Wednesday 28 September 2016

Movie reviews: Listen Up Philip, Fortune's Wheel

Listen Up Philip (No Cert, IFI, 109mins), 2 stars
* Fortune's Wheel (No Cert, IFI, 76mins), 3 stars

Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30

Monomaniac: Jason Schwartzman in ‘Listen Up Philip’
Monomaniac: Jason Schwartzman in ‘Listen Up Philip’

From the opening scene of Listen Up Philip to its bitter and melancholy end, one is bombarded with reams of words. Tens of thousands of them spout from the mouths not just of characters, but also a glib and supercilious narrator who speaks in a grandiose and self-consciously literary style. In fact everyone in Alex Ross Perry's film talks like someone out of a book, a conscious decision in a film that tackles the moral and professional dilemmas of an up-and-coming New York novelist.

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Jason Schwartzman, seeming even more bumptious than usual, plays Philip Lewis Friedman, a fast-emerging literary lion whose debut novel earned rave reviews. Now his second book is about to appear, and Philip is getting antsy. He's comically touchy, hopelessly self-absorbed, and could start a fight in a Buddhist monastery.

When we first encounter him he's arranged meetings with an ex-girlfriend and a college chum, whom he berates for their various shortcomings before departing in a huff. Philip is insufferable, a whining monomaniac, a harsh reality that is slowly dawning on his long-suffering girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss).

Cunning and petty, he argues constantly with exhausting cleverness, and seems intent on rejecting her before she rejects him. And he drops her like a hot stone when his literary hero Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) makes him an intriguing offer.

Zimmerman was a big cheese in the 1970s, and is now a revered recluse. He sees Philip as a protégé, and the younger writer is flattered when Zimmerman offers him his holiday home as a summer writing retreat.

Ashley is abandoned, and Philip ensconces himself in upstate New York to concentrate on his craft: but his creative idyll will be regularly interrupted by fractious visits from Zimmerman's pretty but neurotic daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) and the great man himself.

At the centre of Listen Up Philip's busy and fractious story is a debate about artistic single-mindedness, and whether a serious writer must be selfish to succeed. Alex Ross Perry has previously acknowledged the influence of Philip Roth, and the Newark laureate's paw prints are all over this story. Roth's recurring literary alter ego was called Zuckerman, and in perhaps his finest novel, The Ghost Writer, the young writer has a memorable encounter with his literary hero at his country home.

Listen Up Philip may be derived from that story, but isn't in the same league. The film's windy, wordy tone might be deliberate but is also infuriating, and the story drowns in a sea of bad sentences. And Philip is so absurdly unpleasant that his existential woes are very hard to care about.

In November of 1951, a lion appeared on the wintry streets of Dublin's Fairview and sparked a panic that made front pages across the globe. It belonged to one Bill Stephens, and Joe Lee's evocative documentary Fortune's Wheel tells his extraordinary story.

Born and raised in Fairview, Stephens was fascinated by both animals and circuses, and taught himself how to train dogs and big cats. He kept several lions in a garage off Annesley Bridge Road, and accidentally left their cage door open on the day the beast escaped.

What happened next is recounted with panache by Fairview locals, family and friends, and it's amusing to watch the Dublin wits attempt to cope with a tall story that, for once, is real. But Fortune's Wheel also tells the poignant story of Bill's marriage to a beautiful young woman from neighbouring East Wall, his later career in the circus, and his enduring fascination with aggressive big cats that would ultimately be his undoing. Who knew that amateur lion-taming could be such a dangerous hobby?

Coming soon...

Jurassic World (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard); Let Us Prey (Liam Cunningham); West (Jordis Triebel); Black Coal, Thin Ice (Liao Fan); The Look of Silence.

Irish Independent

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