Michael Collins is essential Paddy’s Day viewing for me


The story of the man who led a guerrilla war against the U.K, aided negotiations in the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army in the Irish Civil War.
Following the massive defeat of Irish rebels in the 1916 Easter Rising, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) decides new strategies are needed in order to gain Irish independence. He first begins to use what is now recognised as guerrilla tactics and the organised killings of Irish informants for the U.K. government, and then later on members of British intelligence. By 1921, the Brits are willing to negotiate a settlement, and Collins is reluctantly sent over for the talks by Sinn Fein president Eamonn DeValera (Alan Rickman), who knows full well that the agreement reached will disappoint some. He condemns Collins when he returns with a Treaty declaring an Irish Free State and not a Republic, and Collins’ longest friend Harry Borland (Aidan Quinn) rejects him following the emergence of his relationship with Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts). What unfolds following this landmark settlement is a civil war as Collins struggles against those who want complete and unconditional independence for the whole country.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so it seemed only right to take a look back on an Irish film, and what better than to watch a film that focuses on the fight for independence for the country. Now, of course this is a film that is a product of Hollywood, so with regard to historical accuracy there may be some discretions, however this a wonderful study of the man who I guess could be considered the Braveheart of Ireland and is a fine watch for anyone who would maybe like to get more of a feel for what actually went on in the build up to the declaration of the Irish Free State, and the the fall out that came from that.

Liam Neeson did a wonderful job of encapsulating all the different aspects of Collins in this film, however one thing that I feel was most important was the fact that he really managed to show that Collins didn’t want to cause so much violence, but that it was the only way. Collins was a very conflicted man with regards to both the methods he chose to deploy as a leader of the rebels, but he was also torn over the personal relationships he had with those who initially worked with him, but then went their separate ways and began to turn against him. This was something else that I believe to have been portrayed very well by Neeson.

This is quite a star-studded cast, however there is one member of the line-up that I can’t help but feel didn’t quite belong there, as much as I love her work. Julia Roberts really does seem quite out of place as Collins’ love interest, Kitty Kiernan. I also am unsure as to whether she was a real figure in this story, or whether she was introduced purely just for romantic interest. Either way, she just didn’t fit in there, and it pains me to say that about Roberts, but it is kind of true.

Now, I mentioned at the beginning that some of what is shown in the film may need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I can only assume this to be the case due the fact that when I was first shown the film by my parents a few years ago, key moments would often pass by only to be followed with, ‘…and that’s a load a shite,’ or, ‘…that never happened,’ from my dad, as if he was the fact checker for the film. It is common knowledge however that the Hollywood machine can twist things slightly for it’s own benefit, so if you do watch the film, or have watched it, expect only a feel for the period to come from it.

Overall, Michael Collins was a grand addition to my St. Patrick’s Day viewing this year. It is always a good film to watch, whoever watching it yesterday meant it had a greater sense of occasion for me. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I would recommend it, and those of you who haven’t viewed it in a while might just fancy revisiting it again after reading this I hope.

Jackie is made great by one special performance


During the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, America’s First Lady battles through grief and trauma in order to prevent losing herself and maintain her husband’s legacy following his death.
After her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) world falls apart. Grieving and traumatised, she must tell her children that their daddy isn’t coming home, leave the White House and begin to plan his funeral, whilst also trying to ensure her husband’s legacy will be remembered, and leave her own mark in the history books.

So, I decided to watch Jackie, and going into the film, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to feel about it. A lover of historical events, the subject matter wasn’t really going to be the issue. But I just didn’t really know that much about the film – there weren’t really any stars that were a huge draw for me here. I watched this film purely because of what people had said about Natalie Portman’s performance, and for what it’s worth, I’m glad I listened to them.

We’ll get down to business and start straightaway with Portman’s portrayal of Jackie. She is easily the greatest thing about this film, elevating it from something that would otherwise have been possibly average at best. She completely embodied the real Jacqueline Kennedy, making it easy to believe that that was who you were really watching. I loved how she got to show the whole range of emotions experienced by this woman on that day and in the days after it. We got to see that initial shock and hysteria, and then the strength that she had to take forwards from those moments for her family. There was terrific range displayed by Portman in this role, and deep down, I think I would love it if she won the Best Actress Oscar for her work here.

I can’t really pass comment on many of the other performances in here as it really was Portman’s film. There were a few surprise cast members however, although they had very minor roles. It actually amazed me how many stars from British TV made an appearance. The biggest shock was David Caves from Silent Witness as Clint Hill – I’ve never seen him in anything else before, and so I had to proceed to tell everyone that he had just showed up in the film I was watching. Needless to say his is a name I shall be storing in the memory banks for any future episodes of Pointless.

I really liked the way Jackie Kennedy was portrayed in the film, and I think she is a woman history should never be allowed to forget. She got bit of a rough deal when her husband was killed, and the way she was shown to deal with all of this in the film was sometimes upsetting to see, but showed all of her strength and character, and that she was her own woman, even without her husband.

Overall, I found Jackie to be a very enjoyable watch that I would recommend to people. Portman gives a masterclass in acting, and from what I’ve heard from a few of my U.S. counterparts, she absolutely nails the part she plays. She lifts the film to great heights and makes it a very compelling watch. I think it is a project that was very well made, and well worth seeing by everyone. 

The Long Riders (my Genre Grandeur entry)


The tale of the Jesse James gang members, their numerous exploits and their individual fates.
The Long Riders is a sympathetic portrayal of the story of the James-Younger gang that undertook a number of legendary bank robberies as way of revenge. The group, headed up by none other than Jesse James (James Keach), had their share of excitement during their time together, and went down in a blaze of glory when some plucky townspeople call time on their raids.

I’ve always been a fan of westerns – I kind of have to be given that my dad is too. I think it’s fair to say that for an 18-year-old girl, I’ve seen quite a few new and old, traditional and contemporary westerns and have enjoyed most of them. When this month’s Genre Grandeur came up, I thought it was right up my street. I had initially thought about watching something with John Wayne or Robert Mitchum in, but decided to venture a little further out in the end. The Long Riders was a decent western, but not one of my favourites, and here’s why.

The cast of this film is quite an ensemble. You have the two Keach brothers, both Quaids and three of the Carradine clan – more than fitting for a film about a gang that is made up of brothers wouldn’t you say? This benefitted the performances so much as there was a lot of real family ties that already existed. The bonds portrayed on screen just felt so genuine, and I think this made the telling of the story so much more enjoyable to watch.

There was plenty of action in this film, especially in the last half an hour or so. While I am a fan of both slow burners and fast paced movies, I perhaps edge slightly further towards the more high-octane westerns. It was really fun to watch when all the shots were being fired, and it let you see the Jesse James gang in all their glory. One of my favourite scenes in the film was when the men were trapped in a cabin by the Pinkertons chasing them, and they had to break their way through the panelling in the back and take a back route to escape. For me, it’s scenes like that that encapsulate the old west – big shoot-outs and the heroes escaping by the skin of their teeth.

I do have one big issue with the film, however, and while it may seem like a minor detail, it was a big issue for me. Some of the transitions from scene to scene were a bit rushed. the biggest example I can give you of this is at the end of the film when Jesse meets his maker. The big moment happens, and then straightaway the shot cut to the scene of Frank James, played by Stacy Keach, handing himself over to the authorities. This took away so much of the impact of what was one of the biggest blows the film dealt in my opinion, and I really wish that more time had been spent of making the change more meaningful.

All in all, as much as I enjoyed The Long Riders, it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to be amongst my favourite westerns. There were some rip-roaring shoot-outs and I loved the family dynamic that was made so wonderful by the fact that the cast consisted of so many brothers. What damaged the film so much in my eyes was some of the dodgy transitions between scenes. It really impacted some of the biggest moments in the film for me, which is why I cannot place it amongst the ranks of El Dorado or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Nonetheless, it was worth seeing, and was an hour and a half of my time well spent.

Milk is the cream of the crop

  
The story of Harvey Milk – a gay activist who fought for gay rights, and who became became California’s first openly gay elected official.

Shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York City, forty-year-old Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) finds his purpose as a gay activist in the city’s Castro district. Rights activism soon becomes political activism as Milk decides his work could be more effective as a politician, whether he is elected or not. Through several elections and losses of both city and state seats, Milk becomes the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected into political power when he wins a supervisor seat in 1977. Throughout his journey, Milk’s many political battle fronts include one with the national anti-gay Save The Children crusades led by singer Anita Bryant, whilst also fighting many demons in his personal life as well. Milk’s entire political career is covered here, from the moment he first decided to take charge of changing his life, and many others, right until the man’s tragic death.

Milk is the wonderful account of Harvey Milk’s political career and the many ups and downs it had over the years. It is a film full of brilliant characters and is a very insightful retelling of the events that took place during what I suppose you could call the man’s rise to fame.

The performance we should all be talking about here is that of the amazing Mr Sean Penn. He was extraordinary as the title character in this film, and I greatly admire him for taking the role. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought the actor was gay. I really liked the fact that Penn is someone who has played quite a variety of different characters throughout his career, and in recent years, roles such as those he has played in Gangster Squad and The Gunman have earned him a fairly respectable Hollywood hard man title. To see him in this was very refreshing, and I would imagine that it was a big boost for gay rights campaigners when he got on-board with this project. And it would’ve been an even bigger boost when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the politician. He really was magnificent, and the passion with which he delivered his lines and the whole speeches was spine-tingling. Penn sincerely meant his performance, and as a result, you fully believed in him. 

Josh Brolin starred alongside Penn as Harvey’s opposition, Dan White. I’ve always said that I think Brolin is an incredibly underrated actor, and he proved here again why I think more people should know his name. Dan was the man who assassinated Harvey, and so I think that the idea that he was actually playing a bad guy meant that Brolin was harder to swallow, but it did prove his versatility, and why I am quite a fan of his performances. It was also because of him that I decided to watch Milk, as I saw Brolin on Inside The Actor’s Studio and he spoke very highly of Penn and his other fellow actors performances.

I really liked the way the story was done. The story was told as Harvey sat at his kitchen table recording a message to be released in the event of his murder which, sadly, did happen. It’s not something I’ve seen before in a biopic and it just impressed me because of its creativity.

On the whole, I would say that Milk is a film that you need to see. The struggles these people faced and overcame are enough to impress anyone, and they perhaps prove to us all that if you believe in something strongly enough, you can achieve it.

Watch Goodfellas for one hell of a good time

  
The story of Henry Hill as he works his way up through the mob.

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is a young Irish-Italian American boy who gets a job at a taxi-cab exchange just over the road from his house. The owner comes in the shape of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) who is actually the head of the local Mafia. Pretty soon, Henry is a young petty criminal who is introduced to James Conway (Robert DeNiro). Years later, Henry is a big-time thief alongside James and their friend, Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci) and later becomes a middle-aged crack cocaine addict and dealer.

Goodfellas is the realistic true story of Henry Hill’s rise and fall. What a wonderful film! Martin Scorsese does a fabulous job of directing modern day Godfather tale with a brilliant cast. The day-to-day account of the goings on in these people’s lives was very realistically told, and made for a very enthralling watch.

All the lead performances were tremendous. Liotta as Henry was terrific. Obviously a lot of weight was put on him as he was the one who was telling the story, therefore for you to buy into it, you had to believe in him. Well, I fully believed in him. Liotta showed the friendship Henry had with James and Tommy very well, and the admiration and respect Henry had for Paul was also very clear. However, my favourite relationships portrayed by Liotta were those shared with all the women in his life. Henry hadn’t a single simple, easy association with any woman he got to know. He stood up a date, who went after him at his beloved taxi-cab exchange – they later got married and she tried to kill him many years later. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law, and his many mistresses gave him all a lot more grief than they were worth. Even his babysitter gave him a hard time. Bless him…

De Niro as James was also very good. He played the guy who got stuff done and was friends with everyone, including judges and police officers, but also scared everyone at the same time. In all the operations the three men conducted, he and Henry were the brains and they both made sure that things went to plan. However, if a job went pear-shaped, James was the one who went about sorting someone to clean up after them all. Whilst Henry might have just wanted to be a businessman dressed as a gangster, James was the whole hog, and De Niro pulled it off extremely well.

Then there was a little tornado in the form of Joe Pesci. How good was he as Tommy De Vito? He could turn on a six pence and was a real loose cannon. Tommy was a proper gangster who just so happened to be Henry’s best friend. This guy was so unpredictable you wouldn’t believe it. One minute, he could be laughing and joking with you, the next he could be waving a gun in you face. He was mad, there is truly no other way of putting it. Pesci played him beautifully, and won himself an Oscar which was very well deserved.

Again, Goodfellas is a very realistic rebelling of Henry Hill’s rise and fall which was very well written by Scorsese and a man called Nicholas Pileggi, who actually wrote the book from which the film was adapted.

All in all, I’d go as far as to say that Goodfellas is a must-see. Ranked number seventeen in IMDB’s all-time 250, clearly I am not the only one to think this. Go ahead; do something positive with your life and watch this.