Monthly Archives: March 2016

Write On The Train, They Said!

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For a few days last week, I found myself gratefully employed (one cannot live on dreams alone) and my mind sprang up with travel possibilities and the best way to squeeze some  writing in on my way into Dublin city. I’ll get the train I thought, those romantic memories returning of sitting in my own little world, my book swirling in a dance around my head and me its wily choreographer, as the train carriage slides hypnotically through the gorgeous countryside. But reality it seemed had a lesson to teach about best laid plans and so I found myself seated (thankfully) and squashed (uncomfortably) in among three others as I tried to wrestle my little laptop out of its cover.

My knees were waging a war with the man opposite – patella against patella in a fight to the death or at least until I could wriggle away. There – perfect! Just tune it all out. Get in the zone! I slung my headphones on as Dave Gahan’s darkly beautiful voice enabled that drift, pushing the volume up so as to drown out any audible civilian distraction and fired up my little Acer, its tiny white keys full of possibilities. Writing is like a yoga workout, you start out feeling a bit decrepit, your joints stiff and then you stretch and your muscles take the fullest and purest of oxygenated breaths and magically they start to infuse with energy and you feel more and more capable with every inhalation.

I had only taken my first deep energising breath when all yoga analogies came to a swift end. My computer screen glared back at me, like a cartoon villain, one eyebrow arched high, lips curled in a sneer. Ah yes it bristled. Thought you could just pick me up whenever you want. Don’t have your fancy home PC now do you? Ha no, just little old me and my little ole version of Office, screaming to be renewed and therefore useless. I did what any respectfully sane person would do – tap the keys incessantly hoping it would overlook it this time and just let me type. But no, Word had shut up shop, slamming its metal shutter down on my poor hopeful fingers.

I resisted the urge to scream FUCK! out loud and calmed myself. This was not a disaster. I’d just log on to the Wi-Fi and update it. As I rattled around for a good signal, the screen rolled a taunting bar sideways, like a digital finger to its temple deciding my fate. No signal. I’d already travelled three stops and so far my writing existed only of random curse words not even committed to paper. I had sacrificed my real notebook for my digital one in my bag and my heart sank slowly to the bottom of the passing canal.

Sweeping that aside for the day, I was realistic when it came to my journey home. I hadn’t been able to update the package so I told myself to keep it simple – just get a seat and go from there. I could write on my phone. Not ideal but you do what you have to do. I entered the train station three minutes before my train was due and ran the usual five minute walk to the platform. Now I’m not a runner. I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me but faced with 30 minutes wait for the next one I found myself barrelling up the gangway from the underpass, my train’s final carriage ten yards away, the doors thankfully still open but stuffed to the gills with weary commuters. With a last burst I made it through before the doors closed and like a sardine in a very oily, squashed and sweaty tin, the train pulled out for home, my face virtually pressed to the glass. Writing on the train! Breathing on the train was my priority.

I tried to settle my panting and take deep breaths as the man’s newspaper beside me crumpled into my shoulder. How was there room for a paper! My feet felt spongey in my shoes, swelling from the sprint and glued as they were in one spot, they were showing their agitation. Your bottom should be on a seat by now, they screamed. I know! I screamed back. The claustrophobia and the heat in the carriage weighed heavy and I knew that I was going to have to take off my coat or collapse. As I contorted myself out of my bag which was slung across my body, I set off all manor of contraptions like that old game of Mouse Trap. My bag caught in my hood, which as I wriggled free pulled my ponytail loose and my headphones sideways off my head before knocking my glasses off my face to the carriage floor. In a narrow space filled with strangers I felt like a sea divided us, the people who have their shit together – and me.

I eventually got a seat about two stops from home but I spent that time trying inconspicuously to unravel the mess I’d made of my headphones, conscious that the sight of me pulling them one way, actually strangling myself and having to work out how to best get out of them must seem hilarious/sad from afar and in my head all I could hear was Bruce Willis’s voice doing his best John McClane…Get the train, they said! Write, they said!

 

I loved Batman V Superman. Here’s why..(spoiler free)

Batman v Superman (8) I’m beginning to think I saw a different film than the majority of the media so far commenting on Batman V Superman. So divided has opinion been and the vitriol so mean that I thought I would take a moment to consider just what had impressed me so much.

Like others I went in with the fear – the casting of Ben Affleck was the biggest risk for this film. Henry Cavill had already succeeded in bringing his Kryptonian loner to the screen in Man Of Steel. Safe pair of hands second time out. But Ben Affleck – a tricky notion. An older Batman, jaded and scarred physically and emotionally from two decades as the Caped Crusader. A different take on Batman and one that Affleck completely makes his own. Not only is he one of the most physically impressive Batmans (a tall, broad shouldered, hulking muscular mix of brawn and wits) but he also draws the audience in close to him making him one of the most engaging Batman’s we’ve seen on screen. His dilemma, as a protector of mankind, on what to do about this “alien” that could ultimately destroy earth with his powers is managed by Affleck beautifully and shows the weight on his shoulders to do the right thing at any cost against a foe that could easily crush him. We’ve never seen Batman like this before and it is this moral see-saw between him and Superman that I found fascinating to watch. I didn’t leave my brain at the door, I engaged it.

The first hour has taken a bashing critically for short scenes, jumping along, switching locations and characters and sides in general but there’s a hell of a lot of story to tell and a moral compass to be established for our heroes. It’s our job just to keep up as it pulls the many story strands and characters together. I for one, loved that you can be in the grounds of Wayne Manor one moment and the Kansas cornfields the next. It’s like a 2-for-1 special, all the things we love about both worlds colliding into one and when those worlds meet its magic. There’s a crackle of electricity you feel when Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent meet for the first time and a giddy power surge when they’re joined by Lex Luthor. As a Smallville fan, I loved a younger Lex and here Jesse Eisenberg perfectly embodies him as a twitchy tech genius/mumbling lunatic. He masterfully portrays the fine line between eccentric and unhinged, easy to get away with when you’re a billionaire with more money than morals. It’s one of his finest performances and was completely on the money for me.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman stood out from the first sight of her in the trailer and she is truly mesmerizing in this, especially in battle but also out of costume. There’s a lovely chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne, the air around them spritzed with Thomas Crown Affair allure and she is as intriguing and majestic to us as she is to him. In battle she is unlike any female super hero we’ve seen thus far and I can’t wait to see what she can do with her own standalone film.

Among these key players, Snyder has peppered the film with star support, again from those already established in Man of Steel to newcomers like Jeremy Iron’s Alfred. A far cry from Michael Caine’s father figure like portrayal in Nolan’s outings, Irons plays him as almost a fellow mercenary, an able support and wingman to the Dark Knight and it works brilliantly.

The showdowns are terrific and while I admired Man of Steel, I couldn’t take to the endless CGI cartoon-like battle with General Zod at the finale. Here Snyder perfectly delivers the action. The fight between our heroes is faultless, brilliantly choreographed and realistic in the world in which they exist.

You may think differently and that’s cool. We are all welcome to our opinions but this is not the disaster that some would have you believe. It’s far from it. It’s the first glimpse of a universe and tease of characters to come that has me positively salivating for Suicide Squad.

Review – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Cert: 15A Running Time: 103 minutes

It’s befitting that 10 Cloverfield Lane should turn up mysteriously on the film release schedule, peeping its head out from between the corn stalks and stepping out like an alien onto the film landscape. A distant relative of 2008’s sci-fi shaky-cam hit Cloverfield, it’s the more sophisticated Uncle perhaps, a more mature look at themes of fear and ultimately paranoia in a world potentially gone mad.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is having a very bad day. She’s just broken up with her fiancé, packed up her belongings and taken to the road, when her car collides with another and she awakens to find herself with an IV in her arm in someone’s private underground fallout shelter. Her rescuer turned captor Howard (John Goodman) tells her the world above their heads has ended due to a chemical or nuclear attack and everyone is dead.

Without spoiling anything the film is packed with surprises, some shocking, some that will make you jump out of your seat with fright. From the opening scenes played out to the exquisite score by Bear McCreary, it delivers everything you need to know from the outset – this is going to be an intriguing, mysterious, compelling and gripping ride.

With a primary cast of just three players the drama is close and claustrophobic. It’s initimate and like the setting there is nowhere to hide. It’s a testament to the airtight screenplay from Josh Campbell, Matthew Struecken and Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle that the film grips you in its setting and like Michelle, keeps us guessing as to what’s going on both in the bunker and indeed in the world above. Is Howard telling the truth or is he a psychopath? And what of his companion Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), a neighbour who helped him build his doomsday retreat? Does he go along with what Howard is saying? Does she take Howard’s story for the truth and if so what are the implications of that?

Trachtenberg’s masterfully handles the setup, bringing his own unique aesthetic alongside influences from Hitchcock to Spielberg to Shyamalan as the film veers between genres touching post apocalyptic adventure, sci-fi paranoia, thrilling kidnap drama…each as intriguing as the other.

Winstead does an outstanding job never faltering in her determination to find the truth. Her heroine is strong, clever and wily and from the first frame you’re rooting for her. Goodman is brilliant as her kidnapper/saviour/conspiracy theorist, his performance swerving around all the tightly confined corners of his subterranean lair. He can say so much with very little dialogue, the clenching of his fist or squint of his eye bringing that sense of dread that perhaps he’s regretting his decision to rescue the damsel in distress after all.

As the film settles in the middle to more talk and less action, the tension evaporates slightly but it springs back with a bonkers finale that is well worth the pay off. 10 Cloverfield Lane is scary, exciting, visceral cinema. Not to be missed.

4/5

Review – SING STREET

Sing Street

Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Mark McKenna, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Directed by: John Carney
Cert: 12A Running Time: 105 minutes

As he so wonderfully captured the world of a struggling musician busking on the streets of the capital in Once, so again has writer/director John Carney returned to Dublin, capturing the essence of what it is to be a teenager, slowly discovering their own identity and place in the world through the prism of music in his latest opus Sing Street. Set in 1985 during the recession, the film follows fifteen-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he transfers from his private school to the tough inner city streets of the Synge Street Christian Brothers School. Upon meeting the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) he and his friends form a band in the hope that she’ll star in a music video for them, kicking off Conor’s journey to find himself through music and win the girl of his dreams. Gloriously transporting you back to a time when Top of The Pops was the highlight of the week, Mars bars were 25p and stonewash denim and mohair jumpers weren’t complete without big hair, it’s a gorgeous slice of nostalgia played out to the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates and Spandau Ballet.

Comparison’s with The Commitments are preordained. It too is about a band, it’s set in Dublin, it’s funny and there are lots of toe-tapping brilliant songs on offer and Sing Street very much feels like a teenage cousin of Alan Parker’s film. Carney has assembled a talented young cast that bring a musical authenticity to their roles making their characters resonate all the more. Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna (who plays Eamon, the other half of Conor’s song writing duo) are just terrific and the original infectious songs they perform throughout the film will have you tapping your feet in the cinema and humming them on the way home. Lucy Boynton as the gorgeous Raphina handles what could have been a one-dimensional part with skill and thanks to great writing from Carney delivers a soulful performance as we get to see underneath her outwardly cool 80’s glam exterior.

Like any perfect teen movie it’s populated by adults who have lost their grip on life. Conor’s parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are heading towards a separation (as divorce is outlawed), Eamon’s father is absent and Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), who runs the Christian Brothers school is a monstrous bully. The only voice of reason Conor listens to comes in the shape of his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) who distils his advice on music, girls and the freedom of creativity to his keen ears and though Reynor is largely housebound, he does his best to inject his stoner loner with the wilted ambitions of one who may yet flourish. It’s a film about literally finding your voice and following your own path and these teens, like others seen in the 80’s movies of John Hughes, are quite aware of what they are going through and need little adult help or supervision.

A dream sequence where one of their videos plays out like the prom scene from Back To The Future will put a big smile on your face with a massive dance routine and the numerous looks tried out by the band as they settle on an image are both hilarious and so true of the time. Sing Street is a brilliant, funny, nostalgic delight. I defy you to not hum “Drive It Like You Stole It” on the way out.

5/5

Click on the links below to watch my interviews with the cast and director John Carney over at TheMovieBit.com:

http://www.themoviebit.com/2016/03/lucy-boynton-and-ferdia-walsh-peelo.html

http://www.themoviebit.com/2016/03/director-john-carney-talks-sing-street.html

http://www.themoviebit.com/2016/03/jack-reynor-talks-sing-street-and-han_15.html

Dare I call myself a writer? A priceless lesson in self belief from Cecelia Ahern, Patrick Ness, Sarah Crossan and Louise O’Neill

Notebook

I’m sitting in the second row at the ‘How Dare You’ YA panel featuring Cecelia Ahern, Patrick Ness, Sarah Crossan and Louise O’Neill at the Mountains To Sea dlr Book Festival and I’m feeling fidgety. My IKEA notebook with the bat on the front and the pink spine gets shuffled from one knee to the other, my biro rolling between the creases in my trousers. I should probably put them back in my bag. Taking out my notebook makes me feel like I’ve just lit a neon sign over my head, flashing ‘thinks she’s a writer, ha!’ in a bright orange glow. She has notions this one!

It remains closed and tightly gripped throughout the 90 minutes, fear getting the better of me and I relax a little in the hope that I’ll truly remember and engrave the good stuff on my brain anyway. Having it with me is kind of like my writing security blanket. Even closed, it has power to me. It has hope. Hope that one day perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to have my book published.

Early in to the interview, chaired by Easons YA guru and all round lover of cool things David O’Callaghan, my shoulders relax a notch further when Sarah Crossan describes how even still she gets impostor syndrome. That the feeling of not being good enough and someone calling you out on it may happen yet, even after you make it across the scorched plains to the juicy validation of an agent/publisher/book sales. Ness agrees. The uncertainty that comes with being a writer never goes away and that in itself is an important lesson to me. Get used to it. If I feel this way now, with my first out on the intrepid agent hunt, thinking its most likely rubbish and I’m just really exercising my fundamental right to mortally embarrass myself (again with the notions!) then I had best let this feeling settle in a bit, find a pair of comfy slippers for that insecurity and wriggle my toes in it. It’s part of being a writer.

I’m sitting off to the left and as I watch David ask a question I see Cecelia’s in my eye line. Morto! Don’t stare at her! Don’t catch her eye. She doesn’t want to see your face – the desperation etched into every nook and cranny starring back at her. Don’t embarrass yourself! There’s a way that Cecelia talks that makes her come across as (a) normal and unaffected by her success and (b) someone you’d love to sit down for a cup of tea with. She’s friendly and open and the moment she mentions her obsession with colouring books I think – now there’s a sound mind. She must be so good at switching off all the noise and bustle that revs around the brain, the screaming distractions that stop me so many mornings from actually getting any writing done. Note to self: buy colouring book and possibly some dot-to-dot puzzles on the way home. Mindfulness is key.

If the panel were some sort of rock band, than Louise O’Neill would definitely be the front-man or woman in this case. I look at her intently for the secrets to her confidence, enviously wishing I could take just a pinch of it to sprinkle over me. She has similar issues to the others but there’s a positive swagger to the way she speaks that you think – yeah, you go girl! She’s rocking it and everyone in the room, particularly the teenagers are loving it. She speaks eloquently about the public reaction to her novels and how it feels to know your book has reached people and touched them in some way.

The subject of book covers arises, both in terms of control and input and Ahern tells a funny story about how all of her covers in Poland having a smooching couple on the front, no matter what it’s about. That’s her brand if you will and her Polish publisher is sticking to what worked so well for her books in the first instance. It seems creative control wanes on foreign markets and there’s a lean towards trusting the publisher in that territory to know what image it needs to sell. I can but dream of a cover for my book and so I’m rapt listening to them talk. This is all, if you’ll pardon the pun, kindle for the fire of motivation and I’m lapping it up.

When asked about the ever-changing YA appetites and labels from dystopia to teen illness to cli-fi, they all roll their eyes, declaring that until a publisher points out to them that their book is for example YA dystopia, they do not concern themselves. The key is to write what you want to write, the story you have to tell, the one that ONLY YOU can tell. That’s what makes writing special. That’s what makes writers special. As Ness says, you do you and to hell with what anybody thinks. Someone doesn’t like it, well fuck them. His words seep into my pores and I wish I could have him on speed dial for those days when as a writer I feel worthless and question what I was thinking in the first place. His encouragement is brilliant and for a brief moment the room is empty and he’s just talking to me.

My writing journey such as it is, is a solitary one. Again in the wish to not embarrass myself I didn’t join the local writing group or take a writing class. So my peers are invisible and I with them. That’s why listening to the real deal, writers who persevered and continue to do so, is just the inspiration and the kick up the backside I need to keep going. One day perhaps I may count these writers among my peers. Perhaps they are already. We are all writers after all and they are just about the most encouraging and welcoming gang a writer could hope to meet.

 

Review – HAIL CAESAR!

Hail, Caesar!

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand.
Written, Produced and Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Cert: 12A Running Time: 106 mins

When the Coen brothers last wielded their pens in the direction of Hollywood they delivered a dark satire on the screenwriters’ experience in the land of dreams in the 1940’s with Barton Fink. Twenty-five years on, Hollywood is again their muse, this time in the golden age of the 1950’s, celebrated and poked at with mirth and giddy pleasure in Hail Caesar!, a love letter of sorts to the escapist magic Hollywood created so spectacularly in those good ole days.

Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, Head of Physical Production at Capitol Pictures (also the studio featured in Barton Fink), a fixer who is about to have one hell of a day. When Hollywood star and studio darling Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped from the set of his latest sword and sandals epic Hail Caesar, A Tale of Christ, it’s up to Eddie to track him down and restore order to the lot before anyone finds out. But he has other things to worry about too. Swimming starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), twice divorced and now pregnant needs a career fix fast, while prestige English film director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is struggling with matinee idol Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) whom the studio have taken out of his usual cowboy comfort zone and into prestige drama ‘Merrily We Dance’.

There’s a lot going on and at times Hail Caesar! feels like lots of brilliant scenes edited together rather than one linear smoothly constructed story. Much like Mannix’ daily task of fielding trouble and bouncing from one problem to the next, so too do the Coens, skipping merrily between characters and scenes, leaving the film a little disjointed but no less enjoyable. What makes it so much fun to watch is those nuggets of Coen comedy brilliance. A scene in which Laurentz feeds a line to Hobie over and over again in a battle of pronunciation is hilarious, as is Mannix having a sit down with the local religious leaders to ensure none take offence to the rendering of Christ in the new film raising philosophical debate that is pure Coen genius.

Regular Director of Photographer Roger Deakins does a remarkable job in bringing that old fashioned Hollywood polish to every gilded frame and the production design and costumes are glorious in recreating the style of the time. The Coen’s clearly love what they do and through Mannix (and a brilliant performance from Brolin) they take us behind the scenes of that gloss and glamour and the madness that pervades yet hypnotises all who are part of it.

Clooney, who was one of the first to take a seat at the table when the project was being conceived almost a decade ago, plays not only a brilliant idiot who’ll make you smile at the arch of an eyebrow, but a true star playing a star, who can bring the charm, regaling his captors with his show biz tales (including a very funny insight into Danny Kaye). Tilda Swinton is impeccable in the dual role of twin gossip columnists Thessaly and Thora Thacker and Tatum is the man to bring that touch of Gene Kelly, with his tongue firmly set in his cheek. However, it’s newer face Alden Ehrenreich who manages to steal the show as Hobie Doyle. Perhaps it’s the scenario but he is a star in the making.

If you love the movies and in particular that golden age of Hollywood, you’ll love this. The Coens have structured a slightly chaotic slice of old school glamour that absolutely befits the beast it represents.

4/5