Joe Dowling once said that when he watched Meryl Streep play Juliet, at the age of 62, he knew that no age appropriate actress could possibly do the part justice. “Armed with the ability to look back, she knew exactly what the psychological process was to follow.”

Ben Power runs this train of thought to the end zone by filleting the text of Romeo and Juliet, sprinkling bits of various sonnets and other plays throughout, and imagining a world where the lovers lived to grow old together. The hope and abandon of these star crossed lovers becomes comfortable and deep rooted and what was once hot, rebellious and irrepressible becomes sage and wistful, loaded with memory and experience. The tragedy of a love extinguished by faith and circumstance is now one culled by sacrifice, a killing of kindness.
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You can huff and puff about the usual gimmicks the Gate Theatre tart their productions up with. Like a frumpy girl who’s found a frock that flatters, they rethread the same old formula rather than messing with what’s worked form them in the past. But what good will moaning do you? Their faithful audience will step over your stiffening corpse to get at the familiar action.
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Music City!

November 5, 2013

Something is seriously remiss. It’s 4am and I’m trembling like the ‘scraggy wee shits’ in Seamus Heaney’s The Early Purges before Dan Taggart pitched them into a bucket. It could be the cold, the coffee or the time that has me this way, but I’m leaning towards fury, the music from a wedding in my supposed 4 star hotel keeping me conscious as the clock ticked down to my early rise. Instead of counting sheep, I’m pumping rounds of imaginary bullets into the DJ as Gangham Style morphs into The Harlem Shake, The Girls of Belfast City stomp relentlessly into the Fields of Athenry, and as Single Ladies become Baby Boys -my temper and a Beyoncé mega mix reaching their crescendo, my alarm chimes in. It’s time to rise.

It’s the Summer Solstice and I’m in Derry to review Music City! a celebration of music that takes place from dawn on Friday till dawn on Saturday as part of the cities year-long role as the UK’s City of Culture.

But as I drive through the back roads of Inis Owen I’d be happy never to hear another note again. Ditching the car at the bottom of a hill we climb in darkness to Grianán of Aileach, a ring fort in County Donegal. It used to be the seat for the High King’s O’Neill from the 5th century. This morning it’s the launch site for the day’s festivities, the Inisowen Gospel Choir providing a Dawn Chorus.
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“I don’t want realism, I want magic,” cries Blanche DuBois in perhaps the greatest play in the American canon, A Streetcar Named Desire. I swing both ways myself. A little bit of each and the sweltering sexuality and brutal swag of Tennessee Williams’ text can fizz like a well shook can of soda pop, the unbridled emotions filling the veins of the action and making it pulse. Ethan McSweeny’s confident show is a little too erudite to let that happen. But, even when muted, great writing can pull the rug out from under you to insure, at evenings end, you are still grappling with your senses.
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King Lear

The problem with King Lear is that it so often becomes about the challenge facing the actor playing the titular actor. We focus on it being McKellan’s Lear, Jacobi’s Lear, Russel Beale’s Lear or Pryce’s Lear rather than thinking on it as it should be. Shakespeare’s Lear and how it relates to the human condition. This is a mammoth, savage play, not about an old fool and his tyrannical daughters but rather a parable on the protective properties of love learnt through immense suffering, where the title character and his entire clan are felled by their hollow worship of power.
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Many’s the person who’s made the pilgrimage to the Hill of Uisneach in Co Westmeath, the geographical and sacred centre of Ireland and final resting place of the god who bequeath us our name. Brian Boru staked his claim to the midlands there in the year 999 while in 1111 the bishops carved up all the diocese of Ireland at that very spot. Saints Patrick and Bridget have been; Padraig Pearse and O’Connell too. Recently unearthed evidence even suggests ancient Egyptians and Lebanese traders sailed up the Shannon to do business there.

This weekend it’s Bressie’s turn when he plays his biggest solo gig to date at the fourth Festival of Fires. Revived in 2009, it’s part music festival, part historical celebration, based on the ancient Celtic festival Bealtaine, where “Burning Man meets Braveheart”. Arts, culture, history and heritage mingle at this druidic spot, culminating in the burning of a massive bonfire.

Full Article, Irish Examiner May 4th, 2012

Mommie Queerest!

October 23, 2013

This week Priscilla Queen of the Desert sashays onto the stage of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. A musical based on the movie that humanised the female impersonator, it’s the latest work to commodify the drag queen for the masses. With YouTube tutorials showing us how to craft the perfectly-painted face and TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race exposing the tricks of the trade, what do the old hands think about the drag scene in Ireland today?

Full Article, Irish Examiner October 17, 2013

Brief Encounter

October 23, 2013

A YOUNG cub, in any professional sloth, is expected to jump through hoops before becoming selective about how they earn their honey. At 21, I was asked by an editor to get Botox for a cover story the magazine was doing on “The Youth Corridor”.

A few years later they asked me to review brassieres for the well-endowed lady even though I didn’t possess breasts of my own — and the only ones that tickled my fancy were deep fried and Halal. Saying no to editors is akin to pinning a DNR notice on your by-line — especially for freelancers. So when asked by this paper if I was free to speak to Made in Chelsea’s Rosie Fortescue, about the knicker collection she was promoting with her twin sister Lily, I chose to jump.

Full Article, Irish Examiner August 4th

The problem with The Dark Knight Rises is not that it’s a bad movie, nor is it a lazy one. Rather it is overly ambitious, which in trying to tick so many boxes at once, confuses itself, and us. So instead of fusing a crime drama with a comic book caper it tries to be both concurrently, with overlaps that jar uncomfortably. At almost three hours in length it is a literal pain in the arse.

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Prometheus Review

August 7, 2012

Ridley Scott recently told the NME that he didn’t give a crap about legacy. Which might explain why he has taken a colossal, explosive and very messy dump all over his, with the supposed Alien prequel Prometheus. Held to the decreasing standards of the original series this movie really is atrocious. However hold it to the standard of more recent box office fare and it’s just about average. Badly acted and poorly paced with a script that could double for Charmin Ultra.

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THE FIGHTER

David O Russell has long held the crown for helming quirky, multifaceted movies with stellar casts (I Heart Huckabees, Flirting With Disaster) but he plays it fairly straight with this intriguing biopic about professional boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Ever since a career high flooring Sugar Ray Leonard, Eklund has become a professional “local hero” and embraced the rewards such a position reaps (crack addiction).

He’s pinned his hopes on a comeback on his younger brother, whom he trains but can’t help but sell out for cash to bouts he can’t possibly win, encouraging him to pass up any opportunity that comes his way in the name of familial loyalty. Melisa Leo is electrifying as their manager mom and an at times hilarious, often ominous brood of sisters butt heads with Wahlbergs “MTV” barmaid girlfriend (a curveball throwing Amy Adams).

Career best performances are drawn by O Russell from all involved, particularly Bale who is all faded charm in a role that could have been overly charismatic. Instead it’s perfectly distressed so as to show glimpses of what was, but is fast ceasing to be.

When Eklund is sent down for his part in a sting aimed at raising funds for his brother, Ward is given the break he needs to establish himself independently. His brother in turn discovers the error of his ways in the most poignant of moments. Funny, furious and utterly involving this is the finest movie of its kind since Raging Bull.

BLACK SWAN

Having quit fellow award chaser The Fighter (which he produced) to direct the aborted Robocop reboot its good to see Darren Aronofsky still in contention with this excellent psychosexual drama that comes on like a mash up of All About Eve and The Red Shoes, all be it shot through the lens of David’s Lynch and Cronenberg.

It features another one of those career best turns, this time from liberal darling Natalie Portman. Often heralded for her ‘deep’ portrayals of middle class neurotics, she is perfect as Nina Sayers the prima ballerina battling her demons and limitations to dance the part of the White and Black Swan Queens. Barbara Hershey as her devoted mother, Winona Ryder as her psychotic predecessor and Mila Kunis as her more liberated understudy ably support her. Vincent Cassel is also here doing his usual pervy, French shtick perfected over years of typecasting. It’s well shot, if a little loose in plotting but the pacing and building of tension easily overcompensates in this beautiful yet brutal film.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

…but I’m not. After sitting through this vile lefty propaganda one can only conclude that any movie that prattles a liberal agenda as loudly as this one is going to be welcomed by Hollywood with open legs. It’s aim-to show that same sex parents can raise children as normal and levelheaded as same sex ones- is worthy . But here it is so painfully presented, so overly egged that it looses all meaning.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Benning)- aka The Moms- have raised two perfect children. There’s straight A Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and jocular Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who were both sired from the same sperm donor, organic restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo). When Joni and Laser go looking for “Dad” he enters their world with the quick fire acceptance that only exists in Hollywood, turning upside down the marriage of Jules and Nic, whose pegging as the flighty, earth mother and the overbearing shrew shows that they aren’t that different from Adam and Eve.

Jules even does a Shirley Valentine, taking a holiday from homosexuality and her “unappreciative wife”(who put up the g’s to start up her business), embarking on an adulteress affair with Paul, who- guess what? -is great with the kids. He helps Joni develop a backbone and Laser realise that his mate (who likes to piss on stray dogs and skate off of roofs) might not be the best person to be hanging around with. I guess those lesbians just needed a man’s touch all along.

It’s just so trite. If they wanted to do a movie which explored Gore Vidal’s adage, that there are no homo or heterosexual people, just homo or heterosexual acts, then they should have just done that, not dragged the kids into it. And since they did, could they not have looked at the whole experience of growing up in a gay environment or the perils that face those in a long term, monogamous gay relationship? How did their extended families respond to their unusual living arrangement? Their friends? Their colleagues?

Instead they fully shirk the issue and focus on the melodrama. We get the tense dinner table moment, the self-destructive teen moment and the monologue on how “marriage is hard”. Watching this you’d think it was directed by one of those irritating straight women with no straight friends when in fact its directed by a Lesbian who used a sperm donor to have a child with her long term partner. Were it not for the winning cast turning in some nuanced performances this would have been totally unbearable. Poorly written, self indulgent, hackneyed, trash.

THE KINGS SPEACH

The British are coming. And they are flogging the bloody Royals again. With Helen Mirren and Judi Dench nabbing themselves 13 inches of gold for their turns as the two separate Elizabeth’s, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter are this years contenders in the only movie considered a threat to a Social Network clean sweep.

They play King George VI and his wife, the Queen Mother in a movie that focuses on the formers stammer, a severe impediment in the early days of radio.

With his older brother David (Guy Pearce) wading them into a political minefield over his affair with a married woman, all signs point to George having to step up to the plate and lead his people- or at least inspire them, in his capacity as figurehead. Enter Geoffrey Rush in a subtle, yet scene stealing role, as his speech therapist. Through a series of (then) questionable –and hilarious-exercises he helps the King in Waiting overcome his stammer and prepares him for his inauguration (and much more importantly helps him rally his people upon the outbreak of WWII).

Truth be told this is no greater than any of the other fine British costume dramas that have been churned out over the years. If you were a fan of those, you’ll be a fan of this. What makes it stand out is its astonishing cinematography, which makes many scenes feel like living watercolors. There is terrific support from Michael Gambon, Dereck Jacobi and Timothy Spall and a script that perhaps tries to cover to many of the basis.

The real weakness though is Firth who has blagged his way to leading man status via wet t-shirt contest (Pride & Prejudice) and has been boring us ever since with his toothless, house wife pleasing sex appeal. He doesn’t have the chops to pull of anything more than the most inane rom-coms and this is one of his most asinine performances.

Dallas Buyers Club

February 21, 2014

There are those who question the validity of making a movie like Dallas Buyers Club, a biopic of a self-serving homophobe who formed one of the many organisations that helped prolong- if not save, the lives of thousands of people in the US during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

As a way of getting around the lengthy and deeply flawed FDA approval process, Ron Woodroof(Matthew McConaughey) read everything he could on the disease. He bought AZT on the black market (to avoid being given the same sugar pills doing nothing for those on the wrong side of the test group coin) and- when that puts him in the hospital, he smuggles unapproved drugs across the border, taking advantage of a loop-hole in the law to make a quick buck off of others in a similar predicament.

Dismissing the people he got the plan from as, ‘some fags from New York’- it’s no wonder people are perturbed at the moviemakers’ decision to tell this story rather than dramatising the grander tale of how Act Up saved millions of lives without gauging their brethren.

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Gravity

February 21, 2014

If Miss Congeniality floating about in space, giving rousing speeches against a crashing score is your bag, then strap yourself into Gravity. It lives and dies by it’s leading lady, who, after years of delivering dialogue care of the bottom of the barrel, is put to work in a movie as contrived as it is exhilarating. There is benign support from George Clooney- and stereotypical character arcs abound, but it’s Bullock who has to make you forget the mawkish monologues and ‘oh come on’ twists so that you wish her back to earth in one piece.
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The Butler

February 21, 2014

Much like the title character it essays here, Lee Daniels’ The Butler had to wear two faces to get made. Beneath the ‘stars in biopic drag’ that parade at the forefront of this period piece, is a far-reaching socio-political discussion that charts the splintering of two generations of the all African-American family.
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It was said of Annabelle Comyn’s production of The House that when Eleanor Methven was on stage she managed to provide a focus to performances around her that dissipated when she was not.

There’s a similar issue at play in Garry Hynes The Colleen Bawn. It’s not that there is a lack of focus – in fact the performers commit to what they are doing, achieving the unity we’ve come to expect from a Druid production.

But my god, Ashling O Sullivan takes your breath away from the very first sight of her. As the heiress Ann Chute- think Kenneth Williams meets Tracy Piggott, she captivates as a woman enamored with one man but not beholden enough to throw herself at him.
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August: Osage County

January 24, 2014

If your friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter- hell if you’ve even passed me on the street these past few months, you’ve probably been privy to one of my hissy fits about Meryl Streep. You would have heard me quote this article by Fintan O Toole, or this one from Vulture. I would have growled about her self aggrandising Oscar acceptance speech and hissed about her catty remarks on the critic Pauline Kael.

But even I can’t deny that, were it not for her turn as Violet, the pill popping, cancerous matriarch of the Weston clan- all united under her roof for the funeral from hell, August: Osage County would have been interminable.
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12 Years A Slave

January 24, 2014

I was left cold by Steve McQueen’s beautifully shot and mostly well acted 12 Years A Slave. As unfeeling as it was unrelenting, it was a continuation of the directors show and tell (or shock and awe) approach, which has little time for human emotion. It’s human endurance that dings his dong. And boy, does he lay it on thick.
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The reaction to Fintan O Toole’s recent article in the Irish Times, Abbey Confidential, has exposed a petty, reactionary and at times malicious side to many people working in the arts in Ireland. To read some of the responses online you would have thought the critic had strapped himself naked to a wrecking ball and smashed into the theatre just so as to upset those basking in the reported success of the Theatre of Memory Symposium.
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Like the desperate characters at the heart of this tale of tenement life, the Abbey Theatre have started to drop their artistic integrity off at the pawn shop each Christmas in hopes of reclaiming it later when the coffers role in. After joining the hoards fetishising Joyce last year with their toasty mounting of The Dead, it’s the Lock Out that’s slipping on the garter in 2013. Using its centenary as an excuse they have staged the theatrical petri dish of the defining work of fiction on that period- Strumpet City.

Working with an antiquated text, Jimmy Fay has festooned this production with a mixture of ragtime tunes and bittersweet harmonies, of both new and reimagined songs, diverting our attention from the Plough-lite story, resulting in an entertaining, dare I say inventive first half.

But then it looses it’s balls and instead of using the opportunity to satirise the accepted truths we’ve been force fed from the tit of De Valera, it continues to suck on the same stodgy sap that fuels our nations little man syndrome. When it tries to suddenly follow a wholly emotional trajectory in the second act it becomes a bore.
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