Stanley Kubrick: Taming Light

Stanley Kubrick is my cinematic idol. He died ten years ago, in 1999, shortly after completing Eyes Wide Shut. As a devotee, I wanted to mark that sad anniversary but in a way that showed how his images and the emotions they evoke are still with us.

So, inspired by a Shining graffito I photographed in Berlin, I decided to host an exhibition of painting, photography and illustration inspired by Kubrick's life and films.

The result is Stanley Kubrick: Taming Light, which runs at the Light House cinema, Smithfield in Dublin from October 1st - 31st.

The exhibition is comprised of new work from a roster of established and emerging artists I put together over six months this year. I am absolutely delighted with the quality, intensity and tender-hearted homage the artists have shown to Kubrick and his films. The show is non-sales, not-for-profit and free to Light House visitors.

The image above is the exhibition poster, designed by the extraordinarily talented Martin Ansin, a Uruguayan artist and illustrator who captured Kubrick and his indelible characters perfectly. The poster is available as a print (in a limited edition of 250 only) at the Light House cafe, signed and numbered by Martin. It is a beautiful, desirable object.

I want to thank all of the artists for taking part in the show and paying their tribute in such a wonderful way. I also want to thank the Light House, for allowing me to commandeer their space for a month, and thank Kubrick, for the films.

If you have Twitter, why not follow the show, or join the Facebook group

The exhibition has a dedicated website, designed and built by the ever-so patient Niamh Redmond, at



The recent rash of quirky teenage romantic comedies continues with Adventureland, yet another skewed coming-of-age story, this time concerning the comical trials of a group of college kids working at a run-down Pittsburgh theme park in the summer of 1987.

On the face of it, Adventureland isn’t much of an advance on writer and director Greg Mottola’s last film Superbad; scattergun stories of slack-jawed youths galloping around colourful locations in search of something to kill the time. But where that raucous comedy was made under the auspices of uber-producer Judd Apatow, Adventureland is a sweeter, more sincere film about first loves and uncertain futures, based on the director’s own experiences.

Awkward, nerdish and virginal, recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) thought he’d be heading off to “sexually permissive” Europe for the summer but his parent’s Reganomic reality-check has forced him to go looking for a summer job before he can go on to complete his pricey education. Having exhausted all other avenues, James pitches up at the titular Adventureland to operate the rigged carnival games; “the work of pathetic lazy morons”, as his new best friend Joel (Martin Starr) puts it.

The first day on the job, James meets and falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), a cynical slacker with a hang-em-all mentality and mild domestic problems. The rest of James’ co-workers might be comedy stereotypes, but they are well-written and convincingly played. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are the dim-witted, married park managers Bobby and Paulette, Margarita Levieva is the sassy other-girl Lisa P and Matt Bush plays James’ obnoxious neighbourhood friend Frigo. The only duff note is struck by Ryan Reynolds as the park handyman Connell, who seems too old and mannered for the role, a married lothario with dreams of rock stardom.

Rather than attempt to re-invent the coming-of-age story, Adventureland is a demonstration of what the genre looks like when filtered through a new sieve. Mottola has a keen ear for dialogue and an all-embracing sense of humour that finds room for visual puns, spiky banter, bodily embarrassments and gangly slapstick. Eisenberg does well as Mottola’s alter-ego, convincingly over-intellectualising everything with inelegant couplets of poetry or allusions to Russian literature. Opposite him, Kirsten Stewart shows, as she did in Twilight, that she can play listless and cool without strain, even if sometimes her performance comes across as an extended photographic tutorial in lip-biting and coy glances than what you might call acting.

Adventureland, like all the other quirky indie teenage films that have gone before it this year, attempts to mix ribald humour with bittersweet observation but never really comes down on one side or the other. The funny is funny, but rarely to the point of laughing out loud. The characters go through the standardised coming-of-age process but the lessons they learn, while engaging and empathic, don’t gather enough force to burrow under the skin. The almost forty songs on the potent period soundtrack, everything from Falco to Judas Priest to The Replacements, bring constant aural entertainment even if the film at times seems to be merely going through the paces.

Fish Tank

Andrea Arnold’s striking second feature Fish Tank continues the English director’s exploration of female desire (established in her debut Red Road) by painstakingly dissecting the obsession that develops between a teenage tearaway and her mother’s new boyfriend over the course of a few weeks in an overcast summer. Like Red Road, Fish Tank is at once a woman’s fantasy, a grim kitchen-sink drama and an unguarded snapshot of a decaying society writ large through the actions of its characters.

Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis) is a tough, wiry fifteen-year old who lives on a sink estate outside an unnamed city. Alienated from her friends because of her unpredictable temper – the story opens with her delivering a head-butt to one of her tormentors – Mia has an unhappy home life, constantly fighting with her coarse, peroxide-blonde mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and delightfully bratty little sister (Rebecca Griffiths). As a way of escaping her troubles, Mia dances; alone in an abandoned flat, with her earphones on and nobody watching.

When she sees a flyer looking for new dancers, Mia prepares an audition tape that she hopes will get her out of the estate for good. In the meantime, she finds herself intrigued by Joanne’s new boyfriend, Irish security guard Connor (Michael Fassbender), who is new and funny and not constantly shouting abuse at her. Is she attracted to him, or just looking for a father figure? The clue to that perhaps lies in Mia’s ongoing attempts to free a white horse from a nearby traveller camp, owned by Kyle (Harry Treadaway).

It’s an indelicate metaphor for burgeoning sexuality, notable only for of it’s incongruity in what otherwise a fiercely naturalistic look at a teenager’s life in modern Britain. Arnold and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan keep the film grounded in a rough, granular realism, attempting to describe a world that few people witness up close with as much cinematic truth as is possible. Almost the entire story is told from Mia’s point of view, the camera constantly tracking her through cramped rooms and along thin corridors, the horizon offering nothing but other buildings, ringed with scrub grass. The close-quartered sound design adds to the feeling of claustrophobia, emphasising ambient sounds, snatches of music and breathing.

In her first professional acting job, Katie Jarvis is a revelation. Mia is a complex, unpredictable character, prone to anger and violence, but Jarvis somehow makes all her turmoil honest and delicate. Mia’s journey takes her to some dark and frightening places, particularly in the intensely unnerving closing section, but Jarvis matches the action beat for beat, showing glimpses of vulnerability under her clenched façade. Around her, the ensemble performances are excellent; Wareing instantly dislikeable as the self-serving mother, good-time artist Fassbender alternating between smouldering sexuality and affable parental concern, the eleven-year old Griffiths providing moments of disarmingly foul-mouthed comedy.

Dark, brittle and wildly unpredictable, Fish Tank is a sharply observed, painstakingly naturalistic account of chaotic lives lived in hope of something better.

Broken Embraces

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest hymn to his favourite leading lady Penelope Cruz is a labyrinthine web of story and genre that straddles two distinct timeline, the mid-1990s and today, and features a dozen or so interconnected characters. A lavish, noir-influenced melodrama told in flashbacks, Broken Embraces opens with an introduction to Mateo (Lluís Homar), who was once a successful film director but is latterly a blind, cranky recluse who writes screenplays under the name Harry Caine. His protective agent Judit (Planca Portillo) keeps a close eye on him, employing her son Diego (Tamar Novas) to assist him in his Madrid apartment.

When an encounter with a bitter director opens up old wounds for Mateo, he recalls a period a decade before, when he fell in love with Lena (Cruz), a beautiful, sad-eyed young actress, on the set of what would be his final film, Girls & Suitcases. A former secretary, Lena has traded on her charms to win her debut part, helped by the fact that she is the mistress of powerful businessman and producer Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez). When filming starts, the jealous Ernesto places his son Ray (Rubén Ochandiano) on the set, in the guise of shooting a “making-of” documentary, and discovers the affair. The lovers flee to Lanzarote, where they are happy together for a while before fate intervenes.

That description doesn’t begin to encompass the twists and turns in Almodóvar’s lavish, heady story, which gathers together a neat pile of cinematic clichés then cleverly subverts them, one by one. Like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Broken Embraces is a film about films; a valentine to cinema awash with references and stylistic nods. The first half of the film sees Almodóvar pay homage to the gloomy noirs of the 1940s before the tension gives way and the story becomes a swooning melodrama, with an explicit reference to Roberto Rossellini’s neo-realist romance Journey To Italy. And just like Tarantino, Almodóvar relishes in his own fetishes and fixations, revisits his back-catalogue to turn the vibrant film-within-a-film into a re-imagining of his breakout success, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

But for all the flounce and bright-eyed bravado, there are dark depths in Broken Embraces, sober shadows that fall across the story and add a painful edge to the heaving emotions. Almodóvar fills the screen with repeating patterns of colour; the static in a television, a fluttering curtain, a pockmarked hillside. He repeatedly frames his characters within the frame, through a camera lens or against a window, underlining their scripted destines in the artificial, claustrophobic world of movies. Perhaps the director is acknowledging the agony he puts his hapless characters through, how lonely they must be before he brings them together and the suffering he inflicts on them when, for the sake of the story, they must separate again.

The film is full of fine performances, Cruz in particular, who attacks her first post-Oscar role with gusto, seamlessly delivering whoever Almodóvar requires of her at any given time; grieving daughter, timid secretary, gilded-cage wife or fleeing lover. Although the time-shifting narrative suffers a few inelegant bumps, watching Almodóvar juggle his stories, his characters and his genres is a joy, even if he cannot decide when he has reached the end. Restless, rangy and unwaveringly seductive, there is much to savour here.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, from a script by former embedded journalist Mark Boal, is the best American film yet about the war in Iraq. Arriving after a long series of similarly-themed war films like Jarhead, Lions For Lambs and In The Valley of Elah, none of which found any traction with audiences, The Hurt Locker is as explosive and visceral as it’s subject matter; the moment-to-moment experiences of a bomb-disposal squad on the streets of Baghdad.

The film gets right down to the business at hand, foregoing time-expensive political context for an immediate adrenaline thrill as soldiers J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) watch helpless as an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) goes off in the face of their sergeant (a cameo-making Guy Pearce). Enter Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner) as the new leader of the unit, a cocky, reckless young soldier who is nevertheless, fearless and clinically effective.

Although she hasn’t made a film since the costly failure of submarine adventure K19: The Widowmaker in 2002, Bigelow hasn’t lost her touch with action and spectacle. The Hurt Locker is incredibly tense, a cinematic emotion that is far easier to introduce than it is to sustain. Bigelow’s visual economy and eye for telling detail distils the essence of the ordinary soldier’s experience of modern urban warfare into a series of powerful, nerve-shredding set pieces. The IED is the perfect cinematic device for this war drama, being the signature weapon of the Iraq conflict and the soldier’s greatest threat. Bigelow arranges her soldier’s encounters with these bombs as concentrated, intimate dramas, watched over by Iraqi bystanders who stand on balconies or watch through binoculars as the theatre of life and death plays out beneath them.

The mostly unknown cast are a revelation, in particular Jeremy Renner as the witty, fearless James. The film opens with a quote from Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, who declares that “war is a drug” and it is easy to see James is a strung-out war addict, a danger junkie whose thirst for adrenaline must be satisfied, regardless of whose life he puts in peril. Later, however, a cameo appearance from Ralph Fiennes (who starred in Bigelow’s underappreciated Strange Days) seems oddly out of place among the carefully-maintained verisimilitude, as if to say, what’s Voldemort doing in the Iraqi desert?

The Hurt Locker is a triumph for Bigelow. It’s one of the great war films, impressively photographed by Barry Ackroyd’s ultra-realistic handheld camera, brilliantly edited, lucidly positioned and overwhelmingly exhilarating to watch.