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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Film Review - Pyjama Girls (2010)

There is a point about 15 minutes into Maya Derrington's feature length documentary Pyjama Girls where children are playing outside in a Ballyfermot street. The camera frames them in the garden with the corner of the frame taken up with the bonnet of a red car. It is an icy day and scraped into the ice on the car are the words 'fuck you'. The two kids come out of the garden and go over to the car. One matter-of-factly reads out the message to the other and they both giggle. The black (or some would say Irish) humour is what takes Pyjama Girls out of the category of misery doc to something much more interesting and fulfilling.

The story primarily concerns two teenage girls, Lauren and Tara. Initially the film is about their friendship and its importance. This is followed by them, and their friends, wearing brightly coloured pyjamas in public and showing them shopping for them in city stores. However, like all good documentaries the title is a little misleading. The story of the pyjamas may well be a way in to these girls’ lives but the stories told within those lives, is where the heart of this film lies. The pyjamas themselves are no different than a punk rocker’s mohawk or a hippie’s colourful jumper: a way of shocking the world outside of your control. That the country decided to get into a bit of a state about this (heard in radio snippets in the film) says more about slow news days than anything else.

The real story here concerns the tragic background of Lauren's family: split apart by a drug addict mother (not seen in the film), her life up to this point has been one of being moved around to different family members. Lauren talks about living with her grandmother and the frightening manner of meetings with her drunken mother with a thoughtfulness and maturity that belies the fact that she has been expelled from school. Wasted potential like this is perhaps the saddest tragedy of this film. There are some really tense and terse scenes within the film itself. Unseen fights with groups of other girls are bragged about while standing endlessly outside of supermarkets. There is a family scene when Lauren's younger sister is painting Lauren's fingernails and the subject of their mother comes up. This scene is really moving as it is clear how fragile they all are, full of emotions unspoken just beneath the surface.

This is a terrific documentary. It touches on various important subjects such as loyalty and friendship. It also obliquely mentions one of the greatest tragedies of the late 20th century in Dublin, the effects of which are still being felt by both Lauren's and her mother’s generation: namely the decimation of the inner city of Dublin by heroin. That story itself would take another film to tell. The style of the film is quite dreamy with blurred visions of night time Dublin placed alongside a jagged and suitable electronic score. The major plus here is the light and objective direction by Derrington. She lets these girls tell their stories without judgement or condemnation. She leaves it up to the viewer to make judgements. In the end the pyjamas do become very important in one way. They are a blooming of hope in riotous colour in a very bleak and dreary world. That in itself is enough reason for their existence.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Film Review - In Bruges (2008)

Bruges, a most genteel of Belgian towns, becomes a form of limbo for Ray and his more experienced colleague Ken in Martin Mc Donagh’s In Bruges. Their penance for what has happened is a prolonged stay in this town. They are both professional killers and a botched job means they have to lay low for awhile and await instructions from their boss Harry. The feeling of limbo and awaiting judgement is reinforced by how they spend their time in Bruges which includes a visit to see Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Last Judgement.

Limbo is the right word to use here as Ray and Ken are deep in guilt, atonement and forgiveness. This is quite a deeper level of film than is promised in the quite breezy trailer which seemed to promise an action comedy. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising with Mc Donagh being behind acclaimed dark plays such as The Leenane Trilogy and the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter. The two films share an actor in Brendan Gleeson, here playing the older and more experienced Ken. He is a kind of father figure to Ray (Colin Farrell, never more charismatic) who is barely holding it together after the botched killing. To Ray, being banished to Bruges is part of their suffering whereas Ken uses it to quietly assess his life and how he has lived it. They essentially become classic Irish tourists abroad, staring at the sights and going to pubs as much as possible as they wait for the call from Harry (Ralph Fiennes).

Fiennes is a revelation when he finally shows up in the film. Channelling the same kind of energy that Ben Kinsgley used in Sexy Beast Fiennes is both frightening and very funny. He loves Bruges (‘it’s a fairytale’) and there is a terrific long take in which he talks to Ken about Bruges and in which Ken has to lie about how much Ray loves it. This scene works beautifully in both a funny and tension filled way but moves into much darker territory when Harry starts to refer to Ray in the past tense. The character of Harry is important to the themes of this film. He represents a kind of skewed morality which is played out by him in the film’s dénouement. He believes in an eye for an eye, while Ken believes in forgiveness and second chances. Ray is caught in the middle, a man lost amidst his own guilt.

The cinematography is quite beautiful in this film although to some degree it would be hard to fail with a beguilingly beautiful town such as Bruges. The acting is excellent, with Farrell in particular showing with proper direction and characterisation an astounding performance can be coaxed from him. He has never been better. Fiennes and Gleeson are as reliably excellent as ever.

There is also one of the most effective uses of a song to have been committed to film. The song On Raglan Road sung by Luke Kelly and The Dubliners is used to quite astonishing effect in this film. It would be criminal to give away more. Suffice to say it packs an emotional wallop.

This is a long way to go about saying that In Bruges is a superb film. Full of some of the best dialogue we have seen in an Irish film since The Commitments, In Bruges is a brash and confident film debut from Mc Donagh. That it is blackly funny is to be expected from as confident a writer as Mc Donagh. But underneath all the jokes, action and swearing beats a heart and it is this that is the surprising element. There is an emotional core to the film, particularly in Farrell’s performance that brings unexpected depth to, what on the surface, feels like a standard genre film. This is proper filmmaking and there is genuine excitement as to what can be expected from Mc Donagh in the years to come.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Guardian Article My Favourite Film - In Bruges

A very interesting write up about In Bruges by Guardian journalist Peter Beech.

It is one of my favourite Irish films and reading the article has given me the urge to watch it again and put up my own review. Until then enjoy the article.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Film Review - Sensation (2010)

It is an endless source of fascination as to why we in Ireland wrap up wonderfully grim dramas in the broad appeal of comedies. Films such as In Bruges, I Went Down and to a lesser extent The Butcher Boy have hid their real intentions particularly in their respective trailers. This is probably due to the fact that Irish people have a sense of humour that could be described as mordant.

In the case of Tom Hall's new film Sensation, we get an outrageous and funny opening scene that sees Donal (Domhnall Gleeson) pleasuring himself in a field full of sheep. With this scene you could be forgiven for thinking you are in for a farcical sex comedy that come along regularly in the UK (the awful Sex Lives of the Potato Men springs to mind). Instead what we get is a beautifully judged film on the difficulties of making a connection with another human being. With lots of what Simon Bates used to tell us on VHS back in the 1980s as sexual swear words.

The plot concerns Donal, a farmer's son, who after his dad dies, spends a lot of time online in chat rooms. It is from this that he plucks up the courage to call an escort Courtney (Luanne Gordon) and arrange a meeting. The meeting in a restaurant at first in an superbly funny scene involving a chicken kiev. They hook up a couple of times and before long a plan is formed for a partnership in an escort business. He has the money and she has the business experience. Donal brings in his best friend Karl (Patrick Ryan) and new girls are picked up.

Sensation is a brave film. For all of Ireland's great strides into the 21st century our country is still a little prudish when it comes to sex. And this film hits you with some full on scenes. It is commendable that Tom Hall has made this film with an 18 certificate. It is an adult film in every sense and all the better for the fact that it is not watered down in any way. The main characters are not particularly likeable in this film which makes it so much more interesting as the film progresses.

The main actors acquit themselves very well in challenging roles with Gleeson in particular superb in his first lead role. There is a wonderful close up of Donal towards the end of the film in which he stands outside the door while Courtney has sex with a customer. The jealous, rage and impotence that he feels is brilliantly shown by Gleeson as he stands there helpless.

The only real issue with the film is that the ending becomes a little too cliched. It seems to lose its nerve slightly towards the climax which is a shame because what came before is really good. Sensation is a film that rewards viewing with an audience in a cinema, all the more for the cringing and uncomfortable laughs that arrive very regularly. If films of this standard become the norm in Ireland we could hopefully see more reach cinemas on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

5 of the funniest scenes in Irish film

1. The Commitments

The English director Alan Parker caught the spirit of Roddy Doyle's novel perfectly. It has the hope and sarcasm that you would expect in an Irish comedy with a slightly darker self destructive element thrown in. It also has one of the best tag lines on a film poster ever: 'They had nothing to lose. But they were willing to risk it all'. This scene perfectly sums up the knowing humour of the film.

2. Intermission

This John Crowley directed film stars Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy in a comedy crime film set in Dublin. There is a great supporting cast including Colm Meaney and Michael McElhatton. Like all good comedies with a darker side the key to the laughs is making the the scene nervy, serious and funny at the same time. This scene is an absolute textbook example of this.

3. In Bruges

Martin Mc Donagh's profane, funny and moving film is probably the film that Colin Farrell will be best remembered for. An actor who can seem a little listless in some films, Farrell shows how charismatic he can be with the right director and material. He is funny and tragic - a tricky combination to get right. He is at his funniest in this terrific scene where he brings honesty to a new level.

4. The Van

Another Roddy Doyle favourite, funnier and underrated than the overly sentimental The Snapper. The Van takes place during Ireland's participation in the 1990 World Cup as two friends decide to run a fish and chip shop from a van. The scene in which Ireland's match with Romania goes to penalties is both funny to watch and a nostalgic reminder of a time when we competed at the top level of football.

5. Father Ted

OK, so this isn't a film but considering it is one of the best sitcoms ever to come out of Ireland it has to be included. There are so may clips that could be used to illustrate this but perhaps to keep within the framework of the article a clip from the feature length Christmas special is appropriate. Pure genius.

Any other favourites to add? Please let me know below.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Film Review - The Eclipse (2009)

Conor Mc Pherson’s The Eclipse brings together two distinct genres: that of the ghost story and the human drama. Mc Pherson has had success as a screenwriter with I Went Down, and as a writer/director with Saltwater: an adaptation of his own play This Lime Tree Bower. The ghost story, however, is probably the trickiest of genres. Show too much and you run the risk of laughter instead of fear, underplay it and people wonder why you bothered. It is this line and the audience’s attitude towards it that determines your success and overall Mc Pherson walks it quite well.

The Eclipse begins with a literary festival in Cobh, Co. Cork. Woodwork teacher Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds), still recovering from the death of his wife a couple of years before, is helping to chauffeur writers around the town, and it is here that he comes into contact with the other two lead characters - brash American author Nicholas Holden (Aiden Quinn) and horror writer Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle). Subsequently it becomes clear that the two writers have a romantic history together despite the fact that Nicholas is married. Michael is experiencing some disturbing nightmares which he thinks may be real and he starts talking to Lena about them. These conversations bring the two closer together much to Nicholas’s annoyance. Michael tells Lena about the nightmares in which his father-in-law appears and is desperate to find out what they mean. He eventually finds out in a quite shocking sequence. All the more disturbing by how subtly it is played.

The Eclipse is a film about the approach of death and how to deal with it. It is seen in Michael’s face when he lingers over the photographs of his wife. It is also seen in the visits to his father–in-law who is old and in a care home. ‘Don’t let them put you in a home Michael’ his father-in-law gravelly tells him, the pain of losing his daughter etched on his face. The use of the town of Cobh, with its old graveyards and its church seemingly towering over the people, adds to the eerie feeling within the film.. The use of Cobh is a superb choice and it is shot very evocatively with a seemingly perpetual mist hanging over the harbour.

In terms of horror and ghosts the pacing and use of frightening moments may not be enough for a generation who have watched films like the Scream series or the recent influx of Japanese horror (which scenes in this film are influenced by). The Eclipse is a determinedly old fashioned tribute to carefully constructed moments in horror films. The use of sound helps create this, firstly with a hypnotically repetitive piano score and also through silence. It cannot be underestimated how important and under-used silence in horror films is today. In The Eclipse Mc Pherson masterly uses it to quite devastating effect but true horror fans may be left wanting more.

The acting is good across the board with Hinds using a rare leading role to showcase his talents. His grief is very believable without resorting to shouting about it. There is a scene in his bedroom near the climax of the film that is both silent and beautiful and it showcases how much of a talented and restrained actor Hinds is. Quinn is convincing as the obnoxious writer but the part is perhaps written as too much of a cliché. Iben Hjejle is great as Lena and one wonders what she has been doing since she was last seen in High Fidelity.

Overall The Eclipse is a curious mix. It is a meditation on grief and a ghost story in one. It may not be to everyone’s taste but for fans of well paced, old fashioned ghost stories their patience will be rewarded. It is available to buy on DVD.