Is this a golden age of TV ads?

Bank of Ireland's delightfully playful ad.

A singing lavatory seat. Delightful!

Say what you like about the Carlsberg wrong number ad here, or Guinness’ perennial Christmas ad here, but there are a plethora of TV ads currently doing the rounds that could give anything from the proud history of advertising a run for its money. And most of them have been made for our banks.

Where to begin! Well, for starters there’s that trio of stellar ads from AIB. In the first, we see a cosmopolitan hued mother with her child, as she gets given her new car by her, let’s call him partner – obviously they’re not married, they’re far too modern for that – although it was still up to him to organize the finance. But here’s the genius of the ad; they use actual footage!

Look at that, cosmopolitan or what!

Look at that, cosmopolitan or what!

Normally with an ad like that, you’d have to get a camera crew, a director and hire a couple of actors and the whole thing would look horribly staged. But this actually happened! The camerawork’s all over the place and it’s all horrendously shaky. Clearly, he took the footage himself, managing to capture her reaction almost by accident! It’s priceless. And here’s the amazing thing; it’s not the only footage that AIB got their hands on either!

There’s that second ad, with this mum – a normal one this time, you know, Irish – who gives her three kids the tree-house they’ve always dreamt of. And she manages to capture their reactions as well, on camera! It’s heart-warming, genuinely.

Fair play to you, Mick And Kate.

Fair play to you, Mick And Kate.

But the piece de resistance is their ad with that elderly couple explaining how they’ve finally managed to pay off their mortgage. The whole thing could have come across as unspeakably smug and been literally painful to watch, were it not for the fact that technically, it’s both brilliant and daringly innovative.

First, part of it is shot in glorious slo-mo! Which gives the ad that touch of class – and frankly, I’m very surprised that more ads don’t make use of this. And second, part if it uses actual home videos which were never meant for public viewing, but which the couple obviously gave AIB access to. You simply can’t fake that sort of footage, and it gives the ad an emotional depth that’s genuinely moving.

Look, a hipster! Well spotted KBC!

Look, a hipster! Well spotted KBC!

Not to be outdone, KBC have produced their own little gem. There’s this girl and her hipster boyfriend – you can tell he’s a hipster because he’s got a beard, and by the bye, I predict beards are going to come back in fashion – don’t’ laugh! – any day now. And flares, and maybe even disco. Also, anything vintage. Mark my words, you heard it here first!

They’re dancing up and down in their living room, mindlessly celebrating the deal they’ve just been offered by their bank. Which, needless to say, would all be unimaginably tedious and frankly unwatchable, were if not for the brilliant, not to say daring innovation at the heart of the ad; it’s shot in glorious slo-mo!

A still worthy of the ads themselves.

A still worthy of the ads themselves.

And there’s more. What about Bank Of Ireland’s hilarious singing lavatory seat! Which is both brilliantly funny and clever. Because the music that they use is actually a subtle commentary on the ad’s message. “Don’t stop believing” they sing, which actually has a double meaning, when you think about it – and ditto cheesy, retro music loudly placed in a knowing po-mo manner in ads and TV series, that’s another one you can add to my list of predictions above.

The ghost of Christmas past.

The ghost of Christmas past.

Best of all though are those hilarious set of ads with those D4 lads, who sit chatting on that couch in those charming AIG ads. Imagine how proud those All Black players must have been to have had the chance to star in a TV spot with that pair of jokers!

And nor do we have a monopoly on those kinds of heart-warming if technically daring ads here in Ireland. Have you seen that wonderfully emotional set of ads all those renowned poets have done for Nationwide over in Britain? As we all know, financial institutions were probably the people most seriously affected by the downturn in 2008, so it’s really great to see so many established poets in Britain doing their bit to try and help them get back into profit again.

A suitably lofty use of his poetic gifts. Well done sir!

A suitably lofty use of his poetic gifts. Well done sir!

You can read my extensive analysis of each of those, and indeed all of the above, in my 734 page epamphlet which you can download (for free!) here.

What an age to be alive.

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“Salt”, the latest album from Katie Kim.

Katie Kin's Salt.

Katie Kin’s Salt.

In a parallel universe somewhere it was Cristina who was catapulted to stardom in the 1980s, while Madonna continues to wait tables somewhere in Williamsburg. There, Katie Kim’s records sell by the truckload.

Few things delineate us more distinctively than those secret discoveries we make in the worlds of music, books, film and television. But if any of those discoveries suddenly enjoy unexpected commercial success, we become deeply suspicious of them. Nothing contaminates art quite as irredeemably as popular acclaim.

All of which makes Katie Kim the most alluring artist working anywhere on these isles. Her latest album Salt came out last autumn, and so unheralded was its release that it completely passed me by.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

I had first come across her in 2011 when I saw her perform at the event curated by Donal Dineen at Dublin Contemporary. And when her second album, Cover and Flood, came out later that year, I had no hesitation in declaring it the album of the year, not withstanding what a stellar year 2011 was music-wise, which I reviewed earlier here,

So I had been eagerly awaiting her new album ever since, but somehow I still managed to miss it when it came out last autumn. I only heard of its arrival when it was nominated for the Choice Music Album of the year award. And although of course I’m delighted that the prize eventually went to Rusangano Family, few artists would have merited that boost to their career that winning an award like that would have given her than Kim.

 

Limerick's Rusangano Family.

Limerick’s Rusangano Family.

Salt is a more compact and cohesive affair than her previous couple of records, but the atmosphere it evokes and the feel of the album are familiar. We’re in 4AD territory here. And if it never gets quite as primal, guitar wise, as it does on a Cocteau Twins record, there’s no mistaking the terrain.

Think Stina Nordenstam recording an album for 4AD with some of the Dead Can Dance crew providing production duties. There’s an ethereal vulnerability to the vocals that’s bolstered by the heft and propulsion produced by the layers of sound that surround and give weight to the melodies.

Katie Kim's Cover and Flood.

Katie Kim’s Cover and Flood.

The result is a wonderfully dark album that you want to hear at four o’clock in the morning, but with the volume turned up loud.

Secrets are wonderful, but it’s pointless if you’ve literally no one to share them with. So for goodness sake go and buy this album. I need somebody else to talk to about it.

You can see the video for the track Ghosts here.

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Moonlight Triumphs

Moonlight.

Moonlight.

One of the great mysteries of the show biz world is how it is that the most gifted, talented and ambitious stars in Hollywood contrive to produce the most tedious television programme of the entire year. The Oscars are so drearily predictable and every gesture has plainly been choreographed within an inch of its life.

Ironically, quite how redundant the Oscars are as a tv show was further highlighted by this year’s extraordinary GUBU – that’s Grotesque Unbelievable Bizarre and Unprecedented for the uninitiated. Because the vast majority of people who subsequently watched that, there’s no other word for it, unbelievable cock-up will have seen it as a clip on Youtube, thereby avoiding having to sit through the hours and hours of tedium that it was preceded and followed by. On the off chance that you missed it, here it is.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which lost to ?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which lost to Gladiator.

Unusually, they actually got is right this year. Moonlight really is the best film of the year. But under normal circumstances, few members of the Academy would have bothered taking their dvd copy out of its box – they gave the Best Picture award to Birdman over Boyhood (reviewed earlier here) in 2014, to The King’s Speech over Toy Story 3 and The Social Network in 2010, and to Gladiator over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic in 2000.

Based on the unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is divided into three acts as we follow the growing pains of a young black kid as a child, a teenager and as a young man. The damaged only child of a drug-addled mother who pays for her habit the only way she can, he is rendered all the more shy and awkward by virtue of being secretly gay. All of which screams hopelessly dull but drearily worthy.

12 Years A Slave, another surprise winner in 2012, and also supported by Brad Pitt.

12 Years A Slave, another surprise winner in 2013, and, like Moonlight, also supported by Brad Pitt.

Happily, indeed impressively, the film soars above and beyond its theatrical origins and rather than being subjected to the sort of preachy lecture that the material suggests, what we get instead is a vision that somehow manages to be both impressionistic and coolly detached at the same time. Director Barry Jenkins, whose second film this is, worked on the script with McCraney, and both do a remarkable job of freeing the material from its source and injecting genuine cinematic life into it. But they manage to do so without ever losing sight of quite how horrendously difficult growing up is for a gay black kid in the suburbs, when the only hope any of them ever have of escape is of tailoring to, and feeding off, people like his mother.

Boyhood, which lost to Birdman.

Boyhood, which lost to Birdman.

Magnificent yes, but not quite the masterpiece some would have you believe. In parts one and two, every time he tries to just get on with his life the outside world comes crashing down on him and it’s heart wrenching to witness. But by the time we get to the third and final part, the world leaves him momentarily in peace, and he is finally given space to breathe. So you leave the cinema on a much lighter note than you might have expected, but you are left feeling ever so slightly short changed.

The brilliant if dark Toy Story 3.

That’s how you make sequels.

But that is a minor quibble. This is a major film and Jenkins is a serious talent. Let’s just hope he manages to walk away from the obscene amounts of money that as we speak will be appearing on tables in front of him across the whole of Hollywood. Just say no.

You can see the trailer for Moonlight here.

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Finally, two new films to shout about.

Manchester by the Sea.

Manchester by the Sea.

In her revealing profile of Kenneth Lonergan in the New Yorker here, Rebecca Mead charts the travails that Lonergan went through with his second feature Margaret. Not withstanding her entirely sympathetic portrait, one of the fascinating insights to emerge is that, at least to some degree, those wounds were partially self-inflicted.

Certainly his debut You Can Count On Me was one of the most impressive films to come out of America in the last couple of decades. And not withstanding the wrangling over its length, his follow up Margaret, reviewed earlier here, was if anything an improvement on that debut. But when it came to delivering that contentious final cut of Margaret, he seems to have burrowed himself ever deeper into a hole largely if tragically of his own making.

The Brilliant You Can Count on Me.

The brilliant You Can Count on Me.

There’s evidently a stubbornness and a prickly recalcitrance to his character that’s quietly at war with his fiery intelligence and the profound sense of empathy that he has for other people and, therefore, with the characters that he ends up creating on the page. It’s in this sense that his third film, Manchester by the Sea is so clearly an autobiographical one. It’s not so much the story that he tells that is so manifestly his, rather it is the mood created that so perfectly captures that inner tension.

Casey Affleck plays Lee, who has bottled up whatever it was that happened to him in his past so tightly he’s become immune to life itself. When a tragic event sends him back home to the Manchester of the title, he has no choice other than to face up to his past.

What Lonergan does so brilliantly is to stay with his characters as they go about the mundane, day to day chores that have to be gone through whenever any of us have to deal with a tragic event. What makes this all the more excruciating is that of all the people who have to deal with those kind of things, Lee is the least capable, and the most in need of help. Which is the one thing he’s incapable of asking for.

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea.

Casey Affleck, who’s a revelation, and the excellent Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea.

It would be misleading to pretend that, at times, this were not a profoundly depressing film. But its brilliance lies precisely in its refusal to turn what seems like an impossible situation around and to tie up all the various narrative strands. In life as we live it, some things are impossible to move beyond. And those stories don’t end, they rumble on for the rest of our lives.

Loving is the sixth feature from Jeff Nichols and after the atmospheric Take Shelter (2011) and Mud (2012), he made the disappointingly conventional Midnight Special. The latter seemed to strain for the sort of Spielbergian grandeur that Hollywood and its accountants are so in awe of. This film, happily, would appear to a conscious effort to produce an antidote to that sort of emotional incontinence.

Jeff Nicholas Loving.

Jeff Nichol’s Loving.

As a based-on-a-true-story tale of a white man’s insistence on marrying the black girl of his dreams in the 1950s, in the southern state of Virginia, it’s the sort of story that could have been ruined had it been saddled with the traditional Hollywood treatment. In contrast, Nichols is consciously restrained throughout, and he refuses to punctuate every emotional expression with a musical outburst, quietly letting the facts speak for themselves.

And, as with Manchester by the Sea, he too takes his cue from classical Greek drama, so that most of the pivotal action happens off stage, including even the climatic court scene when the laws prohibiting interracial marriage are finally overturned.

Ruth Nega in Loving.

Ruth Negga, who gives a powerful performance in Loving.

Instead of which, he focuses on the reactions of the protagonists to the events that have unfolded off screen. And there can be few scenes more moving than when Ruth Negga gets the phone call informing her that, somewhere in the vast bureaucracy of the United States government, someone was finally responding to her many letters pleading desperately for help.

Some have complained that this distanced view renders the film cool or even cold. But as Manohla Dargis writes in her excellent New York Times review here, it’s precisely this quiet distance that gives the film its emotional punch. You can see the trailer to Loving here, and the trailer to Manchester by the Sea here.

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The 2 or 3 good films from 2016, and “Sunflower”, a lost De Sica classic.

Sunflower.

Sunflower.

Donald Clarke is one of the few consistently reliable film critics on these shores, so when in a recent Irish Times column he described Arrived as one of the best films of the year, I trotted along to the cinema confidently expecting to be wowed. A couple of hours later I came out scratching my head. It’s all right, and it certainly is one of the best Hollywood films of the year, but that surely is setting the bar at an embarrassingly low level.

So naturally enough, I set about compiling my own list of the year’s best films. And do you know what, he was right, though not I suspect in the manner that he meant. 2016 was a dreadfully disappointing year film wise.

Heroically, the Guardian managed to find no fewer than 48 films to recommend as their films of the year here. Including: the comic book pair of damp squibs Captain America and Deadpool, the Coen’s pedestrianly conventional Hail Caesar, the latest unnecessary film-by-numbers from Tarantino The Hateful Eight, Tom Ford’s there’s-no-there-there Nocturnal Animals, reviewed earlier here, and, yawn, Ghostbusters.

Love and Friendship.

Love and Friendship.

This being the Guardian they even managed to recommend a couple of Irish films. The, whisper it, hopelessly muddled Room – whose story is it, his or hers, and what do they want? If it’s to escape, then what’s the second hour about, and if that’s not what they want, then what’s the first hour about? And Sing Street, which would be fine in a TV listings for a Sunday evening as a marginally more lively alternative to The Antiques Roadshow, but should never have been allowed within a three hundred mile radius of an actual cinema.

And, inevitably, they warmly recommended I, Daniel Blake, which is, frankly, little more than a Ken Loach film. I know I know, you’re right, that is harsh, but honestly, that’s really all it is.

Son of Saul.

Son of Saul.

There were a handful of memorable films. Whit Stillman’s charming adaptation of a minor Jane Austen, Love and Friendship, László Nemes’ harrowing Son of Saul, Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (reviewed earlier here), and Matteo Garrone’s majestic Tale of Tales (reviewed earlier here).

Tale of Tales.

Tale of Tales.

But if in ten years’ time you were watching a television somewhere and you recognized a scene from one of the above, which one of them would make you stop what you were doing to think, I hope I have time to sit down and watch the rest of this? Tale of Tales, just about, so long as the screen was sufficiently grandiose to do it justice. But there’s nothing there that would make your heart skip a beat at the thought of having the chance to see it again. What do I mean by that? Sunflower.

Sunflower was part of a last great hurrah that the truly great Italian film maker Vittorio De Sica enjoyed, but had the misfortune to be the first of two films that he released in the same year, in 1970. And it ended up being very unfairly eclipsed by his second film, the exquisite and heart-breaking The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which went on to win the Academy Award for best foreign film that same year, which I reviewed earlier here.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

Sunflower is every bit as emotionally devastating though in a somewhat different way. Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni fall in love on the eve of the second World War and, despite their best efforts, he is eventually forced to do his bit and is dispatched to the Eastern front. When he fails to return, Loren sets off for Russia determined to find out what has become of him.

Very much a companion piece to Demy’s sublime The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, like that film Sunflower takes an apparently mundane, everyday story, and gives it incredible emotional resonance and depth by transforming it into an impossibly bold and dazzlingly brilliant melodrama. Almost as ravishingly colourful as Cherbourg and, though not actually a musical, it effectively feels like one such is the power of Henry Mancini’s devastating score.

Mastroianni and Loren.

Mastroianni and Loren.

I saw it a couple of years ago on Sky Arts, but I notice that, in their efforts to make it a 24 hour channel, in contrast to say the likes of BBC4, they rotate a number of their films and programmes throughout the night and into the morning. So you can still find it every now and then hidden in their schedule. If you get the chance, watch it. And in ten years’ time, when you catch a glimpse of it on a screen somewhere, you’ll know what I was talking about.

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