The Commitments At 25: Robert Arkins, Ken McCluskey & Dave Finnegan Interview (The Hollywood News)

tc1Extraordinary as it may seem The Commitments has reached its quarter century. This unlikely smash hit followed the fortunes of a group of young Dubliners scaling the cliff-face of soul to find fame and fortune. Their journey captured the imaginations of audiences around the world and made stars of its then-unknown cast.

The movie is a bittersweet story but one which had a happy ending for the actors, many of whom were given a unique opportunity by veteran director Alan Parker, bringing writer Roddy Doyle‘s novel to the screen.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Robert Arkins (band manager Jimmy Rabbitte), Dave Finnegan (mad drummer Mickah Wallace, who joined the interview part-way though) and Kenneth McCluskey (bass guitarist and butcher) for a trip down their respective musical memory lanes.

Robert Arkins

Robert Arkins

THN: Does it feel like twenty-five years?

Robert Arkins: We can’t forget! We’re reminded of it every day! (Laughs) You can’t avoid it, you can’t hide…well you can try! It would maybe seem like more to some people…

Ken McCluskey: It’s amazing isn’t it? Twenty-five years ago we were all young chaps and here we are now. The film is legendary, we’ve travelled the world. I don’t think there’s anywhere the movie hasn’t been.

THN: I presume you’re all good friends so it feels natural for you to get together…?

RA: Yeah exactly. It becomes a part of life, we have a bit of fun, but the film as films go is fantastic. It’s spread the word of the music to a lot of people and made a lot of people very happy so that’s the main thing.

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

THN: A big part of why the film succeeds is the way it combines a cast who were unknown back then with a seasoned director, Alan Parker. What was it like working with him?

RA: For me, the fact that he chose us individually and made up his mind gave me confidence to go in and do something I’d never done before. He was looking for a bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of light and shade. That was pretty much what he’d say most of the time for me! I don’t know, how do you feel about it Dave?

Dave Finnegan (having just entered the room): Feel about what?

THN: Is that Dave? Did you hear the question?

DF: No. (Laughs)

THN: I was just asking about the filming and how it all went…

DF: The movie was like an open thing. Usually with films actors have agents and it goes through that process. They advertised these auditions in shops and pubs so everybody went for it. I was spotted playing in a band, I didn’t even see the posters to be honest with you. The casting directors came and looked at us and said: ‘This section can go for this character, and that section can go for that character…’ Eventually when I met Alan Parker and auditioned he tried to get that aggressive character out of me, and he succeeded. He knew just by looking at people what he could get out of us, you know? And unfortunately I got the wild guy! (Laughs)

THN: Do you have an abiding memory of the shoot?

RA: There’s a scene where Joey “The Lips” (Johnny Murphy) is driving down the lane on his motorbike. I’m down the lane standing behind the camera with Alan and the crew and Johnny, who’s not very good at driving the motorbike, it was probably his first time… basically he comes down the lane, goes to try and park, smashes into the wall and falls over. We all cracked up and it ended up staying in the film!

tcTHN: A key element was creating a convincing band. How did that come together in terms of rehearsals and shooting the gigs?

RA: Well the film was shot in sequence. But we did two weeks of rehearsal where we ran through all the gig scenes and all the scenes where everybody was together as a unit, the backstage thing so we could get the synchronization working.

KM: Yeah, we got our characters to develop. Alan Parker actually started changing the book. Some of my lines were switched with Outspan (Glen Hansard) so he could develop it properly. When we were filming he’d say ‘I want you to say this instead of this.’ That’s the way he worked. He knew what he was doing, he had it all in his head. He was a genius, having all these characters in his head and knowing what he was going to do.

THN: Was Roddy Doyle involved much in the filming?

RA: No, I met him on set and had a chat. He just wanted to come down, he was curious. You know how it is, writers hand over the baby, depending on the deal. They don’t really have much of a look in after that.

KM: He wanted to come down to see what had happened to the characters. He seemed happy.

Ken McCluskey

Ken McCluskey

THN: The Commitments provides a nice antidote to the Simon Cowell method of nurturing talent. Do you think it’s a good film for aspiring musicians to watch?

RA: (Laughs) There is a good lesson to be learned for young people. If you’re going to get into it, get in for the joy and pleasure of playing the music and the craft. Then at the end of it the band breaks up, so the reality of it is not everyone becomes famous. It’s about luck. There’s a lot of people out there who are very untalented and become very successful. And then there’s the opposite, people who are extremely talented who don’t get lucky at all.

DF: That’s very true. The Commitments wasn’t a band as such, we all came from different kinds of bands. We were jamming in our bedrooms and playing in pubs. Nowadays it’s different.

This review appeared on THN.

Advertisements

The Commitments 25th Anniversary DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

tcTime for people of a certain age to start feeling old. It’s been a quarter of a century since director Alan Parker introduced us to an unlikely soul combo whose legacy still lives on via a hit stage show and countless concerts. So while their onscreen fortunes turned out to be mixed, The Commitments‘ place in popular culture is assured.

Opening with a bustling Dublin street market with second hand goods, fiddle players and horses, this marks itself out from the blockbusters of the time as a gritty take on Roddy Doyle‘s source novel. Fast-talking wannabe music mogul Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has a simple idea: reasoning that the oppressed Irish are “the blacks of Europe”, he wants to assemble a world class soul outfit from local talent. But like the best band stories the road to success is paved with false starts, egos and copious amounts of drink and swears. In fact the production may hold the record as the most expletive-laden popular movie of all time, if not the twentieth century.

Sitcom stalwarts Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were the perfect pairing to guide Doyle’s salty characters and quotable dialogue to the big screen (they even manage a cheeky reference to their defining show The Likely Lads along the way). Saxophone player Félim Gormley explains how he came by his instrument – “My uncle gave me it when his lung collapsed.” – and lead singer Andrew Strong gets the job after Arkins sees him giving an impromptu drunk performance at a wedding, one his star turn can’t even remember doing!

What contributes to the longevity of The Commitments is Parker’s decision to go with unknown actors. Some of them went on to greater things (notably Bronagh Gallagher, who appeared in The Phantom Menace) but on the whole this was their first and only shot at world domination. This means the film still has that layer of authenticity which could have been diminished if you spent two hours spotting the famous faces. The cast are likeable and clearly revelling in the easy going yet edgy atmosphere Parker creates. They’re all good, but special mention must be given to Gallagher and Johnny Murphy‘s Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who gets his pick of the women and who may or may not be a raging fantasist. Then there’s Strong, with his weathered vocals and extraordinary range of facial expressions.

The power behind the story is the filmmaker’s ability to deliver a convincing band, as well as conveying the rough and ready nature of creating musical fusion. Whether winging it through a chaotic set or flowing together like cream and coffee, you buy into their tale, and even hope they find the notoriety they crave. It’s a particularly inspirational movie for a generation all-encompassed by the Simon Cowell approach to talent nurturing and speaks to viewers on all levels.

For this milestone, a solid range of extras has been added for the release. Parker himself is on commentary duties and the way it all came together is chronicled via several documentaries from past and present. If you Try A Little Tenderness you’ll find yourself rooting for this Chain Of Fools, whose distinctive journey will keep you laughing through to The Midnight Hour. I’ll shut the f*** up now.

This review first appeared on THN.

“We’d wrap a work day and we’d all be covered in dust and snot and tears…” Jeremy Saulnier ‘Green Room’ Interview (The Hollywood News)

GR 3Jeremy Saulnier is a colourful director. I mean this in more ways than one – his breakout feature was the bloody and brutal Blue Ruin (a favourite here at THN) and he’s followed that up with Green Room, which takes the spectrum of violence to a whole new level.

The action horror thriller sees a group of disaffected punk rock youths (including Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots) fall foul of a neo-Nazi movement at a gritty venue. Their gig takes a nightmarish turn when they stumble on a murder scene, putting them squarely in the firing line of an army of skinheads, led by the surprising choice of Patrick Stewart.

Praised by critics for its unflinching use of ultraviolence, it’s left its mark on gore fans and further established Saulnier as a helmer to watch. That’s if you haven’t clamped your fingers over your eyes against the carnage. We got on the phone with him for a chat about the distinctive cinematic thrashing…

GR 1

Where did the scenario for Green Room come from, and what made you decide on skinheads versus punk rockers?

The idea was gestating for a long time, it felt very natural. A lot of my films sprout from environments and I figured I wanted to do a movie set in the punk rocker hardcore scene, just because it’s such a part of my youth, I knew it very well and I don’t see it done in an authentic way very often. You set a film in that world and it often takes place in a venue. What if I could have my cake and eat it too, where I’m in a punk rock world and there’s a live performance happening, and it converges with a traditional genre movie, and to fuse those worlds together? So I thought the ideal place would be the green room backstage. It has a little access. It’s part of the world yet separate. And it’s the same reason I had skinheads as adversaries, because they’re part of the punk rock world. They’re natives, you see them at a show and it’s believable, but they’re also at the fringes and separate from the subcultures within punk rock. I saw them as soldiers. They would be the most likely to be organized in criminal activity, the structure and hierarchy – they take marching orders, they actually wear combat boots. It lined up pretty easily for me.

The film is incredibly violent. How did you work that out in terms of the choreography?

I’d pre-visualized the concert venue and we actually built that as a soundstage set, constructing the whole thing from scratch. Being able to design the environment meant a lot less of a translation problem when I went from script to screen and did the choreography. The blocking was already halfway there. I covered the action and make up because I grew up making movies that way, my partners and I were big into action and horror and zombie films and whatnot. That was really fun for me. I’ve used that skillset for twenty years.

Obviously it’s intense to watch. What was the atmosphere like on set?

The days were intense as we had to keep that level of emotional continuity. There were a lot of very intense exchanges, pleading and crying and screaming. So it gets to that level between takes, over and over to cover the whole scene. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting for sure. From the very beginning we cast the movie in a way where we knew we’d feel safe and comforted by each others’ mutual respect and investment in the characters and story we were telling. So it was really quite nice and supportive! We’d wrap a work day and we’d all be covered in dust and snot and tears… even some of the crew members would start crying because it was really intense to watch. Very harrowing and very real. But then we’d have a nice little decompression session and they’d get a bite or a drink. It’s a rare thing I imagine where every single actor is incredibly gracious and great to be around. It was a treat for me.

GR 2

Tell me about Patrick Stewart’s involvement. Did he have much input into his character?    

He came to the film late in the process, he kind of swooped in and saved the day for us. We wanted a real presence for the role of Darcy Banker and he was looking for material, and it was perfect for us in terms of the timing and our mutual intentions. He loved how dark it was, and the intense atmosphere. He just kind of jumped on board, it was very high risk. The only thing he wanted more of was a little insight into his backstory. He did his own research, which was great and we also gave him a narrative history of his character based on a lot of research I had put together. The great thing for me was he asked for nothing to be done to the script to accommodate him, he just needed to get his bearings and have a little more to dig into, so once he had that he was on a plane to Portland and he was making the movie, it was crazy!

How did you go about realizing the female side of the film in this testosterone-driven environment? Imogen Poots’ role for example…?

For Imogen’s character it was really about experimenting with the traditional female role in this kind of movie. At first we don’t pay her much attention. She emerges from the shadows and develops, becoming a lot more present, and that was really good to go there and have her take on a traditional male role. The thing about Green Room is that estrogen is just as powerful as adrenaline… or testosterone rather! (Laughs) But they can be joined together through adrenaline! And doing that in a pressurized scenario was really fun.

GR 4

This interview first appeared on THN.

David Bowie: 10 Times He Surprised Everyone (WhatCulture)

DB

David Bowie was often capable of the unbelievable, but nothing has refused to quite sink in like his untimely death. He simultaneously lived in the moment, yet also appeared to exist on another level altogether. He was constantly innovating, but had a timeless quality. We thought he’d be here forever. We were wrong.

However the sheer impact his work had on popular culture, like a diamond-studded glove busting against glass, ensures he’ll always be part of our universe. Musician, singer, actor, artist… he could turn his hand to anything but, more importantly, he wasn’t afraid to fail. In doing so, he inspired generations of performers, throwing open doors and challenging perceptions. Bowie became an icon without becoming a brand. He never lost his nerve to try new styles or approaches and enjoyed some great commercial success because of that.

Though the world knew what to expect from him (the unexpected, usually) he was still capable of delivering genuine surprises, even toward the close of his sixtieth decade. Join me in celebrating the best of Bowie’s curveballs from across the decades…

READ MORE…