Big Little Lies

So how many of you were gripped by Big Little Lies which finished up on TV last Monday? Everyone that I spoke to adored it as did I, and the performances were the best thing about it. The show focussed on a group of women in Monterey, mothers whose children go to the same school. An incident between two children kicks off the plot and for the next seven episodes the series explores the lives of the women: their relationships, their conflict about stay-at-home mothering versus careers, and their interactions with each other.

Many male critics dismissed Big Little Lies as high-end soap opera, a condescending view that entirely misses the point. Yes, the characters live in Pinterest-worthy opulent homes, yes, they are expensively dressed and yes, the show revolves around a murder mystery, but the show is, at its heart, a character study superbly acted by the female leads: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz.

Kidman’s portrayal of Celeste, a woman locked in an abusive relationship, is a career best and it’s already generating award buzz. Her marriage isn’t a simplistic black and white ‘she’s good and he’s evil’ cliche, instead we see the intense love and passion between them intertwined with the extreme and frequent violence. Alexander Skarsgård’s performance as Kidman’s husband is so compelling that women may cross the street to avoid him for the rest of his life.

Reese Witherspoon decided to start her own production company, Pacific Standard, and develop her own projects because of a phenomenon she calls ‘Smurfette Syndrome’: being the only woman on a film set full of men. Her company has produced Big Little Lies, Wild, and Gone Girl, hugely successful projects with strong complex female characters which have challenged the notion that the film-going public aren’t interested in women’s stories. She’s admirable, a trailblazer within the industry.

Big Little Lies was originally conceived as a miniseries but due to its runaway popularity there is a rumour that it may be extended for a second series. As much as I loved it, I hope not, as the story was perfectly wrapped up and should stand alone. I can’t wait to see what Reese does next.

Skintown – Ciarán McMenamin

It’s no surprise that Ciarán McMenamin and Irvine Welsh have hit the book promotion circuit together in recent days. They seem like a natural fit as McMenamin’s debut, Skintown, is strongly reminiscent of Welsh’s debut Trainspotting. The focus of both books is disaffected young men who turn to drugs and violence to break up the monotony of their days in poverty stricken towns, and both understandably carry a strong anti-English sentiment.

McMenamin may be familiar to some of you as an actor with significant TV roles on his resumé. My first encounter with his work was a few weeks ago at Mountains to Sea Book Festival where he was joined by two other debut novelists, Rory Gleeson and Karl Geary, for a chat about their respective works. When each of the novelists read I was instantly interested in buying McMenamin’s book. His acting talent and considerable performance experience paid off and his reading was dynamic and very funny. (Which by the way is not as common as you might think. Having been to many similar events, writers who can successfully read their work aloud are a tiny minority.)

Skintown takes place in Enniskillen, McMenamin’s home town, in the early 1990s. Rave culture provides a much-needed escape from boredom and the threat of daily sectarian violence. Vinny works in a chip shop with his mate Jonty and dreams of escaping to Belfast for a better life, but instead of taking constructive steps towards it he meanders through his days in a haze of joints and pints. One evening while doing a good Samaritan gesture for a girl he knows, he ends up in a car crash with two Protestants, Kyle and Grant, who only moments earlier were preparing to kick his head in due to Vinny getting ‘the old ashes rubbed on my forehead six Wednesdays before Easter Sunday’. (A very convoluted way of saying he’s a Catholic, and this would be one of my few complaints about the book; the occasional tendency to overwrite and use many words where one simple one would be better.)

Kyle and Grant propose a business deal whereby Vinny and Jonty go to a nightclub called Ned’s (based on the infamous Kelly’s in Portrush) to sell a huge haul of ecstasy tablets on behalf of the other two, and collect a fee for doing so. With the prospect of cash Vinny’s Belfast dreams swim into reality and so he and Jonty readily agree. The novel’s best set piece occurs when Vinny gets high on ecstasy for the first time in the club. Having had some experience of this myself (cough) I can vouch for the authenticity of the whole thing and it’s not just accurate, it’s very funny and filled with razor-sharp detail.

Skintown occupies the same territory as Trainspotting and also Rob Doyle’s Here Are the Young Men and it is certainly an enjoyable read and an accomplished debut. Where it fell apart for me was the ending which I won’t reveal here but which was foreshadowed throughout the book. It didn’t ring true and felt a little forced, as if McMenamin was pushing for a definitive ending which the book didn’t really need. That being said, I’m really looking forward to reading whatever he produces next.

March Random Round Up

March was Women’s History Month, a concept I find kind of reductive because women are a part of and make history twelve months a year but moving on from that…here’s a list of groundbreaking female authors you should bookmark for your next book shop visit.

Zadie Smith’s beautiful story about Billie Holiday in the New Yorker is seriously worth reading.

This month I watched Season 2 of Love on Netflix and had mixed feelings about it. Gillian Jacobs’ performance is one of the highlights. One of the not-so-great things about the series is this.

Royal Blood are releasing their second album later this year and they’re teasing us with this studio clip. Bring. It. On.

The upcoming documentary Kiki looks amazing, a new take drag ball culture which first reached mainstream popularity in Paris Is Burning.

Speaking of drag, Netflix has struck a deal whereby new episodes of Rupaul’s Drag Race are streamable the day after they’re broadcast in the US. Season 9 is two episodes in and Valentina’s my early favourite.

Get Out

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of horror films, so when I suggested to a friend of mine that we go see Get Out she was stunned. But the hype and rave reviews all mentioned that it was a lot more than just a simple horror movie so we went to see it on Tuesday, after I made her promise that if I got very very scared she would hold my hand.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) has been going out with Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) for four months when she suggests a weekend visit to her parents’ house in the country. Chris agrees to go, but with some trepidation as Rose hasn’t told her white parents that he is black. Rose insists that her parents aren’t racist, that her father would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could, and Chris has no reason to worry.

When the two arrive at the Armitage’s large upmarket home Chris is a little disconcerted to see that the servants are black, but he is put at ease by Rose’s parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford), both of whom are warm and welcoming. On the first night he sneaks outside for a cigarette and on his way back in is ambushed by Missy who gives out to him for smoking, saying that as she is a psychiatrist she could cure him of his addiction with hypnosis. She sits him down in her office and asks him questions about his mother’s death, hypnotising and then eventually paralysing Chris. He wakes up in bed with a start in the morning unsure whether the previous night’s events were real.

Later that day the Armitages have their annual garden party attended by their friends, all of whom are white. As Chris is introduced to them he becomes more and more disgusted by the racially insensitive comments they make and he eventually asks Rose if they can leave her parents’ house that night instead of staying over again as planned. But when they attempt to leave things get hellishly bizarre and even Chris’ worst fears are a day in the park in comparison to what the Armitages have in mind for him.

Get Out is more of a psychological thriller than a horror. There is no gore, nothing supernaturally freaky that makes you want to sleep with the lights on, and in fact there are several moments of real comedy throughout, many of which come from the character of Chris’ best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery). Daily life in America for many black people is filled with a lot more real horror than anything this film has to offer.

Get Out is a brilliant satire of the ways in which white people who consider themselves liberals, who voted for Obama and are horrified by Trump, who condemn police brutality and consider themselves ‘woke’, can make life difficult and uncomfortable for black people. The film is a great commentary on race in America and thoroughly deserves the critical acclaim it has received. It’s in cinemas now – get on it!

Handsome Devil

Handsome Devil is an upcoming Irish movie that hits our screens on April 21st. It debuted at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival and it’s since played at the Glasgow and Dublin Film Festivals where it has been very well received. Handsome Devil is written and directed by John Butler, who was also responsible for one of my favourite Irish films of recent years, The Stag (also known as as The Bachelor Weekend), and it features a couple of familiar faces from that film including Amy Huberman and Andrew Scott.

Set in a rugby-obsessed boarding school, the film tells the story of the unlikely friendship between music nerd Ned (Fionn O’Shea) and handsome jock Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). It looks like a heartwarming coming of age story and I’m looking forward to seeing it next month.

Foil, Arms & Hog

Foil, Arms & Hog are an Irish sketch group comprised of Sean Finegan, Conor McKenna and Sean Flanagan. In an interview the first Sean explained the origin of the name: ‘I’m foil as in the comedic foil…the straight man who sets everyone up for their jokes. Arms is really clumsy. He’s all arms and legs, like a bit of a John Cleese…We called him Arms because he couldn’t do any of the straight roles…We didn’t know what to call Sean Flanagan, until we realised that he tends to hog the sketches…So Foil, Arms and Hog is basically the artsy version of boring, clumsy and selfish.’ (He appears to be prone to self-deprecation.)

They’re from Rathfarnham and met at university where they studied Engineering, Architecture and Genetics respectively. Over the last eight years they have toured in Ireland, the UK, Australia and the US. Their Youtube channel currently has over 75,000 subscribers and they upload a new video every Thursday, the most recent one being Fifteen Habits of the Mega Rich.

Some of my favourites are below but you should subscribe to their Youtube channel for a weekly bite-size dose of craic. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of catching a live show but am keeping an eye on their tour schedule.

February Random Round Up

Can you believe that in a few days it’ll be March already? I’m still hoovering Christmas tree needles off my floor! A good friend of our family’s used to say that after a certain age you only get six months out of the year; I’m beginning to understand what he was getting at.

Anna Nicole Smith died ten years ago this month and there’s a great article on Buzzfeed looking at her life and legend: ‘The woman rose up, made powerful by beauty, and then found herself falling, her beauty fading, her power eroding, her ugliness as she tried to cope with this loss providing spectators with the reassuring feeling that such power is never really worth having, if losing it looks like this.’

Also on Buzzfeed, some handy diagrams for home decorating, including everything from the best indoor plants to optimal placing for rugs.

Speaking of decorating, I use Pinterest for interiors and home decor. My ‘library’ board grows by the day! Do you have tips for anyone amazing I should be following?

I’m really looking forward to the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, starring Elizabeth Moss and Samira Wiley. It debuts in America on April 26th so hopefully it’ll be picked up here soon after.

I’m also very excited about Ryan Murphy’s newest series Feud starring Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Hollywood legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis who famously hated each other. It premiers in the US on Sunday 5th March.

The trailer for Sofia Coppola’s newest film The Beguiled was released this month and it looks creepy and claustrophobic and brilliant. It has an amazing female cast and also stars Colin Farrell who just seems to get better with age. It hits our screens in June.

And lastly my dad’s show NewBliss is on in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall on Tuesday. If you haven’t picked up a ticket yet, get on it!

Have a great weekend!