Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
December / January 2005

It seemed like it was St. Patrick’s Day in November — at least when it came to Hollywood. Three of Ireland’s biggest stars appeared in blockbuster movies as tinseltown prepared to head into the holiday season.

Meanwhile, a new crop of Irish cinematic talent is poised to make 2005 another busy year for the Irish in Hollywood.

First up in recent weeks, Colin Farrell’s much anticipated Alexander (directed by Oliver Stone) hit the big screen. After costarting alongside the likes of Pacino, Willis and Cruise, this swords-and-sandals epic was Farrell’s first lead role in a big- budget flick and should send the Dublin native’s career even higher into the stratosphere.

Up next for Farrell is Ask the Dust, a 1930’s romantic tragedy due out in July 2005 and set in L.A. Farrell goes from playing an ancient Greek warrior to an Italian-American writer named Arturo Bandini. Based on the novel by John Fante, Ask the Dust also stars Salma Hayek.

Speaking of Hayek, she recently starred alongside Pierce Brosnan in After the Sunset, a sophisticated crime caper directed by Brett Ratner. This was Brosnan’s first role in his new post-Bond life, now that it appears he will not be back for a fifth 007 movie.

Rounding out this trio of Irish heavyweight movies was Liam Neeson’s Kinsey, in which the hunky star played famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

The next generation of Irish stars, meanwhile, is keeping busy. Multi-media (and multi-cultural) performer Samantha Mumba was juggling music, movies, modeling and more a few years back. She starred in a new remake of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (along with her brother) in 2002. But Mumba seemed to drop off the radar screen for a while. Well, Mumba is planning a frightening return to the big screen with a role in Boy Eats Girl, a teen horror comedy about zombies in love.

The film is especially close to Mumba’s heart because it is a production of the Irish film industry, and was filmed in Ireland as well as the Isle of Man. Laurence Kinlan, Deirdre O’Kane and Sara James are among the other Irish stars in Boy Eats Girl, due out next year.

Due out soon also is the DVD of Irish hot shot director John Moore’s second movie. Moore, whose first film was the hitech war flick Behind Enemy Lines with Owen Wilson, recently released his second feature The Flight of the Phoenix, a remake of Robert Aldrich’s 1965 film about airplane crash victims who try and put their plane back together to get home.

On the “keep it in the family” front, two branches of the Irish-American Huston family tree recently made their way to the big screen.

First, of course, there is Anjelica Huston (daughter of legendary director John Huston) who starred alongside Owen Wilson and fellow Irish American Bill Murray in the offbeat Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic out at Christmas.

Then there was Danny Huston, a bit of a Hollywood veteran in his own right who has carved out a productive career directing and acting in TV and film.

Huston (John Huston’s son, the product of a love affair with actress Zoe Sallis) was recently seen alongside Nicole Kidman in Birth, a creepy flick about obsession and reincarnation directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast). Look out for Danny Huston in Martin Scorsese’s much anticipated December release The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Things have also been busy for the Irish on the TV side of show business. Director Jim Sheridan and his daughter Naomi are going to try and succeed where the likes of Gabriel Byrne and Ed Bums have failed. The Sheridans recently signed a deal with NBC to write and produce a TV series about an Irish immigrant family running a restaurant in New York City.

The father-daughter writing team recently collaborated on the critically-praised comedy-drama film In America, which ended up garnering three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Screenplay.

With talent like this, an Irish restaurant show sounds (if you will) like a recipe for success. True, TV land is littered with Irish shows that failed to gamer high ratings. Let’s see if the Sheridans can change the luck of the Irish from bad to good.

Kenneth Branagh, meanwhile, is returning to TV for another high-profile cable movie. Last seen in a film based on the life of explorer Ernest Shackleton, Branagh will next play U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an HBO film set to air next year. The Belfast native will star in Warm Springs, a movie set in the years before FDR took up residence in the White House. The title is a reference to the Georgia cottage where Roosevelt liked to vacation (he would later refer to the spot as “the little White House”) and where he died in April of 1945.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on HBO’s gritty series The Wire. An upcoming episode will be written by Boston Irish novelist Dennis Lehane, whose Irish Catholic tragedy Mystic River (directed by Clint Eastwood a few years back) was such a big hit.

Also from the world of cable TV comes an intriguing drama from TNT starring William H. Macy entitled The Wool Cap. Set to air in late November, the telemovie also stars Catherine O’Hara and is a remake of a little-known film conceived by Irish-American legend Jackie Gleason. Best known as the big, blustery Brooklyn bus driver from The Honeymooners, Gleason (whose mother was an Irish immigrant) was also an accomplished dramatic actor and musical artist.

In 1962, he brought the moody, artsy film Gigot to the big screen, chronicling the life of a Parisian mute with a heart of gold. Gleason even recorded the music for the film, which deserves a second look over 40 years after its initial release.

The film festival circuit, meanwhile, is giving movie fans a sneak peek at other Irish films which will be making the rounds in theaters soon.

Earlier this year, two new Irish films premiered at the closely-watched Edinburgh International Film Festival — Terry Loane’s Mickybo &Me and Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing.

Mickybo and Me is based on the Owen McCafferty play of the same name, and looks at two boys coming of age in 1970’s Northern Ireland. Perhaps as a way to escape the war and chaos around them, the boys become obsessed with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, an obsession which gives them an idea or two about how to escape from their war-ravaged homes. Mickybo and Me was directed by Terry Loane, and is expected to hit the U.S. next year.

John Joe McNeill and Niall Wright star, while Irish film veterans Ciarán Hinds and Susan Lynch round out the cast.

Meanwhile, Inside I’m Dancing is Damien O’Donnell’s first film since his much acclaimed British melting pot comedy-drama East is East.

Filmed in Dublin, Inside I’m Dancing also looks at the relationship between two friends, but in a home for the disabled. One is a free spirit, the other wracked by cerebral palsy. Somehow, though, they strike up a relationship that challenges both characters in different ways.

Another recent hit on the festival circuit was the Dublin-set Goldfish Memory, described as a look at romance in contemporary Dublin.

Based on the notion that goldfish have a memory that lasts only three seconds, the film (written and directed by newcomer Elizabeth Gill) suggests that every experience is fresh, new and strange for a group of Irish twenty-somethings. One is a university professor who dates his female students. Another is the bike messenger who may or may not be gay.

This and other romantic entanglements have been applauded at film rests from Dublin to Berlin but thus far producers are still trying to work out a distribution deal for the U.S. ♦

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