“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left” Luke 23:33
John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary begins with the line:
Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved.
Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned
The quotation is not from the Bible, but elegant lines from Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Vladimir’s remark kicks off a wonderful and absurd “Who’s On First?” exchange between its two hobo protagonists on the meaning of salvation. The same mix of gallows humor and metaphysical dead ends can be found throughout McDonagh’s new film, which features Brendan Gleeson as Father James Lavelle, a priest in a small Irish village filled with sinners and doubters.
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It is difficult to make a straightforward narrative biopic these days. There are already so many remarkable fact-based documentaries on the lives of artists and performers that offer rare footage, insight, and revealing interviews. Fictionalized biographies these days demand an unusual sense of authenticity, a fresh characterization, or a uniquely stylized take on the subject. William Bendix as Babe Ruth or Tony Curtis as Houdini just don’t pass muster. We don’t really know Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerburg, so Aaron Sorkin’s reimagining of him in The Social Network uses his story to explore classic themes of friendship, loyalty, class, jealously and power. Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of Chuck Barris’s book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind shows Barris’s unlikely life in terms of failure, humiliation, paranoia, betrayal, and murder. The best music film biographies combine strong directorial style, great central performances, and the willingness to show a dark side. They let the audience into the soul of the subject: think Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious; Angela Bassett as Tina Turner; Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Get On Up, the film biography of James Brown, the late great Godfather of Soul, features Chadwick Boseman, who was so good as Jackie Robinson in 42. With the help of some great wigs ....... More