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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The 5 best roles for Irish actors you have never seen

We all know the parts Irish actors are famous for. Most have been in some great Irish films and gone on to star in Hollywood blockbusters. We have Liam Neeson in Michael Collins and now starring in Hollywood films such as Taken and The A Team. Brendan Gleeson has been in a lot of Irish films including In Bruges and is a major actor in Hollywood. But many Irish actors best performances have been in films and TV shows that not many people have seen. Here is a selection of great performances both at home and abroad that are worth seeking out if you have an interest in Irish actors.

1. Brendan Gleeson in The Treaty (1991)

Five years before Michael Collins was made, RTE made The Treaty: a large scale production of the the treaty negotiations with the British Government after the War of Independence. This brilliant production starred a huge amount of Irish acting talent from stage and screen but it was the then unknown Gleeson who played Michael Collins. He was superb and still eclipses the Liam Neeson portrayal from the Neil Jordan production. It would be well worth seeking out on dvd if in fact it was available on dvd - it's not. Meanwhile it is available to watch on Youtube.

2. Ray Mc Anally in A Very British Coup (1988)

Quite simply one of the best conspiracy TV shows ever made. It is the story of a working class man, Harry Perkins (Mc Anally), who becomes Prime Minister in the UK in the 1980s. This shows a different world than today (a left wing Labour party?) but the political intrigue and shadowy background forces operating behind the scenes is as relevant as ever. This is Mc Anally's finest performance: he is an immense presence and totally convincing. Available to buy on dvd from the 19th September (RTE take note).

3. Gabriel Byrne in Defence of the Realm (1985)

There was a temptation to put the Byrne's performance in the Coen Brothers film Millers Crossing in here. It is rightly famous for being one of their best films but there is a surprising number of people who have yet to see it. But in the end this had to be the selection. Alongside A Very British Coup this is another 1980s reaction to the Thatcher led British Government and an enjoyable political thriller in its own right. Byrne is a treat in this and it is nice to see him in a lead role so early in his career. There is also another Coen Brothers connection with regular cinematographer Roger Deakins working on this film. Available on dvd.

4. Stephen Rea in Citizen X (1995)

This little seen and underrated film stars Stephen Rea as a policeman in charge of the investigation to find the serial killer Andrej Chikatilo in Soviet Russia from 1978 to 1990. This film is in some ways a typical police procedural but it is given extra weight by the amount of political red tape and interference by the Soviet government. It also boasts a superb, restrained turn by Rea in a rare leading role. Available on dvd. Apologies for the poor quality trailer.

5. Pierce Brosnan in Taffin (1988)

OK, so maybe not the greatest choice of film but it is included here to illustrate the standard of film made in Ireland before Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan made their mark. Brosnan looks good in this, and you can see why Bond producers wanted him star in that franchise long before he actually did. The trailer is hilarious and just about awful enough to see if the film is available to buy on dvd. Rather shockingly it is, yet I Went Down is unavailable, what a strange world this is.

Have you got any that I haven't included? Let me know below.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Film Review - My Left Foot (1989)

It is hard to believe that 22 years have passed since My Left Foot dragged Ireland kicking and screaming out of the cinematic dark ages. An astonishingly assured debut from Jim Sheridan, the film was nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Picture. It won 2 acting Oscars for Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker.

The film tells the life story of Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), born severely disabled with cerebral palsy, who grew up in a large, working class family in Dublin. He overcomes adversity to become a famous artist and writer through the use of his left foot which is the only limb he has full control of. In the wrong director’s hands this type of material could become quite mawkish and this reviewer felt a certain trepidation in re-watching a film that has existed only in brief scenes half remembered for the best part of 15 years. Would the film stand up to the ravages of time and memory?

Happily the answer to this is a resounding and slightly surprising yes. One of the reasons for this blog was to hopefully be surprised by a film, to be caught off guard in a real and delightful way. Films have this power but it does not happen as much as one would hope. The real surprise with My Left Foot was how almost totally free of the kind of manipulative sentimentality that the classic Hollywood biopic of struggles is usually full of. There is compassion for Christy Brown but not patronising sentiment. He is treated exactly the same by his brothers and sisters, but is initially ignored by his father who thinks that he is stupid. Only his mother Bridget (Brenda Fricker) sees that he has potential from an early age. The early scenes of Christy’s life (in which he is played by a wonderful Hugh O Connor) are tough with the representation of Dublin life that is grim and poor although there is some Irish black humour to lighten the tone. Indeed Bridget is seen in the first few years of Christy’s life as almost perpetually pregnant which is surely abhorrent considering that it was almost impossible to feed the children they already had.

The left foot of the title lends itself to various parts of the story, both dramatic and funny. Christy uses it to summon help for his collapsed mother by banging on the front door, he scores a penalty in a football match, paints, writes and tries to commit suicide all with this appendage. The first time he picks up the chalk with his foot as a child and writes on the blackboard is an exhilarating and beautiful moment.

The cast of the film are almost without exception superb. O’Connor as the young Christy seamlessly passes the part over to Day Lewis who is astounding. We know now of the legendary lengths Day Lewis will go to for a part including famously staying in character throughout the making of a film. But back in 1989 he was somewhat of an unlikely actor for this part based on previous roles which were a world away from this such as his roles in My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With A View. But he is mesmerising, not merely with the physicality of the role but crucially he also nails the Dublin accent. One of the most stunning scenes is at a restaurant after an exhibition of Brown’s work. His therapist who he is in love with tells him she is to marry someone else. Day Lewis channels the rage that Brown feels at this betrayal into a harrowing physical and mental breakdown. It is a sad and harrowing scene to watch. Brenda Fricker and Ray Mc Nally both excel as Christy’s parents, particularly Fricker who is heartbreaking. The direction from Sheridan in his feature film debut is superb. His use of the camera from Christy’s point of view as he sits on the floor as a child gazing in wonder and fear at the enormity of the world around him is worth noting. And being a native Dubliner Sheridan knows just when to cut away from scenes to undercut any sentimentality.

Overall, My Left Foot is a magnificent achievement. It is humane, compassionate and funny but more importantly it gets the mix of these just right which is a very difficult thing to do. Its importance in putting Ireland on the world cinematic stage cannot be underestimated. One final point of interest is to note that this film is available to buy on DVD.

Monday, 15 August 2011

8 of the best web resources for Irish filmmakers

There are a number of websites that for Irish filmmakers are considered to be vital. Below is a list of some of the best in my opinion. This idea is hopefully the beginning of an eventual 'important links' area on this blog that anyone visiting can use. Please feel free to suggest any other sites that you believe should be added.

1. Filmbase - This site is a one stop shop for any budding screenplay writer or filmmaker. They have extensive lists of training courses, offer film equipment hire, and run short screenplay competitions twice a year (in which this writer has entered for the first time this year). Membership is a must if you are serious about wanting to get into this industry.

2. Irish Film Academy - If you are an aspiring actor/actress this site is an important one. They run plenty of acting courses but also have a Trained Actors area, which allows actors and casting directors to facilitate online casting.

3. Irish Film Board - This is still the first port of call for all filmmakers who are seeking funding for their projects. It also hosts Irish short films for viewing on its site. This is an absolutely essential site.

4. IFI - The Irish Film Institute is not only the premier art house cinema in Ireland it also has an extensive film archive and film library. This cinema has become even more important with the regrettable closure of The Lighthouse Cinema recently.

5. IFTN -The Irish Film and Television Network site has Irish film news, a careers page and lists of Irish films previously made and in production at the moment.

6. RTE - The national broadcaster holds some interesting competitions for aspiring filmmakers such as Storyland. It is also involved in the short screenplay competition that Filmbase runs twice a year.

7. TCD Irish Film Research - This magnificent site is one which I only became aware of quite recently. It is simply an amazing fully searchable Irish film and TV archive which covers practically everything. You can also view some short Irish films made some 100 years ago. This is an important and impressive website.

8. Volta - This independent video on demand service named after the first cinema opened in Ireland by James Joyce in 1909 is very interesting. There are independent films to buy or rent which you can stream or download and there is an ever growing list of Irish films to see.

Are there any sites I have forgotten?

Let me know below.