We’re No Angels (1989) – The Filmography of Neil Jordan

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

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

Neil Jordan never quite made a film like We’re No Angels again and you can understand why by the end of his misfiring gangster comedy. In any other circumstances, We’re No Angels could, maybe even should, have been a classic Hollywood comedy that marked Jordan out as a household directorial name.

This was not to be. An even more significant critical and commercial failure than High Spirits, worsened by the fact a great deal more money was involved in the production, Jordan quickly seemed to become aware that the road to Hollywood was not paved in smash hits. We’re No Angels had a script by celebrated playwright David Mamet, high profile A-list stars in Robert de Niro, Sean Penn and Demi Moore, and the biggest budget ever handed down to a production made in British Columbia. Expansive sets were constructed to bring the mid-1930’s prison and small town locations to life. Paramount believed they had the alchemy of a huge hit on their hands.

The opposite was true. We’re No Angels could end up being Neil Jordan’s most forgettable picture and a sign of why he and conventional Hollywood were never going to be a perfect match.

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TV, Book and Movie Watch Roundup – January 2019

Welcome to February! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation (or perhaps Set The Tape) but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black, or in some cases because I was off sick from work and had little else to be doing.

Let’s start this month with TV… Read more…

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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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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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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Angel (1982) – 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 debut feature of Neil Jordan belies that of a newcomer to cinema. Angel, while rough around the edges, displays a depth and artistry to signal out this filmmaker.

Jordan was already an established novelist, and the son of an Irish professor as well as university student of Irish history and English literature, when he circuitously arrived at the camera when he shot an on-set documentary about John Boorman’s re-telling of the Arthurian myth, Excalibur. In quite a fascinating piece of history concerning the foundations of the Irish Film Board and a certain level of controversy around Boorman’s role within it, Angel ended up becoming a crucial launchpad of Irish cinema in the early 1980’s, not to mention kickstarting Jordan’s career.

Boorman, by this point a celebrated director both in the UK and Hollywood thanks to pictures such as Point Break and Deliverance, served as a clear totem for Jordan in his role as Executive Producer on Angel, a picture which carries weighty themes on a small frame.

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