Irish Eye on Hollywood


    When the bigwigs of the movie industry gathered in Park City, Utah, at the end of January for the annual Sundance Film Festival, the Irish were well represented.
    Brendan Gleeson’s new film The Guard, which also stars Fionnula Flanagan, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong, opened up the festival’s World Dramatic Competition.  The Guard was directed by John Michael McDonagh – brother of acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.
    The Guard features the always-brilliant Gleeson as a small-town Irish cop known for his bad attitude and dark humor.  His mother is dying, and he may be involved in a drug-smuggling ring, which has attracted the attention of an FBI agent (Cheadle).
    Guard producer Ed Guiney recently said: “I’m delighted that Sundance has selected The Guard as the opening film of the world competition this year. It’s the most high profile slot in one of the world’s great festivals and we cannot think of a better way to launch the film.”
    Meanwhile, Sundance’s World Cinema Documentary Competition featured Knuckle, an intimate look at the brutal world of bare-knuckle boxing among Irish Travellers.  Travellers, of course, are the nomadic tribe of people who wander through Ireland and other countries and live by their own set of rules.
    Director Ian Palmer followed a group of Travellers for over 10 years and focuses on James, a member of a group known as the Quinn McDonaghs. James often finds himself asked to defend his clan against the rival Joyces.
    At Sundance, Knuckle was described as follows: “Disturbingly raw, yet compulsively engaging, Knuckle  offers candid access to a rarely seen, brutal world where a cycle of bloody violence seems destined to continue unabated.”
    Two Irish shorts, meanwhile, were among the 81 short films featured at Sundance. Small Change, starring Nora Jane Noone (The Magdalene Sisters), is about a bored, young Mom while the animated The External World is about a little boy learning to play the piano.

    Liam Neeson will apparently stay as busy in 2011 as he was in 2010.  February 18 is the release date for the Ballymena thespian’s latest action flick Unknown.  Neeson plays a doctor who lapses into a coma only to wake and discover that another man has assumed his identity.  Unknown also stars Diane Krueger (Inglourious Basterds), January Jones (Mad Men), and Frank Langella.

    If it works for Liam Neeson, why not Saorsie Ronan?
    The wunderkind actress from Carlow – last seen alongside Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in January’s The Way Back — will also appear in an action flick due out next year. Ronan once again teams up with Atonement director Joe Wright for the film Hanna.  Ronan – who earned an Oscar nod for her work in Atonement – is the title character, a teenaged girl raised to be an assassin by her CIA dad (played by Eric Bana).  Hanna also features Cate Blanchett, who portrayed crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin in a movie of the same title.

    Two upcoming superhero flicks have Irish ties.
    First, there’s Thor. The May release, about the hammer-swinging Norse superhero, will star Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and will be directed by Northern Irish acting and directing veteran Kenneth Branagh.
    Branagh, famous for his Shakespearean work, recently said that while Thor is based on a comic book, the Bard himself would appreciate the conflicts in this story.
    Branagh said he was drawn in by the “human-like qualities of these characters presented in the myths and in the Marvel stories as gods, and the family dynamics between fathers and sons, and sibling rivalry and the competition for parental affection.”
    Meanwhile, in July, look for Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson to star in Captain America: The First Avenger. The Irish link here is a more surprising one. Though he is the most patriotic and American of all superheroes – red, white and blue right down to his shield and tight costume – the Marvel comics backstory of Captain America is actually a bit more complicated. Believe it or not, according to Marvel, Steve Rodgers – Captain America’s alter ego – was actually born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents on July 4, 1917.
    No word yet on whether the film will include these details.