Okay, as soon as I saw reference to this movie at the Galway Film Fleadh, I was hooked. This movie has been described as a B-movie comedy. “B-movie” does not mean bad, just that it does not have studio millions behind it. This is a comedy and as you probably know by now, I like my comedy to be properly constructed, following ancient rules, this movie does that, indeed following rules and convention is something director Jon Wright (Tormented, 2009) and newcomer to feature length work, writer Kevin Lehane do throughout the movie.

I’m going to get the obvious connections out of the way; Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990); this is very much in the same style but probably more funny.  It is probably more in line with Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) with the community feel to the ongoing story. I mentioned rules earlier and Wright seems to follow very closely some Irish rules of thumb when it comes to comedy. 1) an outside in the village, usually a slightly eccentric Englishman or German such as the character of the General (Sam Harris) in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) or Major Yates himself (Peter Bowles) in The Irish RM (1983). The Irish RM brings us to the second necessary character – the town drunk who also happens to be quite smart and more than capable of coming out well from any situation, we see this with the Character of Slipper, played by Niall Tobin is the series. Such a  character might be described (using the Hiberno-English vernacular) as a “cute whore” which is a cunning but good natured person.  Another movie which comes to mind is The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) given the sense of isolation.

Being so formulaic can often destroy a movie as the team concentrate on the formulae and not the heart and soul of the movie, here however they capture the comic essence needed, indeed the casting was perfect as soon as you saw the actors in a number of cases you knew what you were in for.

Headed by Richard Coyle (Going Postal 2010) playing Garda Ciarán O’Shea with Ruth Bradley (Love/Hate, 2011) playing the Garda sent in to support O’Shea while the sergeant is on vacation. The pair seem totally mismatched and polar opposites. As strange things begin to happen such as whales washing up on shore, they meet up with the English marine biologist working on the island, Dr. Adam Smith (Russell Tovey, Being Human, 2008) who brilliantly plays the reserved and very proper scientist trying to do things the right way. SO here is the village outside needed by the “rules”. The team deserve credit for knowing just how far to take a character such as Smith, stopping short of cliché.  Pretty soon people start to go missing and alien  creatures start to appear.

One is captured by the town drunk/small time fisherman and general smart-arse (again using the H-E vernacular) played brilliantly by Lalor Roddy (Game of Thrones, 2011). An experienced stage and screen actor he know exactly what was needed. I could continue with the rest of the support cast , but sufficient to say they were all first class. I should also give a mention to the excellent CGI, evidence of the work that can be done on a budget.

The plot, in short is; alien creatures crash in to the sea just off the island and quickly make their way ashore. Strange things start to happen and people begin disappearing. Eventually one of the octopus like alien creatures is captured and killed (possibly). This bring more trouble in the shape of the alien’s (far, far larger female partner). Ultimately our heroes and the rest of the village have to make a stand in the village pub (probably another rule there) for reasons most enjoyably left to the movie to explain. Here they battle to save the community, the island and of course all mankind. The battle tactics make the movie.

I’ve avoid reference to The Guard (John-Michael McDonagh, 2011) so far, so it is about time I did the inevitable. I enjoyed The Guard, I really enjoyed Grabbers. Wright has placed the McDonagh brothers on notice. In short this movie is Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-98) meets Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and as good as either of them.

A lesser effort would have been wholly predicable, this was not. This is The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) as a full comedy.

Rating 9/10, I look forward to more work from this team.

Shake Hands With The Devil (1959)

This 1959 Irish War of Independence era movie can, with a certain amount of justification, be described as a forgotten classic. Directed by Michael Anderson (Dam Busters 1955) it touches on a time and a subject matter many film makers until Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, 1996) stayed away from.  I came to this film via my father who is a great fan of it and as a result we’ve been looking for a copy for a number of years. Now released on DVD I had to buy a copy and see what all the talk was about. I’m glad I did.  The leading and supporting casts are a who’s who of Irish and British acting talent of the time and subsequently.  As I mentioned the subject matter was one many stayed away from or used as a support to a more personal story (Ryan’s Daughter David Lean, 1970, which was more of a romance than war film).

Although shot in 1959 it shows little of the experimental film making beginning at that time in France and elsewhere with the early New Wave work or even  the earlier Italian Neo-realism. Anderson deploys methods tried and tested in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the movie feels like a product of this period in places, although it also has that more relaxed and expansive feel of its generation. Ryan’s Daughter is only 11 years later and totally different in style. We can also contrast it with Odd Man Out (1947) by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) with an almost Noir feel in places, certainly far more atmospheric and brooding as we watch James Mason the IRA officer on the run in Belfast following a failed robbery.  Shake Hands used shadow sparingly  and to best effect in the early ambush scene where Paddy Nolan (Ray McAnally, The Mission, Altamirano, 1986) and Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Breck, 1972) are walking home at night.  In many ways one of the more modern scenes in the movie.

The Movie is based on the novel by Rearden Conner, which was adapted by Marian Spitzer (The Dolly Sisters 1945) together with Ivan Goff & Ben Roberts  (White Heat, 1949) .  We can see novel’s influence in the detail and characterisation such as Lady Fitzhugh (Sybil Thorndike, The Prince and The Showgirl, The Queen Dowager, 1957) being a member of The Movement.  This characterisation is perhaps most striking in James Cagney’s character, Sean Lenihan; by day a mild mannered surgeon lecturing to students in Trinity College and by night a respected rebel leader (Commandant). It is in his reaction to the presence of certain women that we see a darker side to his character which later merges with his view of the Treaty being signed, he is ultimately “fighting his own war” . By Contrast Kerry O’Shea does not want to be “in the Movement” and does not want to take life but is forced by circumstance to do both.

I’m tempted to run down the list of supporting actors, it was/is breath-taking. My father ranks this as one of his favourite films, I can see why.  You will have noticed I give very little of the plot away – it is young student gets caught up in rebel affairs after death of a friend, he is to be smuggled out of the country and while waiting for his ship with a squad of volunteers events take a number of turns which force all involved to make a series of life changing decisions.

Rating 8/10 It is of its time and dealing with what was then a delicate subject, but is well nuanced and well worth watching.

This Must Be the Place

Directed by Paulo Sorrentino. This small sentence explains a lot, more so when I say it was Sorrentino who directed Il Divo in 2008.  If this movie has a failing is that you, or at least I did, spend time thinking of people like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and such like.  This is because Sorrentino’s work is up there with these greats.

Starting off in Dublin we see a bent over, glam rocker who we learn is a former star now living in Dublin in a sprawling mansion surrounded by his ever so eccentric wife (Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading, 2008)who despite being more than sufficiently wealthy actually works as a fire fighter.

The Support cast such as the young Goth (Mary Eve Hewson), her mother (Olwen Fouere, The Other Side OF Sleep, 2011) who seems to be suffering from the loss of a son and is comforted by Cheyenne. The cast in the American side is just as excellent.

One day Cheyenne receives a call, his father is dying. Rather than fly, he has a fear of flying, he takes a ship across to New York.  He arrived too late and his father is already dead.  Talking with his cousin, he is given his father’s diaries, they are actually notes he produced over the years as part of his search for a Nazi prison guard who humiliated him during the Holocaust.

Cheyenne, knows he is possibly depressed, his wife thinks he is bored, he thinks so too. With this in mind he sets off across America to find this man, and himself in the process.  David Byrne of Talking Heads fame makes a cameo as an old friend, thankfully with musical accompaniment. Judd Hirsh presents us with the character of Mordecai Midler a Nazi Hunter who is knew his father.

Umberto Contarello co-wrote the screen play with Sorrentino, it is quick smart and well placed. The screenplay is supported by nicely nuanced cinematography, subtle direction, random characters who would be at home in a Cohen Bros. film and finally a fantastic soundtrack. Leaving aside the Talking Heads/David Byrne contributions, of which there are many and which stand alone by themselves, there is also Nino Bruno and Gavin Friday’s contributions as well as excellent use of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegal Im Spiegal and Alex & Jonsi’s Happiness.  If there was a weakness to the movie, it was that the much of the soundtrack was too well known, that said it was not overpowering and added to the scenes rather than detracted from them.

Quirky, original, independent…weird… this is certainly well worth watching. Sean Penn is world class and shows again why he is one of the world’s most versatile actors , a total pleasure to watch, and a master-class in characterisation

9/10 – go watch it and then buy the soundtrack…and the DVD when it comes out!

Stella Days

Back in 1979 a much younger Martin Sheehan, played a young army captain in a place where he did not belong , on a mission he did not particularly want to achieve. Years later he is again somewhere he did not want to be in Stella Days. In short this is not the fastest movie in the world, but it is not supposed to be. It is a very Irish film dealing with very Irish issues of the time. Knowing what we do now of the times then there is always a potentially dark side to this movie. but thanks to O’Sullivan this never happens  Despite the 1950’s Irishness of this movie the subject matter travels, the story is one which can be translated across times and locations. Sheehan plays an educated, cultured academic priest  who after being passed over for an appointment in Rome and subsequently letting his feelings be known is placed in a rural Irish Parish after years in Rome and the US.  After spending three years in Tipperary he is hoping his exile is over and he can  return to Rome, his dreams  are dashed when the local Bishop (Tom Hickey, The Riordans 1965, Breakfast  on Pluto 2005) tells him he is staying in the town and is charged with building a new church.

Not being the best fund raiser in the world he gets nowhere until the new teacher, fresh from the big city (Dublin) gives him the idea of a cinema. What follows is a very understated master class in the study of belonging, faith (in yourself, dreams and Him), loneliness and finding your place in life. The humour is calm, Stephen Rea plays his usual quiet dark self, here he plays the part of the local politician he is so conservative he makes the Bishop look radical. Along the way  we see Sheehan deal with his doubt, not so much in his faith, but his calling, we see Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, 2005, Citizen X, 1995)  play the local politician, a man with no doubt but strong conservative conviction. This is not the fastest movie in the world, but it brings you along with it. The performances wheel you in Martin Sheehan is every bit as great as ever, whether it is a young captain, the President of the United States or the local parish priest.

This is a feel good story, told well. If you liked The Playboys (Gillies McKinnon, 1992) or Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) then you will like this one. I had doubts about the direction at the start, but it turned out well, the script is tight and smart; the delivery is well timed and delivered with some nice laugh out loud moments Rating 8/10, perfect for  when you want to unwind and see a good story.