Category Archives: Film

THE EXTRAORDINARY GENIUS OF DONAL MCCANN ON STAGE ·

(Derek O’Connor’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 9/23.)

Derek O’Connor remembers the actor, who was a giant of Irish theatre

I never saw Diego Maradona play football. I never saw Nijinsky dance. And I never saw Miles Davis play the horn.

But baby, I saw Donal McCann act.

So, you know what? Fundamentally, I’m good.

I’m not quite sure that they make actors like Donal McCann any more. I’m not quite sure that they ever did. Twenty years after his passing, McCann is far from forgotten. Talk to anyone with a passing knowledge of Irish theatre, and chances are that they’ll acknowledge him as a giant, one of the greats, a master of the form.

But then talk to someone who witnessed him ply his trade – scratch that, his vocation – and the tone changes to one of reverence, of something resembling awe, a single question left unspoken . . . How did he do that?

I came to the party late. The first time I saw McCann onstage was in a Gate Theatre production of Juno And The Paycock, playing Seán O’Casey’s poetic wastrel Captain Boyle. Little more than a decade later, he would be dead at the ridiculously early age of 56, from pancreatic cancer. I didn’t see him on purpose, either – I was on a school trip. Juno was (as it remains now) on the Leaving Certificate curriculum. An enthusiastic English teacher – one Declan Fitzpatrick – insisted we experienced the work onstage.

Captain Boyle is one of the great archetypes, in that the character so exquisitely personifies a particular strain of Irish male, as prevalent now as ever. With a pitch-perfect wingman in the shape of John Kavanagh’s wired and wiry Joxer Daly, McCann’s Boyle was both pantomime turn and Falstaffian tragedy, sometimes within the same scene, sometimes within the same sentence. I had never – and have never since – seen anyone so utterly alive on the stage. How did he do that?

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Photo: The Irish Times

THE RELEASE OF OLEG SENTSOV AND THE PLIGHT OF THOSE LEFT BEHIND ·

(Masha Gessen’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 9/10.)

Russia released its most famous prisoner on Saturday. Oleg Sentsov, a forty-three-year-old Crimean journalist and film director, returned to Ukraine after serving five years of a twenty-year sentence. He was one of thirty-five Ukrainian citizens released by Russia in exchange for Ukraine freeing an equal number of Russian citizens. Human-rights groups around the world, activists, and some politicians had been working to draw attention to Sentsov’s case since he was arrested, in May, 2014. In a moment when the U.S. government appears to have dropped human rights from its international agenda, Sentsov’s story shows that a concerted international effort on behalf of one man can still yield results, but it also highlights the limitations of such efforts. Several dozen more Ukrainian citizens, sentenced on equally spurious charges, remain in Russian prisons.

Sentsov was convicted of terrorism ostensibly for setting fires to the doors of the offices of the ruling Russian party, United Russia, in Crimea, and plotting to blow up a monument to Lenin. The prosecution provided no evidence of Sentsov’s participation in either the fires (an established part of radical protests in Russia, usually regarded as crimes against property) or a plot to destroy the monument. The court offered no explanation for why an alleged plot to blow up an inanimate object was viewed as terrorism.

Sentsov was born in Crimea, in an ethnic Russian family. Like most Crimeans, he grew up speaking Russian, but, like an apparent minority of them, he identified strongly as a Ukrainian citizen, and opposed the Russian occupation. He took part in the revolutionary movement that brought down the Ukrainian President, in February, 2014. At the conclusion of his trial, he declined to ask the Russian court for leniency, because, he said, he did not recognize its authority over him.

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Photograph by Ovsyannikova Yulia / Ukrinform / ZUMA

SONDHEIM:  RICHARD LINKLATER’S ‘MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG’ TO BE FILMED OVER 20-YEAR SPAN ·

(Mia Galuppo’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 8/29; via the Drudge Report.)

Blake Jenner, Beanie Feldstein and Ben Platt will star in an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical ‘Merrily We Roll Along.’

 Beanie Feldstein, Blake Jenner and Ben Platt will star in an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along.

Richard Linklater will be directing the project, which is being backed by Blumhouse, and will shoot over a 20-year span. The director shot his Oscar-winning Boyhood over 12 years.

The much-beloved musical, based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, follows Franklin Shepard, a talented composer of Broadway musicals that abandons his friends and career to become a producer of Hollywood movies. The story begins at the height of his Hollywood fame and moves backwards in time, showing important moments in Frank’s life.

Jenner will portray Shepard, while Feldstein will play Shepard’s friend, theater critic Mary Flynn.

Ginger Sledge will produce with Jason Blum for Blumhouse, along with Jonathan Marc Sherman and Linklater.

Principal photography has been completed for the first segment of the film.

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Photo: Justjared.com

ITALY’S ‘GENIUS’ FILM DIRECTOR FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI DIES ·

(Frank Iovene’s article appeared on AFP, 6/15.)

Rome (AFP) – The world of cinema was in mourning Saturday after Italian film and opera legend Franco Zeffirelli, feted for his lavish productions, died at home in Rome aged 96.

The Oscar-nominated director of movies and operas “died serenely after a long illness, which had worsened these last months,” Italian media said, citing family members.

“I never wanted this day to come. Franco Zeffirelli departed this morning. One of the greatest men in the world of culture. We join in the grief of his loved ones. Goodbye, dear Master, Florence will never forget you,” tweeted Dario Nardella, mayor of the Tuscan city where ZeffirelliZeffirelli was born.

“Deep emotion over the death of the master Franco Zeffirelli,” tweeted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after Zeffirelli died in the presence of adopted sons Pippo and Luciano along with a doctor and a priest.

Afflicted by pneumonia for some time, Zeffirelli received the last rites last week, media reports said.

He was, Conte said, “an Italian ambassador of cinema, of art, of beauty. A great film maker, scriptwriter, scenographer. A great man of culture.”

(Read more)

Photo: BBC

QUENTIN TARANTINO: HOW SPAGHETTI WESTERNS SHAPED MODERN CINEMA ·

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(Tarantino’s article appeared in the Spectator, 3/30.)

The movie that made me consider filmmaking, the movie that showed me how a director does what he does, how a director can control a movie through his camera, is Once Upon a Time in the West. It was almost like a film school in a movie. It really illustrated how to make an impact as a filmmaker. How to give your work a signature. I found myself completely fascinated, thinking: ‘That’s how you do it.’ It ended up creating an aesthetic in my mind.

There have only been a few filmmakers who have gone into an old genre and created a new universe out of it. I really like the idea of creating something new out of an old genre. To some degree, Jean-Pierre Melville did it with the French gangster films. But those Italian guys — Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Duccio Tessari and Franco Giraldi — did it best. They mostly started off as critics and worked their way up to screenwriters. And then they became the second unit guys, the guys that deliver the action. You have to go to the French New Wave to find a group of men who loved cinema as much as they did — except Leone and the others had a thriving film industry they could work their way into.

Leone’s movies weren’t just influenced by style. There was also a realism to them: those shitty Mexican towns, the little shacks — a bit bigger to accommodate the camera — all the plates they put the beans on, the big wooden spoons. The films were so realistic, which had always seemed to be missing in the westerns of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, in the brutality and the different shades of grey and black. Leone found an even darker black and off-white. There is realism in his presentation of the Civil War in The Good, the Bad and the Uglythat was missing from all the Civil War movies that happened before him. Wild and grandiose as it was, there was never a sentimental streak. Every once in a while he would do a sentimental thing like when the Man with No Name would hand a smoke to a dying soldier in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but that’s just about as close to sentimentality as he got.

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BIBI ANDERSSON, SWEDISH ACTRESS AND MUSE OF INGMAR BERGMAN, DIES AT 83 ·

(Harrison Smith’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 4/14.)

Bibi Andersson, a Swedish actress whose portrayals of chaste schoolgirls, beguiling young women and tortured wives made her a muse and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, most notably in “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Persona,” died April 14 in Stockholm. She was 83.

Her death was confirmed by Jan Goransson, head of media at the Swedish Film Institute, who said she had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in 2009. Additional details were not immediately available.

Easily recognizable by her short blonde hair, button nose, slim figure and wide smile, Ms. Andersson appeared in more than 100 film and television productions through the years, often playing luminous characters whose warm demeanor masked past traumas or intense self-doubt.

Although she starred in Hollywood movies such as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in the 1970s, working with American directors such as John Huston (“The Kremlin Letter”) and Robert Altman (“Quintet”), she never attained the spectacular success she found in Sweden, where Goransson called her “one of the greatest stars we ever had.”

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INGMAR BERGMAN, NOVELIST ·

(Daniel Mendelsohn’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 4/18.)

The Best Intentions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 298 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Sunday’s Children

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 153 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Private Confessions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 160 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Toward the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical film Fanny and Alexander, a beautiful young boy wanders into a beautiful room. The room is located in a rambling Uppsala apartment belonging to the boy’s widowed grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, once a famous actress and now the matriarch of a spirited and noisy theater family. As the camera follows the boy, Alexander, we note the elaborate fin-de-siècle decor, the draperies with their elaborate swags, the rich upholstery and carpets, the pictures crowding the walls, all imbued with the warm colors that, throughout the first part of the film, symbolize the Ekdahls’ warm (when not overheated) emotional lives. Later, after the death of Alexander’s kind-hearted father, Oscar, who is the lead actor of the family troupe, his widow rather inexplicably marries a stern bishop into whose bleak residence she and her children must move. At this point, the film’s visual palette will be leached of color and life; everything will be gray, black, coldly white.

But for now, vivacity and sensuality and even fantasy reign. On a mantelpiece, an elaborate gilt clock ticks, its golden cherubs preparing their mechanized dance. Nearby, a life-sized white marble statue of a nude woman catches the boy’s eye. When he blinks, she seems, Galatea-like, to come to life, one arm moving as if to beckon him to pleasures he has not yet even imagined; he blinks again, and the statue is just a statue once more. At that moment a violent rattling wakes him from his reverie: the maid is pouring coal into a stove.

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HIGH SCHOOL ‘ALIEN’ PRODUCTION WINS INTERNET RAVES ·

(Dave Itzkoff’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/25.)

There are those perennial stage works that are perfectly suited to be performed in high schools across the country every year: say, “Our Town,” “The Crucible,” “Annie” or “The Wizard of Oz.”

And now, to this canon, you might add “Alien.”

A New Jersey high school has found itself the unexpected recipient of online acclaim and viral attention for its recent stage production of “Alien,” the 1979 science-fiction thriller.

“Alien: The Play,” presented last weekend by the drama club of North Bergen High School, starred a cast of eight students in the film roles originally played by Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Ian Holm.

Whereas the movie had a budget in the range of about $10 million, “Alien: The Play” had costumes, props and set designs made mostly from donated and recycled materials.

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Photo: Daily Mail

 

RUSSIA’S ANNA KARENINA MUSICAL TO BE SHOWN IN U.S. AND UK CINEMAS ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 3 /4.)

People living in America and the UK will be able to watch Russia’s best-selling musical, Anna Karenina, staged by Moscow’s Operetta Theater. The performance will be shown throughout this month (in Russian with English subtitles).

The musical premiered in 2016 and its producer Alexei Bolonin spent much of the noughties staging licensed Western musicals on Russian soil including Metro, Notre Dame de Paris, and Romeo & Juliette.

“Tolstoy’s novel like no other is suited for a musical because it has all the necessary ingredients, most importantly, a love story,” Bolonin said.

Turning the famous Russian writer’s masterpiece into a musical was a little risky because addressing the book’s philosophical themes on stage is no easy task. However, it includes many direct quotes from the novel and all the important moments are reflected in the lyrics.

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ALBERT FINNEY, LEGENDARY STAR OF TOM JONES AND MILLER’S CROSSING, DIES AGED 82 ·

(Andrew Pulver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/8; via Pam Green.)

Albert Finney, who forged his reputation as one of the leading actors of Britain’s early 60s new wave cinema, has died aged 82 after a short illness, his family have announced. In 2011, he disclosed he had kidney cancer.

Albert Finney: the most almighty physical screen presence

A publicist told the Guardian that Finney died on Thursday of a chest infection at the Royal Marsden hospital, which specialises in cancer treatment, just outside London. His wife, Pene, and son, Simon, were by his side.

Having shot to fame as the star of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Finney received five Oscar nominations, but never won, and refused a knighthood.

Speaking to the Guardian, Daniel Craig – who starred in Skyfall, Finney’s final film, in which he played a gamekeeper from James Bond’s childhood – said:

“I’m deeply saddened by the news of Albert Finney’s passing. The world has lost a giant. Wherever Albert is now, I hope there are horses and good company.”

The director of that film, Sam Mendes, added: “It is desperately sad news that Albert Finney has gone. He really was one of the greats – a brilliant, beautiful, big-hearted, life loving delight of a man. He will be terribly missed.”

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Photo: Mumby at the Movies