Tag Archives: ireland

The Crying Game – Review

4 Jan

Back in 1992 a movie came out called The Crying Game and it succeeded at causing a major stir among audiences which made it one of the most talked about movies in recent history. Critics and journalists were having a field day writing about the secrets of the movie, and it ended up being nominated for 6 Academy Awards and winning for Best Screenplay. Writer and director Neil Jordan worked very hard to get this controversial film made and it wasn’t always an easy task. At certain points it just seemed downright impossible. As history shows, The Crying Game did get made and has become something of a classic even if it isn’t something that is discussed too much anymore. I’d like to get some of that discussion started up again, so let’s get started.

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After Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier, is covertly abducted by a group of IRA members, he is taken back to their hideout deep in the woods. Over the course of a few days, one of the IRA members, Fergus (Stephen Rea) befriends Jody and learns a lot about his past and his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson). After tragedy befalls the group, Fergus flees to London acting on a promise he made to Jody to check on Dil. The two quickly meet up in a bar and form a relationship which weighs heavily on Fergus’ conscience. As Fergus wrestles with his beliefs and motives, to of his IRA colleagues, Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), arrive in London and force him into another job that involves the assassination of a judge. His two lives from the past and present proves to be a volatile mixture that will lead to an inevitable murderous outcome.

The Crying Game is a movie that takes so many different themes and mash them together to create a hodgepodge of intriguing subject matter. Like the characters in the movie, these themes often clash together which causes a lot of the drama in the film. At first, the movie seems to be solely focused on the tension between Britain and the IRA. The barrier that breaks between Jody and Fergus in the first third of the movie is interesting to see because it shows that if you take away the labels of “British” and “IRA,” what’s left is just being human. The next part of the movie focuses on identity in multiple ways. Without getting into the realm of spoilers, there’s a huge focus on who Fergus is, was, and who he wants to be. This all happens when he meets Dil and introduces himself as Jimmy. He pretty much changes his appearance and name to become someone else, which is threatened when the IRA finally catches up with him. There’s so much more thematic depth that I’d like to talk about, but that would be at the risk of ruining parts of the movie.

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To go along with the deep thematic material of The Crying Game is an incredibly well realized screenplay by Neil Jordan. The characters that are written come with many layers, and each layer is slowly peeled back as the movie goes on, even if the character is only in the movie for a short time. These dimensions are best explored during the many conversations characters have with one another as the plot unfolds. The first half hour of the movie is pretty much different interactions between Fergus and Jody, which has a huge impact on the characters, especially with Fergus who is the main character of the movie. These two men should be enemies, but simple conversations turn them into close friends. This kind of dialogue also opens up an moral ambiguity that stirred up some controversy when this was released in the UK. In 1992, it wasn’t a popular thing in Britain to have a movie with a sympathetic and relatable IRA member as the protagonist.

The Crying Game is one of those movies that has a history that’s almost as interesting as the movie itself. Neil Jordan made a pretty good name for himself with his more independently produced films at the start of his career, but as his bigger budgeted efforts in the United States came along, things started to get a little bit shaky. Jordan saw The Crying Game as his chance to earn back his good reputation and feel like he was making films that were worth it again. The problem was that no producers or distributers seemed to share his enthusiasm about the screenplay. Jordan and his producer, Stephen Woolley, went all over the place asking for funding, and they finally found this funding in the UK, Ireland, and Japan. When the movie was released, it became a sensation. Critics warned audiences not to spoil the movie and it remained in theaters for much longer than anyone anticipated. The cherry on top of it all was an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The Crying Game is a gem from the early 1990s and has unfortunately seemed to disappear from mainstream audiences. That’s really a shame since the film deals with timeless themes of violence, identity, and humanity in ways that were very controversial, especially for a movie released in 1992. This isn’t just a throw away thriller that is forgotten about 15 minutes after seeing it. This is a movie that stays with you days after you’ve seen it and has so many layers to peel away at to see the whole picture and the message the creators were trying to convey. This is a rich, intelligent, and rewarding movie that I certainly recommend.

Final Grade: B+

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Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

19 Jul

Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen, was England and Ireland’s monarch from the year 1558 to her death in 1603. Since then, she’s become one of England’s most iconic leaders, which certainly doesn’t mean she was loved by all. In fact, she was a very divisive and often controversial queen. That being said, there’s a lot of material to work with if anyone were to create a big budget movie about her reign. Well, lucky for us we have two. Elizabeth was first released in 1998 and it’s sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was released in 2007. Now, I’ve been wanting to watch these movies for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. The question remains, still, on wether or not they’ve lived up to the hype that I’ve built for myself.

Let’s start out in 1998 with Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth.

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When Queen Mary I dies in 1558, the next in line of succession is her half sister, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), a young woman who is now in way over her head. At her time of coronation, England is in a terrible state. Her army is all but useless, debts plague the entire country, and there’s heated violence between Catholics and Protestants. With Elizabeth being a Protestant, there are many Catholics in her court that want her off the throne. One of these people is the influential Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), a scheming duke with his ultimate goal of wearing the crown. With everything collapsing, Elizabeth surrounds herself with trusted advisors and defenders like William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) and the cunning Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). Even with these powerful minds surrounding her, her dedicated and unlawful affair with a member of her court, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), might prove to be her ultimate downfall.

I have a weird past with this movie because I remember being young when this movie first came out and thinking it looked pretty cool. I don’t know where I saw advertisements for it, but I was always stricken by the colors, the architecture, and the costumes. Now, all these years later I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. Elizabeth is a damn fine movie that tells an interesting, albeit fictitious, look at the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign before the Golden Age really began, and how the naïve girl who is crowned at the beginning of the movie turns into the rock solid monarch she is known for being. It’s a great story that’s full of political intrigue, war, corruption, and romance. That’s really all you can ask for in a movie like this, and it’s done very well. Never did I feel like I was getting cheated out of something watching this movie. It hits all of the marks splendidly.

There are few elements of the movie I have to especially give more notice to. First of all, Cate Blanchett’s performance is fantastic. This was the movie that really started her career in the way that we know it today. She was acting before Elizabeth, but this is the role that got her noticed. Her arc throughout the story is an expressive one and it’s great to watch all of the changes happening to her and her reactions to them. It’s a very expressive performance that’s worthy of all the attention it receives. The costume design and make up rank up with the best of the best in film history. They are absolutely out of this world, along with the set design which honestly must have been a nightmare. Finally the collaboration of Kapur and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin makes this film truly look as beautiful as it does.

After years of wondering about this movie, it’s a relief to finally see it. Elizabeth is a really good movie about an interesting and violent time in England’s past, and also about the monarch that would come to unite the country. It’s a beautiful film to look at, but also has a great story performed by great actors to back it up. It often feels Shakespearean in it’s scale, and you really can’t go wrong with that.

The sequel didn’t come until nearly 10 years later, with Shekhar Kapur returning as director. This is, of course, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

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While the first film began with the early days of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, this film starts much later on in 1585. By this point, Elizabeth has established herself as a very firm and respectable leader who isn’t easy to persuade or frighten. She is surrounded by loyal subjects like the ever present Lord Walsingham and her favorite lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). When not being attended to by the people of the court, she s regaled with stories by the explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who has plans of starting a colony in the New World. While this loyalty makes her stand tall, enemies are still lurking on all sides, with the Spanish led by King Philip II (Jordi Molla) and his Inquisition being the most relevant threat. His plan violence and schemes soon find their way into Britain with his support going to the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) and an assassination attempt that may be enough to spark a war.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is definitely an impressive sequel, which is a good thing to say since it had the challenge of following up its beloved predecessor while also recreating history using a fair amount of both fact and fiction. There’s a lot of things going for this movie including the return of director Shekhar Kapur and the lead actors Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. There’s also some excellent additions like Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The inclusion of foreign powers like the Spanish and the English spies that supported them also makes for really good intrigue and action to push the movie along, while there’s also the romance that you would come to expect with this kind of movie. The ingredients are all there, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original Elizabeth.

One thing that is missing from The Golden Age is the beautiful set design that the first film had. I understand that Elizabeth is now a completely different monarch than she was in the first film and the set is meant to reflect the personality she puts on as she leads her people, but I really miss the colors and the vastness of some of the room in the palace. There’s also nothing really new added to this movie and it feels like something of a retread in certain ways. By that I mean that I mean all of the same themes of the first film are explored, but in some different ways. I think I just wanted more from this one in the ways that the first film succeeded.

Still and all, Blanchett returns with another powerful performance and the costume design are all on par with the original. It’s important to look at sequels as movies in and of themselves and not just follow ups, so in that way Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a very good movie, but compared to Elizabeth it’s a weaker entry. That being said, I still had a good time watching this movie and for fans of the first film, it’s still worth a look.

Watching movies like this are really great at pulling you into a time period and recreating history in the most lavish of ways. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to watch the Elizabeth movies should really get right on that. They have quite a bit to offer and something in there for everyone.

’71 – Review

21 Apr

Ireland has a very rough history with plenty of material to adapt for the silver screen. That being said, it’s very important to handle these events and people as respectfully as possible, which should really be the case with any biopic or historical film. Yann Demage’s 2014 film ’71 takes a look at the early days of the Troubles, a conflict that lasted in Ireland from 1968 to 1998. What’s interesting about this movie is that, on its surface, it tells a story of a soldier trapped behind enemy lines, but this film tells so much more than that. It’s a nearly unbiased look at a very violent time in history that also works great as an entertaining action thriller.

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In 1971, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), a new recruit for the British army, is sent to Belfast with his squad to aid the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its search for firearms in suspected IRA houses. The longer the raid lasts and the longer the British soldiers have to hold the neighborhood at bay, the more violent and chaotic everything becomes. Amidst the chaos, Hook is separated from his squad and is left in the streets of Belfast to fend for himself. When news of a stranded soldier reaches certain members of the PIRA and the OIRA, the hunt begins to find and kill this soldier. Meanwhile, other in the city are more sympathetic to Hook’s case, which means he has to choose his friends very carefully in his wait for his squad to return and finally extract him.

Like I said, the crux of the plot of ’71 is Gary Hook trying to stay alive in hostile territory. Looking beyond that, however, you will find a total nightmare of a situation that only gets worse as the movie goes on. Hook is pretty much in the movie and left behind enemy lines so that we can see through his eyes an unbiased look at the violence and brutality that happened in the early days of the Troubles. At first, when Hook is with his squad, the movie has a harsh view on the Catholic nationalists in the IRA and at first I thought that the movie was going to make them the opposition for Hook. As time goes on and the story evolves, however, the Protestant loyalists who are supposed to be with the British at this point can’t be trusted either. This film does a great job at showing the corruption and deadly nature of both sides where no one is anyone’s friend.

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While this movie tells a story of a very dark time in Ireland’s history, it can’t be said that this isn’t an entertaining movie. There are movies like The Baader Meinhof Complex that tell a story about a dark historical time, but it does so in a way that made me feel like I was reading a very interesting textbook. It was a great movie, but not something I would call genuinely entertaining. ’71, on the other hand, is a fast paced and very entertaining movie that is filled with action and suspense. One scene in particular has Hook navigating an apartment complex while trying to stay hidden from the PIRA members that tracked him there. It’s a nail biting scene that forcibly moves you to the edge of your seat and leaves you there to fend for yourself. I love seeing great action and suspense held together by a very smart and intriguing story. It’s refreshing.

This movie marks two careers that hopefully have bright futures. Since being in ’71, Jack O’Connell has gone to star in Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken, which was received well enough, but didn’t really make a huge mark. O’Connell is excellent in ’71 and really channels the fear and desperation that his character is going through. Another new talent we have from this movie who I demand to see more from is director Yann Demange. Demange has worked with shorter works before, but this is his first feature, and what an excellent debut it is. The way he captures realism while making an entertaining action film is how movies should be made. He understands the medium and I can’t wait to see what else he has to offer.

’71 is an extremely powerful film that is accurate in its portrayals of history while also serving up some great action and suspense sequences. The music, the acting, and the cinematography all work in tandem to create and atmosphere that is as wide and exposing as it is claustrophobic. There was never a boring moment in this movie and trying to figure out who was one who’s side only made it all the more interesting. This was mostly a festival movie that got a very limited release, but all of the great press it got was exactly what the movie deserved. Unfortunately, not enough people have seen this movie which means many people are missing out on a great film.

Hunger – Review

27 Feb

Not too long ago, I did a review for the film Michael Collins, which told the story of the early days of the IRA, with the focal point being Collins, himself. For this review, I will be returning to the subject of the IRA, but in a completely different way with Steve McQueen’s film Hunger. Take everything you have learned about biopics and throw them all out the window. This is a biopic like no other. It is a gripping experience that will leave you pondering your own moral beliefs.

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The year: 1981. The place: Maze Prison in Ireland. Members of the IRA are held in this jail without being granted rights that are given to political prisoners. These rights involve the uniform policy and visitations, among other things. After a long running “no wash” protest is broken apart by the guards, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) decides to take these protests to the extreme. He proposes a hunger strike to anyone who wants to be a part of it. He is the first to protest, and we have to watch.

In terms of story, Hunger doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. It definitely does have a story to tell and it tells it well, but in a very unconventional way. The first half of the movie isn’t so much about Bobby Sands than it is about creating the atmosphere and way of life of Maze Prison. During this time, we don’t grow to hate the guards or any of the prisoners. This film doesn’t offer you the chance to take a side. Instead it purely shows what happens in the most beautiful way possible. That’s what really hit me about this movie. McQueen has taken such an ugly event and turned it into a wonderful work of art.

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Seeing an actor get so deep into a role can be an unsettling thing. I think a very good example would be Christian Bale in The Machinist. I wanted to use that example so I could segue easily to Fassbender’s performance in Hunger. Like Bale, he lost an obscene amount of weight for scenes in the latter half of the movie where Sands is slowly deteriorating. He looks terrible, and McQueen feeds off this. There is nothing held back, which may be a turn off to some, but others will appreciate the realism which seems almost undramatized.

The artistic element of this movie is completely out of this world. For the first quarter of the movie, there is barely anything said. The story relies on the framing of the shots and the physical performances of the actors. Then, in what must be on of the biggest game changers in film history, there is a 17 minute long take of Sands and his priest friend engaging in brilliantly layered thematic dialogue about protests, morality, and death. McQueen proves that he isn’t afraid to take major chances in order to get his artistic vision on screen.

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Like I said before, this is a biopic like no other. Calling Hunger a story about Bobby Sands wouldn’t be doing the film justice. It’s an examination at a time period in a culture that has been uprooted, changed, and fought over for many years. Being entertained by this movie is asking a lot. Hunger isn’t so much entertaining as it is an immersive experience that must be seen and felt to really appreciate it. Artistically, this film is beautiful and Fassbender gives an outstanding performance that proves he is one of the most powerful actors of our time.

Michael Collins – Review

27 Jan

I remember sophomore year of high school in my European History class we watched a movie called Michael Collins. The entire time I was watching it I kept thinking that I had to go out and get it ASAP. So here we are, about five years later and I finally did just that. I can’t tell you what took me so long because I really have no excuse. Forgive me. Nevertheless, I’m here today to report  back to my wonderful readers if this movie has aged well with me or if my memory is clouded.

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In 1916, Ireland is under the rule of the British government as it has been for 700 years, despite all of the failed attempts at revolution. Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), along with an entire Irish cabinet of leaders, is sick of the British rule and decide that it is once again time for rebellion. This time they won’t play by the rules, and instead resort to guerrilla warfare in the streets of Ireland. Over the course of the next couple of years Collins and his compatriots fight the British with whatever weapon they have in order to win the dream of winning the People’s Republic of Ireland.

There is an all star cast at play in this film, most of which do an excellent job. Liam Neeson is the perfect choice of Michael, even if he is a little old for the role. He commands every scene he’s in and the viewer really feels like they are watching Michael and not Neeson. Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea provide great supporting characters, but of all of them, Alan Rickman is the guy. He supports Neeson’s powerhouse performance with one of his own and acts as a pseudo-doppleganger to Michael. The only weak link is Julia Roberts, whose character and performance bring the movie down a little bit. She really didn’t serve too much of a purpose in the movie at all, besides offering a predictable love affair side story that broke up the movie.

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Historically, this movie has its ups and downs. It hits all of the major points in history but definitely takes its liberties. For one thing, the movie clearly has an agenda and portrays the British a bit too negatively. Show history, but don’t take sides. Another thing is that some of the deaths shown in the movie are either way dramatized or, more interestingly, didn’t actually happen. Alan Rickaman’s character of Éamon de Valera, the third president of Ireland, is shown as a spoiled celebrity of sorts. Still, the historical accuracies are very interesting and the excellent production design really puts you in the middle of it all.

This really is a great story to tell, and one that I don’t think gets too much attention. The first time I ever really learned about conflict in Ireland was the first time I watched The Devil’s Own when I was about 12 years old. I never would have thought that a place like Ireland could be violent. I mean, what about St. Patrick? Anyway, I hear plenty about the American Revolution and the French Revolution, but not too much about Ireland. I wonder why that is. Even though this isn’t the most accurate movie, it’s a good starting point in learning more about the times.

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So in the end, Michael Collins has aged very well for me. It looks great, both the production design and cinematography, and the performances are all top notch, save for one. I just wish that it would have toned down the need to be dramatic in favor of a more historical and unbiased approach. Neil Jordan, the writer/director of this film, is from Ireland, so I can see why he depicts people the way he does, it just isn’t always appropriate. Michael Collins is certainly more entertaining than it is factual, but it certainly serves as excellent entertainment.