Irish Eye on Hollywood: Upcoming Film Releases

Brendan Gleeson

By Tom Deignan, Contributor

Tom Deignan with the latest Irish happenings in film and television

When the bigwigs of the movie industry gathered in Park City, Utah, at the end of January for the annual Sundance Film Festival, the Irish were well represented.

Brendan Gleeson’s new film The Guard, which also stars Fionnula Flanagan, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong, opened up the festival’s World Dramatic Competition.  The Guard was directed by John Michael McDonagh – brother of acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

The Guard features the always-brilliant Gleeson as a small-town Irish cop known for his bad attitude and dark humor.  His mother is dying, and he may be involved in a drug-smuggling ring, which has attracted the attention of an FBI agent (Cheadle).

Guard producer Ed Guiney recently said: “I’m delighted that Sundance has selected The Guard as the opening film of the world competition this year. It’s the most high profile slot in one of the world’s great festivals and we cannot think of a better way to launch the film.”

Meanwhile, Sundance’s World Cinema Documentary Competition featured Knuckle, an intimate look at the brutal world of bare-knuckle boxing among Irish Travellers.  Travellers, of course, are the nomadic tribe of people who wander through Ireland and other countries and live by their own set of rules.

Director Ian Palmer followed a group of Travellers for over 10 years and focuses on James, a member of a group known as the Quinn McDonaghs. James often finds himself asked to defend his clan against the rival Joyces.

At Sundance, Knuckle was described as follows: “Disturbingly raw, yet compulsively engaging, Knuckle  offers candid access to a rarely seen, brutal world where a cycle of bloody violence seems destined to continue unabated.”

Two Irish shorts, meanwhile, were among the 81 short films featured at Sundance. Small Change, starring Nora Jane Noone (The Magdalene Sisters), is about a bored, young Mom while the animated The External World is about a little boy learning to play the piano.

Liam Neeson will apparently stay as busy in 2011 as he was in 2010.  February 18 is the release date for the Ballymena thespian’s latest action flick Unknown.  Neeson plays a doctor who lapses into a coma only to wake and discover that another man has assumed his identity.  Unknown also stars Diane Krueger (Inglourious Basterds), January Jones (Mad Men), and Frank Langella.

If it works for Liam Neeson, why not Saorsie Ronan?

The wunderkind actress from Carlow – last seen alongside Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in January’s The Way Back — will also appear in an action flick due out next year. Ronan once again teams up with Atonement director Joe Wright for the film Hanna.  Ronan – who earned an Oscar nod for her work in Atonement – is the title character, a teenaged girl raised to be an assassin by her CIA dad (played by Eric Bana).  Hanna also features Cate Blanchett, who portrayed crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin in a movie of the same title.

Two upcoming superhero flicks have Irish ties.

First, there’s Thor. The May release, about the hammer-swinging Norse superhero, will star Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and will be directed by Northern Irish acting and directing veteran Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh, famous for his Shakespearean work, recently said that while Thor is based on a comic book, the Bard himself would appreciate the conflicts in this story. Branagh said he was drawn in by the “human-like qualities of these characters presented in the myths and in the Marvel stories as gods, and the family dynamics between fathers and sons, and sibling rivalry and the competition for parental affection.”

Meanwhile, in July, look for Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson to star in Captain America: The First Avenger. The Irish link here is a more surprising one. Though he is the most patriotic and American of all superheroes – red, white and blue right down to his shield and tight costume – the Marvel comics backstory of Captain America is actually a bit more complicated. Believe it or not, according to Marvel, Steve Rodgers – Captain America’s alter ego – was actually born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents on July 4, 1917.

No word yet on whether the film will include these details.

In May, reclusive and acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick will release his latest film Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, as well as Cork-born theater veteran Fiona Shaw.  Shaw will play a grandmother in a family with two troubled parents and three sons.  The film focuses mainly on the youngest boy, whose innocence is shattered as he watches his family struggle with adversity.  This sounds about as cheerful and uplifting as previous bleak films directed by Malick, such as Badlands and The Thin Red Line.

Colin Farrell’s film London Boulevard – based on Irish crime writer Ken Bruen’s novel – was released in the U.K. towards the end of 2010, but there’s no word just yet if an American release is forthcoming.  The talent gathered here could not be more impressive. Aside from Bruen’s source material and the artistically reinvigorated Farrell, you also have Keira Knightly and director William Monahan, who wrote the screenplay for The Departed.

However, reviews of London Boulevard in England and Ireland were tepid. As the Irish Times put it: “There’s a fine film in here somewhere, but it’s buried very deep beneath a great deal of classy mediocrity.”

As for what Colin Farrell will be doing next, he has been linked to remakes of two unlikely hits from the 1980s: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall, a sci-fi thriller which foresaw the rise of cutthroat reality television (it was based on a Philip K. Dick short story), as well as Fright Night, which will presumably attempt to tap into the current craze for all things vampiric.

On the television front, the FX network must be thrilled at the success of The Fighter, the Mark Wahlberg film about “Irish” Mickey Ward.  Right after The Fighter began wowing audiences and earning talk of Oscar nominations, FX began running a new series about another Irish-American boxer entitled Lights Out.  The series features Holt McCallany as Patrick “Lights” Leary, a washed-up boxer who is thinking about one last shot at the ring.  It’s that or return to work as a debt collector – which he is quite good at because he is so intimidating.  The Leary family struggles to pay its bills and stick together in this show, which is slated to run for 13 episodes.

Over on Showtime, Natasha McElhone – whose parents were from Ireland – stars alongside David Duchovny in Season Four of Californication.  McElhone – best known for big-screen roles in films such as Solaris and The Truman Show – plays the girlfriend of troubled novelist and teacher Hank Moody (Duchovny). Californication’s fourth season premiered in January and will run Sunday nights on Showtime through the spring.

Finally, a gem of a documentary made its premiere on Irish television this past Christmas. Fans of Irish cinema should lobby for a U.S. release.

Ireland’s TV3 channel premiered a new documentary entitled The Irish in Hollywood at the end of 2010.  Spanning more than 100 years, the documentary was narrated by Patrick Bergin, and looks at earlier Irish and Irish American stars such as James Cagney, Maureen O’Hara and Pat O’Brien, before taking us through today’s stars such as Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan.

According to director Paul Howard, Gabriel Byrne emerges as a key voice in the film, because of his widespread knowledge of Hollywood history.

“One of the things about Gabriel – and it was one of the most amazing interviews that I have ever done – was that we sat down to interview him about his life and career in Hollywood, but he went way beyond that,” Howard tells us. ” Gabriel was very knowledgeable – knowledgeable to such a degree that he could form very credible opinions on our topics.”

Until the documentary is released on DVD – which we very much hope it will be – you can read the book on which the documentary is based: Steve Brennan’s Emeralds in Tinsletown.

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