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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.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Film Review - The Butcher Boy (1997)

‘When I was a young lad, 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, I lived in a small town, where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent. If she hadn’t of poked her nose in between me and Joe everything would have been alright’.

This opening phrase used by the protagonist Francis ‘Francie’ Brady in a droll adult voice over by Stephen Rea, sets the scene for everything that follows. Francie Brady (played by the wonderful Eamonn Owens) is the small town terror in 1960s Ireland, a son of an alcoholic musician father (Stephen Rea) and a mentally unstable mother (Aisling O Sullivan). His hateful obsession is the haughty Misses Nugent (Fiona Shaw) and her son Philip whom he suspects will eventually steal his best friend Joe Purcell from him.

There has been an interesting development in advertising trailer for certain Irish films: disguising themselves as comedies. This may be the work of film studios nervous of their investment, trying to lure as big an audience as possible to see it. Films like The Butcher Boy, In Bruges and Adam and Paul all have elements of comedy but surely cannot be considered as such. There is tragedy hidden within the humour – arguably the classic Irish defensive mechanism - protected by having the ‘craic’. The aforementioned films are perfect examples of this. This is not to say that the films named are not good, rather to say they are not billed as advertised.

In the case of The Butcher Boy, Neil Jordan's wonderful film, the good may indeed be grim, but the good is very good indeed. It is a heady mixture of styles, pitch black comedy, a heartbreaking drama of small town Ireland and its hypocrisies and a desperately human analysis of mental illness, loneliness and the dangers of alienation.

Francie and Joe spend their days playing cowboys and indians and imagining a better life. Francie Brady begins to unravel after hearing Mrs. Nugent call his family pigs. The word pig becomes one of the central themes of the film, evidenced even in the opening quote, with Mrs. Nugent poking her nose into other peoples business. There is even a surreal scene imagined by Francie of the effect of an atomic bomb on the town, with everyone frozen in place and represented as pigs. An attack on the Nugent’s house gets Francie sent away to a care home run by a friendly priest Father Bubbles (Brendan Gleeson). There is an older priest (Milo O Shea) who starts dressing Francie up in bonnets and abusing him. Through the appearance of being a hard worker and not a trouble maker (“and, the Francie Brady "Not a Bad Bastard" award goes to . . . be God, I think it's Francie Brady”) he manages to convince Father Bubbles to send him home. Francie becomes more violent with the news that Joe and Philip have become friends and the largely darkly comic tone all but disappears as Francie attempts to gets his revenge on the town and Mrs. Nugent.

By turns tragic, funny, surreal and sad The Butcher Boy is no easy watch. Indeed Francie Brady is a commendably unsympathetic and at times an unlikeable lead character on the surface - bullying people in the town for his own amusement. But there are some tragic moments which show the torment and anger within him. He bicycles to the town where his parents had their honeymoon. He goes to the bed and breakfast that they stayed in hoping to imagine the great times they had, his mother laughing and father entertaining the other guest with his music. The look on his face is heartbreaking when he told by the landlady that his father was drunk all the time and ruined the honeymoon. Indeed I think the word heartbreaking sums up this movie best. The Butcher Boy is quite simply one of the best Irish films ever made and may well be Neil Jordan’s masterpiece.

Friday, 17 June 2011

5 Crimes against Ireland perpetrated by Hollywood

Of course every nation will complain about the portrayal of their people onscreen. But there is something about the grating God-awful Irish stereotypes that frequent Hollywood movies. Anytime an Irish character appears on screen Ireland collectively put their hands over their eyes. When a character travels to Ireland onscreen we silently wait in abject horror for the rolling hills and 19th century characters and settings.

Below is a selection of my own personal injustices. Just to make it clear, this is not really a comedy list, rather a slightly angry list directly aimed at Hollywood's laziness when it comes to other nations.

1. Sean Connery in the Untouchables.

To be fair I should point out that Sean Connery is an equal opportunities offender. Not bothering to hide his Scottish accent to play a Russian submarine commander (The Hunt For Red October) or that quintessentially English character James Bond. But the peak of this acting laziness is his turn as Malone the Irish beat cop in The Untouchables. Given that the character lives in America and is from Ireland you would think his accent would be a slightly Americanised Irish accent. But no, it is a thick Scottish brogue. It also won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, beating Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom. It is a strange world. 10 seconds of this hideous accent is all I could inflict.

2. Derby O Gill and the Little People

This took years to get over. Enough said, better just to watch. And Sean Connery is in it.

3. The Devils Own

Oh God, where do you even start with this one?

Bad Brad Pitt accent? Check. Flat Guinness and corned beef and cabbage dinner? Check. Dull, done to death, IRA plotline? Check. How much more should the poeple who suffered during the troubles have to suffer through horrible films like this? How did anyone even want to see this after taking one look at the trailer?

4. Julia Roberts in Michael Collins

What fresh hell is this? Period films are rarely made in Ireland, especially big Hollywood budget versions, but this is what Neil Jordan did in 1996. In order to buy into the film certain character actors were needed to bring the story to life. This film had them in spades, from Liam Neeson to Ian Harte to Sean Mc Ginely, they all convinced you that you were back in the throngs of the War of Independence. Hell, even Aidan Quinn, struggling manfully with the Irish accent, managed to pull it off. Just as you were about to shout bravo at a job well done Julia bloody Roberts comes waltzing into a scene and the game is up. It is the acting equivalent of a hand grenade lobbed in. The rest of the movie is equal parts impressive, stirring and even moving, mixed with Pretty Woman. It does get a little surreal. I can only imagine Hollywood insisted on a ‘name’ in exchange for the budget. I wish they hadn’t. It is about 6 minutes into the clip below when your head starts to hurt.

5. Leap Year

The trailer is all you need to see here to know that Hollywood truely hates the Irish people, especially the 19th century looking people who seem to populate this film. How provincial a country do we look in this? If it wasn't for Amy Adams modern clothes and electricity this could be a film set in the time of the famine. Indeed there is even the classic 'it has happened to everyone' hilarious moment when the wrong voltage brings a power cut to the entire village. Not to mention the fact that the B&B owners will only accept customers who are married. Surely as a country we deserve better than this?

These are the ones that really bug me, anyone got any others that I have missed?

Please leave a comment

Monday, 13 June 2011

Film Review - I Can't...I Can't aka Wedding Night (1969)

For my first review this is a fascinating place to start. Not shown in Ireland since it was made in 1969, the Irish Film Institute (IFI) showed a copy from it's archive on Saturday last which I was privileged to attend. The writer of the film, Lee Dunne was in attendance and gave a brief interview before the screening. It was an illuminating chat, in which he revealed that he still had not seen the film and that along with the film, several of his books had been banned at the time. It was within this context that the film was shown. The verdict?

I Can't...I Can't tells the tale of Mady (Tessa Wyatt), a young Irish Catholic bride who is devastated when her pregnant mother miscarries and dies on her wedding day. Because of flashbacks to her childhood witnessing her father’s lust, she refuses to consummate her own marriage to Joe (Dennis Waterman). Inevitably for an contemporary audience who are used to a lot more adult content in cinema, the controversial elements of this film now seem very tame. Indeed several of the scenes in which sex and birth control were discussed induced laughter in the audience. It is maybe worth pointing out that the Irish Family Planning Association was fined in court for selling condoms in the Virgin Megastore in Dublin as recently as 1991, so maybe as a nation we might not be as far along as we think.

The film itself is full of some classic Irish stereotypes, such as the interfering local priest and the weak father. The acting in the film and the film score combine for an over the top melodramatic effect. It has also dated very badly, with the scenes at the disco in 'swinging' London looking particularly dated. The budget of the film could only have been minuscule as there are no establishing shots of either Dublin or London. But despite it shortcomings, it is a film I am glad to have seen. It also has a nicely done slightly ambiguous freeze framing ending, which leaves the viewer in some doubt as to the films resolution.

But I will leave the last word to the film's writer Lee Dunne who stood up at the end of the screening and thanked everyone for not leaving. No chance of that happening with such a worthwhile and rare screening.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

And so it begins...

Welcome to my blog on Irish Cinema, which to me has been under represented online for far too long. I will be putting together (hopefully) interesting articles on Irish Cinema, reviews of Irish films both famous and unheard of. The ultimate aim for me
is to eventually have a dedicated website where information is available from films released today and 80 years ago for all fans of Irish cinema.

This will be a interesting process for me as I like most Irish people have only seen a minority of Irish films released. This is down to various factors and will be discussed in more depth in future articles. I can assure you that this blog will not be a positive advertisement for all Irish film. If I believe an Irish film is bad I will say so. I am also hoping to discover some hidden masterpieces in my searches.

Anyway thanks for reading, and stay tuned as I will have plenty more to say on the subject.