Movie Reviews: Cork director Pat Collins' film on Henry Glassie is utterly beguiling

— plus a documentary about the most influential Hollywood producer you’ve probably never heard of; and The Oak Room is a hardboiled psychological thriller
Movie Reviews: Cork director Pat Collins' film on Henry Glassie is utterly beguiling

Henry Glassie

The Oak Room

★★★★

The Oak Room
The Oak Room

‘A guy walks into a bar’ is how the shaggiest of shaggy-dog stories begin, which is precisely why The Oak Room (15A) opens with Steve (RJ Mitte) walking into a bar owned by Paul (Peter Outerbridge), whose first instinct is to crack Steve’s skull with a baseball bat. Steve, we learn, owes Paul money, which he offers to repay by telling Paul a story, which establishes Steve as something of a barroom Scheherazade. As a blizzard howls outside, one story branches off into another, and then another, all of which start with a guy walking into a bar, and which gradually take on a sinister tone that doesn’t augur well for Paul’s chances of surviving the night ... Written by Peter Genoway and directed by Cody Calahan, The Oak Room is a fascinating curio: a hardboiled psychological thriller that functions as an investigation of storytelling craft (as Steve tells his stories, Paul frequently criticises his ability to spin a yarn). It comes as something of a surprise to learn that the movie isn’t adapted from a play: the stories unfold in a series of darkly lit bars in the Canadian backwoods, each one featuring a pair of antagonistic characters, and all of them inter-linked and inexorably leading back to the stand-off between Steve and Paul. RJ Mitte doesn’t possess the kind of charisma that might persuade us he is a raconteur sufficiently talented to mesmerise Paul, but Peter Outerbridge is terrific as the abrasive, prickly bar-owner who belatedly realises that Steve isn’t just telling a story, but is an avatar of Fate. The real star here, though, is Peter Genoway’s script, which is by no means flawless but nevertheless deserves to be appreciated for its ambitious attempt to reconfigure the conventions of linear storytelling. (digital release)

Laddie

★★★★

Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies (PG) is a documentary about the most influential Hollywood producer you’ve probably never heard of, Alan Ladd Jr, who started his career in the mail room of a talent agency and rose to become an agent, producer and eventually a studio head. The film, which is written and directed by Alan Ladd Jr’s daughter, Amanda Ladd-Jones, makes no idle boast with its subtitle: Alan Ladd Jr.’s ground-breaking credits include Young Frankenstein, Alien, Braveheart, Kagemusha, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and Thelma and Louise, among many others, although his place in cinema history would likely have been secured had he been willing to rest on his laurels as ‘the man who said yes to Star Wars'. Most of the film is comprised of straight-to-camera interviews with a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood luminaries: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Mel Gibson, Ridley Scott and Ben Affleck are just some of the names Amanda Ladd-Jones has rounded up. The more affecting testimonies, however, come from writers and directors who are perhaps less well known, as a number of women — Sigourney Weaver, Jenno Topping, Lucy Fisher — queue up to remind us that Alan Ladd Jr. was ‘gender-blind’ when it came to making movies. No one in Hollywood, it seems, has a bad word to say about Alan Ladd Jr., except for his own daughter: the subtext of the film is Alan Ladd Jr's relationship with his estranged father, the star of Shane, and that of Amanda Ladd-Jones’ difficult relationship with her own father, who was absent for much of her early life. That subtext gives this film an unexpected poignancy, and another layer of meaning to a movie that is an absolute must-see for any self-respecting student of contemporary film. (digital release)

Henry Glassie: Field Work

★★★★★

Henry Glassie: Field Work
Henry Glassie: Field Work

The American folklorist Henry Glassie is the subject of Cork man Pat Collins’ documentary Henry Glassie: Field Work (G), which follows Glassie to a number of locations around the world — the US, Brazil, Turkey, Ireland — to observe him parsing the work of a number of artists and delving deeply into various art forms — sculpture, pottery, carpet weaving, oral storytelling — to make connections between what initially appear to be very different cultures. Henry Glassie, who here travels with his wife Pravina Shukla, a folklorist in her own right, is hugely compelling company: although erudite and articulate, he seems happiest when standing back to allow the various artists to display their skills in a series of performative arts. Glassie’s approach to other cultures, which is to listen humbly and absorb, is perfectly complimented by Drimoleague native, Pat Collins’ approach to filming, which frequently allows for minutes of unedited silence to pass, the better to allow the viewer to enter into the spirit of Glassie’s own methodology, and to pick up on the minutiae of the artists’ craft. The result is an utterly beguiling visual meditation on the transcendence of the creative act. (digital release)

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