Patron Pick – The Wonder

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

The Wonder (2022)
Written by Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, and Alice Birch
Directed by Sebastián Lelio

You will not be able to predict the opening shot of this movie if you haven’t heard about it already. But that first image immediately puts the viewer in a place where their expectations are gone. What you think this movie is and what it will be about are all flushed, creating an open canvas for your mind. Now you are just going with the picture, discovering it simultaneously as it happens before your eyes. We rarely get this sort of film anymore, especially from Netflix. By the end, you may not fully grasp what has happened, and that’s okay. The ideas in The Wonder are big & essential, but you need to sit with them for a while. That’s also not an experience many popular films are providing for their audiences, and we need it.

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Movie Review – The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
Written & Directed by Martin McDonagh

The jury is still out for me on my feelings about Martin McDonagh’s films. I know they are great showcases of his sly storytelling and filmmaking skill. I just don’t know how much I like them or not. It’s a strange thing I haven’t encountered with many directors where I acknowledge that they make great films, but I feel passionately ambivalent about them. I can’t say I have loved his movies, but I have been entertained and impressed by some of them, including this one. Perhaps it’s something connected to his Irish sensibilities, a constant struggle between seeking approval while having a fiery determination to tell anyone giving it out to “feck off.” McDonagh makes movies that are distinctly Irish (even if they aren’t all set there) and very distinctly him.

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Patron Pick – Belfast

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Belfast (2021)
Written & Directed by Kenneth Branagh

The Troubles. For the people of Northern Ireland, that phrase is a reminder of a brutal period of thirty years where communities were at war. While the factions were referenced in the media as Catholic and Protestant, there was much more complexity to what was happening. This irregular war came out of unionists & loyalists (Protestants) wanting to remain as part of the United Kingdom. The nationalists & republicans (Catholics) sought to reunite with Ireland to form a single nation. That’s the basic explanation, but I could write a whole book about the details and go deeper and how the entire thing goes back to the early 17th century. Many people have already written those books. 

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Movie Review – Rose Plays Julie

Rose Plays Julie (2021)
Written & Directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy

In recent years, I’ve stumbled across mentions of the American discomfort with long silences. I don’t think I’ve ever been affected by this psychological fear, but who knows. I have noticed people who can’t bear a space where nothing is being said or done. However, from what I have seen of cinema from other regions, they are much more comfortable with contemplative silence. They are not averse to letting an audience sit for a moment, taking in all the little sensory details of the space and what has happened. This is core to the way Rose Plays Julie’s story. It deals with such a sensitive & uncomfortable topic that the filmmakers know we need to sit and think.

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Movie Review – My Left Foot

My Left Foot (1989)
Written by Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan
Directed by Jim Sheridan

Christy Brown was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1932. Shortly after his birth, doctors determined that Christy had severe cerebral palsy, which left his limbs spastic and constricted. Even his throat muscles were challenging to move, which limited his speech, causing people to see him as cognitively impaired. The one limb that Christy seemed to have control over was his left leg, so he taught himself to write and draw using this appendage. He never received formal schooling save a short stint at a clinic for the mentally and physically disabled. As a youth, Christy became a quite talented painter and writer.

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Movie Review – The Hole in the Ground

The Hole in the Ground (2019)
Written by Lee Cronin and Stephen Shields
Directed by Lee Cronin

Sarah has moved to a wooded corner of Ireland with her son Chris to restart their lives. Something terrible happened months ago leaving Sarah with a concussion and scar. She is worried about Chris who doesn’t want to talk about but otherwise seems like a normal nine-year-old. While exploring the woods nearby, Sarah comes across a frightening large bog, a sinkhole that is slowly swallowing the earth around it. She warns Chris to stay away, but one night it appears he sneaks out of the house. The next day his behavior has changed and slowly but surely creeping paranoia sets in. It doesn’t help that Noreen, an elderly neighbor suffered a complete psychological breakdown decades earlier, reportedly screaming about her son not being her child, but something else, something sinister.

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Movie Review – A Dark Song

A Dark Song (2016)
Written & Directed by Liam Gavin


Sophie has found the place, gathered the resources, and emptied her bank accounts for this moment. With the help occultist Joseph, she plans to perform a complex a Kabbalistic ritual, The Abramelin, to make contact with her dead son. Joseph wants to bail at first, but Sophie opens up to him, and he comes around. They lock themselves up in the vast country manor that Sophie has rented for the year and get to work. Once the ritual begins, they cannot step foot outside the salt circle around the home, or they risk being trapped there forever. As the two spend more and more time together, the balance of power goes back and forth. It eventually becomes apparent that Sophie has not shared the whole truth with Joseph, while Joseph is growing drunk on his dominance over Sophie.

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Movie Review – Sing Street

Sing Street (2016, dir. John Carney)


Conor Lawlor is fifteen years old and, with his two siblings, stuck in the middle of his parents’ deteriorating ends up at Synge Street, a free state school run by the Christian Brothers. The school is managed chaos, full of delinquent young men and priests who brutalize their students. Conor meets Raphina, a girl who lives across the street from the school and after seeing a Duran Duran music video for the first time decides he wants to form a band. The group is assembled from the boys he attends school. At the same time, his older brother begins educating Conor on various bands of the day (The Cure, Spandau Ballet), and slowly Conor develops his own sense of songwriting. The endeavor awakens a love of songwriting in him, and the band becomes more than just something to impress a girl, and their relationship becomes more than merely a crush.

By the mid-1980s due to economic stresses, young Irish were immigrating to London in significant numbers. Early in Sing Street, we see a news report covering this and mentioning the fact that many of this young people arrived with little to no money and quickly ended up on the ferry back to Ireland. Conor’s parents’ problems come from both a marriage that is drained of love and the economics issues that have come up. The Catholic Church also looms as an institution that not only oppresses Conor but even his parents. At one point his older brother says, “Two Catholics in a rented flat with a screaming baby who just got married because they wanted to have sex. They didn’t even love each other.” So while the tone of the film is generally upbeat, there is an honesty in the events unfolding.

The style of humor in Sing Street is a mix of dry and playful. I was reminded of the great recent Irish sitcom Moone Boy during a lot of the interactions between the boys in the band. There’s this sense of heightened wit among the children where they come across as wise beyond their years. Other moments have the feel of a Wes Anderson film like Rushmore or Bottle Rocket, that mix of staged scenes and rough energy. The side characters never overtake the main story but are painted with just the right full broad strokes that we have a definitive sense of who they are without the film having to overtly explain.

The music, written by Gary Clark a veteran of the music industry in the 1980s who still writes and produces has a very genuine feel. Each song is directly mimicking a particular band’s style and reflects exactly how a young songwriter would operate, first simulating the music they like as they develop their own sensibilities. I was born in 1981 so much of the music featured in the film I don’t necessarily look back with nostalgia. I certainly enjoy the lighter pop of that era, despite my dark tastes in nearly all other media, and I found the music well done.

Sing Street is a feel good coming of age movie, and I approach this type of film with a lot of trepidation. So often these films depend on a false sense of emotion. They use lazy shorthand to get across the feelings they want to evoke in the audience. Sing Street always manages to keep itself grounded and never tread into those maudlin spaces. Even the film’s “happy ending” leaves the real conclusion for these characters open. The message is that we don’t know what happens when we risk for those higher aspirations, but the risk itself is a victory.

Hypothetical Film Festival #9 – The Luck of the Irish

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a film festival in celebration of the Irish people:

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959, dir. Robert Stevenson)

Starring Sean Connery
A very overlooked Disney film that is absolutely amazing! Crazed ol’ Darby O’Gill claims to have seen and even stolen the gold of the Leprechauns. His daughter is embarrassed by his reputation as a crazy drunk. That is, until the day she sees the Leprechauns too. I remember loving this film as a child and being terrified out of my mind when the evil banshee makes her appearance. Darby O’Gill is notable for being the film that brought young Sean Connery to the attention of producer Robert Broccoli, who was having a difficult time of casting the role of James Bond in Dr. No.

In the Name of the Father (1993, dir. Jim Sheridan)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson
Based on the true story of an thief in Northern Ireland who is wrongly accused of being part of an IRA bombing of a London pub. Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis) and his friends are beaten into confessions and spend the next 15 years in prison, while on the outside, Gerry’s father (Postlethwaite) with their lawyer (Thompson) fight vigorously to free him. This is one of the great pieces of contemporary Irish cinema by one of the greatest Irish directors there has ever been.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002, dir. Peter Mullan)

Starring Anne-Marie Duff, Nora Jane Noone, Dorothy Duff
For almost 200 years, the Catholic Church ran the Magdalene Asylums throughout Ireland, where young women who had had sex out of wedlock, were working as prostitutes, or simply victims of rape were sent because they were “unclean”. This film focuses on three teenaged girls sent to one of these places where they are forced into slave labor through laundry work, one hundred percent of the profit being kept by the nuns that run the facility. This a heartbreaking film about the dehumanizing being done by religious institutions to people who already brutally victimized.

Breakfast on Pluto (2005, dir. Neil Jordan)

Starring Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson
This wonderful modern fairy tale, tells the story of Kitten Braden (Murphy), a young cross-dressing Irishman who goes on a picaresque journey through his homeland and onto London in a quest to find his long lost mother. This is one of the greatest achievements of prolific director Jordan, whose name is synonymous with Irish film. The picture touts a brilliant soundtrack of period music and some amazing visuals. Cillian Murphy is amazing and completely becomes his character, one of those few actors I do forget is in there when he is performing.

I Sell the Dead (2008, dir. Glenn McQuaid)

Starring Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm
A very overlooked picture that is both a comedy and mix of horror and sci-fi all wrapped up in an Irish package. Dominic Monaghan is a grave robber in the late 19th century whose partner finds a body they believe is a circus freak’s. To the modern audience we recognize it as an space alien. The alien body has the effect of resurrecting the dead and soon there are reports of zombies plaguing the countryside. This is not just a horror-comedy in name only, but a legitimately funny film that shows a real love for classic cult horror like Evil Dead.

Wild Card Tuesday – Hunger

Hunger (2008, dir. Steve McQueen)

Starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
The fight between Catholic and Protestant sides in Northern Ireland has devastated that country since the late 1960s. Each side has visited monolithic brutality on the other in of the greatest displays of community inflicting such cruelty on itself. But the cruelty that was the worst, was that of employees of the British empire on IRA members imprisoned in facilities across the country. Director Steve McQueen never give support for the terrorist actions of the IRA, but advocates that all prisoners, regardless of their crimes, deserve humane treatment.
The film’s focus is real life IRA soldier Bobby Sands (Fassbender). While the film doesn’t explicitly cover his activities with the IRA, he was no saint. He helped ferry weapons for the movement and was involved in the bombing of a furniture store in 1976. The film chooses to portray Sands as a figure unwilling to budge an inch for the brutal authority crashing down around his head. In this effort he has allowed himself to become dehumanized. Simply put, he has been caged and treated like an animal, so he will behave like one. Sands smears the walls of his cell with his own feces, allows the daily meals to rot and mold in a corner, and funnels his bed pan (synchronized with the other prisoners) out into the hallway. Is it vile? Yes. But there something innate within us that despise authority that wishes to break us, so it comes off as bizarrely admirable.
Bobby’s most memorable, and final, triumph came when he began a hunger strike in 1981 which took his life after several painful months of starvation. Michael Fassbender destroyed his body through malnutrition to take on the gaunt, sunken appearance of a Holocaust victim. He become the specter of death with additional help from an incredibly talented makeup department. His back is covered in open sores, he’s unable to urinate for the prison doctor’s physical, and he stains his sheets with black, acrid blood. The moments before Sands passes are truly powerful. The film moves into his consciousness as hallucinations of his younger self appear and his mind travels back to long distance race where he and both Prot and Catholic youths ran together, in fields of golden amber. Director McQueen doesn’t want you to take the IRA’s side, he wants you to realize how irrelevant any side is, and simply see a man dying.
The aesthetic choice made by McQueen are magnificent. For the first 30 minutes of the film there is little or no dialogue. Only 50 minutes in is there an actual conversation between two people for extended amount of time. Here Sands and a priest from his community debate the point of standing in defiance of authority. The priest tells Sands he must submit to the uniform being enforced on the prisoners and Sands simply won’t budge. Once again, neither side wins in the debate. They simply come to the conclusion that neither of them will change their ideas about it. Hunger is one of the best examples of director using the language of cinema to tell a visceral and moving story. There is no maudlin sentimentality, yet there is a deep emotional core. Not for those lacking a strong constitution, but one of the most amazing British films I’ve ever seen.