Irish Eye on Hollywood

Irish actor Liam Neeson

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2009

Dublin native Colin Farrell is teaming up with Irish-American screenwriter William Monahan for a new film, which seems to be an homage to a classic.
Farrell – who will be seen later this year subbing for Heath Ledger in the dead actor’s final movie The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus – will star in London Boulevard. The film, which also features Anna Friel and Keira Knightley, begs to be compared to the Hollywood classic Sunset Boulevard, and not just because of the similar titles.  In the 1950 classic, a down-and-out writer takes up with a former Hollywood star. In London Boulevard, Farrell falls for Knightley, who plays a similarly reclusive, though presumably younger, actress. Farrell’s character is slightly different from the one portrayed in Sunset by William Holden.  Farrell’s character is an ex-con, while Holden was an aspiring screenwriter.
London Boulevard will be directed by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of the Boston Irish film The Departed starring Jack Nicholson.  Monahan will make his directorial debut with London Boulevard, which should hit theaters in 2010.
One of the most inspirational true-life Irish-American stories is coming to the big screen later this year.

Back in 2001, just before St. Patrick’s Day, a woman by the name of Betty Anne Waters was thrust into the limelight when her brother, Kenneth, had been declared innocent of a gruesome crime for which he had been serving jail time.

It was Betty Anne, however, whose role in the saga was most fascinating. Though Betty Anne, at one point, had dropped out of high school, she was so convinced of her brother’s innocence that she worked her way through law school earning a degree so that she could help free her wrongfully convicted brother.

The Waterses’ family saga – which took place in the Boston area – has now been made into a film, which is expected to hit theaters in the fall or winter.

Starring Hilary Swank, and currently entitled Betty Anne Waters, the film will explore how Kenneth Waters became ensnared in the legal system, and Betty’s role in helping to free him.

Also starring are Melissa Leo, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role in last year’s indie immigration drama Frozen River. The role of Kenneth Waters will be played by Sam Rockwell.

After Kenneth was freed, Betty Anne gave many interviews and talked at length about her Irish background (both brother and sister were interviewed by Irish America).

This is not the first time Hilary Swank (a two-time Oscar winner in 1999 and 2004) has been linked to an Irish film project. She played spunky boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and also starred in P.S., I Love You, based on the novel by Irish writer (and Bertie’s daughter) Cecelia Ahern.

The Tribeca Film Festival recently swept into New York City once again. The fest’s opening film was The Eclipse, the latest project from prolific Irish scribe Conor McPherson. Best known for writing plays such as The Weir and The Seafarer, McPherson is also an accomplished filmmaker. His screenwriting/directing credits include I Went Down, Endgame and The Actors.

The Eclipse (directed and written by McPherson and Irish writer Billy Roche) is about a widower who has begun seeing mysterious things in his house.  Things only get stranger when he meets two authors who become involved in his life.

The film, which stars Irish veteran Ciaran Hinds as well as Irish American Aidan Quinn, is certainly generating buzz. Right before the film screened at Tribeca, Variety magazine said that The Eclipse is “a film of such seductive grace, humor and startling side trips into buttocks-clenching ghastliness that [audiences] won’t know what to make of it (although it won’t keep them from wanting to visit Ireland immediately). … Ciaran Hinds and Aidan Quinn are as good here as they’ve ever been.”

No word yet on when The Eclipse will hit U.S. theaters.

Speaking of Aidan Quinn, he was a busy man at Tribeca.  The Irish American – who has appeared in dozens of movies including Michael Collins and This Is My Father – also starred in another Tribeca film, Handsome Harry, alongside Steve Buscemi and Campbell Scott.

Handsome Harry is about a seemingly content man whose best friend becomes ill, forcing both to confront uncomfortable questions about their past. Handsome Harry should be in theaters later this year.

Liam Neeson, who is mourning the sudden loss of his wife Natasha Richardson following a skiing accident in March, must be hoping that work will help the healing process.

Neeson has agreed to star, alongside Ralph Fiennes, in Clash of the Titans, which will begin shooting soon in the United Kingdom.
Just as with the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans (which featured acting legends Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom and Maggie Smith, alongside Harry Hamlin and Burgess Meredith), this new Clash of the Titans will be about famous warring gods of mythology. Early word is that Neeson will play Zeus to Fiennes’ Hades.

Another actor struggling with loss, John Travolta – whose son Jett died earlier this year following what is believed to be a seizure – will star alongside Irish heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers in From Paris With Love, set to be released early next year.

The thriller, to be directed by Pierre Morel, is about a young embassy worker (Meyers) and a U.S. secret agent who are sent to Paris and can’t seem to stay out of each other’s way.

It is not director Morel’s first thriller starring an Irishman. He also directed Liam Neeson’s smash hit Taken.

On to cable TV news. One of the major cable networks is expected to pick up a provocative, 10-hour mini-series about the Kennedy family being produced by one of the creators of the smash TV hit 24.

Simply entitled The Kennedys, the mini-series is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, an outspoken Hollywood conservative who has decided to put his own twist on one of America’s most famous liberal families.

According to publicity materials: “The Kennedys takes an inside look behind the secret doors of the White House, [and] the soiled and crooked steps it took to get there.  It also tells the historical stories that are associated with the Kennedy era – the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, the civil rights struggle, the mob connection – each one told in the context of personal, Kennedy-family dramas.”
Another producer, Michael Prupas, tried to play down the notion that this would be some kind of hit job on Irish America’s royal family.

“This will be the most interesting family saga to be brought to the screen in a very long time,” Prupas said. “It will be surprising, arresting and truthful … with human drama at its core. The series is neither a hatchet job nor a valentine.”

It is not often that the Irish immigrant experience finds its way into a slasher/horror flick. But that’s just what happens in director J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers, which is out on DVD now.

Set on the western U.S. frontier of the 1870s, the film follows a group of settlers who are trying to simply survive.  Among them is Irish immigrant Fergus Coffey (played by Irish actor Karl Geary), whose wife is presumed to have been murdered by Native Americans. As men ride out to seek revenge, only to vanish, it seems there may be something supernatural and very deadly at work.
Finally, two new Irish documentaries are making the rounds at festivals. Scenes from a Parish, by documentary filmmaker James Rutenbeck, recently premiered at the Massachusetts Museum of Fine Arts. The film, produced over four years at Saint Patrick parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts, explores how a reliably Irish Catholic parish transforms as more and more Hispanics move in.
Meanwhile, Butte,  America recently played close to home at Montana’s Emerson Center for the Performing Arts and Culture. The documentary (narrated by Gabriel Byrne) explores how the Irish and other immigrant families worked the mines in the Montana town that gives the film its name.

Butte, America was produced and directed by Pam Roberts, a Montana native who spent nearly a decade making the film.  Butte native Edwin Dobb, a descendant of Irish copper miners, co-wrote the script with Academy Award nominee Eugene Corr. Watch out for further screenings, including one at Glucksman Ireland House at NYU.

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