Cardboard Gangsters : A Film Review


Cardboard Gangsters

Director Mark O’Connor. Writers. Mark O’Connor and John Connors.  John Connors as … Jason Connolly, Fionn Walton … Dano, Kierston Wareing … Kim Murphy, Jimmy Smallhorne … Derra Murphy. Remainder of cast listed alphabetically: Paul Alwright … Glenner, Alan Clinch … Whacker, Stephen Clinch … Ross Kelly, John Dalessandro … Lukey, Damien Dempsey … Curley Murphy, Gemma-Leah Devereux … Roisin, Kyle Bradley Donaldson … Stephen Kelly, Graham Earley … Evers Dempsey, Tristan Heanue … Kieran, Fionna Hewitt-Twamley … Angela Connolly, Ryan Lincoln … Cobbi, Ciaran McCabe … Sean Murphy, Lydia McGuinness … Christina, Corey McKinley … Micka Dempsey, Laura Murray … Mrs. Wilson, Aaron Blake O’Connell … Wilson, Toni O’Rourke … Sarah, Cathal Pendred … Security Officer, Robbie Walsh … House Gangster.

Duration 1hr 32mins.  Cert. 18.


Darndale story

The Irish crime drama Cardboard Gangsters plots the story of a Dublin community, Darndale, and the infiltration of drugs into its streets and homes.  The culture is at epidemic proportions across Dublin with a crime base largely destroying the communities they were brought up in and now have drug overlords with patches to deal and exploit. Feuds are common with assainations, kidnappings, overseas gang warfare and a public caught in the crossfire. It’s little wonder Mark O’Connor and John Connors want to tackle this subject and give it a treatment which delves into the minutiae of the drugs trade and the fall out as a reality met daily. Matt O’Connor, into his fourth feature, is a conscientious socially driven Director whose film making promises a format which is well paced, as this is, full of good characterisations, which this has, follows social reality without compromise and tailors a crew and cast to deliver striking stand out films. This is one which sets out with those same intentions. The drawback is it falls into too many cliches and formulaic characterisations filling the story with very strong emotional drivers and brilliant performances yet labours with the one dimensional menu.


Unparalleled Mother Son performances.

Jay Connolly played superbly by joint writer John Connors  just has too narrow a set of markers to put down. He plays a 26 year old who is unemployed and is a part time DJ at nightclubs were drugs are an entry requirement. He makes little money on this skill but has a sideline dealing in soft recreational drugs plus some cocaine. He and his mates are similarly banjacksd by the country, city they live in which has cardboard cut out capitalism on every billboard franked by the receipts of the lowest corporate tax rates anywhere which shored up a decrepit and corrupt government over decades of sham luxury development and high escalating property prices. It began with Zoe Developments and never stopped until the 2008 crash and they wound the windows down and let out the stink of corruption which enveloped the whole shebang – the money trailer they all were on board. The stench was smelt across Europe to the US and the EU Bank removed Irish sovereignty as penance while debts were written off and money trails led everywhere with few debtors thrown into prison.


Getting shafted

Nama was born as was austerity.   Jay and his friends live off dole money and it doesn’t last long as most of them are into drugs in a small way to escape the mill grinding them into the ground.  Jay is reported for ‘working’ as a DJ and he merits loosing any income he has through welfare while an investigation ensues. This is a major problem and he lives with his widowed mother Angela, played by a very soulful Fionna Hewitt-Twamley and the two share a pragmatic, but despairing state of limbo.  His mother is watchful of him and knows the local criminal background. The background which took away his father.  Both are still in grief after five or so years and it is not getting any easier.


Early hopes of escape

When the film opens we see four lifelong friends as young boys of about seven and their lives are semi feral as the wilderness as well as derelict buildings, heaps of builders rubble and eventually the woods around their North Dublin homes.  The shift is swift to the present, as they stroll around the Darndale streets, weighing up the pros and cons of various criminal enterprises they rotate in their minds.  As things take that change of direction for Jay, no income, he is in desperate need of cash and his mother is not managing either which he is quick to spot.  Both are pivotal in this film and one of its strongest parts is their relationship.  They are born with this part of Dublin as an unshift-able genus loci of all of their live’s.  God does not feature as a healer for either but his mother has a mothers belief that – if she is true to herself and carries the sacrifices for which she has no reward – except Jay’s unconditional love – then there is no counter alternative.  Love and God’s, a spirits, unseen presence, imagined everywhere.  Whatever the conditions are there is almost an unwritten law held within that life/death exist in parallel for reasons beyond them all. The version preached by the Catholic Church up to a point when their debased behavior came back to confront them was the version most families relied on but it’s far from the simple form of love and peace Jays mum is clinging onto mentally.

Now Jay reaches a crossroads and their is no turning back. The poster says ‘Take back what’s yours‘ yet we do not know in all truth what that could actually refer to. Drugs most instinctively – obviously alluding to their patch – but also take back the stolen respect and dignity and is another John Connors cause célèbre which it is very hard to tease this out with this narrative, despite the presence of ever component of the drugs trade and its immorality and tragic effects on all who come in touch with it.  Undeniably the intentions to go deeper using the story vehicle are there.


The Gang of Four

Failure of plot happen with the four. They portray types frequently visited. Jay is the quiet leader and decisive one. He acts after a sharp intake of nitrate polluted air when crucial decisions have to be made.  His reactions always are swift.  There is his sidekick, Dano – Fionn Walton, who is a wanna be Jay but lacks the smarts and has an overinflated idea of his strength and animal logistics.  To that pairing add one other pair with firstly,  coloured native Dubliner, (John Dalesanndro?) who is all Dub and a well rounded good natured citizen with his identity fully formed but with the continual racist deflection others make of his colour ever present.  His side kick is an ordinary kid still dreaming of being a rock star – Edge/Bono/Damien Dempsey (whose songs permeate and add very very strong messages to hang the plot and narrative on) while being a rapper with an attitude in the reincarnation of Snoop dog? as Joyce of the Street reborn on the Northside. Music is their escape too.  It is no less than another songwriter, Paul Alwright.


These two are more passive and get in over there heads when the plan Jay concocts to take over all the heavy drug dealing in Darndale gathers pace. He intends to run rings round them and take over under the noses of two sets of dealers, one a long in the tooth – Derra Murphy,  so implausible as an active Gangster not to have been wiped out by this stage – who has been doing it for 30 years non stop. Around him are a narcissistic bunch of fellow delusional hoods and pastiche Gangsters like something out of the Sopranos junior prom. The other dealer of importance he has to float off in a boat is a Northern Irish itinerant family with a hierarchy also base on the Sopranos but with an implausible young gobby boy whose resemblance in demeanour is stolen from the kid in ’71. the one who bad mouths the army. It is a bit hard to swallow due to it being delivered as one dimension bites.


There is no slack or nuance. There is of the first mentioned old timer Gangster, Derra a real wife, Gangsters Moll, Kim played with brass by Keirston Waring of Eastenders and her hang out Ricky from The Office. who is put into situations which are far too dangerous in reality to be convincing. Everyone is an informer and it is a very degrading and bedraggled performance by a woman who ticks all the boxes and convinces you of her emotional harm and physical fragility before the inevitable happens.  The main dealer gets on his horse.  His son Sean is a go-between on the streets and his life is also to be entangled in this world as his figurehead, mentor father is the wild old man Jimmy Smallhotne as Derra Murphy.  Not a nice guy when riled.


Screw ups, RedemptionRevelations

Jay has hit the rails in this whole new environment of his own making.  At 26 he has not modified his survival instinct to accept it could all end very badly.  Why is this seen as possible in a guy as smart as him?  He has an alternate life in a relationship with Sarah played by Toni O’Rourke, again an outstanding believable piece of acting and he has a way towards a happier life but he does see it getting out of shape in screwing it up.

What I get is a story of redemption appearing.  In the void made by his father he sees it as a probable route out of the unbearable grief of losing his mentor – not great on that score – and feels obliged to do it for the sake of his mothers security. Into this path of a future with a cause and a faith in it being the right thing he sets up scenarios which is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Take back what’s ours.’ This is a task he takes on like the universal soldier without fear or idea of wrongness. He is oblivious and a totally different person. The violence of the film is ramped up and the heat is furious as the story moves towards its sorry end.

The twists, plots, betrayals, double crosses are thrown out in every direction and within it is framed Jays realisation of his fate and his journey. It is very audacious way to take on a story which is part of the everyday practically and make it new with edge and believability but it falls down by following – and this is a first go at feature length writing as a collaboration of O’Connors and Connor so it bodes well for more nuances and less predictable tropes. I was reading about the Cartel Wives, a true story written by two sisters married to twins and Mexicos biggest drug dealers into Chicago and much of America and they played the stereo types but we’re in a different league. There is also the Matthew McConagaghy Dallas Buyers Club which wrote an entirely weird and contemporary wildfire take on drug dealing Texas style which I thought superb and a whole Club of emotions entangled in a modern world.


Conclusion ###3

I have to bite into my critical viewpoint and not become over run with sentiment.  Dublin, Ireland deserves a film such as this, just to lift the lid off ordinary life in the shameful presence of the drugs trade exploiting the wracked minds and medically uncared for addicts and the outpouring of huge societal problems accumulating year after year.  The film goes into a story partly based on criminality which even since it was made – 2016 – is on an unrelenting course of spiraling brutality.  From previous eras these stories also come into day to day conversation and filmmakers such as Mark O’Connor see the task of their own driving force the need to put onto screens in startling effective realistic storylines something of the view outside the cinema or home.  King of the Travelers became an opus in real story progressed film narrative.  This too is neither sentimental, glorified, sexed up, hyperrealised but a searching account without answers as none come forward.  Ever.  The account is full of bloody and messy translations of human fortune delivering a grueling watchable unfolding perspective of a life in Darndale.  It takes you into places beyond the limits its trope ridden script – it follows a formula without jettisoning the usual gangster movie traits for something extraordinary – which it is in proximity of without delivering.  The scenes are beautifully framed in tracking without settling but continuing apace when things get serious, by the wide frame and flowing cinematography of Michael Lavelle and Directorship of Mark O’Connor’s strength of compressive – no out but violent immmersion.  While it is flawed in several ways it is an opening of the view never properly taken before as Cinema material.  John Connors could play a priest or an American suited and booted crooked Businessman or a junkie Coach of a Football team or even I thought. – well your imagination will be challenged as this is pulled out of the fire by performances heart felt and convincing in the deepest way effecting.
On at Queens Film Theatre from 23 June 2017 and that screening will have an introduction by John Connor, possibly Q/A?  and will continue through to and including the 29 June 2017and on general release.

From a writer whose songs have crossed the world and is an inspiration at around 31 for lots of young Irish musicians I found myself looking at his website and a letter from Damo.

Heres a very insightful and thought provoking excerpt. Hope he doesn’t object to the cut and paste!  See it all at – he puts down what inspires him.

Sam was sent to Ireland as part of a food removal regiment. These regiments were stationed all over Ireland, guarding the rivers of food that was leaving Ireland all through this terrible period. Cattle, sheep, pigs, grain, wheat, barley, peas beans, rabbits and an array of different types of food was being shipped to England, as millions of Irish starved. Ireland at this time and for many centuries was known as the garden of England. That’s why it angers me that this period in Ireland from 1845 to 1850 is referred to by everyone and in Irish history books as ‘the famine’. The word famine means extreme scarcity of food, yet in one year alone, 1847,over 4000 ships brimming with Irish food left Ireland for English ports. The same year, 400,000 Irish people died of starvation. So I’d implore people to stop using that phrase. Lets call it what it really was. Mary McAleese has referred to this period as the great starvation; I think that’s a more accurate name. Half the British Empires army was in Ireland at this time guarding the foods passage to the coast, (many Irishmen numbered among them), and the soldiers all had to be fed, this gives you an idea of the amount of food that was in the land during this time. This is what Sam Jenkins was doing in Ireland. Like many soldiers from a poor background, he felt more affinity with the poor Irish than he did with the ruling class English (who tried to brainwash the soldiers into thinking that the Irish were white apes, sub human), and he suffered because of this.

If you have the chance my friends please vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the upcoming U.K. elections, a modern day Sam (if your reading this letter I’m sure you will). This leads me onto the song Simple Faith. I feel we shouldn’t have blind faith in institutions like the state and the church and believe all were taught in school. As you can see above the version of Irish history I was taught in school about ‘the famine’ and Oliver Cromwell and Drogheda’s 2000 dead (Cromwell’s new model army killed hundreds of thousands of Irish in the Cromwellian wars) were cover-ups and lies. And not one mention in an Irish history book of the 50,000 Irish slaves sent to the West Indies or their descendants still there today in Barbados, the Red Legs.

I had to find out these truths for myself through research. The same way I found 5HTP after Brian Cowen banned it in Ireland; I try to be questioning and open. I believe we’re on the cusp of a new dawn, new age of enlightenment. People are talking about who really runs the world and owns the banks and the media. Their talking about the poison put into food and the toxins put into the water. Their growing their own food and eating whole foods, getting into spirituality and nature and mindfulness, looking back in time for learning and wisdom. They’re recycling, glass, plastic, paper, food. The things we can learn now on the internet when we sift through the garbage and do a little research is incredible. A friend of mine Dee from my street told me the Shaman are waking up around the world. A South American Shaman told her this. I’m feeling it. I’m talking about this in the song Simple Faith. People are far more open to herbal remedies now and medicating themselves with them. Their looking at what their ancestors used to heal themselves instead of having blind faith in doctors, who often have the answers but not always.

People are far more open to using cannabis for healing than they used to be. Lots of older people I know are using it for pain relief and other sorts of conditions and ailments. This is another thing that rankles me about having simple faith in the government. Some guy in a suit tells us we can’t use the healing properties of a plant that grows out of the ground, that humans have used for thousands of years to heal all sorts of ailments. The government refuses to legalise it even with the THC taken out it. The THC gets you high but the vast majority of people across the land in pain or with a condition that cannabis can help with don’t want the THC, they want the CBD part of the plant. But the powers that be cruelly say no. Yet the same powers refuse point blank to stop dumping a toxic waste. They purchase this waste with taxpayer’s money from fertilising plants, which would have to pay to dump this fluoride if our government didn’t purchase it from them for our water supply. Saying that it’s good for our teeth (countries across the world have banned it out of their water). Maybe this was true in he 1950s when many people didn’t have toothbrushes or toothpaste or mouth wash. This same toxic waste lowers IQ in children, makes people more docile, and makes people sick. And a lot of people make a lot of money from sick people.How sick is that. That’s kind of the jist of ‘Simple Faith’ anyway.

I’ve an iPhone now my friends, I’ve nearly learned how to turn it on and off, so I hope to be posting more on Facebook, if I ever learn how to take a picture on it. And I just got handed a copy of my first ever vinyl album, mother of god, its so beautiful, tears in my eyes here X.

So from Damo to Samo to good old Jeremy!


Frank : A Film Review

Stage emptyi
Frank. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. UK 2014. 1hr 35 mins.
Cast Michael Fassbinder, Domhnall Glesson, Magie Gyllenhall.
Inspired by Frank Sideebottom, loosely.
Who might be Frank?
The precipice Frank Sidebottom clings onto is at the edge of a wounded island. He holds on by isolation which gathered people in as his absence of apparent personality was directed into his enlarged squashed sphere of a paper dome, painted as a boy who resided within on the body of an apparent grown man. The shut out just beyond his skin.

Depictions of persona seeking interpretation in extremis of one kind or another are fairly common as a movie trait. Unlike Her and Under the Skin (previous reviews see search box top right!) this concerns a real life and one that tragically ended only a few years back.The late Chris Sievely figuratively inspired this film; it is a fictional used account of an experience had by Jon Ronson in encountering Frank on tour and mistakenly updated through a process of which an only merit might have been to appeal to a wider contemporary audience. The film industry has been doing it in spades for decades. When Jon turns up as a recruit to the Hotel the gig is at we are ushered in by a Stage Door sign following a nighttime colonnade long shot for underage viewers presumably a directorial aid to ease in the plot.
The problem in this case is that the magic and mystery is of token imbecilic characterisations which only in denouement scores any wrasp of emotional context with which you can relate, an occasion you could hear a pin drop as eyes saw some redemption in their own thoughts.
Head Issue
What results overall is I found a puffball of inflated refracted ego taken up as an artistic source sucked up by all others around this central challenged person. The person a mere figure whose meaning was fabricated within himself as a form of defence for his fearfulness.

Filming a central character whose stik is his overenlarged false head is idiotic, quickly through the limit of sans expression, well one, makes the character as flat as a discarded coke.

His person the real Chris acting Frank acting Frank returns here embodied by Michael Fassbinder. A modern suited mod might be the real Frank. The one he flees from and is the side of Frank at the bottom of his creative genius. The musical side. It only mediates as part of his creative self. Not a big head by any stretch.
Fassbinder flaps his arms, has enormous hands, for an
unfit? city boy this does not sit well nor does the affected American accent convince for the Northern soul boy Frank possibly once was. He limply droops his hands down the guitar in desperation for effect. Lame is not the word. The eccentricity is of the UK kind not remotely USA.
A Story Issues
Jon Ronson on whose story of Frank Is based and has co-scripted with Peter Straughan happened upon the tour of post punk, avant garde, new wave, post colonial, Brit pop, Chemical Brothers outboard motor combo and copped for a role as a band member with Frank recruiting him to play keys.
One character Don – Scoot McNairny is an anthem in himself and this character is the one Jon engages with first. He is deeply troubled. We are deeply sympathetic. He could be a character from centuries past.
As this is 2014 the writers have decided to ditch what could have been an era based movie, one actually relating to the media around Frank in his fate and the music scene, where Brit Pop, Chemical Brothers and Oasis or pre Oasis is were Frank marks on the page and where he was living off.
This is not the same page and frivolises the artist it given it is out there, now on our plain, it can maybe give some new credibility to the actual events and work this film misses as it is both wishful and arch. Ronson as Radiohead.
None of the scenes are believable, except the idea firstly of retreat in which the writing had some sense of idiom. The proceedings are simply methods of filling in the character of the band members. The habitat is hobbit like and spread on the counter pane of Ireland’s redeeming scenery. Even a handy lake conveys tempestuousness when summoned by Lenny Abrahamson. Avant Garde but not Warhol or anything near the epoch those gathered seem to think might materialise.
Then and the Cast
This band had a van and gigs of some kind, unscheduled, unpaid, and sparsely attended one imagined and an other catching vibes of stardust and fortune hindered only by the wrong kind of unmusicality.
In effect except for a song about a checkout girl at …. little traction became of the group Frank founded and here known as The Soronprfbs, band manager ex. roadie Don is a sidekick played as noted above memorably by Scoot McNairny, percussionist Nana very laidback and kooky, Carla Azar, bassist Frenchman Baraque also cool, a French thing happening I guess, Francois Civil and detached, temperamental, possibly reformed psychotic, (my imagination had to adopt a trope to get by the lack of content MG had to play with) theremin player Clara, Maggie Gyllenhall.
The witness to this is Ronson played by Domhnall Glesson who apparently wrote a few of the tunes heard through the film. He is excellent as Jon Ronson providing for the self penned deprecating niavity to play with for Glesson.
He gets the youthful Ronson tripping forward in life taking on the unusual normally eschewed by the mainstream and grasp of the steep slope that is music stardom is naive and at opposite poles to the avant-apocalyptic, post kindergarten, mancunian mental thrashing confines of the band he has just joined. His skills as a storyteller are journalistic and played out in a simplified demeanour in the Ronson of Men who Stare at Goats et al fame.
Makes an alternative diet to men who actually use goats for target practice before becoming rank and file terrorists I suppose and killing fields.
Then some Art Existed
Chris Sievely was many representations of Frank Sidebottom and was continually using the everyday and miscellany that growing up in an industrialized city throws at you but that is an outside story and develops later than the films timeline. So in his new life he is again on screen and beaming down grinning at the absurdity of it all from the future?
The blend of characters are attracted to Frank because he seems their ideal alter ego and he is forgiving of this as it gives him control.

This provides the friction of conflicting surfaces. The surface of his face is pivotal nondescript insouciance. That becomes their reality and hinge on the world. Unwittingly Jon takes on the role of grounding the characters in this plot. For Frank recognises in him the desired escapism Jon pursues also.
It threw at him a disintegration in values, of quality in objects, replication, consumerism which Frankly overwhelmed him most of the time.
Frank or Jon?
For plot we get a tale between two wounded countries. USA. Ireland.
Not exactly a road trip but enough plot to hang a prairie moment on.
Reality passes
A gallery exhibition at The Chelsea Space in 2006 showed in a kind of retrospective, his formation as an artist in conflict. The society in which he later performed commissioned television shows of his persona and like a ventriloquist dummy were trivial and disposable TV fodder, it felt he cashed in his chips there.
Jon Ronson being caught by the shill, Don, allowed a sage normal mentality to inhabit the band. For a change. The character portrayed by Fassbinder is overtly visual and has challenged others who accept his engagement into believing art is formed. Performance art relies on reaction.
The artist finds …X and with this creates without perceived outcome …. Not X. the viewer now the artist plus this …. Not X. With me so far?
Well it is best to describe it as unrepeatable and transitory.
With a band though each song is like a cigarette. Finished you await the next one and the addiction can only be satiated at certain times with the same afterglow melancholia as when you sought it out.
Restless Gestures
I once went to a shed somewhere in the backlands of Surrey to see Ten Pole Tudor and took part in a performance which had most of the attendees marching conga like, after the tall pied piper, which is precisely what we went for and he created the occasion for. Who killed Bambi got murdered several times that night.
If your not related to Henry VIII then TPT has it you cannot create the avant-garde. There was wit and culture, theatre and performance involved as a swipe at the punk despots who thought the world would change if they spat and stamped on a nerd before going to catch a bus or train into the restless suburbs. The only trouble came when the juice ran out. Try margarine.
Frank Sidebottom and his inventor Chris Sievely had an English affliction thing going on about sheds and so the film takes up the adventure where instead of going to a gig the band retreat to a ‘shed’ (the retreat by the Irish lake) to put down their experimental music.
True to the character Frank, instead a performance ensues in which real life is well, replaced by another form of real life. The spaces to be filled and not left empty.
It is a pity the real true life is not here.

Like beads of polystyrene the adherence is everything and once detached blow hither and. The film has that flimsy feel but the acting is what solidly endures and the habit of acting is what features most for me. How each portrayal is drawn and how Fassbinder for instance has little to play around with and gamely comes up with some plausible shapes. Likewise the remainder of the band. Domhnall Glesson is thoroughly at work in the co star role which kind of eclipses oddly that of the main man Frank.
Stephen Rennick populates the film with a pleasant, sans avant garde asides, while Lenny Abrahamson does a good job with close ups and shuffles by with a grocery delivery.
The Frank we see is not the Frank we sort of know and it is never intended to be anything close.
Without it pretending to be anything other than a light black comedy; the makers front it by claiming ahead of the film in material let’s get this out of the way; this not the Frank Sidebottom story pitched so it is much less, it fails as that being a mish mash of the graver aspects with skeletal remains of character playing, albeit executed and aided by the actors own gifts. Like acting the film, Frank, is a persona about not being anything.I just regard it as not on era. I may even tweet out the fact I reviewed it. #productplacement

QFT BElfast Friday 9 May to 22 May 2014
Lenny Abrahamson will have a Q&A at the 6pm Saturday 17 May 2014 screening.

John Graham

29 April 2014