Irish Eye on Hollywood

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By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2014

Angelina Jolie is looking to the Irish to help tell an amazing story about an Italian American held prisoner by the Japanese in World War II.

Jack O’Connell – who was raised in England by a father from Kerry – will join Dhomnall Gleeson in Unbroken, directed by Jolie. Based on the best-selling book of the same title, Unbroken tells the amazing story of U.S. Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who survived weeks lost at sea and then as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Zamperini was lost at sea with a fellow member of the Air Force named Francis McNamara (played by Finn Wittrock) and is locked in the camps with an Irish American officer John Fitzgerald (portrayed in the film by Garrett Hedlund). Anticipation is already high for Unbroken, which began running ads (fittingly) during the recent Sochi Olympics and is expected to be one of the big Christmas movies of 2014.

Even if Unbroken doesn’t catch on, Jack O’Connell is having an amazing year. The 23-year-old has already appeared in this year’s much-hyped 300 sequel. He also earned raves at the Berlin Film Festival for his turn in ’71, a film set during that volatile year in Belfast. O’Connell plays a British soldier who is separated from his squad and is forced to fend for himself on the hostile nighttime streets of Belfast at the height of The Troubles. ’71 has already been picked up for U.S. distribution and should hit theaters later this year.

In a recent interview in The Boston Herald, O’Connell credited his Catholic school education for introducing him to the world of acting.

“My parents sent me to this Catholic school, which for no particular reason made performing arts compulsory. And my (wild) behavior was all of a sudden welcomed in drama. I was referred to a local acting workshop, which was free, and I’m forever thankful.”

First it was Jack Nicholson. Now, it’s Johnny Depp.

The Pirates of the Caribbean A-lister is slated to play notorious Boston Irish crime lord Whitey Bulger in a film based on the best selling book Black Mass by Boston Globe journalists Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill. The as-yet-untitled film will be directed by Scott Cooper, who helmed Out of the Furnace as well as Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award. The film – like the book – will reportedly explore the relationship between Bulger and another young boy who grew up in heavily-Irish South Boston: future FBI Agent John Connolly. Connolly recruited Bulger as an informant, but the lawman ended up implicated in the gangster’s numerous crimes. Connolly was eventually sent to jail, in one of the most embarrassing episodes in FBI history.

A fictionalized version of the Bulger-Connolly story was featured in the Martin Scorsese film The Departed, with Jack Nicholson as the seductive criminal. Rumor has it Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) has been cast to play Connolly.

It’s a Scottish play by a British writer but the latest big-screen version of Macbeth will have a strong Irish accent.

Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender as well as Wicklow-raised Jack Reynor and Paddy Considine are among the thespians currently shooting a new version of the immortal play by William Shakespeare. Also starring Marion Cotillard and Sean Harris, Macbeth is currently shooting in Scotland, and early reports suggest that while it will be faithful to the play, director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) is also looking to crank up the brutalities of warfare hinted at in the play. Fassbender and Cotillard will play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, whose burning ambitions first fuel her husband, then ruin him.

More Jack Reynor news: the What Richard Did star may be turning into Hollywood’s blockbuster boy. Having just wrapped Transformers 4: Age of Extinction alongside Mark Wahlberg, rumors are swirling that Reynor will also appear in the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise directed by JJ Abrams, and also featuring (according to Internet rumors anyway) Saoirse Ronan.

Busy TV and film actress Siobhan Fallon will join actor/director Ed Burns as well as up-and-comer Chance Kelly, all lending some authentic Irish American atmosphere to a forthcoming boxing movie entitled Inside Fighter. In the film Kelly – who was in the 1997 I.R.A. thriller The Devil’s Own and can currently be seen in “House of Cards” – plays an aging boxer trying to get back in good graces with his son. Fallon, meanwhile, is a recognizable character actor who has been in a wide range of projects, from “Seinfeld” and the “Saturday Night Live” cast to Forrest Gump and Men in Black.

Every now and then Irish talent converges on a project and you can only hope the potential is fully realized. Such is the case with acclaimed director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s latest project. Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave will join Jonathan Rhys-Myers and Jeremy Irons in a big-screen adaptation of Irish novelist Sebastian Barry’s acclaimed book The Secret Scripture. Filming begins in June in Wicklow and Sligo. Chastain will play the lead character Roseanne McNulty, who led an extraordinary life as a young woman and looks back upon it when she is 100 years old and living in a Roscommon mental hospital.

The Tribeca Film Festival hit New York in late April, with a typically diverse and impressive array of Irish talent.

The full-length Irish comic feature The Bachelor Weekend received its American premiere at Tribeca, now in its 12th year after being founded by Robert DeNiro and others in an effort to revive downtown Manhattan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Entitled The Stag in Ireland, the film has been directed by John Butler, and stars Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson and Amy Huberman. Co-written by McDonald and Butler, The Bachelor Weekend is about a group of friends who spend a weekend in the West of Ireland before one of them takes the plunge and gets married.

Meanwhile, the short film Scratch – about a gas station attendant, played by Conor Drum, who has a night he will never forget – was also screened. Scratch was written by Phillip Kelly and Liam Ryan, with the former directing and the latter producing.

The Irish language film Rúbaí – directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta – also had its international premiere at Tribeca. The short film examines a young girl who becomes an atheist on the eve of her First Holy Communion. Over 40 aspiring young actresses vied for the title role before Ní Fhiannachta settled on Doireann Ní Fhoighil.

In other festival news, the Cine Gael gathering in Montreal has become an annual destination for Irish film lovers.

The main attraction at this year’s 22nd annual Cine Gael was director Lance Daly’s comedy Life’s a Breeze, starring Pat Shortt and Fionnula Flanagan. The film chronicles a dysfunctional family’s desperate search for a pile of money that may or may not have been tossed into the trash. Cine Gael actually runs over the course of several months, featuring a film a week at different locales, before it wraps up at the end of April. Other films on this year’s list include the drama Stay, starring Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling, as well as the film Made in Belfast.

Finally, Evanna Lynch is hoping to leave Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood in the past. In her next project Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale – slated to hit theaters this summer – she plays a drug dealer’s wife. The indie film, which also stars Pretty Little Liars actor Ian Harding, was shot in New York and is set in the gritty 1960s. Lynch (born in Louth) has called the prospect of playing the pregnant wife of a criminal who dabbles in the porn industry “weird,” but it also may be her best chance to break free from the Hogwarts school.

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