About Me

My photo
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.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Film Review - Limp

2013 was not a vintage year for Irish film. There were some exceptions of course but a small handful of films aside, the quality was down on 2012 which was an excellent year. It is an odd thing in a lot of ways exclusively reviewing Irish films. You really want them to be good and when they are not, you do not want to kick them around and hurt their chances to get wider distribution. At the same time you do not want to over-hype a film and disappoint an audience. This has been the case in the past and nothing makes an already sceptical audience even more tentative when approaching the next ‘great’ Irish film. All that can be done is to be fair, if you do not like something, say so but crucially explain why. It sounds simple but it is not done as much as it should be. So as I approached my first film of 2014 I was hoping for something to give me that feeling of optimism, something to make me think that 2014 could be our year. My first film of 2014 was Shaun Ryan’s Limp and if this is the standard that is being set it looks like being a fine year indeed.

Limp tells the story of Mr. Grot (Eoin Quinn) who lives the most solitary of lives. Seemingly permanently in his own head, his days seem punctuated with whatever fantasy he can concoct. We can tell early on that something is very wrong. The pulsing soundtrack (take a bow Chris Zabriskie) accompanies Mr. Grot on a shopping expedition to some women’s clothes shops. Of course he could be buying a present for his wife or girlfriend but something in the way he touches the dresses make you suspect he is not. It is this moment early on in the film that is key to the success of Eoin Quinn in the central role. Calm and quiet but silently screaming, the curdling loneliness and flashes of anger flit across his face every so often. He comes home after buying a dress and director Ryan shows his confidence with a superb long take in which we discover the full horror of Mr. Grots living arrangements.

It is not a spoiler to say that Mr Grot has a dead woman in his apartment. A former co-worker Catherine (Anne Gill) has been missing for a while and while we do not see what happened to her we do see the aftermath. That in a nutshell is where the power of Limp resides. It is a kind of horror film but not gruesome in the slightest. It is about the horror of decay, be it spiritual, mental or physical. It leaves so much to the imagination, forcing your mind to turn over the possible details. We see scenes either real or imagined from Mr. Grot’s point of view. These have a nightmarish and hallucinatory quality. This gives an insight to the growing sickness in Mr. Grot's mind. There is a genuine question that takes shape midway through the film. Will the ‘happy’ couple reside in the apartment until someone comes knocking or will Mr. Grot make a decision that will change everything.

There are a couple of minor problems with Limp. The first one is that the film is only about an hour long. I have no idea if this will make distribution more difficult but I hope not as it is a film that deserves a proper release. I also have a problem with some of the names in the film. The name Mr. Grot could have been a little less on the nose. I also could live the rest of my life without seeing working class ‘scumbags’ being called Anto and Jacinta. Filmmakers, working class people have other names, they do not all end with a vowel. But these are minor quibbles.

Shaun Ryan has assembled a fine film here. There is even a series of scenes not obviously connected to the main narrative that are revealed to be not quite what you think they are. For this I applaud the filmmaker. He has obviously watched enough horror films to know that the power of them lives in the lack of information given. Limp is more of a mood piece than a classical horror narrative and is all the better for it. The two main actors give fine performances with Quinn in particular an uneasy presence. The film is scratchy and nervous just like its lead character. Limp is a very good calling card on what looks like quite a low budget. I for one look forward to what he does next.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

My Irish film awards for 2013

Although it pains me to say it, it has not been a particularly vintage year for Irish film. There were none released that were particularly bad per se, more that there was precious little to get excited about. That being said, for the second year in a row 2 Irish films will make it into my top 20 films of the year (one in my top 5). So positivity is necessary here. The ones that were good were really good. Instead of doing a list, I am going to do what I did last year and give out arbitrary and imaginary awards to those who deserved them. It is more fun to come up with silly names quite frankly. So without further ado…

The make me laugh and cry award (aka best Irish film of 2013) - Good Vibrations

This is a film that blindsided me this year. It tells the story of Terri Hooley, record shop owner, music producer, dreamer and bad husband who brought punk to Belfast in the 1970s and 80s. This film is an absolute joy to behold, emotional without being cloying, harsh without being brutal. There are tears and laughs in equal measure but crucially they are earned with a terrific tone and a great screenplay. Richard Dormer is terrific in the main role. The scene when he hears a certain record for the first time is just beautiful to behold. This is an absolute triumph and it is easily the best Irish film of 2013.

The ‘What’s Up Doc?’ award – Broken Song

The best Irish documentary this year was the wonderful Broken Song directed by Claire Dix. It tells the story of a group of young lads who rap. They are predominantly from the Finglas/Ballymun area of Dublin. Git and Costello have a father/son relationship which they both seem to draw on for lyrical inspiration. They also try to mentor some of the younger kids of the area. The songs themselves are lyrically brilliant, the content reflecting lives lived and dreams that slipped away. Into this comes singer/songwriter Willa Lee, who has a voice most singers would kill for. But he is also a troublemaker and a little bit too lazy. Dix delves lightly into their pasts but without reducing the film to working class misery porn which can happen in films such as this. At its heart, Broken Song is a simple story well told. And it is all the better for it.

The ‘overnight sensation’ award - Paul Duane

If you do not know who he is now he will be more familiar to you in 2014. Duane has had a superb year with Barbaric Genius released on DVD, a superb documentary (Natan) on the way, and a TV show about to air on RTE and BBC 4 (Amber). If that is not enough Variety only went and named him on their highly prestigious 10 Directors to watch in 2014 list. He is an all round good egg and very entertaining on Twitter (@MrPaulDuane). Mark my words this time next year he could be announced as the director of Transformers 5. We can only hope he can resist the lure of Hollywood and keep making the quality Irish films he has been making.

The ‘this kid’s got something’ first film award - Gerard Barrett Pilgrim Hill

Pilgrim Hill was released to talk of an instant classic and of a serious talent to behold. The talk of a masterpiece doesn’t help either the filmmaker or Irish film in general. Pilgrim Hill is not a masterpiece but it is a good enough film to suggest the birth of a major Irish filmmaker. The story of Jimmy Walsh and his life on his farm is lean, beautifully shot and very confident. It has a feeling of authenticity rarely seen. You get the feeling that Barrett and lead actor Joe Mullins know this terrain very well. They have carved out a memorable and low key film with a great central character at the heart of it. I cannot wait for Barrett’s next film to come along.

The 1st Annual ‘just release the f*cking film will ya’ award – Tin Can Man

This is an easy winner. It is Tin Can Man by Ivan Kavanagh. It will be the same winner every year until this film gets a cinema release. Seriously people you have no idea how good this film is. Hassle your local TD. It needs to be seen.

A couple of honourable mentions. Citadel by Ciaran Foy was a very interesting film that fell away into genre conventions a little too much. But there is more than enough to suggest that he will make something excellent in the future.

It has not been on general release yet but the excellent documentary Where I Am by Pamela Drynan is a terrific and humbling story of what happened to American writer Robert Drake. It did screen in the IFI over the summer so I do not know if is getting a general release. It has been an excellent year for Irish documentaries as evidenced by the above choices and I have still to see The Summit! I will do so soon.

So that is it for 2013. Keep your eyes peeled on the blog for an article on Irish cinema in 2014 which I will publish over the next couple of weeks.  

Film Review - Stalker

Director Mark O’Connor arrived at the Galway Film Fleadh with a bang in 2012. Armed with a manifesto and two films under his arm he wanted to shake up the Irish film industry a little bit. The two films were King of the Travellers (released in cinemas this year) and his latest film Stalker which is yet to be released. The manifesto got quite a bit of press and Stalker was second in the best Irish feature award (no shame in being second to the excellent Good Vibrations) and was widely praised at the time. So why hasn’t the film arrived on our screens? Irish films need publicity to stand a chance of being seen at the cinemas and considering the marketing budgets are miniscule surely festival goodwill is an opportunity to help with the marketing a little bit. This is an argument that will run and run about why we do not see Irish films at the cinema and it is one I am sure I will be returning to. But coming back to Stalker, what does Mark O’Connor have in store for us? Well for me Stalker is as fascinating an Irish film as I have seen in quite some time.

Stalker tells the story of Oliver (John Connors), a homeless man wandering the streets who befriends a young boy called Tommy (Barry Keoghan) who he helps fight off bullies. Tommy’s life is in a bad way with a drug addicted mother and a crazy drug dealing uncle Rudyard (Peter Coonan). Oliver vows to help Tommy but his intensity scares Tommy a little. Plot wise that is about it but this is a film less inclined towards plot and more towards tone and feeling.

In my reviews of O’Connor’s previous films Between the Canals and King of the Travellers I mentioned that his films feel a little rough around the edges. That may have sounded like a criticism and in some ways it was. But it is also a compliment in that it gives his films a particular feel and tone that not all Irish filmmakers have. In Stalker he is aided by some beautiful camera work by Eoin Macken which initially brings a touch of the fairytale to an otherwise dark film. In the final third the camera work is used in a heightened fashion which also serves the ending well. So the look of the film is excellent - what about the rest of it?

John Connors is superb as Oliver; completely convincing as someone with some serious mental health problems. He is also co-writer here and he is a real talent. He commands the screen in a very naturalistic way and it looks effortless. Barry Keoghan is also very good and is an actor to watch. The two share some scenes that are intense and emotional. Peter Coonan is his usual manic self and his character Rudyard is an odious one. But Coonan plays it a little too broad and over the top at times and I would like to have seen a little more control in the performance.

The film does have some issues. There is a scene set in a cinema that is a little unconvincing. While I liked the idea of the scene, the way it plays out doesn’t really ring true. I don’t want to give away any more details that would spoil it but it comes across as a little too on the nose in relation to the state of modern Irish filmmaking. Perhaps it is the script that is at fault here as it gives Oliver too much information to impart. It is the only time in the film that Oliver sounds like he is explicitly delivering the words and viewpoint of the writer rather than just talking. There is also a bit of a problem towards the climax when the plot and narrative take over. Stalker (and indeed O’Connor) is at its best when it is freewheeling along without any real narrative concern. The utterly strange feeling is more than enough to sustain real interest. But the film rallies to deliver a really intense and feverish climax that works very well indeed.

There is a real feeling here that with Stalker, Mark O’Connor has finally found his cinematic voice. Stalker has a more experimental feel and this benefits O’Connor hugely. This approach may well produce a masterpiece in the future. And with the wonderful John Connors writing and starring with him he may well have found his muse. I for one look forward to the next two films arriving in Galway.  

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Halloween at Filmbase

This looks like a fun couple of nights out. And they are showing Irish horror short films and Irish horror feature Citadel as well.

You can go to both nights for€5.  Well worth €5 of anyones money.

Details are below.

Halloween Comes to Filmbase!

Wednesday 30th & Thursday 31st October 2013
In a special event for Halloween, Filmbase will host two terrifying nights of blood-curdling shorts and a frightening feature. Wednesday’s shorts will be followed by an audience Q&A with all of the directors and both nights will feature fancy dress and, if that wasn’t enough, our very own Film Ireland Editor, Stefano Galvino, DJing with his unique Audio Visual Horror Set.
Spine-Shuddering Short Film Feast!
7pm, Wednesday 30th October

Wednesday’s line-up features an array of spine-shuddering short films, an audience Q&A with all of the Directors and an Audio Visual Horror Set.
The short film line-up includes:
-          The Ten Steps
-          Zombie Bashers
-          Braineater
-          The Faeries of Blackheath Woods
The Q&A will feature the film’s directors Brendan Muldowney, Conor McMahon & Ciaran Foy.
Audio Visual Horror Set:
Stefano Galvino, our very own Film Ireland Editor, will haunt your eyes and ears with an exclusive mix of soundtracks, dialogue, horror, spoken word, atmospherics alongside diabolical visuals from all your favourite nightmares to send you home.

Halloween Night’s Freaky Feature Frenzy!
7pm, Thursday 31th October
Feature Film – Citadel
84mins | Cert 16 | 2012
Tommy Cowley is a young father inflicted with chronic agoraphobia since his wife was brutally attacked by a gang of a twisted feral children. Trapped in the dilapidated suburbia of Edenstown, he must finally face the demons of his past and enter the one place that he fears the most – the abandoned tower block known as the Citadel.
Audio Visual Horror Set:
Stefano Galvino, our very own Film Ireland Editor, will be on hand the Thursday too, bringing you more visuals from all your favourite nightmares to send you home.
Plus, lots more SPOOKY happenings including…
Best Fancy Dress Competition:
1st Prize – 100 euro Filmbase Voucher for any Filmbase training course.
2nd Prize – 50 euro Filmbase Voucher for any Filmbase training course.
3rd Prize – 1 year free Filmbase Membership.

Tickets only €3 for one night or €5 for both nights.
Tickets available on the door, or book your place by calling 01 679 6716 and dialling 1 for reception.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Film Review - The Irish Pub (2013)

 The new documentary The Irish Pub reaches the screens in a timely manner as the dying embers of Arthurs Day flicker out. This was a chance to explore our complex relationship with alcohol be it for good or for bad. Pubs are still the social centre of life in Ireland. Remember the slightly odd advertisements calling pubs the original social network? What better way to look at all of this than a documentary on the big screen. Sure we can go for a pint afterwards and discuss it.

The documentary sets out its stall with the meeting of various landlords in iconic or old pubs all over Ireland and letting them talk. Some of the characters on camera are more compelling than others, particularly Paul Gartlan in his pub in Cavan. He is a force of nature straight out of Deadwood and could easily have his own spin off film. The problem here is that there is very little to tie it together. There is no structure or forward momentum which makes the film feel a shade longer than its tidy 76 minutes. When the talking heads are interesting, it is fine, but when they are a little duller, it drags. The film struggles through the first half hour in a whimsical fashion, painting an Ireland that surely would be believable to a certain kind of homesick Diaspora. 30 minutes in and I was beginning to worry the whole film would continue like this.

Thankfully the film improves immeasurably when it tackles the importance of the pub to people who are lonely and use the pub as a lifeline. To a young generation this may not mean much but to older people who live alone, a local pub that keeps you a chair on a winters evening - it is a vital link to the outside world. This is explored here and it is the role of the landlord that is very important particularly in rural areas. Some of the camerawork is excellent here, with specific close-up shots in certain pubs memorable.

But this is a film with problems. The main one is its determination to explore the past rather than the present. With this, The Irish Pub seems in thrall to a kind of dangerous nostalgia. Jokes are made about whether women could go in the pub (they could, in the lounge or the snug, not the bar) without being challenged or at least contextualised. New Ireland, with its steady supply of young people (there are only a couple of young people amongst the talking heads) presumably ready to be loud and obnoxious are virtually ignored. What we are left with is the Ireland of the past, of Ryan’s Daughter, cream crackers and polo mints (some of the pubs are also shops). At one point (pint?) during the Irish pub a picture of the Virgin Mary is seen next to a Guinness glass. If there is a better image to represent Ireland of the last century I have yet to see it. They make queasy bedfellows at the best of times and yet you would not know it watching The Irish Pub. The film virtually ignores any negative aspects of the pub. There is no one drunk onscreen (I presume deliberately) and there is no sense that there is anything wrong with going to the pub night after night. I was not expecting a miserable documentary exploring the horrors of drink but at least some mention of growing problems in our society would have been welcome. John B. Keane’s pub is featured as is his son who tells an amusing story of his father using material from the bar in his plays. Yet there is only a passing mention of Brendan Behan and practically nothing about the fact that alcohol essentially caused his early death. Again not expecting a serious exploration but more than a brief mention would and should have been there.

The Irish Pub is an interesting documentary but it feels like an incomplete story. If you have a burning desire to see Ireland as it once was, this is the film for you. I noted in a superb article by Ronan Doyle on Irish cinema (http://www.indiewire.com/article/why-you-need-to-start-paying-attention-to-irish-cinema) a mention of a panel discussion at IFNY that will be discussing American investment in Irish films to see if the Irish American audience could be catered for. Well this could be the prototype model. I imagine it would be approved by The Gathering and Licensed Vintners Association as well. This to me is why overall despite some interesting points the film fails honourably.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Short film review - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (2013)

There seems to be a justifiable confidence at work in Bertie Brosnan’s Jacob Wrestling with the Angel film.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel tells the story of Jacob, an artist who is struggling with his work. Indeed the angel in this case is his sanity. He is at times reduced to a wreck, staring at a computer screen from which various phrases emanate from. One of the main phrases ‘is there any such thing as freedom?’ seems apt for Jacob’s mental state, indeed it is easy to imagine that these words are only heard in his head. We also see Jacob’s dream state, where he is either in dark corridors (of his mind), in a forest or on an open beach. The shots on the beach seem to suggest a more lucid and calm state of being.

This is a fascinating short film. The pace is languid, the storytelling unhurried, the script sparse. This is a film that is telling you a great deal but with the minimum of traditional narrative. This may be a problem for some people but for me it worked in its favour. Some of the cinematography by Blaine Rennicks is superb, particularly in the forest. The score by Jason Fernandez is beautiful. If there is a criticism it would be that maybe a minute or so could be shaved off the running time. It is not too long in general terms but the pacing might be helped with a slightly shorter film. Otherwise this is a fine film.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Short Film Review - Safehouse (2013)

 Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair debuted her short film Safehouse at the Galway Film Fleadh this year. Safehouse opens in quiet, as a couple, Sean (Steve Gunn) and Lorraine (Olga Wehrly) sleep in a remote cabin. But things are not right. There are worrying blood patches on the bed and there is the glimpse of a gun. We are beginning at the aftemath of something and the feeling is that this may not end well.

The initial feeling on watching Safehouse was that the story seemed familiar: we have seen a variation on it many times before. Credit then to director and writer Ní Ghrioghair who manages to make it feel fresh. Exposition is used sparingly, the visuals tell most of the story. The leads are great with particular praise for Olga Wehrly who is superb. The cinematography by Tommy Fitzgerald is excellent giving the film a basking glow akin to a Malick film. The director proudly shows her influences as Safehouse evokes an older time for film, with echoes of the new Hollywood of the 70s (Bonny and Clyde, Badlands).

Safehouse is a fine short, beautiful to look at with a story that is in turn familiar and strange. It has the feeling of a neo noir bathed in sunlight. We do not get many of those in Ireland.

Short film reviews

 Last week I was looking through my DVR to see what needed to be deleted to make space. I was hovering at the 25% free space mark and was beginning to worry. I quickly realised that amongst my recordings I had set a series link for the shortscreen series. I flicked through and counted around 20 Irish short films that I had yet to watch.

This led me to reconsider an idea I had had a couple of years ago but dismissed at the time. I thought about it some more and decided to give it a run. I am going to do Irish short film reviews, about 150 – 250 words per film. I have never reviewed a short film before so it will be interesting. Plus the limited word count means I need to economic as it falls mid way between a tweet and a full review!

If you would like a short film reviewed you can contact me via twitter (@jaycoyle, follow me, I am great on Twitter!) or if you want you can contact me by email (cineireland@gmail.com). Please be aware that I have about 20 films to review already so if you send me one please be patient. I will get to your film as soon as I can.  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Film Review - Citadel (2013)

There is a clear contemporary feel to Ciaran Foy’s Citadel, the new Irish horror film. Horror films can reflect the times and the societal pressures we live under, George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy being a perfect example. The horror in Citadel is certainly concerned with the everyday world in which we find ourselves. It is in the dark winter nights when we are afraid to venture out. Ireland is a country that has shut its eyes, lest we see what has become of it. It is a horrifying idea that we may have lost our country to decay, both financial and moral. Social issues are scattered across the muddied palette of Citadel, with the fear of marauding out-of-control gangs the main worry here. It also touches on urban decay, the terrifying concept of ghost estates and most importantly the dangers of ignoring the needs of the poorest in society. If you do not feed and nourish them at some point they will bite back. But perhaps all this would be rendered mute if the film itself didn’t work in horror terms. I am happy to say that for the most part Citadel does get under your skin but with some reservations.

The story begins with Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife leaving their crumbling tower block apartment for the last time. Whilst an agoraphobic Tommy is stuck in the malfunctioning lift his wife is attacked by hooded youths. Tommy sees the attack but is unable to help her and she ends up in a coma. Their baby is delivered early and Tommy looks after the child on his own in a small house in an area that is rapidly falling part. Tommy’s agoraphobia has worsened to the point that he can barely leave the house. Even when he does make it out he is terrified of the threats he perceives on the streets. 

The film is at its most effective in the first hour or so. The visual representation of Tommy’s agoraphobia and the heightened sound design combine spectacularly well to create an atmosphere of pure dread. This is all done without anything substantial happening, mostly suggested movements taking place at the edges of the frame. Tommy’s fear that the hooded youths have come back to take his child is a plausible one and creates tension. The streets where he lives are also impressively oppressive, with the buses in particular given a disgusting sheen. Anyone who has got on a dodgy last bus home will recognise the same feeling albeit in heightened terms here. This is all very good and there is a sense at this point that this could be a bit of a horror gem. Alas, this is where Citadel falls into the familiar trap that a lot of horror films fall into: the dreaded film character ‘exposition’.

The introduction of a local priest (a scenery chewing James Cosmo) who knows more about the gangs than he lets on slows the story down. There is also a kindly nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) who believes that people are inherently good. It is at this point the film takes a momentum killing hiatus to explain what is happening and give as much back-story as possible. This somewhat kills the carefully built up atmosphere created in the first hour. So many horror films do this and it is really not necessary. The film rallies for its final act, delivering a decent conclusion within the budget constraints. There is an unfortunate CGI heavy shot at the end that really could have been left out. What is most frustrating about the finale is that some of the imagery on display would have been so much more effective and horrifying without the exposition that came beforehand. But there are scares to be had in the final act and it concludes the film on the right note.

Citadel is a film well worth seeing at the cinema. Foy is a director to watch and given a decent budget and with this experience under him he may well go on to great things. A wobbly middle aside his direction is crisp with some excellent shots that work very well. Just stop telling me the whys and wherefores. I really do not need to know. At its best Citadel is a film that will have you squirming nervously in your cinema seat. You cannot ask much more from a horror film than that. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Film Review - Good Vibrations (2013)

It rarely happens but sometimes there is an Irish film that you see in the cinema which you are sure is going to make a lot of money. Surely everyone will want to see it. Last year I had the pleasure of watching Grabbers and I remember coming out of the cinema thinking that it could hit the jackpot at the box office. It was just so damned enjoyable, kind of like those American films we see in our droves, but good. Alas that didn’t really happen and sadly as is the case with a lot of Irish films. The ‘Irish’ factor seemed to have kept the crowds away. I happened to catch the last screening of Good Vibrations in Dublin before it finished its run and boy did I have that feeling again. I hope that it did well at the cinema but from what I have read it may not have. One can only hope that for both these films, a long and healthy shelf life awaits.

Good Vibrations tells the story of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer, truly superb), a record store and label owner in Belfast during The Troubles in the 60s and 70s. We first see him as a child in a beautiful and dreamy sequence at the beginning of the film. Running around his garden he seems entranced by the world he is in. This opening scene gives the film a somewhat sunny disposition but there is always darkness lurking. An accident occurs at the end of this sequence lest we get too happy. We next meet Terri as a peace loving young man listening to reggae with his friends. But The Troubles begin and Terri’s friends pick sides along religious lines and begin to arm themselves. They despise Terri for sticking with his peace loving ethos and not getting involved. It is at this point that he has the seemingly insane idea to open a record store on Great Victoria Street, a location that has been constantly bombed. The shop attracts strays from the burgeoning new punk scene of which Terri is blissfully unaware.

Hooley is precisely the character that if he didn’t exist in real life you would have to make him up. Unashamedly optimistic, self centred and passionate, he is the dream character to centre a film around. The fact that he really exists seems like an especially wonderful bonus. Good Vibrations is very much his story but it is also a lot more. It chronicles a time when some people genuinely thought that music could change the world. Crucially it lets you see how and why people could think this way. The birth of Hooley’s passion for all things punk is captured wonderfully as he goes to one of the live shows in a local pub. This is his epiphany. In an incredible slow motion scene the camera stays on his face as he dances like a mad man. All of Dormer’s acting range is shown across Hooley’s wonderful face. There seems to be an inner war between laughter and tears here with pure emotional joy being the resultant stalemate. Crucially you feel him feeling. This gets to the heart of why the film works so well.

There are a couple of other scenes that are just as good but should be enjoyed without me ruining them. Suffice to say that they are centred on that most wonderful of feelings: when you hear a song for the first time and know that it can change everything - including you. Good Vibrations nails something that few films about music get: namely the absolute joy one can get from the first beats of a song. It is the electricity that comes with hearing something special for the first time. But this is not a film that is all sweetness and light. Good Vibrations doesn’t shy away from showing the darkness that surrounded Northern Ireland at that time. To its credit Terri Hooley is not painted as a saint either. At times he comes across as very selfish and a bit lazy. It also shows the effects of his continuous drinking and use of drugs, without too much judgement but starkly presented nonetheless.

Good Vibrations is a glorious film. It soars with a fierce joy in a dark world. Good Vibrations achieves that rarest of balance: being full of charm but devoid of sentimentality. There are some ‘fist in the air’ emotional triumphs here but they are earned by a smart script and a wonderful style. I will be very surprised if this isn’t in my top 10 of 2013 at the end of the year. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Film Review - King of the Travellers (2013)

Director Mark O’Connor bucked the economic trend in 2012 when he arrived at the Galway Film Fleadh with two films to be screened and a manifesto in his pocket. King of the Travellers and Stalker were warmly received with the latter getting most of the attention for its more experimental approach. But it is King of the Travellers that has received a cinema release first and in some ways it is easy to see why. It has more of a conventional plot although the setting itself is unusual.

King of the Travellers tells the story of a feud between the Moorehouse and Powers, two travelling families. Central to all this is John Paul Moorehouse (John Connors) who believes that the Powers family murdered his father when he was a child. His desire for revenge puts him at odds with the head of the Moorehouse clan, his uncle Francis (Michael Collins) who urges peace. There is the further complication of his love for Winnie Powers (Carla Mc Glynn) and his wild half brother Mickey the Bags (Peter Coonan) who urges him on.

O’Connor wears his influences on sleeve with pride here. There are touches of The Godfather, On the Waterfront and in one of the early scenes Gangs of New York. This can be a dangerous game as you run the risk of calling attention to more acclaimed work. But he gets away with it as he grounds it within the authenticity of the traveller experience. But his main influence is Shakespearian, with Romeo & Juliet the main reference here. The first 30 or so minutes are when the film is at its best. The opening scene in a dark room is beautifully shot. Better again is the scene that follows along a motorway. In between there is the credit sequence with astonishing black and white archive footage of travellers set to The Furey's Óró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile. This is all very good and as previously said the referencing works within the context of the setting.

But after this excellent beginning some problems emerge. The first problem is the issue of non actors in the film. In the dedication for authenticity O’Connor has filled out all the smaller roles with travellers. The problem here is that when they have extended pieces of dialogue, it is flat and unconvincing and threatens to derail the film somewhat. The other main problem is the fact that the film is constricted by its adherence to narrative convention. This essentially means the last 30 minutes become rushed and predictable as the film heads in the obvious direction. What saves the film coming apart is the conviction of the main actors in their parts. Coonan, Collins and Mc Glynn all do very well in their roles with Coonan particularly taking the part and running with it. But it is the sheer force of nature that is John Connors which holds the film together. It is a big burden to carry a film in a first role but he succeeds admirably. I hope to see more of him in the future.

King of the Travellers is a problematic but ultimately decent film which never moves beyond its straightforward narrative. Yet there is a sense with this and Between the Canals that O’Connor is starting to find his cinematic voice. Even by the audacious title alone, Stalker should be an interesting film to see. It was heartening to see this film a couple of days after seeing Pilgrim Hill. If the ambition on show from both these directors carries through it could be an interesting next few years for Irish film.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Film Review - Pilgrim Hill (2013)

‘Making your way in the world today, takes everything you've got’

It was bizarrely appropriate that the advertisements before Pilgrim Hill showed a certain fast food chain’s ad of the happy Irish farmer permanently basked in sunshine as he made his way around his forensically clean farm. Nothing was out of place and it quite frankly looked like the best job in the world. Weirdly there are no sign of any animals either; presumably all happily gone to slaughter to help feed us the wonderful burgers. The first line of the song used (from Cheers sacrilegiously) is more suitable to Gerard Barrett’s debut feature than anything an advertisement can think up. The line neatly sums up the predicament facing Jimmy Walsh (Joe Mullins) in the quietly riveting Pilgrim Hill. We meet Jimmy at a time in his life where things aren’t going so well. His days are spent relentlessly doing the farm work, be it the mending of fences or the milking of cows. These are long and solitary days with an ailing and unseen father the reward at the end of them. Jimmy is lonely, desperately so and things need to change.

The power in Barrett’s film resides in the rhythmic quietness. In the repetitive sounds of the machines that milk the cows. In the stirring of the many cups of tea that punctuate the day. In the sitting at the bar having the quietest of pints. There is practically no music for the first hour of the film which gives the film a claustrophobic feel and hermetically seals Jimmy into his existence. But that seal is broken by a visit from a local health inspector which leaves Jimmy facing an uncertain future: should he listen to his only friend Tommy (Muiris Crowley) and think about a life away from farming or resign himself to repeating the generation before and stay with the only thing he knows for the rest of his life.

The only out seems to be Jimmy’s straight to camera discussions which act as a confessional. This is where he lets out all the emotions and fears about his past and present. There are some heartbreaking words here but for me this is where the film fell down a little. They felt possibly tacked on to pad out the running time to feature length. Yes the subjects that Jimmy speaks about are important to the character but I didn’t need it as exposition. I wanted a visual representation of those words. This is a real pity as I fell perfectly into the rhythm of the film and it was the straight to camera moments that pulled me out of it. There is magic in Barrett’s roving camera on the farm but the magic slips when the story stops. Joe Mullins is a revelation in the main role. He carries the weight of his loneliness in that walk of his, in the glances at others and at himself in the mirror. Those eyes tell you all you need to know about his regret and isolation which makes the straight to camera pieces unnecessary.

Pilgrim Hill is a very good debut film. With a reported budget of €4,500 it is quite frankly astonishing. It is also a film of our times, looking at a country bereft of direction. It captures the feeling that farming was one of our indigenous industries ignored while we chased the housing dream. Now that the hangover has come, this is what is left: a broken industry full of broken men. There is an authenticity here; you instantly know that both Barrett and Mullins know the terrain well. They have carved out a memorable and low key film with a great central character at the heart of it. Alas, is not the masterpiece that some have said. But there is more than enough here to suggest that Barrett could be a significant Irish filmmaker for years to come.