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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.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Film Review - Garage (2007)

The description of a film as a masterpiece is to some degree damning it with faint praise. There are maybe only a handful of films that are able to stand up to being repeatedly called a masterpiece in film history. Indisputable classics such as Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca are usually rolled out when the lists of the best films ever are made. It is hard to argue with the merits of these films yet there will always be people who will say they are overrated, dated etc. This is a good thing to be honest, the debate on what does or does not constitute a great film keeps alive the discourse that true film fans crave. But there are also films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars and Drive which are called masterpieces which are not. Good films yes, but masterpieces no. Again this all opinion but the word itself brings a certain expectation. The ease in which the word is used threatens to reduce the effect of the word itself. Use it wisely as it should mean something amazing, a film that transcends its genre or its own National Cinema. In real terms, bring it to the table very rarely.

In terms of our National Cinema the word masterpiece has arguably yet to see the light of day. That is not to say that there have not been great Irish films. Titles such as My Left Foot, The Butcher Boy and The Crying Game are certainly great films but the word masterpiece in an Irish context is still quite elusive. Given the last review I did was the truly dreadful P.S. I Love You, there was a dire need in me to watch something that could banish the memory of that film. The idea that the next film you review could be a masterpiece is one that makes doing this blog a labour of love.

Lenny Abrahmson's film Garage stars Pat Shortt as Josie, a seemingly simple minded man in a small Irish village. He looks after a crumbling garage on the outskirts of the village. At the beginning of the film the only relationships Josie has are the occasional repeat business truck driver and the guys who frequent the locar bar where he drinks. The owner of the garage, Mr. Gallagher (John Keogh) brings a young lad David (Conor Ryan) to help as he extends the opeing hours over the summer. This is the push off point for a quite startling drama

Without wishing to revert to hyperbole, it is hard to get away from the idea that Garage may well the be the best Irish film ever made. Abrahamson and co-writer Mark O'Halloran have fashioned epic drama from the smallest of stories. It is a film about about that most universal and vital of needs: the need to make a real connection with other people. Josie emits a desire to end his loneliness as he goes about the routine of his days. They consist of garage, home, pub and home. Endlessly repeated. There is thehope of connections with the girl who works in the local shop, Carmel (Ann Marie Duff) and the guys who frequent the local pub. But to all these people Josie is essentially invisible and if seen at all it is only with either pitying or mocking eyes. The real potential for friendship is with David and it is this relationship that steers the film towards its climax.

It is a wonderful feeling seeing a film that so deftly avoids all Irish clichés. Not once does the film resort to any paddywackery. This is to be somewhat expected considering one of their previous films, Adam and Paul generally avoided the clichés of a film about drug addicts. Abramson and O'Halloran treat the people in Garage in an incredibly humanistic way. These are real people and their lives matter. Shortt is simply a revelation as Josie, the glue that holds the film together. There is a great supporting cast but this is Josie's story and Shortt breaks your heart here. There are some beautifully judged scenes which would be a shame to spoil here. Suffice to say that they are small moments in the film that reveal aching truths.

Discovering films as good as this is the reason I started this blog. To be unequivical, Garage is a masterpiece of not just Irish film, but of film in general. This is the standard by which Irish film has to be measured by if it is to take its place on a worldwide stage. Now that I have used the M word, it is time put it away. I will wait and dream about the next time I can use it.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Film Review - P.S. I Love You (2007)

The debate about what constitutes an Irish film is likely to go on and on with films like P.S. I Love You being released. This issue has been mentioned in previous posts on this blog and it is interesting to see how broad the definition is. If the money comes from outside Ireland (like it has on films such as Michael Collins) does this mean it is not an Irish film? The debates on where the lines are drawn are perhaps for another time. P.S. I Love You is from a novel by Irish writer Cecelia Ahern and a good portion of the filming takes place in Ireland. For the purposes of this review it will be considered an Irish film. The other important question here is whether the film is any good.

The short answer is a resolute no. The story is a slight but fairly interesting one. It is the story of a couple: Irishman Gerry (Gerard Butler) and Irish American Holly (Hilary Swank). They have been together a few years before Gerry gets sick and dies. The rest, as they say, is history. Only here in true Hollywood style he lives on in the form of 10 letters he has organised to be delivered to Holly at various moments over the following year. Being a film, he helpfully appears in flashbacks as the letters are received. This is the device used to move the story along. But there is so much more to say about this film, I am not sure where to begin.

The accents are a good place. Butler has a certain charm about him but I would really have transplanted the setting of the story to Scotland in order to geographically locate what he is attempting with his accent here. It is genuinely an accent not of this parish. At the opening of the film the couple are having one of those classic film arguments couples have about life, marriage etc. During the argument Gerry uses the word bollocks and Holly points out that he should speak English so she can understand him. She obviously thinks it’s a gaelic word. It is not. It is this level of laziness from the makers of the film that will have you shaking your head. Another example of this is the use of Fairytale of New York at Gerry’s wake. It is the most bizarrely edited version of the song. It sounds like the song was cut for a trailer and never restored properly.

The pity here is that as central ideas for a romantic comedy goes, this one has a lot of potential. But the problem lies with the execution. Director Richard LaGravenese shoots the film in the flattest way imaginable. Even the rolling hills of Ireland so beloved by Americans, have a lifeless feel. But the real problem is with the script. I have not read the book on which the film is based but I would be very surprised if the character of Holly is as hateful as she is in the film. Played with a cold brittleness by Swank, there is just no way that Gerry would fall in love with a woman like this. She is given no redeeming features whatsoever which gives Swank nowhere to go. This is what kills the film really.

There is a strong supporting cast given absolutely nothing to do at all. Actors such as Lisa Kudrow (essentially playing Phoebe from Friends), Kathy Bates and Gina Gershon all seem to stand around looking embarrassed to be there. They even have Harry Connick Jnr play a love interest but instead of being suave and say, a musician! he is a barman and genuinely creepy if not quietly psychotic. Tonally the film is all over the place, with knockabout comedy following a serious and emotional moment. It tries to have its cake and eat it but is unsuccessful at being either funny or tragic.

The funniest scene (unintentionally) of the whole film happens towards the end where Holly, suddenly decides she wants to design shoes for a living. There follows a hilarious shoe designing montage that wouldn’t look out of place in Team America. She is then all of a sudden a shoe designer for a shoe company after doing a quick course. This is all done with a po-faced seriousness that you would nearly call satire if you didn’t know the intention.

Overall this is a remarkably badly made film. The consensus should be to exclude it from the list of Irish films in the future as it will drag our National Cinema down a couple of rungs. It is to some degree easy to have a go at a film like this. But as our own cinema struggles financially it is worth noting that this film made over $150 million at the box office. This is why the Ireland is represented on screen in this way. Do not put your money in your pocket for nonsense like this. Otherwise we will just be served up more. Watch, if you dare.