Irish Eye on Hollywood

Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep in Doubt

By Tom Deignany, Contributor
December / January 2009

The end-of-year holiday season is, in the minds of many, the best time to be a movie fan. Theaters are flooded with crowd-pleasing blockbusters as well as critically-acclaimed dramas. Several movies based on the writings of Irish-Americans will be released during the 2008 Christmas movie season.

First up, with a December 12 release date, is the highly anticipated Doubt, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Doubt centers around a nun who suspects a parish priest of abusing a child. The film is based on the smash hit play by John Patrick Shanley, who is also directing the film version. Shanley is the Bronx-born Irish-American whose screenwriting credits include Moonstruck.
Another movie with Irish-American authorial roots is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Brad Pitt stars in this sci-fi film as a man who experiences the aging process in reverse. Directed by David Fincher and also starring Cate Blanchett,  Benjamin Button is set for a December 25 release.

Also hitting theaters on Christmas Day  is Marley & Me starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Alan Arkin.  Based on the best-selling book by Irish-American John Grogan (whose next book will be about his Irish Catholic youth), Marley & Me explores the strange and funny relationship between Grogan, his wife and their irascible Labrador puppy.

Grogan recently said it was like an “out-of-body” experience watching Owen Wilson play him onscreen. Given that Marley was such a handful as a dog, perhaps it makes sense that it took nearly 30 dogs, as well as special effects, to bring Marley to life on the big screen.

Two actors from Belfast close out this decidedly Irish holiday season with films opening the day after Christmas.

The latest epic starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie, will feature veteran thespian Kenneth Branagh. Also starring Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, Valkyrie is about a plot by German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler during World War II.

Then there is Geraldine Hughes, who will appear in the latest project from one of the hardest working men in movies – Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood directs and stars alongside Hughes in Gran Torino, in which the Dirty Harry star (whose last film Changeling came out in November) plays an angry war veteran who builds a complex relationship with a kid who tried to steal his car.  Geraldine Hughes was last seen in 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

There are also a number of Irish film projects to look out for before the holiday season. In November, young acting wunderkind Saoirse Ronan will appear in the highly anticipated The Lovely Bones. The film, based on Alice Sebold’s best seller and directed by Peter Jackson (who made the Lord of the Rings trilogy), is about a young girl who is murdered but is still able to observe the lives of the people who are coping with her loss.

The Lovely Bones also stars Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Michael Imperioli. Ronan, just 14, is taking stardom in stride.

“I am becoming more well-known as an actress, which I like the sound of, that’s OK,” Ronan recently told Reuters.  “If I am around my friends, even if they are a bit older, I am a 14-year-old, I act like a 14-year-old.” (Ronan’s last film, City of Ember, with Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, is available on DVD.)

Also in November, look for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a World War II story based on Irish writer John Boyne’s novel. This film is about a German boy whose father is a Nazi officer. When the family moves to Poland, their home is located near a concentration camp. The boy meets and befriends a young Jewish prisoner from the camp, forcing the German boy to confront the horror of the Holocaust.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas also stars Vera Farmiga, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis and Cara Horgan.

On the documentary front, there was  a screening on November 12 of The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings at Fordham/ Lincoln Center. The documentary debuted two days earlier at Boston College, with performances of Irish tunes by the Makem and Spain Brothers.

The documentary (based on Thomas Maier’s excellent book) is being released as part of a new release of Oliver Stone’s JFK, or can be ordered separately.

Pierce Brosnan remains a busy man in his post-James Bond life. His next film is Vanilla Gorilla, about (you guessed it) an albino gorilla. Not only that, the gorilla develops the ability to use sign language, and communicates with a girl. Directed by Irishman Terry Loane (Mickybo & Me), Vanilla Gorilla is scheduled for a 2009 release.

Meanwhile, Brosnan is currently shooting The Greatest, a drama also starring Susan Sarandon.  The film (which marks the directing debut of screenwriter Shana Feste) explores the heartache of a family which lost one child and is trying to keep another sane.

Brosnan’s Irish DreamTime is one of the producers of The Greatest, which is shooting now in several locations around New York State.
It’s not all arty family drama for Brosnan these days.  He still knows how to make a good shoot-em-up action picture.  Down the road, he will appear in a sequel to The Thomas Crown Affair.

Daniel Day-Lewis is famously picky when it comes to  movies, but he may have been won over to shoot his first film since There Will be Blood, for which he won his second Oscar.  Day-Lewis is in talks to star in Nine, based on the Broadway musical of the same title which in turn was based, in part, on Federico Fellini’s film 8 1/2.

Day-Lewis is being discussed for the role of Guido Contini, originally meant for Javier Bardem, who dropped out of the project.  Contini is a film director who struggles to balance his romantic life and artistic pursuits.

Penelope Cruz, Marian Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench are some of the women in Nine’s star-studded cast.

Also swirling around the Hollywood rumor mill is Colin Farrell’s name.  Last seen in the Irish family cop drama Pride and Glory, Farrell is said to be in talks to appear in a remake of the classic film Sunset Boulevard.  Farrell would play the role of the cynical screenwriter who is taken in by fading screen star Norma Desmond.

Glenn Close is among the names  mentioned to play Desmond, who utters the famous line: “I’m still big.  It’s the pictures that got small.”

On to TV news. Gabriel Byrne’s ambitious HBO show In Treatment will be back for a second season.  The show will begin shooting this fall and will air in 2009. Michelle Forbes, who plays Byrne’s wife on the show, recently said: “It makes my heart swell that it is touching people in a poignant and emotional way.”

Also, Spike TV has reportedly ordered a two-hour pilot from MGM Television Entertainment about Boston Irish gangsters. One artistic force behind the project is film and TV veteran Walter Hill, best known for many westerns as well as the 1970s cult classic The Warriors.  Among the producers is Irish-American Tom Lynch of the Tom Lynch Company.

Scheduled to shoot on location in Boston, the story revolves around “the explosive fallout that occurs when a Boston mob boss abruptly vacates his position and various rival factions face off in an epic battle to control the streets,” Spike TV said in promotional material.

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