MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #8 – LENNY ABRAHAMSON by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #8 – LENNY ABRAHAMSON

Bit of a change up for this blog concept as my prior seven articles have been given over to praising actors but I thought: why not praise filmmakers too? In this instance I have, of late, been blown away by the brilliance of the director Lenny Abrahamson. He is an Irish film artist who has made FIVE films; and they are ALL, in their own way, little masterpieces. Working within the socio-realist and humanist style he is drawn to characters that either live on the outskirts of society or through their actions or personalities are pushed away by the world. His films are small in scale but massive in heart. Even the most microscopic event ripples with emotion in Abrahamson’s work as he focusses on those rejected or imprisoned by patriarchal and capitalist society.

Abrahamson’s films imbue the same emotional energy of the neo-realism and social realism genres. His authorial style and themes also evoke the work of: Vittorio DeSica, Alan Clarke, Karel Reisz, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. He has a subtle documentary style as his work represents the human condition in all its glorious failures. Most of all the characters in all his films, whatever their situation, are tremendously empathetic and Abrahamson’s power as a storyteller is to make us feel the pain, despair and joy they feel. He’s been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the incredible film Room (2015) and I think he deserves to win it. Not just for Room but for ALL the films he has made!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 ADAM AND PAUL (2004)  

This black comedy about two junkies trying to get a hit manages to be both hilarious and sad simultaneously. It’s set over the course of twenty-four hours as our eponymous anti-heroes begin the day surrounded by a bleak landscape with no idea where they are. All they want is a fix and trudge from one estranged encounter to another attempting to avoid the law and various Dublin lunatics. They are pathetic creatures but their plight is played for dark laughs notably in the shoplifting scene and their encounter with the Bulgarian guy on the bench.

While they are at times loathsome the humour in the script (written by Mark O’Halloran who played Adam), terrific direction and performances really drag us into these two lowlife’s rotten existence. They are trapped by their own addiction and live moment to moment; with fate and chance buffering them from one crazy episode to another. This is a great feature debut from Abrahamson which shows even the most hopeless side of humanity can be tinged with humour.

GARAGE (2007)

I caught this one of Film Four a few years ago. I thought I’d watch ten minutes and go to sleep but 90 minutes later I was transfixed by a very simple but heart-breaking character study. It concerns Josie – portrayed by Father Ted actor Pat Shortt – and his lonely existence as a simple garage attendant in an Irish rural village. Josie is, one may argue autistic in some way, or at least showing evidence of learning difficulties.  However, he is hard-working, pleasant and harmless enough. While he suffers ribbing and derision from some townsfolk he laughs it off mainly.

The film moves slowly establishing real empathy for this simple man and symbolises his outside status by comparing him to a horse he has befriended which is tied up alone in the field. Then, in an act of friendship towards a teenage boy working with him, Josie unravels his humble life causing the town and law to turn against him. The only thing Josie is guilty of is naivety really and the tragedy of the final act is very potent. Abrahamson, writer Mark O’Halloran and the brilliant Pat Shortt deliver a masterclass in understated human drama about the little guy who would never harm anyone but is turned away for one mistake.

WHAT RICHARD DID (2012)

Abrahamson’s third film is different from his first two inasmuch as he shifts focus from the lower or working classes of Ireland to a financially better-off protagonist. However, the conflict is still very powerful despite the privileged nature of the character. Indeed, Richard Karlsen is a young, handsome, middle-class, rugby-playing lad with a very good future ahead of him. That is until one fateful night when a drunken mistake leads to tragedy and a moral dilemma for Richard and his father (Lars Mikkelsen) to deal with. The film asks us the important question: what would you do if you committed a crime? Would you come forward and admit guilt or try and get away with it?

It’s a film not necessarily just about what Richard did; but more about what he, his friends and subsequently his father do NOT do. I do not want to give away Richard’s actions but similar to Garage he makes a tragic choice, although the outcome is far more fatal than Josie’s naïve gesture. The impact of Richard’s dilemma is heightened by his abandonment and separation from his father, friends and the wider community. Like many of Abrahamson’s characters Richard – portrayed superbly by Jack Reynor – ultimately ends up alone and the film stands as a critique of patriarchy, while examining the nature of consequences and the overpowering shock of guilt.

FRANK (2014)

I used to listen to Frank Sidebottom (AKA Chris Sievey) on the John Peel sessions when I was a teenager and while baffled by this strange entertainer, I always enjoyed the alternative nature and humour of his music. Of course I was also intrigued by the fact this eccentric Northerner was pictured in the NME and Melody Maker wearing a papier mache head on. So, in truth a film about this character interested me somewhat but I just thought it may be weird for weird sake. However, Abrahamson, once again, has crafted – from a script by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan – a tremendously odd yet moving character study inspired by Frank Sidebottom.

The story focusses on Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) and his encounters with Frank’s experimental rock band, as he attempts to apply order to a chaotic creative process. In the subtext however, it’s also a moving study of mental illness, and how during the highs and lows of manic depression creativity can flourish. Of course, this doesn’t always transfer, as Jon discovers, to commercial success and ultimately the band like Frank self-implode to obscurity. Scene after scene of weird and wonderful events occur throughout leading to a very poignant reveal of Frank’s face when the mask finally comes off. The final scene is a revelation as the band play together alone once again. Here the majestic Fassbender, as Frank, rips out our heartstrings happy just to play music again with his band.

ROOM (2015)

Room is an amazing film. Probably the best and most moving I have seen for a long time. It concerns Joy (the incredible Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (stunning Jacob Tremblay) who have been abducted and trapped in a shed by a nefarious kidnapper referred only as “Old Nick”.   The film is presented from the innocent boy’s perspective and the pathos and empathy I felt throughout was both touching and heart breaking. What the writer’s premise does and filmmakers do is make you care about the characters immediately making every scene so suspenseful and soulful. If you are captured by stories about proper characters trying to survive dire events then it’s a must see.

These are characters who have been physically and emotionally imprisoned by a masculine world and are attempting to gain freedom. The way Joy protects her son from Old Nick brought a lump to the throat. Moreover, the escape scene with Jack playing dead had my heart beating frenetically. The budget was low at $6 million yet director Lenny Abrahamson, his brilliant cast and writer Emma Donoghue have created a masterpiece in emotional storytelling. Ultimately, it’s a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child and child for their mother. Right up to the final gut-wrenching scene is a truly stunning film which will linger in the memory for some time to come.

 

 

SCREENWASH – JANUARY 2016 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JANUARY 2016 BY PAUL LAIGHT

Last year was a very good year for filmmaking but 2016 is shaping up even better already. You know the scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) where Bruce Willis’ character is moving from one weapon to a bigger/better one before he tortures Zed in the basement?  That’s what cinema going is like for me in January. I’ve seen so many brilliant films in succession either as good as or better than the last.  Moreover, the Oscar fodder is launched on the silver screen thus; I saw NOT one, but FOUR films which are already likely to be on my Best of 2016 list.

I’ve slightly tweaked my FILM/TV review format so instead of covering, in detail, EVERYTHING I saw, I’ve made it a bit punchier and reviewed in depth the best of the best. As usual – marks out of eleven!

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

CINEMA FILMS OF THE MONTH – ROOM (2015) + THE REVENANT (2015)


ROOM
(2015) – (MARK: 10.5 out of 11)

Room is an amazing film. Probably the best and most moving I will see ALL year. It concerns Joy (the incredible Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (stunning Jacob Tremblay) who have been abducted and trapped in a shed by a nefarious kidnapper referred only as “Old Nick”.

The film is presented from the innocent boy’s perspective and the pathos and empathy I felt throughout was both touching and heart breaking. What the writer’s premise does and filmmakers do is make you care about the characters immediately making every scene so suspenseful and soulful. If you are captured by stories about proper characters trying to survive dire events then it’s a must see.

The budget was low at $6 million yet director Lenny Abrahamson, his brilliant cast and writer Emma Donoghue have created a masterpiece in emotional storytelling.  Ultimately, it’s a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child and child for their mother. This is a truly stunning film which will linger in the memory for some time to come.

THE REVENANT (2015) – (MARK: 10 out of 11)

While Room is intimate and claustrophobic, The Revenant was the polar opposite. It’s a massive, heart pounding survival epic that must be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find. Don’t stream it illegally online you cheap bastards; leave the house and GO TO THE CINEMA!

It concerns a Trappers’ expedition circa 1823 which is assaulted most violently by the indigenous Arikara Native Americans from the get go. The brutal attack set-piece kicks off the film in startling fashion with fire, blood and bone spilling and crunching and blasting death upon our characters. Our hero – Oscar-winner-elect – Leonardo DiCaprio is a tracker, Hugh Glass, whose expertise is required to get the survivors across the cold and brutal landscape in one piece.  But he is attacked by a bear in one of the most incredible feats of filmmaking I have seen in a long time. It just has to be seen to be believed as Glass is ripped to shreds by the bear leaving him at death’s step knocking on the door.

DiCaprio is then left with his Native American son and the greasy John Fitzgerald portrayed with dirty aplomb by brilliant Tom Hardy, as the rest head back to “civilization.” After which it’s safe to say that things don’t go too well for Glass as the money-grubbing Fitzgerald double-crosses him and leaves him for dead precipitating a series of deadly encounters that left me gasping for air and shaken to the heart of my dramatic core.

This is just superb, grueling, bloody and beautiful filmmaking! Inarritu adds some exquisite artistic touches and the cinematography and vistas are a thing of beauty. The filmmaking team spent nine months shooting the film and they have given birth to an epic masterpiece which, while a simple revenge story at heart, beats a powerful drum to the testament of the human spirit and against-the-odds survival. If you’re not watching this on a massive cinema screen then you haven’t seen it at all!

OTHER CINEMA FILMS

THE BIG SHORT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is a very entertaining film satire about the global economic crash and the 2008 housing meltdown. It simplified everything in a very amusing fashion and felt like an extended American Office, both in style and humour. Steve Carell and Christian Bale are on particularly good form as are the rest of a very attractive case.  Bankers, Brokers, Regulators and the Government are presented as crooked, greedy, moronic or all of the above! I’m still shocked this actually happened as I have always held humanity in such high regard. NOT!

CREED (2015) – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

For a genre/franchise/boxing film CREED is a fantastic watch; full of emotional ups and downs. Stallone is terrific as ageing Rocky Balboa and this movie harked back to the raw quality of the first Rocky (1976). Ryan Coogler proved with Fruitvale Station (2013) he can direct real heartfelt drama and illustrates it once again here. The boxing scenes are impressive and Michael B. Jordan proves he is a very natural performer as the film delivers some proper knockout entertainment.

 

DANISH GIRL (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne truly delivers in this story about Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and their attempts to reassign gender. Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener is equally brilliant as Einar’s wife, who at first sees her husband’s flirtations with female impersonation as a game but realises it is much more than that. Overall, this is stunningly attractive filmmaking set in 1920s Copenhagen which could arguably have had a touch more dramatic bite. Yet, Tom Hooper is a formidable director of beautifully humane dramas and this is a touching testament to a person trapped and prepared to risk it all to escape.

 
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9.5 out of 11)

Any other month this would have been my film of the month.  I love Westerns. I love Tarantino films (mostly). I love brilliant dialogue. I love lots of blood and violence.  Here QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.  It concerns eight hard-bitten souls consisting of criminals, bounty hunters and soldiers and the mayhem that ensues as they cross paths.

Set pretty much in one location there is tension and bullets galore by the end. However, the main strength lies in the ensemble cast firing verbal stingers at each other as trust breaks down and the characters turn against each other as the plot thickens. Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson are real standouts and Jennifer Jason Leigh holds her own amidst the sweat and testosterone.

Though not as epic in stature as Django Unchained (2012), and in need of a wee trim, this is a fine movie which will improve on subsequent views. Tarantino is a proper auteur and can always be relied on to deliver an impressive work of entertainment. Mustn’t forget Ennio Morricone’s awesome score either, which haunts the scenes like the Reaper on collection day.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Ever dependable Ron Howard has crafted an excellent adventure and survival story. A well evoked period drama Chris “Thor” Hemsworth takes to the high seas on the hunt for whales, only to come up against the white “monster” which would inspire Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick. Men against nature and the elements always play well on the big screen and overall, it’s very solid entertainment. While the bookended script is old-fashioned by design it has subtext too, indicating the importance oil has always played within our society.

SPOTLIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is yet another Oscar-runner with an incredible true story at its heart. The film “spotlights” the Boston Globe’s investigation into endemic paedophilia and subsequent cover up by the Catholic Church. It’s a riveting story with a fantastic ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton on very fine form.

Screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer have crafted a sterling script that gets into the minutiae of a press investigation and also reveals the corruption and hypocrisy in organised religion, public relations and the legal system.  Just when you think people couldn’t get any lower stories like this highlight the darkness at the heart of humanity.  Thankfully, the press gang at the Boston Globe has proved more than just celebrity-baiters and given the victims of horrific abuse both a voice and justice.

 

TV, DVD, BLU RAY, NETFLIX and other STREAMERS

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ADAM AND PAUL (2004) – YOUTUBE – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

Irish black comedy about two junkies trying to get a hit; manages to be both hilarious and sad simultaneously. Great feature debut from Lenny Abrahamson.

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN (2013) NETFLIX – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

More bonkers horror as witchcraft, murder and voodoo mix to grisly and hilarious effect.


AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (2015) – BBC1 – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

Stylish drama with a stellar cast committing murder most foul in fine Agatha Christie adaptation.

 

BLUE RUIN (2014) – NETFLIX – (MARK: 6 out of 11)

Impressive low budget neo-noir let down by the bad plotting and unsympathetic lead protagonist. 

 

THE FALLING (2014) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 6 out of 11)

Artful period drama about fainting young girls starts well but runs out of story by the end.

 

THE HUNTER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Intriguing Aussie drama as Willem Dafoe’s hired gun tracks down the last Tasmanian tiger.

 

ROME – SEASON 1 – (2005) – NETFLIX – (MARK – 8 out of 11)

Brilliant Caesarean drama with devilish plotting and bloodier battles plus a cracking cast.


SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE (2015) – BBC1 – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Oh-so-clever-meta-drama featured Holmes & Watson on the trail of a ghostly murderess in a wedding dress. Stylish with little substance but entertaining nonetheless.

 

SLOW WEST (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Idiosyncratic Western that is too pretentious in places, but saved by ever-excellent Michael Fassbender and a fine shoot-out at the end.

 

THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne bagged the Oscar for his portrait of Stephen Hawking in this beautifully acted, lovely looking, yet, dramatically tepid romance-biopic.

 

WHAT RICHARD DID (2012) – DVD – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Slow moving but impactful drama from Lenny Abrahamson, as a rich teenager’s actions causes massive reverberations amidst an Irish family and the wider community.

 

AVOID AT ALL COSTS!

THE VISIT (2015) – SKY STORE – (MARK: 2 out of 11)

Some said this was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan – IT WASN’T! Dreadful supposed horror film with one of the most annoying child actors I’ve had the displeasure to witness.