Filmography, Movies

High Spirits (1988) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

There comes a point with any filmmaker, no matter how great or good, when the magic wears off and they produce something they would rather forget. Some get it out of the way early. For some it comes at the end of their career. For Neil Jordan, his fourth picture very much fits the bill. High Spirits is what you might, charitably, coin – a misfire.

You sense with High Spirits the fusion of numerous elements that have marked Jordan’s journey as a filmmaker up to this point, a journey which by now is defiantly idiosyncratic and liable to avoid pigeon-holing. While High Spirits is very clearly a Hollywood product in the manner none of his previous three pictures could be described, it sees for Jordan both a return to his native Ireland when it comes to location and narrative (not evidenced since Angel), plus the interest in fantasy trappings as was The Company of Wolves, even if they are wildly different approaches.

Jordan has stated that he was locked out of the editing room on High Spirits and he has “locked in a vault” the original cut he would have released, suggesting a strong displeasure with a final product which is striking in how forgettable and rote the finished product is compared to, particularly, his last film Mona Lisa. The conflagration of Irish, British and American actors, crew and production values, works to the detriment of the depth and substance we saw in Jordan’s previous films. He remains a director developing and evolving, but this feels from the get-go like an unusual aberration.

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Filmography, Movies

Mona Lisa (1986) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

After a sojourn into the realms of Gothic dark fantasy in The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan veers back toward territory he explored in his first picture, delivering in the process not only his most accomplished works to date, but one of the highlights of his varied cinematic career.

Mona Lisa saw Jordan ply his trade with HandMade Films, who since being formed by George Harrison (yes, the Beatle) in order to bankroll Monty Python’s controversial The Life of Brian in 1979, had emerged as one of the growing, innovative production companies in British cinema, developing pictures such as Terry Gilliam’s curious Time Bandits in 1981 and a year earlier, John Mackenzie’s seminal British crime picture The Long Good Friday, which made a star of Bob Hoskins. Mona Lisa continued that ascent of stardom for Hoskins in the lead role as one of the UK’s most exciting character actors.

You see while Hoskins is the protagonist of Jordan’s neo-noir crime drama, which sees the director using a London setting for the first time, his leading man George is by far a conventional hero within what is without doubt an unconventional, melancholic romantic picture. There is a real sadness that pervades Mona Lisa, despite George’s inherent everyman optimism and the strings of Nat King Cole singing his take on the titular figure, of course so named after Leonardo da Vinci’s most famed Renaissance portrait. Jordan’s film is one of intentional contradictions.

It is also, in more than a few places, quietly heartbreaking.

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Filmography, Movies

The Company of Wolves (1984) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

In a brand new project, I am going to be looking weekly at the complete cinematic, feature-length filmography of a director in the run up to a newly-released piece of work.

In the first Filmography project, in advance of his new film Greta to be released in April 2019, I’m looking at celebrated Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan…

The Company of Wolves can be seen as the first stirrings of what would become certain Neil Jordan trademarks in his storytelling.

Sexuality, and principally forbidden sexuality, is right at the forefront of this take on the classic Red Riding Hood fairytale story, something Jordan hinted at exploring in his first film Angel and spirals very much back to in his next film, Mona Lisa. Jordan couches these themes in The Company of Wolves very much in the Gothic romantic tradition, with the central character of Rosaleen the young, naive, innocent beauty who is eventually courted by the literal Big Bad Wolf of folklore. The result is a strange, haunting and often quite eerie piece of work.

Though not Jordan’s best piece of work, it’s a striking next step in just how markedly different it is to his previous, debut picture.

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Doctor Who, Essays, Movies

A Slayer Reborn: Buffy and the Reboot Question

Every July weekend at San Diego Comic Con, the biggest geek showcase on the planet where all the major studios and productions roll up to drop exclusives and surprises, you always get one announcement which courts a level of controversy and/or deep analysis. This year it wasn’t even the debut of a trailer for the Jodie Whittaker-fronted, Chris Chibnall-era new series of Doctor Who—which is going to almost certainly lead to a Star Wars-esque online tirade from grown man children at the idea of a woman playing the Doctor. 2018 had another major female figure from popular culture waiting in the wings get people talking: Buffy, she of the vampire slaying.

More specifically, the fact that Joss Whedon is overseeing, though likely not directly show running, a modern reboot of his legendary 20th Century Fox series which remains one of the bastions of 90’s pop culture, female empowerment, and genre storytelling. Note the word here that is crucial: reboot. Not revival. Not continuation. A reboot.

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Essays, Movies

Cinematic Universes: the divisive wave of cinema’s future

With the advent of Justice League, many fans and commentators are once again discussing the concept of the ‘Cinematic Universe’, given the formative attempts by DC Comics over the last several years to emulate the rampant success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first truly successful and revolutionary cinematic model of an overarching mythological world of characters and narratives informing one another. Inevitably with the internet, it’s leading to a war of trolls – Marvelita haters and DC sceptics waging a pointless conflict over territorial ownership and trying the answer the utterly subjective question – ‘which is better?’. For every critic who tells you the MCU is technically stronger as a tapestry, you’ll easily find more than enough ‘DCEU’ defenders to race in with their Amazonian swords and claim everything Marvel has done is powerfully overrated. There can be no victor in such a battle.

In truth, discussion of the Cinematic Universe has never gone away. Hollywood and the blockbuster movie system has been utterly consumed and dominated by the power of a connected storytelling model, following the template Marvel Studios laid down. It has arguably changed the very fabric of the cinematic franchise. Following the essential advent of the ‘blockbuster’ in the mid-1970’s with Jaws and of course Star Wars, it took Hollywood a while to truly embrace the idea of creating what we accept as a ‘franchise’. Sequels had always existed – we can go back as far as 1916 indeed for the first recognised follow up, Thomas Dixon Jr’s The Fall of a Nation, which carried on the story from DW Griffith’s historically polarising The Birth of a Nation – but it was truly the 1980’s that gave birth to the notion of a franchise, once Star Wars developed sequels to George Lucas’ game-changing original movie and developed an entire cinematic eco-system around the property.

Sequels, nonetheless, remained *sequels*. Film number two. Taking the characters and situations from the first successful picture and moving them in new directions, though not always. Many sequels in the 80’s and 1990’s simply re-trod all of the same beats people loved about the first movies, mostly with diminishing returns. That’s what made The Empire Strikes Back so powerful; it took Star Wars and those characters truly in new, challenging directions and forever altered their destinations. Not every sequel took such a bold leap forward for its characters and narrative. Many played it safe, an accusation oddly levelled at some of the recent cinematic universes which were born out of the ashes of continuing storylines.

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