CALVARY (2014)

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them, MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 31st, 2014 by Jim Delaney

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July 22nd at Landmark Theatres Kendall Sq. Cinema, Cambridge, MA.

Written & Directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Isaach De Bankolé, Orla O’Rourke, M. Emmet Walsh, and Aidan Gillen.

Regardless of the fact that I created this site to discuss movies that I like & love, and hopefully that you like & love as well, I make a pretty sincere effort to resist hyperbole. That said … I damn sure hope that Ireland recognizes Brendan Gleeson as a national treasure. As much as Toshirô Mifune has done for Japan, Marcello Mastroianni for Italy, or Max von Sydow for Sweden, Gleeson manages to embody the strongest and most honest and the weakest and most vulnerable in his nation. CALVARY is his second film with writer/director McDonagh. I was a big fan of their previous film, THE GUARD, but that movie left me inadequately prepared for their latest collaboration.

In the opening sequence of CALVARY, we meet Father James (Gleeson) in a claustrophobicly tight shot on his face in a confessional booth.calvary-brendan-gleeson-kelly-reilly-02-636-380 A man’s voice through the screen tells Father James that he had been molested as a child by a priest over several years. The voice will never have his revenge on is attacker, as that priest is now dead, so this voice has decided he will take his revenge on Father James by the following Sunday. Father James is nearly but not completely certain who in his small town had just threatened him. We follow Father James for the rest of the week as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (he had been married before joining the priesthood), shepherd a turbulent lovers’ triangle who do no want his help, and manage a potentially large donation to the church by a local banker. Among other things. Busy week for a condemned man!

The most immediate surprise of CALVARY, given the threat that overhangs every minute, is how damn funny it often is. This is by no means a comedy, it is a searching drama that takes a much more bleak worldview than THE GUARD, but Irish gallows humor erupts in the most unexpected moments. If you’ve ever been in a funeral wake, and shared some fond memory of the8099447410_f6cdda0651_c deceased that made yourself or others laugh just a little too loud, then you have experienced the sort of unsettling humor and intensity that this film evokes. Humor and scorn are drawn from the focus on individual characters, as well as the scope of larger entities such as the church, banks, local government, and your friends and neighbors.

CALVARY is that rare film about practitioners of faith that makes no attempt to offer you comforting platitudes disguised as answers. Its success is in its clarification of the questions. MV5BMjAyODAxMzQyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODI0MjEyOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_ In what will probably turn out to be the most unforgettable sequence I’ll see in any movie this year, we see a pre-teen girl walking alone on a dirt road. Father James crosses her path and walks with her. She knows him and is not at all nervous about walking with him; we as an audience have come to know him, and we trust him on this road. And. Yet. Given the past few decades of sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church, locally in Ireland and elsewhere around the globe, all we can think of is the myriad reasons that this scenario could go wrong. What if he says something the she misunderstands, repeats, and creates the illusion of impropriety? What if she is a flat-out liar and implicates Father James in some behavior. What if we don’t know him as well as we think we do, and the story is about to veer in a totally unexpected direction? What if neither of them do anything untoward, film2-1_7-31-14 but a witness with their own perspective (or agenda?) reports seeing something other than what happened? This scene was more riveting than anything I’ve seen in an action adventure or horror film in longer than I can immediately recall.

I was deeply fortunate to attend a screening organized by the Boston Irish Film Festival that was followed by a Q&A with Brendan Gleeson & John Michael McDonagh. The scene I just mentioned, and several others, were turned inside out by the audience’s questions and held up to the light by the guests. There was a realization on both sides of the microphone that respect for and trust in authority figures is in really bad shape, with really good reason, and that facing these questions head on in absence of political correctness as this film does may be a crucial tool in reversing this phenomenon.Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 12.49.50 AM At the end of the film I was aware that I’d seen a unique and powerful piece of filmmaking. At the end of the Q&A I was aware that I had witnessed a social experiment, one whose impact I hope will grow over time if this movie can achieve a measure of cult status. Pretty impressive work for a film that was shot on the sort of abbreviated shooting schedule usually reserved for episodic television.

There is so much more I want to tell you about CALVARY, but this would require either spoilers of the film, or the revelation of way more personal information than you want from a movie review article. If you’ve checked the IMDb message boards then you’ve seen how divisive this movie has been.calvary02 All I should tell you is that I am firmly in the camp of supporters, and while I don’t expect that you will enjoy CALVARY, I think you will be moved by it. Sometimes movies can do more than entertain, or even inform; at best they can crystallize the human experience into an hour-glass.

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I CONFESS (1953)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 5th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

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From Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, and Karl Malden.

Montgomery Clift plays Father Michael Logan, a Catholic priest who hears the confession of a killer. When Father Logan is accused of murder, the sacrament forbids him to reveal the truth, even to protect himself.

Hitchcock is famous for celebrating the landmarks and lesser-known areas of San Francisco, London, and other great cities. I CONFESS was shot almost entirely in Quebec City. Since Quebec has not been featured in nearly as many films as some of Hitchcock’s favorite cities, he had free reign to explore and use the city as a character.

It’ll finish Thursday
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from July 5th, 2014

I was baptized Catholic but I fell away from the church when I was fairly young. As a movie fan, themes if faith and doubt and sacrifice and redemption appeal to me, as much in films with a religious focus as in more secular films. I have read The Bible, and I have paid a reasonable amount of attention to what separates one denomination from another, because I am often fascinated ConfessBaxterby how these issues and themes come into play in storytelling. I am no longer a Catholic but some of my favorite movies either would have been very different, or simply would not have existed, without Catholicism and/or Christianity.

Alfred Hitchcock was raised Catholic. He was also a master storyteller who could wring maximum dramatic intensity from a scene while still playing within the rules of his faith. Watching a religiously themed movie like I CONFESS with the lunch movie crowd was always amusing. I could count on most of the audience to be aware of the suits and trappings of faith even if it was not their particular denomination. But there were always those uninformed few who needed concepts like Catholic confession, the Passover Seder, or the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama explained to them. This film was no exception; thankfully the 95 minute running time permitted us to fit I CONFESS into 2 consecutive lunch hours, while still having time to pause it early at the end of the first day to address all the questions of the uninitiated. The film raised questions ranging from adorably naive to defiantly provoking, with some seeking to understand the confess-cliftconfessional process, and others looking for loopholes either in the Catholic ritual or Hitchcock’s film. If you think this is funny, ya shoulda been there for THE EXORCIST!

With all this dogmatic debate aside, we were able to get down to the core of this unique little thriller. This is not a standard whodunit, since the murderer confesses his crime in the first reel, and much of Hitch’s trademark gallows humor is also missing. What you’re left with is a sombre character study of a well meaning man caught in an impossible situation. Montgomery Clift is perfectly understated as Father Logan; in a standard murder mystery a man in this situation could desperately pursue his own ends, but the bonds of the priesthood create a layer of complexity here that would challenge a lessor actor. In a similar situation in a very different movie, Bob Hoskins rages indignantly ConfessMonty against a murder taking advantage of the confessional in the underrated A PRAYER FOR THE DYING. Hoskins’ reaction worked for that story, but I CONFESS needed a performer who would go the opposite direction, drawing ever inward and feeling more trapped.

Montgomery Clift was 32 years old when he played Father Logan. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar later that year for his heartbreakingly nuanced portrayal of the bugling pugilist Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. We see him here at the dawn of an exemplary and tragically brief career of playing wounded men caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Father Logan has not only heard the confession of a murderer, but he stands to benefit, as the victim was aware of a potentially compromising secret about the Father. If this film were remade today, studio development execs would almost certainly make this secret far more lascivious, which would be a mistake. COnfessanne-baxterPart of what makes Father Logan a riveting hero is precisely that he is a good and honest man, and no matter which course of action he takes, he will be mistaken for the wrongdoing of another person.

As I mentioned to my coworkers in 2007, Hitchcock makes wonderful use of the city of Quebec, which had rarely been portrayed previously on film. He uses locations that would be familiar to tourists, or a draw to those considering visiting, such as the Parliament Building, the Old Quarter, and Hôtel Le Château Frontenac. Frontenac sits overlooking the St. Lawrence River like a glorious medieval castle, a hearty stone’s throw from La Citadelle de Québec. Hitch also follows Father Logan through parts of town that would not be found in your Michelin Guide: Eglise Saint-Zéphirin de Stadacona, where Father Logan hears the inciting confession, the Hall of Justice where Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue questions Logan, and yet again the Frontenac Hotel, where a climactic chase takes us ConfessMaldenthrough areas of the hotel that no guest would see. This is an aspect of the rarely sung artistry of Hitchcock: he takes a location you have heard about, and makes you want to see it, or he takes a location you know, and shows you something unexpected.

I CONFESS is not regarded as one of Hitchcock’s high art masterpieces. Its initial release was a little contentious, with Hitch even joking that an alternate cut may be required to appease the Quebec Catholic community, and another cut for the rest of the world. This may be solely my agnostic point of view, but I find movies that feature spirituality tested by doubt far more faith affirming that movies about blind faith. This is a timeless story set in one of the oldest standing cities in the western hemisphere. The elements of I CONFESS that may upset some Catholics are exactly what makes this story resonate 60 years after the film’s release, and 110 years after the French play on which it was based.

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