As an Irish-American I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with St. Patrick’s Day. On the one hand it’s lovely to celebrate the man who removed snakes from Ireland even if it is completely untrue because snakes were never there in the first place but we celebrate people in America who don’t really do anything all the time, in fact we have an entire network devoted to such people (E!), so why let a little thing like a big fat lie stop people from getting their drink on? St. Patrick’s Day had always been more of religious holiday in the old country, that is until Ireland had its big economic boom in the 90’s and then the piety gave way to the party and it’s been that way ever since. This year Ireland’s Brian Williams/Bill O’Reilly* celebration day will be on Tuesday so instead of bellying up to a bar why not grab some colcannon (gross) and a Guinness (super gross) and park your keester in front of the TV machine for some good time/feel good Irish movies? It will be loads cheaper and you will feel much better come hump day, promise.
Into the West: Do you remember back in the 90’s when Gabriel Byrne was married to Ellen Barkin? Trust me he was, and they even have two children to prove it. Anyway, back when they were still married they made this incredibly sweet and quite touching movie about two little boys named Tito and Ossie and their love of a mysterious white horse called Tír na nÓg. The boys are travelers (aka: tinkers) only their father has taken them to live in a depressing tower block in the city after his wife (not played by Ellen Barkin) died giving birth to Ossie and now Papa (Byrne) has become the worst Irish stereotype of them all, a drunk, and the one that bugs me the most. One day the boys maternal grandfather (David Kelly) comes to town with a gorgeous white horse no one can touch except Ossie and Tito and next thing you know said white horse is living in a high-rise apartment and riding in elevators like a normal person much to the horror of some of the neighbors. I can’t even imagine what the pet deposit fee would be for an equine, but I am guessing pretty steep even in 1990’s prices.
In the Irish language nothing is quite like it seems and you can pretty much ignore half of the consonants and even some of the vowels in their words. It’s beautiful and makes zero sense which is precisely why I love it even though I can’t speak it to save my life. Tír na nÓg is pronounced like Turning Oak which is fairly accurate Irish/English translation but most of the words are more like Dún Laoghaire which is pronounced Dun Leary and you’re like what about the o and the g and h, why are they there if they are not going to do anything? Why Gaelic word lords, why?
Of course the boys get busted by the cops for keeping a horse in an apartment (there’s always a snitch in every bunch) and the fleeing horse and its running ability catches the eye of a rich bad man who only wants Turning Oak for his own evil purposes and it does not even matter what they are because he is EVIL and we don’t like him one little bit. So Tito and Ossie steal him back and go on their incredible journey into the west, one they are really not in charge of. Papa is so sad that he finally stops drinking and goes in search of his boys with the help of his fellow travelers including a psychic gypsy lady not named Miss Cleo but Kathleen (played by Ellen Barkin and her wonderfully non-Hollywood standard looks).
The little boys are both super cute but the one who plays Ossie is extra cute and his sweet little pixie face will practically make your ovaries explode. Gabriel Byrne was at the height of his movie star hotness so depending on how you rate that there could be other parts of you exploding as well, especially if you like leather dusters. Between the music and the scenery, Into the West will make you want to seriously consider booking trip to the land of my forefathers, stat. (Netflix)
Waking Ned Devine: What would you do if you won a lottery, say an almost seven million dollar windfall? I probably wouldn’t die from the shock myself (mostly because I never remember to buy a ticket so winning would be a bit tricky), but Ned Devine did, right there in his living room in his favorite chair with a big ol’ grin on his face. Problem is, while you might not need to be present to win the Irish lottery, you do have to be alive, and that is the premise of this charming 1998 movie. Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen, who died accidentally shortly after this film was shot) and his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly once again) know that they did not win but they know someone in their tiny village of Tullymoor (population 52) did.
Jackie finally figures out that the winner is the reclusive Ned and when he goes to visit him finds out that the shock of becoming an instant millionaire has killed him. Later that night in a dream Ned tells him he wants the money to be evenly split among the villagers and Jackie comes up with a cunning plan to impersonate Ned to fulfill the prophecy. But the big city lottery man with allergies comes a bit early and poor Michael, a man who has never told a lie in his whole life, has to play Ned instead of Jackie and all sorts of hijinks ensue.
Tullymoor is filled with characters including Maggie, a single mother/greeting card writer, Finn, a pig farmer who no matter what fruity soap Jackie gives him can’t seem to eliminate his swine-y scent enough for them to have any sort of future together, Maggie’s son Morris, who may or may not be Finn’s, a temporary priest (the return of the permanent one from his pilgrimage to Lourdes is a key plot element) and the town’s cranky old cat lady on a scooter, Lizzie Quinn. Everyone in Tullymoor has to go along with the scheme for the money to be split between all 52 of them but Lizzie refuses to agree and threatens to scuttle the whole thing by turning the others into the lottery officials in Dublin for a bigger share of the winnings because just like in real-life socialism, there is always one person who has to screw it up for everyone else. If this movie does not make you laugh, between the naked motorcycle ride by the skinniest old man in Ireland (Kelly), or the sneeze that launched a phone box into the ocean, than I don’t know what will. (Amazon Instant, iTunes)
Killing Bono: bad title although there probably have been a few people over the years who have thought about doing away with U2’s fearless leader at one time or another because he kind of became that guy. You know the one who talks a good talk but then turns right around and becomes a tax dodger because he apparently isn’t rich enough. But this movie isn’t about the rich tax cheat Bono, this movie is about the high school rock-star wannabe Bono and his similarly inclined classmate Neil McCormick and how the dream came true, for one of them.
Back in the 1980’s Bono was my original dream man, cute, smart (or so it seemed at the time) and most importantly in a band, the accent was an added bonus. Not to sound all braggy but I did see U2 for the very first time in the 7th Street Entry, a venue that is about the size of a cracker box if said cracker box was painted entirely in black and the inside temperature was kept at a balmy 120 degrees at all times. The Entry was a great place to see up and coming bands, like U2, but there was only one bathroom and to say it wasn’t very nice is like saying Tom Cotton isn’t very smart so ipso/facto we know that bathroom was DISGUSTING and (despite his Ivy-league education) Representative Cotton from the great state of Walmart is DUMB as a proverbial box of rocks.
Killing Bono stars Ben Barnes (from those Narnia movies) as Neil and the cuter-than-cute Robert Sheehan (Misfits and The Mortal Instruments, which should have made him famous but didn’t) as Ivan who had the chance to be in U2 (then known as The Hype) but Neil did not bother to tell his little brother that info because he was so sure his/their band was going to be bigger. For the next decade or so U2 continued on their meteoric rise to the top of the rock pile while Neil and Ivan’s various attempts went nowhere. Bono and Neil stayed friends and it was Bono who suggested the idea that the two were cosmic doppelgänger and if he died Neil would get all his good luck back and perhaps someday write a Broadway musical about a superhero, or not.
Killing Bono does a very good job of showing what the 1980’s music scene in Dublin was like even if they had to film the movie in Belfast because Dublin got too-rich-too-quick in the 1990’s (before Bono and the boys shipped all their tax money off to the Netherlands) and lost much of its grittiness. Killing Bono is funny, the music is really good (Barnes and Sheehan sing for reals) and it’s St. Patrick’s Day for pity’s sake. While rock stardom was ultimately denied him, Neil did become a rock critic for the Daily Telegraph and in ironies of all ironies, ghost-wrote the best-selling autobiography U2 by U2. (Netflix)
The Matchmaker: Not going to lie, I love this movie and even though it is probably not technically Irish it does take place in Ireland (mostly) so close enough. Janeane Garofalo plays Marcy Tizard an aide to a Massachusetts senator with a flailing re-election campaign. To rectify this potentially disastrous situation, Denis Leary (playing Garofalo’s boss Nick), sends Marcy to Ireland to find some of Senator McGlory’s long-lost relatives who Nick thinks the senator can use for some Irish-American votes. Cynical, career gal (where have I seen that plot device before, besides just about everywhere?) Marcy lands just in time for the annual matchmaking festival in Ballinagra and soon has not one but two matchmaking professionals vying to be the one to hook her up with a life partner. Dermot O’Brien (the wonderful Milo O’Shea and his fabulous eyebrows) and his rival Millie O’Dowd are sure they can find the one for Marcy but a local barman/caveman named Sean (David O’Hara) just might have his own ideas about that. This movie is as the old timey critics used to call “delightful” and anyone who says otherwise should not be allowed to celebrate the fake snake remover holiday ever again.
While the town that Marcy gets sent to is completely fictional (filmed on the gorgeous Aran Islands, aka the land of chunky cable knit sweaters) the matchmaking festival is 100% actual and has been going on for over 150 years, something eHarmony and Match.com can only dream about in their combined digital heads. The only bad thing about this movie is how incredibly difficult The Matchmaker is to find because you can’t stream this little gem anywhere and believe me I have checked everywhere, even the free movies section of On Demand where lo-and-behold there it was only it wasn’t, just a different movie with the same name and I hated Comcast all over again for the millionth time.
Janeane Garofalo has said many times that this was her favorite movie to make and it just makes you wonder whatever happened to her film career. She was hands down the best thing in so many movies in the nineties, from Reality Bites, to Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion to The Truth About Cats and Dogs (where she was definitely the hotter one, sorry Uma) but despite her being totally adorable and talented her movie career kind of fizzled out. There are rumors that the impossible beauty standards of Hollywood really took their toll on her and when you look at what happened to Margaret Cho at roughly the same time period (too fat and not Asian enough to play herself in her own sitcom) to what just happened to Amy Schumer (again too fat to play herself in a movie she wrote) and you can kinda understand why Garofalo got out.
No St. Patrick’s Day celebration can be complete without a little Dropkick Murphys because of this: