This is My Father (1998) – Review

Kieran O’Dea: I prayed all night trying to get you out of my mind. But you were all that filled it. I tried to remember what it was like before you… I couldn”t remember. I tried to imagine what it would be like without you… and nothing came to me. I love you.

‘This is My Father’ directed by Paul Quinn, and starring Aidan Quinn, James Cann, Moya Farrelly, Stephen Rea (and even John Cusack in a cameo) is a deeply moving film that delves into class prejudice in Ireland in the early 20th century; the idea of legacy, identity and fatherhood (an interesting contrast to the more recent film The Place Beyond the Pines).

Based on (apparently) a true story related to the Brothers Quinn by their mother, This is My Father is story that meanders between two different decades- Ireland, in the 1930s and in the 1990s. In 1930s Ireland, Fiona Flynn, a fiesty young girl home from boarding school, falls in love with a shy farm labourer, Kieran O’Dea. In 1990s America, their son Kieran Johnson, a school-teacher, prompted by the chance finding of an old photograph in a book of poetry (W.B Yeats) sets out to Ireland to find out about his father and the events that lead up to his mother leaving Ireland on her own.

In spite of their moments of happiness together and their joy at the rapture of love (e.g., leaving messages for one another in the trunk of a tree), Fiona and Kieran must face adversity in the form of a disapproving minister of the church and a cantakerous, bitter and vengeful mother (Mrs. Flynn). As the entire town begins to turn against the two, the film highlights the issue of class prejudice and close-minded punitive religious ideology and practice in early 20th century Ireland.

This Is My Father (1998/I) 9556

The film has a strong plot that is enhanced by well-acted performances. The viewer is presented with elements as radically contrasted as the serious in the form of repercussions of  superstitions and class prejudice, the search for one’s roots and identity, and the joyful in the form of the scenic beauty of lush open fields, carefree and tender moments shared by Fiona and Kieran and an amusing beach interlude with a pilot, Eddie Sharp (Cusack), who almost literally drops out of the sky…

A thought-provoking (and emotional) film- worth seeing 4/5

Acting: Very Good.

Especially the performance of James Cann, Aidan Quinn and Moya Farrelly, the three leads. Highly convincing portrayals that draw you into the story, leading you to become emotionally invested in their journey. As Kieran Johnson (Caan) searches for his father, and attempts to uncover his parent’s story, the viewers experience the highs and lows of his journey with him, right up to its poignant conclusion 5/5

Script/ dialogue: Good.

The Eddie Sharp episode is a light moment in an otherwise fairly serious film, but some of the dialogue in the beach scene was a bit too Cusackian (funny, slightly over the top, quirky) for this film. 4/5

Cinematography: Very Good.

The “feel” of the place (Ireland) in both times is captured well and executed effectively.

Themes:

Family, identity, legacy, class prejudice

Max (2002) – Review (Short)

“Politics is the new art!” proclaims Hitler (Noah Taylor) in Max (2002).

‘Max’, directed by Menno Meyjes, is an interesting film to say the least. Starring Noah Taylor and John Cusack among others, the film is a highly fictionalised account of the time just prior to Hitler’s rise in power in Germany. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this film should be viewed as an ‘alternative universe’ sequence of events.

Interestingly though,this is not just a film about Hitler or his rise to power. Noah Taylor as Hitler is indeed one of the protagonists of this film but there is another character that the viewers are introduced to as being equally important to the film and the story it is trying to tell– Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer in Pre-Nazi Germany, the tragic centre of the film.

This is not boring historical drama, nor is it a film meant to pass judgement.It has faced criticism for allegedly trying to “humanise Hitler” – I did not find it to be so.

I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of the the power of art and propoganda (as suggested by it’s tagline, “Art + Politics = Power”), as expressed brilliantly by one of the characters in the course of the film, referring to World War I, “I used to think we rode into the war on horseback. But now I realize that in fact, we rode into the war on words“.

Max is a film about art and power and the power of art, about the relationship between the idealist-artist and the harsh real world- the different paths one may take with one’s decisions- the unravelling of two “artists” as it were.

Overall: 4/5

Acting: Good 4/5

Cusack’s Rothman is a complex character- the isolated artist, repudiated by society in general because his art is not understood. A performance worth seeing.

Script/Dialogue: Good 4/5

Hitler and Rothman’s conversations, as well as Rothman’s interactions with other characters.

Cinematography: Very Good 5/5

The closing sequence of events in particular.

Themes:

Art, politics, propoganda, the aftermath of war

The Phantom of Manhattan- Review

It is rare for a sequel to inspire such wrath in fans of the original work as is seen in the furious reaction of many to Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The Phantom of Manhattan’.

Intended as a sequel to Gaston Leroux’s original novel ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Forsyth’s work is a departure from his usual genre of crime fiction.

His explanation being “I had done mercenaries, assassins, Nazis, murders, terrorists, special forces soldiers, fighter pilots, you name it, and I got to think, could I actually write about the human heart?”

Although an attempt to venture into the unknown territory of a different genre must be commended, his novel is not something fans of the original should read, unless they wish to find themselves in a state of absolute outrage.

Forsyth occasionally seems to forget that he is writing a sequel and not a completely different story. Writing a sequel requires a certain degree of deference to the author of the original text, and a deep knowledge of the plot, characters and the writer’s intentions. In effect, one needs to be able to understand the thoughts of the writer and the context in which he/she was creating a text. Forsyth’s first mistake is his complete ignorance of these pre-requisites.

Rather than displaying some respect for the man whose work he chooses to elaborate upon, he instead assumes he possesses a greater degree of understanding of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ than Gaston Leroux, the actual genius, by disregarding his work in its entirety with the following disparaging comments made in his introduction;

‘Leroux the writer and most readers might have felt some human sympathy for the Phantom…. The Persian however paints him as a raging sadist, a serial killer and strangler for pleasure’

‘The only logical step for a modern analyst to take, as Andrew Lloyd Webber has already done with the musical, is to discount the Persian’s accounts and allegations in their totality, and never more so than in disbelieving both the Persian and Leroux that the Phantom died shortly after the events narrated.’

He takes the liberty of distorting the actual text to suit his own plot, which reads rather more like a work of fan faction than anything nearing a serious novel. The characters of this work are nothing like the originals. Christine, the demure, shy opera singer, in love with Raoul and bound in awe and fear to the Phantom is now nothing like the fragile innocent girl from the original. Raoul is a foppish cuckold of a French aristocrat. Erik, the phantom is now as young as Christine, and not old enough to be her father’s age, as implied by Leroux. The three protagonists run away to Manhattan instead of Christine and Raoul fleeing to Scandinavia, and only returning to Paris to bury Erik.

Forsyth has also added an “evil sidekick” to implement Erik’s nefarious schemes, a man called Darius. This is an evident misrepresentation of a character present in the original. Darius, in the Opera version, is a servant of the Daroga, or the Persian, as he is known in the opera house. He is not Erik’s accomplice. In fact, he aids the Daroga and Raoul in rescuing Christine.

Moreover, there are certain details which are highly improbable. For instance, the fact that Raoul, an educated and well off nobleman cannot understand English, but Christine, a chorus girl from a Parisian opera, can. Secondly, the fact that they have a son named “Pierre” is a glaring incongruity, especially for readers well- acquainted with the original text. Forsyth seems to have simply picked the most commonly known French name, rather than examining the numerous possiblities. It would be more in line with the nature of the characters to name their child Phillipe in order to honour Raoul’s deceased brother.

Another event which borders on the ludicrous is Raoul’s “accident”. The whole point of including the “accident” is merely to provide an excuse, albeit a pathetic one, for Christine and Erik’s illict liasions. The “accident” is no more than a simplistic twist in the plot devised by someone searching for an excuse to bring Christine and the Phantom together.

In Opera, it is very clear that whatever she may be feeling, Christine is most definitely not torn between Raoul and Erik. She harbours romantic feeling for Raoul, but for Erik, while she feels emotions ranging from awe to pity to fear, horror and ultimately forgiveness, she at no point in the novel, feels romantically inclined towards him.

Mr. Forsyth’s reference to Andrew Lloyd Weber is a reminder of the 2004 film musical. However, the musical did not in any way discard or blatantly dismiss Leroux. It served as a means of enhancing the story and was appreciated by Leroux fans across the globe, as opposed to Mr. Forsyth’s novel. While the Lloyd Weber version refers to the Phantom more sympathetically as an ‘angel in  hell’ it does not twist and warp the story that was so beautifully written by Gaston Leroux.

As a whole, ‘The Phantom of Manhattan’ is poorly researched, unconvincingly written and a tragic literary travesty of monumental proportions. Leroux fans will find themselves gnashing their teeth and clenching their fists in outrage and shock, wondering all the while how the literary world ever allowed such defacement to go unnoticed.