Irish Eye on Hollywood:
Upcoming Film Releases

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs

By Tom Deignan, Columnist
December / January 2012

1. The idea has only been floating for a few weeks and not a word of a script has been written. But already, the Whitey Bulger movie soon to be made by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck is getting mixed reviews.

Bulger, of course, is the long-time Irish Godfather of South Boston who had been on the run for nearly two decades. He was finally nabbed in California over the summer. Since then, Damon and Affleck, who shot to fame with the Irish Boston flick Good Will Hunting, announced that they would be making a movie about Bulger, who double-crossed the FBI and was also the basis for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed. But some folks in South Boston are not so sure it’s such a great idea for Affleck and Damon to team up for a Bulger bio-pic.

Anthony Cardinale, the attorney who represented former New England mafia boss Francis Salemme in a case that helped expose Bulger’s ties with the FBI, told the Hollywood Reporter: “If it’s done honestly, [Damon] will look like an idiot, a treacherous piece of junk. It’ll be a bad career move for him. [If not done accurately], it’s a worse career move.”

Added Tommy Donahue, whose father’s murder was allegedly arranged by Bulger: “I definitely have mixed emotions about this. Hopefully they can depict Whitey Bulger for what he is. They’ll need to do their homework, though.”

No word on when the Bulger flick will begin shooting. Current reports suggest Affleck will direct, while Damon will play Bulger.

Not surprisingly, this is not the only Bulger-related flick in the Hollywood pipeline. The Departed producer Graham King is developing a flick about John Martorano, an infamous soldier in Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang. Martorano eventually became a government informer. Chuck Hogan, the author who wrote the novel on which The Town is based, is working on the Martorano script.


2. Every now and then the stars align for a big-time Irish movie which has Oscar nominations written all over it. In the Name of the Father was one such flick. So were Michael Collins and Gangs of New York. This December, it’s Albert Nobbs.

Glenn Close will star alongside Irish talent such as Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Mary Doyle Kennedy and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

Close, who wrote the movie along with Irish Booker Prize winning author John Banville (The Sea), plays the title character, a woman who lives as a man to get a job as a servant in the 1890’s. Close has been attempting to bring this story (based on a book by Irish writer George Moore) to the big screen since she performed the title role on stage in the early 1980s. Shot in Dublin this past winter, the film was directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives) and will hit select theaters on December 21 before a wider January release.


3. Irish movie lovers may not be so happy a week before the Albert Nobbs release. Meryl Streep is slated to star in Iron Lady, a bio-pic of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose policies in Northern Ireland and general relationship with the Irish community were often tense, to say the least.


4. Dundalk native John Moore must be saying yippee ki-yay.

The Max Payne director has just signed on to direct the fifth installment of the Die Hard series starring Bruce Willis, who famously yelled the cowboy catch-phrase, followed by a notorious swear word.

Moore has directed numerous action films for 20th Century Fox, including Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen, along with Max Payne. The working title for the latest chronicle of beat-upon cop John McClane is A Good Day to Die Hard.


5. Kenneth Branagh remains busy. The Northern Ireland thespian was seen not too long ago playing Laurence Olivier in the Marilyn Monroe film My Week With Marilyn. Branagh will be on the other side of the camera for his next few films.

After directing the blockbuster comic book film Thor, Branagh has decided to direct a slightly more modest film. He will helm the screen adaptation of the best-selling book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The book, by co-authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is set in post-war London, and explores the life of a writer who falls in with an eccentric circle of book-loving friends.

Variety reports that Branagh is developing an adaptation of Swedish author Henning Mankell’s novel Italian Shoes. He is also attached to an adaptation entitled The Boys in the Boat.


6. Moving over to TV, the Irish immigrant experience plays a crucial role in the new AMC series Hell on Wheels although the network may want to be a little more careful when it comes to outlining its research.

Hell on Wheels follows the monumental efforts to build the Union Pacific Railroad. Not only are two main characters Irish immigrants, but the series’ main character is played by the always-reliable Colm Meaney. Meaney stars as the ruthless railroad visionary Thomas Durant.

Ben Esler, meanwhile, stars as a young Irish immigrant named Sean McGinnes, who has come to the American West with his brother. While Ben Esler was born and raised in Australia, Phil Burke (who plays the other McGinnes brother) was born in Toronto to Irish immigrant parents.

As the Hell on Wheels historical background website notes: “Every backbreaking task — laying ties, making the grade, spiking in rails — was all done by hand. And the Union Pacific found their primary muscle in the form of Irish immigrants. The Union Pacific sought out and signed up thousands of Irish workers through agents in New York and Boston and shipped them west at terrific expense.”

But then the network provides what some Irish Americans might feel is a bit too much information. “Despite some drunkenness, strikes, and slowdowns, the imported Irish workers proved a necessary answer to the renowned Chinese work ethic driving the [rival] Central Pacific’s construction. If it were not for these Irish boots on the ground, toiling, bleeding, and sweating day in and day out, Thomas Durant’s vision for a transcontinental railroad may never have come to fruition.”

Did there really need to be a reference to “drunkenness” here? Either way, the Irish played a key role in opening the West, as Hell on Wheels makes clear.


7. An American immigrant story of a very different sort unfolds on the new TLC reality series All-American Muslim. In this intimate look at the Muslim enclave of Dearborn, Michigan, an Irish American named Jeff McDermott converts to Islam for his wife.

Raised Catholic, McDermott met Shadia Amen in 2009 and converted shortly afterwards.

“I did it out of respect for the family, so I could marry Shadia the right way in the eyes of the family,” he has been quoted as saying. Highlights of the show thus far include an Arab ceremony at which Jeff’s wife, in a nod to his own background, performs an Irish jig.


8. Finally, in a business dominated by mega-watt stars such as Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher, it is heartening to read about J. North Conway. The 61-year-old Irish American journalist, author and English professor at Bristol Community College, has recently become something of a show biz mogul himself.

Conway’s book The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Most Ruthless and Greatest Detective, tells the story of Thomas Byrnes, an Irish immigrant who survived the harsh Irish ghettoes of 19th century America and became the top official in the New York City Police Department. CBS television has optioned Conway’s book for a series, which will explore how Byrnes essentially invented modern police work. Even the phrase “the third degree” comes from Byrnes.

“He was the father of forensics, and with CSI and things like that being popular, you can see where it’s going,” Conway was recently quoted as saying.

Another of Conway’s books, King of Heists, has been optioned for a movie set to feature Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner, acclaimed for his work in The Hurt Locker.


One Response to “Irish Eye on Hollywood:
Upcoming Film Releases”

  1. […] issue she writes about Irish Christmas traditions. Tom Deignan, our Irish Eye on Hollywood, keeps us up-to-date on the silver screen and also contributes fantastic history articles (such as his round-up of American presidential […]

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