Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Leyburn’

Off to the cinema, just for a change – it gets me out of the house when I’m not working, if nothing else.

‘One for Ordinary… erm… Life?’ I requested, finding myself struggling to recall the exact wording of the title.

Ordinary People,’ chimed in the cinema manager, with (as it turned out) a wholly unwarranted aura of cheerful confidence.

Ordinary Love,’ said the minion actually operating the ticket apparatus.

Well, if we could agree about one thing, it was that the film was certainly ordinary. I do wonder if the people who name films often think ahead to the possible consequences of some of their choices. There’s a good reason why no-one, to my knowledge, has released a movie called Complete Trash. Would Ordinary Love prove to be quite as unremarkable as its title suggested?

One way to find out: off up to the theatre (probably the smallest in Oxford) which remained almost entirely unoccupied and annoyingly over-illuminated for the next couple of hours (but then it was a midweek lunchtime showing). Then it was time for my theory that you can get a pretty good sense of what a movie is going to be like from the trailers running in front of it to take a bit of a kicking, as we were treated to yet another promo for the new Jumanji film (currently the recipient of the saturation publicity treatment, in the hope of prying a few viewers away from the looming stellar conflict juggernaut), a potentially-gimmicky looking film about the First World War, and no fewer than three trailers for social justice movies about the black experience in contemporary America.

None of which really had much in common with Lisa Sarros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s film, which concerns a married couple living (it would seem, not that it particularly matters) somewhere in Ulster. This is a bit of a case of big stars carrying a modest movie, as they are played by Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson. They are retired (although I found myself imagining that Neeson would still occasionally pop out to deliver the odd vengeful beating to a deserving target) and live a comfortable life in every sense of the word: they are not especially demonstrative, but then there is no reason for them to be. Manville and Neeson evoke this atmosphere of relaxed, easy intimacy superbly.

And then, of course, something changes: Manville’s character, Joan, discovers a lump in one of her breasts. Quite sensibly she and Tom (Neeson’s character) decide to get it checked out. Initial tests are inconclusive, but the definitive news, when it comes, is bad (as one might expect, given that ‘woman turns out not to have cancer’ isn’t much of a premise for a movie). She is prescribed surgery, then a gruelling course of chemotherapy, and then further preventative surgery at the end of it all. It is a hard road, and one which inevitably puts a strain on what initially seems like the unshakeable bond which they share.

So, obviously, this is not exactly escapist entertainment (or, if it is, I shudder to imagine what your personal situation must be like). No matter how well made it is, one has to wonder what the point of yet another cancer movie is: God knows there have been enough of them in the past, after all. Is it just a case of this being a calculated pact between performers and film-makers? This is the kind of film where the performances attract awards attention, while such a determinedly low-key movie would probably struggle to even get noticed without stars of the calibre of Neeson and Manville raising its profile.

And there is a further point to be made, probably. One has to be fairly lucky these days, I think, not to feel the baleful touch of King Crab upon one’s own life: my own tally includes two aunts, one uncle and a cousin. But it is one of those experiences which is both near-universal and deeply personal at the same time – it is different for everyone, simply because so much depends on the personalities and relationships involved. Furthermore, many films about cancer are not cancer films, they are films about Movie Cancer – a usefully vaguely-defined disease, which usually leaves the afflicted party looking very photogenic right up until their passing becomes imminent, or they reach the hump of their treatment and then make a fairly brisk recovery. Perhaps melodrama is just the default setting for this kind of movie – making any other kind of statement is very difficult, as the more general the message you try to put across, the greater the danger of just saying something glib or facile.

Most of the time, Ordinary Love manages to dodge this particular problem, by being effectively understated and low-key and concentrating on presenting a believable relationship between the two main characters. Most of the movie is essentially a two-hander, one long conversation between Manville and Neeson: and they don’t spend the whole time talking about terminal diseases, either. They talk about brussel sprouts, and feeding their goldfish, and how much beer he’s drinking; they argue about how a Fitbit works. The fact that they don’t discuss the cancer says as much as any protracted dialogue scene could achieve. And when the strain takes its toll and they do argue with each other, you feel it all the more: it has that horrid sense of how people who love each other know the best way to hurt each other, too.

And yet the film blows it, just a little bit, by inserting a subplot about their past: it transpires they had a daughter, who died young, some years earlier. The details are left intentionally vague, but it just feels like something that’s been added to give the characters one more thing to emote about. The film ends up presenting a rather eggy scene with Liam Neeson delivering a monologue to a gravestone that feels slightly corny and rather out-of-character for the man he is playing here. It does risk tipping the film over into melodrama: living with cancer is something many people can relate to, but being hit by cancer after losing a child pushes things slightly towards Book of Job territory.

It’s a shame, because this is the only real blip in an otherwise strong movie. Its success is mostly down to the leads. You almost feel a bit sorry for Lesley Manville, for she has spent most of her career being quietly excellent in films not entirely unlike this one, and praise for her performance may well include words like ‘naturally’ and ‘characteristically’. Liam Neeson, on the other hand, has spent so much time appearing in head-banging action movies over the last decade or so that one is wont to forget just what an effective and understated serious actor he can be. (Maybe he should give Lesley Manville the phone number for Luc Besson.) Perhaps he gets a slightly showier part, but this is still solid work in an impressive movie. Ordinary Love is more than good enough to justify its own existence, and manages to make its theme simple enough to be easily communicated, but not so simple as to be worthless. A fine piece of work.

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It’s funny, you can go for ages without seeing a single slice of quirky fictionalised cultural history and then suddenly two of them come along at once. Last week I saw Michael Winterbottom’s The Look of Love, and this week it was Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s Good Vibrations. I’m virtually certain I saw Winterbottom’s name on the credits for this second film, as well, but my researches (okay, t’internet) have been unable to confirm he was involved – it’s his sort of thing, though.


Lots of people have already likened Good Vibrations to Winterbottom’s own 2002 movie 24 Hour Party People, as it examines a legendary musical scene from the perspective of someone working behind the scenes, but the subject in this case is someone less well-known than Tony Wilson (well, I’m saying that, but I grew up in the north-west where Wilson was always presenting the evening news).

The focus of Good Vibrations is on Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a fanatical record-lover with the misfortune to be living in Belfast in the 1970s. The coming of the Troubles has divided the city, with all Terri’s old acquaintances joining one faction or the other. He himself refuses to take sides, which puts his life increasingly in danger from the various paramilitary gangs roaming the streets. Much to its credit, the film really doesn’t shy away from depicting just how savage and brutal the situation in Ulster was at this point, and having turned up expecting a jolly music-biz bio-pic I was surprised by the tone.

However, the way the film is grounded in reality just sets up the pleasures to come. Unshakeably defiant, Terri goes ahead and opens a record shop on the most bombed street in western Europe, buying off the local gang leaders with free LPs (‘And no-one is to have me shot,’ he adds, sternly, in one of the scenes one suspects is more fictionalised than most). But the real turning point comes after Terri – previously a country, rock and roll, and reggae fan – is asked if he has a copy of Orgasm Addict. ‘It’s not that kind of a shop,’ he replies – but curiosity about the dawning punk movement leads him to attend an early concert featuring The Outcasts and Rudi, and his eyes are opened to the raw energy and excitement of first-generation punk rock (Hooley’s sudden comprehension, the moment when he ‘gets’ punk, is one of many gloriously well-handled and life-affirming sequences in the film).

And what else can he do but become the godfather of Belfast punk rock, running the shop, Ulster’s only dedicated punk nightclub, a magnificently shambolic record label, and managing a number of key punk bands – all in the middle of what’s essentially a low-intensity civil war, of course.

Fond though I am of the original punk bands of the late 70s, this is not a story with which I was familiar prior to seeing the movie – but even so I suspect this film has been freely mythologised in order to make it work better as a movie. The story of Terri Hooley appears to have been somewhat massaged to fit the three-act format of the film, and while the climactic scenes of Belfast’s punks packing out Ulster Hall for a triumphant mass gig make for a great ending, the film itself makes it clear that this is actually a fairly arbitrary place to end the story.

More mythologised than most of the movie, by the way, is the sequence in which Terri discovers The Undertones almost by mistake. A few minutes later he wanders into the studio where they are recording and, unimpressed, suggests to the engineer (Liam Cunningham, cameoing) they cut their losses. ‘You didn’t hear the last track they recorded,’ comes the reply, almost in hushed tones. ‘The best thing I’ve ever recorded… the best thing ever recorded in this city.’ We see Hooley listening through headphones, his jaw literally dropping open, but – of course – the film remains disingenuously coy about exactly what he’s heard. There’s quite a long build-up to the moment when Teenage Kicks is finally played by John Peel on his radio show (twice, back-to-back), but it’s a terrific scene, that joyous, transcendent racket filling the cinema with its swagger and passion. To be perfectly honest, this whole section is a bit of a detour from the main arc of the film, but it would be ridiculous to make a film about Terri Hooley and not cover his involvement in the creation of one of the greatest pop singles ever made.

As I hope I’ve indicated, there’s a lot to like about Good Vibrations, including charismatic performances from Dormer, and also Jodie Whittaker as his long-suffering wife, the willingness of the film-makers to confront the sheer horror of Northern Ireland thirty-five years ago, and – of course – a terrific soundtrack. Put together these go a long way to cover up some of the film’s flaws – a nagging sense that this story has been massaged a little too much into the shape demanded by a commercial narrative structure, coupled to the overfamiliarity of that structure. You just know that Terri’s success is going to put a strain on his marriage, that events are going to conspire against him, he’s going to disappoint people relying on him, but in the end everything will end up going in his favour… (well, up to a point). But on the whole the film is credible and likeable enough, with enough great moments of the kind I’ve already alluded to, for all this to be not much more than a minor issue. A solid piece of film-making as well as a joyous testament to the uniting power of music; I really enjoyed it.

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