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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, 22 September 2011

Coming soon - 6 future films from Irish directors to look forward to.

As Oscar season comes around film magazines and websites routinely roll out their favourite lists of films to look forward to. There does not seem to be a similar list to help beat the Irish cinematic drum. Below are some films that are coming out in the next year on which Irish filmmakers are pinning their hopes. It will be interesting to see if any of these films can match the success of The Guard at the Irish box office.

1. Parked - Dir: Darragh Byrne

The ever dependable Colm Meaney in a rare lead role in a film where his character returns to Ireland and has nowhere to live but his car. This film won the best first feature at the Galway Film Fleadh so expectations will be high. It has already secured a cinema release on October 14th and it will be interesting to see if it is as good as the trailer suggests.

2. Seven Psychopaths - Martin Mc Donagh

Martin Mc Donagh's follow up to In Bruges (2008) will be released in 2012 and will reportedly be starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. After his Oscar winning short (Sixshooter) and the success of In Bruges expectations will be high. Quite frankly the cast and the title are enough for this reviewer.

3. Sensation - Dir: Tom Hall

This looks like a dark and interesting film from director Tom Hall (Wide Open Spaces, Bachelors Walk). It star Domhnall Gleeson as Donal, a sex starved farmer who meets a sex worker from New Zealand. This may well be an underground success if it has the courage of its convictions. There is also a terrific poster you can see here. It is released in Ireland on November 4th.

5. What Richard Did - Lenny Abrahamson

Another filmmaker that this reviewer would happily watch anything from: Lenny Abrahamson's two previous films, Adam and Paul (2004) and Garage (2007) are both superb. This film is apparently based on Kevin Powers' award winning 2008 novel Bad Day at Blackrock. This is one to put down as a must see in 2012.

5. Dream House - Jim Sheridan

Jim Sheridan's new film was due to be released in February 2011 but was delayed for reshoots. It is now being released next Friday in the US without any critics previews. A haunted house story starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts: time will tell if the film will receive a critical mauling when seen. Jim Sheridan hasn't made a film here since 1997's The Boxer so it would be great to see him come home and recharge his cinematic batteries.

6. The Rafters - John Carney

The director of Once is now tackling the ghost story. Set at a haunted guesthouse on the Aran Islands, Carney's film will hopefully be released in 2011. It is a tricky genre to get right but Carney should be helped by a small budget and an unknown cast which tend to help the ghost story/horror film genre.

Are there any other films from Irish directors that you are looking forward to seeing? Let me know below.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Film Review - The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the story of the War of Independence which brought about the signing of the Treaty that created the Irish Free State. It is also the story of the Civil War which followed. But more importantly than that, it is about the dehumanising effects of war on the people that fight it. The main narrative of the film is the story of two brothers Damien and Teddy O Donovan (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) who join the IRA to try remove the English from the island of Ireland. Damien is set to go to London to continue his medical studies but a violent incident with the Black and Tans at the local train station persuades him to stay and fight.

Ken Loach's Palme D'or winning film begins simply with a game of hurling. The visual motif of two sides pitted against each other foreshadows the eventual split in the Republican movement following the signing of the Treaty. It is interesting to note how seriously the men take the game and this attitude shows throughout the film: these men are playing for keeps. They are seen training in the hills using the guerrilla tactics of ambushing and hit and run killings.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this film is the tone which is remarkably angry. The righteous anger in The Wind That Shakes the Barley is scatter shot, anger at traitors in their organisation, the English, the violent acts that they must carry out for the cause (at one point Murphy's character Damien asks as he is about to assassinate a traitor whether this Ireland of ours is worth this). By contrast there is a real lack of anger in films which cover the same historical timeframe such as Neil Jordan's Michael Collins which looks at the era from more of a thriller perspective.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley also asks important questions such as whether war and murder is ever justified for an ideal. Loach is also interested in how relevant the story is in modern times. This is vividly illustrated by a tense and almost unbearable torture scene which could not help but remind of the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It is a really tough scene to watch but is important to recognise that this still happens now. The film is also beautifully shot in muted colours of brown, green and grey which really enhances the grim tone. The acting is superb across the board with a really good central performance by Cillian Murphy. But it is Padraic Delaney as the doomed and compromised Teddy O Donovan who is the star of the film. Great work also from Liam Cunningham as the father figure and Orla Fitzgerald who does well with a somewhat underwritten role as Damien's girlfriend Sinead.

Overall this is a superb film. It is dark, exciting, occasionally funny and harrowing in places. It was a huge success in the cinemas of Ireland beaten only recently by the success of The Guard. What this shows is that people will go to see good films from their own country once there is proper investment in advertising and marketing.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Green screen: what’s happening to Irish cinema

A new review is to follow shortly, but this is a very interesting article on Irish cinema from Sight and Sound magazine. Well worth a read for anyone interested in the future of our national cinema output.


Monday, 12 September 2011

Film Review - Between the Canals (2010)

Between the Canals opens with a frenetic scene in which a Dublin lowlife rings the GardaĆ­ to tell them to hurry as a baby has been shot in the head. This is a smack in the face moment reminiscent of the opening to Intermission. Arguably more impressive is the fact that it is used as bait just to get the GardaĆ­ to the flats where he pushes a washing machine off the edge of a higher floor towards them. He then stands up and shouts ‘Happy Paddy’s Day’ and runs off. Music cuts in alongside an impressive title sequence where some beautiful and evocative photographs of Dublin are shown onscreen. This opening leaves the rest of the film with a lot to live up to and sadly it fails to do so.

The central idea of three working class friends rattling around Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day is one that surprisingly has not really been done before. The three are Liam (Dan Hyland), torn between his friends who bring trouble and his family and the potential of a real job, Dots (Peter Coonan) the classic headcase of the story who is trying to move up the criminal ladder and Scratcher (Stephen Jones) who is amiable enough to go along with either of them. They beat up a gangster at the beginning of the film and spend the rest of the film trying to get out of trouble.

Unfortunately, we have seen the story arcs of the three protagonists enough times in films to have a good idea of what is going to happen. Indeed you spend the whole film hoping that it will play against type but to no avail. There are times when the story is seriously signposted. One particular scene stands out in this regard. Dots starts messing with a group of younger lads on bikes and when one of them answers him back he grabs him and tells him that he sorted out his brother awhile back. This scene leaves only one impression, that of revenge at some point in the film.

There are some positive things to say such as the shooting of the film in some seriously unrecognisable (to many people) areas of the city. These areas, such as Sheriff Street, have been around for what seems like forever and have avoided the gentrification that came with the Celtic Tiger. There is also a refreshingly non-sentimental depiction of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with barely a shamrock in sight. The look of the film belies the fact that it had a micro budget and only 12 days shooting time. It looks gritty and realistic and sets up the feel of the story. If only the story matched this ambition. The only recognisable face in the film is the musician Damien Dempsey who plays a local gangster. Rather surprisingly he is quite good, giving off a real air of menace whenever he is onscreen.

The main flaw in the film is that it is difficult to care in any way about the characters. This problem means that you have precious little invested in them as the film heads towards its climax. The acting from the leads themselves is solid but unspectacular. The real problem here is the script. Director and writer Mark O’Connor has gone to great lengths to make the film as authentic as possible but you can’t help but wish the script had been developed more. The characters seem to constantly shout insults at each other. Of course you expect plenty of that banter but it never lets up and quickly becomes tiresome.

Overall Between the Canals is a film of frustrations. You want to like it more than you do. The characters are one dimensional and more crucially unsympathetic. This is a fatal flaw for a film of this kind which is a real pity after the interesting opening. One hopes that O’Connor can go on to better things as he has undoubted potential. But as for Between the Canals, it is a missed opportunity.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Film Review - Once (2006)

There are literally thousands of films that have a central romance as their main theme. Indeed a large percentage of Hollywood's output seems to be romantic in hope rather than expectation. The main problem with these films is the lack of belief in the relationship. This is not a problem in Once. Indeed you could compare Once very favourably to one of the best romantic films ever made, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset. They are usually considered together as a whole and for me the reason why they are so good (especially Before Sunset) is the sense of the natural as opposed to the mechanical. These two people meet like people meet, talk like people talk, we sense that we could be either of them. This is a very difficult thing to pull off as most meetings of potential couples in films tend to be an obvious contrived screenwriter's device. So how has a small Irish film that cost less than €150,000 to make manage to do this so well and win an Oscar?

The explanation for this success is the raw emotional honesty of the film. Not for once is there a feeling of being manipulated. Consider the basic story which is simplicity itself. Once is the story of an unnamed guy (Glen Hansard) and girl (Marketa Irglova) who meet in Dublin and are very tentatively drawn together. He is a hoover repair man in his dad's shop by day and a busker on Grafton Street by night, she is a Czech Big Issue and flower seller who watches him play. This premise doesn't begin to cover the various little stories and surprises that are going on in this film. At one point he is shocked to discover that she is a trained pianist. This can be seen as a nod to the fact that the people from Europe who empty our bins in offices and sell flowers on the street are often better educated and qualified than we ourselves are.

There is also a wonderful scene at the girl's flat she shares with her mother and daughter when three european guys walk in and sit down. The girl explains casually that they come in to watch the tv, which is the only one in the building. With that the theme tune to Fair City starts up and the lads start throwing around European accented versions of classic Dublin phraseology like 'whats the story' and talking about how much they love the show. Scenes like this show life in real terms and it is not the only one. It is also little details that Once gets right such as when the batteries die in her cd walkman: she first checks the tv remote for new ones before heading to the shop. This is what is meant by natural and real. One can only imagine that the actors collaborated with writer/director John Carney and that there is some improvisation here from the two leads.

The most fascinating aspect of this film is the fact that it happens to be a musical as well as a romance. In fact most of the story is moved on through the placement of the songs and their lyrical meaning. Both the guy and the girl are just out of relationships and in some ways they are each others muses in so far as their meeting spurs them to finally do things to change their lives. In his case to record a demo and win back his ex-girlfriend, in her case to finally get a piano and reconcile with her partner who comes over from the Czech Republic.

Acting-wise the two leads are very good. Crucially there is serious chemistry between them which is vital for a film of this type. There are some fine small supporting roles but really it is all about the two protagonists. The film also comes in at a brisk hour and a half so doesn't outstay its welcome. Without saying too much to give away the ending the film does have the courage of its convictions and Carney does not give us a Hollywood ending, as such. Overall, it is a small film with a big heart and a beautiful flow. One of Ireland's most impressive cinematic success stories of recent years.