Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.

John Wick

This seems to be getting great reviews , personally I have to say I was not inspired by it, in anyway. This is an old-fashioned “shoot-em-up” directed by Chad Stahelski (300, 2006) and written by Derek Kolstad (The Package, 2012). The film opens with the scene being set: John Wick (Keanu Reeves, 47 Ronin) is a man grieving for his recently departed wife. Helping him get over this grief is his puppy which was a gift from his wife. For anybody else this would be possibly enough to get back on track with life, but Wick is retired and just getting on with life.   It is in getting on with life that everything goes south. His luxury home is invaded by some Russian thugs who want to clear it out, of Wick has different ideas and defends his home, in the course of which his dog is killed. It turns out these protagonists are Russian mafia, indeed one of them is the son (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones, 2011) of the mafia head (Michael Nyqvist. The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo, 2009). Now this is where things go East (or South) very quickly. Having defended his home with more than a little noise, the local police call over after getting a report of a disturbance at the house. The Police officer at the door see inside to bodies lying on the ground, and just confirms with Wick that it is work and leaves him alone. Wick is out for vengeance now so he digs up the tools of his trade – from the floor of the basement. Kolstad tries to give us something different. Wick was no ordinary mob- enforcer he was one of the best hit-men in the business and the thug who attacked his house is the son of one of Wick’s former employers. Wick announces his intention to get revenge against his former employer, who although respecting Wick is forced to put a price on his head to defend his son. As Wick gets back in to the groove we see that there is a certain guild of assassins with Wick quickly making contact with old fellow assassins to determine the game ahead. He bases himself in a down-town hotel which is actually a “neutral ground” for people in his business. All expenses by the way are paid for by gold coins – everything from clean-up crews to hotel bills. Viggo knows what’s coming for his son and explains that Wick is not the Bogeyman, he’s the guy you call to kill the bogeyman. The supporting cast is good, with people like John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, 2001) as the garage owner who recognises Wick’s stolen car and refuses to have it in his Chop-shop and Ian Mc Shane (The Pillars of The Earth, 2010) who plays the hotel owner, keeping the peace among the underworld figures assembled. This movie involves a body count, with the usual vengeance plotline, however it is done in a fairly original manner and is not as hammed as many others of this genre. It is a night-in modern day western for the boys. The plot is wafer thin, but manages to work. It could be a lot worse. 6/10

Men Women & Children

This film takes a look at the lives of a group of young people and their parents as they navigate through life. What makes this film different from many others is that it takes the view through the technology which we all use to go through life.

It is a very personal view as we look to life through not just the kid’s perspectives but also that of the adults. Modern technology allows us more freedom and wider communications, but do we need or want such freedoms. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, 2007) who seems to be fitting in to a certain groove, this is a “warts-and-all” view of life. Seeing Adam Sandler (Grown Ups, 2010) as Don Truby in the initial scenes playing the part of a bored father using his son’s computer for masturbation is a new take, in the process of doing this he sees his son’s porn collection. His son has some very specific tastes. This reflects on the old issue of a parent finding pornography under a kid’s bed, only now it is more, well…

What we have is life and technology intersecting the lives of families, from the accept it approach of the Trubys who use the malware ridden old computer of theirs to relieve their marital boredom, a use which obviously has consequences. In contrast to the Truby family is Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) who is paranoid to an extreme about her daughter’s (Kaitlyn Dever, The Spectacular Now, 2013) internet usage. So bad is the level of surveillance that not only is the child’s digital life scrutinised down to the level of program logs but the mother also intercepts texts and suchlike deleting what she feels in inappropriate for her daughter. Needless to say there are work-arounds.

Reitman may be guilty of trying to fit too much into the movie, but I think he gets away with it by rationing out the issues through each of the families. Another aspect of the life and digital age challenge comes in the form of Kent Mooney (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad, 2008) who is struggling to keep it together with his son ( Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, 2014) since his wife divorced him (and is now getting remarried). Kent does however meet somebody who just might shake him out of his malaise, however there is an issue. Donna Clint (Judy Greer, Archer 2009) is a mum wanting the best for her daughter ,Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia, Palo Alto, 2013) the problem is the best is around acting and modelling. In the course of events Donna allows her daughter to model for a local photographer in suggestive clothing. Donna also adds to this with a website of her daughter. This all back fires when after auditioning for a talent show, she is disqualified because of the sexual nature of the website. This shocks Donna, who was so focused on her daughter’s career that she was naïve to the other aspects.

Everyone of Reitman’s characters are flawed, but with just enough flaws for us to accept them as ordinary people grappling with a situation.   A couple of interesting observations, firstly around 9/11 being a history project, with some of the kids involved not being alive when it occurred. Also the changing communication habits such as the three girls talking in the gym, while two of them are using their phones to have a private text conversation about the third girl.

The film build to a logical but not overly signposted conclusion, which is well done and closes the movie nicely. Coming away from it I got a sense that, we had it easy as kids, or at least less difficult, with none of the technology we have today. Do all the communications devices actually do anything for us?

A very entertaining and sometimes slightly shocking look at family life in the web 2.0 age. The cast is first class and if-anything largely underplay their respective characters to keep the technology in focus. A final word on Adam Sandler; I have mixed opinions on him, but what I will say is that I prefer him in straight roles such as this, rather than the usually hard-put-upon character he often plays for comedy.

8/10

The Guest

Directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, 2012) and written by Simon Barrett (also V/H/S), the production stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, 2012) as a soldier returned from “The war”, this one in Iraq. The film opens with a young man, David, jogging in to town with a full pack. We then see him calling to a house, it is the home of the Paterson family. He is met by the mother, Laura, (Sheila Kelly, Matchstick Men, 2003) who while initially sceptical of the stranger at her door, she allows him in and begins to relax, especially when he shows himself in a photograph the family have, he is posing for a group picture next to their dead son.

Over the course of the afternoon the mother invites David to stay with them for a few days. This of course is not greatly received by the rest of the family, most so with the father, Spencer, (Leland Orser, Taken, 2008), however once they start talking they get on well. Over the course of their talking David learns that Spencer has been passed over for a regional manager’s job. In the end they all get on and are glad to have somebody there who knew their dead son/brother. The Petersons have two other children, Anna (Maika Monroe, Labor Day, 2013) and Luke (Brendam Meyer, Mr Young, 2012). Anna is the self-assured 20 year old still living under her parents’ rule at home, balancing a waitressing job with a boyfriend, who as far as her parents know is history. Luke on the other hand is being bullied at school.

Pretty quickly, David begins to “help” the family. He sets up a situation with the boys who bullied Luke where he quickly inflicts sharp violent pain on them and subsequently advises Luke not to hold back when dealing with bullies. As the film goes on we also learn that the person who took Spencer’s job mysteriously commits suicide. Against this background Anna is suspicious and makes some phone calls only to learn that officially David was killed in a fire at a military hospital he was in. In the course of doing this David is red-flagged and a dark shadowy official is notified, he quickly pulls a team together and heads to Texas to find David.

Various bodies die in mysterious ways up to when the official, (Lance Reddick, Fringe 2008), who we learn is military police, raids the home. Once this happens the body count multiplies.

It turns out David was the subject of failed medical experiments, in short David will do anything to protect the family from danger or difficulty, this is his mission. At once both charming and polite while also a cold killer when his mission mode “kicks-in”

I’m not sure if this is one of the worst movies I ever saw or one of the smartest, I’m tending to the latter. The film overall has the feel of an eighties thriller even down to camera styles and soundtrack. Not only is the soundtrack a very eighties style the recording is also of the time with the soundrack abruptly breaking as a scene changes. As we prepare for the denouement we even get, wait for it; smoke.   In a number of places the movie tends to play to stereo-type but always manages to rescue itself from becoming a train-wreck. One of the reasons for this is Dan Stevens himself – his face is pure rubber. He has a stare which could burn through brick and a facial range which many actors would envy.

It is a subtly stylised movie which could have easily have failed but for some very tight direction and of course for Stevens’ own acting ability.

Get the DVD or stream it, you should enjoy it – 3.5/5, 7/10