Tuesday, 26 April 2011

First weekend of the year in Donegal

For the 14th year in a row, my family and I have began our seasonal trips to Donegal, specifically Bundoran. It is always great to go there because I get to spend time at the beach and get away from the urban madness. Here are a bunch of photos I took over the Easter weekend.

View from our holiday apartment


Rougey Cliff Walk


Rossnowlagh Beach


Friday, 15 April 2011

In review: 2011 Belfast Film Festival

So another year has come and gone for the Belfast Film Festival! I will admit that despite this being its 11th year, this was the first time that I had actively immersed myself in the screenings/premieres/promotions, but it seems like I picked a phenomenal year to do so. Before it began, I blogged about what I was planning to check out during the festival:

Killing Bono

Killing Bono kicked off the festival on 31st March at Movie House, Dublin Road, and I attended the screening with my brother, my Dad and a few friends. It was a fun, by-and-large entertaining comedy with some nice heartfelt moments. I was very excited to hear Nick Hamm and Martin McCann speak at the screening, and I am still raging that I opted out of going to the after-party due to the fact that I had been in class until 6pm and was so tired that I could barely remember my own name. From stories I've heard and photos I've seen, it looked like a fun night, and Spring & Airbrake happens to be one of my favourite venues in Belfast. So yeah, raging!

The Shore

Okay, so this was the very first thing I set my heart on attending during the festival. Writer/director Terry George is a distant relative of mine (my dad's sister's husband's nephew - we're practically brothers!) and my parents and I always make sure to catch up whenever he is in town. I attended one of his masterclasses a few years ago, so I was relatively familiar with his "public" side, but it was still quite bizarre to see a packed room of hundreds hang on to his every word. Anyway, the film was breathtaking and I am dying to see it again. Also, that night I managed to briefly meet Brendan Fraser (I still can't get over my Mum calling him "Brendy!") and Martin McCann. I jokingly promised Martin I'd upload an old U2 video online for him to study for the Killing Bono sequel, but first Neil McCormick needs to hurry up and write a second book!




Buffy Night

Ah, now this was a real treat! Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my favourite show when I was growing up, and I still hold it with deep regard, so the opportunity to spray my hair blonde, throw on a leather trench coat and swagger into the Black Box like a 128 year old vampire was one I could not pass up. Along with a host of other Buffy fans, I got to watch a few episodes, have a few drinks, take part in a quiz, and pull some party poppers to celebrate the wonders of the female orgasm. A fun night indeed!



BBC Eye on TV Debate

Possibly the only letdown of my festival experience. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the debate, but it seemed to offer up a bunch of common-sense statement with little in the way of provocative insight from supposed industry experts.


QFT Short Film Competition

So, *I* had fun at this, but apparently so did the people who read this blog because my piece on the short film competition has received more hits than anything else from the festival!


The Messenger

This was the last film I saw from the festival and it was absolutely incredible. A slow-moving, introspective look at the Casualty Notification Team in the US Army who are tasked with informing next of kin when their loved ones have died or gone missing in the war. This is a beautiful film with an exquisite cast, so please check it out if you can.

That's about it then! The festival is over and I am already missing it. Because of the things on offer, I had my eyes opened to so much great local and international talent and I am feeling incredibly proud of my city/country right now.. Thanks to the Queens Film Theatre, the Dublin Road Movie House, the Black Box, and all the other venues who helped host this year's events. Terry George has already promised to bring his next film ("Whole Lotta Sole") to the festival next year and you can be sure I will be there with bells and whistles!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Review: Adele at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin

Last night (Tuesday 12th April) I was lucky enough to attend Adele's concert at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Now, when I say 'lucky', I mean that I paid €30 for my ticket back in November, while fans desperate for a last-minute ticket were paying up to and over €1000 for the chance to see the singer live on stage.


When I arrived at the Olympia, my first thought was that I had come to the wrong venue. Surely a BRIT-winning and Grammy-winning star who has ruled the British charts for months would not be performing in this 1300-seat hall squashed between a Chinese fast-food and a French restaurant? But once inside, I began to see the appeal of this venue and why such a place would be conducive to the intimate atmosphere generated by Adele's music. The Olympia is stunning and allowed Adele's voice to shine through and fill the room.


Michael Kuanuka was the support act and he did a nice job of establishing the melodic, contemplative mood which would pervade throughout the night. If you want to read about him, check out his Facebook page.


The lady of the hour took to the stage just after 9pm and she began her set with a performance of "Hometown Glory", a song which still produces chills for me after countless YouTube views and 2 years of it being the de-facto sentimental song in any one of many (far too many!) UK or US teen dramas. From here, she ploughed through a number of tracks from her latest LP "21" and then paused to express her deep affection for Dublin. Perhaps she heard of the €1000 fee some were willing to pay just to hear her sing for 80 minutes!


Adele performed several tracks from her debut album "19", which hold up well, but the emphasis was certainly on her latest studio offering which demonstrates a much more mature, sophisticated, controlled sound.


Aside from her sparkling vocals and natural stage presence, what I found most endearing about Adele was her witty personality and her eagerness to chat with the audience. Some fans had brought a billboard message on behalf of an even larger fan community and Adele was clearly touched by the gesture. Adele confessed that this was the first concert of her career where people had brought signs like this for her.

Reading_a_fan's_billboard.avi Watch on Posterous

It was her openness about the stories behind some of her songs that surprised me too. It has been fairly well-documented by the media that "21" details the breakdown of her previous relationship, but she provided anecdotes and personal details without ever seeming opportunistic or attention-hungry. Adele simply wears her heart on her sleeve with her music, and does not back down from that when the instruments stop playing.

Musically, I was most excited when she grabbed an acoustic guitar before launching into "Someone Like You", her first chart-topping single in the UK. This beautiful song is just at that point where over-play is becoming an issue, so to see Adele perform this song with the added twist of a guitar was a wonderful way to rejuvenate my passion for the track. There was a seamless transition between her guitar intro and the piano version, and Adele seriously BLEW THE ROOF OFF! She brought the concert a close with a raptuorous singalong of "Rolling in the Deep", the lead single from "21", and was visibly elated with the audience's response.

I can't really say anymore, so I will let this videos speak for me:

Rolling_in_the_Deep_sing-along.avi Watch on Posterous

Saturday, 9 April 2011

QFT Short Film Competition

Today (Saturday 9th April), the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast ran a series of short film competitions, split into three parts, in order to highlight the Irish film industry's growing commitment to nurturing home-grown talent. There were far too many films for me to discuss, but here are a few which I think are an absolute must-see for any film lover, mainly because they offer a fantastic array of genres, themes and styles:


Rickshaw Rick: This ten-minute short is written and directed by Robert Manson, produced by Annville Films, and stars Martin McCann and Karen Sheridan. The plot is fairly straightforward. Rick (McCann) drives a rickshaw around the city of Dublin and offers to deliver three young women to a party. When one of the women, Grace (Sheridan), leaves her bag behind in the vehicle, Rick attempts to track her down and return the bag to its rightful owner.

What is refreshing about this piece is the detail and the perceptiveness Manson has been able to bring to the screen through his unique style and vision. For example, Manson will focus on the minutiae of a scene such as raindrops falling on the rickshaw's handlebars, the creaking noises made by the vehicle's wheels, while the noisy traffic and the urban space is relegated to the periphery of the narrative. This serves to highlight Rick's role as a detached protagonist, who appears to feel completely adrift when away from his rickshaw.

Credit must be given to Piers McGrail who, as cinematographer, figuratively and visually lights up the screen. The actors and the scenery are beautifully lit, and he manages to create a warm atmosphere within the confines of the rickshaw, one which is juxtaposed to the cold, angular environments Rick experiences on the streets and at the party.

Gareth Averill and Major Bullhorn also do excellent jobs in providing the original music. The score feels aptly sombre and melancholic without dragging the film down or boring the audience.

McCann and Sheridan have a genuine, instant chemistry, evident by how relatively little screen-time they share. I was rooting for Rick to find Grace at the party and I was a little deflated (as was the rest of the audience by the sounds of it) when he was made to feel like a bit of a spare tyre by her date. I have long been a fan of Marty McCann's, so it is nice to see him do so much, yet so subtly, with this character, and following his performance in Swansong: The Story of Occi Byrne, I think he is in with a good chance of cornering the market of protagonists for whom we can't help but feel empathy, even in the space of 10 short (too short!) minutes, as is the case with "Rickshaw Rick".

If you get the chance, GO SEE THIS FILM!


Even Gods: "Even Gods" is written/directed/produced by Phil Harrison, and stars Lalor Roddy and Laura Thompson as a father and daughter who meet following a 13 year estrangement. When we first meet Hugh (Roddy), he has been living in a hostel for over 6 years and is surprised to hear that his daughter Sarah (Thompson) wants to meet. Over a lunch-time conversation in a wonderfully shot real-time scene, the audience learns more about the strained state of relations between these two people, while the promise of reconciliation is offered by Sarah's daughter, whose severe hearing impairment serves as a symbol of Hugh's and Sarah's need to learn to communicate to one another in a new way.

Tim Millen's score is gentle, slow and well in-keeping with the tone of this film. As I mentioned, the narrative's crux is a fantastic real-time interaction between the three main characters, and the fact that Harrison lets the story unfold with such freedom really allows the actors to dig into their roles, and the audience to care about whether Hugh and Sarah will reunite. Roddy and Thompson excel at creating a sense of shared, heart-wrenching history between their characters, while Lois Turkington is plain adorable as the little girl at the centre of their reunion.

This is a heartwarming film in a fairly atypical sense. So, once again, GO SEE IT IF YOU CAN!


Small Change: Another parent/child story, but this time with a much darker, colder reality. Nora-Jane Noone plays Karen in this drama about a woman whose gambling addiction threatens her job, her safety, and most importantly for her, her relationship with her daughter Laura (played by Tina Maxwell). Olivia Nash appears in a small role as Karen's counterpart in the gambling scenes, but the fact that she is the most well-known actor in this film never overshadows the central relationship between Karen and Laura.

What I liked most about this film was the lack of pay-off at the end for some of the narrative strands set up by writer/director Cathy Brady. We never see Laura's inevitable disappointment at what we can imagine will be Karen's inevitable failure to secure the promised holiday in Spain, nor do we seen Karen's showdown with hassler Steven (played by Tom Collins). I can only guess that the film stops short of exploring these issues because by the end there is a strong implication that Karen's endeavours to better her's and her daughter's lives will prove both fruitless and tragic.

Brady has shot the film with a heavy reliance on hand-held camera, which successfully merges the exterior cinema-verite style with Karen's interior feelings of instability. Noone does not have an easy character with which to work, but I think she accomplishes the writer's aim to depict a woman who is in a self-perpetuating state of despair. For Noone's performance alone, I recommend you watch this film.


Noreen: "Noreen" brought the screening to a close and a more perfect choice could not have been made to fill the slot. Merging farcical comedy with fond characterisations, Domhnall Gleeson borrows the Odd Couple format to tell the story of two policeman at opposite ends of their careers (Brian Gleeson the rookie officer; Brendan Gleeson the disenfranchised senior).

From beginning to end, this film evoked enormous laughs from the audience and this can only be put down to the impeccable timing and chemistry shared by the two Gleesons. There are some dramatic undertones to the proceedings as Frank's (Brian Gleeson) broken heart finds a way to collide with his job, and Con (Brendan Gleeson) admits to communicative difficulties with his son, however, I respect writer/director Domhnall Gleeson's decision to marginalise these plot points in favour of the main story. Like in "Even Gods", the narrative crux plays out in a fantastic real-time sequence which gives the Gleeson men the opportunity to take a ridiculous, unbelievable scenario and really sell it to the audience in a bizarrely entertaining way.

I would happily watch this film again, although if you are squeamish I would suggest you take something to settle your stomach before sitting down to view "Noreen" - and that is all you are getting out of me on this subject!

So, I went on a bit in this post, but that tells you why I chose to focus on only 4 films instead of the full 5-hour programme which was kindly offered by the QFT.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ronan Kerr


This afternoon I attended a vigil at City Hall for murdered policeman Ronan Kerr. News of his death has received enormous media coverage around the world due to the fact that Ronan was targeted by a car-bomb attack.

Ronan's funeral took place today in his home-town of Omagh, but the memorial was important for those living in Northern Ireland's capital, a place where so many officers lost their lives during the Troubles. This city has made great strides in recent years, with yours truly touting pride at the cultural boost it is currently experiencing due to the Belfast Film Festival. As tragic as it is to see Ronan's life cut short in such a callous, cowardly way, I was moved to see such a large crowd gather today in support of this young man and in support of Belfast's continued efforts to move forward.


Themes of progress were rife, with the opening speaker declaring, "We are also here to reiterate our message that the Trade Union Movement unreservedly condemn violence, whatever the source, and reassert our right, the right of every worker to go to and from their place of work without fear or violence - and without fear of the threat of violence".

Finally, Pamela Dooley, the Vice Chair of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress Trade Union, insisted that "We will not permit the clock to be turned back... [by] the enemies of peace" before the vigil was brought to a close with a one minute silence.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Shore


Terry George's latest offering, the short film "The Shore", had its world premiere at the Queen's Film Theatre on Friday night with a packed audience in attendance. Terry will soon begin work on a new feature film, entitled "Whole Lotta Sole", and he brought the film's two stars (Brendan Fraser and Martin McCann) to this screening. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to speak with both actors and they could not have been nicer or more happy to be there. You can read more about the project here: http://www.iftn.ie/news/?act1=record&only=1&aid=73&rid=4283741&tpl=archnews&f...

Back to "The Shore", the short film is, in a word, sensational. George makes the most of Killough, an area in Ireland quite close to his and his family's hearts, in this project as he tells the story of two friends reunited following decades of separation, due in small part to The Troubles but due largely to a series of sensitive, personal circumstances. George followed the screening with a brief conversation where he described the main theme of the film as that of "reconciliation". I would hate to go into more specific plot details because it was such a truly wonderful viewing experience when I had no foreknowledge of the story. Only know that in 30 minutes you will find a sterling ensemble cast, moments of great laughs, and moments of touching sentimentality. But if you are anything like me, you will leave the film with a sense of great pride that such high calibre work is now being produced in Northern Ireland.

Anyone who reads this may think, "Huh? What? This is a pointless post!", but TRUST ME when I say: Run, don't walk, to the nearest theatre, TV or website where "The Shore" can be seen. It is magic.

Killing Bono


The 11th Belfast Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night with a screening of "Killing Bono", a comedy film based on Neil McCormick's memoir "Killing Bono: I was Bono's Doppelganger" following the misfortune of two Dublin brothers who eternally live in the shadow of U2, their former schoolmates. The film was introduced by director Nick Hamm, head of the festival Stephen Hackett, and actor Martin McCann (who plays the titular character, albeit in a supporting role). Each man spoke of their pride at producing this piece of work in Northern Ireland, but by and large the focus of each of the introductions was on actor Pete Postlethwaite, who made his final screen performance in this project before passing away several months ago. Pete's death, however, did not cast a cloud over this event. Rather, it added a level of prestige to the proceedings that such a respected, talented actor would commit to a Northern Ireland Screen production for his final role.

While the cast is solid, with Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan leading the charge as the McCormick brothers Neil and Ivan, respectively, the film as a whole is hit-and-miss at times. To sum it up, Neil and Ivan attempt to launch a music career as they consistently playing second-fiddle to U2, struggling to progress beyond dance halls and strip clubs while U2 experience a meteoric, global rise to stardom. The main dramatic drive of the film is Neil's self-motivated decision to prevent Ivan from joining U2, thus condemning them both to years of trying to succeed despite squandering their golden opportunity, a fact which Neil neglects to tell Ivan. From here we see the desperate lengths Neil will go to in order to prove that he was right to prioritise fraternal loyalty, with McCann's Bono appearing from time to time, serving as an inescapable reminder that Neil can never quite get it right.

In light of this plot summary, it is surprising that "Killing Bono" has been marketed as a comedy. The strength of the piece lies in two key relationships, the first being the brotherly rapport, and the second being the emotionally charged bond between Neil and Bono. The film's satire of the music industry, as well as the presence of a farcical gangster character (played by David Fennelly), both feel quite uneven and at times unnecessary, mostly because neither elements are at all original. Also, a romantic subplot involving Neil and Gloria (played by Krysten Ritter) never quite gets off the ground.

Aside from this, the film does a good job of keeping the audience entertained for the better part of two hours. The mix of an original score and signature U2 hits works well, and the historical detail (ranging from clothing and hairstyles to LP covers and Live Aid footage) is faultless. Even more impressive is Hamm's ability to mask Northern Ireland locations for scenes set in London and Dublin. As for the main cast: Barnes is riveting as the tortured protagonist; Sheehan is heartfelt and shows great promise; McCann is as effortless yet controlled as he is in every performance; and most importantly Postlethwaite is a pure delight. His character, the McCormicks' effeminate and flamboyant landlord Karl, appears sporadically but never fails to light up the screen, and at this premiere screening, the public affection for Postlethwaite was readily apparent.

Whether or not you are a U2 fan, "Killing Bono" is well worth seeing. No, you won't be howling with laughter, but you will surely be rooting for the McCormicks to succeed, despite knowing that this is a story about all those people who didn't get the golden ticket to stardom.