deepest peril, the characters find the funny.

 

Any interest in features?

Plenty of interest. I just need to get producers interested in my feature scripts. I started out by writing features to learn the trade. And it worked to some extent. I see a steady improvement and I have a little reservoir of viable features sitting there. They will always need another draft but I favour writing actual scripts over purely having short documents to represent a project. I hate short docs as much as any writer out there and I think they lie and over-promise anyway. I have a script that I’d love to do as my debut feature. And increasingly I’m looking to animation too. I’ve got TV animation credits under my belt with Oddbods which is apparently doing very well audience-wise on Boomerang channel.

 

Wrecking the Rising screens over three consecutive nights on TG4 at 9.30pm starting on Saturday, 23rd April.

 

 

 

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Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

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DIR: Amy Berg • PRO: Alex Gibney, Noah C. Haeussner, Jeff Jampol, Katherine LeBlond • DOP: Francesco Carrozzini, Jenna Rosher • ED: Mark Harrison, Maya Hawke, Garret Price, Brendan Walsh  • CAST: Cat Power, Janis Joplin, Peter Albin
 

As a kid in the ’60s, my memory of Janis Joplin was of a wild hell-raising woman who lived an extreme life. When the curtain went up on this movie, I felt I was re-visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades.

 

In some respects Janis: Little Girl Blue reminded me of Amy the biopic of Amy Winehouse – my favourite doc of 2015. Little Girl Blue may prove to be my top doc for 2016. It is a compilation of interviews, archive footage and letters home from Janis Joplin all of which amount to more than the sum of their parts.The letters home complement the archive footage and interviews wonderfully. Collectively, those letters provide more of an insight into the inner life of Janis than the various interviews. They are brief but wonderfully written. They show a very bright young woman who, despite her extreme lifestyle, remained in some ways a child constantly in need of parental approval and love.

That need did not deter her from pursuing her ambitions. She showed great courage and integrity, at times on that journey even if some of the choices might have been misguided. As in Amy, the film moves chronologically through her life from the teen years to her early death at the age of 27 in 1970 – the same age Amy died at 41 years later. Both had a deep seated musical integrity and a raw vocal talent. In both cases the descent to drug and alcohol addiction appears to have been fuelled by commercial success and the pernicious influence of certain ‘friends’.

Her very first composition ‘What good can drinkin do?’ foreshadowed her committed relationship to Southern Comfort in the years that followed. There is a degree of dark humour as we hear some of the survivors of that era fondly recalling the drug parties as a high point of those years – as if there had been no consequences.

Janis came from a conservative middle class family in Port Arthur, Texas. But she did not inherit the family values. During her teen years Janis had a strong rebellious streak and a deep need for attention. Trips to Louisiana with some of her male friends often culminated in fights with the locals. Her support for racial integration in her native Port Arthur, a town with a strong Ku Klux Klan presence, got her into serious trouble and may have been a factor in those physical confrontations in Lousiana.

I would have liked to have heard more of her life prior to the teen years – and perhaps an indication of where that need for attention and to be loved came from. Maybe it was innate. But despite the various interviews with family and friends from her teenage years, it felt as if something was missing from the jigsaw.

Nevertheless, this is a compelling story of the relatively short journey of a very talented singer and writer – who only discovered her singing talent in her late teens. That raw vocal talent was infused with an emotional vulnerability borne of a number of deeply wounding experiences painfully recalled in this film. Port Arthur was not a place for the faint-hearted.

Her musical influences are evident in the footage of her live performances – there are shades of Lead Belly, Bessie Smith, Odetta and Billie Holliday. Janis had a unique talent for live performance. It was visceral from the get-go. Word of those performances began to spread and when she moved to San Franscisco in 1963 at the age of 20 she began recording and performing in earnest. Unfortunately her use of drugs also became more earnest – the struggle with addiction was to become the greatest challenge of her life and would lead to her pre-mature death.

A chance meeting with a man on a beach in Rio, who could perhaps have been something of a soul-mate and a saviour provides a fascinating chapter in itself. His contemporary recollections of the relationship that followed are very insightful and give an glimpse of an potentially happier life she might have had but for her addiction.

Janis began to rise to fame nationally in the mid 1960s as the lead singer of the rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She was the main musical influence on their second album “Cheap Thrills”. But she was also a wonderful singer of the blues and her biggest hit was with Kris Kristofferson’s folk song ”Me and Bobby McGee”.

Dick Cavett’s early TV interviews with Joplin are riveting. There is a combination of affection and electricity between them. The interview with Cavett looking back forty years later is also compelling if coy in terms of revealing how close they were.

Towards the end of the film we see Janis returning to her High School re-union ten years after she left – and shortly before her death. The candour and pain of her interview amidst a scrum of journalists is raw. Her association with the Chelsea Hotel in New York is mentioned but Leonard Cohen’s song of the same title in which he describes an encounter with Janis is not –a pity because the song captures something of her essence and wit.
 
“….You told me again you preferred handsome men…
but for me you would make an exception.”
 
Janis: Little Girl Blue was very satisfying and remained with me in
the days that followed.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

15A
103 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Janis: Little Girl Blue is released 5th February 2016

Janis: Little Girl Blue– Official Website

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Interview: Consolata Boyle, Costume Designer

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Brian Ó Tiomáin chats to the renowned Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle. Consolata trained as a set and costume designer at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before moving into film. Her credits include Philomena (2013), The Iron Lady (2011) and The Queen (2006), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA and won the IFTA for Best Costume Design.

 

 

What was your path into the business?

I came to costume design via a very circuitous route. I did many things before it which influenced my career. But there were two actual practical courses I did which were the bedrock of what I do. The first was at the Abbey Theatre, which at that time had an apprenticeship course which was absolutely brilliant – you trained in both set and costume. I did that and then I stayed on as an assistant designer and went on to be a full designer in set and costume. My particular interest in costume evolved during that process. I then moved on and studied Reproduction of Historical Textiles in England. Both the Abbey and that course were absolutely vital to everything I did afterwards. It was very much an evolution.

 

What was your first break into the industry?

My first break in the film industry came when I was asked to work on the series The Irish R.M., an RTÉ /Ch4 televised co–production of the Somerville and Rossbook. That was an extraordinary learning experience. I was thrown in as a full designer. In film I’ve never been an assistant, I was always a full designer. It was an absolutely terrifying experience but completely wonderful. There were 6 or 7 episodes that we worked on over a long period of time and I worked on quite a few of those. It was an extraordinary learning experience.

 

It must have been quite daunting. Did you enjoy it?

Very much so. It was an absolute survival course! If I hadn’t survived that I don’t think I could have progressed in the industry – it was a baptism of fire. Also, if I hadn’t enjoyed it so much I couldn’t have seen propelling myself forward.

 

Why do you think they took a risk taking on someone with no previous experience?

Before that I was very lucky that the group of people I worked with had moved with me from UCD through to the experimental theatres in Dublin. The likes of Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan were becaming involved in film and I was with them – it evolved in that way. The industry was more open then and things like that could happen. The environment encouraged that.

 

What was the biggest lesson you have learned in the industry?

Every project that you approach – even though you bring all your experience to it, everything you know, all the tools of your trade, your imagination, your knowledge – is like starting from zero. You have to prove yourself all over again. So you’re always on that edge of danger. Film is such a risky pursuit – there’s so much money at stake, egos at stake, dreams at stake and so many personalities within the whole matrix of it. That means that everything you know up to that point is both vital and irrelevant. In that way I’ve learned to look at everything with as clear a vision as I can. Every project is starting from the beginning. Everyone is in that same state, even though each person may have a vast amount of knowledge and experience behind them – and that’s what makes it so incredibly exciting.

 

You still feel that pressure even when you’re established?

Once you feel that pressure going it’s time to question yourself.

 

And you still enjoy the process…

Absolutely. You couldn’t do it unless you absolutely loved it. It takes every fibre of your being and if you have any doubts or questions about what you’re doing then I think everything kind of unravels.

 

What drew you to costume design?

This I feel really strongly about. From my personal point of view, being a costume designer was an evolution – it started very slowly. It started through love of film – and I think it has to be that way or else you become a cropper. You’re always watching film. I don’t just mean watching costume in film. I mean just watching film and loving film… and then you see how costume comes into the context of film and you see how absolutely vital it is. And then, if you have strong visual leanings and strong love of costume texture, it becomes more and more clear that costume is not a decoration; costume can enhance and make a performance or it can totally annihilate and destroy a performance.

Film has to be the starting point. I believe anything in film, not only costume design,from lighting to directing to producing, has to come from the starting point of absolute obsession with film .

For me it was a slow evolution. But all through it I was always looking at film. When I was in the Abbey, I knew that film was something that drew me more and more. I think the precision of it I liked. I think that appeals to my character. That detail, that precision and the work of the imagination – it does both. Also I believe in the power of cinema to change people’s lives. It evolved slowly through people I met, people around me loving film. That’s what drew me. It was a step-by-step process based around a love of film. It was never just about loving clothes – if that’s the case you can become a fashion designer. It’s about the power of clothes to tell a story.

 

Can we talk about your early memories of being attracted to costume?

I was very lucky in that I had a childhood where my imagination was allowed to roam free. I had a very strong dream world, an imaginative world. I was always fascinated by colour and fabric – and shoes, the sound of shoes… I remember being absolutely fascinated by the sound of my shoes on the pavement, looking at the heels on shoes, looking at embroidery on a dress. I have very strong memories of that and that has always stayed with me.

I was very lucky to be brought up in that environment and that has influenced me ever since. Where all that time to imagine was encouraged. That time to imagine, time to dream and time to draw. It is a very precious time and I was very lucky. That’s where it started for me. I was attracted to the idea of clothes… not just clothes on their own but what their meaning was, the secret language of clothes.

 

Going back to the Abbey – did you ever think you might remain in theatre?

Well I knew by the end of it that costume was my area and I knew that I would need more knowledge and all the time film was drawing me towards it and it appealed to me so much whereas with theatre I find a distance of the audience from everything – I think it’s just a personality thing.  I love the power of the camera, the danger of it. I found the theatre gentler. I found myself drawn to where there seemed to be more at stake. And the people that I knew, the people that I admired were moving in that area – so all of this happened quite organically. It seemed inevitable.

 

Do you enjoy the research involved working on film recreating styles and fashions of other eras.

Contemporary stories sometimes involve even more research than period stuff. Sometimes people think contemporary costume is just a matter of going out shopping. It’s absolutely not. Contemporary costume is much more difficult to get completely right and much easier to have major cock-ups. I love research and sometimes I can get lost in it and you have to call a halt and pare back! But I do love research. Contemporary and period are equally as interesting and challenging and demand the same focus.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to see you at work and I was struck by your attention to detail. Not every head of costume goes and looks at extras for example.

I’ve always worked that way and I don’t understand any other way of doing it. Filmmaking is like a symphony and every thing is chiming together and if there is something wrong, no matter how inconsequential  – like a flat note – it’s horrendous. It screams out in the overall melody we’re hoping to create. I always think of it like that. I can’t quite fathom how anyone couldn’t check that every little thing is perfect. I’m presuming that the director would expect nothing less. Otherwise it can be a catastrophe. It can be that the tiniest weak link brings everything down. Film is collaborative. It’s not just your work that suffers if it’s not done correctly it’s everyone’s. If one person falls down the whole thing goes up in smoke.

 

Finally Consolata, would you have any advice for those hoping to get into the business?

Love the medium and the importance of it and that will keep you in it. It’s a tough industry and people get knocked sideways every day. So it’s really important to know why you’re there and be very articulate about why you’re there – if your roots are deep and not just decorative that gives you a strong basis. Also training is getting better and better and there’s some fantastic courses connected to the industry. Most importantly it’s about knowing what you want and finding the best places to do it.

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One Million Dubliners

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DIR: Aoife Kelleher • PRO: Rachel Lysaght • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Emer Reynolds • MUS: Hugh Rodgers, Ray Harman

One Million Dubliners, is a documentary film centred in Glasnevin Cemetery – sometimes known as ‘the dead centre of Dublin’. Glasnevin Cemetery has been an iconic feature of Dublin for generations. In recent years visitor numbers have increased significantly due to the development of the heritage aspect of the cemetery.

The film takes its title from the fact that over one million people are buried there –  nearly as many Dubliners as are above ground. Among the dead are many famous names including a roll call of those associated with the War of Independence and the Fenian era. I expected the film might be dealing with some of those famed underground residents. And it does. But the film is much more about the living than the dead.

It is particularly about people working there. The people who directly or indirectly deal with the needs of the many dead in their care as well as their visitors. We also meet some regular visitors who travel from afar to visit the grave of a person they have never met.

The film delves deeply into the minutiae of the daily life of the cemetery through interviews with various staff members. Chief among these is Shane, an engaging tour guide who in many ways acts as our guide through the film.

Shane moves seamlessly from witty guided tours with groups of school children and adults to a more reflective mood as he speaks about his father. Many years ago, I went on historical tours of Dublin with Shane’s father Éamon Mac Thomáis who was a tour guide before him, as they say and who is now buried in Glasnevin himself.

Other employees share their own perspective not just on the job, but on life and death, including a couple of interesting grave diggers. Management staff with diverse roles all seem to share a mixture of passion and reverence for the cemetery. The crematorium attendant gives a detailed demonstration of his role and the process of cremation – perhaps more detailed than we might have expected.

The Florists made interesting revelations about the two graves which attract the most flowers and visitors. One perhaps predictable – not a Dubliner as it happens, the other maybe not as predictable. And the Manager who interviewed the florist for the job had an interesting revelation to make in his own right.

An engaging aspect of the film was that the director sought the views of all of the Cemetery community about matter beyond their own role. They were probed about how that role affected their views on the afterlife – if such exists, and their own preferences in relation to cremation or burial. As might be expected, those views were divergent.

The film is in ways a meditation about the sensitive subject of death. There was a sense of the presence of the silent dead in the background as the camera gave us panoramic aerial shots of the cemetery sweeping across the countless grave stones.

I really liked the score composed by Hugh Rodgers & Ray Harman which was in tune with the mood of the film as was the lighting and photography by DOP Cathal Watters. On my way out of the screening, I overhead a discussion on the impressive nature and variety of the photography.

One Million Dubliners was not what I expected. It gave me a completely new perspective on a cemetery that I visit from time to time due to an interest in history and to see the graves of people I once knew. It is a reflective film which is much more than a documentary about the cemetery. The film and especially the conclusion will remain long with me.

 Brian O Tiomain

PG (See IFCO for details)

80 minutes

One Million Dubliners is released 31st October 2014

 

 

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A Second Look at ‘Grand Central’

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Brian Ó Tiomáin takes a second look at Grand Central.

Grand Central is a film from rising young French Director Rebecca Zlotowski. Zlotowski co-wrote the script with Gaelle Macé, a screenwriter with whom she collaborated previously on Belle Epine.  The film follows an illicit love affair within a community of lower paid workers in a nuclear reactor plant in France.

 

From early on in the film, we see in the distant background, the giant Nuclear reactor chimneys. Those scenes had resonance for me. Some years ago, I drove through France from Normandy along the Loire valley down to the Swiss Border.

 

I was amazed at the number of nuclear reactor plants that I passed en route. I had a queasy feeling every time I passed one of these smoking giants and always felt the better for looking at them through the rear view mirror as distinct from the windscreen.

 

I got the same queasy feeling watching Grand Central as we moved progressively closer and eventually into the heart of the Nuclear Reactor.

 

Tahir Reymour is impressive in the lead role of Gary, a young man with very little money or prospects. Gary is prepared to take risks to improve his situation and seeks a job as a decontamination sub-contractor at a nuclear power plant in the lower valley of the Rhone.

 

Recruited by supervisor Gilles and veteran Toni, Gary discovers that the risk of radiation contamination is much higher than he was led to believe. Gary continues to take risks when he begins a torrid affair with Karole, Toni’s fiancée. This is maybe not the wisest of choices, given that Toni is directly responsible for Gary’s safety within the plant.

 

The film makes impressive use of sound design to enhance the pervasive sense of of claustrophobia within the plant. There is a tension whenever the action moves inside the reactor, where any lapse in concentration can have serious consequences for all present. We learn a lot about the health and safety aspect of the nuclear power plant system while within those walls. While it was instructive and engaging, I will not be visiting one of those sites to develop my knowledge further.

 

The sense of claustrophobia within the plant extends into the cramped living conditions of this little community of lower-paid workers who live together and socialise together. The use of handheld cameras and close-ups add to the growing sense of volatility within the reactor and within the social dynamic of this tight knit group.

 

Karole is played by Lea Seydoux, who worked previously with the director on Belle Epine.  Both won awards on their first collaboration. Seydoux has a commanding screen presence and will be remembered from Blue is the Warmest Colour and the Grand Budapest Hotel.

 

As the film moves towards a climax, one has a sense that things may not end well for Gary and Karole. And while not wishing to reveal too much of the plot, there were developments in the final third of the film which surprised me.

 

Grand Central is gritty and felt distinctly French in style. It won the Francois Chalais prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The narrative manages to combine a love story with issues of social and environmental concern without appearing to be preachy.

 

While I might have reservations about some aspects of the resolution, Grand Central is very well served by its cast, by the photography and by its use of sound. That is impressive for such a young director. I look forward to seeing more of Rebecca Zlotowski’s work in the future and  I expect we will see further collaborations with Lea Seydoux.

 

 

 

 

 

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