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Film of the Week: After Dark, My Sweet

1990-after-dark-my-sweet-poster1

 

This film by James Foley is a little gem. It is based on a Jim Thompson novel from the mid-50s. Thompson has a number of great books and many of them have been turned into more successful films. When it came out in 1990 it did not do well at the box office, it happens from time to time.

Anyway the film tells the story of Collie, a former pro boxer turned wanderer. A man blundering along from town to town, looking haggard and shifty, annoying every cafe and bar owner along the way. En route on his journey to nowhere he meets a widow who can’t help but join in on the joke. A brief glimpse of Collie defending himself shows hidden depths. Her derision turns to curiosity. And so without realising Collie has stumbled into a scheme to make some easy money.

This is classed at film noir but perhaps many will have a different view of what that means. It certainly doesn’t share any cinematic lineage with any Bogart era movies.There are no dutch angles. No over stylized shadows or fooling around with colour grading. This is a strange case of a modern noir where the actors take centre stage. And this is the most compelling thing for me.

Jason Patric might be known as the guy who had to replace Keanu Reeves in Speed 2. Damn shame he was pigeon-holed like that. Because here he is great to watch. He starts off as this bumbling fool who gets occasional flashbacks to his boxing past. Gradually we learn that his punchiness is a mask he wears, or is it? That Patric can manage to keep us all guessing right up to the end credits means he must have some chops. I found him to be excellent here.

Then there’s Bruce Dern. What a snivelly crafty old bugger he is here. Uncle Bud. Everybody knows an Uncle Bud. Been doing things half-assed all his life then someone new comes along that he expects to fix it all for him. Dern though is not bitter. Instead, he is determined to prove to Collie that he is much smarter. It is a curiously written character because it doesn’t rely on the ‘woe is me’ cliche.

I am still undecided on Rachel Ward, who plays Fay. Initially, I was thinking, this actress is just annoying me. She isn’t selling it. Gradually again though, her performance began to make sense. She walks like an awkward teenage farm girl, she is constantly drinking. She is frustrated with her own shitty life and takes it out on the nearest person to her, usually Collie. It might actually be a great performance after all

You have to understand that this whole thing takes a little while to get going. I watched the first twenty minutes last year on a slow stream and didn’t show much determination to stick with it. This time I was more ready, though I did take a nap in between. No offence to the film, I do that with a lot of good ones when I’m home.

There is a lovely closing theme on the end credits by Maurice Jarre, which could have been utilized a little more I felt.

But yeah, I really dig this film. If you do get around to it, check it out. Give it a chance. You’ll not be disappointed.

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Chill, It’s only Netflix

netflix-logo

 

I decided to sign back up with Netflix in November. I think I was trying to find a link to the David Brent film(which is apparently terrible) and saw that it was on Netflix. I figured it was coming up to Christmas so I might have signed up again anyway. Turned out the Brent film won’t be out til March. So I decided to watch some TV series’ instead.

Committing to a series is a big deal for me! This year I only watched The Wire for the first time. That’s about nine years since it was on TV first time around. In 2015 I watched The Sopranos. I think it was down to a combination of stubbornness and a ridiculous loyalty to film. Anyway, everyone else is right, both are brilliant.

So with Netflix, I started with Black Mirror Season 3, followed by Stranger Things. Then Fargo Season 1 and 2 with Happy Valley Season 1 the meat in the grizzly North Dakotan sandwich.

I really enjoyed Happy Valley. Six episodes, very tight writing and well produced. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant as the main character, a Sergeant in a small Yorkshire town.

Her co-stars are also very well cast and deliver well. Particular kudos to Rhys Connah, who plays her grandson.

I think what I liked about it best was her performance but Yorkshire has such a colourful back story of crime and hardship you could almost consider it to be a supporting cast member.

There’s no denying the production value of Valley was minuscule compared to its American counterparts. But 6 episodes. Bang tidy if you ask me.

Black Mirror has been around for a few years now. I really enjoyed the first two series on channel four but must confess I only watched each episode once.

It is an unashamed critique on modern life and where we’re going. All very terrifying. But I’ll never love it. That’s the risk with having completely new characters each time around. I wasn’t invested in all of them. Some I liked more than others.

Stranger Things was charm personified on the other hand. The young actors were marvelous. Very well cast. The story itself seemed to be a hodge-podge of a lot of things I’ve seen before which isn’t all that strange. But it won me over. Cool soundtrack.

Fargo! Well it’s basically excellent. I won’t bore you to tears about how and why it is excellent. Just seek it out post haste. I might write about it in further detail some  other time.

But the point of this blog was to maybe identify why Netflix is so popular nowadays. And why many are basing their lives around it.

Obviously there’s ‘hilarious’ play on words I made with the title of this post. And indeed many’s a great meme has been made about it. A cheap night in and a few cuddles with someone you like, sounds good to me. Of course you do run the risk of missing a vital part of the action while you’re in the throes of passion. Is it worth the risk? Or indeed are you going to miss anything vital at all? And what of those single people who actually just want to actually chill and watch some stuff?

I have a theory that it isn’t simply down to the quality of the programmes, great as they are. I think it’s more down to us being broke and wanting to stay out of the cold. Also there’s the thing of binge watching which I found myself doing over Christmas. I hated myself for it too. Three hours plus of watching a very good show and barely being able to remember any of it afterward. Also realizing that I might never find the time to watch it again. Horrible! And yet I couldn’t help myself. There was a satisfaction to completing something even though I knew I wouldn’t be writing a review for each episode. Even though I knew I wouldn’t even be in a chatroom after it talking about the nuances of each act.

So I decided I won’t do that again. Then again I decided I would limit myself to Facebook for thirty minutes a day and that isn’t working out. Boy, do I need to get a handle on that this year.

 

Anyway,

 

Here’s some good linkage for this week

 

  1. Disability in acting is an interesting topic. I have often wondered if some disabled people might think it’s offensive for a non disabled person to portray a disabled person on screen. This BBC 4 doc answered that question, plus a whole lot more.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b085xr6j

 

  1. Róisín Murphy goes about her business quite brilliantly. You never hear anything about her private life on social media which is always a plus in my book. Instead she just makes cool sounds and records them, much to the delight of many though arguably not enough. Check this out.

 

https://youtu.be/E4xe-qiKE00

 

  1. . Here are some documentaries you might want to track down, and a few I need to see myself. This list is courtesy of the Guardian. I don’t think there’s any of these on Netflix but it’s worth the effort casting the net a bit further.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/02/documentaries-to-unleash-the-activist-in-you-lucy-walker?CMP=fb_gu

 

  1. Louis CK perfectly illustrates one of society’s greatest failings..or is it two?? The mobile phone joke and of course the flying one.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRTMDS7Y0jc

 

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FILM OF THE WEEK: THE MESSENGER

messenger

There’s an old familiar saying that most of us agree with: Respect your elders.

Not many could argue with that. They are the voices of experience. They’ve seen it all before. They can tell you whatever you need to know. This film turns that old saying on its head.

We open with a young Staff Sergeant named Will Montgomery(Ben Foster) back from duty in Iraq. He is a bit rusty regarding good table manners and plays heavy metal music too loud. It would be easy to imagine the rest of his story arc. Maybe he retires honourably, buys a house in an affordable area and tries to ignore his recent past by marrying his high school sweetheart.

But already we see the high school sweetheart option is out. She has accepted her consolation prize while he was away. The young Sergeant doesn’t get angry, however. We learn soon that little phases him, on the surface at least.

He is soon recommissioned to perform duties as a casualty notification agent. This basically involves going to deceased soldiers houses and telling mom or dad that their son has died. Luckily, or unluckily for Sergeant, he has been partnered with Tony(played here by Woody Harrelson), a veteran of the Gulf War of the early 1990s. He certainly knows it all and isn’t afraid to share his laconic wisdom.

In the process, we get to see that although the geography and terrain of both wars were similar, the class of 1991 had it easy compared to their comrades some twelve years later.

The narrative that unfolds is compelling. Every awkward knock at the door is tangibly uncomfortable. Every parent or wife offering a new challenge. Montgomery holds it together as best he can, perhaps using his new role as a means of catharsis.

Ultimately we get to the point that Montgomery is recalling a battle he was engaged in. Tony has nothing to match it in his own experiences.

The subject matter is not exactly light as you can tell. To make it work on a cinematic level you need great performances. The director is blessed to have Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson here. Foster is a force to be reckoned with, totally plausible as a youthful Sergeant whose young eyes, one now permanently damaged, has seen so much.

Harrelson for his part plays his part to perfection. His portrayal of easy living Gulf War vet who makes his own problems hints at a future stand-out performance in True Detective some years later. As worldly knowledge is gradually pared down to a confusing and perhaps irreparable opinion of the army.

Special mention to Samantha Morton, who really shines as a newly made widow. There are at least two scenes with her that while being subtle, are simply unforgettable.

I think this is a vital film about the post 9/11 Iraq war and the differing attitudes among the generations.

Highly recommended.

 

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A load of Bloggox?

Blog posts

 

  1. A load of bloggox?

 

When you start off something new you are inevitably going to get a lot of things wrong. It’s always been the case with me anyway. I think the one regret I do have is not bouncing back(1) quickly enough from disappointment. But enough introspection. There’s plenty of time for that when I hit submit on this.

 

So the point of this post is to ask whether an upcoming writer should bother with blogging and if so what should they blog about?

 

My caution stems from the fact that there’s so much out there. So much information to take in. I’ve already taken up half a minute of your time and if you find out this was all a cunning ruse to get you to pay for my book I know you’ll quite rightly hold me in contempt.

 

In saying all that, I think I can find a happy medium somewhere along the way. For a start this will be the longest introduction of anything I write up here again. Consider this our first meeting, we’re getting to know each other and you’re finishing up early today.

 

Right so for future reference I will discuss in no particular order films, music, books, sport, history, men’s fashion, cars, other things going on that involve my vastly more talented contemporaries.

 

I will also not bother with these from time to time. Because I need to live. I am actually out of practice on that score. I’m quietly determined to get away somewhere next year and need to follow in the footsteps of Sheryl Crow and her catchy tune(2) I also need to write other stuff and I know with my shoddy time management something will have to give.

 

So, with that, I still think that blogging is an acquired taste. There are some people who are really good at it. They say interesting things and get you thinking. I don’t follow any writer’s blogs but maybe I’ll start.

 

Anyway, what I would like to do is stick down a list(maybe a weekly list) of things that I have enjoyed recently and maybe a few notes on why.

 

So here’s five to start with.

  • Dermot Kavanagh has been shuffling around Dublin City’s puddles for the last few years, getting pretty handy at the aul photography in the process. You can follow him on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/irishstreets/        

 

  • Jam Goldie is another very active photographer and a whole lot more besides. He works with Rabble and recently put together an excellent documentary on Direct Provision that you can see here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLcM0k86c7A

 

 

  • I recently read a novel from a Wexford native by the name of Paul O’Brien. It was called Blood Red Turns Dollar Green and tells the story of a New York wrestling promotion trying to fend off a number of different enemies in the early 1970s. I really like this guy as a writer. He has a very light touch and doesn’t try to beat you over the head to make his point. He is also a notable filmmaker. Check out his website here http://paulobrien.info/

 

Wow that’s a very male orientated list. I’ll change it up a bit more next time;)

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Film of the Week: Secrets and Lies

secrets_and_lies

 

 

I watched 4 films this weekend. There was a bit of down time between college projects so I said to myself why not? The others were fine but the pick of the bunch was a Mike Leigh film from 1996.

I am ashamed to say this is probably only the fourth film of his I have seen. Leigh deals in upscale realism, mild class warfare and the general malaise of Great Britain. If you are looking to chew popcorn for a few hours probably best to avoid his work.

Anyway, we pick up the ‘action‘ at a funeral. A young black woman sheds a tear as the procession goes by. This is Hortense and she is mourning the death of her step-mother. We soon learn Hortense has decided to find out who her biological parents are.

Maurice is a local portrait photographer. He takes pictures of anything from people and their dogs to family portraits with reluctant dads. He has a friendly demeanor that puts his models at ease. Life is good professionally. At home he struggles along, trying to stay on the right side of his uptight wife Monica. They talk about inane things like sitting room furnishings, as  Monica seemingly attempts to distract herself from a life of non-motherhood. We also learn this might be because Maurice doesn’t want to give his wife the opportunity to belittle his family.

His family, being his older sister Cynthia(Blethyn) and her daughter Roxanne.

And that’s as much as I’ll say plotwise. It’s not world domination but it’s definitely a domination of some sort. The tension comes from over-familiarity, people disappointed with themselves and those around them. The majority of the characters are in their mid-forties and coming to the conclusion that what they have now will most likely not improve ’til the end of their days.

Clip from Secrets and Lies

Hortense changes all that.

Watching this slow paced European style is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is totally at odds with what Mark Cousins once described as closed romantic realism. When people slam doors and run away, you really wonder if they’ll come back. Leigh has made even less optimistic films than this mind you. If anything it is quite uplifting at times.

The key strengths are this work are not technical. The cinematography and lighting are adequate but unchallenging, the score non-invasive. Simply put it’s the Brenda Blethyn show, with strong support from the ever able Timothy Spall. Everyone else is very good but these two are different class.

It’s not a showy, scenery-chewing performance from Blethyn either. She is in excellent form not only in isolation but with all her co-stars. Her scenes with Hortense are a clinic in ‘give and take’. It is so difficult to make these things look so natural and unstaged. Likewise, the verbal sparring with Roxanne is brilliant too. Those almost cringe worthy moments when you know a mother simply needs to get her speak in, no matter who it might upset.

Cynthia spends most of the film a quivering wreck and yet she remains a matriarch of some power. It is maybe Leigh’s message here, as so often in his work; that perhaps there is no meaning in life until you go and create it or at least improve upon it. In Cynthia’s case it’s by giving birth, with Maurice it’s by bringing happiness.

I would give this four very nice 1990s wallpaper patterns out of five.

 

 

 

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There is no tomorrow…

If you’re expecting this to be an apocalyptic message of doom, relax. I can’t compete with all those other media sites telling you that Donald Trump is going to blow up the world or that Europe will be destroyed within the next 12 months. All that might be true but it doesn’t matter.

Why? Because you ain’t livin’ anyway. If like me you make promises to yourself and find the nice ones easier to keep than the hard ones, you should understand.

The best time to go to bed is around 11pm

The best time to wake up is between 6 and 6.30am

Exercise in the morning is an ideal way to help improve not only fitness but general health.

Eating after 7pm is not something that should be done regularly. The digestive system can only work so hard when you sleep.

Reading stimulates the mind more than anything you’ll ever see on television or the cinema. If you don’t believe me read just one page of a book and try to not picture the character’s face or the place they are in. Congratulations you are now your own director!

You will get stronger, quicker and smarter if you do the right things. One of them is to limit yourself to the amount of motivational content you hoover up. Be it health magazines, instructional videos or whatever. Watch or read it, get the advice and do it. Don’t critically analyse it or spend an hour looking for second opinions and subsequently fall into the web wormhole. You came for looking for an easy answer and it isn’t there! Work!

http:///giphy.com/embed/l0NwPZ027mabR6Tg4

via GIPHY

when your buddy hears your excuse for missing the gym today

If you’re a writer, getting work done first thing in the morning is also ideal. Because it gives you the rest of the day to not only get on with your soul destroying real job(we’ll get back to that) but to allow new ideas to come forth and improve upon the ‘something’ that you managed to get down that morning. Conversely doing it at night heaps extra pressure on what is already a fatigued brain. You will get good stuff but there’s a strong chance it will convey your mood at that very moment.

There are a lot of crimes in the world but not giving yourself the best chance of long term satisfaction is one I am guilty of time and time again. Things can and will go against you in life and it’s important to be nice to yourself too. But the relationship with your mind, body and soul have to last a long time so stop letting them fall out with each other over silly things. Give each one their chance to shine.

 

 

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Film Of The Week: Nightcrawler

It is rare that modern cinema can work so well on a number of different levels. This definitely ticked a lot of the right boxes…

It would remiss of me not to decry the overabundance of comic strip cinema spewing from the studios of America but in its defence it has thrown up some pertinent questions. How we view outsiders for example, our paranoia about mass media and maybe even our perverse desire to see things get blown up. Maybe my problem is not what these films are saying but that the excessive ribbons and bows of CGI and spandex don’t do it for me.

What’s does get my engine running is great camerawork. Beautiful night time images, an American muscle car belting along at great speeds( naturally, with proper stunt drivers). And yes, a none too subtle takedown of the American dream. Preferably by an antihero, who uses the system against the machine.

Trailer for Nightcrawler

Lou Bloom(played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is an outsider who wants to be inside. The opening scene is him clipping metal fence in a creepy railway freight area. The first thing I thought was, why is he doing that, he can clearly walk around the fence. He is in fact stealing the wired fence. Lou is a thief, he just hasn’t figured out what’s worth stealing yet.

His natural progression is charted throughout the opening half hour of the film, until he manages to get himself a deal where he ends up with a modest camcorder and police scanner. Soon he is an ambulance chasing voyeur, turning up and road accidents and getting cheques from the local television new network.

He doesn’t stop there, the quality of his work improves through intense research and study, so much so that he takes on an intern(of Latin descent, obviously).

Soon we are in the throes of Lou’s own American Dream. Get to the top any which way. It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump would bloody love this film.

What anchors the film is the realism of the local television network and how they go about their business. Nightcrawling is an industry onto itself. In L.A scores of wannabe video journalists prowl the streets for real, hoping to secure footage good enough to sell onto the local broadcaster. Perhaps the neatest trick that’s pulled off here is seeing a nobody like Bloom come in and break up the unofficial cartel. As horrible as he is, he has found a community of people far more unlikable. 

But when I say it works on a number of levels that is to give it appropriate dues. As a visual piece of cinema, it is beautiful to look at. Robert Elswit, a regular collaborator with the excellent Nichols Winding Refn, clearly relishes the challenges of filming the Los Angeles streets at night. Though we have seen them countless times, he brings a real sheen to the imagery.

If IMDB were giving you ‘if you liked this’ recommendations they ought to cite Thief(Michael Mann) American Gigolo( Paul Schrader) and The Driver (Walter Hill) as what you can follow up with. In truth that list could be quite lengthy however.

Director Dan Gilroy, whose previous credits have been mainly as a screenwriter, brings a real cogent, decisive story to bear. Very little dialogue is wasted, it’s as sparse as it is necessary. This is no mean feat considering he is basically self editing. But yet it doesn’t feel shallow. Even the TV station manager is perfectly pitched as a victim, not only of a pressure to improve ratings but also as a person worn down and desensitized by watching violence from the comfort of a video booth.

When this first came out, I missed out for some reason. Though I do recall the trailer was another modern hatchet job that did the film no justice. If you haven’t watched this, go do so. I would give it four and a half crappy camcorders out of five.

 

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The Euro’s…beginning of the end?

euro2016infographic
Euro 2016 Infographic

The familiar refrain of David Guetta’s theme tune dies out and all we have now are the memories. It was alright while it lasted. Maybe even better than alright. After months of fear mongering about potential terror threats, people from all over Europe turned up and had some fun. The football itself was average, though many were quick to insist it was worse than that.

There were some surprises, though in the end the lopsided draw perhaps decided the fate of the usual superpowers more so than their own performances. In turn said superpowers bemoaned the bloating out of the competition, forgetting that despite its faults international football remains, arguably the most level playing field we have in the professional game.

Even so soon after the event, it is easy to start speculating on the future of the game. Ronaldo, despite the loathing, has an unparalleled record( as a European) in the modern game as a goalscorer.

With Cristiano now 31, the summer of his own career has drawn to a close and adaptation and game management will have to come to the fore. After him, you have maybe his club mate Bale, as a potential superstar. But after that?

One notable point from this year’s tournament was the lack of breakout players. Not even to mention those who might not have captured the imagination. Of course, this matters little in the marketing scheme of things. Pogba et al will be shot to the moon by the football machine regardless.

But even the most optimistic football fan couldn’t say this is a vintage time. In the twenty-five odd years since its inception, the Champions League has evolved into an elite competition with the same sides fighting it out each year. It hasn’t gone unnoticed these same sides figure highly on the Forbes list each year. And while it is great to marvel at Messi’s magic or another Zlatan contortion you can’t help but wonder who is next up on the throne.

Is the era of the superstar coming to a close? Will the team mentality begin to take over? And if so, how will they manage to film all 11 players in close up simultaneously?

Many would argue that international football could be seen as a breath of fresh air, with players from Crystal Palace to Fleetwood Town featuring highly. But Nike and Adidas will find it difficult to manage fresh air. That’s why Ronaldo probably got more close-ups in the final(even when off the pitch) than at least 18 of the other players.

If you want to see where it’s all headed, perhaps looking west will provide the answers. The NFL and NBA have stealthily managed to fit more commercials and other non-sport related nonsense into their live broadcasts for the past 40 years, all the while hoping that the general public would keep the money coming in. All the while grateful for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning to keep their MVP status up. But Bryant and Manning are not Michael Jordan nor Joe Montana. And Europe is no longer the market for American sports that it once was.

It is not hard to imagine association football decreasing in aesthetic pleasure as the players become more athletic and risk averse. And with those professionals quite rightly being aware of their earning potential in these days of plenty it must be wondered when the bubble will burst. But don’t wait for Sky Sports to tell you about a football depression. Things have never been better..or bigger.

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Archive: Alan Pakula

Here is a link to a piece I wrote for a friend’s website. Kevin Shields is a bona fide cinema buff and has an incomparable knowledge of all things cinema. Follow him on Facebook if you can.

http://cracked-reel.blogspot.ie/2015/02/pakulas-paranoia.html

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Archive: My thoughts on the Same Sex Marriage Referendum

Here is a 2013 piece I wrote regarding the Gay marriage referendum-interesting to look back on it, see what I got right, see what I might have got wrong.

https://ifihadaminutetospare.com/category/guest-post/ray-hyland/

Many thanks to Conor O’Reilly who published the original piece. Please take a gander at his website. He has been at it far longer than I have and subsequently has plenty more to offer!