Irish Eye on Hollywood

Chris O'Dowd learns about his roots in the HBO mock-umentary series Family Tree.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2013

The latest on your favorite Irish and Irish-American film and television stars.

1. The summer of 2013 will have plenty of cartoons, gross-out comedies and other popcorn flicks. But, for the Irish, the summer will open and close with two serious dramas about the always controversial topic of terrorism.

First up is Shadow Dancer, to be released in the U.S. on May 31.

Set in the early 1990s, Shadow Dancer is about Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who is also an IRA operative. Colette is sent off to plant a bomb in London, but changes her mind. She is, nevertheless, arrested and interrogated by an MI5 agent (Clive Owen) who gives her an opportunity to avoid a prison sentence if she informs on her fellow IRA soldiers. These include her own brother, who is played by Aidan Gillen (born Aidan Murphy in Dublin), best known for playing the reform Baltimore mayor Tom Carcetti in the acclaimed HBO series The Wire. Colette ultimately decides to inform, which causes a lot of trouble when she returns to Belfast to live with her mother (Brid Brennan) and her brother (Domhnall Gleeson), who has his own problems with the IRA.

Based on a book by Tom Bradby, who worked as a TV journalist in Belfast, Shadow Dancer was directed by James Marsh, best known for documentaries such as Man on Wire and Project Nim.

2.  At the end of the summer, look for Closed Circuit starring Eric Bana (Hulk, Munich) and Rebecca Hall (The Town).  Closed Circuit also stars Northern Irish star of stage and screen Ciarán Hinds and was directed by Dublin-born John Crowley (Intermission). Closed Circuit features Bana and Hall as former lovers who end up together on the defense team of a terrorism suspect. Set to be released August 28, the film also features Anne-Marie Duff, who starred in the Irish film The Magdalene Sisters and plays Fiona Gallagher on the UK version of the cable drama Shameless.

3.  Another Irish director – who’s been making movies for three decades now – will unspool his latest on June 28.  Byzantium is the new film from Sligo-born Neil Jordan, whose directorial debut was 1982’s Angel and who gained early acclaim with Mona Lisa and The Crying Game.  Byzantium, which stars Irish Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, is the latest film to explore the trials and tribulations of vampires. Also starring Gemma Arterton and Daniel Mays, Byzantium is based on Moira Buffini’s play A Vampire Story and follows the lives of two women who have been alive for, well, a century or two.

4. If you need a break from the terrorists and vampires, check out Irish thespian Brendan Gleeson voicing Victor Doyle in Smurfs 2 on July 31.

5. Then get back to the scary stuff in late August with Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.  This frightening flick is just brimming with Irish talent, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jared Harris, son of the late Richard Harris.

Mortal Instruments, based on the popular young adult novels, is about a family turned upside down when their mother is abducted from their New York City home by a monster.  When that happens, seemingly ordinary teenager Clary Fray is forced to go into superhero mode. Along the way she must confront scary truths about her family’s past and perhaps even her destiny. She’s also got to make sure her mother is safe and decide what kind of life she is going to have after these traumatic events.

Mortal Instruments also features up-and-coming Laois native Robert Sheehan (whose scary résumé includes Demons Never Die and Season of the Witch) and Dubliner Aidan Turner (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

6. Belfast-born director and actor Kenneth Branagh became a household name for his Shakespearean projects. Recently, however, he’s been trading in Hamlet and Macbeth for super heroes and fairy tales. Branagh entered a new phase of his career a few years back when he directed the critically acclaimed blockbuster Thor, based on the Marvel comic book. Now, Branagh has several projects coming up, including a big-budget update of the Disney classic Cinderella. Downton Abbey’s Lily James recently signed on to play the famed title role. James is best known for her role as Lady Rose McClare on the hit PBS show.

7.  And if that’s not blockbuster enough, in December, Branagh will unveil Jack Ryan, the latest cinematic take on Irish-American author Tom Clancy’s famed character. This time around, Chris Pine tackles the title role once played by Ben Affleck, Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. Also featured in Jack Ryan (which Branagh directed) are Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley. The film is slated to open Christmas Day 2013.

8. Back to Saoirse Ronan. Her controversial teen-assassins flick Violet and Daisy will finally be released in the U.S. this June. The film has played in the U.K. to mixed reviews, but they were apparently good enough to warrant a stateside release. The film also stars Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls, with the young duo teaming up as violent criminals.

9. June also brings the latest film from Irish-American Aidan Quinn. Entitled Rushlights, the film follows two teenagers from L.A. (Josh Henderson and Haley Webb) who get into trouble when they try to pull off an inheritance scheme after making their way to a small Texas town. Rushlights also stars Beau Bridges.

10. Irish-American stars Kevin Connolly and Kevin Dillon of the former TV hit Entourage recently confirmed that an Entourage movie is in the works. Based loosely on the Hollywood exploits of Irish-American (and Entourage producer) Mark Wahlberg, the show comically explored life in the Hollywood fast lane for Queens-kid-turned-movie-star Vinny Chase (Adrian Grenier). And while some people might think making a movie of Entourage would be going to the well one too many times, Kevin Connolly is not one of them.

“Oh, are you kidding? That’s like getting asked to go re-do your senior year in high school,” Connolly told HuffPost Entertainment. “I can’t wait.”

11. Speaking of television, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd recently began his role in the HBO series Family Tree. The comic faux-genealogy series has an impressive creative team behind it, including Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, two of the folks behind the famed mock-umentary This is Spinal Tap and other comic gems. Similarly, Family Tree is shot documentary style, and follows a character as he looks into his highly disturbing family roots.

12. Later this year, O’Dowd will appear alongside many other Irish talents in Calvary, a black comedy  written and directed by Irish filmmaker (and brother of playwright Martin) John Michael McDonagh, the writer-director behind the Brendan Gleeson film The Guard. Gleeson will also appear in Calvary alongside O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes) and aforementioned Irishman Aidan Gillen. In Calvary, Gleeson plays a priest looking to make the world a better place. His parishioners, however, are generally petty and small-minded. He faces a crisis when he is told something in the confessional that may get him killed.

13.  Finally, no Irish movie column would be complete unless we caught up with the latest Liam Neeson action thriller. Neeson is currently in New York shooting A Walk Among the Tombstones. Neeson referred to the film in late March, when he picked up his Thomas J. Manton Irishman of the Year Award from New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “An hour ago I was in Brooklyn, trying to catch two bad guys,” he joked. “I will try to catch them again tomorrow, and the day after that.”

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