Tag Archives: irish cinema

Pint-Sized Culture; ‘The Irish Pub’ (2013).

4 Oct

The word ‘alcohol’ is virtually synonymous with ‘Ireland’, and such stereotyping acts as a double-edged sword in some respects. On the one hand, the assumption that the Emerald Isle is a nation of drunks, alcoholics and general tipplers is not a particularly wholesome international image to peddle. On the other, it does wonders for the tourism industry, and without this international cultural perception, cinematic gems like The Irish Pub would be viewed by next to nobody.

A documentary concerned with, would you believe, the Irish pub, The Irish Pub focuses specifically on the the smaller, three generations of family-run types you’d usually find in old rural towns. The film features public houses from Mayo to Cork, Dublin to Donegal and everywhere in between, and cuts between interviews with the bar staff and their customers. The cast features a whole host of publicans, their aged clientèle, and whoever’s holding the camera. It’s directed by solicitor-turned-filmmaker Alex Fegan, who deserves congratulations for whatever epiphany he had to leave behind that particular profession.

Yes, as a documentary this is an informative movie. Various little tidbits of information are thrown around, from the astounding ages of the pubs as well as a plethora of amusing anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that a young Winston Churchill would roll marbles along the clay floors of Blackhorse Avenue’s ‘Hole in the Wall’? Fascinating factoids abound in this film, but they merely scaffold the conflicting yet effectively blended cocktail of melancholy and ever-so-slightly hopeful pessimism that runs throughout.

Publicans acknowledge that their trade is in decline, due to a combination of a downward-spiralling economy and a greater number of people choosing to drink at home instead. In addition to both their (generally) elder years and those of their similarly matured clientèle, they present a tangibly bleak outlook for their craft. That said, many describe the 80’s as a far worse period of decline, and the whole bunch collectively overcame that decade-long hurdle. A resurgence in cultural tradition nudges the negative clouds away somewhat, and according to them, the future is bright.

This counterbalance of wonder with woe is supplemented by some fabulous displays of wit. In delivering, the assorted staff prove that years of babbling from behind the bar honed their skills as storytellers; much like the film itself, the actual interviewees range in tone from articulate shoe-gazing  to light-hearted wisecracking ; one particular barman from Cavan incites roars of laughter from the engaged audience.

A beautiful clarinet score underpins the whole movie, which at a mere 76 minutes long won’t eat up much of your time. The Irish Pub is one of those films that says a lot with relatively few words. Knowing full-well that its cast and their surroundings carry the film with ease, Fegan made an excellent decision to stand back let them do the talking. Go see it, and definitely head out for jars afterwards.

Simon says: this movie made me really happy. That never happens.

Running up that ‘Pilgrim Hill’ (2013).

13 Apr

Pilgrim Hill poster 3Pilgrim Hill is a movie which proves that even the most mundane subject, in this case farming, could be turned into an incredibly powerful film in the right hands. But to say this is a picture about the trials and tribulations of working the land and rearing cattle would be doing it a disservice; Pilgrim Hill is a dark, sombre examination of loneliness, isolation and, primarily, depression.

Jimmy Walsh (played by Joe Mullins, a Killinaskully vet) is a middle-aged, single farmer operating in the rolling hills of deepest rural Clare.  Between a critically ill father, an infuriating younger relative (Muiris Crowley) and a persistent sense of loneliness, Jimmy’s life has been tough lately. However, it’s about to get a whole lot worse, as not only is his longing for company, both romantic and simply Platonic, starting to get the better of him, but a problem with his livestock threatens to capsize his only real source of income.

While the movies are in no way alike, what Pilgrim Hill reminded me of the most was 2011’s The Grey, that film in which Liam Neeson and co had to survive in a snowy wilderness bursting with bloodthirsty wolves. I link the two purely because they both surprised me in the same way; while I expected this to be an agricultural drama, and likewise presumed The Grey would focus on wolf-related escapades, it turned out that both movies primarily concerned themselves with a palpable sense of existential grief.

Jimmy is a friendly and likeable guy with an admirable work ethic, but he longs for another human face to have around the house. He mentions having conversations with the cows he milks, and throughout the film only converses with six people: his work-shy, new-age yuppie cousin  Tommy, his sister Ann, a Garda who stops and breathalyses him, a shopkeeper, a barman and his dying father, and those final two don’t answer back at all.

What begins as a mere sadness, which Jimmy seems to brush off with relative ease, slowly progresses into what seems to be full-blown depression by the end of the film. He is in a sense grieving for what he never had; the prospect of having a family moves him almost to tears, and the realisation that the chances of such a development would be slim is absolutely heartbreaking. His terminal dad, combined with the prospect of losing his cattle, which are like family to him, proves to be the final twist of the knife.

Not a lot actually happens in this film. Its slow pacing mirrors the subject matter, yet manages to never be boring.

Not a lot actually happens in this film. Its slow pacing mirrors the subject matter, yet manages to never be boring.

This crushing sense of loneliness is not only revealed through his facial expressions, but also during the introspective interview-style scenes where Tommy speaks to the camera. While this framing device is never actually explained, we presume it’s for the makers of this very film, which if true would be an impressively meta way of handling the premise. This lack of clarity is of zero detriment to the movie itself though; rather, it adds yet another layer to this already detailed story.

Joe Mullins deserves major credit for his performance, which is less of a step up and more of an astronomical leap up from the funny if nonsensical TV programme Killinascully. He really gives it his all, and I struggle to think of a ‘famous’ actor who could have handled the role any better. Director, writer, producer and general cinematic Swiss army knife Gerard Barrett is without doubt one to watch, as this is a truly masterful début.

As a philosophy student, I found the echoes of Nietzschean nihilism tantalising, and present real food for thought. I honestly can’t recommend this enough, and at 88 minutes it won’t take up too much of your day either. What with the excellent Earthbound and the well-named Good Vibrations, Irish cinema is on a roll at the moment, and long may it continue!

Simon says: a distressingly real look at grief, depression and loneliness. Moving.

Teenage Kicks running throoouuugh the night! ‘Good Vibrations’ (2013).

9 Apr

Good Vibrations poster“Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?” bellows Feargal Sharkey, frontman of The Undertones, at the beginning of their breakout single ‘Teenage Kicks’, and this is the question that Good Vibrations ultimately concerns itself with. Set in Belfast during the seventies, the movie chronicles the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise and so forth of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a peace-loving pacifist who opens a record store on the city’s Great Victoria Street; a stretch of tarmac and bricks which is, he reminds us, “the most bombed half-mile in Europe”. Using his shop as a makeshift music label, he signs some local up-and-coming punk rock bands, one of which happens to be The Undertones, as a way of not only fulfilling their collecting teenage rock and roll dreams, but also protecting them from the horrors of war.

However, to say that Good Vibrations is a film about The Undertones would be completely missing the point; this is half docu-drama about a Belfast man, half fan appreciation of a bygone era where great clothes, even greater facial and wonderful music was the norm. The trailer for this movie markets it as if it were a documentary about the Derry band. But the oddly-named Terri is the real star here, and The Undertones actually play second fiddle (they were too rock and roll for a fiddle-player, just sayin’) to other fledging groups such as The Outcasts, who he takes on tour in a Volkswagen hippie van.

Violence infused by various political and theological differences (known historically as ‘The Troubles’) underscores the feel-good nature of the film, and this juxtaposition of the fun with the fatal adds a layer of uncertain tension, which really makes Good Vibrations stand out. Unlike The Commitments, which is a similar sort of film, this is non-fiction, and the realism is handled very deftly. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn truly nailed the aesthetic ethos of the time; not only through the fantastic clothing choices, but also by shooting the film through a grainy filter which, while still in a stressed colour, is pleasingly faded.

The fairly regular use of news stock footage made it, at times, feel like a dramatised, feature-length episode of Reelin’ In The Years, which isn’t really a complaint as I bloody love that program. However, it can be difficult for these sorts of films (The Commitments, Cherrybomb and the like) to transcend the whole ‘lifetime movie’ sensation, and while this film is certainly leagues ahead of the latter example in terms of focus, sometimes during the screening I did get the feeling that I was at home on my couch watching one of those made-for-TV musical biopics.

While it is doubtless a fun experience, the movie lacks that emotional punch needed to make this an entirely memorable motion picture. The story wavers and drags in places, and it’s at least twenty minutes too long – the ending in particular outstays its welcome. Dormer is outstanding as Terri, but Jodie Whittaker, who plays Ruth, Terri’s free-spirited wife, starts off as a lovingly eccentric character, yet loses virtually all of her charisma once she and Terri settle down. Dylan Moran, one of my favourite comedians, is given a frustratingly ‘nothing’ role here, and he appears all of five times, which really disappointed me.

What moved me more than anything is the idea that music transcends social strife and actually solidifies friendships far more than religion or politics ever could, which is a point this film drives home excellently. A lovingly-crafted, well-acted modern period drama, Good Vibrations succeeds where many others fail. I love a film that clearly adores and respects its subject matter; however, it’s unlikely you’ll be moved by this movie the way it wants you to be.

Simon says: a fun testament to the uniting power of rock and roll.

‘Earthbound’ (2013): the Irish film and NOT the video game!

22 Mar

Earthbound posterPremièring earlier this year at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Earthbound is a quirky Irish indie film that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Written and directed by Alan Brennan, Earthbound is a comedy sci-fi romp starring Rafe Spall as Joe, a timid, unassuming alien from another planet disguised as a human. Living in Dublin, he meets Maria (Jenn Murray), a shy and reserved girl with a really nice apartment. Following his father’s (David Morrissey’s) instructions, Joe becomes interested in Maria as her genetic structure means that she is the ideal mate for him. Conspiracy, awesome special effects and hilarity ensue!

One thing is clear right off the bat: this film has an unashamedly Irish context, meaning that many non-Irish viewers simply won’t get many of the jokes. From national landmarks shooting into space to jokes about work visas, much of the humour will hurtle over the heads of people outside Ireland. That said, the hiberno-centric giggles aside, Earthbound boasts many great one-liners, facial expressions and slapstick that should appeal to virtually anyone with a sense of humour. While other comedic science fiction pictures may rely on self-deprecating sci-fi references to deliver the laughs (lookin’ at you Paul), Earthbound is a witty and smartly funny film.

Intelligence is not saved for the comedy alone; this is an intricately crafted, well made movie that constantly surprises. The story, without giving anything away, is a figurative rollercoaster, as hilarity switches to depression which in turn morphs into the most awesome episode of Stargate never shownLittle throwaway, seemingly inconsequential lines of dialogue and symbols, which are fleeting in their appearance, often times prove relevant later on. For example, a certain allergy to a certain material turns out to be a major plot device in its own right. Earthbound is like one of those magicians who can pull a coin out of your ear: you know it’s logical, but you’re surprised nonetheless.

I mean c'mon, they play Q-Zar. How more Dublin can you get!?

I mean c’mon, they play Q-Zar. How more Dublin can you get!?

It’s clear that the producers were on a tight budget, not necessarily from effects or costumes but from the fact that ‘sponsored by the Irish Film Board’ appears at the beginning, who are notoriously stingy with delving into their coffers. However, what is even more obvious than that is the remarkable level of detail that went into the outfits, set design (Maria’s flat is amazing and I want it) and special effects. Not emphasising the spacey element of the ‘sci-fi’ tag and being (mostly) grounded here on Earth means that the effects are sparse, but well done. The ending in particular has some wonderful chaos happening on screen, it’s a real feast for the eyes.

If there are any criticisms to be levelled at the film, they lie in the characters. Both leads turn out to have science fiction experience: Spall was in Prometheus, while Murray had a casting accolade in the short-lived Day of the Triffids TV series. While the former is charming and portrays the nerdy loner expertly, the latter is less convincing. Bits of clunky dialogue coupled with a simply unbelievable backstory (she spent at least four years at nursing school?! She looks about seventeen years old!) do not ruin her completely but do render her performance a tad wobbly. David Morrissey is an excellent stoic older gentleman, as fans of his Walking Dead day-job can testify to.

I honestly can’t recommend Earthbound enough. Is it the best Irish film I’ve ever seen? If not, it’s bloody close. It makes Veronica Guerin look dire, The Guard look mediocre, and The Commitments look decidedly forgettable, and for that final crime, I shall never forgive it. Regardless, it’s certainly the best sci-fi comedy I’ve ever witnessed. Get up and go see it now!

Simon says: a genuine masterpiece. Loved every second.

‘Dollhouse’ (2012): more like ‘DULLhouse’ amirite!?

11 Dec

Dollhouse movie poster“An experimental Irish indie film set entirely in an upper-class posh Dublin condo”. If this phrase in any way disturbs you (and frankly, it doesn’t sound overly enthralling), then congratulations, you’re sane. Irish indie cinema has been getting quite a bad rap lately; can ‘Dollhouse’ change this?

When a bunch of working class (definitely Northside) Dublin teenagers break into a plush suburban home, they discover it’s the former home of Kerslake, a well-to-do girl who we find out ran away from home the year beforehand. As a night of drug and alcohol-fuelled debauchery unfolds, it becomes evident she is hiding another secret.

This is a bizarre film, and I’m not entirely sure to what degree I dislike it. I’m constantly wavering between “I didn’t quite get it, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain about it too much” to “this film was horrendous”. Nah, I’m gonna roll with the “I hated it” line. I spent the majority of the screening scratching my head (figuratively, of course), because it simply does not make sense.

Why do the characters invade some poor lottery winner’s gaff? To party of course, but even running with that simple reason as the only explanation for the events which unfold in this disaster, it’s simply not enough. Ambiguity in movies is fine, in fact often necessary. But only if it remains within the context of reality; the characters here lack all forms of basic human logic. Even with the copious amount of narcotics ingested in this film, the kids are borderline inhuman in their actions.

After ‘Charlie Casanova’, it seemed Irish cinema had hit a low – that travesty somehow managed to effortlessly limbo under the bar previously set by ‘Shrooms’. Now, thanks to Sheridan’s latest feature, it’s got some company at the bottom of the barrel. ‘Dollhouse’ actually does contain a certain amount of professionalism, from a purely cinematographic viewpoint. The acting is great, with the promising young performers convincing us of their disadvantaged, inner-city slumville backgrounds. The camera work is slightly above average for an Irish feature.

The major problems lie with Sheridan’s script. There’s really no story here so unless you enjoy watching unlikable, unrelatable aliens disguised as teens smash up a home and shout insults at one another, there’s nothing to engage you. The lack of clarity for the dialogue, storyline, hell for anything in this movie renders it a remarkably dull experience.  The twist at the end was indeed a surprise, but packed no emotional punch whatsoever. I came out of the Screen cinema flabbergasted that the film is ‘only’ 95 minutes long; I could’ve sworn I’d wasted hours watching this mess.

‘Dollhouse’ is a strangely detestable film and yet another national embarrassment for us Irish cinema lovers. Had director Sheridan not been the daughter of none other than acclaimed Irish film-maker Jim, I highly doubt this garbage would ever have seen the light of day. Hopefully these decent teenage actors will resurface in something a little less horrifying.

Simon says: just play with an actual doll house instead, far more fun.

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