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Posts Tagged ‘The Guard’

I feel the need to mark the passing of one year and the start of another in some form, but not (you may be pleased to hear) in the form of any kind of Best of 2011 list. So this is more a sort of general look back and very brief peek forward.

Getting the tedious stuff out of the way first, speaking personally, 2011 went very nicely for me, despite the fact I didn’t actually make a profit on the year, didn’t have a professional experience as good as the best one of 2010, haven’t managed to resolve any of the dangling personal issues from this time last year, and am still living in a garret. January and early February were rather dark days for me, despite the fact that for the first time ever I got paid for a piece of writing work – I had no idea if I had any kind of future in my chosen profession, and the realisation that the novel manuscript I’d spent November writing was 115,000 words of suck was not an easy one to digest.

However! I received the best birthday present imaginable when an old friend got a new job, and his first act was to give me a new job. I have been there now for ten months (on and off) and have no plans to make a permanent departure either. On top of this I finally managed to scrape a place on a Diploma course and that’s going better than I could have hoped for, too. So there are much worse places I could be in right now. The main priority for the first half of this year is to pass the course, but I would also like to have a slightly smoother summer job experience as well. If the prospect of a hassle-free divorce came along I’d jump at that as well, I expect (any experts on international law reading this, please get in touch) – not because I have any plans or expectations in that arena, but because it’s nice to keep things tidy.

The blog (you’re reading it) has ticked over nicely, boosted somewhat by my decision to back up all my old (2001-2009) film reviews from h2g2 here. As it turned out h2g2 survived the year so this was arguably a waste of time, but it’s nice to have everything together. The decision to change the blog name from So Much More Than This to the (I thought) punchier and more informative current title coincided with the number of average daily visits plummeting by at least two thirds: so there we have it, folks – if you want to be read, be vague.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

Or write about glamour models. My most popular pieces this year (by a country mile) were both gag items about the page 3 girl Lacey Banghard. Slightly depressing but not surprising. Neither depressing nor really surprising were the continuing popularity of old items about Doctor Who bad guys and The Wicker Man (more accurately, photos from The Wicker Man – my actual review of the movie is seldom looked at, but the one for The Man with the Golden Gun is a banker).  Altogether more mysterious is the steady popularity of my thoughts concerning the obscure and rotten Hammer movie The Viking Queen, which is well inside the top 10 list of all-time most popular film reviews. Hmmm.

Carita in The Viking Queen. For some reason I feel I should reiterate that this really was meant to be a serious film.

I wrote less about Doctor Who this year than I would have expected, mainly because I’m not quite sure what to make of the show at the moment – it’s clearly brilliant on so many levels and yet it also routinely leaves me exasperated and unsatisfied. The head writer is brilliant, the regular cast is very good, the writers are mostly great and the inventors are unceasingly inventive – so why is the actual programme no better than ‘pretty good, but…’? I don’t know. I feel a traitorous cur for even voicing these thoughts, to be honest. (Case in point: the Christmas special was so slight and felt – for the most part – so inconsequential that I haven’t bothered to review or even re-watch it. Something is wrong somewhere.)

Masses of film reviews, of course, as you could have guessed. I could gripe about the low standard of behaviour in Oxford multiplexes, or the mixed fortunes of the year, and so on, but I’ve just written a thing all about that as an h2g2 original and I can’t be bothered to recycle it. So, in a nutshell:  the worst film of 2011 was The Three Musketeers, the best three (in reverse order) were Submarine, Never Let Me Go and The Guard, and the one I’m most looking forward to from 2012 is (tough call this one)… The Dark Knight Rises. Never afraid to run with the flock, this blog.

Brendan Gleeson as The Guard, my pick of the year's films.

It’s all gone a bit quiet on the wargamey front, mainly because the Diploma doesn’t allow me the time or money to do it properly. This year was mainly about the new Blood Angels army I’d been considering since 1997. Looks nice and I’m happy with much of it but it turned out to be a tough one to use well. My inability to actually get a WFB army anywhere near finished proved increasingly annoying too. Come August I may be able to do something about this.

I think the uke may be filling the role in my life that wargaming previously took, anyway, in that there’s a very precise technical element to it as well as a personal and creative one. I have no reason to think that the two shouldn’t be able to co-exist once the Diploma is out of the way – I suspect they may actually synergise quite well. We shall see.

Anyway, that was 2011. Despite all the little niggles and annoyances, if 2012 turns out to be of the same standard I don’t think I’ll have grounds for complaint – so fingers crossed and let’s find out.

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Maybe it’s the time of year, but here at NCJG it feels like a very long time since there’s been a real belter of a new movie to write about. Not that everything recently has been wholly worthless – far from it – but there hasn’t been the kind of film from which you emerge exhilarated, with your belief in the possibilities of cinema rewarded.

Thankfully this has been rectified with the arrival in Oxford (finally) of John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, which is following up a smash-hit release in Ireland with a shamefully limited British run. This is a crime movie centred on a tremendous performance by Brendan Gleeson, an actor perhaps best known for playing supporting parts in much bigger movies like Troy and Gangs of New York.

Gleeson seizes with enormous relish on the role of Gerry Boyle, a sergeant in the Garda of west Ireland. Boyle initially appears to be not much more than a simple country copper, unreconstructed, often crass, bigoted (‘I’m Irish, being racist is part of my culture,’ he explains, when someone objects to this), and laid-back to the point of actual moral degeneracy.

However, when a murdered corpse turns up on his patch, Boyle finds himself involved in the hunt for a group of drug traffickers (led by Liam Cunningham and the increasingly ubiquitous Mark Strong). As a result he is somewhat reluctantly partnered with slick and etiquette-conscious FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). As it becomes increasingly apparent that other Garda members take their corruption rather more seriously than Gerry, the two find themselves increasingly isolated as they close in on their quarry.

It sounds like a fairly routine odd-couple crime thriller, and on one level The Guard delivers this in a very efficient and taut way, albeit with some novelty value due to the Galway setting. However, what turns it into something very special is its tone, which is totally at odds with this: despite being a film about drug smuggling which hinges around a considerable number of deaths, most of them violent, The Guard is more consistently and genuinely funny than most comedies.

Normally I have no time for the lazy reviewer habit of amalgam algebra – you know, describing a film as ‘It’s Groundhog Day meets Murder on the Oriental Express!’ or something ludicrous like that. However, the best description of The Guard I’ve read is something just like this – it’s Father Ted meets Bad Lieutenant. Tight and effective though the story is, the dialogue keeps meandering off in odd directions as characters discuss Russian literature or existential philosophy. Both Boyle himself and the movie ruthlessly undercut and mock any sign of Hollywood posturing from the story or characters. Galway is depicted as a rusticated hinterland populated entirely by oddballs and much of the humour comes from the reactions of unsuspecting outsiders who’ve wandered into this realm and can’t quite believe what they’re seeing and hearing.

Mark Strong is customarily good as a bad-tempered drug baron who resents the poor class of person he meets in the course of his career, but the main foil is Don Cheadle’s character. Cheadle finds an impressive number of different ways of looking gobsmacked at the various pearls of wisdom Gleeson passes on to him, and there’s more than a hint of In the Heat of the Night in the relationship between the two characters. In the end though, he’s very much the straight man and second banana to Brendan Gleeson.

Gleeson turns Boyle into one of the great movie characters of recent years, a fully rounded and believeable – not to mention hugely likeable – figure, despite his various outrageous excesses. The script shows us all sides of the man: his usual cynicism and world-weariness, the integrity buried somewhere deep within, his intelligence (usually masked behind a boorish facade), and his emotions. This latter element is mainly explored through a subplot involving his relationship with his ailing mother, which still manages to be deeply funny as well as moving. (His mother is played by Fionnula Flanagan, who seems to specialise in playing a) mothers and b) people who are either dying or actually dead.) That said, this isn’t a movie which treats human behaviour in a simplistic or mechanical way – we’re left to draw our own conclusions as to why Boyle makes some of the choices he does as the film goes on.

McDonagh’s script effortlessly juggles characters, plot, dialogue, and even genre: at times this film plays like a western, an impression which is helped by Calexico’s twangy score. In the end, though, the sheer quality of the piece transcends this sort of consideration: no matter how you approach it, The Guard is a terrific, hugely impressive movie, stuffed with good performances and pricelessly funny lines and moments, all in the cause of a very solid story. One of the very best films of the year so far.

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