Irish Eye on Hollywood

The Chronicles of Narnia (above) was inspired by the writings of C.S. Lewis, a Belfast native.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
Febuary / March 2006

The Irish were extraordinarily well represented in this year’s Golden Globe Awards nominations. Both Pierce Brosnan and Cillian Murphy were nominated for Best Performance in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). Brosnan earned a nod for his turn in the spy caper The Matador while Murphy makes the final cut for his daring role as a transvestite in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto.

A similar combination — an Irish veteran and newcomer — are also up against each other in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Mini-Series or Movie. Interestingly, both of these Irish thespians earned their nominations playing American icons. Belfast native Kenneth Branagh earned a nod for his role as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in HBO’s Warm Springs. Meanwhile, Jonathan Rhys-Myers, a star in Woody Allen’s Match Point (which is up for a Best Picture Golden Globe) earned his own nomination for playing Elvis in a CBS TV mini-series. Cinderella Man, Ron Howard’s Depression-era drama about the Irish-American boxing champion Jim Braddock, also earned numerous nominations. George Clooney and New Jersey native Nathan Lane are other Irish-Americans whose work earned nominations.

Of course, the Golden Globes, which will be handed out on January 16 (you may already know who won by the time you read this), are widely seen as a warm-up for the Academy Awards, which will be held in March. Perhaps Neil Jordan, who won an Academy Award for his 1992 film, The Crying Game, which also featured a transvestite, will be lucky again. In any case, he will soon begin shooting his long-discussed film about the Renaissance era Borgia family. Colin Farrell and Scarlett Johansson will star. Before that, the always-busy Farrell will be seen in Terrence Malick’s The New World, a retelling of the Captain John Smith-Pocahontas story. Farrell has apparently been doing lots of other things aside from films, because at the end of 2005 he checked himself into a rehabilitation center citing exhaustion.

Martin McDonough is best known for his edgy Broadway plays which can be hilarious one minute and then brutal the next. With writing so lively and provocative, evident in plays such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has long been on the trail of McDonough. Well, be on the lookout soon because a number of McDonough’s original screenplays are going to make it into theaters this year. Of course, even if you didn’t know McDonough was the author of these works, you might have guessed it based on the titles. One of them is a thriller called Seven Psychopaths and the other is called Suicide on Sixth Street. Early reports do not indicate if either is set in Ireland, as most of McDonough’s plays are. Still, expect more of the same from this writing wunderkind (McDonough is only 35): dark themes, memorable characters and bleak humor. McDonough also said recently that he wants to direct one of these movies. “I don’t want to be a filmmaker,” he said. “I would like to make one or two astonishing films, then go on vacation.”

Speaking of Irish writers on the big screen, who knew that Hollywood’s most sought after Irish writer at the end of 2005 would have been a guy who wrote his masterworks decades back, and who was obsessed with Christian themes. But, indeed, C.S. Lewis, the author behind the books which became the mega-smash hit The Chronicles of Narnia is, in fact, a Belfast native. (Fellow Northern Irelander Liam Neeson is the voice of Aslan the Lion in the movie.) Though often thought of as an English writer, Lewis took his Irish identity very seriously, according to a recent profile in The New Yorker magazine.

He was born in 1898, into a rough and ready but pious Ulster Protestant family in Belfast; his father was eccentric and his mother, who died before Lewis turned ten, was warm and loving and simple, according to the magazine. When he went off to college in London, Lewis, always the sensitive and soft-spoken young hiker, took on the part of a bluff, hearty Irishman, all tweed and pipe. Lewis also was deeply touched by the Irish landscape when he was growing up, which is clear in the lush descriptions of nature found in his books.

Though not quite as big a film as The Chronicles of Narnia, another Irish writer is out and about promoting a very personal short film based on a brilliant short story he wrote. Everything in this Country Must is a short film directed by Gary McKendry and written by Colum McCann, based on McCann’s story. The film, a spare 20minute story about a boy, a horse and death in Northern Ireland, received an Oscar nomination last year and is still making its way around to various festivals.

It may be winter but preparations are already underway for that favorite staple of the St. Patrick’s Day season, the Craic film festival in New York City. Widely considered North America’s top Irish film, as well as music, festival, the event will be held March 8-12. Festival Director Terence Mulligan says: “We’re very excited about the March festival. We have condensed if into a five-day film and music feast. The screenings will be followed by the live music each night to enhance the party atmosphere, which has always surrounded the festival.”

As always, the Film Fleadh this year presents a selection of shorts and feature-length films. Tennis Anyone?, directed by and starring Irish-American Donal Logue (best known for his sitcom Grounded for Life) and also starring Jay Mohr and Steven Dorff is among the films which will be screened. Also on the bill is Terry Loane’s Mickybo and Me, starring Julie Walters, Ciaran Hinds and Adrian Dunbar.

The film tells the story of two boys living in violence-torn Belfast in 1970. The only way they can escape from the chaos all around them is by watching movies. Their favorite is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and slowly the boys want to do the same thing the heroes in the movie do: escape from the place where they are.

Also this year, the Craic festival, in conjunction with The Irish Arts Center, will present its first ever Kids Fleadh. Irish language short films are also scheduled. Two Irish American projects to be on the lookout for include Purple Violets, the latest movie from Brothers McMullen director Ed Burns. Starring Debra Messing, Selma Blair and David Arquette, Purple Violets is described as a romantic comedy and is currently shooting in New York. Let’s hope this is a return to form for Burns, who has been in quite a slump of late. Also look for Mean Girls teen queen Lindsay Lohan in Bobby, a film about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

Finally, Hollywood lost a prolific Irish born producer at the end of 2005. Tony Adams, who produced many of the films directed by Blake Edwards in the 80s and 90s, died of a stroke. He was 52. The Dublin-born Adams and Edwards collaboration would have to best be known for the six Pink Panther movies they made together, starring the late, great Peter Sellers. There were also the classic Dudley Moore movies 10 and Micki and Maude. Adams had three children. ♦

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