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185. Kumonosu-jō (Throne of Blood) – This Just In/World Tour 2020 (#245)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Chris Lavery, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Akira Kurosawa’s Kumonosu-jō.

War rages across feudal Japan. Tsuzuki has finally managed to subdue the latest insurrection against his rule. Journeying through Cobweb Forest, victorious generals Washizu and Miki stumble across a strange woman, who offers a prophecy that augers great and terrible things for the two men. Promised the throne, can Washizu resist the lure and temptation of power? More to the point, what terrible things will he do to procure such power?

At time of recording, it was ranked 245th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Macbeth

Justin Kurzel understands Macbeth.

A lot of Shakespeare’s work is viewed through the lens of cultural importance, and quite rightly. His plays codified a phenomenal amount of the English language in use today, incorporation and amalgamating words and phrases that people use without even thinking. Shakespeare codified drama and storytelling in the English language, to the point where any number of his plays can be cited as the defining example of particular styles of dramaturgy. There is no other figure who can cast such a shadow over English-language culture.

A Field in Scotland...

A Field in Scotland…

However, the tendency to treat Shakespeare’s works as priceless artefacts – an attitude engrained by the (rightful) reverence they receive and the way that they are taught in schools – is to miss the vitality and excitement of his work. Shakespeare might have endured as the defining wordsmith of the English-language, but before that he was just a really popular writer with an incredibly populist touch. His plays existed as spectacle before they became holy relics. The jokes played to the galleries packed with punters wanting both high and low culture.

As much as Macbeth might be a searing and insightful exploration of the relationship between violence and masculine identity, it was also pure unadulterated pulp. Justin Kurzel plays up this pulpy spectacle, crafting a version of Macbeth that anchors apocalyptic horror in two amazing central performances. Macbeth is a joyous and horrific piece of cinema, brutal and beautiful in a way that befits its source material.

Oh I just can't wait to be king...

Oh I just can’t wait to be king…

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My 12 for ’13: Much Ado About Nothing & The Joy of a Shakespearean Sex Comedy…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 10…

I feel a little sorry for Shakespeare. The guy wrote some of the most influential and iconic plays ever composed; invented countless turns of phrase and even words; became inexorable associated with theatre and stage work… and yet he’s still hated by just about every student forced to sift through Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet or Macbeth as part of their education. While Shakespeare is easy enough to read once you get a grip of it, or once you have enough experience, forcing kids to read those plays at school is one of the most effective ways to kill enthusiasm for the Bard.

The beauty of Shakespeare is that he isn’t just an “important” writer, that he isn’t just a key part of the evolution of world literature, a formative figure in the history of narrative. Not that any of those are minor accomplishments, mind you. The real beauty of Shakespeare is that he’s actually very good. Not with qualifications like “… for his time” or “… in context.” Shakespeare remains a great writer in the most fundamental “this is actually a pretty good story well told” sort of way.

muchadoaboutnothing3

The best directors to adapt Shakespeare’s work to film realise this, and accept that Shakespeare is still a great storyteller; you just need to figure out how to translate his works properly to the screen, in the same way you’d translate a modern best-seller or a beloved cult comic book. Kenneth Branagh figured out how to do this, with his adaptations almost popping off the screen.

Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates that Joss Whedon has it pretty figured out as well.

muchadoaboutnothing5

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Banquo’s Chair (Review)

As part of the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, I’ll be taking a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s contributions to his celebrated anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’ll be looking at some of the episodes of the classic show that he directed. The “For the Love of Film” blogathon this year is raising money to keep one of Hitchcock’s earlier works, The White Shadow (which he wrote, edited, designed and assistant-directed), available on-line and streaming for free. It’s a very worthwhile cause and you can donate here.

Banquo’s Chair has a rather standard little plot. There’s no sense that any of the ideas are overcrowding one another, or that they’ve been rushed along to fill the twenty-five minute slot. Indeed, the plot and the script are about as standard as they could be, using a simple set up to play through a familiar drama and leading to a somewhat trite and predictable conclusion. Without being harsh, I think that’s a fair description of Banquo’s Chair. However, it is well served by an experienced cast and by Hitchcock’s direction. Neither truly distinguishes it from the rest of the series, but they do elevate a fairly simple set-up into an entertaining little adventure.

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MacBeth at the Abbey Theatre

Myself and the better half had the pleasure of taking in a show in the national theatre last night. Director Jimmy Fay has brought Shakespeare’s MacBeth, the play known in the industry as “the Scottish play”, to the stage. I studied MacBeth in secondary school, as one of the big four tragedies. I would have rather studied Othello or Hamlet, but at least it wasn’t King Lear. We had high hopes in settling into our seats for the full performance – Fay had brought The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui to the stage only last year in a show that remains perhaps my favourite of all the plays I have seen at the Abbey. Did MacBeth live up to those expectations?

"Something wicked this way comes..."

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