Irish Eye on Hollywood

Colin Farrell in Saving Mr. Banks.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
December / January 2014

All the latest with your favorite Irish and Irish-American talent.

1. The Academy Award nominations will not be announced until January 16, 2014, but one of Hollywood’s strongest contenders – expected to get serious consideration in several categories when the Oscar winners are announced in March – is an Irish movie in theaters now.

Philomena, starring Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, tells the story of an Irish woman who became scandalously pregnant in 1950s Ireland and was forced to give up her son for adoption. Many years later, Philomena’s story winds up in the hands of a journalist played by Coogan, who helps initiate a search for the Irish woman’s long-lost son.

Coogan co-wrote the script, which won the Best Screenplay Award at The Venice International Film Festival, and is considered a likely nominee for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Coogan (whose mother was Irish) said his roots influenced his performance in the film.

“There are people in my life who are Catholic and I love them and respect them. I don’t share all their views but I wanted to dignify them within a discussion about other things,” the actor told The Irish Independent. “Although it wasn’t my story, I used it as a way to have a discussion about issues of faith.”

Also considered a strong contender for an Oscar nod in the Best Supporting Actor category is Michael Fassbender, whose mother is also Irish. Fassbender took on the challenge of playing one of the most reprehensible villains in recent cinematic memory, the loathsome slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave.

Finally, the Irish-produced animated film The Missing Scarf has been long-listed for an Oscar nod in the Animated Short category.

Written and directed by Eoin Duffy, and narrated by Star Trek legend George Takei, The Missing Scarf is a black comedy that exposes viewers to the dark side of life, all seemingly told as if it were a children’s storybook.

2. Saoirse Ronan has been struggling to find a movie project that will connect with audiences and critics in the same way The Lovely Bones and Atonement (for which she received an Oscar nomination) did. Her most recent film, November’s The Way I Live Now, was based on the acclaimed young adult novel about love in the midst of the apocalypse. However, the film came and went with more of a whimper than a bang.

Now, Ronan is calling on some Irish heavyweights for a future project.

It appears she will be playing the lead role in the long-anticipated adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel Brooklyn. The novel tells the story of young and sheltered Irish girl named Eilis Lacey. (One web site quipped that the Irish actress with the hard-to-pronounce name was going to play an Irish character with another hard-to-pronounce name.)

Brooklyn is set in the 1950s, when Eilis leaves rural Ireland behind to pursue a life in the bustling New York borough. She finds work and then an unlikely lover in Tony, from a large Italian American family, who squires Eilis around, from Coney Island to Ebbets Field.

Ah, but this tale is, among many other things, very much an immigrant’s tale, a story of being from two places and not feeling at home in either one. Soon enough, Eilis feels Ireland pulling her back, and she must decide where her future lies.

Fittingly, Brooklyn – which was a best-seller and won several awards for Tóibín – will be directed by acclaimed Irish director John Crowley (Intermission, Boy A).

“I think it’s a story that we’ve never seen on film, certainly not from Ireland, yet,” Crowley was recently quoted as saying. “I think it’s an amazing story about Europe and America in the 20th century. It’s like an epic and a postage stamp at the same time. It’s exquisite.”

Acclaimed British novelist Nick Hornby has already adapted Brooklyn for the big screen. Shooting is slated to begin next year.

Until then, look for Ronan in Wes Anderson’s next star-studded film The Grand Budapest Hotel and in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut How to Catch a Monster.

3. It may be a blessing or a curse, but either way, for Irish actor Jamie Dornan, it’s one hot job. After much controversy, Dornan – born in Belfast – has been tapped as the male lead in the much-hyped, hyper-sexual Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation. Dornan was not the first choice, unfortunately. That was actor Charlie Hunnam, best known for playing Jax Teller on the gritty TV drama Sons of Anarchy. Alas, rabid fans of the naughty novel were apparently not thrilled at the thought of the grungy Hunnam playing cool millionaire Christian Grey. Enter Dornan, whose previous acting work includes the film Marie Antoinette, the ABC TV show Once Upon a Time, and the BBC crime drama The Fall, set in his native city. Whether or not Fifty Shades will match the hype remains to be seen. Either way, the world is surely going to see a whole new side of Jamie Dornan.

4. Colin Farrell has a role in the holiday season hit Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of the Mary Poppins film. And Farrell’s got a busy 2014 to look forward to. Perhaps most talked about is the fantasy film Winter’s Tale, a time-traveling epic that zips across the 20th century, also starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connolly. Next year, also look for Farrell in the very serious film Miss Julie, based on the August Strindberg play, and directed by Norwegian cinema legend Liv Ullmann.  Finally, Farrell will play a serial killer in the thriller Solace, also starring Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

5. Irish-born director Ruairi Robinson is hoping his recent sci-fi feature Last Days on Mars (starring Liev Schreiber, who made a splash playing an Irish American in Showtime’s Ray Donovan) is a harbinger for a big 2014. Robinson is currently planning to shoot a movie called The Fallen, described as a Cold War spy flick, and he is also hoping to turn his short film The Blinky – which he has described as “Poltergeist, Gremlins or E.T. with robots” – into a full-length feature.

6. Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh is venturing into TV with an upcoming 10-part drama called The Knick. Early word is that Eve Hewson (otherwise known as Bono’s daughter) will join the cast along with Irish American newcomer Collin Meath, who will play an Irish cop named Phinny Sears. The Knick is set at the Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900s New York, at a time when doctors were experimenting with radical new forms of surgery and medication.

7. Colm Meaney is among the stars of One Chance, which has already been released in Ireland and is currently slated for a late December release in the U.S. One Chance is a kind of male version of the Susan Boyle story. Paul Potts was an anonymous Welshman who one day showed up on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Well, it turns out the guy can sing opera with the best of them! The film explores how sudden stardom affected Potts and his family.

8. Finally, two lesser-known Irish films from Hollywood legend John Ford are now available for a new generation of movie lovers.

Turner Classic Movies, Columbia Pictures and the Film Foundation recently released a boxed DVD set entitled John Ford: The Columbia Films Collection. The set contains five films from the beloved director of classic Irish movie fare such as The Informer and The Quiet Man.

Most intriguing is 1955’s The Long Gray Line, featuring Irish American Tyrone Power as ambitious Irish immigrant Marty Maher, who went to work at the United States Military Academy at West Point as a civilian worker and ended up becoming an institution at the academy, serving for five decades as an athletic instructor and noncommissioned officer.  Ford regulars Maureen O’Hara (also playing an Irish immigrant) and Ward Bond also appear in The Long Gray Line,  which has long been out of circulation.

Also part of this new Ford boxed set is The Last Hurrah, based on the best-selling novel by Edwin O’Connor, about an old-time Boston Irish politician trying to win one more election.
The Whole Town’s Talking, Gideon’s Day and Two Rode Together round out this impressive Ford collection.

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