50 Years, 50 Movies (2008): Hunger

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 2008:

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  3. Kung Fu Panda
  4. Hancock
  5. Mamma Mia!

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 2008:

  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed in 2008:

Title: Hunger
Release Date: 31 October 2008
Director:: Steve McQueen
Production Company: Film4 Productions | Channel 4 | Northern Ireland Screen | Broadcasting Commission of Ireland | Wales Creative IP Fund

One of the indelible memories of my childhood happened in 1981 when my father took me and my sister to a demonstration in front of the British consulate in New York. We marched in a long oval around coffins representing the men who died in the Irish hunger strike at the Long Kesh/Maze prison in Northern Ireland.  One of those coffins represented Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strikes and the first to die.  Sands, as portrayed by Michael Fassbender, is a key figure in this film.

This movie, oddly, is not political in that it doesn’t go into any detail the history and crises behind The Troubles.  Instead it focuses on the everyday desperation of the men inside the prison.  The film is divided into three parts.  The first part is a slice-of-life drama of two Irish Republican prisoners, Gerry (Liam McMahon) and Davey (Brian Milligan).  They refuse to wear prison uniforms, instead wearing only a blanket, and they protest cleaning out their cells by spreading waste and feces across the walls.  These scenes are intercut with the daily life of prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) who is clearly traumatized by the requirements of his job. With minimal dialogue and no musical score, these scenes are disturbingly quiet punctuated only by moments of intense brutality.

The second part of the film is a nearly 20 minute minute conversation between Sands and visiting priest Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham) where Sands announces his intention to begin a hunger strike.  The unbroken shot in front of an immobile camera features stunning acting and dialogue as Sands and Moran debate the morality and effectiveness of a hunger strike. The final portion of the film depicts Sands over the course of the 66 days of his strike until his death showing the effects of starvation on his body.

This is not an easy film to watch, but it’s unflinching depiction of the conditions in the prison and the hunger strike really only scratch the surface of the human misery under those conditions.  This was Steve McQueen’s feature-length debut as a director and I continue to be impressed with his work.  Interestingly, his documentary series Uprising also documents events from 1981, a momentous year for political upheaval in the UK and Ireland.

Rating: ****1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Arracht (2019)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Arracht (English title: Monster)
Release Date: 29 November 2019
Director: Tomás Ó Súilleabháin
Production Company: Macalla Teoranta

After enjoying The Quiet Girl, I wanted to find another film in the Irish language for St. Patrick’s Day.  This one fit the bill, and as an added bonus the director/writer has the same name as my father.

Set in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, the film begins in 1845 as the potato blight is spreading across the land.  Colmán Sharkey (Dónall Ó Héalaí) is a fisherman and farmer as well as a community leader.  When the English landlord raises rents, he believes he can appeal to his charity to reduce the rents.  He’s accompanied by his newly-hired farmhand, a Navy deserter named Patsy (Dara Devaney), who sabotages everything.

Two years later, the Great Hunger has decimated Ireland.  Colmán has lost everything including his will to live.  But when he finds a sick orphan girl in his farmhouse named Kitty (Saise Ní Chuinn), he nurses her to health and begins acting as a surrogate parent.  Unfortunately, incidents in the past that tie them together come back to haunt them.

This a tense drama that really seems to capture the horrors of the Great Hunger.  But more than a survival movie it is also a story of how kindness and love can persevere in the hardest of times.

Rating: ****

Note: The movie is currently streaming on Prime Video, but I had to search for it by the English title Monster to find it.

50 Years, 50 Movies (2022): The Quiet Girl

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously. 


Top Grossing Movies in 2022:

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners in 2022:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2022:

Title:  An Cailín Ciúin
Release Date: 12 May 2022
Director: Colm Bairéad
Production Company: Inscéal  | Fís Éireann / Screen Ireland | TG4 | Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it.

The title of The Quiet Girl echoes that of The Quiet Man, the quintessential Hollywood fabrication of Ireland.  Unlike the John Wayne movie, The Quiet Girl is made in Ireland and the dialogue is primarily in the Irish language (Gaeilge). One of the interesting aspects of the movie is the code-switching the characters do between their native tongue and the English forced upon the country through imperialism.

Set in 1981, the movie tells the story of Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a nine-year-old in a large family in rural Ireland.  Cáit’s father (Michael Patric) is an alcoholic and a layabout while her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is overextended with caring for the children, including a toddler, and expecting another baby soon. Neglected by her parents and teased by her older siblings as “the weird one,” Cáit has no outlet but to run away and hide.

Cáit’s parents decide that until the baby is born, that she should live with her mother’s distant cousins on a farm three hours away in County Waterford.  They are strangers to Cáit, but Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) warmly welcomes her into their household with more affection than we’ve ever seen from her parents. Seán (Andrew Bennet) is reserved at first, but eventually he and Cáit form a strong bond working on the farm together.  It’s clear that Cáit is blossoming from being loved for the first time, and that Eibhlín and Seán are finding something they were missing as well.

This is a beautiful and gentle story and it uses the language of film to portray the perspective of a child, with all the wonders and horrors that entails.  I actually felt so angry early on because the way Cáit’s family treats is atrocious and inexcusable. But I felt even more emotional at the acts of kindness and love when Cáit finds her true family with Eibhlín and Seán.

Rating: ****1/2


TV Review: Derry Girls (2022)

Title: Derry Girls
Release Date: 2022
Creator and Writer: Lisa McGee
Director:  Michael Lennox
Production Company: Hat Trick Productions

The third and final series of Derry Girls is once again full of laughs at the antics of teenagers Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle, and James.  While still very funny, I’m glad this is the final season because it’s starting to fray at the edges, and the actors are definitely getting too old to play teenagers. Although I would not be opposed to a reunion episode with the characters as adults.

This season’s hi-jinx feature the girls getting arrested for breaking into their school at night, performing as the Spice Girls, having a troubled journey to a seaside amusement park, and attending a Fatboy Slim concert. Actually, for working class kids they seem to have a lot of resources for making costumes and decorations.  Anyhow, the older generation of characters have always been fun supporting cast, so it’s appropriate that Mary and Aunt Sarah and co get a whole episode to themselves with flashbacks to when they were young and irresponsible.

The series ends with a longer episode that focuses on the Good Friday Agreement to bring peace to Northern Ireland and the choice everyone has to vote on the referendum set against Erin and Orla’s 18th birthday party.  A great end to a great show!

50 Years, 50 Movies (1994): The Secret of Roan Inish

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 1994:

  1. The Lion King
  2. Forrest Gump
  3. True Lies
  4. The Mask
  5. Speed

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1994:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1994:

Title: The Secret of Roan Inish
Release Date: September 12, 1994
Director: John Sayles
Production Company:  Jones Entertainment Group | Skerry Productions

In the late 1940s, 10-year-old Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is sent from the city where her father and brother work in factories, to live with her grandparents (Eileen Colgan and Mick Lally) and cousin Eamon (Richard Sheridan) in a village on the coast of Donegal.  When Fiona was younger her whole family lived on the offshore island of Roan Inish until they were forced to leave during World War II.  During the evacuation, Fiona’s infant brother Jamie was lost, floating to see in a boat-shaped cradle, a family heirloom.  Fiona hears stories of her family including the legend that an ancestor married a selkie, a magical being that can transform from seal to human.  She begins to believe that Jamie is still alive and cared for by the seals around Roan Inish.

This gentle coming-of-age family film is a beautiful story of storytelling and how stories hold us together.  It’s also beautifully filmed, capturing the natural beauty of Ireland.  Courtney is solid as the curious and confident Fiona, although she only has a couple of other acting credits.  I also feel like John Sayles should get discussed more among the directors who came of age in the 80s and 90s, because he’s made some excellent films.  I feel bad for sleeping on this movie for almost 30 years, but now I can say it’s among my all-time favorites. This movie would pair well with another one of my favorites, Song of the Sea.

Rating: ****1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title:The Banshees of Inisherin
Release Date: 21 October 2022
Director: Martin McDonagh
Production Company: Film4 Productions | Blueprint Pictures | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review: In 1923, the newly-independent nation of Ireland was torn apart by Civil War, but people on the small island of Inisherin off the west coast seem untroubled by war.  But the island experiences a battle of its own when Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly decides that he no longer likes his lifelong friend Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) to Pádraic’s bewilderment.  Colm ultimately explains that he finds Pádraic boring and as a musician he wants to use the time he spends with Pádraic to write songs.

The movie balances the darkly humorous with the extremely sad.  And despite Colm’s blunt cruelty he also has moments where he shows he cares for Pádraic.  That’s enough mixed signals for Pádraic to keep trying to reconcile their friendship with disastrous results.  The movie is gorgeously filmed, enhanced by the natural beauty of rural Ireland, and features a terrific score by Carter Burwell.  The supporting cast includes Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s smarter sister Siobhán, Barry Keoghan playing youngster named Dominic (who like all Keoghan characters is kind of creepy), and Gary Lydon as the island’s cop and abusive father of Dominic.

Rating: ****1/2

Song of the Week: “Go Dig My Grave” by Lankum

Lankum – “Go Dig My Grave”

Lankum, a contemporary Irish folk band from Dublin, perform their rendition of this traditional suicide ballad beginning in the Appalachian tradition.  But over the course of the song the droning background albums build up to something stranger and darker.  It’s absolutely gob-smacking!


Songs of the Week for 2023



Movie Review: The Wonder (2022)

Title: The Wonder
Release Date: November 2, 2022
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Production Company:House Productions | Element Pictures | Screen Ireland

I’m game anytime Florence Pugh is in a costume drama.  The Wonder is set in rural Ireland in 1862 where Elizabeth “Lib” Wright (Pugh), an English nurse who cared for soldiers in the Crimean War, arrives at the behest of a village panel.  They want her to observe Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), an 11-year-old girl who claims to have not eaten food for four months.  Lib finds Anna to be healthy and not desiring to eat, while also not being denied food, and no clear indication that she is being fed on the sly.  Pilgrims visit her because they believed her holy, while the local doctor thinks she may have evolved to process nutrients without eating.

Lib and Anna form a bond, and slowly over the course of the film, Lib’s troubled past and Anna’s trauma are revealed. The film has some nice directorial touches and looks like an oil painting come to life. Food and hunger naturally play as themes in the movie picturing an Ireland still haunted by The Great Hunger which ended just before Anna was born. Lib also has many scenes where she does her best thinking while eating. The movie also has a lot to say about patriarchy, sexism, religion, and colonialism. Pugh and Cassidy are great in their roles with the cast including Tom Burke, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones, and Ciarán Hinds

Rating: ***1/2

Scary Movie Review: Extra Ordinary (2019)

Title: Extra Ordinary
Release Date: September 13, 2019
Director: Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman
Production Company: Blinder Films

Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) has a talent for talking with ghosts but after an accident leads to the death of her paranormal investigator father (Risteárd Cooper), she refuses to use them. Insead she becomes a driving instructor.  Meanwhile, Martin Martin (Barry Ward) is a man haunted by the ghost of his wife, which is played out as a long henpecked husband joke.  And one-hit wonder rock musician Christian Winter (Will Forte) who has decided to summon a demon to revive his career and needs a virgin to sacrifice (is this going to be the theme of movies I watch this month?). Martin’s teenage daughter Sarah becomes his target (Emma Coleman).  Rose and Martin partner up to defend Sarah from spectral forces and begin forming a romantic attachment.

There are things I like about this movie.  I like Maeve Higgins and she was the main reason I chose to watch this movie and her performance is suitably charming.  The gently quirky romcom/paranormal relationship between Rose and Martin is enjoyable.  On the other hand Forte’s performance is overly-broad to the point of annoyance.  There’s a tonal shift in the final act to more gross-out comedy and there’s a number of plot twists thrown in but none of them really work.  In all it’s a likable noble failure, but not a particularly good film.

Rating: **

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Author: Sally Rooney
Title: Normal People
Narrator: Aoife McMahon
Publication Info: [S.l.] : Crown/Archetype, 2019.

This novel tells the story of two young Irish people who attend the same secondary school in County Sligo, Ireland.  Connell is a popular, working class student while Marianne comes from a wealthy family but her eccentric demeanor makes her unpopular at school.  They get to know one another because Connell’s mother works as a housecleaner at Marianne’s home.  They start a relationship that they keep secret from their classmates.

Both Connell and Marianne end up studying at Trinity College Dublin where Marianne blossoms and becomes popular while the shyer Connell feels like an outsider. Their paths cross frequently over the years, sometimes rekindling their romance, sometimes fighting.  The story is unsettling because it deals with abuse and the dark side of otherwise likable characters.  The title Normal People is ironic since both of them do not feel normal due to their intelligence and disinterest in what the people their age are typical interested in.  Overall it’s a realistic and compelling narrative.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****