Ireland on Film: Waking Ned Devine

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It’s the last day of March. So it’s time for my last blog entry about films set in Ireland. My last selection is one of the sharpest comedies ever made. It’s Waking Ned Devine. It’s a witty gem full of colorful characters and is a fun commentary on the underlying greed of ordinary people.

In the Irish village of Tullymore, one of the 52 residents has a winning lottery ticket. But who is the lucky one? Jackie O’ Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’ Sullivan (David Kelly) attempt to discover the winner, along with Jackie’s wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan), They manage to obtain a list of lottery customers through Mrs. Kennedy (Maura O’ Malley). The potential winners are all invited to a chicken dinner. But, at the end of the evening, they are no closer to figuring out the winner’s identity. But Annie has a revelation. Only one customer didn’t attend: Ned Devine. Jackie pays a visit to Ned’s house, discovering him dead from shock with a smile on his face in front of the TV holding the winning ticket. That night, Jackie has a dream that Ned wants to share the winnings with his friends. After all, Ned has no family to claim the winnings.

It is here where Waking Ned Devine shifts into a full-blown screwball comedy. And as far as screwball comedies go, this is one of the best. Jackie and Michael obtain Ned’s personal information so they can claim the money for themselves. When the two of them call the National Lottery to make the claim, an inspector is sent. When the inspector arrives, Jackie stalls him just long enough for Michael to break into Ned’s house so he can dress up like him and pass himself off as the recently deceased man. When it’s revealed that the winnings are more than expected, the whole village is brought into the scheme. Everyone in the village signs a pact to participate. Well, all except local curmudgeon Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey). She threatens to turn them all in for fraud and claim a reward for doing so. She also attempts to blackmail Jackie. Without revealing too much, let’s just say Lizzy’s storyline has a very satisfying ending.

Waking Ned Devine has so many delightful and quirky twists and turns, I dare not list them all here. Seeing the lengths the villagers will go to in order to pull of this ruse is part of what makes it so much fun. There isn’t a dull moment in the 91 minutes of this movie.

While the whole ensemble of actors is delightful in this film, I have to give a shout out to David Kelly who plays Michael. Kelly was a wonderful character actor. Modern audiences no doubt saw him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he stole the show as Grandpa Joe. Kelly is warm and funny. Every second he’s onscreen is delightful. Kelly accumulated 114 screen credits before all was said and done. And he was also a prolific stage actor. It’s downright criminal he was not nominated for an Oscar for Waking Ned Devine.

The film was written and directed by Kirk JonesThe script is clever and really makes getting to know the villagers a lot of fun. By the end of the film, I wanted to live among them. While it’s primarily a comedy, Waking Ned Devine also manages to be moving in what it has to say about friendship and life itself. It’s delightful from start to finish and good on the first and 100th viewings. How many films can make that claim? Not many.

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Ireland On Film: Once

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This week’s featured film in our films set in Ireland spotlight is fairly recent. But it’s destined to become a classic. It’s a whimsical little musical called Once. Released in 2007, it’s a charming romance that features a soundtrack you’re sure to buy after you see the movie. It’s not a musical in the traditional movie musical way with lavish production numbers. But it’s one of the most charming indie films to come out in a long time.

As Once opens, Guy (Glen Hansard) is playing his guitar on Grafton Street in Dublin. He goes chasing after a man who steals his money. Later a young flower selling girl (Marketa Irglova) is drawn to him when she hears his music. The two strike up a conversation where the girl learns that the street musician repairs Hoovers. The next day, the flower girl meets up with the street musician again. She brings her Hoover for him to fix and reveals that she is also a musician.

There is a music store where the girl plays piano. Guy teaches her one of his songs. The girl is later invited by Guy over to his father’s shop. On the bus ride to the shop, Guy reveals through song what his songs are about. They turn out to be about a girl who cheated on him and then left him.

Guy introduces the girl to his father and then invites her to stay the night. She is insulted and leaves. But they reconcile the next day. The duo then spend the week writing and recording songs. As they work together, they find out more and more about one another. For example, the flower selling girl lives with her mother and also has a toddler. She also has a husband in the Czech Republic. Guy also still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend. While sorting through their personal issues, they manage to secure a bank loan, hire some musicians, and get some time in a recording studio to create a demo tape.

After an all-night recording session, they part ways. The girl reveals she spoke with her husband on the phone and will be coming to Dublin to live with her. Guy ends up going to London. He calls his ex-girlfriend ahead of his arrival. She is excited to see him. As a final romantic gesture, Guy orders a piano and has it delivered to the flower selling girl’s home.

Once was shot in just 17 days on a shoestring budget, Many of the shooting locations were homes of the cast and crew. The Dublin street scenes were filmed on location. As IMDB notes,

The Dublin street scenes were recorded without permits so a long lens was used. Many passers-by didn’t even realize that they were being filmed. The long lens also helped the non-professional actors relax and forget that they were on camera.

Once didn’t have the resources of a big budget film. But it makes up for it in pure charm. The songs are touching, funny and are creatively used to tell the story of the two musicians. The two leads lacked experience. Hansard had one prior acting credit in a minor role in The Commitments. Marketa Irglova made her acting debut in the film. Hansard and Irglova’s chemistry lights up the screen. When the film is over, you’re sad to say goodbye to these delightful and complex characters.

The film went on to be a box office and critical success. It took home the Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film. One of the film’s songs, Falling Slowly, won an Oscar for Best Original Song. And the soundtrack garnered a Grammy nomination. Once became the little film that could. It won over critics and audiences. Once is a musical for people who don’t like traditional musicals as well as people who just enjoy a movie that’s a good slice of life.

Ireland On Film: The Quiet Man

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Greetings, readers! Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. So my pick this week is my St. Patrick’s Day viewing tradition: The Quiet Man. Released in 1952 and directed by John Ford, the film is memorable for its lead performances by Maureen O’ Hara and John Wayne, as well as its gorgeous Technicolor palate.

In The Quiet Man, Sean Thorton (John Wayne) journeys from Pittsburgh to his birthplace in Ireland with intentions of buying his family’s old farm. But things don’t go quite according to plan. Along the way he falls in love with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’ Hara). Her brother, Will (Victor McLagen) is a prosperous but stubborn landowner. Will also wants the former Thorton farm. When the farm’s current owner accepts Sean’s offer instead of his, it starts the two off on a rocky relationship. Unwilling to let it go, Will refuses to give his blessing for Sean and Mary Kate to marry. A few of the townspeople conspire to make Will think the Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) wants to marry him, buy only if Mary Kate is out of the household. Will then gives Sean and Mary Kate his blessing.

At  Sean and Mary Kate’s wedding, Will finds out he has been deceived. Angered, he refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry, including the family fortune and furniture she’s entitled to. Sean is indifferent to Mary Kate not getting the dowry. But without it, Mary Kate sees their marriage as invalid. This sets up the battle of wills that culminates in the film’s third act, with Mary Kate setting out to hop a train to leave town since she now sees her husband as a coward, and a fistfight between Sean and Will to square the whole situation.

John Wayne may have been know for westerns. But The Quiet Man shows he can play much more than cowboys. The chemistry between Wayne and O’ Hara is fantastic. They made several films together. But The Quiet Man is the crown jewel of their pairings. It has a great mix of drama, comedy and is beautiful to behold. Cinematographer Winton Hoch does an incredible job of bringing Ireland to life in glorious Technicolor. The film ranks with The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ In The Rain as one of the best looking classics films ever made. It was filmed largely on location in County May and County Galway in Ireland.

In addition to its vibrant look and magnetic leading actors, The Quiet Man stands out because of its rich supporting cast. My two favorites are Barry Fitzgerlad as Michaleen Flynn, the local matchmaker, and Ward Bond as Father Lonegran, the colorful local clergyman. The town is full of colorful characters you would love to have a drink with. It’s part of what gives the film its charm.

The Quiet Man was a departure for both John Wayne and John Ford. But it remains one of their best collaborations. And Maureen O’ Hara, a fiery Irish woman herself, proved in it that she truly was the queen of Technicolor.

Ireland On Film: The Wind That Shakes The Barley

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It’s week two of my look at Ireland on film. This week’s selection is a work of is The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Released in 2006, it was the highest-grossing Irish independent film (until displaced recently by The Guard). Set during the Irish war of independence, it’s one of the most gripping works of historical fiction ever filmed.

At the outset of the film in 1920, Dr. Damien O’ Donovan (Cillian Murphy) is about to leave his home in County Cork, Ireland. He is ready to practice medicine at a hospital in London. Damien’s brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) has chosen a vastly different path. Teddy takes command of the local flying column of the Irish Republican Army. As Damien prepares to leave, he witnesses the execution of a friend at the hands of the British Black and Tans. Damien is shaken, but initially blows off the pleas of those around him to stay in Ireland and fight. But his mind is changed when he witnesses personnel at a railway station being intimidated by the British Army for refusing to let their troops onboard. Damien then joins the IRA with Teddy.

The two brothers fight side by side, witnessing first hand the horrors of combat. Eventually a truce is signed. But it is short-lived. One part of Ireland accepts the treaty, while another see it as unfair. Ireland is then torn apart by a Civil War.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley is more than your average war movie. Part of the reason for that is it takes its time not just showing the events of the war, but it how it fundamentally changes the two brothers. While the whole cast is phenomenal, it’s Cillian Murphy that shines the brightest. Why he isn’t acknowledged more for his acting chops I do not know. He can play villains in films like Batman Begins and Red Eye, eccentrics (Breakfast on Pluto), and even a zombie apocalypse survivor (28 Days Later). In The Wind That Shakes The Barley, the evolution of his character is spellbinding. The dynamic between Murphy and Delaney is never less than compelling. They are completely believable as two brothers who respect each other despite having very different ideologies.

The film was shot in various locations in County Cork. And while the scenery may not be the star as much as it was in last week’s film, The Secret of Roan Inish, we get a gritty feel of a country at war. Director Ken Loach’s film is riveting account of a part of history not covered much in textbooks (at least in the USA). The Wind That Shakes The Barley won the coveted Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Rarely do films live up to that kind of hype. But The Wind That Shakes The Barley certainly does. It’s more than just a checklist of historical events. The film is a brilliant character study that shows us how values are tested during the worst of times. It’s worth seeing for highlighting a piece of history not often put on film, but also for its stellar performances, especially the one given by Cillian Murphy.

Ireland on Film: The Secret of Roan Inish

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This month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. So it seems as good of a time as any to spotlight set in Ireland. To kick things off, I have selected the beautiful and often overlooked The Secret of Roan Inish. Shot on location in Ireland, this is a real hidden gem that the whole family can enjoy.

The film follows Fiona (Jeni Courtney). She’s sent to live with her grandparents in a small Irish fishing village. Fiona’s grandfather regales her with tall tales of their family history, including their evacuation from their home on an island called Roan Inish. One of Fiona’s ancestor’s even cheated death at sea. Fiona explores the town and gets to know the locals. Through them, she hears personal accounts of one of her ancestors who legend has it married a Selkie (seals who can turn human). Supposedly, her baby brother washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat and was raised by seals. One day, a mysterious boy appears on Roan Inish, and Fiona sets out to discover the island’d secrets.

The Secret of Roan Inish is fascinating in the way it weaves Celtic folklore into the story. It effortlessly tells stories of the past and present. Jeni Courtney is charming as Fiona, the film’s curious and plucky young heroine. The film is not only rich in its mythology, but we get a real sense of the village. There is not a wasted character or bit of dialogue to be found.

It’s impossible to write about The Secret of Roan Inish and not mention its rich visuals. Legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler photographed it. He captures the beauty of the scenery in Donegal and its seaside. The look of the seaside is enchanting and haunting with its mist and fog. It’s some of his best work, which is saying a lot.

Director John Sayles, whose credits include Lone Star and Men With Guns seems an odd fit for this material. But it’s a small masterpiece. There’s a real appreciation for Celtic mythology and the country’s beauty. The Secret of Roan Inish is an enchanting film that deserves a wider audience.