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My favourite film is "Back to the Future" my favourite TV show is "Stargate SG-1", I prefer vanilla over chocolate and my favourite colour is yellow. I've no difficulty seeing it which is a plus.
Politically, I'm a dyed in the wool democratic socialist of the Tony Benn school of thought. Some people consider socialism to be a radical philosophy but it's only radical if you consider the ideals of democracy, social justice and equality to be dangerous to the interests of the Establishment and the forces of the status quo.
The best music died with John Lennon and Freddie Mercury. When Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney shuffle off this mortal coil, the church bells will all be broken.
I also have a burning desire to seize power in a bloodless coup. All I need is a cadre of fanatics, a megaphone and a tank with "Ride of the Valkyries" playing in the background.
Sing Street (2016)
An absolutely brilliant coming of age film which is at turns hilarious, life-affirming and thought-provoking
Taking place in Dublin in 1985, this is an absolutely brilliant coming of age film which is at turns hilarious, life-affirming and thought-provoking. It has a superb script by John Carney which hits all of the right notes and his direction is certainly up to the task. The film has an excellent soundtrack featuring various styles of music from the period such as the Cure, the Clash, A-ha, Duran Duran, the Jam, Spandau Ballet and Joe Jackson as well as original compositions written by Carney, Gary Clark, Glen Hansard and others. However, in spite of the fact that it was likewise written for the film, "Go Now" by Adam Levine seemed like a somewhat awkward fit as it sounded more 2010s than 1980s. The film paints a convincing portrait of dysfunctional families, some of which are considerably more dysfunctional than others. It perfectly captures the essence of 1980s Ireland, which was not exactly a land of opportunity. Actually, Ireland has never been a land of opportunity.
The film stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in a very good performance as Conor Lalor, a 15-year-old boy who is pulled out of his posh, fee paying Jesuit run school (presumably either Belvedere or Gonzaga) and forced to attend the rough innercity school Synge Street CBS due to the fact that his family is having serious financial problems. Walsh-Peelo is very impressive in his first film role, let alone his first leading role, but he is an even better musician. Incidentally, his elder brother Tadhg was in my year in law at UCD. I don't recall ever actually speaking to him but he always seemed like a nice guy. As Conor's parents Robert and Penny's marriage is rapidly deteriorating, his home life is far from ideal. He finds comfort in his love of music. Considering that his new school has a very different atmosphere from his old one, it is not a smooth transition. In his first week, he is targeted by both the school bully Barry Bray and the sadistic headmaster Brother Baxter, who objects to the fact that he is wearing brown shoes in contravention of the strict black shoe policy. After he meets a 16-year-old model named Raphina, Conor tells her that he just so happens to be looking for a model to be in his band's first music video. The only problem is that he does not really have a band. Thankfully, Conor has made his first friend at the school in the form of a budding entrepreneur named Darren Mulvey, who agrees to manage the band and introduces him to the eccentric rabbit enthusiast Eamon who can reportedly "play every instrument known to mankind."
Lucy Boynton is extremely strong as Raphina, a seemingly strong, confident girl who uses her air of mystery and sophistication to mask her vulnerability and inner pain. The band's first original song "The Riddle of the Model" concerns the perception that people become less interesting the more that you learn about them as anything is initially possible (at least in your head). However, Raphina becomes more and more interesting as we learn more about her. She is without a doubt the film's strongest and most memorable character. Raphina dreams of moving to London to start her career as a model, in large part because she desperately wants to escape her often traumatic life in Ireland. Her mother is a manic depressive who is in and out of hospital while her father, a drunkard, was killed in a car accident a few years earlier. In the film's most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching moment, Raphina tells Conor albeit not in so many words that her father sexually abused her. As a result, he gains a new insight into not only Raphina but his own situation as he realises that his home life is nowhere near as bad as it could be. In comparison to many other teen films, Conor and Raphina's relationship is unusual in that it never goes beyond kissing. In that sense, it is very pure and sweet and, as such, it serves as an effective contrast to Raphina's serious personal problems. I think that Conor means so much to Raphina in part because he is one of the few people in her life who has not taken advantage of her, one way or another.
Conor's extremely close relationship with his elder brother Brendan, played very well by Jack Reynor, is just as important to the storyline as his relationship with Raphina. Brendan offers a great deal of valuable advice on both musical and romantic matters. A college dropout, he initially appears to be the stereotypical Generation X stoner and pop philosopher but Carney expertly deconstructs the stereotype by revealing that he regrets his wasted potential. As much as he loves Conor, he is clearly envious of him to some degree as he is the golden boy in the family but he eventually gets over it. Ben Carolan is an absolute laugh riot as Darren, who gets all of the funniest lines and delivers them impeccably. There is an inspired comic moment when he suggests getting Ngig, the school's sole black student, to join the band for the sole reason that it would look cool to have a black guy in the line-up. Mark McKenna is very good as Eamon, Conor's writing partner who becomes his best friend. Aidan Gillen, the best known actor in the film in or out of Ireland, and Maria Doyle Kennedy are excellent as Conor's parents Robert and Penny. The same is true of Don Wycherly as the film's main antagonist Brother Baxter, who physically assaults Conor in a very powerful scene. Ian Kenny is perfectly cast as Barry who, like Raphina, Brendan and Penny, is a far more complicated character than he appears at first glance.
Overall, this is an excellent film which is just as effective in its character development as in its treatment of music.
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
A dreadfully unfunny comedy
A tribute to late-night TV channel surfing, this is a dreadfully unfunny comedy. I was expecting it to be similar to the other sketch / anthology films that I have seen: occasionally excellent and occasionally very bad but generally good overall. Unfortunately, the writers Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland left out the good and excellent parts and overdid the very bad ones. The film has five directors: Joe Dante, Cart Gottlieb (the only one of whom I never previously heard), Peter Horton, John Landis and Robert K. Weiss. That said, I only know Horton as an actor and Weiss as the co-creator of "Sliders".
I am a fan of both Dante and Landis' films (including "Twilight Zone: The Movie", another anthology film on which they collaborated) so my hopes were high. They were dashed pretty quickly but I soldiered on, both because I promised myself that I would always finish every film and because I figured that there would be at least one brilliant sketch by the law of averages, if nothing else. Well, this film broke the law of averages so that's something at least. I understand that it is a spiritual successor to "The Kentucky Fried Movie", which was likewise directed by Landis. I haven't seen that film but the fact that it was written by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker means that I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is funnier than this film. It pretty much has to be, really.
According to the opening credits, the film stars "lots of actors" when one of the best jokes in the film comes in the opening credits and it is not even terribly funny, you know you're in trouble but none of them are used well. They include Steve Forrest, Steve Guttenberg, Steve Allen and other people not named Steve such as Horton, his then wife Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Begley, Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Carrie Fisher, Rosanna Arquette, Henry Silva, Robert Picardo, William Marshall, Marc McClure, Arsenio Hall, Lou Jacobi and David Alan Grier. I don't think that I have ever seen a worse film with a better cast, frankly. Dante's "mascot" Dick Miller appeared in a scene that was cut. I hope that he realised how lucky he was.
The major problem with the film is not that the ideas for the sketches were unfunny quite the opposite, in many cases but that they are almost all executed terribly. The jokes miss their target with about as often as the Stormtroopers from "Star Wars". The 1950s sci-fi film parody which gave the film its title could have been hilarious but it didn't even raise a smile. The Universal Monsters parody "Son of the Invisible Man" could have been hilarious but it barely raised a smile. The "Roast Your Loved Ones" segment could have been hilarious if they had hired better comedians. Steve Allen was the only one worth mentioning, let alone watching. At about eight minutes, that is one of the longest sketches and it sure as Hell feels like it.
Even some of the sketches which were less funny in their concept such as "Murray in Videoland" in which a man is zapped into his television, "Two I.D.s" in which a young man's lack of consideration for the women that he dates is exposed by a compatibility analyser and "Titan Man" in which an embarrassed 17-year-old boy tries to buy condoms from his local pharmacy could have provided a few good laughs but no such luck. It was not exactly up against stiff competition but my favourite sketch was the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" / "In Search of..." parody "Bullshit or Not?" presented by Silva (playing himself) in which it was theorised that the Loch Ness Monster was in fact Jack the Ripper. I laughed out loud for the only time in the entire 84 minutes when I saw Nessie dressed as a Victorian gentleman and hiring the services of a prostitute before promptly murdering her. The film could have done with at least 20 more moments like that. "Blacks Without Soul" was probably the second most successful sketch, for what it's worth.
On the bright side, I did like the design of the film in several segments such as the pitch perfect recreation of the disparate styles of 1930s social guidance films, 1930s/40s horror films and 1950s sci-fi films. As you would expect, many films are parodied or at least referenced in some way: "The Invisible Man", "Forbidden Planet", "Destination Moon", "King Kong", "Back to the Future", "Sophie's Choice", "Out of Africa", "Gandhi", "Ghostbusters", "Iceman", etc. That was probably a mistake since it is not a very good idea to remind people of good or downright brilliant films when they're watching your very, very bad one. I'd even take some of the bad ones that it references as they are probably more enjoyable than this.
Overall, this is a terrible waste of both comic potential and talent.
A very funny Irish independent film about the education system
Graham Jones' directorial debut, this is a very funny Irish independent film about the education system. The Leaving Cert is a state examination that approximately 55-60,000 students in Ireland - and in one Libyan school, for some reason... - take at the end of secondary school in June every year. The 2016 exam session began last Wednesday, hence why I watched the film. University placements are allocated according to the number of points students get in the exams with the maximum number being 600. I did the Leaving Cert twice, in 2006 and 2007, so I have a better idea than most of how little fun it is. I would rather walk - no, crawl - across hot coals than do it a third time (which thankfully wasn't necessary). I have been in university at undergraduate or postgraduate level continuously since 2007 and, except for a few weeks towards the end of my final year as an undergrad, it was never as stressful as the Leaving Cert. At the time of its release, the Junior Minister for Education Willie O'Dea condemned the film (in spite of the fact that he had not seen it) as he was concerned that it would serve as an instruction manual on how to cheat. O'Dea has never been one of the guiding lights of Irish politics (insofar as they are any) but he is likable, mostly harmless and always good for a laugh, sometimes even intentionally.
It has a very good script by Jones (who was only 22 when it was made), Tadhg O'Higgins and Aislinn O'Loughlin which argues convincingly that there are different types of intelligence and the Leaving Cert only caters to one. It is far from a perfect method of examination as it relies heavily on learning by rote and predicting what will come up in the various exams based on trends in previous years. The humour in the film is more witty than laugh out loud funny, though they are quite a few such moments, and Jones directed it very well. The decision to shoot in black and white was probably taken more for financial than artistic reasons but it nevertheless works in the film's favour as it is evocative of the great heist films of days gone by. Although I have worked within the system for longer than most, the concept of taking on the system appealed to the Devil May Care aspect of my personality and I very much enjoyed it on that level. The script does a great job at expressing the frustrations that many students experience while doing the Leaving Cert, which takes two years of preparation, so that was very relatable. When the beginning of the exams is depicted, it brought back the feelings of tension and stress in a way that I didn't expect at all so that was interesting in a very unpleasant flashback sequence sort of way. As such, I have a renewed sympathy for the students doing it at the moment!
The film's strength lies in its writing as opposed to the acting of the stars, which runs the gamut from pretty mediocre to pretty good without ever being exceptional. This is the only film that most of them ever made, actually. It stars Garret Baker as Fionn, a sixth year student in the highly prestigious (and highly fictional) James Joyce Secondary School in Dublin. He decides to find a way to cheat in the Leaving Cert because his best friend Cian committed suicide after he is himself caught cheating in the exam and was banned from taking it again for another three years. By achieving 600 points through cheating, Fionn hopes to expose the Leaving Cert as an inherently flawed system for determining intelligence and future success in life. In the great tradition of heist films, he assembles a crack team to support him in his scheme to give the middle finger to the education system: Cara, played by Aileen O'Connor who gives the best performance out of all the schemers, who dropped out of school at 16 and wants to expose the system more than anyone else; the aspiring journalist and legend in his own mind Murphy, played by Philip Bredin; the electronics expert Elli, played by Alison Coffey; the apprentice locksmith Gary, played by John Wright; and Elli's straitlaced, 600 points achieving cousin Una, played by Tara Ford. It is eventually decided that they will steal the papers from a Department of Education warehouse in Athlone, County Westmeath (which is where I went to school) as it is the least risky of the various options open to them.
The film has a much stronger supporting cast of well-known Irish actors (well known in Ireland, anyway): Eamon Morrissey as the principal Mr. Fornson (who tells the students that the doors of success will be closed to them for life if they fail, a speech which every principal in Ireland gives at least twice a year), Mary McEvoy as the well- meaning but inattentive and irresponsible school guidance counsellor Charlie McDaid (who was still better than mine), Mick Lally as the Chief Examiner, Bosco Hogan as a newsreader and Maureen Potter as Una's mother. In a pretty odd move, Jones also cast several well-known figures from outside of acting in small roles: the independent senator Feargal Quinn as Fionn's father, the ever present radio presenter Joe Duffy as an invigilator and the singer Chris de Burgh as a petrol pumper. Sure, why not?
Overall, this is a very enjoyable indictment of the Irish education system. That said, I am glad that I didn't watch it while I was doing the Leaving Cert as I really might have had to do it a third time! Since I don't watch many Irish films or non-current affairs TV shows, it was a little bizarre to see places in Dublin on screen that I had passed by only a few hours earlier.
People Hold On (2015)
An excellent, often moving and sometimes extremely funny comedy-drama
Michael Seater's feature film directorial debut, this is an excellent, often moving and sometimes extremely funny comedy-drama. The plot concerns six 27-year-old high school friends reuniting for their ninth annual weekend of booze, drugs and nostalgia in the Canadian countryside. On this occasion, they are joined by two "outsiders." In some respects, it reminded me of "Peter's Friends" (albeit for a slightly younger set) but it was far, far less depressing than that film. The script by Seater and Paula Brancati is extremely well written and represents a very interesting exploration of group dynamics. I think the film's message is basically that relationships - platonic or romantic, between men or women - are inherently complicated. Tensions and old resentments have a nasty habit of rising to the surface and that is certainly seen here. While the characters could have easily been walking clichés, they always seem like real people. The dialogue has a very naturalistic quality to it and there is a great deal of raw emotion involved and I think that the film really speaks to the twentysomething generation. None of the characters are given surnames and I took this as being representative of the fact that everyone can relate to one or more of them to some degree.
With the exception of one development towards the end which seems a little contrived, there is not a false note in the extremely well- observed script. One of my favourite lines is, "30 is when you figure it out that you're never going to figure it out." Neither Seater nor Brancati have reached that milestone yet but they clearly have figured that out already. Personally speaking, I just turned 29 last week and I am not expecting a "Logan's Run"-esque red light in my palm to start flashing on my 30th birthday and provide me with all the answers (or inform the Sandmen that my time is up, for that matter). As a director, Seater handles the material with a great deal of skill and flare.
The film features a cast of only eight (thankfully very good) actors but it nevertheless says a great deal about human nature. Brancati herself probably gives the best performance as Robin, who is still struggling to come to terms with her breakup with her longtime boyfriend Dan, played by Ali Mukadam, two years earlier. Dan is another member of the old high school gang and, since she skipped the last get-together, this is the first time that they have seen each other since she rejected his proposal, though they speak via social media every so often. As you can imagine, the situation is awkward for all considered. It is not helped by the fact that Dan has brought along a cool, confident 19-year-old installation artist named Marley, played by Chloe Rose, whom he has only been dating for two weeks. However, Robin has her own ideas about why he has brought Marley. Crucially, Brancati and Mukadam have great chemistry and their scenes together are suitably tense and occasionally even gut-wrenching since Dan and Robin are essentially star-crossed lovers.
Ashley Leggat is very strong as the kind, confident Julia who is enjoying great success as a newscaster and has recently gotten engaged to Darren. Her fiancé, played by Mazin Elsadig, is a very straitlaced, conservative 33-year-old who is pretty shocked to learn of Julia's adventurous, experimental past. Katie Boland excels as the deeply insecure Alycia who is not happy with her life in large part because she judges it according to other people's standards. As such, she is very resentful of Julia's success and subjects her to numerous dirty looks and bitchy comments over the course of the weekend. Alycia's Grade 9 boyfriend Freddy, played by Jonathan Malen, is sweet and fairly level-headed. However, he is quite insecure himself, albeit not to the same extent as Alycia with whom he has been madly in love since they were young teenagers. Robin serves as a confidant for both of her female friends but she never chooses sides or insults one when speaking to the other.
Noah Reid is excellent as Matthew, the joker in the pack who does not take life seriously, even when he should. In many respects, he is lagging behind his friends as he has not really grown up since high school. He drifts through life, going from one unfulfilling, deathly boring job to another with no plan of any kind. Matt and Julia likewise dated in high school but there was no drama after they broke up and their relationship has since evolved into more of a sibling bond. Since this is arguably the most straightforward relationship in the film, it is not given a huge amount of screen time but it is very sweet. The quality of the acting and the writing means that even the relationships which are not explored in as much detail as the others seem real as opposed to merely being an afterthought, which might have been the case in a lesser film.
Overall, this is a first rate debut film for BrancSeater Productions. I have a fan of Seater's acting since he starred in "The Zack Files" 15 years ago and I think that he has a very bright future ahead of him as a writer-director. I am already looking forward to his and Brancati's next film "Sadie's Last Days on Earth". I hope that Seater eventually appears in one of his own films because he's a very talented, charismatic actor.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
As brilliantly made as it is incredibly racist
Based on the 1905 novel "The Clansman" by Thomas F. Dixon, Jr., this silent film epic is as brilliantly made as it is incredibly racist. It has often been hailed as one of the most important films in cinematic history because of the techniques that its director D. W. Griffith, a master of his craft, pioneered while working on it. Many of the techniques that audiences now take for granted such as long shots, pan shots and frequent use of intercutting made their first appearance here. The battle scenes are thrilling, beautifully staged and surprisingly violent for the time. The script by Griffith and Frank E. Woods is very well structured and, while it inspired many feelings in me, boredom was not one of them.
The film depicts a version of the United States, North and South, and its people, black and white, which only ever existed in the minds of bitter Southerners. Its warped, ahistorical treatment of race relations led to widespread protests by the NAACP, riots in several major cities and, according to one report, the murder of a black teenager by a white man as a direct result of the latter watching the film (though the evidence is less than conclusive). The film has also been blamed for contributing to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which had essentially ceased to exist in the 1870s but returned with a vengeance over the course of the next few years.
The storyline follows two families, the Northern Stonemans and the Southern Camerons, who are acquainted as a result of the fact that the eldest sons attended boarding school together. The film's first half concerns the prelude to the Civil War and the war itself while the second concerns Reconstruction. Austin Stoneman, played by Ralph Lewis, is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a thinly veiled version of the Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, even possessing a club foot. Like Stevens, Stoneman is not only an abolitionist but believes that blacks and whites are equal. As such, he is one of the major villains of the piece. The other major villain, his biracial protégé Silas Lynch, does not appear until the second half but he is depicted as being a truly evil, venomous character who seeks to create a Black Empire in the South with himself as its king. The only other African-American shown to have any real intelligence is Stoneman's housekeeper Lydia Brown, who is likewise biracial. Based on Stevens' housekeeper and alleged lover Lydia Hamilton Smith, she only appears briefly but she is clearly intended as a Lady Macbeth type who manipulates Stoneman into going along with her ideas of equality.
Most of the other black characters are depicted as being ultra- violent, cruel, detestable and sometimes little more than animals. In one particularly disturbing scene, a black renegade named Gus - played by Walter Long in blackface - attempts to rape the fragile waif Flora Cameron, ultimately driving her to commit suicide. The implication of this scene is clear: black men will rape and kill every white Southern woman unless the KKK does something about them. It's one of the most sickening sequences in a film which has no shortage of them, particularly in its second half. The only black characters portrayed in a sympathetic light are the Camerons' "faithful souls" - perfect illustrations of the Mammy and Uncle stereotypes - and various slaves who were much happier before they were freed. The majority of the black characters are played by white actors in blackface but there are many black extras in the background. They were probably glad to get some work but I have to wonder what they thought of the film, especially Madame Sul-Te-Wan whose parents were freed slaves.
Although the film is perhaps best remembered for its glorification of the KKK, they do not actually appear until 2 hours and 5 minutes into the 3 hour and 13 minute running time but they certainly make their presence felt after that. They are described as "the organisation that saved the South from the anarchy of black rule" and that really says it all when it comes to the film's attitude towards them. They are depicted performing several supposedly heroic feats such as hanging Gus, dumping his corpse on Lynch's doorstep and rescuing the bound and gagged Elsie Stoneman before she can be forced into marrying Lynch. The Klan's founder is Elsie's lover Ben Cameron, otherwise known as "the Little Colonel."
One thing that surprised me was the fact that Abraham Lincoln was treated very positively with Dr. Cameron even describing him as "our best friend" when it comes to Reconstruction. There are some moments that seemed genuine such as Phil Stoneman and Margaret Cameron's shy interaction when they first meet and Elsie putting on a brave face as her three brothers leave for war before bursting into tears the moment that they leave. It's a lovely little moment which is wonderfully acted by Lillian Gish. Although most of the characters are misconceived to some degree, the film nevertheless has a very strong cast: Miriam Cooper as Margaret, Henry B. Walthall as Colonel Cameron, Mary Alden as Lydia Brown, Ralph Lewis as Stoneman, Elmer Clifton as Phil, Spottiswoode Aitken as Dr. Cameron and Josephine Crowell as Mrs. Cameron.
Overall, neither the importance of the film nor its racism have been exaggerated. I think Roger Ebert said it best: "Like Riefenstahl's 'The Triumph of the Will', it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil."
I'm sort of torn about how to rate this film. In terms of quality, I'd give it 10/10. If I were to rate it in terms of morality (something that I have never done before and may never do again), I'd give it 0/10.
A delightful light-hearted fantasy film
Suggested by H. T. Kavanagh's Darby O'Gill stories, this is a delightful light-hearted fantasy film. Taking place in the late 19th or early 20th Century, it depicts a version of Ireland where figures from Irish folklore such as leprechauns and banshees exist and interact with a select few. The film has a strong script by Leonard Edward Watkin. I don't know whether it was taken from the stories or Watkin's personal knowledge but it does a good job at capturing some of the colloquialisms of Irish English. Robert Stevenson, who directed most live action Disney films worth mentioning from the 1950s to the mid 1970s, handles the film with skill and flair. I was hugely impressed by the special effects, even when compared to the similar ones used in "The Incredible Shrinking Man" which I watched only two days ago. The banshee scared the bejesus out of me when I was little! There is no getting around the fact that the film is a very stereotypical portrayal of Ireland but it is silly, good-natured fun which this Irishman found both harmless and very enjoyable. There is nothing even remotely offensive about it. It is far better than most other Hollywood expeditions into Paddywhackery. Speaking of Irish legends, one has grown up that the actor Cyril Cusack and the High Court judge Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, who later moved up in the world when he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the fifth President of Ireland, picketed the film when it was first shown in Dublin. However, this has about as much basis in fact as stories about leprechauns, not least because senior judges do not picket films or anything else for that matter.
The film stars Albert Sharpe in an enchanting performance as Darby O'Gill, an elderly caretaker / labourer who lives in the little village of Rathcullen and spends much of his time spinning yarns about the leprechauns who lived in the nearby fairy mountain Knocknasheega. At least everyone in Rathcullen thinks that they are yarns. It turns out that Darby is quite well acquainted with the leprechauns' king Brian Connors, played by the great Jimmy O'Dea. After he is relieved of his duties as caretaker by the local Anglo-Irish aristocrat Lord Fitzpatrick, the leprechauns capture Darby and tell him that he can live with them in the mountain. However, Darby is not too pleased about this as it means that he will never be able to return to the human world or see his daughter Katie again. Darby manages to outwit King Brian by getting him very drunk on poitín and trapping him in his house until sunrise so that he can get three wishes out of him. His first wish is that King Brian will remain with him for two weeks until he has made his other two wishes. Sharpe is extremely effective and very endearing as the wily Darby, who engages in a great battle of wits with King Brian. O'Dea, a well known stage actor who became a regular face on Irish television in the early 1960s, is brilliant as the even more wily king of the leprechauns. The two of them make a great double act and the film would have been significantly less entertaining if lesser actors had been cast.
Janet Munro is very good as the strong-willed, wholesome and compassionate pretty Irish girl Katie, who adores her father as much as he adores her but does not allow him to get away with anything. Munro, who sadly died at only 38, was English in real life but she makes a decent stab at an Irish accent. It is never entirely convincing but it is never over the top or distractingly bad either, which means that it has a major advantage over most Irish accents in Hollywood films. Sean Connery, the last surviving credited cast member, is perfectly fine as Michael McBride but he would mature into a far better actor as time passed. Reportedly, it was his performance in this film that led Cubby Broccoli to cast him as James Bond. I'm certainly glad that Broccoli saw something in him that I didn't! My fellow UCD alumnus Kieron Moore, the most prominent Irish cast member after Sharpe and O'Dea, is suitably slimy and antagonistic as Pony Sugrue, who has his eyes set on both Katie and Darby's job. Speaking of UCD, O'Dea's great-nephew was one of my lecturers there for a while but he was considerably less entertaining. Estelle Winwood, who lived to be 101 on the bright side, is excellent as Pony's conniving mother, the Widow Sugrue. It also features good performances from Walter Fitzgerald as Lord Fitzpatrick and Denis O'Dea (no relation to Jimmy) as Father Murphy.
Overall, this is a very entertaining, old fashioned fantasy film.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
An excellent film which skillfully combines science fiction spectacle and well-observed social commentary
Based on the 1956 novel "The Shrinking Man" by Richard Matheson who adapted it for the screen, this is an excellent film which skillfully combines science fiction spectacle and well-observed social commentary. In many respects, it is like a feature length episode of "The Twilight Zone", which it predates by two years. This is not exactly surprising considering that Matheson wrote 16 episodes of the series. The first rate script explores feelings of alienation and isolation and the desire for conformity in 1950s America through the allegorical prism of a man who is gradually becoming smaller and smaller. Not only that but it is a great looking film. The special effects are phenomenal for their time and generally hold up very well but I was much more impressed with the set pieces. The sheer attention to detail when it comes to things such as paint cans, crates, matchboxes, the imperfections in the wood and the tiny - to most people! - cracks in the wall really sells the idea that we are seeing our world from a very different perspective. The film's strength lies in its script and design as opposed to the direction by Jack Arnold or the acting, both of which are decent but not exceptional. It fits a great deal into its 80 minute running time.
The film stars Grant Williams in a rather good performance as Robert Scott Carey, a 6'1" everyman who finds that he is shrinking exponentially as a result of his exposure to a radioactive mist six months earlier and an insecticide several months after that. Williams is admittedly not the most charismatic leading man in the annals of cinema but he is perfectly fine in the role, even if his narration is a bit monotone in the first half. Scott first notices that he is getting smaller when his trousers are too big for him but his wife Louise simply attributes this to his having lost some weight. His doctor is likewise dismissive of his claims to be losing height but he eventually realises the truth of the situation after comparing X-rays taken several days apart which indicate a marked diminution. After being reduced to about three foot, Scott is no longer able to work. He sells his story to the press on the advice of his brother, which serves to make him a celebrity the world over. While it takes care of his financial woes, it does nothing to help his mood. He is humiliated by his condition and questions his manhood. He is experiencing an existential crisis and develops a strong sense of self-loathing as the film progresses. Scott has a tendency to take his anger out on the extremely supportive Louise, played very well by Randy Stuart in the film's best performance. Louise goes above and beyond the call of duty and tries her best to treat Scott in the same manner as she always did. The problem is not that she sees him differently but that he sees himself differently. Even though he is an ass to Louise on more than one occasion, Scott is nevertheless still a very sympathetic character as I think that most people would react the same way under such severe stress and I'm including myself in that. Williams and Stuart are the only actors who have significant screen time but I was also impressed by William Schallert (who sadly died earlier this month) as Dr. Arthur Bramson, Raymond Bailey as Dr. Thomas Silver and April Kent as Clarice.
Things take a turn for the worse when the Careys' cat Butch clandestinely enters the house. By this time, Scott is only about a few inches inches tall and has consequently been forced to relocate to a dollhouse. He has become so despondent that he contemplates suicide on a daily basis. While sniffing around the dollhouse, Butch - played by Orangey of "Rhubarb" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" fame - gets his scent and proceeds to try and kill him. The battle with the cat is a fantastic sequence and one of my favourite scenes in the entire film. The close-ups of the cat screaming and Scott's terrified reaction are particularly effective, in no small part - no pun intended! - because I have never been a big fan of cats myself. This would not be the last time that Orangey would harass smaller humans as he played the giant cat in "Village of the Giants". He probably should have tried harder to avoid being typecast. The basement sequences are likewise extraordinarily effective as Scott must come to terms with his new situation and become a hunter and a fighter in a huge universe of the kind that can be found in many homes. At one point, he fights a house spider - yeah, it's really a tarantula but it's supposed to be a house spider! - and prevails as he still has his superior human intelligence. These sequences were probably inspired by some of Gulliver's misfortunes in Brobdingnag, particularly his encounter with the giant monkey. While in the basement, Scott has an epiphany of sorts and comes to realise that he is still a man irrespective of his size. Although he knows that he will eventually shrink to the size of an atom, he accepts that he still has a place in the universe as "in God's eyes, there is no zero." The film takes quite a metaphysical tack towards the end.
Overall, this is an extremely effective film which has more interesting things than many other films of the era about radiation causing things to change in size. This was easily the biggest remaining gap in my 1950s sci-fi film knowledge so it was nice to finally fill it.
The One That Got Away (1957)
A rather mediocre and pedestrian World War II film
Based on the 1956 book of the same name by Kendal Burt and James Leasor, this is a rather mediocre and pedestrian World War II film. It tells the story of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra, a Luftwaffe pilot who was shot down during the Battle of Britain and secured himself a place in history by becoming the only German POW captured by the British who escaped to Germany. After his first three escapes failed, he was sent to Canada and from there managed to cross the American border before making his way to Mexico. He eventually returned to his native country in April 1941 but did not live to see the end of the war or even the year as he was killed in a plane crash the following October. Von Werra's escape is a great story with which I was somewhat familiar before watching the film. However, the script by Howard Clewes does not do it justice even though I think that it is generally historically accurate. The various escape attempts should be very exciting but they aren't, in large part because the script is not very well structured. Roy Ward Baker is a very talented director and does the best that it can with the material but it's not his best work, I'm afraid.
The film stars Hardy Krüger in a great performance as the supremely self-confident von Werra. He brings a great deal of intelligence and charisma to the role but von Werra comes across as rather two- dimensional. He doesn't have much of a personality beyond being clever and self-confident. The only things that we learn about his personal life is that he owns a lion cub named Simba and he seemingly has a girlfriend or fiancée since he carries a photograph of a young women with him. This is nevertheless the closest thing that anyone gets to character development in the film. Otherwise, I would think that Clewes was worried about presenting a German pilot in too positive a light a mere 12 years after the war ended. There is certainly a sense of mutual respect between von Werra and some of the British officers but this is a something that I have seen done much more effectively in other films.
Krüger himself could probably relate to von Werra quite a bit. In December 1944, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht at the age of 16 before being drafted into the 38th SS Division Nibelungen the following March. He was captured by the American forces at the end of the war and made three escape attempts himself. On the last occasion, his efforts met with success. However, Krüger always hated the Nazis. During the filming of "A Bridge Too Far", he wore a top coat over his SS costume between takes so as not to remind himself of either his childhood or his experiences in the war. As such, I imagine that it was a source of frustration to him that he was typically cast as Nazis in the English speaking film world. The fact that he was tall and handsome with blond hair and blue eyes was perhaps more of a hindrance rather than a help in this respect.
The film is not without its problems but it has a very good supporting cast (in roles of varying size) including Michael Goodliffe, Colin Gordon, Jack Gwillim, the future Labour MP Andrew Faulds, Colin Gordon, Alec McCowen, Terence Alexander, John Van Eyssen, Glyn Houston, Stratford Johns, Cyril Chamberlain and Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper.
Overall, this is by no means a bad film but it is a pretty forgettable and disappointing one. Krüger's performance is certainly the best thing about it.
Whistle Down the Wind (1961)
An excellent film concerning faith and childhood innocence
Based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell, this is an excellent film concerning faith and childhood innocence. As the storyline concerns a group of children mistaking a fugitive for Jesus Christ, religious faith is definitely to the fore. However, it also deals with children's faith in the basic goodness of people, something which unfortunately proved to be misplaced in this instance, and this is very effectively contrasted with the more cynical, suspicious attitude of adults when it comes to such matters. The film has a first rate script by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hill which hits all of the right notes. It does a very job of balancing the more naturalistic elements with the fact that the film is, at its heart, an allegorical parable about Christianity. The most obvious of these allegories is the fact that the faux Jesus has twelve disciples and a young boy is forced to deny three times that he has seen him. Although it is quite a serious film, there is nevertheless a great deal of humour on display and this is executed in a very natural manner when it could have easily felt forced. The script deals with its themes respectfully and sensitively without really getting preachy, which is a major accomplishment in and of itself. In his directorial debut, Bryan Forbes handles the material very effectively and makes great use of the locations.
The film stars the author's daughter Hayley Mills in a terrific performance as Kathy Bostock, the eldest child in a Lancastrian farming family who discovers the escaped murderer Arthur Alan Blakey in her family's barn. She mistakes his exhausted and surprised exertion of "Jesus Christ!" for a statement for his identity, which is helped by the fact that the young, tall, handsome and bearded Blakey resembles the typical depiction of Christ. However, all that glisters is not gold. Mills is of course well known for her (very) Received Pronunciation accent and, in spite of her best efforts at a Lancashire accent, her natural one is in evidence for much of the film. However, the one that she uses is perfectly fine and, in any event, it may have been for the best that she did not go over the top with it as such things can easily become distracting at best and laughable at worst. At 14, she was perhaps two or three years too old to be entirely believable as someone who would mistake a stranger for Jesus but it still manages to work in the context of the film. Kathy is a very kind, clever and compassionate young girl who finds great comfort in her faith. While it is not specifically stated, I imagine that is partly due to the fact that her mother is dead. However, on this occasion, she allows her faith to blind her to the harsh realities of the world. She places her trust in Blakey and, when she finally realises his identity, she is let down badly. Kathy seemingly becomes more world weary as a result but she remains as convinced as ever that Jesus will return.
In his first major role, Alan Bates is very good as Blakey, who is astonished when he learns who the children think he is but, understandably under the circumstances, does nothing to disabuse them of that notion. He is most certainly not a good man but he develops an odd rapport with Kathy as the film progresses. By the end of the film, he begins to feel guilt over his crime and this was clearly influenced by his interaction with the children, who have a rather higher opinion of him than is warranted. Blakey is seemingly not a religious man as he discards the Bible at one point but I think that all the talk of Heaven has made him wonder if he will end up in Hell. Be that as it may, it will probably end up being hanged in the not too distant future. Bernard Lee is excellent in the role of Kathy's loving father and is able to convey a great deal of quiet dignity in his performance. While he is most certainly a good man, the children view him and the rest of the adults as being essentially the Romans and are concerned that thing will turn out just as badly as they did the first time. This attitude is accidentally encouraged by the Sunday school teacher Miss Lodge, who tells them that they would have to protect Jesus from the bad people in the world if he were to return.
Alan Barnes steals the show with his hilarious performance as Kathy's younger brother Charlie, who is the first of the children to realise that Blakey is not the real deal. He made only one other film, "The Victors", after this, which is a terrible shame as he is a natural actor. In her only acting role, Diana Holgate is not on quite the same level as Nan but I would have still welcomed seeing her in other films. The film also features strong performances from Roy Holder as Jackie Greenwood (who thinks that Jesus would be surprised by "Wagon Train" and the Cup Final if the Second Coming were to happen sometime soon), Norman Bird as Eddie, Hamilton Dyce as the well meaning but somewhat clueless Reverend Reeves and Elsie Wagstaff as the Bostock children's cold and unfeeling Auntie Dorothy. One sure sign of Richard Attenborough's behind the scenes involvement is the presence of his brother-in-law Gerald Sim in the small role of Detective Frank Wilcox. He later cast him in seven of the films that he directed (from "Oh! What a Lovely War" to "Shadowlands") and, while he never had a big part, they were all at least bigger than this!
Overall, this is a simple and occasionally beautiful film on the subject of faith, whether in God or in people, and growing up.
Zero Recognition (2014)
A very funny, self-referential short film on the particularly fickle nature of recognisability as opposed to fame
Basically an exercise in breaking the fourth wall, this is a very funny, self-referential short film on the particularly fickle nature of recognisability as opposed to fame. It has a sharp, well observed script by Lauren Collins and Ben Lewis and is well directed by the latter in his debut. It is less than ten minutes long but it's a bright and breezy satire on our social media obsessed culture and the difficulty that certain kinds of reasonably well known people have adjusting to normal life when their 15 minutes are up.
The film stars Collins in a great performance as Demi, a 28-year-old actress who formerly starred in a "moderately successful Canadian teen soap." Considering that Collins is best known for her role as the high school mean girl Paige Michalchuk in "Degrassi: The Next Generation" (which I love in spite of the fact that I am about twice the age of its target audience!), there is certainly a sense of art imitating life. While Demi is seemingly not Lauren Collins by any other name, the short film was inspired by her real life experiences. Demi is a nice, likable, somewhat neurotic character who is trying to find her place in the world. She does not allow her recognisability to go to her head in an arrogant or conceited manner but it occupies the forefront of her thoughts. Although she frequently claims in her internal monologue and little asides to the camera that being recognised is a source of anxiety to her, it is clear that she likes it on one level. It's hard to blame her for that, really. Demi certainly means well but her situation is not helped by the fact that she can talk of little outside of her starring role on "that show" to the point that she almost seems to define herself by it.
After dipping her toe in the tricky world of online dating for the first time, Demi meets a ridiculously nice, earnest, down-to-earth doctor named Alan Bauer, played very well by Lewis who is another "Degrassi" alum appropriately enough. He is a paediatrics resident at the Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as "SickKids") in Toronto and Demi almost insults him when she tells him that she has always thought that "SickKids" sounds like a made-up name. Alan's dedication to his job means that he has little time to watch television and he consequently has never heard of "that show." This is a slight source of disappointment to Demi. I have to admit that I would probably feel the same way in her place! During their date, Demi proceeds to embarrass herself by assuming that one of the café patrons is a fan of hers when he is actually the uncle of one of Alan's previous patients, a young boy with asthma. Dan is also a little taken back when she tells him that (a) she has an "online stalker" who retweets everything that she says and (b) she understands what is like to have asthma as her character had an asthmatic attack in the season finale of Season Six. There is a very effective contrast between Demi, who doesn't really live in the real world, and Dan, who most certainly does.
There was nice "Degrassi" in-jokes throughout but my favourite was one of Demi's co-stars being described as "that rap guy." This is a reference to the fact that Drake (then going by his real name Aubrey Graham) got his start on the series and was one of its main stars for its first seven seasons. He'll always be Jimmy Brooks to me, not least because I hate rap with a passion. I imagine that "Degrassi" actors are asked, "Do you know Drake?" pretty regularly!
Overall, this is a very enjoyable satirical swipe at modern culture but a (purposefully) well-intentioned one.