Tag Archives: Brendan Gleeson

Silently Screaming

The Banshees of Inisherin

by Hope Madden

Everything was fine yesterday.

Droll, dry and on point, that is the perfect tagline for Martin McDonagh’s latest bittersweet tragicomedy, The Banshees of Inisherin.

Existential dread picks up a brogue and a fiddle full of longing at JJ Devine’s Public House on an island off the West coast of Ireland in 1923. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) has finished up with his sheep, horses, and beloved miniature donkey, Jenny. He heads today as every day to round up his best friend Colm Sunday Larry Doherty (Brendan Gleeson, perfect as always) for a pint.

But Colm ignores him. He just sits there, like.

Have they been rowing?

Pádraic doesn’t think they’ve been rowing.

It turns out that Colm has simply decided he doesn’t want to be Patraic’s friend anymore. The ripple effects of this decision are often hilarious, but just as often tragic and even awful. As Pádraic goes about trying to understand, reconnect, and change Colm’s mind we get to know the rest of the folk on the island as the Irish Civil War continues to rage.

It’s a microcosm, simultaneously intimate and universal. More than that, it’s a breathing example of the mournful humor and heritage of the Irish.

Barry Keoghan, honestly one of the most impressive actors working today, plays a little bent as the island’s main fool, Dominic Kearney. I don’t think there’s a performance in the film that won’t break your heart in one degree or another, Keoghan’s among them.

Kerry Condon’s Siobhan, Pádraic’s clear-eyed sister, is the fiery soul of McDonagh’s tale. As you might expect with a cast like this, it’s the chemistry among characters – the lived-in, weary familiarity bred by proximity– that lets McDonagh’s witty screenplay breathe. Gleeson’s soulful artist, Condon’s sharp realist, Keoghan’s lost soul, and especially Farrell’s nice fella orbit each other in a world quickly and irreversibly undone.

Carter Burwell’s camera and Ben Davis’s score remind you that the film is rooted in Irish mourning and melancholy, but McDonagh’s script still crackles with humor and pathos. And it contains maybe the best scene in a confessional ever.

Moments call to mind John Michael McDonaugh’s 2014 treasure Calvary, another Irish heartbreaker starring Gleeson. But McDonagh’s humor and insider’s perspective create something charmingly, achingly relatable.

The Banshees of Inisherin mines a kind of pain uncommon on a big screen. In Martin McDonaugh fashion, the mining is done with wit, insight, humanity and absolutely world-class acting. It must not be missed.

Great Scot!

The Tragedy of Macbeth

by Hope Madden

Coen brother Joel delivers a vision that’s both decidedly theatrical and profoundly cinematic with his solo directorial effort, The Tragedy of Macbeth.

This film is gorgeous, in an almost Bergman manner. Hardly aesthetic for aesthetic’s sake, in true Coen fashion, every inch of screen is dedicated to a purpose. The square aspect ratio, off-kilter framing and specific use of black and white add to the film’s look of madness. Up is down, black is white, and the ground is always moving beneath your feet.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the Lord and his Lady and this, friends, is a dream team. Two of the most celebrated and talented actors of modern cinema square off. The veterans give the relationship a depth that tinges the eventual madness with grief.

Washington humanizes Macbeth with a turn full of pathos. And no soliloquy, no matter how well-worn by time and pop culture, feels stale in McDormand’s bloody hands. The adaptation and cast forego lust for something deeper and more tender, but that tradeoff does rob the film of some excitement. If there is a chink in Macbeth’s armor, it is the muted emotion of it.

A supporting cast including Brendan Gleeson, Bertie Carvel, Harry Melling, Stephen Root and Ralph Ineson impresses scene after scene. A slippery Alex Hassell is particularly memorable as Ross, but Corey Hawkins’s powerful turn as Macduff is the film’s biggest surprise.  

Let us pause a moment on the witches. The spectral sisters are played by Kathryn Hunter: spellbinding, contorted and unsettling. Her voice and image poison the beauty onscreen as they poison the mind of the Scot. The choice is inspired.

It’s not the only one. Coen’s writing — or editing, as he adapts the Bard – is precise and pointed. When is it not? Coen’s venture into Shakespeare, though it strips away the humor and quirk you may associate with Coen Brother filmmaking, stands as a strikingly Coen film. And that has never one time been a bad thing.

Do You Remember Me?


by Hope Madden

A loosely structured day-in-the-life, writer/director Ira Sachs’s Frankie drops in on a family vacation in lovely Sintra, Portugal.

It’s a posh event, no doubt, but the idyllic setting contrasts with the emotions roiling beneath the surface of the film. That is best depicted by cinematographer Rui Pocas, who captures the distance, the awkward directionlessness, and the isolation.

Pocas’s camera catches the meandering spirit of the film as it winds its way through the streets of this historic, mist-enshrouded city, catching up here and there with the different members of the party. Each arrives at the behest of family matriarch, Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), and her doting second husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson).

Intersecting stories involve Frankie’s ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory) and their grown son Paul (Jeremie Renier); her step-daughter Sylvia (Vivette Robinson) and her family; and a close friend (Marisa Tomei) who’s surprised everyone by bringing along a boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).

The tiny yet formidable Huppert perfectly embodies her character, frail but decidedly in control. In fact, the size difference between the great Huppert and the also great Gleeson is in gorgeously inverted proportion to their stubborn resolve.

Gleeson is all gentle, heartbroken support while Huppert’s performance is removed stoicism, which makes her fleeting moments of vulnerability all the more human. Seeing these remarkable veteran talents and their love story is more than reason enough to experience this film.

Sachs’s greying narrative, while never pushy, feels determined to expose our personal desires to check off boxes and maintain the illusion of control. Frankie manipulates events to find solace in the idea that there are final solutions, or that a person may continue to be needed and useful, even present for our loved ones after we’re gone.

But life is untidy, and fittingly, so is Frankie.

A Very Rare Sort of Bear

Paddington 2

by Cat McAlpine

Paddington 2 paints a beautiful, pop-up love letter to London. It breaks down something like this:

Wes Anderson aesthetic + Lemony Snicket whimsy + marmalade = Paddington Bear’s latest adventure.

Sure, this is a kid’s movie. The main character is a talking bear. His greatest aspiration is to buy a rare pop-up book of London for his Aunt’s birthday. In most ways, the film is predictable. Almost rote. But there’s some sparkle there, too.

Firstly, the movie is incredibly well lit. Lighting this good has no business in a children’s film’s sequel. And yet there it is. Warm yellow homes, moody shafts of light through window panes, snowy alleyways. That light isn’t wasted either. It illuminates bright, punchy sets and colorful costumes hung on a parade of quirky characters.

The Wes Anderson inspiration shows up in bright green rooms and pastel pink prison uniforms. Director Paul King finds sweetness in even life’s most ordinary moments. Where he cannot find sweetness, in a grimy pipe or a shattered telephone box, he finds curiosity instead, playing with light and camera angles.

Following a pop-up book of London, King makes sure to hit all of London’s beloved landmarks. London is a part of Paddington’s mythology. It’s a magical kingdom full of fun and mystery. King paints the city beautifully.

Secondly, what a cast. Sally Hawkins, fresh off her incredible performance in The Shape of Water, oozes gumption. English favorites parade across the screen: Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Brendan Gleeson.

None quite as fun, though, as Hugh Grant in his role as an unhinged stage actor. As the baddie, Grant never slips into evil. Nefarious, yes, but never evil. King keeps his film silly, always, but never allows it to be hollow.

For every predictable gag there’s a genuinely funny moment, too. Good children’s films cater to their whole audience, kids and parents. Its important to screen films like these in theatres. I was reminded of this when a character passed out, face down, into a cake. The children in the audience shrieked with delight.

That’s Paddington 2’s final merit. It’s good natured. It has jokes, visual gags, and constant reminders to be kind. Paddington believes in himself, his family, and his friends. Sure, a children’s film about a talking bear isn’t destined to be profound. But it manages to be sweet all the way through, just like marmalade.

Not the Boss of Me

Trespass Against Us

by George Wolf

Two great actors going toe to toe. Trespass Against Us may be a strangely unfocused crime drama/comedy, but it does bring Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson together, and that’s far from criminal.

Gleeson is Colby “Cole” Cutler, who heads a family band of tramps and thieves camped in the British countryside and committed to a life of robbing the wealthy while taunting the police. Fassbender is Chad Cutler, the eldest son looking for a way out. Like everyone else, Chad is scared to confront his old man, but as his own son is becoming a young man, Chad begins secretly plotting a path that might give his boy the chance at a different life.

In this narrative feature debut for both director Adam Smith and screenwriter Alastair Siddons, familiar themes are brought to the surface without giving the fine ensemble cast enough ammunition to make any meaningful statement. In fact, it’s hard to pin down the purpose for any particular course the film takes, other than generating a respectful shoulder shrug.

Chad’s wife Kelly (a terrific Lyndsey Marshall) is tired of waiting for her husband to make his move, and though we see both tension and affection throughout the extended family, the film never really breaks from a bystander’s point of view. These are clearly complicated relationships with loyalties that have shifted over the years, but they’re all kept at arm’s length, rendering Trespass Against Us a well-performed curiosity.







Cruel to be Kind

Live by Night

by George Wolf

The jury on Ben Affleck’s skills as a filmmaker came in about one and a half films ago. After Gone Baby Gone and halfway through The Town, it was clear this guy can direct. Argo hammered that point home but good. And don’t forget that Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting.

But after all that’s good about Live by Night, seeing Leonardo DiCaprio’s name in the producer credits instantly makes you wonder how much more effective he might have been in the lead role.

Instead, Affleck casts himself as Joe Coughlin, an “outlaw” in prohibition-era Boston who runs afoul of the local crime boss after getting cozy with the wrong dame (Sienna Miller). A few years and double-crosses later, Irish Joe is working Florida for the Italian mob, cornering the rum market and laying complicated groundwork for a sprawling casino.

Give Affleck credit for challenging himself with a big slice of genre filmmaking, and he comes close to pulling it off. In adapting the novel by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone), Affleck pens a smart script that’s full of juicy twists, satisfying callbacks and requisite noir touchstones that never feel overdone (though the questionable voiceover pushes it). We also get consistently interesting characters brought to life by a stellar supporting cast. Through Brendan Gleeson and Zoe Saldana to Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning and beyond, we see soul after soul facing serious moral compromises, and, to the film’s detriment, all resonate more deeply than Affleck.

This is Joe’s journey, rife with sin, judgement, hypocrisy and redemption, but Affleck never makes Joe worthy of being the center of all this gravity. Though the character isn’t that far removed from the outlaw Affleck played effectively in The Town, his move to genre actor, classic jawline aside, is clearly unnatural.

The film often looks fantastic, with nifty period details, sweeping panoramas, nicely backlit interiors and exciting shootouts, but Affleck’s incessantly gradual pace eventually takes a toll. In reaching for a sweeping gangster saga, Affleck includes too much plodding exposition that makes the film’s just-over two hour running time feel a good bit longer.

Though Affleck makes sure his film pushes all the genre buttons, Live by Night ranks as an ambitious overreach, never quite finding the right mix to make it truly memorable.



Cinema Killed the Video Star

Assassin’s Creed

by Hope Madden

What does it take to make a worthwhile movie based on a video game? Because it isn’t just talent – Assassin’s Creed proves that.

Like Warcraft, Creed pits a genuinely gifted director against all that terrible cinematic history – from 1992’s Super Mario Brothers through the Resident Evil series to this year’s Angry Birds Movie – and comes up lacking.

Australian director Justin Kurzel quietly proved his mettle with an astonishing true crime horror film in 2011 called Snowtown. Last year, he teamed up with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard – authentic talents if ever there were – for an imaginative and bloody take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

And now the three re-team, along with time-tested craftsmen Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling, to adapt the popular time traveling video game.

Fassbender is Cal, a death row convict secretly saved by the Abstergo science lab. There, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) will use him to channel his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) – member of a shadowy team battling the Knights Templar for the freedom of humanity.

So, we bounce back and forth in time between a modern day SciFi story and a dusty Inquisition-era adventure. Cal struggles against his newfound captivity and the after-effects of the experiments; Aguilar parkours his way through ancient Spain, trying to keep the Templar from the apple that started all our troubles back in Eden.

If the problem here is not talent, what, then?

As usual, it begins with the writing. Kurzel works with his Macbeth collaborator Michael Lesslie, as well as ne’er do wells Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Allegiant, Exodus: Gods and Kings). They put together a story that’s as convoluted and bloated as it is superficial.

The cast gets little opportunity to do anything other than deliver dour lines with stone faces, each one developing less of a sense of character than what you would have actually found in the video game itself.

Kurzel’s no help, his mirthless presentation undermining thrills at every turn. When he isn’t bombarding the action with murky visual effects, he’s pulling the audience from the midst of a climactic battle and back into the lab to watch Cotillar and/or Irons look on with clinical interest.


Maybe it’s impossible to capture the visceral thrill of gaming within the comparatively passive experience of cinema. Maybe the rich backstories of modern video games are only rich if you’re used to video game narratives. Hopefully the movies will get it right at some point, or at least they’ll stop wasting such incredible talent on such forgettable nonsense.


Two of 2014’s Best For Your Queue

Let’s assume you saw Guardians of the Galaxy while it was in theaters. If you didn’t, you should probably not admit that out loud. So, seein’s as how you already saw the best, most fun intergalactic misadventure in years, you can look around for something you might have missed with this week’s Queue. We recommend two new releases: Frank and Calvary.

In Calvary, filmmaker John Michael McDonagh may have found his muse in the endlessly wonderful Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson plays Fr. Michael, a dry-witted but deeply decent priest who has a week to get his affairs in order while a parishoner plans to kill him. Sumptuously filmed and gorgeously written, boasting as much world-weary humor as genuine insight, it’s an amazing film and a performance that should not be missed.

And speaking of magnificent performances, please see Michael Fassbender’s tender, funny, beautiful turn in Frank. Inspired by an enigmatic musician who performed and lived wearing a giant, fake head, Frank is a wry yet intimate film that offers a thoroughly entertaining, wholly odd journey into relationships, fame, mental illness, and the mad magic of music.

The “We Hope We’re Wrong” Countdown

There are a few shoe-ins for awards contention this year, and they deserve the attention. We expect to see Michael Keaton, Jake Gyllenhaal, JK Simmons, Reese Witherspoon, Ralph Feinnes, Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone, plus a slew of likelies from films we haven’t seen yet.  But – premature as it may seem – we’re already worried about the magnificent performances we have seen and fear will go overlooked this awards season.

Brendan Gleeson

The always magnificent Gleeson lands the role of a lifetime in Calvary as the good priest who learns during a confession that an abused man intends to make a martyr of him. It is an awe inspiring performance of turmoil, skepticism, hope, struggle, faith and resignation.

Jenny Slate

Slate could not have been any better than she was in Obvious Child, a deeply different twist on the romantic comedy. Slate is so natural, awkward, hilarious and vulnerable – exactly what was needed to make the film work, and it does more than work. Thanks to her turn, it soars.

Viola Davis

Chadwick Boseman may get some deserved attention, but Davis’s turn as James Brown’s mother in Get On Up is a masters class in acting. The always formidable Davis is raw and magnificent. We hope awards voters don’t overlook the performance the same way audiences overlooked this gem of a movie.

Carla Juri

Her fierce and fearless turn in Wetlands may actually turn Oscar voters away in droves, but we’re hard pressed to think of a lead performance that was more impressive. We hope Oscar grows a pair and takes note.

Michael Fassbender

Fassbender will be an awards favorite for the rest of his life, but since not a living soul saw his magnificent, tender, funny and heartbreaking turn inside a giant head in Frank, it’s not likely he’ll get the notice he so deeply deserves this awards season.


Tilda Swinton

What a year for Swinton! She crafted fully formed, utterly different characters in four films this year. Which one deserves an award? Pick one: Snowpiercer (Be a shoe!), Only Lovers Left Alive, Zero Theorem and/or The Grand Budapest Hotel. Swinton is wonderful in every one of them.

Tom Hardy

Hardy deserves attention for two lead turns this year, the one man show Locke and the understated drama The Drop. He is truly one of the very most compelling talents working today and it is high time he get some notice.

Scarlett Johansson:

The undeniably gorgeous A-lister finally does a nude scene in the most underseen film of her career – Jonathan Glazers hypnotically unnerving SciFi gem Under the Skin. Johansson shoulders the entire film, mesmerizing from beginning to end.