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Movies to enjoy on St. Patrick's Day

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Post by Admin on Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:39 pm

Green Zone: Ireland in film

Hollywood loves a good European stereotype, and if we're to go by the staple go-to portrayal, the Irish and their movies consist of little more than leprechauns, Guinness and a drunken love of fugging (fighting and hugging).

But there's a lot more...

A brief glance at the history of their cinematic representation reveals a contribution far greater, weightier and more interesting then you may first realise (even with the leprechauns).

There's also the vast population of Irish Americans influencing Hollywood's attitudes to the Emerald Isle, even if that means the embarrassing stereotypes of Waking Ned and Leap Year.

With a legacy so steeped in political and societal unrest, it's no surprise that movies based on the Irish have had such a unique wealth of material to draw from.

As such, the tragic events of Bloody Sunday and the ongoing religious and political divide represent some of the more instantly recognisable movies of recent years.

2002's Paul Greengrass-directed quasi-documentary on the events of January 30, 1972 (Bloody Sunday) brought the violence and religious flashpoints to brutal, vivid life, but to fully explore the deeper psychological effects and the political mire, recent controversial prison cell drama Hunger, the Helen Mirren-starring Some Mother's Son (based on the same events), and both The Boxer and In The Name Of The Father from the powerhouse director/actor team of Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Patriot Games 03Harrison Ford in Patriot GamesHollywood inevitably seized upon the news-worthy narrative, with big-budget blockbusters Patriot Games (featuring a largely ineffectual IRA) and Michael Collins bringing the past to life in a slightly more glossy capacity.

Sniffing celluloid success, Hollywood then turned it's money-spinning eye on its some 36 million Irish Americans and their mob roots. Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition scooped several awards for its tale of a rogue, betrayed mob enforcer on the run with his son, and while The Boondock Saints was more an Italian and Russian than Irish mob movie, it crucially centred on the age-old Irish tradition that even though fists may fly, pub brawls are never personal and once the Guinness wears off, everyone involved just shrugs it off as though nothing has happened (but when outsiders get involved it gets a little more complicated).

Martin Scorsese met his current muse Leonardo DiCaprio, spinning a new take on the Protestant/Catholic divide in his action-packed 2002 Irish American epic Gangs of New York.

Leap Year 03Leap Year - Why? Whyyy?!The Irish are - as anyone who's ever been collared by a group of Irish pub-goers or looked after by a traditional Irish family will know - quite rightly famed for their brilliant sense of humour, yet you'd be hard-pressed to find many that have found attempts at Irish cinematic comedy worth even the mildest chuckle.

The Most Fertile Man In Ireland, the surreally bizarre Irish teen zombie comedy (starring Samantha Mumba, fact fans) Boy Eats Girl, Leap Year and the upcoming Zonad (an Irish 'alien' crash-lands in a small Irish village) are all as truly representative of Ireland's joviality as an Irish 'themed' bar.

Funnier for all the wrong reasons are the countless Leprechaun movies (which, from what we've seen, proves there's a very un-gold like substance at the foot of the celluloid rainbow). To name but a few; The Last Leprechaun, Leapin' Leprechauns!, and - of course - the brilliantly terrible, Jennifer Aniston-starring horror, Leprechaun.

onceOnce - Spielberg loves it.Of course, the times haven't changed all that much, and Irish accents and reputations are still being brutalised on a regular basis. Brad Pitt gave a serviceable performance as an Irish gypsy in Guy Ritchie's Snatch, but the less said about his The Devil's Own twang the better. And from P.S. I Love You to Leap Year, it's fair to say that with every over-exaggerated pronunciation and drunken, potato-loving, leprechaun worshipping schmoozefests, Hollywood hasn't given up the cliche ghost just yet.

Still, Breakfast on Pluto (the life and times of a transgender in 60s small-town Ireland), Angela's Ashes (an Irish through and through tale of gritty 30s poverty), The Commitments tamer cousin Once (sincere, soppy sing-song-along) and The Wind That Shakes The Barley have all proved the country's fledgling Indie credentials, with touching, amusing and powerful films concentrated more on the art, life lessons and charm inherent in the the nation's history then any number of boozy red-faced fist-fights.

And while we wish we'd only have to even acknowledge Leap Year once every four years (the less the said the better), a combination of the movie gold above, and the recent BBC movie Five Minutes of Heaven - starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt - proved that there is still fresh drama, intrigue and storytelling to be wrung from the country's regularly mined plot beats.

To be sure, to be sure....

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Post by Admin on Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:39 pm

For St. Patrick's Day, The Best Irish Movies By Farr

With the always raucous, spirited celebration of St. Patrick's Day on the near horizon here in New York City, my thoughts turn to the powerful mystique of Ireland, and the many outstanding films that reflect it.

First, a short a kid, I first fell in love with Ireland when I saw Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way (1944). I adored his special twinkle, and his distinctive voice and accent ... and I had to know, where was he from?

Then years later, when my feet first touched Irish soil, the land, the lore, and most of all, the open-hearted character of the people captivated me. I felt instantly at home. What struck me most was the wealth of contradictions in the Irish character: the rich humor and poetry of its people belying centuries of conflict, privation and oppression.

Perhaps the Irish lack the reserve of their English cousins because the conditions they've endured never gave them the luxury to afford it. Over the centuries life there has most often represented a struggle against steep odds.

No movie in or about Ireland better illustrates this than Robert Flaherty's astonishing documentary, Man Of Aran (1934). Flaherty, the Irish-American director of the classic Nanook of The North and father of the documentary form, shot the film on the country's remote Aran Islands. Aran depicts -- simply and beautifully -- the primal struggle between humanity and the most powerful of elements: the sea. We watch in wonder as the residents of this desolate island undergo their back-breaking, dangerous tasks each day with hardy, cheerful determination. Man Of Aran is pure visual poetry, astounding and unforgettable.

Irish-American director John Ford (born John Feeney) was best known for his Westerns, but he also paid homage to the sod of his forebears in two special films.

The Informer (1935) tells the tragic story of one Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen), an IRA member who betrays a friend for money, and of course, pays dearly for it. The movie is tense and atmospheric, and McLaglen is terrific in the title role, a hulking, stupid, desperate man alternately eliciting our sympathy and contempt. (He deservedly won an Oscar for his performance.)

Seventeen years later, Ford realized his long-standing ambition to direct a light, colorful valentine to Ireland called The Quiet Man. Sean Thornton, a former boxer (John Wayne) returns to his native land from America and must adjust to the peculiar customs and manners of Irish small-town life. Featuring a radiant Maureen O'Hara as fiery red-head Mary Kate Danaher, Wayne's love interest, and Victor McLaglen again in a hilarious turn as O'Hara's absurdly protective older brother, The Quiet Man is really a whole lot of blarney, but highly entertaining blarney nonetheless. It is also the closest the great John Ford ever got to making a purely romantic picture.

Predictably, some of the best dramas set in Ireland focus on the historic conflict between its native people and their British occupiers. At the top of any such list sits Carol Reed's classic nail-biter, Odd Man Out (1947), which helped assure young James Mason's ascent to stardom. In war-torn Belfast, rebel leader Johnny McQueen (Mason) plots and executes a daring robbery to fund operations against the British, a caper which goes horribly wrong and leaves him isolated and on the run. Bolstered by a fine supporting turn from a young Cyril Cusack, the movie is taut, intelligent and exciting, with Mason turning in an electric performance as the doomed protagonist. (Maddeningly, this title is hard to find on DVD, and if found, not cheap.)

And now to some more recent depictions of the Emerald Isle, and one of my favorite feel-good movies: Alan Parker's The Commitments (1991). A funny and inspiring tale chronicling the formation of a soul-infused rock band in Dublin, the movie is downright infectious, with a vibrant, foot stomping soundtrack. Colm Meaney stands out in a lively, colorful cast as the bewildered father of one of the bandmates. Commitments is a must-see film that goes down as smoothly as a pint of Guinness.

Jim Sheridan's In The Name Of The Father (1993) is a worthy modern successor to Odd Man Out, recounting the real-life case of a father and son falsely accused of a terrorist bombing by the British. Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite are both first-rate in Oscar-nominated roles as the angry son and his bewildered, gentle father, and Emma Thompson lends excellent support as their determined barrister. A literate and thoroughly engrossing tale of injustice, Father also earned a best Picture nod at the 1993 Oscars, as did both Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite.

Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the late 1940s, John Sayles' The Secret Of Roan Inish (1994) tracks one youngster's attempt to uncover a mystery that sheds light on her family's history and the fate of her little brother. After her mother dies, plucky young Fiona (Courtney) goes to live with her grandparents. They live right across from their prior island home, Roan Inish, which the family abandoned a few years earlier, when at high-tide, Fiona's baby brother Jamie drifted out to sea in his wooden cradle. Soon Fiona is hearing tales about seals that turn into humans -- and rumors that Roan Inish is still occupied. This intimate fable casts its spell gradually, but leaves you warm and satisfied, with lush cinematography by Haskell Wexler, and first-rate turns from Jeni Courtney as Fiona and Mick Lally as kindly grandfather Hugh.

Irish director Neil Jordan made his biggest splash in 1992 with The Crying Game, which featured a gender-twist ending noone could stop talking about. Six years later, Jordan outdid himself again in a lesser-known release called The Butcher Boy. The blackest of black comedies, Boy relates the bizarre story of Francie Brady, a boy whose own derangement allows him to cope with the most dysfunctional of circumstances, including the suicide of his mother. Strange, hypnotic and surreal, Butcher Boy is unlike anything you've seen. Stephen Rea is effective as always playing Francie's drunken father, but it's Eamonn Owens' stunning portrayal of one troubled kid that stays with you. (Owens was plucked out of 2,000 child actors to assume the role.) Though the film is undeniably bleak, Jordan's magic camera and storytelling gifts transcend this darkest of subjects, creating a work of unexpected wonder and rewards.

Bloody Sunday, the tragic 1972 riot in Derry pitting angry Northern Ireland citizens against the British authorities, was recreated to powerful effect in a film of the same name, released in 2002. Shot by director Paul Greengrass in pseudo-documentary style with urgent, real-time pacing, the film has an authenticity and immediacy that makes the viewer feel like a witness to real tragedy. Not for the faint of heart, Bloody Sunday unnerves in its portrayal one of the watershed moments in this destructive, centuries-old conflict. (Greengrass would go on to duplicate this same stomach-churning, "you are there" feeling in his more recent United 93). As with his later film, Bloody Sunday subconsciously sends a vital signal to its rapt viewers: never forget.

I close with Steve McQueen's Hunger (2008), recently released on The Criterion Collection. Based on real events, the film portrays the horrendous conditions inside Belfast's Maze Prison in 1981, exacerbated by resistance from its IRA prisoner population, who are protesting the British government's refusal to grant them political prisoner status. The dehumanizing clashes between inmates and guards culminate in the IRA's decision to launch a concerted hunger strike campaign, led by prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender). Though the film never shrinks from showing all the violence and squalor within Maze, it also tells a human story, evoking the deadening effect of this suffocating, hostile atmosphere on prisoners and guards alike. As the story shifts to Sands himself (superbly played by Michael Fassbender), we come to understand just how deeply the cause runs in the hearts and minds of these proud, defiant men, and why they might willingly sacrifice their lives to advance it.

For over 2,100 outstanding titles on DVD, visit

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Post by Admin on Wed Mar 17, 2010 3:04 pm

Top 7 Tuesdays – Irish Films
Top 7s by James

Irish eyes are smiling onto me right now, considering tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and with a last name like McCormick, I can’t help but be drawn to my very own brethren in the cinema. I tried to think this list up and make it not as normal as most people would think. And in no way will either of the Boondock Saints movies be on this list. Those films aren’t really the best depictions of the orange, white and green.

Daniel said knock you out...

7. The Boxer (1997) – Ahh Daniel Day Lewis is ‘The Troubles’ in this film based in Belfast, where he’s teaching Catholic and Protestant youths to box their problems out, as opposed to blowing each other up. A great visual metaphor and the direction from Jim Sheridan is spot on. A great film that people seem to pass over when talking about great Daniel Day Lewis roles.

Come here often?

6. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) – Once again, Sean Connery is playing a role where he doesn’t alter his accent at all, and this is one of his first roles ever too, which shows that he hasn’t changed a bit. But I love this cute Disney film about Darby O’Gill, a bit of a drunk who stumbles upon the leprechauns home turf and their secret society. The definitive leprechaun movie (sorry, Warwick Davis.) And the Banshee in this film is pretty scary for a kid’s film.

Nothing witty to say here.

5. Patriot Games (1992) – A Jack Ryan film? With Harrison Ford? But remember, this film showcased the IRA as a truly malevolent force to be reckoned with. I still wish they were producing this political action films with the Jack Ryan character, but this one to me is one of the best.

I don't care! (I know, that quote is from The Fugitive, but I can't help but think of that)

4. Blown Away (1994) – I’m not sure why I like this film so much. Oh, I know. Because it puts recent Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges against psychotic Tommy Lee Jones, who’s using the skills he learned in Belfast during the ‘Troubles’, which means blowing a lot of s$#! up. Not a good film, but still an enjoyable ride.

If I subtract Ben Affleck from my career, it equals bigger star power. Interesting.

3. Good Will Hunting (1997) – Yes, I’m going to go so far as to put up one of the more popular Irish American films ever produced. Starring and written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, we all know it’s about a talented young man with the mathematic skills that could take him far in life and his struggle with wanting to just be one of the boys, so to speak. Based in Boston, it is what made the two of them stars, and for good reason. Well, at least for Matt Damon.

Fassbender = too cool

2. Hunger (2008) – What a gripping film, and the most recent one on the list. It stars Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as Bobby Sands, an IRA member in a British prison, who tries to rally his fellow soldiers into getting political status in jail. It shows the 1981 hunger strike that shook the world and showed what one man is capable of if he believes in his way. Criterion put out a great edition recently.

Shake on it.

1. Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Irish mafia done by the Coen Bros. That’s really all I need to say. It’s all about fraternity and what happens when a woman comes between friends and business associates. Not only a great Irish film, but a great film overall.

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