viernes, 8 de mayo de 2015

Bones + Longing, Gemma Hayes

Album Review

Laughter opens the latest Gemma Hayes' album Bones + Longing almost as a mission statement. This new version of There's Only Love (Let it Break, 2012) conveys Hayes strengths: emotional raw vocals, going intentionally heavy on production and subtly crossing to poetic territory with the lyrics. The journey continues with the hopeful I Dreamt You Were Fine that introduces the guitar riffs this Irish singer songwriter has accustomed us to since the very beginning of her career. Iona and To Be Your Honey fit in this work as loving mantras. Palomino is pure Hayes, that sweet preference for 'quiet ones' at the rhythm of a timeless melody reminiscent of Cathy Davey's The Nameless. Joy and Making My Way Back are the proof heartbreak is not always required to write a good love song; neither do you need to be cheesy. This album is for those who enjoyed the delicate vocals in The Hollow of Morning and the electronic sound and honest words contained in Let It Break. Bones + Longing is an authentic chanting to love, kindness and happiness close to Death Cab For Cutie in its sound combined with Hayes' personal glass to look through; noticing people and the world around her. It is the perfect soundtrack to elevate a small event or a well-known landscape to the 'special' category. Hayes confirms herself as one essential voice in the Irish indie scene with a well-crafted work that can be judged by its cover, a minimalistic and expressive work of art, which hides a meaning for each of us. Though it needs to be said Bones + Longing is an intensely personal work and may leave listeners who are not on the same wavelength feeling left out.

sábado, 2 de mayo de 2015

Granuaille: Queen of Storms, O’Brien Press


The Irish Constitution states that women give, by staying at home, a support to the State "without which the common good cannot be achieved". One has to wonder what pirate Queen Gráinne Ní Mháille would say about modern day Ireland; in which we seem to have undone what she achieved as a female citizen in the 16th century.

At a young age Ní Mháille became a leader of her clan in Connacht, running the trading and shipping business after her father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille. Granuaille was a powerful figure, an independent thinker and a fearless protector of Gaelic society.
Granuaille: Queen of Storms is the second in a series of incursions by O’Brien Press into Irish folklore through the graphic novel format. The comic explores some of her personal tragedies and some historical events which have contributed to give an air of legend to her reputation as a ferocious pirate. As the comic depicts, Gráinne Ní Mháille's life was linked to adventure and foreign expeditions, but also to violence and loss.
Her role as the clan leader meant resisting the constant attack of Sir Richard Bingham, English governor of Connacht, in a time when the Empire fought incessantly to control the Ireland beyond the pale. Granuaille always stayed loyal to her principles despite the obstacles she encountered. Where she confronted the distrust and had to control the disagreements coming from advisors close to her father and later to her.
Granuaille is a strong female character with principles, a strength Dave Hendrick exploits efficiently in this story. Hendrick pitches an idea about a real feminist leader, an intelligent move considering the amount of young female readers out there. The research and the highlights presented in this book seem to represent fairly, although taking some creative license, what Granuaille achieved.  It’s a good introductory tale, but perhaps the low page count, under seventy, makes it difficult for the story to breathe and be fully self-contained. We come across a couple of jumps in time, ellipsis in the narration and flashbacks that may lose the reader momentarily.
The book's artwork reveals Luca Pizzarí's excellent qualities for character design. The storytelling through images is not flawless, some of the sequential art requires some revision to be accomplished at a hundred percent. Although this doesn't stop the artist creating a world of pirates, storms and political turmoil and wrapping it up with a cover that elevates his main character to the level of heroine.
A special mention should go to Dee Cuniffe's colours, who experiments with an old fashioned look for this book, very suitable for a historical graphic novel. The colours fit perfectly with Pizzari's expressive and detailed panels. Cunniffe's palette, full of greens and blues for Ireland and reds and oranges for the ‘invaders’ are a testimony to the knowledge he has of his craft.
Unluckily Peter Marry's lettering doesn't integrate as well as the other graphic elements in this book. The general appearance of this otherwise very attractive edition suffers the lack of creativity in this area and the perhaps overlooked lettering process (at least from the graphic point of view).
The creative team behind Granuaille: Queen of Storms is formed by Dave Hendrick, Luca Pizzari and Dee Cunniffe. Hendrick, has published web comics for almost six years and has played an important role in the organisation of the Dublin International Comic Expo (DICE) and the Cork Comic Expo 2015. Pizzari has recently been hired by Marvel to illustrate a Spider-Man Special series and Secret Wars Journal #2. Dee Cuniffe, who does the colours in this project, is a flatter for some of the most important colourists at an international level.

Granuaille: Queen of Storms is an inspiring look into Irish folklore, seemingly suffering the absence of an editor with more experience in graphic novels. These circumstances, a natural consequence to the Arts Council funding cuts affecting comic books publishing in Ireland, may be the cause of a less polished edition when compared to Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chullain, the first in a series of Irish legend/historical graphic novels launched by O'Brien Press.

This is not a children's book, it is clearly aimed at a young adult and an adult audience, able to understand the historical value of exploring this character. Also the violence contained in the illustrations, a reflection of the times Ní Mháille lived in, would make it unsuitable for a younger reader. 
In a society with a lack of trustworthy leaders, reading about such a stimulating character in Irish history is a must. This graphic novel is a good way to approach the character for the first time. It will definitely spark your curiosity about Granuaille, a figure who tried to protect the cultural wealth of the emerald island until her last breath.

lunes, 27 de abril de 2015



Glassland is the story of a son acting as a parent. It is a tale about the heart-breaking effects of exchanging roles because of addiction. “You are a good boy”, says Jean to her son John. A son who certainly gains the sympathy of the audience by trying to find his mother in the monster she has turned into; in that insensitive and self-centred addict who rejects anything and anybody else but her handsome and caring son.

John (Jack Reynor) works long hours as a taxi driver to support his family. These days he is not able to recognise Jean (Toni Collette) who has fallen into alcoholism. He takes care of her the best way he can, but she is killing herself slowly, passing out drinking and becoming this animalistic addict who lives only to have that one last drink. The nature of John´s work and the shame of asking anyone for help to save Jean from her self-dug hole of desperation, make him a lonesome individual. He transforms into a man unable to give away much about his feelings and his real circumstances, even to those seemingly closer to him. John lives in Tallaght, in a terraced house, but he is detached from the world.

Director Gerard Barrett makes an honest incursion into the loneliness that comes with handling a traumatic experience such as this. It passes a few days in these characters´ home, makes them talk and explain, not just with words, what it´s like to live with an alcoholic -or a heroin addict, or a cocaine user…- and watch the destruction they are bringing upon themselves. Collette gives life to a character we don’t feel for, but who we hope recovers for the sake and efforts of her devoted son.

Glassland is set in Dublin, in Tallaght to be more precise, but it´s a movie that could have been filmed anywhere. When addiction hits a family, the way to deal with it, the wish of wiping everything away and a fresh start is all common ground. As much as it is the isolation that takes over whoever is fighting the battles to recover a relative from their illness.

The orange lamppost light, the raindrops in the windshield and a bitter cold air allow us to recognise Dublin in this film. But it also helps to set the tone for a frank and hard story about the reality of being in charge of someone´s life, even though the natural order says you should be the one still being taken care of. This is not a difficult watch because of the violence on screen or the dramatic scenes. The silence and the contained anguish we can see in John´s eyes speak up more than any more violent interaction between him and his mother.

Those traditionally dramatic passages leave a mark on the viewer. John’s recording with his mobile phone or his speech to convince Jean to check into a rehab centre. But the most disturbing moments come from a domestic setting such as having a glass of wine and a chat with your mum. Who is this stranger he is taking care of?

Glassland is a singular movie because of the way it came together, it was filmed in sixteen days and it managed to get Colette to play one of the main roles. Certainly the clarity about what the story should be like and the freedom enjoyed by its director does this film a great favour, and so does the outstanding acting featured in it.

Barrett doesn’t use a soundtrack in the conventional sense. He does experiment with the sound and editing to create tension. This manipulation of the background noise, the dead silence and the louder interactions puzzled together make this film an unsettling tale that will leave the cinema with you. Glassland will challenge you with elements of your own, close or hopefully not that close, dysfunctional family.  

martes, 17 de marzo de 2015

Reading at the Movies


Let me set the scene: November 2006, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is about to start in a half-full screening in Cineworld. The narration of this unconventional fairy tale commences and the subtitles begin to appear. Then some random guy shouts at the screen: “Oh, come on! I don’t want to have to read the movie!” Guy walks out of the cinema. Can this event be taken as a microcosm of Ireland’s treatment of foreign cinema?

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) was launched a few days back, and as any other year many cinema fans will lay out a plan to watch as many movies as possible at the festival; they know they’ll have no access to some of those at a commercial screening again. The question here should be if Ireland is partly disconnected from European and world cinema. Dublin is one of the cities with the highest attendance per capita in Europe. Are distributors willing to offer varied cinema programming to this numerous audience?

The JDIFF is an opportunity to see Italian, Danish, Brazilian, Romanian, Ethiopian and an endless list of other nationalities represented in the screens all over Dublin. Looking at the IFCO website (www.ifco.ie), for wider releases from March until May we see a very different picture. There are about 40 movies with confirmed dates. From these titles the 75% are films in English, seven of them come from the UK and four from Ireland. Nearly half of the remainder are Japanese animation movies and the other 12.5% are productions from Italy, Argentina or Sweden coming to our screens nearly a year after they have been released in their country of origin.

There are other ways to enjoy foreign film in Dublin. We have the French Film Festival at the IFI, or the premieres organised also in collaboration with the French cultural institute, the Alliance Française. Mood Indigo (2013) by Michel Gondry comes to mind as one of the events that was successfully organised under their auspices. Also, initiatives do exist, such as the film club CineCafé, a collaboration between Instituto Cervantes (the Spanish cultural centre) and the Pearse Public Library, to give the chance to watch cinema in Spanish regularly. Or the Short Shorts from Europe Festival organised by EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) shown at the IFI and the Cork Film Festival, showcasing the best short films of the year from a wide range of European countries. However these are few and far between and do not benefit from widespread publicity.

The Lighthouse Cinema, mostly dedicated to commercial art movies and international cinema opened in 2008 after a twelve years break, in its new location in Smithfield. After three years, the Lighthouse experienced financial problems that forced their founders to take a new break until 2012 when they reopened its doors again. This third time, the programme included some commercial titles and the cinema has traded successfully since. Why was it impossible for the Lighthouse to survive with solely art and international programming?

And then of course you have the already mentioned IFI, where you may be able to watch a variety of foreign, as not-in-English, movies. A pretty skimpy selection some may think, that combined with Cineworld’s offer can help you approach those more successful titles. But, the IFI brings scarcely a representation of what is in offer in the continent and the timing just doesn’t feel right sometimes. Think about Persepolis (2007), one of those European films of incredible success. The adaptation of the best-selling graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, won the Jury Prize in Cannes. However, the release date in Ireland was almost a year later than in France.

Last year the screening of The Wind Rises during the Japanese Film Festival at the Lighthouse, was absolutely packed and I wonder if that is a good indicative about the audience in Ireland or at least Dublin being ready to watch foreign films, whether they have to read them or not… Although Japanese animation seems to have a healthy representation in the commercial screenings in Dublin, perhaps due to their having an English dubbed version (as opposed to just a subtitled version) available at the time of its release.

Whether the guy in Pan’s Labyrinth is the ‘man in the street’ or he does not represent the local audience, is that risky for a distributor to follow the trends of other capitals in Europe? Is it so alien to allow for successful titles at International festivals to be shown in Dublin?

The Europa Cinema’s, the international network of the cinemas for the circulation of European films, exists as a distribution channel through the IFI and the Arts Centres throughout the country. So we may not be only talking about a distribution issue. Perhaps the media have a part in this lack of interest in subtitled films being available. Educating the audience is giving them the chance to see and appreciate different productions; this may be the key to a wider access to European and world cinema.

sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2014

The Blessing of the Irish Star


Irish cinema deserves a chance. But often we see extremely positive reviews promising the moon. What happens next is: viewers come out of the movie either slightly or greatly disappointed. Let’s just settle this upfront: a four to five star movie is technically acceptable, has decent acting and a well-plotted story. This is the bare minimum. If any of those elements fails, the others have to be outstanding for a film to remain in the ‘very good’ category.

Just a few weeks ago, Niall Heery´s Gold received four stars in The Irish Times. Heery’s second production (after Small Engine Repair, 2006) is fine; but the script is not accomplished enough to be worthy of a very good review. The funny fact is that even that positive review points out “there’s not a great deal of plot to the piece”. The reviewer had a job to do, and this wasn't to be too kind.

Going back a few years, let’s take The Runway, (Ian Power, 2011). Film Ireland paired it with The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011): “between this and The Guard, it looks like 2011 will be a great year for Irish cinema”. The Runway didn’t accomplish any of The Guard’s success in the box office. Even in this review, there are remarks about certain flaws in the script. The Runway was a breath of fresh air but again a solid three stars movie, nothing more. It's understandable a small industry invites self-censoring on the part of critics, but this shouldn't translate into back patting.

It’s been seven years since John Carney’s Once hit Irish cinemas. Carney’s first feature film was considered “an unexpected treasure” by RTÉ within weeks of its release. The Irish Times also gave it a four star rating calling it "irresistibly appealing". Is Once an enjoyable and original approach to the musical genre? Yes, definitely. But Carney’s musical featured two lead actors outside their comfort zone while not playing music, which is not completely ignored in RTÉ’s review: “Once has wonderfully natural performances from the two leads. Although musicians first and actors second”. Once presents some continuity and technical goofs, one of the obvious ones is the drummer looking into the camera in the studio scene. Carney’s film gained the 'very good' classification with an okay story, acceptable acting and being technically sufficient, which shouldn’t have elevated it to the altars of the four and five stars.

We have mentioned three enjoyable movies, and certainly small victories within an industry that doesn’t produce twenty feature films every year as per the information available Irish Film Board website. Picking out names of media giving away an extra star, ‘the Irish star’ may not be seen as constructive criticism. But, it needs to be said, a non-reliable review makes the audience jaded about local cinema and it doesn’t allow for honest feedback to reach the creators.

Partly because of extremely positive reviews, the audience doesn’t consider Irish productions a safe choice; let’s not forget going to the movies may be a once a month occasion for an average family. Over appreciation discredits the critic, but never mind that, the movie industry is the one that suffers the most.  Balanced criticism is the only valid path for Irish cinema to win a place in the entertainment market, and to gain back the trust of its audience.

jueves, 30 de octubre de 2014

Shiver the Whole Night Through

Book Review

Shiver the Whole Night Through is the first Young Adult (YA) novel by Darragh McManus, best known as a crime writer. McManus’s book is ambitious in the themes, as it goes into consequences of bullying and even touches superficially on the topic of teenaged suicide. It does so through a noir-supernatural-horror-romance combination.
Aidan Flood is a teenager on the verge of committing suicide. He has good reasons to be depressed, but a traumatic experience makes him delay his attempt and eventually changes his mind about ending his life. After a local beauty, Sláine, is found dead, Aidan tries to confirm the causes of her death. Something tells him she did not commit suicide as the Guards think; she doesn’t strike him as the type. In his search for the truth, he receives help from Sláine who comes from the other side, falls for her -as this new non-corporeal being- and discovers the secret history of his hometown and its spooky forest, Shook Woods.

McManus mentions in the foreword that there is a soundtrack to the book, with melancholic and even spooky songs to help to set the eerie tone for those reading. As in this foreword, there are several moments where I see the writer not letting the story explain itself. There are certain occasions, in Aidan's transformation as a character -suggested by his actions and thoughts- that McManus has a tendency to over explain. The way some scenes are picked apart is distracting, especially since such explanations may not be needed by a sharp reader.

Shiver the Whole Night Through, whose title is taken from a Nirvana song, does set a depressing and later a scary tone, which is diluted a few chapters in. At this point, romance and the inherent Irish humour lighten the events, soften the tone and even brighten up the story. Aidan finds in Sláine that someone he thinks he can trust and finds himself as the protagonist of quite a fantastical story (with supernatural, horror and noir elements) from which he doesn't want to escape.

The narration is done through Aidan, his thoughts and what he sees. It is a fact the reader is able to put two and two together, well before the character admits something to himself. But this doesn't steal any credibility to the character, who becomes more mature and confident gradually, and it’s consistently well written.

The action lacks pace. The story takes a few days to get going -the novel is set in a period of several months- and the plot seems to drag around a couple of times until we confront the final conflict and resolution. It explores the changes in Aidan's life, how he recovers his self-esteem and becomes a hero in the traditional sense (with a little help from his friends).

You can appreciate McManus decision of setting the story in Ireland and do it with all its consequences. He uses Irish names, expressions and even references to some stereotypes about Irish people, like not doing "emotional honesty” with members of your family. This is a brave choice, since a vague location may help a YA novel, at least from the distribution and selling point of view.

Shiver the Whole Night Through is an ambitious book. It succeeds to define its characters. Although the mixture of genres works out fine with the tone of the story, in some cases it operates as a distraction for the reader to solve this supernatural puzzle.

The Mariner

Theatre Review


There is no hiding place in the set decoration for The Mariner. The action occurs on a naked stage with a sole chair, an old portrait and a change of clothes suspended from the ceiling. The stage resembles the hold of a ship, conferring it with a cold look. The three actors remain on stage at all times, turning their backs to the audience when they are not involved in the action.

Peter Shanley (Sam O’Mahony), a Royal Navy sailor, is sent home after the World War 1 Battle of Jutland in the North Sea. He carries a letter in which very little is explained about the circumstances for being discharged.  He is unable to speak and his head is covered in bandages. The state he is in causes two very disparate reactions in his wife, Sally; and his mum, Mrs. Shanley. It’s as if he was two different men. Sally (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) is happy to see her husband again, who she barely got to know before his enlistment. Mrs. Shanley (Ingrid Craigie) is convinced the sailor is not her son and constantly looks for proof of the intruder's identity.

The tension builds throughout the play around the figure of the sailor, whose uncertain identity creates a conflict between two members of his family. And also, what we could consider the symbols of two generations: one who calls for freedom in the year of the Easter Rising; the other who is in favour of the Empire.

The mariner regains his ability to speak in the course of the play, a progress that reveals the splendid text by Hugo Hamilton. Words are the only protective shield left to the actors. The words that intensify the conflict and make the audience uneasy with a question: who is this man interrupting Sally and Mrs. Shanley’s life?

Sally is a loving wife who sweetly undresses her husband and helps him to become the man she once knew. She tries to make him remember and infuses the scene with passion, tender feelings and caring gestures. The couple’s swing on stage represents all of this, and a memory of their time together as husband and wife before his departure. She personifies the hope for the new, for change, for better things to come.

Mrs. Shanley is obsessed, needs reassurance about her son’s identity and seems almost inclined to believe anything but that Peter has returned home safe and sound. She holds ont0 the old ways and would prefer if no change would occur at the end of her life.

Dwyer Hogg holds a significant weight in the performance. She is convinced the sailor is Peter and happily welcomes the love of her life, gone for a long time. Craigie answers this situation with distrust and anger that she directs to that man whom she doesn’t believe to be her son.  As the story moves forward, the mariner becomes a civilian and finds again his own voice, which inevitably will result in one of the other characters to be expelled from the scene.

A hidden picture of the Royal Navy sailor found by Hugo Hamilton as a child, of who he thought it was his dad’s father (The Speckled People, 2003) inspires a compelling story about what war does to men, and what comes back from it.

The sounds of a town, of the harbour and a few minimalistic piano pieces complete this atmospheric play. A piece invaded by a claustrophobic feeling despite being performed on a stage populated just by words.