Calvary

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Calvary

Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Ireland, 2013

Cornerhouse, 13 April 2014

Calvary

A comedy, so-called, with a black, black heart.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this film (and certain others of its ilk) is called a comedy.  Most likely because there is a strong element of caricature to the characters, the people in it.  Here they are for the most part evanescent distortions, grotesqueries.  This does not, however, make for a jovial film – curious, that.

The story is that in confessional one Saturday a priest is given seven days to live.  It seems that Ireland is not as enamoured with the Catholic Church as it once was.

Aidan Gillen, an incredible actor of course, delivers another spellbinding performance here – he plays a kind of Ivan Karamazov figure, if anything just a wee shade darker.

A worthwhile watch.

Tom at the Farm

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Tom at the Farm

Directed by Xavier Dolan

France, 2013

Cornerhouse, 5 April 2014

Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan’s new film is a provocative and heady brew, part Entertaining Mr. Sloane, part Deliverance, part Narrow Rooms.

Tom (played by Dolan himself) goes out to the sticks to his dead boyfriend’s funeral, staying at the family farm, with his lover’s mother and brother.

He is in a compromised position, to say the least.  The mother is unaware that her son was gay, so Tom has to lie.  While the brother, a stay at home son with a penchant for violent sex games, comes on to him.  After the funeral Tom stays on at the farm to milk the cows and such – and because he kind of likes the brother.

It is Tom’s journey, a tale of terror and revelation, whereas I feel the black humour could have been brought out more.  The film kept me attentive and entertained, mind, right through to the Rufus Wainwright song at the end.

A worthwhile watch.

The Godfather, Part II

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The Godfather, Part II

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

USA, 1974

Cornerhouse, 6 April 2014

The Godfather Part II

Looked at again, a great film still: Pacino’s towering performance, the way Coppola swathes him in darkness.

Michael Corleone is a prince.  A man with no obvious vices, concerned with the welfare of his family and colleagues, a student of history, thoughtful and nuanced.  If he is hard on others, he’s harder on himself.  And it’s not the life he wanted.  Yet the shadows collect about him, seeming to obscure and consume his soul.

That’s the paradox at the heart of the film: the intertwining of good and evil that constitutes the character of Michael Corleone.  He is feared, but princes should be feared, or so Machiavelli taught.  Since he cannot forgive others, his strength segues into weakness.

When the credits roll at the end, you realise (again) that you’ve watched a brilliant gangster film, yes, but also a film about fate and freedom, the burden of the past and the promise of America.  The sins of the father as terrible legacy.  A true classic.

The Godfather, Part II is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.

The Killer Is Dying

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The Killer Is Dying

By James Sallis

No Exit Press, 2012

ISBN: 9781842437407

The Killer Is Dying By James Sallis No Exit Press, 2012 ISBN: 9781842437407

Without wishing it to sound anything like routine: another extraordinary novel from James Sallis.

This one, like many of his others, is hard to pin down exactly.  Paranormal, science-fiction and metaphysical elements vie within a crime story a la Savage Night, about a hitman on his last job.  Perhaps that catch-all label ‘slipstream’ will have to cover it.

The hitman is called Christian and what happens here is that some guy gets to his target before he can press the ‘Execute’ button.  Christian, unsure what’s going on, is driven to contact the cops investigating the hit.  Whoever hired him has put him in the frame.  His professional pride is hurt.

Naturally,  the cops attend other cases and Christian recalls other hits, allowing Sallis to use the topography of the crime novel to edge in allusion and digression, layer the main narrative with diverse meaning.  As is his wont.

Puzzling events pepper a vivid narrative that has real momentum and a melancholy undertow.  An alien visitation, a boy, Jimmie, who can pick up on people’s dreams.  Still, in our world the actual has been outstripping the possible for quite a while now and strangest of all is the phenomenon of the internet, its benign/malign potential, and (a reiterated theme here) the weird way in which animals have adapted to the human-built environment.  What is this (latter) topic doing in a crime novel?  It is a question that Sallis has been asked quite a few times before, and I may have asked him a similar question myself.  At any rate, I think It’s a fair bet that he has seen and enjoyed Werner Herzog’s version of Bad Lieutenant.

An immensely rewarding read.

The publisher’s description of the book can be seen here.

Much Ado about Nothing

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Much Ado about Nothing

By William Shakespeare

Royal Exchange Theatre, 1 April 2014

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice and Paul Ready as Benedick in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Royal Exchange Theatre until 3 May).  Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice and Paul Ready as Benedick in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Royal Exchange Theatre until 3 May). Photo – Jonathan Keenan.

A very fine production, full of verve and vim, of what is undoubtedly the greatest screwball comedy of them all.

As added spice, though he is actually an essential ingredient, it has a delicious baddie and a genuine bastard in the form of Don John.  His malice acts as a sort of seasoning: it stops the romances from becoming tasteless and bland.  Iago and Richard III are similar types, shitstirrers Shakespearean style.  He relished their diabolical scheming, and we do too, don’t we?

Rich in abrasive wit (betwixt Benedick and Beatrice) and heartfelt emotion (Claudio and Hero), it is a play that cannot help but amuse and move, especially when done as well as here.

A sweet triumph.

Much Ado about Nothing is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 3 May, further details can be found here.

 

Orfeo ed Euridice

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Orfeo ed Euridice

By Christoph Willibald Gluck

Manchester Cathedral, 28 March 2014

Orpheus, distraught with grief, pleads for the return of his dead love.

He goes down to the depths of Hades to get her back.  In most versions of the myth, notably Rilke’s great poem (which should be read alongside his ‘Requiem’), Orpheus is unsuccessful but in Gluck’s baroque masterpiece he triumphs.

It was an extraordinary privilege to experience this opera in the sacred confines of Manchester Cathedral, amid candlelight, pools of shadow and myriad iconograpy depicting another, a more significant overcoming of death.

Yet wherever and whenever you see Gluck’s opera, may you meet an Orpheus as moving, as stricken with loss and desperate for reunion, as Heather Lowe.  She played the lead role superbly and plucked at the audience’s heartstrings as sublimely as Orpheus at his lyre.

A memorable evening.

The Past

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The Past

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

France, 2013

Cornerhouse, 30 March 2014

The Past

There is a honesty about this film that I very much like: call it a fidelity to complexity or a refusal to simplify.

They are on the verge of divorce, Ahmad and Marie, yet there’s a vestige of passion still.  While Samir (Tahar Rahim, who played the young guy in The Prophet), Marie’s boyfriend/prospective partner, continues to carry a flame for his wife, who is in a coma.

The unfolding events are realistic yet revelatory, providing an explanation for the family tensions.

Two points of note: one, the children’s concerns have parity with the adults’; two, these people argue, shout, become passionate, but there is very little (I can’t quite say ‘no’) violence.  The bond of love is always present.

The Past is a moving, meticulously crafted film – compare, as a for instance, the final scene with the scene where Samir and Marie are driving in his car: the way the two couple’s hands are interwoven.

Splendid performances.  Wonderfully made.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Chamber Choir

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Chamber Choir

Bridgewater Hall, 26 March 2014

Each work is a masterpiece.

Few can remain unmoved by Messiaen’s Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum.  The sense of urgency – certain sounds suggest the ticking of a clock, the tolling of bells, others industrial-scale slaughter, a rising casualty count – is palpable.  And the emphatic silence between each movement, an integral part of the work, becomes at the end overwhelming.  Solemn and sublime.

If Messiaen’s work is altogether mysterious and strange still, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time is more straightforward.  We are in familiar territory: a format like Handel’s Messiah, a setting of Negro Spirituals, a Pieta for the victims of war and prejudice.  It is an epic work and this sumptuous staging – RNCM chorus and chamber choir in attendance – amply brought it to life.

A very fine concert.

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