God awful

Sometimes, this job… I tell ya…

***

Title: The Shack
Cert: 12A

WHEN confronted by angry Christian rednecks after a blasphemous stand-up set, the great Bill Hicks famously shrugged: “Then forgive me.”

What a shame Hicks isn’t around to lambaste this cringefully self-righteous spiritual drama whose only achievement may ultimately be to put the noses of some US evangelical types out of joint.

Based on William P Young’s 2008 self-publishing hit, it finds Sam Worthington (a sort of nice-price Hugh Jackman) playing Mack. Mack is in a depressive, god-hating stupor after the murder of his youngest daughter during a camping holiday. A mysterious note beckons him to revisit the woodland shack where her body was found. There, he finds an oven-mitted God (Octavia Spencer) baking, a hipster Jesus (Aviv Alush) doing woodwork and the Holy Ghost of winsome gardening know-how (Japanese star Sumire).

How long will Mack resist the three-way charm offensive and trite platitudes of the cheery Trinity? When will the next plot hole open? Will Worthington’s shaky US accent collapse entirely? Which way is the exit?

Unforgivable.

1/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

 

Waiting for Gadot

A Good Superhero Film (rather than “a good superhero film compared it to the other tosh DC/Warners have put out”). Here’s the Sunday Indo review…

***

Wonder Woman
Cert: 12A

THE critical mauling of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice somehow penetrated the din of its huge box-office take, as if many went along to witness how bad DC Comics’ attempts to build its own Marvel-style cinematic universe could actually be.

A scant mercy however was Israeli actress/model Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Ever since, the promise of the whip-wielding icon getting her own outing seemed far more interesting than muscle-bound mummy’s boys wearing bat ears or hair pomade. Wonder Woman, the archetypal superheroine, had the guts, power and beauty of a demigoddess, precisely what creator and feminist psychologist William Moulton Marston intended back in the early 1940s. Lynda Carter fitted the bill for the 1970s TV show. Ever since, those knee-high boots have been waiting for Gadot.

It’s a relief to find her so at home as Amazonia princess Diana, being trained in battle by auntie Robin Wright. Although their matriarchal  paradise is cloaked from the world, a plane carrying a US spy (Chris Pine) crashes one day. After hauling him ashore, Diana beholds the handsome Pine visage adorning the first man she’s ever laid eyes on. He, in turn, must contend with coming to on a sandy cove to find Gal Gadot smiling back at him. Talk of WWI and his mission to foil a chemical weapon attack by Danny Huston’s German general twig Diana’s thirst for justice, and off they go.

Why this succeeds: Top action choreography, a fine cast (bolstered by David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner and a hilarious Lucy Davis) and a side order of fish-out-of-water camp that director Patty Jenkins serves next to wartime derring-do and Diana’s gritty grace.

Batman and Superman need to shape up.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Film review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

YOU’RE ONLY SUPPOSED TO PULL THE BLAHDY SWORD OUT! Here’s my fackin’ Sunday Indo review, innit…

***

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Cert: 12A

THE Sherlock Holmes films saved Guy Ritchie by stabilising his stock in Hollywood once again. If he could reinvent a brand as ubiquitous as the Victorian super-sleuth, studio bosses probably reasoned, Ritchie could probably give the Camelot legends a millennial boot up the behind too. Right?

Ritchie’s cheeky-cockney-chappy shtick still manages to find a way into this kitchen-sink makeover of the Arthurian legends. The emergent Knights of the Round Table in this origins story have less to do with codes of chivalry and more to do with metropolitan hipster cool, as if a bunch of Camden baristas have been let loose at a battle re-enactment. Centre-stage, we get a very Conor McGregor-esque Charlie Hunnam (as Arthur himself) and Jude Law’s baddie, both far too groomed and modern to be at all convincing.

So intent is Ritchie on scrawling all over the mythology that he even has to crowbar ancient “Londinium” into the yarn despite it having little to do with the lore. Throw in an F-word and a David Beckham cameo and King Arthur… feels neither one thing nor the other.

Arthur, a wily orphan, leads his own crew in the mean streets of London. That is until he surprises everyone, including himself, by pulling the sword from the stone. He now has to join in the fight against the uncle who orphaned him (Law) by embracing his lineage and harnessing his powers.

Enjoy the CGI, but don’t expect to give it another thought.

2/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Review – Alien: Covenant

Not an outright disaster for a franchise that has been much maligned since Alien 3, but still frustrating. Here’s the Sunday Indo review…

***

Alien: Covenant
Cert: 16

THE mechanical shark in Jaws was so shoddy that Spielberg left it out wherever he could. Less very much proved to be more, with the unseen, implied threat freezing viewers’ blood that summer in 1975. Alien, Ridley Scott’s space-slasher classic, did a similar trick three years later by minimising the screentime of the man in the monster suit.

These days, it’s cheaper to just CGI in the horror rather than pay costume designers and make-up artists, so the imagination takes a back seat. This return to the spirit of Scott’s original thus can’t compare to the abject terror that audiences – and uninformed fellow cast members – felt in 1979 when the late John Hurt suffered one of science-fiction’s nastiest stomach cramps.

With Alien: Covenant, Scott looks to make amends for the bloated, muddled anti-climax that was Prometheus and get these much-discussed prequels back on track. In this, he largely succeeds. Elsewhere – character development, suspense, the element of surprise – less so.

The old “a ship, a crew, a signal” recipe is used for the umpteenth time. En route to start a colony on a distant planet, Billy Crudup’s proxy captain diverts to investigate a signal from a much closer and seemingly ideal planet. His deputy (Katherine Waterston) thinks it’s too good to be true, and, lo and behold, she’s right. Obligatory ship’s android Walter (a show-stealing Michael Fassbender) and the others ignore her and naturally pay for it.

A strong first half that reaches an appropriate level of crawling menace and presents a couple of impressive scenarios eventually succumbs to what is ultimately a safe and by-numbers bow at the Alien alter that takes the more-is-more attitude to the monster.

Oh well. Still, beats Prometheus.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Hil List 2016: Books

Lots of reading done this year. Yes, lots of time on my ass, but also lots of time doing something I love and getting paid for it so there. Here’s a small handful of highlights. Blurbs/links where possible.

 

Non-fiction

The Lonely City – Olivia Laing (Canongate)
“Art can’t bring people back from the dead, she concludes in the final chapter, nor can it mend arguments between friends or cure Aids. It does, however, “have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly”. One could argue that brilliantly rendered non-fiction can perform a similar feat.”
Full Irish Independent review

I’m Not With The Band – Sylvia Patterson (Sphere)
“One would devour this bulky tome in a couple of days were there not so many intermissions needed to put the thing down and emit a bellylaugh for a few minutes before reading on. Patterson’s patter, assembled from those absurdist days tracing Bros and Kylie in Smash Hits, is as full of rhythm, melody and crescendo as the very acts she was charged with covering. And every bit as entertaining too.”
Full Irish Independent review

Play All – Clive James (Yale University Press)
“If this is to be James’ swansong – and pray it is not – the only spoiler alert worth mentioning here is that Play All will be a reminder of what the world will be deprived of once the sword of respite falls from Ibrutinib’s tofu-like hand. This snug body of writings will enrich your appreciation of TV drama’s big hitters, and help elevate discussion on them to a level beyond the pub chat.”
Full Irish Independent review

The Battle – Paul O’Connell with Alan English (Penguin Ireland)
“The earthy but fiercely proud and determined Munster disposition is rife. He’s opened his soul to English, the obvious trust between the two perhaps an unexpected symptom of the added years the project kept taking on. What has come out the other side is a psychological profile that is almost shocking at times in what it reveals about the bloody single-mindedness of the competitive gene.”
Full Irish Independent review

 

Fiction

Minds of Winter – Ed O’Loughlin (Riverrun)
“O’Loughlin doesn’t so much pan back as leap about, threading together an extraordinary tale that warps actual history into something conjoined, poetic and thrilling. At the epicentre of these interlocking narratives, these living and breathing jigsaw parts, is a McGuffin that sings with intrigue and a historical riddle that has never been solved.” Full Sunday Indo review

The Pier Falls – Marc Haddon (Jonathan Cape)
“This first foray into the medium by the 53-year-old is a nine-strong assembly of compassionate, engrossing, often hard-edged tales of isolation and hunger (for love, safety, food itself). A housebound obese man and a local tearaway forge a touching friendship without a hint of mawkishness. On a tiny island, ancient Greek mythology and the stark cruelty of nature combine as a woman is abandoned and left to fend for herself. Scenes are constantly scorched into your mind with Haddon’s dexterous linguistic branding iron.” Full Sunday Independent review

The Lonely Sea and Sky – Dermot Bolger (New Island)
“Whatever about the timely ways this extraordinary novel will speak to a nation currently undergoing a mature reassessment of its epoch-defining insurgency, this story of selflessness, duty and a young lad’s emergence into manhood via his actions is a universal hymn that will chime with anybody who understands that while good and evil are nebulous concepts, right and wrong are not. That it does this without sermonising is testament to the lofty skills of this national treasure.” Full Irish Independent review

 

Crime

Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)
“It is remarkable for a thriller to toggle between freezing the blood and sweating the brow without the use of blades, bullets or bloodletting.”
Full Irish Independent review

Trouble is our Business: New Short Stories by Irish rime Writers – Edited by Declan Burke (New Island)
“Crime fiction lends itself especially well to the format, you feel, due to the breadth of styles and tones that it can employ. The 20 authors here were given free rein with the brief, and the variety of styles, backdrops and registers that duly winged its way back to Burke is this superb collection’s strongest card.”
Full Sunday Independent review

Woman Of The Dead – Bernhard Aichner (Weidenfeld and Nicholson)
“Woman of the Dead beats with an immediacy and tangibility that is frankly rare” Full Sunday Independent review

 

 

 

 

Hil List 2016: Music

Despite the small matter of Mother Nature trying to kill every last musical icon, it was a fine year for tuneage. Here’s what rocked my proverbial boat. Blurbs/links attached where possible.

 

Gigs of the year

At The Drive-in / Vicar St, March 26
“Chaos and petulance have made way for generosity and focus. With this first night of their huge 13-week tour triumphing, the quintet genuflect back to the troops with sincerity. Both parties walk away feeling tonight had no right to be this good.”
Full State.ie review

The Gloaming / National Concert Hall, February 2
Soon in danger of having a wing named after them, The Gloaming swept into Earlsfort Terrace and reminded all in attendance why this is one of the most exciting musical concoctions this island has ever witnessed. Martin Hayes’ quintet have fashioned a musical colour palette all their own.

White Denim & Wyvern Lingo / Whelans, Aug 16
“I’m standing in a glacial queue to enter Whelan’s on the last night of summer. From inside, the burnt-sugar groove of ‘Sweet Life Ruiner’ wafts out between the gaps in the shuffling ticketholders. Wyvern Lingo are opening proceedings tonight, which given everyone’s giddiness about the headliners’ return to these shores is a bit like being told you’re flight to the Maldives is getting a free last-minute upgrade.”
Full State.ie review.

Whole Lotta Zepp / Sugar Club, Oct 8
It’s becoming an annual chore thinking up superlatives for this hallowed night every October. Like the best things in life, the recipe is simple – three drummers, the country’s finest rock musicians and a classic Led Zeppelin LP to worship communally. Simon Freedman’s Sugar Club militia are redefining the phrase ‘tribute act’.

Cathy Davey / Whelans, Oct 22
A welcome return for Lady Davey, who took a night off from being an animal-welfare heroine to show that all that hay and manure have not dulled her artistry or stage chops one iota. Like flicking on a lightswitch, she and her brilliant backing band put more hard-touring acts to shame.

Wyvern Lingo / Button Factory, Dec 3
“So yes, eff you, Dingle. You may have offered botanical gin, propeller-scarred dolphins and Girl Band for sustenance this night but we’ve been served the most nourishing thing to come out of Bray since the Kilruddery Farm Market.”
Full State.ie review

 

Best Albums
1. Blackstar – Bowie / 2. Human Performance – Parquet Courts / 3. Mangy Love – Cass McCombs 4. Peel Sessions – The White Stripes / 5. The Gloaming 2 – The Gloaming

 

Best Irish Albums
1. The Gloaming 2 – The Gloaming (my State.ie interview) / 2. Is – Bleeding Heart Pigeons / 3. IIVV – All Tvvins (my State.ie interview) / 4. At Swim – Lisa Hannigan / 5. New Forest – Cathy Davey

 

Best Songs (this changes every day so… yeah, right now, like)

1. Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street

2. Dollar Days – Bowie

3. No Tomorrow – Suede

4. Europe is Lost – Kate Tempest (my Sunday Independent interview)

5. Too Young To Live – All Tvvins

6. Berlin Got Blurry – Parquet Courts

7. Sweet Life Ruiner – Wyvern Lingo

8. Mrs Dwyer – The Gloaming

9. To The Rescue – Divine Comedy (my Sunday Independent interview)

10. Scared Money – NxWorries (my indirect nod to the passing of Prince)

 

Hil List 2016: Film pt2

After yesterday’s overall Top 10, here’s the rest of the accolades and honourable mentions

Best Director

the_revenant_trailer_alexa_65_footage

1. Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) / 2. Lenny Abrahamson (Room) / 3. Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader)

Best Irish Film

a680f42d66f8ef95f57dfec8011901826c196a53.jpg.cf

1. Sing Street / 2. Room / 3. Atlantic

Best Comedy

1200

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople / 2. Sing Street / 3. The Young offenders

Best Horror

1167791

1. The Witch / 2. Bone Tomahawk / 3. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Best animation/childrens

marnie-4

1. When Marnie Was There / 2. Pete’s Dragon / 3. Zootropolis

Best Documentary

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin at the press conference announcing his intention to stay in New York’s mayoral race despite new revelations about his explicit text messages to women sent after a similar scandal in 2011 that had forced him to resign from Congress, New York City, July 23, 2013

1. Weiner / 2. Atlantic / 3. Bobby Sands: 66 days

Best Actor

adam-driver-paterson

1. Adam Driver (Paterson) / 2. Tom Hanks (Sully) / Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)

Best Actress

f927b4956009f712f93f0f804072fb78bade2249

1. Amy Adams (Arrival) / 2. Adriana Ugarte (Julieta) / 3. Brie Larson (Room)

Best Screenplay

screen_20shot_202016-08-16_20at_204-07-15_20pm-0

1. Eric Heisserer (Arrival) / 2. Emma Donoghue (Room) / 3. Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High water)

Best Cinematography

thewitch2

1. Jarin Blaschke (The Witch) / 2. Bradford Young (Arrival) / 3. Mátyás Erdély (Son of Saul)

Best Breakthrough

960

1. Brady Corbett (Childhood of a Leader) / 2. Robert Eggers (The Witch) / 3. Grímur Hákonarson (Rams)