Monday, December 21, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

** Article as it appeared in Film Ireland Magazine website Feb. 13, 2009 **

Woody Allen, master writer-director of the Jewish New York comedy, throws his faithful fans a witty, yet serious film that asks ‘why is love so hard to define?’ Being known for his artsy, intellectual characters of privileged means and ultra New York-ified scripts, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is typical Woody Allen – but set in Spain…
Two young friends, bohemian Cristina and intellectual Vicky, arrive in Barcelona for a summer adventure. Split screens and a narrator whimsically explain that though the two women are best of friends, they are polar opposites when it comes to love, which, I suppose in a Woody Allen microcosm, translates to them being polar opposites when it comes to the world. Cristina: artistic, insatiable and uncommitted, alongside Vicky: practical, rational, and about to be married. The ensuing drama can only be described as angst-filled, tragically romantic whimsy, transpiring between people of talent, beauty and privilege. Juan Antonio, a painter whose tempestuous marriage ended in a rain of gossip throughout the art scene, lands both women into the middle of the stormy relationship between himself and his ex-wife, Maria Elena. A weekend in Oviedo with the bluntly flirtatious Spanish painter ultimately challenges the rigidly held views of both Vicky and Cristina.
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as Juan Antonio and Penélope Cruz (Vanilla Sky) as María Elena steal the show as their passionately violent relationship upstages even Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Cruz’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress legitimizes not only the film but the power of its performances.
Melodramatic, yet tempered with good old-fashioned ‘get on with it girl’ attitude and ‘can do’ solution-oriented rationalizations, the script for Vicky Cristina Barcelona is nothing short of brilliant. Allen manages to create a borderline pretentious flirtation in his characters between what one must do and what one wants to do in relationships, with, of course, a whole lot of feelings tempered by the unavoidable siren call of the insatiable: changing of minds. What is left is a perfect combination of drama, adventure, intrigue, romance and comedy. If all that isn’t your cup of tea, no worries, the film times in at a bearable 96 minutes

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ On Screen Weekend

** Article as it appeared May 13, 2009 on Film Ireland Magazine's Website. **

Lydia O’Connor reports on the Dracula-fest that took place 17–19 April in the Irish Film Institute, Dublin.

The Irish Film Institute, in participation with the Dublin City Public Libraries annual One City, One Book event, celebrated Bram Stoker’s Dracula with an extraordinary weekend of Dracula on film. Dracula appeared on the IFI’s screens in iconic wisps of nostalgic imagery, from the F.W. Murnau Nosferatu (1922) to William Crain’s Blaxploitation film Blacula (1972). The contrast of films from Tod Browning’s Universal Pictures Dracula in 1931 (with Bela Lugosi as the quintessential Count Dracula) to Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971), to the 2008 Twilight, by merit of choice and juxtaposition, proved a strong thesis for the development and evolution of Dracula as a screen character and the effect of these films on the perception and popularity of Bram Stoker’s now classic novel.
In keeping with the IFI’s mission to promote film culture through education, screening introductions, a splendidly informative expert panel discussion, and a lecture provided by Kim Newman all historically contextualised Dracula’s screen presence from film to film. During the Sunday morning panel discussion it was proposed that Dracula’s popularity today began with Bela Lugosi in 1931 and from his performance sprang the classic image of the black caped, slick haired, suave character we most often recognise as vampire. From the Count on Sesame Street to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula as a screen character is a broadly evolving, but no less fundamental, keystone of vampire mythology.
The weekend opened with a Friday night screening of the silent, black and white classic Nosferatu, by far the scariest Dracula adaptation I have yet seen. Every seat in the house was filled as the musicians of 3epkano entered to begin the highly atmospheric musical narration. This was truly a rare event. The experience was met with such respect that no one moved or hardly breathed for the duration of the screening. Who has not seen the iconic images from Nosferatu of the eerily long-fingered and pointed-eared shadow creeping up the stairs, with no body visible to cast the shadow? I certainly have, in commercials, film clips and parody, yet I had never had the privilege of seeing a reeled print in a dark crowded theatre. Despite its age, Nosferatu seems to possess a timeless power, which can reach out like the rat-faced, wide-eyed and long-fingered vampire himself to quicken the heartbeat and set the mind to wandering down dark corridors. It must have been unbearably frightening when screened to audiences of the ’20s. While it was argued during the introduction that Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula was the first Hollywood studio horror film, from watching Nosferatu it is evidential that horror was already an emerging genre in filmmaking.
Bram Stoker, born in Dublin to a middle-class family, Trinity educated and successful in many pursuits, published Dracula in 1897. Though the novel was not unpopular, it was also not an instant classic. However, over the last 112 years Dracula has become a household name as the character and mythology has been adapted to fit film and television screens. As the IFI celebrated and explored the images of Dracula as a screen character, many other manifestations of Dracula’s literary influence were discussed, debated and viewed. The Irish Film Institute splendidly and spectacularly triumphed as the weekend illustrated the worldwide influence of this famously Irish literary contribution.