CAPSULE REVIEWS: The 4th Irish American Movie Hooley
For the fourth year, the proud national and international efforts of Irish flair and flavor grace the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. With sponsorship led by Slane Irish Whiskey, the Irish American Movie Hooley is a three-night trio of films gracing Chicago screens as a special program. The “party” translation of its title at the forefront. Tickets for the September 28–30 events, including a triple-bill discount, are available online from the Siskel Center.
Courtesy of Barbara Scharres, the Director of Programming, the mini-fest opens Friday the 28th with with Sean Hartofilis’ psychological mindbinder Covadonga. The director and singer himself will host a post-film Q&A and after-party at the Emerald Loop Bar and Grill. The Irish box office hit crime film Cardboard Gangsters occupies the centerpiece slot on Saturday. Director Mark O’Connor will add his own discussion after. To close festivities on Sunday, Mother’s Day from Fergie O’Brien will screen with the O’Brien attending as well.
With a last name like “Shanahan,” I cannot resist covering and supporting this fine annual event. I was given the honor of screening all three films in advance. Full reviews will come in time, but here are my collected capsules (adding as I go). Come and enjoy these buried treasures!
The title may cite 8th century Christian war history shared in a rant midway through the movie, but true battle is within Covadonga. Sean Hartofilis is a solitary man of grieving and loss who has morphed into a creature of oddities and habits. Singing, canoeing, swimming, cleaning, cooking, and dancing in his skivvies most of the time, we see how off he is and we can tell the root is a dark one. Fleeting visions of his departed wife play with his mind and comfort level, but not as much as things that disrupt his precious property or day-to-day mundanities. Sharply crumbling its breadcrumbs down a startling path of potential violence and hidden crime, Covadonga sneaks up on you while presenting a game challenge of mystery. Pulsed by a scintillating electronic score from Wittches, attempting to solve its engaging puzzle pieces is a true treat. The film is a virtual one-man show from Hartofilis. His loquacious rants and raves spark us and his guitar-backed songs pour snake oil in our ears. There is clever enjoyment to being messed with.
Be prepared because Cardboard Gangsters hits with force. This isn’t a playful Trainspotting knockoff of glee and shenanigans like other wannabe crime films. For that matter, few American films in this genre hit like this either, which is a very high compliment. Led by a hulking bulldog of blunt force performance form John Connors (Stalker), the movie follows a man and his childhood friends who are emerging in the local Dublin fringe drug-dealing scene. The bites they take out of the territory upset the veteran heavy boss (Jimmy Smallhorne), leading to a turf war with pregnant girlfriends, jaded escorts, alcohol-fueled rage, and even kindly mothers in the crossfire. O’Connor’s breakneck drama takes no pleasure in its high stakes, cemented loyalties, tragic family circumstances, and ferocious attitude. is as grizzled as it is captivating. When you see it, you’ll know why it was a box office smash in its home country.
A sad and permanent stain on both English and Irish histories remains the time period and conflict known as “The Troubles.” Out of the 3,532 people killed during that time period, 157 of them were under the age of 16. That’s someone’s child who never had the chance to grow up. That’s a shattered family irrevocably changed. The BBC TV special presentation Mother’s Day dramatically chronicles the ripple effect from one of those 157 lost children. After a 1993 Warrington bombing claimed the life of 12-year-old Tim Parry, it was a Dublin housewife named Susan McHugh (Vicky McClure of the This is England series) that came forward to organize a rally against the atrocities. Her outspoken efforts inspired thousands to remember victims, children, and the costs of the strife on both sides. Two of those inspired came to be Tim Parry’s grief-stricken parents Colin and Wendy (Rogue One’s Daniel Mays and Anna Maxwell Martin from Philomena). Observing the battle lines blur and empathy being shared in Mother’s Day is engaging and invaluable. All three adult leads give bracing performances of resolve and strength. Fergus O’Brien’s film reaches forth to share that conviction and positive reflection. It’s a stalwart historical recreation that works as a platform reminder and a tonic after the other two films of the Hooley.