#Oscars: “The Banshees of Inisherin” (2022) starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, & Barry Keoghan

Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland in 1923, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN follows lifelong friends, Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Padraic, aided by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and troubled/young neighbor, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), endeavours to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Padraic’s repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve and when Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences. -Synopsis

“Banshee” is the anglicized term for “bean sí” from old Irish meaning “woman of the fairy mound” or “fairy woman.” She is a spirit in Irish folklore who heralds the death of a family member, usually by screaming, wailing, shrieking, or keening. The Banshees of Inisherin, original title The Banshees of Inisheer, was intended to be the 3rd installment in a series of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s plays dubbed the Aran Islands Trilogy, which incl. The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. This is Farrell’s 3rd project w/ McDonagh (after In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012)). Gleeson was also in In Bruges; he and Farrell are close pals IRL This is Farrell’s 3rd project w/ Keoghan (after The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Batman (2022)). Keoghan and Farrell lived in the same apt while shooting in Ireland; Keoghan admits he drove Farrell crazy by leaving messes and eating all of Farrell’s favorite cereal. Farrell, who Keoghan calls an older brother figure, said the experience was like “living in the episode of The Real World.” LOL! When this film premiered at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, it received a 15-minute standing ovation.

Pádraic Súilleabháin: Do you know what you used to be?

Colm Doherty: No, what did I used to be?

Pádraic: Nice! You used to be nice! And now, do you know what you are? Not nice.

Colm: Ah, well, I suppose niceness doesn’t last then, does it?

In the Irish culture, comedy is usually also mixed w/ tragedy; this film is an example! It opens up w/ a rainbow (no joke) behind a smiling Padraic, who is planning to meet Colin for a beer at the pub; this is their ritual almost everyday at 2PM. The settings are gorgeous, the production design is spot-on (creating a lived-in world), and the acting is great all-around. Colm’s home was shot on the island of Achill in County Mayo, which is craggy/rugged, to reflect his moral quandary. However, Padraig’s scenes were filmed on the flatter, more uninteresting island of Inishmore. The J.J. Devine Public House (the bar) was built for the film on Achill; since a planning permit had NOT been acquired, it had to be demolished when the film wrapped. All of the main characters’ sweaters were made by the same elderly man, who knitted them by hand.

Pádraic: I am not putting me donkey outside when I’m sad, okay?

Padraic (a simple man) has animals, Colin (who is more complex/troubled) has music (violin/composing), and Siobhan (practical/lonely) has books. Jenny, the miniature donkey- also named Jenny- had never been in a movie before. She was NOT a trained animal actor and seemed to hate the experience. Farrell joked: “She was the biggest diva on set.” There is a brief shot of Siobhan’s books: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Irish idylls by Jane Barlow, Waverley by Walter Scott, and The Golden Dream by RM Ballantyne. Dominic doesn’t seem to have anything to look forward to, though he is NOT as “dim” as people think. He comments: “faint heart and all that” after irritating Siobhan; this is a referral to the proverb: “A faint heart never won a fair lady.”

Dominic: Me, I pay no attention to wars. I’m again’ ’em. Wars and soap.

Even in such open spaces, viewers noted feeling the claustrophobia of the characters. The loss of one friend could be a tragedy, some viewers commented, as there aren’t many people around to know! There is no romance (or even potential for some romance) in this story, as one critic sadly noted. The elderly (perhaps witch-like) woman frightens the community w/ her premonitions. The priest is only around on Sundays and doesn’t know how to deal w/ Colm’s “despair.” The local policeman is often drunk and V abusive, esp. to his son Dominic (perhaps the most tragic character).

[1] At first, I was relating to Gleeson’s character, because I’ve felt like him. Life is too short to spend on relationships that don’t add value. But as his behavior gets more and more extreme… […] we start to realize how unwell he is and sympathies shift to Farrell’s character. Until we start to realize how selfish he actually is and how much his own actions are driven more by wanting to be liked than by concern for his friend. […]

The standout of the cast is Kerry Condon as Farrell’s sister. She’s an antidote to the male angst pervading this little Irish village.

[2] Reflecting the friction and war taking place over the water, and the reasons for it, with four outstanding performances, although Barry Keoghan absolutely knocks it out of the park, a film to get you thinking about what it means to get along, and the repercussions when two tribes don’t, even over the most trivial of torments.

[3] It is a well told dark comedy that keeps you wanting more, in a time when Ireland was full of despair, not long after the war of Independence and a long-suffering period that brought about a post-colonial inferiority complex (still hasn’t been addressed to this day), a struggle for an identity, a repressive church, superstitions, isolation, mass emigration, poverty and to top it all off- a brutal civil war.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Woman King” (2022) starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, & John Boyega

The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for. -Synopsis

This historical drama’s title comes from the fact that the people of Dahomey believed in a legend of two kings, a man and a woman who are equals; Nanisca (Viola Davis- at the top of her game) is expected to be crowned a Woman King by King Ghezo (John Boyega- a galaxy way from his Star Wars role). Producer Maria Bello (who acted w/ Davis in Prisoners) was visiting Benin (a West African nation) when she heard the story of the Agojie; she returned to the US, convinced she’d found a great movie pitch. The project stayed in “development hell” for 7 yrs, first at STX (which only offered a $5M budget), then at TriStar. Only after the huge success of Black Panther (2018) was this film greenlit (w/ a $50M budget). Davis and her husband also served as producers; they have a production company.

The actors trained for 4 mos. to get in shape for the action scenes; they’d lift weights for 90 mins, and then train for 3.5 hrs. w/ a stunt coordinator (on martial arts, the use of swords and spears, and did cardio). Most of the department heads are either women or people of color (POC): cinematography, production design, editing, makeup, hairstyling, costumes and visual effects. The screenplay is by Dana Stevens; her work includes: Fatherhood, the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Safe Haven, City of Angels, For Love of the Game, Blink, and Life or Something Like It. The movie (directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood) began shooting in South Africa (late 2021), but was interrupted by the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Production had to shut down for a few weeks; the extra time was used to rehearse the big battle. Prince-Bythewood has said in (recent) interviews that she directs only those movies that she is passionate about.

Izogie: Rule number one: Always obey Izogie.

[she gives Nawi a strict look]

Izogie: I am Izogie!

Unlike Top Gun: Maverick (2022), which also centers on a strong/middle-aged leader and an ensemble of younger “warriors” (pilots), The Woman King is a balanced blend of action and character drama. How much do we know about Rooster (Miles Teller), Hangman (Glen Powell), Phoenix (Monica Barbero), Bob (Lewis Pullman), etc? They have little character development, as Maverick- and to a lesser extent- Penny (Jennifer Connelly)- is the obvious star. In this film, we get to know (and care about) 3 different warriors under Nanisca’s leadership: Nawi (Thuso Mbedu- a petite/20s South African actress in her 1st movie), Izogie (Lashana Lynch- a British actress recently in the Bond franchise), and Amenza (Sheila Atim- a British-Ugandan actress known for Shakespearean theater roles). Izogie brings in moments of (needed) humor, 19 y.o. Nawi is the newbie/audience surrogate, and Amenza is thoughtful/spiritual. Though Nanisca is their experienced, tough, and respected general, she has suffered trauma in the past. Each the women fights in her own unique way, specializing in different weapons.

Nanisca [to Nawi]: Your tears mean nothing. To be a warrior, you must kill your tears.

This a film focused on women, though there are supporting roles for a few men also. Boyega does a fine job (as expected), perhaps channeling Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy (from his African prince role in Coming to America), as some viewers commented. He says “my love” in a different way when he addresses each wife. The (fictional) white/Portuguese-speaking slave trader, Santo (Hero Fiennes Tiffin- nephew of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes), is welcomed by King Ghezo, but fails to maintain in good relations w/ him. Yes, the main villain is named Hero- LOL! Santo was perhaps loosely inspired by Francisco Félix de Sousa, a Brazilian slave trader who helped King Ghezo gain power IRL; these events are portrayed in Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde (1987). I don’t want to give too much away, but there is another male character who adds flavor to the story. I smiled, I cried (3x), and it stood up to re-watch! You can rent this movie (Amazon Prime).

#Oscars: “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) starring Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, & Val Kilmer

After thirty years, Maverick is still pushing the envelope as a top naval aviator, but must confront ghosts of his past when he leads TOP GUN’s elite graduates on a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those chosen to fly it. -Synopsis

I know what y’all (regular readers) are thinking: “You watched this movie!?” Heck yeah, I watched it for Glen Powell (looking gorgeous, BUT should’ve gotten more characterization)! Powell (who plays Hangman) lobbied for the role of Rooster (which went to Miles Teller- sporting a thick mustache). Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw is the grown-up/pilot son of Goose (played by Anthony Edwards in the 1986 movie) who is NOT on the best of terms w/ Pete “Maverick” Mitchell when this story starts.

Maverick [to younger pilots]: You think up there, you’re dead, believe me.

There is a diverse ensemble of attractive (and super-fit) young pilots; we don’t know much about them, as this story is concerned re: Maverick and the (impressive) action. I learned that a few scenes btwn Rooster and Phoenix (Monica Barbero) were cut. Bob (wears glasses, doesn’t swear or drink) is played by Lewis Pullman, son of actor Bill Pullman. Maverick is still in the rank of captain; he takes risks and bucks authority, though Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) covers his back. Ed Harris and Jon Hamm (who some thought looked older than Cruise- LOL) play two of the experienced Naval officers who are NOT quickly impressed by Maverick’s skills/charm. Many viewers were emotional after seeing Maverick and Iceman (in poor health) reunite!

Iceman: One last thing, who’s the better pilot, you or me?

Maverick: This is a nice moment, let’s not ruin it.

Unlike in the 1986 movie, we see a much better romance! Maverick (single/no kids) reunites w/ his former gf, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly- good in any role), a bar owner/single mom to a teen daughter. Penny was “the admiral’s daughter” mentioned in the original movie (a few astute viewers noticed). There is a V cool scene where Penny and Maverick go sailing on her boat; the actors are actually doing the work! Their love scene looked tame, BUT this has a PG-13 rating.

The opening of the movie is nearly identical to that in the 1986 movie. There are many call-backs (nostalgia); some will find it touching, while others will think it’s repetitive. The cutting-edge plane that Maverick flies past the speed of Mach 10 is sleek and expensive. The “fight” btwn Rooster and Maverick during one of the training exercises is (potentially) deadly, yet V exciting. In the 3rd act, there are some surprises (which I didn’t see coming). Who is the enemy? We don’t know, as the filmmakers chose to keep it apolitical. No doubt that this movie (filmed in 2018) is a technical achievement which became a box-office hit. If you want to check it out, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime (Paramount+). Powell looked V happy promoting the movie- that’s good enough for me!

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) starring William Holden, Alec Guiness, Jack Hawkins, & Sessue Hayakawa

The towering triumph of adventure from the makers of “Lawrence of Arabia.” -A tagline for the film

…it takes its time in a way that is almost unbelievable. […] I timed it- and it’s an hour before the plot happens. It could never be made today, not w/ the computer generation, not w/ the generation that’s used to things happening fast. It’s a true narrative movie. -Sydney Pollack

I also will see before I direct a picture… When I made my Indiana Jones films- anything that has a lot of scope- and is somewhat of an adventure. […] That’s one of the most perfect movies ever made. -Steven Spielberg

This is one of those epic/classic films that your parents watched (and liked); you can see it on HBO Max. During WWII, allied POWs in a Japanese internment camp are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge, but under the leadership of Col. Nicholson (Sir Alec Guinness- best kwon for Star Wars), they’re persuaded the bridge should be built to help morale. Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa- a star of Hollywood’s silent era) was inspired by Maj. Risaburo Saito, who (unlike in this film) was said by some to be one of the most humane of all of the Japanese officers, willing to negotiate with P.O.W.s in return for their labor. Such was the respect btwn Saito and Lt. Col. Toosey (upon whom Col. Nicholson was based), that Toosey spoke on Saito’s behalf at the war-crimes tribunal after the war, saving him from the death. Ten years after Toosey’s death, Saito went to England to visit his grave.

Col. Saito [to Col. Nicholson]: Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!

There is a LOT of interesting trivia re: this movie (which won 7 Oscars). Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman had been blacklisted after being accused of having Communist ties, so went uncredited. The only writing credit, and Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, went to Pierre Boulle (who spoke no English), the author of the French novel. In 1984, the Academy retroactively awarded the Oscar to Wilson and Foreman; when this movie was restored, their names were added to the credits. Guinness had doubts about playing the role of Col. Nicholson; he’d become popular from roles in comedies. He tried to add some humor into his portrayal; Sir David Lean (director) was opposed to this idea, insisting that it be played seriously. The role of the American Navy officer (played by William Holden- V popular at this time) was NOT in the source novel; Cmdr. Shears was added into the screenplay to appeal to a wider audience. At one point, Lean nearly drowned when he was swept away by a river current (on location in Sri Lanka); actor Geoffrey Horne (in his 1st role as Lt. Joyce) saved his life! Many of the extras in the POW camp are South Asians, as I noticed.

Cmdr. Shears [to Maj. Warden]: You make me sick with your heroics! There’s a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills – they go well together, don’t they? And with you it’s just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules – when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!… I’m not going to leave you here to die, Warden, because I don’t care about your bridge and I don’t care about your rules. If we go on, we go on together.

Why are there SO many war movies/shows out there!? Well, the stakes are V high, so there is potential for a LOT of drama. This is actually an anti-war movie focused on 4 different men (NOT all gung-ho about fighting); we see this even from the early scenes btwn Shears and the doctor, Maj. Clipton (James Donald). Now, if this were made today, Shears (being a POW for some time) would NOT be looking so healthy/buff (as some viewers commented)- LOL! The reluctant warriors are thrown together b/c of circumstances; Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) doesn’t come in until almost half-way through the movie. Warden is a former prof who trains spies that on the gorgeous estate in Sri Lanka; there is a sequence that reminded me of a Bond movie. The (brief) romance btwn Shears and an (unnamed/blonde) nurse (Norma Sears) was put in by the studio at the end. Lean was strongly opposed to it, but producers insisted the movie have at least one white woman character. Even in modern times, it’s V rare for a director to get “final cut,” so have to make compromises. Some viewers have commented that this feels like 2 separate movies which come together in the 3rd (last) act.

Col. Nicholson: [looks at the completed bridge] I’ve been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I’ve been in the service. 28 years in peace and war. I don’t suppose I’ve been at home more than 10 months in all that time. Still, it’s been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But there are times… when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything – or if it made any difference at all, really. Particularly in comparison with other men’s careers. I don’t know whether that kind of thinking’s very healthy, but I must admit I’ve had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight… tonight!

As Shears. Holden is given a LOT of darkly funny/irreverent lines; he’s NOT out to be a hero, he just wants to get out. Of course, the audience can relate! Col. Saito was the most interesting characters IMO; I was surprised that he got some development (rare for Asians even today in mainstream Hollywood). Hayakawa and Guinness have this uneasy tension in their scenes together. Building the bridge (on schedule and well) becomes an obsession for Col. Nicholson, who wants to prove that the British are superior to the Japanese. I was surprised by some of the directorial choices Lean made, incl. the monologue (above) by Col. Nicholson after the bridge is completed. Instead of doing the obvious close-up on Guinness, we see a shot from behind his shoulder. The finale of the movie is terrific, as it feels fresh, exciting, and dangerous!

“The Wings of the Dove” (1997) starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Linus Roache, & Alison Elliott

A young woman, Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter), is offered the opportunity to return to a life of wealth in London society her mother gave up. Her aunt, Maude (Charlotte Rampling), has some conditions; Kate MUST sever ties w/ her father (Michael Gambon) and the journalist she has been seeing, Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Kate reluctantly agrees; she then becomes friendly w/ Milly Theale (Alison Elliott), a young/single American heiress making the Grand Tour. Merton crashes a party that Kate and Milly are attending, and Milly becomes interested in him. When Kate learns that Milly is seriously ill, she comes up w/ a plan to have her cake and eat it too, BUT things don’t go as planned! The original Milly was a tribute to Henry James’ niece, Minny, who died of tuberculosis (TB).

Kate: She liked you.

Merton: That’s because she doesn’t know me.

Kate: You’re not nearly as bad as you’d like to be.

This film (which I re-watched after many yrs.) is based on a novel by James; he and his circle of writer friends were more concerned w/ character development than plot. Though James was born and raised in a wealthy family in America, he found himself in his travels, then settled in England to be a writer. This is a period/costume drama where the main characters aren’t cliched; they think/act NOT unlike modern people. Kate wants to be charge of her social/romantic life; she resents having to spend time w/ Lord Mark (Alex Jennings, recently seen in The Crown). Bonham-Carter played Princess Margaret in The Crown (Netflix); I haven’t yet gotten to her season. Merton is outspoken and reveals the ills of society in his articles; I wanted to know more re: his work. Roache (whose parents were actors) was part of the ensemble cast of Law & Order (NBC). Elizabeth McGovern (best known for Downton Abbey) plays Susan, Milly’s kindly companion; the American actress settled in England after marriage. One of the young journos in the pub scene is Ben Miles (also seen in The Crown).

Merton: I don’t believe in any of the things I write about. I fake passion. I fake conviction.

Milly: I think everything’s going to happen for you, Merton, sooner than you think.

The British director, Iain Softley, was rather young; he brings a fresh perspective. The cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, hails from Portugal; he went on to work on Girl with a Peal Earring, Unbreakable, and Blood Diamond. The music was composed by Edward Shearmur (a Brit); this is a crucial component and never goes over-the-top. The screenplay is terrific; it was written by Hossein Amini (a Brit of Iranian heritage). There is an intense chemistry btwn Bonham-Carter and Roache; you see their (often sad/troubled) reactions in their eyes. Elliott (a former model) does a good job for a relative newcomer; she brings in lightness/innocence to the trio.

Merton: My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove for then I would fly away and be at rest.”

The story was moved up from 1902 to 1910, in part at the suggestion of the costume designer, Sandy Powell. Fashion evolved much btwn those 8 yrs; Powell felt that the 1910 silhouette would help set this movie apart from those made by Merchant-Ivory Productions. Bonham-Carter’s 1st feature film was A Room with a View (1985) by Merchant-Ivory. Powell earned her an Oscar nom for Best Costume Design, but lost to Titanic. You can watch this movie on Pluto TV (free)!

We went into that with our eyes open. We had no qualms. We felt it was essential in indicating the sort of scene it was, and making it relevant and familiar in the most stark way possible. -Iain Softley, on the added love scene (NOT in the novel) at end of film

[1] Hossein Amini received an Oscar nomination for the film’s script, and it is not hard to see why. It is a literate, deliciously dark and beautifully nuanced script that is never devoid of emotion, and adapts very difficult source material remarkably cleverly and with utmost coherence.

[2] Helena Bonham-Carter, in the pinnacle of her career, embodies the fierce intelligence and ruthless determination of Kate Croy, a woman born in a wrong era, whose effort to hold on to both love and wealth tragically backfires. Linus Roache, playing Kate’s secret love, brings tortured Merton Densher (where does James come up with these names?) vividly to life. He has the sort of intense good looks and physical presence required for this role in spades; and his dramatic ability shines though, especially in his last scene with Millie…

[3] One character says of Kate, “There’s something going on behind those beautiful lashes,” and that can usually be said of the characters Bonham-Carter plays… Here, she’s completely engaged, and she pulls off the difficult trick of never losing our sympathies even when her character does something despicable.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews