The Dead

I’d resisted going to this film because I hadn’t read the book and had heard so many good things about it: the greatest short story in the English language, surely I should read it first? However, it isn’t re-released very often so when the offer came to go, I went. In a word, wonderful: a director of enormous experience and with complete mastery of every aspect of film making finally creates his passion project, a film of his favourite author’s greatest short story set in his ancestral homeland.

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We follow Gabriel Conroy through the course of a New Year’s dinner party at the Morkan sisters’ house in central Dublin. His awkwardness, insecurities, likes and dislikes are revealed along the way: culture, pretensions (“Goloshes! said Mrs Conroy. That’s the latest”) and politics:

And haven’t you your own land to visit, continued Miss Ivors, that you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?

—O, to tell you the truth, retorted Gabriel suddenly, I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!

—Why? asked Miss Ivors.

Gabriel did not answer for his retort had heated him.

Why is Gabriel unhappy – will we find out? Huston leads us towards the conclusion in a wonderful recreation of turn of the century Dublin (in fact, the set was a replica built in Los Angeles of the house still standing today on Usher Quay) and some stunning imagery: Gretta’s descent down the stairwell is a classic.

Quote of the Day

…novelty of technique and radiance of form do not begin to compensate for unholy material. This holds true from “Birth of a Nation” to “Kill Bill”…

David Thomson, “The Whole Equation”

This dense, thorough and fascinating book is full of memorable quotes and passages (not the least of which is the brutally frank Nicole Kidman chapter) but the one above – which articulates perfectly my own feelings towards the “Kill Bill” movies, which I have liked less and less since first viewing – remains my favourite.

Dublin Film Festival

The Dublin Film Festival opened this weekend. Highlight of the opening night was surely a gala presentation in the Savoy of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”; a better name for this film might be “There Will Be A Release” since, despite rave reviews in the UK and Irish press over the past couple of weeks, it actually is not screening anywhere in Ireland until the 29th February. Having the foresight to book tickets early for this special screening would have been much appreciated.

Undaunted, today I checked out some of the less razzle-dazzly films and chose two back-to-back afternoon screenings in Cineworld:

  • Margot at the Wedding
    The latest film from Noah Baumbach, director of “The Squid and the Whale”, my favourite film of 2006. Nicole Kidman portrays judgmental Margot, attending the wedding of estranged sister Jennifer Jason Leigh to unknown but instantly disappointing Jack Black. Returned to their childhood New England home for the occasion, Margot brings out the worst in everybody around her in a wonderful passive-aggressive performance from Kidman while Jack Black provides welcome comic relief in this complex, rewarding film. I liked it but, unlike his debut, I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD.
  • Late Bloomers (Der Herbstzeitlosen)
    Apparently a huge hit in its native Switzerland, “Late Bloomers” tells the tale of an elderly lady searching for a new reason to live; she rediscovers her love of sewing and – after a little persuasion – converts her late husband’s grocery shop into a lingerie boutigue, “Petit Paris”. Essentially “Brassed Off” and/or “The Full Monty” transferred to a small village in the Swiss mountains, “Late Bloomers” employs the same formula: in doing so, she forces her friends and family to re-examine their values and own reasons for living…well, you could guess that without seeing the film. However, it’s funny and never quite predictable; even the standard ending for these movies is just a little bit different here. Well worth a watch.

Vertigo

Vertigo is on TV.

It couldn’t be better timing: after three weekends in San Francisco, I can recognise or can roughly place most of the locations…and there’s so many San Franciscan locations in Vertigo: Fort Point, the Presidio, Coit Tower and the Palace of the Legion of Honour all get a mention. In fact, the locations are as much an “extra character” as the famous music.

There’s something special about travelling to a place that’s featured in a favourite movie – and so many great movies (or at least movies that have stood the test of time) are set prominently in a great city: Manhattan, Vertigo, The Commitments, Lost in Translation, etc.

What’s the correlation?

Well, I dunno but, watching this, I’m painfully aware that I’m actually not in San Francisco…I’m in Mountain View. And nobody ever made a film – good, bad or indifferent – about Mountain View.

Park Hyatt, Tokyo

After a couple of days of vigorous templing, I decided it’s time to see the other side of Tokyo: the modern, hip side. The rich side.

This means Shinjuku. Specifically, west Shinjuku.

West Shinjuku is not for shopping; it’s not really for food or casual browsing, either. So why go there? It’s the financial capital of Tokyo (ergo, the world…almost) and the administrative centre of the city; this has led it to become the skyscraper district of Tokyo with a host of notable buildings, such as government centre, and some unusual distinctions such as Shinjuku station, the busiest in the world.

All of this makes it well worthwhile spending a day wandering the streets as a tourist, gaping upwards at the skyscrapers in the way that Irish holiday makers accustomed only to Liberty Hall must.

The first I encounter is no less than Park Tower, better known perhaps for its Park Hyatt Hotel where “Lost in Translation” was filmed.

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This was a bit of a treat for me…as mentioned previously, that film is undoubtedly one of the principal things that made me curious about Japan. I was debating how to go about snooping around when I realised that its New York Bar is just a regular, normal bar whose entry fortunately requires you negotiate through much of the hotel.

Once there, it’s clearly also the bar from the film: bandstand, the bar with the funky lamps and the outrageous views of Tokyo all present and correct. The path is similarly familiar. Amazingly, the sets in the film were all unadorned: lifts, entrance and hallway really are all that nice.

Like something from a movie set…the only thing missing is Bill Murray and Scarlett herself.

Anyway, I bask in the atmosphere and order some chips – “duck fat French fries” – and an espresso. At 1600¥ they’re the most expensive thing I’ve bought so far and absolutely wonderful.

The service is impeccable and the waiters speak perfect English. They also don’t mind me taking a tour of the bar and some panoramic shots (it’s early and the place is not busy). No wonder Scarlett’s character spent most of her time staring out her window. This is the best view of the city and must be amazing on a clear night.

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Before I go I call into the bathroom and see something unique even in Tokyo: automatic toilet seats. Choose from any of all three possible configurations. Nice.

Inland Empire

Having seen his exhibition and re-discovered my enthusiasm for David Lynch I felt I had to go investigate his new film.

Despite clocking in at three hours, I had seen it get favourable reviews so it seemed a reasonable risk for a bank holiday Monday evening. Of course, those reviews had mostly been tempered with “worth persevering with because of it’s so brave”-type comments…

It is definitely David Lynch. More David Lynch than ever before. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Nobody creates unsettling and uncomfortable situations better than he. It was fascinating to compare this to his exhibition in Paris: his films don’t do characterisation or plot or any of that normal stuff…they’re more like a set of paintings strung together, each memorable and tangentially related to each other.

Knowing he was a painter this now makes sense… The results are always worth watching of course but this film really stretches that idea to its limits…who is the central character? We don’t know; neither does she. Often we’re not sure which of the many possibilities we’re even watching.

Overall, it’s kind of fascinating but at the same time repetitive. Jonathan Ross said,

It’s a masterpiece…I think.

and I think that sums it up: we can’t even be sure if we like it.

However, if I had to watch Laura Dern grimace one more time…I was out of there, for sure.

Brick

Brick purports to be a film noir high school murder mystery. This it is; it is not, however, twice as good as, say, Clueless and The Big Sleep (not that I’ve seen that, but I’ll bet it’s at least as good as Clueless – there’s a safe bet if ever there were one).

The lead has a lot to answer for. Perhaps it’s typical for a film noir “hero” to appear superficially unaffected by events surrounding him but even this hero’s interactions with others fail to construct an interesting, deeper, picture of his character. The audience is thrown in at the deep end; within five minutes of the opening credits this guy is making deals, playing other characters off each other and, the most satisying part of the film, acting as a double agent for the school authorities.

I felt that we never really know who he is and that, more importantly, without any context or hint of a life beyond this film we never really care. It’s as if he exists only the purposes of this film and then pops out of existence immediately after the closing shot.

The worst and most annoying aspect of the film is not the lead, however, but rather the dialogue. The fish out of water dialogue experiment can work, as Romeo + Juliet proved, but here the lines are delivered lazily and without any intensity.

The saving grace of the film is how it occasionally pokes fun at how the characters are really just school kids: once separated from their “moms” and the school vice-principal they are written as adults. The dialogue, however, ruins this amusing conceit: even in “adult mode” it still sounds delivered by children.

The film overall is a mixture of two styles which, although muddled, is worth seeing but not terribly memorable.