Saturday 14 December 2019

Lights, camera, exit!

As 'Charlie Casanova' gets a critical pasting, Damian Corless ponders our homegrown celluloid disasters

Taking a swipe at reviewers, the Finnish composer Sibelius pointed out: "No statue has ever been put up to a critic." Statues, no, but these days you'll often find the wisdom of critics writ large on the side of a bus. The latest reviewer given this accolade was the movie pundit Donald Clarke, and he was most unpleasantly surprised.

A quote from him has been adorning Dublin's double-deckers advertising Charlie Casanova, an abrasive new Irish movie. The snippet described it as "a pretty jaw-dropping piece of work".

The advert was clearly pitching "jaw-dropping" as an endorsement.

Except the writer had meant it as a dire warning. This damning verdict, he insisted, was evident from other clues in the review such as "preposterous" and "waffle".

Repudiating the bus ads, Clarke stressed: "I would rather drink dilute caustic soda than sit through Charlie Casanova again."

Terry McMahon, the film's writer-director, lost no time hitting back.

The full text of McMahon's long and emotional rebuttal can be readily located on his blog. The gist is that the elitist Clarke wouldn't know a good movie (like Charlie Casanova) when he sees one. Or, in McMahon's words: "What offends is there is an entire generation out there that you and The Irish Times know nothing about."

Sadly for the director, there's plenty of support for the view that Charlie Casanova is beyond bad.

Variety in the US slammed it as "a punishing experience", while Paul Whittington of this parish, a man of boundless generosity of spirit, wrote with a heavy heart: "Charlie Casanova is so staggeringly unpleasant, pretentious and inept it's hard to know where to begin criticising it."

But criticising is what critics must do, and to be fair, Irish ones have a long and honourable track-record of giving local talent the benefit of the doubt, especially when a director and cast hang their art gamely by a shoestring. There are times, however, when it's hard to know where to look, except anxiously for the exit signs.

Someone drawing up a Top 10 of the Worst Ever Irish Movies might, with a clear conscience, include any, or all, of the following stinkers.

The Courier (1988)

Gabriel Byrne returned from Hollywood to star as the vicious drug baron Val in this shoestring effort addressing the rise of a new Dublin gang blight characterised by smack and guns.

In Dublin dismissed it as "brutal". Unaware, or uncaring, that this meant "rubbish" in the Dublin vernacular, the British posters for it promotion glamourised it as: "Brutal!"

The Most Fertile Man In Ireland (2001)

The talents of Bronagh Gallagher, Pauline McLynn and James Nesbitt are squandered in this flaccid sex comedy set in Belfast that never works up a head of steam.

The Observer wrote: "Sadly, The Most Fertile Man in Ireland is every bit as hilarious as its title suggests."

Leap Year (2010)

Oscar nominee Amy Adams took a break from A-list material for this dismal rom-com romp around an Ireland of gurning peasants and turf-cutters' donkeys. The New York Times called it "witless, charmless and unimaginative". Others were less kind. One disdained its "leprechaun-like stock characters" while another called it "offensive, reactionary, patronising".

Lead man Matthew Goode later admitted he signed on for a stint in Ireland to be close to his native England where his partner had just given birth.

High Spirits (1988)

Neil Jordan lured a stellar cast to Ireland for this ghastly ghost story. Peter O'Toole starred as a penniless toff who rebrands his dilapidated stately pile into "the most haunted castle in Europe".

It bombed at the box-office and earned Daryl Hannah the 1989 Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress.

Holy Water (2009, left))

This unholy jumble centres on a rural town which is home to a holy well. For reasons best known to himself, the local postman plots to hijack a van of Viagra and sell it in Amsterdam.

The Guardian was moved to label it "fantastically depressing, unfunny and embarrassing".

The Run Of The Country (1995)

The none-too-shabby cast featured Albert Finney, David Kelly and Victoria Smurfit.

How they all wound up in a snoozefest about the dreariness of life in a Cavan town on a wet Wednesday afternoon remains a mystery.

The Mackintosh Man (1973)

How did Paul Newman wind up bombing about the Galway countryside like a headless chicken? Could it have something to do with the fact that director (and Irish citizen since 1964) John Huston had his holiday home there?

And what did James Mason think he was doing in this convoluted mess of a spy thriller?

Taffin (1988)

"The name's Taffin, Mark Taffin." A young-ish Pierce Brosnan starred in this implausible tale of a Wicklow debt-collector who fills his nights giving advice to local rock bands and having his way with Alison Doody's barmaid.

Percy (1971)

While not an Irish film in the strictest sense, Hugh Leonard scripted this sex comedy with a star-studded cast led by Hywel Bennett, Denholm Eliott, Elke Sommer and Britt Ekland. George Best did a fantasy football cameo as himself.

It remains one of those memorable movies that really does merit the description 'So bad it's good'. (But it really is bad.)

Fatal Deviation (1998)

"Ireland's first full-length martial arts film", as it was billed, featured Boyzone's Mikey Graham as the gun-totin' kidnapper of, to quote the poster, a "hot babe", and he must still wake up in the occasional cold sweat.

Irish Independent

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