Hamlet in the Golden Vale


Sometimes the play is not the thing.

(2019) Drama (Random MediaTaylor Myers, Pat Dwyer, Elise Kibler, Constantine Malahias, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Jonathan Hopkins, Yurly Pavlish, Beth Ann Hopkins. Directed by Dan Hasse and Taylor Myers

 

Of all of the Bard’s plays – and there are many – perhaps his best is Hamlet. The brooding Dane is one of his most memorable characters as he explores the ambiguities of human nature and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is a dark and often pessimistic play but it is powerful nonetheless.

The Roll the Bones theatrical company has undertaken to stage a version of Hamlet unlike any ever seen before. The company portray actors playing the parts of Hamlet as they settle into an Irish castle for atmosphere (as well as a local farmhouse and surrounding countryside). As the characters and the actors begin to merge, the film takes a decidedly shaded turn. I will give the company props for trying something, as Monty Python might have put it, completely different.

The film is dimly lit in the main and the cinematography is often murky. I know the play is dark, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be lit. That may well have been a function of location but still the final product is what matters and it is easy to miss nuance when everything is in shadow.

In all honesty while the acting is pretty solid, Myers as Hamlet isn’t going to make anybody forget Olivier nor is that his intent, I’m sure. Still, he’s not likely to make anybody forget Mel Gibson’s Hamlet either and that might not necessarily be a good thing. That’s not to say his performance is mediocre – it’s just not outstanding, and the play really could use an outstanding Hamlet.

There are some powerful scenes here – particularly the one where Ophelia (Kibler) meets her final fate – and I will grant you, even dimly lit the location is absolutely stunning. I’m not exactly sure who to recommend this to, though; Shakespeare fans might find this a little outside their comfort zone and those who aren’t into Shakespeare aren’t likely to give it a chance anyway. Still, if you click on the photo above, it will take you to the company’s website where you can check out their brief VR version which might be something new and interesting for you. It might also give you the inspiration to see the full movie as well.

REASONS TO SEE: Points for giving the venerable play a different take.
REASONS TO AVOID: Murky cinematography and at times confusing casting makes this occasionally hard to sit through
FAMILY VALUES: Like every Hamlet, there are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the actors are portraying more than one role; Malahias portrays both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern simultaneously as twins.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vimeo, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hamlet
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Brooklyn


The romance of Ireland meets the romance of Long Island.

The romance of Ireland meets the romance of Long Island.

(2015) Romance (Fox Searchlight) Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Maeve McGrath, Fiona Glascott, Eileen O’Higgins, Peter Campion, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone, Mary O’Driscoll, Samantha Munro, Jessica Paré, Jane Brennan, Eva Birthistle, Brid Brennan, Hugh Gormley, Jenn Murray. Directed by John Crowley

There comes a time in the lives of some people – a lot of people, actually – in which the realization that they have no future sets in. At that moment, they may choose to accept that fate or they may choose to pack up and leave and try to make something of themselves elsewhere.

Eilis Lacey (Ronan) had that decision made for her, by her fiercely protective big sister Rose (Glascott) who wrote Father Flood (Broadbent) in New York to help find Eilis lodging and a job in the Big Apple and so he does, in Brooklyn which in 1951 (when this is set) was full of a rainbow of different cultures, including the Irish. Leaving Rose to care for their widowed mother (J. Brennan) and leaving the employ of a miserable harpy (B. Brennan), she sets sail for the Land of Opportunity.

Once in Brooklyn, she is given lodging at a boarding house run by the no-nonsense Mrs. Kehoe (Walters) who tries to keep Patty (Rickards), Diana (Macklin) and Sheila (Noone) in rein which given their Irish high spirits is no easy task. Desperately homesick, Eilis tries to fit in at the boarding house and tries to fit in at the high-end department store where she works under the watchful eye of Miss Fortini (Paré).

At a dance put on by the local Church, she meets Tony Fiorello (Cohen) who has a thing for Irish girls. His soft-spoken geniality and gentle self-deprecating humor appeals to her and slowly she starts out liking her new beau to falling in love with him. However, a family emergency calls her home to Ireland where she ends up facing a new wrinkle there in the form of a new suitor who is equally kind-hearted and quite the catch, young Jim Farrell (Gleeson) who by the standards of Enniscorthy in County Wexford is well-off. Now the young woman’s heart is torn between two continents and two very different lives. Which will she choose?

Da Queen is fond of describing acting performances that she admires as “quiet,” a trait I find curiously endearing. It means something much different to her than to thee and me and yet in this case, I think she might have something. Ronan is absolutely outstanding here, almost certain to get a nomination for Best Actress at the forthcoming Oscars. Much of her acting takes place in her eyes and on her expressive face; her lilting Irish accent is easily understood, and her longings and yearnings are written in her expressions. Any critic who dismisses the role as bland and unmemorable clearly hasn’t been watching this actress closely, and they are well-advised to – methinks she will be one of the industry’s outstanding actresses for decades to come.

The film is beautifully photographed, from the lush greenery of the Emerald Isle to the windswept barrens of the Long Isle (Long Island NYC) to the brownstone comforts of Brooklyn. Much of the movie takes place in the latter location, a Brooklyn where the Dodgers are still Dem Bums, the streets are alive with color and vitality, Coney Island is still the working class escape and the world is full of possibilities. Sure, this is an idealized Brooklyn because it is largely the Brooklyn of memory and memory makes fonder the places we’ve lived in. The Los Angeles of the 1960s was far from perfect but in my own memory, it is an idyllic place and probably nothing like what it really was and certainly nothing like what it is now. That is the nature of places; they change, often faster and more profoundly than we do ourselves.

While the love triangle between Jim, Tony and Eilis is a bit of a stretch (finding two really nice guys who are actually gentlemen is damn near impossible as any woman will tell you), the relationships that Eilis works out with the two of them feel authentic. Eilis is at times too good to be true – a little naive but with an absolute heart of gold (in fact, the movie has no real antagonist other than the harridan Miss Kelly at the grocery where Eilis works at the movie’s start) and a sweet nature that is straight out of a 50s romance movie.

The world has changed a lot since the time Brooklyn was set in and much of the innocence of that time is long gone. It is not uncommon for those who remember that era to long for its simplicity. Don’t discount the value of nostalgia in marketing a movie – as fellow critic Roger Moore correctly pointed out, the movie seems to be consciously aimed at those who like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And there’s nothing wrong with going after that demographic either; certainly the audience we saw at our screening skewed older. However, nostalgia isn’t all this film has going for it; Ronan’s star turn is likely to get that Oscar nod and could well attract more film buffs here than nostalgia-seeking retirees. This is a contender for my year’s best ten list; go give this one a watch and it might end up on yours too.

REASONS TO GO: Ronan is magnificent. Beautifully shot. Well-written. A lovely slice of life.
REASONS TO STAY: Maybe a little too idealized.
FAMILY VALUES: Some brief profanity and a scene of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Ronan was born in The Bronx, she was raised in Ireland by her Irish parents; this is the first time in a movie that she’s used her native Irish accent.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avalon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The Ridiculous 6

P.S. I Love You


Hilary Swank contemplates Sunday morning alone with the Times.

Hilary Swank contemplates Sunday morning alone with the Times.

(2007) Romance (Warner Brothers) Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr., James Marsden, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Nellie McKay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Dean Winters, Anne Kent, Brian McGrath, Sherie Rene Scott, Susan Blackwell, Michael Countryman, Roger Rathburn, Mike Doyle, Caris Vujcec, Alexandra McGuinness. Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Cinema of the Heart 2015

When the one we love passes away before their time, the loss is devastating. Letting go is nearly impossible, particularly when the person who is gone is the person you were supposed to grow old with. I can’t imagine coping with that kind of pain.

But that’s exactly what Holly (Swank) has to cope with. Her husband Gerry (Butler), a charming Irish rogue if ever there was one, has succumbed to a brain tumor, leaving Holly completely devastated. She has trouble leaving her apartment, where her memories of Gerry are vivid. When she does leave, she carries his urn (containing his ashes) with her like the security blanket of Linus van Pelt. She calls her own phone number endlessly so she can hear her husband’s voice on the answering machine.

Then she starts getting letters, notes and missives from her late husband, the first one accompanying a cake on her 30th birthday which falls not long after the funeral. Before he died, he suspected that Holly would have a hard time adjusting, so in order to ease her back into society he has come up with a plan to help her get over the hump. Each letter comes with instructions of things to do – some of them she is kind of reluctant to undertake but bolstered by her mom (Bates) and two best friends (Gershon, Kudrow) she puts herself out there, intending to honor her late husband’s last instructions.

Along the way she meets a bartender with a huge crush on her (Marsden) and an Irish singer who was once Gerry’s best friend (Morgan) and slowly Holly begins to come to life. But will that life ever be as sweet again?

A lot of critics found the movie misogynistic and creepy but I disagree, particularly on the former. One critic went so far to as to say that the movie denigrates women because one of the things that rescues Holly is her discovery that she has a knack for designing shoes. Really? So throwing yourself into creative work isn’t therapeutic?  Some critics really need to have that stick that is firmly implanted in their anus surgically removed.

I will say that it is a bit creepy to have one’s life directed by their spouse after they’ve died (and to the film’s credit the Kathy Bates character says as much) but there is also a tenderness to it, a revelation of the concern of a husband for his wife even after he’s gone. Puts the “til death do us part” thing to shame in a way because this is beyond death. Sometimes, love is looking out for the one you love even when you’re not there to do it.

This is a very different role than what we’ve come to associate with Swank; she’s normally more in her wheelhouse when she’s portraying strong women. And that’s not to say that Holly isn’t strong; it’s just that she’s been completely brought to her knees by a sudden, unexpected and overwhelming loss. It’s enough to bring anyone to their knees, come to that and I found myself relating to her when I thought about how I’d react if Da Queen were to be suddenly taken from me. I’d be a miserable wreck, a quivering mass of goo on the floor and likely I would hide in my bedroom for a very long time afterwards.

That said, you have to give Butler and Morgan credit for playing charming Irishmen. For Butler it pretty much comes naturally but Morgan had to reach a little bit for that bit of blarney. Morgan’s career has cooled a bit since he made this and I don’t understand why; I always thought he had some leading man potential but that hasn’t panned out as yet for him, although he continues to steal the show of just about every movie he participates in.

This is a bit bittersweet for Valentine’s Day as it concerns the loss of a loved one and rebuilding one’s life afterwards. I can’t say as I think this is perfect for couples just starting out but for those who have put some mileage in their relationship it is one that allows them to consider how they’d deal with the loss of the other, and while that sounds a bit morbid in a way, it also serves to remind you that life is a great big chance and that the rock of your life can be snatched out from under you at any time, more the reason to appreciate every last moment you can with them, particularly watching a romantic movie like P.S. I Love You on the couch on Valentine’s Day.

WHY RENT THIS: Sweetly romantic. The feelings of loss for Swank’s character hits home hard. Morgan and Butler are both scene-stealers here.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The whole concept is a little bit creepy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some very brief nudity as well as a few sexual references scattered about.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jeffrey Dean Morgan had to learn to play guitar for the movie; his teacher was Nancy Wilson of the band Heart.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a faux instructional video (done in faux black and white with faux scratchy film) on the game of Snaps which is briefly mentioned in the movie. There’s also a music video by James Blunt and an interview with author Cecilia Ahern whose novel the movie is based on.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.8M on a $30M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Definitely, Maybe
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Cinema of the Heart concludes!

Philomena


Judi Dench tries to break Steve Coogan's delusion gently that he would have made a great James Bond.

Judi Dench tries to break Steve Coogan’s delusion gently that he would have made a great James Bond.

(2013) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare WInningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Sean Mahon, Peter Hermann, Anna Maxwell Martin, Michelle Fairley, Wummi Mosaku, Amy McAllister, Charlie Murphy, Cathy Belton, Kate Fleetwood, Charissa Shearer, Nika McGuigan. Directed by Stephen Frears

A mother’s love cannot be broken. Not even separation can diminish it – tear a mother and a child away from each other and she’ll move heaven and earth to find her baby. While any woman can have a baby, not every woman is cut out to be a mother. Some however are not given the choice.

Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) is at a crossroads, trying to re-assess and reinvent his life. Sacked as the communications director for the Labour Government’s Minister of Transport, Local Governments and Regions, he is unsure whether he is going to write a book about Russian history or take up running.

At a party he meets a waitress named Jane (Martin) who overhears a conversation between Martin and editor Sally Mitchell (Fairley) about human interest stories. She figures she has a whopper but Martin politely declines. He doesn’t do human interest stories. However, as he comes to realize that he really has no other prospects and Mitchell is willing to publish, he decides to take it on.

Jane’s mother, Philomena Lee (Dench) as a young woman (Clark) had a baby out of wedlock. In 1950s Ireland, this was a major no-no. Her shamed family sent her to a convent where she had the baby (which was born in the breech position) without painkillers of any kind as penance for her sin. But did her penance end there? No. At three years old her son Anthony along with Mary, the daughter of her friend Kathleen (Murphy) are taken away and given up for adoption by the church to a wealthy American family. Anthony and Mary are driven away, Philomena screaming and sobbing behind them.

Over the course of the rest of her life she kept quiet about the incident. A devout Catholic, she was sure that this was nothing less than she deserved for breaking the laws of God. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years had passed that she confessed to her daughter Jane, who didn’t know before that moment that she had a brother.

Martin and Philomena go to the convent where she had given up her Anthony years before and found it a different place entirely. Sister Claire (Belton) is understanding but can offer no help – apparently the records of adoptions had been destroyed in a fire years before. It appears that Philomena’s quest has ended before it has begun, but while having a beer in the local pub Martin discovers that the records may have been burned intentionally and that most of the babies that had been given up for adoption by the convent had gone to America.

As it turns out, Martin had been a BBC correspondent once upon a time in the United States. With his contacts, there’s a good chance they might be able to find records on that side of the Atlantic. Philomena accompanies Martin across the pond and finds the whole experience delightful; business class, a posh hotel, breakfast buffets – all are new and wonderful to her. However, what they discover in America will turn things on their ear and change the very nature of Philomena’s quest.

Frears is one of the best directors working out there and he’s delivered another gem. Dench is a treasure in the title role. Philomena isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but what she lacks in book smarts she makes up for in wisdom and compassion. When Philomena describes the plot of a romance novel to Martin while in an airport, it is absolutely delightful, punctuated by “I didn’t see that one coming!” She also praises at least a dozen hotel workers as “one in a million.” Dench gives Philomena a certain amount of gravitas but not so much that the character becomes caricature. Instead, Philomena is chatty and a bit batty but at every moment we’re aware she’s on serious business and that her heart is just aching. Dench has a good shot at an Oscar nomination although Sandra Bullock may have a lock on the statue this February.

Coogan, best known for his comic turns, has been trying to take on some serious roles of late and this one is tailor made for his talents. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s also the co-writer and producer of the film but certainly he also makes Martin a study in contradictions – he has a sense of humor that he uses sometimes inappropriately and his people skills are a bit raw, particularly in that Martin can be condescending in places. However, he is also doggedly determined to see this thing through and is fiercely protective of Philomena by the movie’s end. He and Dench make a formidable pair.

In fact, it is their differences that make this movie so compelling. Martin is an atheist, Philomena a devout believer. Martin is angry, Philomena forgiving. There is a scene near the end of the film when Martin confronts Sister Hildegarde (Jefford), a nun who was in the convent at the time Anthony was given away. Martin’s anger boils over; Sister Hildegarde is unrepentant and essentially says that Philomena and the other girls like her deserved what they got for the premarital sexuality. It is Philomena who turns out to be the most Christ-like, forgiving Sister Hildegarde and the convent for their misdeeds. When Martin turns to her in amazement and says it’s easy to forgive, Philomena snaps that it isn’t easy at all. It’s bloody hard. But she does it because it is what Christ would want her to do. In her mind, she is remaining true to her faith – even if the church itself has not. It’s a powerful moment.

This is one that might get by even film buffs. With all the big Holiday blockbusters and Oscar contenders coming out, this might slip below your radar. Don’t let it. This is an amazing film that hits all the right notes. Even though occasionally it does twist the knife a little bit, it still manages to cover a difficult and painful subject compassionately, perhaps more so than I, a Catholic, would have in the same situation.

REASONS TO GO: Marvelous performances by Coogan and especially Dench. Gripping story.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally manipulative.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some fairly strong language at times, mature thematic material and some sexual situations and dialogue.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Home movies are used as a flashback device throughout the film. While some of these were created specifically for the movie, some are actual home movies of the real Philomena Lee’s son.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Magdalene Sisters

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: In Darkness

Offshoring


Offshoring

 

Last year Cinema365 started a new mini-film festival we called Offshoring; six days of films from countries other than the United States. I won’t lie and say it was a big hit but neither did it generate any letters of complaint. Therefore, being a fan of movies from all around the world, we are presenting it once again here in 2013 starting on Friday, April 26th.

This year, the movies will be from Australia, South Africa, Ireland, France, Denmark and Germany and run the gamut of drama, action, and comedy with plenty of impact to all. Half of the films in this year’s Offshoring played at the recent Florida Film Festival and will not only carry the distinctive Offshoring 2013 banner above but also the Florida Film Festival 2013 – two banners for the price of one.

These are all worthy bits of film that may not have gotten the ink other movies have but all are worthy of your attention in one way or another. One of the movies this year is a very serious early contender for the best film of 2013. So put on your beret, heat up a bunch of caramelized ginseng and smoke ’em if you got ’em – Cinema365 is about to take you on a trip around the planet without you ever having to leave your computer screen. Bon voyage!

Ondine


Ondine

Not only must Colin Farrell carry the film, he also has to carry Alison Barry without any help from Alicja Bachelda.

 

(2009) Romantic Fantasy (Magnolia) Colin Farrell, Stephen Rea, Alicja Bachelda, Tony Curran, Dervla Kirwan, Tom Archdeacon, Emil Hostina, Norma Sheahan, Alison Barry, Conor Power, Olwyn Hanley, Peter Gowen, Don Wycherley, Gertrude Montgomery, Reese O’Shea. Directed by Neil Jordan

 

The sea gives up its secrets begrudgingly, although off the Emerald coasts of Ireland there is a certain magic in those secrets. Where despair and disappointment may reign over the waves, hope can carry the day.

Syracuse (Farrell) – known as Circus to one and all in the village in which he lives – is a decidedly unsuccessful fisherman trying to eke out a living from the sea, all the while dealing with his daughter Annie’s (Barry) debilitating and serious kidney ailment (which confines her to a wheelchair), his wife Maura (Kirwan) who has taken up with another man, and his own alcoholism which he has been trying desperately to beat.

Out for another disappointing day of failure, Syracuse brings up in his nets a woman, who calls herself Ondine (Bachelda). What she was doing in the middle of the ocean she can’t or won’t say, and she begs Syracuse not to let any other souls in the village see her save himself. He is mystified but puts her up in his late mother’s cottage.

Annie, being a smart and inquisitive little girl, discovers Ondine’s existence and decides that she’s a selkie, a creature of Irish myth that is half woman, half seal. Ondine appears to have some magical properties going on – when she sings, fish almost leap into Syracuse’s net. At last he is beginning to make more than a living, helping pay for his daughter’s dialysis and treatment.

But there is a mysterious man (Hostina) searching for Ondine and when tragedy strikes, everything Syracuse knows or thinks he knows may well be put to the test.

Jordan is an Irish director with an impressive resume, including The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins and The Brave One entered on it. He has a penchant for the fantastic and exercises it here. He also has a good eye for the Irish countryside and utilizing frequent Wong Kar Wei cinematographer Christopher Doyle, he extracts all the misty magic of a small Irish fishing village.

Farrell tends to be at his best when he’s playing ordinary Joes who are flawed. Syracuse isn’t a heroic sort; he’s just trying to do right by his daughter and often doesn’t even manage that. He’s nowhere near as smart as his daughter and often defers to her judgment which is the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head against the nearest brick wall.

Barry may well be a terrific juvenile actress but she’s handed a part here that lands her on my list of pet peeves – the overly precocious child who is smarter and more capable than the adults around her. This serves to make Annie annoying to the point that I’d have preferred long acrylic fingernails screeching over a chalkboard than listening to her talk. That’s not the fault of the actress but of the writer. A more realistic child would have improved the movie 1000 times.

The center of the film is the romance between Syracuse and Ondine. Bachelda, a Polish actress (by way of Mexico where she grew up) is certainly beautiful and has wonderful legs which she displays regularly. She also has, more crucially, actual chemistry with Farrell so their budding romance becomes believable and even encouraged by the viewer who wants to see the together – the watermark of any romantic film.

Some may compare this conceptually to Splash and there are certainly similarities, but whereas Madison in that film was always known to be a mermaid, Ondine remains an is-she-or-isn’t-she until the very final reel which is smart filmmaking. However, the plot takes an unnecessary left turn from gentle romantic fantasy into action thriller for the last twenty minutes or so before returning for the last couple of scenes to the romantic fantasy again. Quite frankly the romantic fantasy works better.

I liked the laidback, dreamy vibe of the movie and Farrell’s IFTA-winning performance (the Irish Film and Television Awards are kind of a cross between the Oscars and Emmy’s in Ireland), as well as Bachelda’s legs and chemistry with Farrell. Kirwan also won an IFTA for her role as Farrell’s estranged wife, battling alcohol issues of her own.

This flew under the radar during an American theatrical release in art houses in the spring of 2010 but is out there on the Showtime/The Movie Channel if you want to catch it on cable, or available for streaming generally everywhere. It makes for a nice romantic evening’s viewing, especially for those who carry an affection for Ireland and all things Irish.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous cinematography and a nice melding of Irish folklore and modern rural Ireland. Fine performances from Farrell, Bachelda, Kirwan and Barry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is a bit disappointing. Annie is part of a long line of precocious and annoying movie kids.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some words you might not want your kids to hear, as well as a bit of sensuality and a scene or two of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farrell and Bachelda

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.6M on a $12M production budget; it failed to recoup its production costs during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Arthur (2011)

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day


The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

The McManus clan prays for an audience to show up this time.

(2009) Action (Apparition) Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Connolly, Julie Benz, Clifton Collins, Peter Fonda, Judd Nelson, Brian Mahoney. Directed by Troy Duffy

Once upon a time writer/director Troy Duffy wrote a script called Boondock Saints that became the subject of a heated bidding war among studios both major and otherwise. Miramax won that war and wheels were set in motion to get the movie made.

Unfortunately all the press and all the accolades went to Duffy’s head and his ego began to reign unchecked. All of this was captured in a documentary about the making of the movie called Overnight. When the movie finally came out, it did anemic box office on an extremely limited run and the documentary got better ratings than the film it chronicled did. It looked like Duffy’s career was over before it began.

A funny thing happened then; the movie took off in home video rentals and sales. In fact, it made enough to warrant a sequel, albeit ten years later. Despite the critical shellacking it took, people began to discover that Boondock Saints actually wasn’t a bad movie especially if you’re into Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino.

So how does the new movie rate? Well, it picks up about a decade after the first one left off. The McManus boys Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) have been living quietly in Ireland on their dad Noah’s (Connolly) farm. Then news comes in that a beloved priest in Boston was murdered and pennies left on his eyes, a McManus brother’s trademark. It seems someone is sending a message; not only do they want the McManus boys back in the States they also want the authorities to think they are already.

Not being ones to back down from anything, they hop on a freighter and sneak into Boston. Aided by Romeo (Collins), a fan of their work and also a pretty good driver, they begin digging into the murder to try and find out who’s behind it and take them out before either the authorities or the murderers find the brothers. And by digging, I mean shooting everybody who gets within range and looks like they might have anything to do with it.

Doggedly on their tail is Eunice (Benz), a super-hot FBI agent who has inherited the case from Agent Smecker (a cameo by Willem Dafoe, who played the role in the original) who may be the one agent who can handle the boys and who has an agenda of her own to do so. And when things look bad, dear old Da comes in from Ireland to set things right.

The plot is pretty simple and the execution of it much better this time around. The body count is certainly higher and there is a bit more humor than there was before. One of the secrets to the movie’s charm is that the McManus brothers come off as guys you wouldn’t mind having a drink or ten with at the pub, and certainly guys you’d want in your corner if there was a fight at said pub. After the fight, you no doubt would want to go back to the pub with them to celebrate. Ah, to be Irish!

Reedus and Flanery step back into their roles as if no time has passed at all. Although the parts are a little bit less clearly written than they were in the first movie, they still hold the center of the movie together and put the Irish back into action anti-hero. Connolly is one of those actors who illuminates everything he’s in, and with his leonine mane and ridiculous amount of on-screen charisma, he is more of a force of nature than an actor here. He literally dominates every scene he’s in.

Benz, fresh off of “Dexter,” is scorching hot, something she didn’t particularly explore either in “Dexter” or in her new family show on ABC, “No Ordinary Family”. Not that it’s something she wants or even needs to pursue, but if she wanted to go the sex kitten route in her career, she’s certainly got the ability to go there.

Duffy knows what to do with violence in his action films, and some of the sequences here get superior marks for their execution, particularly the climactic gun battle and another involving a forklift in a factory. The movie has a phenomenal pace, and leaves no time for boredom.

Duffy and company set up the potential for a third movie and to be honest, I’d be interested to see it. That’s what you want to do with any sequel, and by that standard, mission accomplished. Hopefully we’ll get the chance before 2019.

WHY RENT THIS: The McManus boys are well-written and the film has the feel of a bunch of hell raising guys in a pub going out to blow off some steam. I’d walk a mile to see anything with Billy Connolly in it, and a mile more to see Julie Benz pulling off the sex kitten/FBI agent role. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie breaks no original ground and seems to coast on its own momentum in the middle.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surfeit of violence and foul language as well as a little bit of nudity; definitely for mature teens and older.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sequel made more money in its opening weekend than the first film made in its entire theatrical run.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interview with Connolly and Duffy gives some insight into their working relationship, and there is also some manic footage from the cast’s appearance at the San Diego Comic Con with extra-special guest ex-porn star Ron Jeremy(!).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.6 on a production budget of $8M; the movie didn’t quite make back its production and marketing costs.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Ponyo

I Sell the Dead


I Sell the Dead

There are many things out there much worse than grave robbers.

(2008) Horror Comedy (IFC) Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm, Eileen Colgan, John Speredakos, Brenda Cooney, Heather Bullock. Directed by Glenn McQuaid

Perhaps one of the worst professions ever conceived by the ever-fevered mind of man is that of grave robber, those who steal human corpses for use by anatomists, doctors and whoever is willing to pay for them to dig one up. However, as bad as they are, there are worse things out there.

Arthur Blake (Monaghan) is a grave robber and he and his partner Willie Grimes (Fessenden, who also wrote and produced the film) are about to be executed for their crimes. While Arthur awaits his turn at the guillotine, he confesses his sins to Father Duffy (Perlman) who comes in to give the boy absolution.

Instead, Arthur tells the tale of his apprenticeship with Grimes and their slow make-over from run-of-the-mill body snatchers to those specializing in, well, special cases. Their penchant for turning up vampires, aliens and zombies runs them afoul of Cornelius Murphy (Speredakos), head of a rival gang.

Burke and Hare…I mean, Blake and Grimes are used to running afoul of people. They have a business relationship with Dr. Quint (Scrimm) to provide corpses for dissection but that doesn’t do the good doctor any good if the damn things won’t stay dead.

The movie has an off-the-scale silliness factor which actually adds to the charm. I honestly didn’t expect much from this one, which got such a limited release that most of its cast never knew it actually got one.

McQuaid, a fine cinematographer in his own right, shot this on a micro-budget mostly in the United States (substituting for Ireland, which its often mistaken for) and has a nice sense of flair for the homage. He seems to have been greatly influenced by the Hammer horror films of the 70s which is what this movie most resembles.

There are also some nice little touches, such as Scrimm, who played the Tall Man (a mortuary worker) in Phantasm, here as (wait for it) a mortuary worker. (TA-DAAAAAAAA!) It shows a deft touch not often found in horror directors these days who prefer to bludgeon the viewer with gore and effects make-up to the point where old fashioned horror movies with great premises are an endangered species.

Not if McQuaid and Fessenden have anything to do with it. Fessenden, although ostensibly a supporting player, actually steals the show in many ways. He appears to be having the best time of any in the cast, and plays his character with an air of jaded disbelief that helps move the comic timing of the movie quite nicely.

Monaghan, a genre favorite for his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the cult classic television show “Lost,” makes do with a part that probably could have used Ricky Gervais instead. Still, he’s got a beguiling charisma that audiences just naturally gravitate towards; he’s got a great shot at a political career if he ever decides to go that route.

Quite frankly, this is low budget and it shows in the sets as well as in the set pieces. To be fair, McQuaid wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel here and he uses a lot of conventional genre tricks in getting his point across, relying more on practical effects than in digital ones. He also has a good script, a solid cast and a fair amount of talent of his own; there is an economy of energy here that allows the actors to underplay things a bit so it doesn’t descend into parody (a la the Scary Movie franchise) or cheesiness (the Abbott and Costello classics). From that standpoint, you have to be impressed with the talent behind the camera as it’s pretty difficult to pull off that kind of feat. Certainly I’ll be looking forward with anticipation for further projects from McQuaid.

Horror fans are going to get a kick out of this one, which shows off impressive genre chops that give props to everything from the Universal monster pictures to soft-core porn. Doesn’t sound compatible, I grant you but then that kind of imaginative genre-bending is part of why this charming and witty film works.

WHY RENT THIS: It has a certain off-beat charm that’s infectious. Monaghan is extremely likable and Fessenden is having a jolly good time with this.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Definitely suffers from a Grade Z budget with A-list aspirations. Film is disjointed and drags early on.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly ghoulish themes and images, as well as a smattering of foul language and a bit of horror violence make this suitable only for those of legal drinking age or greater.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A huge hit on the festival circuit (particularly at Slamdance where it was nominated for a cinematography award), IFC picked up the movie for a (very) brief U.S. run before sending it off for home video, on demand and eventually, cable release.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD comes with a comic book version of the movie done in the style of the animations that appear periodically in the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8,050 on an unreported production budget; the movie certainly lost money here, but overseas may have made enough to at least break even, or maybe not.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

How About You


How About You

Hayley Atwell ponders how to hold her own with a quartet of aging scene-stealers.

(Strand) Hayley Atwell, Vanessa Redgrave, Joss Ackland, Orla Brady, Brenda Fricker, Imelda Staunton, Joan O’Hara, Elizabeth Moynihan, Darragh Kelly. Directed by Anthony Byrne

Some can accept the indignities of growing older with grace and dignity. Others rage against the dying of the light and in doing so, rage against life itself.

Kate Harris (Brady) runs the Woodlands, a nursing home in the quaint and charming countryside of Ireland as best she can. She is constantly on the edge of financial ruin and lives in terror of having her accreditation taken away from her, and is tormented by the unscheduled visits of a bureaucrat (Kelly) who seems hell-bent on finding an excuse to shut her down.

When family business forces her to leave over the Christmas holidays, she has no choice but to turn to her sister Ellie (Atwell) to run the joint while she is away. Ellie is a headstrong girl, one who brooks no crap from anyone which she at least has in common with Kate. However, where Kate is a by-the-book conformist, Ellie is spirited and anti-authoritarian. This deadly combination has gotten her fired from more jobs than she can count and now, with nothing really to do and a fairly ambitious set of financial needs, she decides to help her sister out. After all, how hard could it be? Most of the residents had gone home with family members for the holiday, leaving only four people remaining.

Those four are about the most cantankerous, ill-tempered and difficult people you can imagine. There’s Georgia (Redgrave), a former actress who is an alcoholic with all the attitude of a diva. Donald (Ackland) is a widower who has lost his soulmate and takes out his pain on anyone unfortunate enough to fall into his orbit with a caustic wit worthy of Mort Sahl. The Nightingale sisters, Heather (Fricker) and Hazel (Staunton) moved into the home not because they needed the care but because after their mother died, they didn’t have anywhere else to go. Heather is a bit of a bully while Hazel harbors a terrible secret.

Ellie means well, but she often does the wrong thing for the right reasons, as with giving some marijuana to a dying resident (O’Hara) to ease her pain. She immediately butts heads with the four who are known, none too affectionately, as the Hard Core by the Woodlands staff. The four of them have alienated so many of the other residents that they have begun to leave in droves, which is the source of Kate’s near-ruin.

As Ellie stands up to the hi-jinx and imperious demands of the Hard Core, they begin to soften. For her part, Ellie begins to see things from a different perspective. Against all odds, they begin to bond. However a Christmas dinner and a surprise visit from the inspector may put an end to their impromptu family once and for all.

Those who loved serio-comic films like Ladies in Lavender or Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont will dig this big time. Like the other two films, the leads are elderly Brits with thick crusts that hide hearts of gold. While this is based on a short story by the Irish writer Maeve Binchy, it doesn’t break new ground in terms of films of this genre. There are a lot of cliches; naughty, crotchety elderly sorts who smoke pot, drink and curse, free-spirited mule-headed youngsters who learn to lower their defenses, mean bureaucrats who are revealed to have a reason for their anger. It’s all here, with a touch of Irish pipe music to remind us that it’s set in Ireland, and old standards to remind us that the leads are elderly.

However, the actors in the main roles are good enough that they help the movie rise above the material. Ackland, best known as the heavy in Lethal Weapon 2, delivers the kind of performance that those familiar with his stage career and some of his earlier work know that he’s capable of delivering. Redgrave exudes class and elegance, even in a role that sometimes demands its lack; she is magnificent here. Fricker and Staunton are two reliable veterans who are sadly underappreciated; they deliver solid performances here.

Any young actress would be hard-pressed to hold their own with a troupe like that, but Atwell does so, and more. Her Ellie is a bit of a screw-up, but mainly because she doesn’t have enough confidence in herself. She is hot-tempered and unpleasant at times but Atwell makes her so likable that we can’t help staying connected to her even when we want to reach out and smack her upside her head.

The title refers to a Burton Freed-Allen Lane standard that while written in 1941, had a version recorded in the early 60s by Bobby Darin which is the version that is heard here, which is appropriate since that more or less approximates the era of the main characters. The song has a vivid role in the movie which I appreciated as an old ex-rock critic – never underestimate the power of a song to change one’s life.

As I said, this isn’t really adding anything new to the genre but then again, who says it has to? It is very easy to sit back and allow yourself to be captivated by the performances and the magic of the Irish countryside. That, as far as I’m concerned, is two hours well spent.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by a cadre of veteran actors with whom Atwell more than holds her own. A bittersweet but upbeat treatise on growing old with or without dignity.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat predictable in places in terms of “eccentric oldsters changing the life of spirited young person” flicks.

FAMILY VALUES: Some extraordinarily salty language and a surprising amount of drug use so it’s probably not suitable for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Joss Ackland worked as a tea plantation manager in Africa during the 1950s.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Unborn

Leap Year


Leap Year

Amy Adams is absolutely flummoxed that Matthew Goode has never seen a brass bed before.

(Universal) Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, John Lithgow, Adam Scott, Kaitlin Olson, Noel O’Donovan, Tony Rohr, Pat Laffan, Alan Devlin, Ian McElhinney, Dominique McElligott, Mark O’Regan, Maggie McCarthy. Directed by Anand Tucker

In life we sometimes find ourselves on a journey from point A to point B. There are times when the destination isn’t the main thing; the trip itself is what defines us.

Anna Brady (Adams) is a driven, focused woman with a firm grasp of what she wants out of life. She has a marvelous eye for detail which serves her well in her profession as an apartment presenter – someone who is hired by realtors to take empty apartments and dress them with furniture and things to give the space as appealing a look as possible.

She has been going with her boyfriend Jeremy (Scott) for four years. He’s a cardiologist who, like Anna, is married to his job and lives with his nose in his Blackberry. The two have decided to try to get an apartment in Boston’s most prestigious building, the spots for which are like gold and guarded with zealous self-righteousness by the building’s board. After their interview with the board, Jeremy tells Anna that he has something he needs to give her at dinner; Anna’s friend Libby (Olson) had spied him coming out of a posh Boston jewelry store. Is this, at last, the night that Jeremy pops the question?

Of course not. She is instead, presented with diamond earrings, marking one of the few times in history a woman is depressed about receiving diamond earrings from her handsome, cardiologist boyfriend. After that, he’s off to a convention in Dublin – or is that a symposium? Convention seems like a rather gauche term for a gathering of cardiologists.

Anna’s drunken ne’er-do-well dad Jack (Lithgow) offhandedly lets drop that in Ireland it is permissible for women to propose to men on Leap Day (February 29) which, as it just so happens, is just a few days hence. Anna boards a plane meant to take her to Dublin. Will she, at last, make it to the Irish capital and propose to her feet-dragging boyfriend?

Of course not. Bad weather diverts the plane to Cardiff, where the same bad weather shuts down the ferry service as well. The closest Anna can get to Dublin is a small village called Dingle, which has a single pub owned by Declan (Goode) who, as Anna finds out when she makes a call, is also the village taxi service. He is at first not willing to drive her to Dublin which he seems to bear some resentment towards, but when a local reminds Declan his kitchen is about to be repossessed and he needs to raise 1,000 Euros within a week, he relents since Anna is offering 500 for the ride. At last, is Anna on her way to Dublin?

Of course not. Stubborn cows, early trains, and bad breaks (or is that bad brakes?) conspire against Anna as the 29th creeps closer and closer. Declan and Anna initially get along about as well as the IRA and the British Army, but soon enough they begin to warm up to each other. Will Anna make it to Dublin in time to propose to her boyfriend…and is he the one she ought to be proposing to?

Writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont are well-known “script fixers” in Hollywood and this is their first original script. I say original and yet there is nothing particularly original about it. This is standard romantic comedy fare following typical Hollywood romantic comedy formula; boy meets girl, boy and girl can’t stand each other, boy and girl fall for each other, boy and girl are separated by circumstance or misunderstanding, boy and girl finally realize they need each other and wind up together in the final reel.

The problem here is that there are no surprises. Everything follows the formula down to the letter, never deviating an inch. While Adams is one of the most charming and likable actresses working today, she is given a script which doesn’t utilize her natural abilities much. She comes off as fussy and prissy; it is a tribute to her abilities as an actress that she remains likable in a role which essentially isn’t. Goode is given the standard Irish rogue’s role and does what he can with it, but comes off bland. It isn’t his best work ever, and the movie might well have used it.

The cinematography is simply gorgeous. The movie’s producers wisely chose to shoot in locations not traditionally used in Hollywood, which prove a gorgeous backdrop to the romance. The movie is worth seeing just for the scenery alone. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t measure up to the backdrop.

There are few genuine laughs here and plenty of stock Irish and romantic comedy characters, enough that you have to wonder if the script was not so much written as assembled. There is some charm here, enough that you won’t feel like you have completely wasted your time but this is a movie suffering from a sore excess of Hollywood cliché. The state of romantic comedies in Hollywood is pretty sad; most of them, like Leap Year, follow the stock formula religiously and on those rare occasions where there is some deviation, it is cause for celebration. These days, romantic comedies rely on the likability, charm and chemistry of the leads and if that isn’t there, it’s pretty disastrous. This isn’t quite a catastrophe, but it isn’t a triumph either.

REASONS TO GO: Amy Adams is such a charmer that even with sub-par material she still shines. The area the filmmakers used to film is rarely seen on movie screens and is simply breathtaking.

REASONS TO STAY: Another romantic comedy with a stale, cliché script. There are no real surprises and not a lot of laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of mild sensuality and a bit of foul language, but suitable for teens and mature tweens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the village of Dingle is ostensibly on the Eastern shore of Ireland, the Aran Islands where those segments were shot are actually off of the Emerald Isle’s West Coast.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the Irish vistas look best on a big screen but overall if this isn’t the kind of film that appeals to you there is no reason not to wait til the DVD or cable release.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: What Just Happened