Archive for Martin McDonagh

At LFF 2012

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2012 by alexlarman

As I write, the London Film Festival is beginning to wind up. There are still a few big premieres to come, not least Mike Newell and David Nicholls’ new version of Great Expectations, but by and large it’s now possible to look at Clare Stewart’s first season as artistic director (taking over from the estimable Sandra Hebron) and make a few very general comments.

The festival is shorter this time around – 11 days rather than 14 or 15 – which means that the big premieres sometimes come two at a time. (One imagines some of the more committed autograph hunters heading inadvertently to the wrong cinema and being disappointed as a result.) The line-up, as in Hebron’s day, is less about world premieres and more about bringing much-lauded recent films to the masses. This leads to the odd surprising omission – unless either is a surprise film, no Cloud Atlas or The Master – but there is a plethora of good stuff to make up for it. Here were my favourites:


It now seems very strange to think of Ben Affleck as one half of the much-ridiculed ‘Bennifer’ and star of such rubbish films as Gigli and the aptly named Paycheck. With his third film, Argo, he proves himself one of the most talented directors working today, and a pretty decent actor to boot. Dealing with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the film explores the remarkably strange true story of how a fake film, Argo, was created by the CIA in a desperate attempt to flee six Americans who had sought refuge in the American ambassador’s house. Mixing edge-of-seat tension with Hollywood satire is a bold move, but rather surprisingly it works beautifully. The cast (Bryan Cranston, Alan Alda, John Goodman et al) are tremendous, and it builds to an exciting and satisfying climax.

Crossfire Hurricane

The Rolling Stones set the record straight in this new documentary. Sort of. Produced by the band, it’s definitely a step up from hagiography, but it soft-peddles a lot of well-known stories (there’s next to nothing about Jagger’s serial philandering, for instance) and finishes rather abruptly in 1981, apparently conceding that they are now less rock stars, and more members of The Rolling Stones PLC. Still, the music’s fantastic, the footage frequently gripping and the new interviews from the Stones off-camera produce some amusing nuances and moments.


A new Michael Winterbottom film is an annual occurrence, but thankfully this one is one of his best. Filmed over 5 years, it follows the strained relationship between a husband and wife (John Simm and Shirley Henderson) as he goes through a lengthy prison sentence for an unspecified crime. Simm and Henderson both give nuanced, compelling performances, helped by the Kirk children as their sons and daughters, and it’s an especial pleasure to hear a new Michael Nyman score as well.

Lawrence of Arabia

You know this one’s good, but it’s an absolute pleasure to see the full restored version on the big screen, which genuinely transforms the whole experience. The dialogue is as iconic as ever – ‘Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts’ – but it’s the performances and David Lean’s sweeping direction that make this one of the greatest films ever made.

Room 237

In which various scholars, film critics and interested parties discuss their theories of what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is really about. Theories range from the quite sensible (a metaphor for the slaughter of Native Americans) to utterly barking (the entire film is Kubrick confessing to faking the moon landings), but it’s elegantly and intelligently staged and frequently funny.

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the brilliant In Bruges is a messier, more sprawling beast, which will probably need repeated viewings to tell whether it’s a work of near-genius or just an entertaining mess. Mixing elements from his plays The Lieutenant Of Inishmore and The Pillowman, it revolves around alcoholic Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), who finds himself embroiled in a bizarre dog-kidnapping scam run by Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, even as he tries to write the titular script. As with Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, things get very meta, very quickly. It’s stuffed full of good lines, great performances (especially a restrained but somehow still barking Walken) and nice ideas, but somehow the whole thing seems permanently on the edge of descending into complete incoherence; it bears the hallmarks of a script that McDonagh has revised over and over again, without ever truly finding the heart of it. Yet it has the same enjoyably profane sensibility that informed In Bruges and some hugely effective quieter moments, which give the film an elegiac quality at points.

On the basis of these, it’s fair to say that Stewart’s next season at the LFF will be that old canard, ‘eagerly awaited’.


The Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Posted in Theatre with tags , , on July 29, 2010 by alexlarman

Martin McDonagh’s reputation as both a playwright and filmmaker has grown immensely since the first production of his debut play in 1996. With the much acclaimed crime thriller In Bruges winning critical plaudits and awards by the bucketload, and with later plays such as The Pillowman and The Lieutenant Of Inishmore sealing his status as an enfant terrible of the theatre – a sort of Irish Quentin Tarantino of the stage – it makes a fascinating experience to revisit The Beauty Queen of Leenane which, in the Young Vic’s highly assured staging, reveals that McDonagh’s talent was evident from the beginning.

The set-up has nightmarish echoes of a bleaker, Irish Steptoe & Son. Maureen Folan, a plain, downtrodden virgin is living with her domineering, demanding mother Mag, whose most frequently voiced requests are for Complan, shortbread fingers and porridge. Maureen, who has only ever been kissed twice – ‘two men is two men too much!’ – has her head turned by the decent but somewhat diffident neighbour Pato Dooley, who she attends a party with. Mag, however, sees nothing in her daughter’s potential relationship but her own abandonment, and schemes to plot its downfall. Things go very, very badly wrong.

In the first half, it seems faintly unclear as to where the play is going. Nods to Beckett and Pinter (and possibly even a touch of Tennessee Williams) jostle alongside digs at Irish convention, as Pato’s idiotic younger brother Ray offers his lack of surprise that a nearby priest has had an illegitimate child – ‘now if he’d punched that babby in the head, that’d be news!’ However, in the second and superior half, beginning with a bravura one-scene monologue as Pato attempts to compose two letters, McDonagh ramps up the tension and black comedy to near-unbearable levels, as audience sympathy begins to shift and turn.

The Young Vic’s fine production, more than capably directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, boasts an authentically grim set (designed by Ultz, who did similar wonders with the set for the recent Jerusalem) that perfectly captures the horrible atmosphere that the protagonists find themselves in. It’s extremely well acted by Rosaleen Linehan as Mag and Susan Lynch as Maureen, although Lynch is far too striking fully to convince as a woman described as plain, and David Ganly offers excellent support as the decent Pato. Given the warmth of the audience reaction, there seems little doubt that this will be a sell-out hit, and so you’d be well advised to get to the Young Vic to see this fine production sooner rather than later.