Monday 23 October 2017

A towering musical tribute to the regeneration game


Aine O'Connor, Hilary A White and Padraic McKiernan

Ballymun Lullaby

Cert: G

SEVERE housing shortages in Dublin, especially for young families, was part of the reason that the Ballymun towers were built in 1966.

Ireland's first, and only, high-rise estate was exciting -- but a failure to provide adequate facilities contributed to it developing a reputation as one of the roughest places in Ireland. After 40 years, a regeneration project began to move the residents from flats to houses. To mark the transition, and to reach beyond the misconceptions about a place and its people, a suite of music was commissioned from composer Daragh O'Toole.

Ron Cooney set up the Ballymun Music Project more than 15 years ago and what began as recorder classes has become a full-scale music programme to which the performance of the piece was entrusted. Cooney's drive and vision managed to earn the involvement of the RTE Concert Orchestra and principal conductor David Brophy. Director Frank Berry chronicles their months of work, the run-up to the show in the Helix and a CD release.

Thoughts on the place and the piece come from Ballymun residents Tara, Wayne and Darren, musician, vocalist and lyricist respectively. Cooney's humour and insight work well alongside great archive footage. There are contributions from Fr Peter McVerry and Silogue Road native Glen Hansard.

At more than 70 minutes, it is an enjoyable piece which gives a very strong sense of the place and the people. I do not share some directors' penchant for pores, so there were too many close-up shots for me -- but, overall, it has many nice details that are allowed to show rather than tell.


Now showing

New Year's Eve

Cert 12A

Outside of Oscar night, it's difficult to imagine a more concentrated gathering of Hollywood A-listers than the one provided by the cast of romcom New Year's Eve. Ironically, it's even more difficult to imagine a movie less likely to win Oscars than this festive frothfest starring, to name but a few, Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker and Halle Berry.

Set in New York and played out against the backdrop of a New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square, this disposable piece employs a-day-in-the-life approach to its disparate yet connected collection of characters. For the uninitiated, New York has a ceremony known as "the dropping of the ball", in which a giant sphere is gradually lowered before a multitude of ecstatic revellers. Hilary Swank stars as the impresario charged with ensuring the ceremony runs smoothly.

Swank's storyline provides the main structure and is a prism through which various stories are seen. Set-ups include Ashton Kutcher stuck in a lift with Demi Moore lookalike Lea Michele; Zac Efron bringing a barely recognisable Michelle Pfeiffer on a mojo retrieval mission; and De Niro (proving there's no depth he's unwilling to plumb) as a terminally ill man who dreams of seeing the "ball drop" one last time.

The kindest thing that can be said about these car-crash cameos is that nobody emerges from the pile-up unscathed.

Director Garry Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate return to the template they used for last year's Valentine's Day and the results are equally forgettable. The suspense centres on whether or not the ball will drop at midnight. Alas, the penny drops a good deal earlier.


Now showing

Las Acacias

Cert 12A

THEY say silence is golden, and it's certainly the case in Argentinian director Pablo Giorgelli's striking debut feature, Las Acacias. There are times during this heartwarming piece when you could be forgiven for thinking the director is in the business of delivering an homage to the silent-movie era, such is the dearth of dialogue. The good news to report is that this doesn't diminish in any way from this award winning movie's (Best First Feature at Cannes) capacity to captivate.

German de Silva takes the central role of Ruben, a grizzled, taciturn truck-driver employed to transport a consignment of wood, the acacias of the title, the 1,500km between Ascuncion in Paraguay and Buenos Aires. As a favour to his boss, he has agreed to allow a young migrant labourer, Jacinta (Nayra Calle Mamani) to hitch a ride with him but he didn't realise that her five-month- old baby daughter Anahi was part of the proposition.

For the initial part of the journey, barely a word passes between them as habitual loner Ruben struggles to adapt to the intrusion represented by this mother and child combination. Eventually, prompted by the playful antics of the adorable Anahi, an emotional thaw sets in. By the time they reach the barrios of Buenos Aires, Reuben's tetchiness is replaced by something a good deal more empathetic.

A spectacle set almost entirely in a congested trucker's cab may not sound the most fertile environment for quality, life-affirming cinema but it certainly proves to be the case in this instance.


Now showing at the IFI

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Cert 18

YOU know you live in an inclusive society when even stoners are invited to share in the Christmas spirit. Students and layabouts will delight at the return of Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) for this third bong-hit of buddy-movie silliness.

Life has changed for Harold. No longer fraternising with Kumar, he's become the image of respectable, urban living. Kumar, meanwhile, is still living amid a cloud of marijuana smoke when a mysterious package arrives at his door addressed to Harold. He goes to Harold's new gaff to pass it on, only to find his former chum in the middle of a yuletide crisis of the coniferous kind.

The pair find themselves joined at the hip once more as they follow a wild-goose chase around New Jersey in a desperate search for a tree on Christmas Eve.

While boorish and often reliant on surrealism, the humour has a self-deprecating quality that is very likeable, as if the film realises exactly how imbecilic it is and wants to join in with the chortles. 3D cinema itself is slagged openly in both the script and the various fluids, fumes and contraband sent hurtling towards the auditorium. Characters are memorably daft and the odd moral even manages to squeeze into the frame.


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