What? Another year?

Hilary Adam White

AS THE embers of this topsy-turvy 12 months fade, my enduring moan has to be, well, moaning. We have now entered a point of no comeback in the Age of Preciousness. It is now the inalienable right of everyone with a touch screen and a twitter account to be “offended”. To thumb shrill denunciations when their own personal (keyword) viewpoints are challenged or someone else out in the digital abyss is merely blocking their view. To only have two responses lined up when a new story, quote, opinion is reported on; righteous indignation or silence. We, as a species, now seriously need to get a life.

Helping with this, however, are the arts, music, books and cinema specifically.

From a phoenix-like Death From Above 1979 through to The Gloaming’s spectoral cartwheels, right up to Gaz Coombes and even the stupidly fun Prison Love (and their barbershop quartet alterego The…

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What? Another year?

AS THE embers of this topsy-turvy 12 months fade, my enduring moan has to be, well, moaning. We have now entered a point of no comeback in the Age of Preciousness. It is now the inalienable right of everyone with a touch screen and a twitter account to be “offended”. To thumb shrill denunciations when their own personal (keyword) viewpoints are challenged or someone else out in the digital abyss is merely blocking their view. To only have two responses lined up when a new story, quote, opinion is reported on; righteous indignation or silence. We, as a species, now seriously need to get a life.

Helping with this, however, are the arts, music, books and cinema specifically.

From a phoenix-like Death From Above 1979 through to The Gloaming’s spectoral cartwheels, right up to Gaz Coombes and even the stupidly fun Prison Love (and their barbershop quartet alterego The Larkfield Four) just last night in Whelans, it was yet another “best year ever” in what now feels like a lifetime of them.

The same is precisely true of cinema, where directors like Dennis Villenueve, George Miller, Andrew Haigh, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Abderrahmane Sissako, JJ Abrams, Todd Haynes etc burned images into my mind that I will never be able to shake.

Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone reminded us that this kinetic Irish misfit now inhabits a realm all his own, part Joyce, part Waits, part Father Ted. Like U2’s frankly omnipotent demonstration in the 3Arena in Novemeber, Jonathan Franzen proved just too bloody good to throw stones at with his fifth novel, Purity. Unputdownable, in every sense of the word. She’d hate to be mentioned anywhere alongside Franzen but my friend Helen Macdonald raked in the awards and travelled the world this year with her genre-clashing masterpiece, H Is For Hawk. It is simply all this eerily brilliant writer deserves.

Wishes for 2016?

For All Tvvins, Walking On Cars, Bowie and Lenny Abrahamson to actualise the hype and make good on their promise.

For Queens of the Stone Age and PJ Harvey to rediscover danger, economy and, in the case of the former, Greg Ginn riffs.

For Ships to get me moving and for Tool to darkly bamboozle.

For Pugwash to break through properly, and for Neil Hannon to impose his genius deafeningly on the record-buying public.

For the shagging public to buy those records.

For Le Bataclan to re-open with a sold-out carnival of beautiful, eternal, defiant rock ‘n’ roll.

For an end to artists and freelance journalists being underpriced and undervalued.

For Paul O’Connell to lift another European Cup wearing red.

For the stealthy crawl of Celtic-Tiger revivalism to be bludgeoned dead in its tracks.

For 1916 to be reviewed with a clear lense.

For the so-and-sos of Paragraph 1 to grow a set.

And would it kill ye to sort out some summer weather?


F
irst published today on State.ie along with similar contributions from colleagues there. Happy New Year, everyone.

A forceful awakening

A certain smugness tainted my footsteps for the two days where I was among one of the first people in the world to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “Oh just you wait,” I thought as I overheard people discussing it in cafes, bars and supermarket queues. One of the best things about TFA is that we can now no longer speak of those horrid prequels, which this film makes look even more tedious and limp than we remember them. Here’s the Sunday Indo review I penned.

***

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Cert: 12A 

A LONG time ago, in a studio far, far away, a bunch of yes-men let George Lucas desecrate the vastly adored space opera that he once created. Luckily, The Phantom Menace (1999) and its two turgid, soulless fellow prequels failed to fatally wound the legacy of Star Wars, a trilogy that had defined an entire generation 40-odd years ago.

Fans thus rejoiced when it emerged JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) was to direct a new chapter following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. Golden oldies like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford would return alongside young guns such as Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Domhnall Gleeson as nostalgia and fresh-faced pep intertwined. Trailers were pored over and experts predicted a box office to match any Avatar or Titanic.

I’m happy to report that The Force Awakens is not only a sigh of relief to all who hold the brand dear but also a whoop of celebration for lovers of smart, multi-coloured sci-fi with an epic sweep.

The spoiler police are circling, but know this: The First Order has replaced the Empire, with Gleeson’s nasty general and Adam Driver’s Sith lord at the helm. General Leia’s Resistance are out to stop them with help from a defected storm trooper (Boyega) and a granite-strength heroine (Ridley).

Abrams and original screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan pay homage – stooping aerial battles, blood revelations, Jedi mysticism, tangible set design, a John Williams score – but add real substance between while freshening up the dusty corners. Humour and heart are prominent amid some breathtaking action set pieces. 4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Brilliant Lesson

Just as the year draws to a close, we got one of the best dramas of the whole year. The Lesson is pretty much flawless in its telling  of one character being put through the wringer. How much can one woman take? Pop into the IFI to see.

***

The Lesson (Urok)
Cert: IFI Club

IMAGINE the worst day at the office you’ve had. Multiply it by five, chuck in a faltering economy and an unsympathetic spouse, and you’re approaching the kind of thing endured by the central protagonist in this muscular Bulgarian morality drama.

Appearing in every scene here, Margita Gosheva is outstanding as Nadezhda, a diligent, tidy senior-school teacher trying to catch the student who pinched cash from her purse. She is unsuccessful and the repercussions and stresses of this defeat are carried home and exacerbated when she learns that her no-hoper husband has been spending her salary on repairing a busted campervan rather than lodging the mortgage repayments. The bank is now past the point of reminder letters and proceeds with repossessing Nadezhda’s family home.

She turns to her flush father for help but cannot accept that he took up with a much younger woman following her mother’s death. Meanwhile, the gods conspire against her in cruel ways, from snooty bank tellers to dying car engines.

There is a minimal but incisive rhythm in the way co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov build a wall around Nadezhda and push her to the edge of bourgeois respectability. A score is unnecessary when the storytelling is this assured, while there is a quiet artistry in the framing that packs a punch.

Gosheva’s is surely one of the great female lead performances of the year.

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Funkyzeit mit Krampus

Well I didn’t see this coming. Krampus turned out to be much better than it had any right to be. Perfect Christmas viewing for when the consumerist syrup gets too much. 

***

Krampus
Cert: 15A

EVEN the sappiest among us dreams of demonic homicide at some point during this ‘special’ time of year. That said, if you’re the type who just plain resents having festive goodwill and familial scrums rammed down your throat every December, Krampus, a daft and dotty Christmas horror, could be right up your chimney flue.

Writer-director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) hits the Engel family with terrors from the get-go – a host of ghastly redneck relatives barging through the door for the holidays, complete with Republican politics, brattish kids and a poisonous auntie.

It’s a lot to handle for young Max (Emjay Anthony), his teenage sister and sweat-browed parents Sarah and Tom (Toni Collette and Adam Scott). After he is teased over his selfless Santa letter, Max tears the thing up and gets the hump with Christmas and his family. You don’t blame him for a second.

The act awakens the folktale bogeyman known as Krampus, a Mephistophelean inverse of St Nicholas who fixes the wagons of naughty kids at Christmas time. A blizzard duly descends on the picket-fence neighbourhood while power and communications go on the blink. Next, macabre snowmen appear in the garden. It is only when an excursion outside reveals death and destruction that Max’s German grandmother (Krista Stadler) pipes up, recounting previous wartime experience of this horned and cloven-hooved monster (via a very tasteful animated sequence, it must be said).

The fun shifts up a gear at this point as Krampus sets evil gingerbread men and child-eating clowns on the family. The film’s sense of its own silliness beds in and a decidedly 1980s pandemonium takes hold that is not displeasing. Think Gremlins let loose on the set of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent