Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Friday, December 20, 2013

Into the West (1992)

Although it may be a little intense for young tykes due to its alcoholism, poverty, and prejudice themes, "Into the West" is an overall charming and appealing family film with a compelling storyline. It's plot is hugely unbelievable (two Irish lads rescue their magnificent white horse from an abusive owner and ride across Ireland evading the authorities at every turn,) but something about this story touched a warm fuzzy place in my heart.

   Gabriel Byrne plays the alcoholic father of two young boys, Ossie and Tito (Ciarán Fitzgerald and Rúaidhrí Conroy,) who live with their perpetually drunk dad in a squalid Irish tenement building. The boy's grandfather (David Kelly) is the proud owner of Tir Na Nog, a beautiful white horse. When Tito and Ossie decide to smuggle Tir Na Nog into the apartment (not an easy feat considering the tiny size of the place is barely livable for a family of three,) the police confiscate the horse and give him to a shady and rich hobbyist.

   The duo track down the horse-owner and steal back the steed, riding him across the hills and fields of Ireland and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. Meanwhile, their father John gets back in touch with his gypsy heritage and reconnects with Kathleen (Ellen Barkin,) an old friend in an attempt to track his sons.

   John is a interestingly compelling and three-dimensional character- sometimes volatile, sometimes violent, he loves his sons but constantly manages to disappoint them. He pressures the illiterate oldest (Tito) to learn to read because as it so happens, he cannot. Tito does not appreciate the fact that his father is trying to do what is best for him, and he and his brother believe John does not love them. Gabriel Byrne plays John as occasionally heroic, sometimes pathetic, but never as a blunt, angry stereotype.

  There are fantasy elements considering the almost supernatural majesty of the horse, but they never take over the human element of the story, which is closer to British Social Realism than director Mike Newell's later J.K. Rowling adaptation "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." While "Goblet of Fire" is my favorite Harry Potter adaptation, "Into the West" is a little more low-key, more about growing up and learning to let go that sorcery and magic.

   There are relevant social commentary (reflected by the prejudice towards the 'travelers,' the pressure of impoverished conditions, and the less-than-kosher treatment of the horse by the rich horse breeder,) and the acting is pretty strong overall, especially by Gabriel Byrne and the oldest son Rúaidhrí Conroy, although the performance by Ciarán Fitzgerald (Ossie) can be a little tiresome.

   Overall, "Into the West" is a good kid's movie with a lot of heart. Consider this a a superior alternative for teens and tweens to the the "Twilight" films and "Alvin and the Chipmunks- The Squeakquel" (God help me.) It is a rarity-  strong and underrated family film that remains interesting after you turn ten. Worth watching for kids and adults alike.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kisses (2008)

First, ignore the critic on the front cover who dubs "Kisses" 'irresistibly heartwarming.' This is a dark, gritty drama that pulls no punches in it's depiction of incredibly resilient Irish youngsters living lives of squalor and abuse.

   11-year-old Kylie and Dylan are underprivileged kids who fancy themselves a couple. Dylan is abused by his father, a volatile alcoholic, while Kylie is at the mercy of her unscrupulous Uncle Morris.

 One Christmas, the kids run away (after Dylan has a unusually bad fight with his father) and head for Dublin, where they hope to stay with Dylan's runaway brother. On their journey, they make confessions, share secrets, and try to survive in a city that swallows up it's weakest and offers little hope to two children trying to get by.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

James (2008)

   James (Niall Wright) -- lonely, young, miserable, and gay -- craves the acceptance of his English teacher, Mr. Sutherland, but Mr. Sutherland's discomfort with James' sexuality may spell disaster for the solitary young man.

   I watched this short on Youtube, and found it to be a very watchable and moving experience. Niall Wright was very strong in the lead role ... where did they find this kid? The script was tightly written and never far-fetched- myriad tragedies befall James, and all of them seem believable.

  James seems like a smart and sensible boy prone to occasional bad choices, and I immediately liked and empathized with him. I don't think I've ever liked the character in a short film more.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hunger (2008)

Consumed with artistic ugliness and teeth-grindingly nasty realism, Hunger is the first film by up-and-coming director Steve McQueen, not to be confused with the The Great Escape man. No. This Steve McQueen is big, black, and British, and knows more about European prisons in the 80's than any man should be comfortable knowing.

     The setting is 1981 Ireland, and the film follows Bobby Sands, a real person, we are told. Bobby is played by Michael Fassbender, who is now acclaimed for playing in McQueen's new NC-17 drama Shame. Fassbender is considered a handsome man by many, and seeing him brought to this sad physical state is disturbing, to say the least.

     The real Bobby Sands, an member of the Irish Republican Army, was arrested for keeping handguns in his home, with a history of other suspected crimes. In the movie, we are never told this. He is simply there, participating with the others in a no-wash strike, demanding better treatment. His rebellion is quickly and brutally ended when a group of guards drag him, kicking and screaming, and cut his unshaven hair and beard.

    Undeterred, Bobby begins to starve himself, but not before a serious talk with one of cinema's only cool priests, Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). What the 'ole father's saying is, basically, don't do it.

     Despite the father's strong urging not to proceed, Bobby does, and both he and his counterpart Fassbender begin rapidly losing weight (my mother says Fassbender's weight loss took "dedication," and I agree, but dedication leaning towards insanity.)

    Sound unpleasant? It is. Sand's story is linked with the stories of prisoners Davey Gillen and Gerry Campbell (Brian Milligan and Liam McMahon) and prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) who might feel guilt about the whole situation. Or he might not. Hard to tell, since the film has minimal dialogue. He might just be an unhappy guy.

    At first, I found this movie to be a bit of a bore. Bread crumbs falling onto a lap? Why waste a close-up on that? (I stand by what I said then on that matter.) But, just when I thought I'd have to admit my stance to the film snobs of the world and endure their rage, it got better. It was around the time of the brutal rest home scene (which wasn't very restful) and the conversation between Bobby and Father Dominic, which goes on for seventeen minutes, according to Wikipedia, but doesn't get old.

     The realism really stands out here. The filth, the feces, the full-frontal male nudity that prudish or fearful American filmmakers try so desperately to hide. Yup, schwangs flop a-freely, but rarely in a titillating way. The acting seems similarly real, as do the little details (radio 'phones up the vagina? That's *one* way to get them to your jailed hubby.)

    I did think that Bobby's character seemed a little underdeveloped. He was passionate about his cause, and the ambiguity of that cause was thoroughly explored. But he wasn't developed enough for me to fully care about him. My favorite character was the priest who, in his one short scene,  was neither bitter, hypocritical, rapey, or pedophilic, and gave off the best impression.

     An interesting watch for people who either do or don't know a lot about English-Irish hostilities, Hunger is worth watching through the slower parts, and at 98 minutes, it's short and concise. It pulls no punches, offers no enemies (except maybe Margaret Thatcher) and gives a compelling look into an ugly part of history.

     Note - The condition of the penitentiary makes modern American prisons look like Disneyland, and makes you not only think about basic human rights, but also about foreign state institutions that leave their prisoners in similar conditions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wake Wood

  Wake Wood starts out with an unnerving premise and goes downhill as the film's tyke goes on a killing spree. Her name is Alice, and she has had a happy life. Why does she kill?

  Well maybe if you were resurrected during a Pagan ritual, you'd have problems too. After Alice (Ella Connelly) is killed in a dog attack, her parents Patrick and Louise (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) would do anything to have her back.

   They move to Wake Wood, the kind of community that exists primarily in horror movies, cloistered and isolated, with weird locals who come into the house uninvited.

    "How would you like to get you daughter back?" asks creepy villager Arthur, played by Timothy Spall (not a direct quote). "That's not funny," replies Patrick. a believable response. But conveniently, Louise caught a glimpse of a resurrection ritual. She believes him.

   The ritual can bring the deceased back for three days, so the bereaved can say their goodbyes. It requires that another person's body be used in the process of resurrecting the girl. Conveniently (or not so conveniently), an older man in the village was recently crushed to death by a cow.

   The ceremony is prepared, but the child's parents lied about one important detail -- Alice has been dead for more than a year, which creates a rift in the Pagan magic. Will Alice come back a normal little girl? Or the bad seed reborn?

    You should have been able to figure out the answer to this question without my little commentary in the first paragraph. And forgive me, but I don't buy that a seven-something year old girl, albeit an undead one, could rip a woman's heart out of her ribcage. Which also happens in the movie. Keep up with me, folks!

    Notice how I'm using the word "convenient" a lot? "Wake Wood" runs on unlikely occurrences, close calls, and horror cliches, like "car breaks down," "woman runs into *gasp* her husband," and the inevitable "child kills animal" archetypes. All this and a scene pulled straight from Carrie.

   Ella Connelly, as the girl, has all the cuteness and wide-eyed sincerity of a young Dakota Fanning, but Dakota Fanning she is not. Although she could act happy and sweet, she wasn't really convincing as an infernal child-gone-wrong.

    Which brings us to the ending. Eva Birthistle is the highlight of this film, portraying grief and distress naturally. Timothy Spall is a great actor in an underdeveloped, criminally underwritten role, therefore hindering his capacity for greatness.

    Aidan Gillen, who did a commendable job playing a mentally ill stutterer in the indie Buddy Boy some years back, practically sleepwalks through this role.

    His apparent mindset: play the part, jump the hoops, collect the paycheck. There's little passion or commitment to this role. Now that I think about it, his character in Buddy Boy was a bit stiff, a little under-reactionary.

   But it fit the character, and Aidan Gillen had some spark playing the nervous wreck. Gillen now plays Patrick as detached to the extreme, facing horrific and astonishing occurrences with mild anxiety. He plays a concerned husband, but that's about it. Despite it's initially chilling premise, Wake Wood fails to deliver. Although it has potential as a thriller, it ultimately fails as a movie.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

Francie Brady, the young narrator of this dark Irish novel, opens the book by saying, "When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent." It's safe to say the reader has fair warning that the book will not end well.

Set in Ireland in the early 1960's, this novel takes us into the home of the Bradys, a poor Catholic family. Francie's father is an alcoholic, and his mother is mentally ill -- my guess is that she has bipolar disorder. The reader lives in Francie's mind, carried along by a stream of consciousness that reminds me a bit of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The flow of his thoughts and experiences is beautiful, brutal and often confusing.

As Francie's family unravels, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the Nugents, a relatively affluent Protestant family. Their cherished only son, Philip Nugent, is one of his classmates; he has an impressive comic book collection and takes piano lessons. When Francie enters Philip's room, it is like stepping into a different world. Mrs. Nugent looks down on the Bradys and calls Francie a "pig." This only stokes his obsession. And gradually, Mrs. Nugent becomes Francie's scapegoat for all the problems and tragedies in his life.

We follow Francie's descent into madness, which continues through the death of his parents, his taking work as the butcher's boy, the only job he's considered suitable for, and the loss of his best friend. It also continues through his stint at a Catholic home for troubled boys, where he yearns to get his "Francie Brady is Not a Bad Bastard Anymore Diploma," and his encounters with a pedophile priest.

Throughout all this, the narrative veers between the real and the surreal; realities and delusions mingle fluidly. As he plunges into sociopathy, Francie remains heart-breakingly human and funny. And while the story is often disorienting and bleak, at times it's incredibly beautiful.

While this novel was difficult to read, it is one that will stick with me for years to come.

You might also like this review at The Guardian.

Rating: 4

5- Cherished Favorite4 - Keep in My Library3 - Good Read2 - Meh1 - Definitely Not
For Me