Irish Eye on Hollywood

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2008

Irish-American hunk George Clooney recently said that he plans to return to his ancestral home for a summer of motorcycling. “I am doing a motorbike ride in Ireland this summer,” he recently told Dublin radio station FM104. “I hear it rains a lot but I’ve got the perfect outfit!”

Clooney’s last film Leatherheads was a bit of a dud, but he may soon be back in the Oscar nomination form he flashed in Michael Clayton. This fall, Clooney will again team up with Joel and Ethan Coen (who won best picture and best director Oscars for No Country for Old Men) as well as Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. The film is about a CIA agent who writes his memoirs and is promptly fired. In a twist befitting the whacky worldview of the Coens, the memoirs end up in a women’s locker room, and then become the property of shady types who simply want to make as much money as they can. Clooney previously worked with the Coen brothers on O, Brother, Where Art Thou. Along with Clooney and Pitt, Burn After Reading also stars Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. The film is slated to open September 12.

Irish American veteran of stage and screen Brian Dennehy is busy as ever these days. This summer, Dennehy will tackle one of Irish- American writer Eugene O’Neill’s lesser-known works, Hughie.  The play, which is set to run June 18 – August 31 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, will reunite Dennehy with acclaimed stage director Robert Falls, who directed Dennehy in Death of a Salesman on Broadway a few years back. At the same festival, Dennehy will also appear in another work by an Irish master: Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.

When the summer is over, it is back to the big screen for Dennehy, who will star in a crime drama jam-packed with several generations of A-list talent. The movie is called Righteous Kill, and is set to open September 12. The film also stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Donnie Wahlberg (playing a cop named Riley) and rapper 50 Cent (who Irish director Jim Sheridan directed in the biopic Get Rich or Die Trying). On the Irish side of things, Dennehy will be joined by Dennis O’Hare and up-and-comer Frank John Hughes, a Bronx native. Righteous Kill follows a pair of New York City detectives on the trail of a serial killer.

Speaking of DeNiro, he was among those who created The Tribeca Film Festival, which ran in New York City from April 23 to May 4. In the wake of September 11, DeNiro and others were seeking to rejuvenate downtown Manhattan. So, you could say the city itself is the star of the show. But at this year’s fest, it seemed like the Irish stole the show. From dramas to documentaries, Irish and Irish-American talent dominated Tribeca. Big stars from Matthew Broderick to Colin Farrell shined alongside rising talent, such as Irish-born director Declan Recks. Recks’ latest film, Eden, competed in Tribeca’s World Narrative category. The film, which explores the disintegrating marriage of an Irish couple, is an adaptation of Eugene O’Brien’s award-winning play of the same name.  One of Eden’s stars, actress Eileen Walsh (who won the Best Actress prize at the Festival for her portrayal of Breda), was recently asked to describe Eden and its troubled lead characters, Billy and Breda, who are about to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. “Both Billy and Breda are characters in search of each other,” said Walsh. “They are people who have forgotten each other  – become almost brother and sister because they know each other so well. Eden is about them searching to remember why they came together in the first place.”

Also at Tribeca, the aforementioned Frank John Hughes has a supporting role, along with Linus Roche (who starred in the controversial film Priest), in Yonkers Joe, which stars Chazz Palminteri. Yonkers Joe is set in a working-class white ethnic enclave and explores the life of a low-level criminal whose life is radically changed when he must care for his son, who has Down’s Syndrome. Yonkers Joe also stars Thomas Guiry (Black Irish, Mystic River).

Now, here is where the Irish affiliations with Tribeca get a little, um, idiosyncratic. Kicking It is a documentary about homeless men, and their participation in a nationwide soccer tournament. Who better to narrate this film than . . . Colin Farrell!  True, Farrell is the son of an Irish soccer player, but this is still quite a departure from the glitz and glamour of Miami Vice. Farrell’s next movie is the long-awaited New York Irish-American crime drama Pride and Glory. Directed by Jimmy Egan and co-starring Edward Norton, Pride and Glory is not scheduled for release until 2009.

Meanwhile, another Tribeca documentary, Chevolution, about the public fascination with Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, features commentary from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Two final Tribeca entries with Irish-American links are Lake City and Finding Amanda. Lake City is a drama starring Sissy Spacek and Troy Garrity (son of Jane Fonda and Irish- American activist Tom Hayden). It is an examination of a fractured mother-son relationship, and how they must confront each other following a family tragedy.
Finding Amanda, meanwhile, is a big screen project from one of the creators of Denis Leary’s critically acclaimed Irish-American TV show Rescue Me. In Finding Amanda, writer-director Peter Tolan teams up with Irish-American veteran Matthew Broderick in a drama about an alcoholic TV producer who is forced to travel to Las Vegas to confront his niece (Brittany Murphy), whose addictions are even worse than his. Release dates for all of the Irish fare at the Tribeca Fest are either not set yet or tentative. Keep reading Eye on Hollywood for more info.

The movie rights to Paddy on the Hardwood, the non-fiction book about a longtime basketball coach who chased his dream of becoming a fiddle player to Ireland, only to get caught up in Irish pro basketball, were recently purchased. A script and shooting schedule are reportedly in the works.

The summer blockbuster season will soon be upon us, but Irish and Irish-American talent are sticking to work that seems a little more artsy. True, Liam Neeson will be heard (if not seen) doing voice work in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, due out May 16. Neeson’s next big movie after that is the September thriller Taken, also starring Maggie Grace (of TV’s Lost) and Goran Kostic. Taken is about a former soldier whose daughter is taken hostage by modern day slave traders. It sounds a bit like an update of the old Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Commando, but let’s assume Neeson would have passed on the project if it were not thought-provoking as well as action-packed.

Also working hard this spring and summer is Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The Tudors is back on Showtime, starring Meyers as well as fellow Irish thespian Peter O’Toole. Meyers also has an independent film coming out on May 23. The Children of Huang Shi features Meyers as George Hogg, a British journalist who rescued 60 orphaned children in 1930s China.
Intentionally or not, the documentary Constantine’s Sword – based on a massive book by Irish- American Pulitzer Prize winner James Carroll – was released just as the pope was visiting the U.S. In contrast with the pomp of that visit, Constantine’s Sword is a disturbing look at the evolution of Catholic doctrine, particularly as it relates to Christian-Jewish relations. Oscar nominated director Oren Jacob collaborated with Carroll on the project. Carroll is a practicing Catholic who broke with his conservative background in the late 1960s. He chronicled this journey  in his 1996 book An American Requiem. Look for Constantine’s Sword in big-city theaters, or at festivals. The DVD will go on sale later this year.

Speaking of DVDs, if you are like me and never caught The Wire on HBO, now is the time to go get the DVDs and start with Season One. The series features Dominic West as Irish-American detective Jimmy McNulty, navigating crime and politics in Baltimore. All five excellent seasons of The Wire are now on DVD.

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