REVIEW COLLECTION: 5th annual Irish American Movie Hooley


As a Chicagoan of strong Irish descent myself, let me step in and play the part of “good authority.” I have it on good authority that the annual Irish American Movie Hooley is a boisterous event with a trio of buried treasure movies that normally wouldn’t grace American screens. Just as the event’s name translates: “When a party gets rowdy, the Irish call it a ‘hooley.’” You need to join the 5th edition of this artistic autumnal party at The Gene Siskel Film Center over the weekend of September 27–29. Come for the scene. Consume some friendly and fascinating culture.

Barbara Scharres, the Director of Programming for The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and Irish American radio personality Mike Houlihan recently announced the three choice selections for the upcoming fifth annual mini-festival. All three are making their Chicago premiere with one American premiere to close the weekend slate.




Misty Button shows us that the whole “starving artist” trope of creative individuals being lousy f--kups with commitment issues is not solely an American pitfall.  It bites the Irish too. The protagonist matching these well-worn traits is James, played by Cillian O’Sullivan. To say he lands in a pickle in Misty Button would be an understatement.  It’s more like an inescapable vice tightening so hard the soaked-in whiskey squirts out of his pores in this slow-building dark comedy caper.

James and his uncorrected troubles reside in the far northern Bronx neighborhood of Woodlawn, known for its “Emerald Isle” turf of Irish-American heritage.  He meets the burdens of his working class life with a triple-dipped punch of groans, signs, and bursts of profanity. In the course of a single day after finding the bottom of another bottle of Jameson, James is canned from his bar job and living single when his wife Hayley (Hannah Jane McMurry) tosses her rings out the window.  Naturally, the impulsive James stoked his own fire to burn every bridge in each of these transpired events. When doesn’t lament in a shot glass, he does so seated at a typewriter trying to write something that gets him discovered.  

James and his friends Declan (Patrick Scherrer) and Eoin (Shaun Kennedy) get their ears bent by little rants emanating from Timmy Thomas, a loquacious bard of a man played by John Keating (recognized from last year’s Hooley entry Emerald City), sitting in the same tavern.  The twitchy, orange-eating middle-aged man propositions James and Eoin to do the legwork of placing a $10,000 bet on a 35-1 local racehorse named Misty Button.  When the two mates blow some of the money on drugs and miss the betting window, they now find themselves in debt to a local crime bully Alonzo (Bret Lada). Worst of all, instead of owing just the $10,000, they owe 35 times that because the titular longshot ended up winning the race, costing all involved a tremendously larger windfall of cash.

The hijinks that ensue from the script and direction of filmmaker Seanie Surgue (making his feature debut after an emerging career in short films) put James, Eoin, and Timmy Thomas through a bungled wringer.  Barstool banter turns into double-crosses. Swindles turn into smash-and-grab heists. Roughed up bumps and bruises meant to teach a lesson or two turn into murder. O’Sullivan, often looking and sounding like Colin Farrell Lite, smolders and shouts his way through these increasing obstacles.  The scene-stealer is always the wiry Keating. The line delivery and physical quirks of his yarns are infectious.  

This is, admittedly for a long stretch, a meandering way to encircle a drain of comeuppance. Misty Button is low on its expressions of suspense and does not employ a musical score to define any consistent tone.  You have to hang on words and narrative beats. Not all of that meshes smoothly or free from head-scratching character choices.

Just when Misty Button seems like it runs out calamities to justify where it’s going, the double-crosses emerging from the previously mentioned banter flip the movie (and you) on its ear. The wild third act twists are a saving grace that redeem what was messy and turns it into a clever hustle primed to be backed often by “The Rocky Road to Dublin” by The Dubliners. Come to be pleasantly surprised.





This charming documentary from director Frank Shouldice reminds viewers that dreamers come in all ages and with aspirations of all sizes.  Rural Irishman Bobby Coote of County Covan near Bailieborough tells himself and others “if you want to do it, do it” and “keep going until you’ve stopped.”  He is north of 80 years old and his goal is to be a pilot. He is the dreamer of this film’s title.

Pun intended, the flighty thing about Bobby is his shifting interests and wavering luck as a tinkerer, fiddler, and clock repairman.  He has his artful and handy skills, but zero flying experience. When he impulsively buys a microlight plane to put together and pilot, neighboring eyes open to not quite the desire place of beginning encouragement.  The crazy old man labels arrive aplenty. Alas, there is a worthy journey here to witness in The Man Who Wanted to Fly.  

No one is more outspoken about this endeavor than Bobby’s brother Ernie Coote.  He’s the opposite to Bobby. Ernie snickers at the unlikelihood of his brother’s dream from his constantly seated perch of sibling judgement.  Ernie’s limited windows to the world are his night time CB radio conversations and a postcard collection. And here goes Bobby, looking to dance above the clouds.  That’s a setting larger than trying to one-up or impress your brother.

There is an entirely lovable and cheeky quality to watching these two fuddy-duddy men get along with dueling pessimism and optimism.  These two, as the documentary says, live the language of life. These are two seniors in an analog world with a richness to be found in their day-to-day simplicity.  The setbacks enlarge Ernie’s doubts and shrink Bobby’s heart. When the breaks start to come Bobby’s way, his smile of wonder triples anything oppositional from Ernie and any other doubters.  

You cannot help but root for this old man as Bobby motivates himself against every word of “never” said to him. The aerial photography by cinematographer Dave Perry is nicely majestic rising about the domestic surfaces. This is a lovely slice of life with a positive purpose from Shouldice. The fluttering musical score by Giles Packham grows with the human spirit of the documentary. The sentiment of The Man Who Wanted to Fly is infectious. Enjoy the smile on your face and maybe challenge yourself to rewrite your own dreams free of age limits. If Bobby Coote can do it, so can you. Just look up.





Annually and without fail, the Irish American Movie Holley delivers a gorgeously appointed documentary among the trio of features that either fascinates with an affecting citizen testimony or astonishes us with the natural beauty of the Emerald Isle.  Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody is a poetic and dazzling example of the later sample of non-fiction art.  With soaring cinematography across streets, surf, and sky, every inch of this documentary drips with the heavenly chemistry of its fine and proud home country.

Directed by Aodh O Coileain, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody chronicles the layers of culture and natural wonders in and around the western city of its title.  Galway, the sixth most populous city of the country, will be the year-long title-holder of the European City of Culture next year in 2020, and this film shows many of the rich reasons why it was sought for that distinction.  A collection of six artists perform and explore the cultural nuance alongside the flowing stream of visuals.  

Those featured artists include writer Mike McCormack, poet Rita Ann Higgins, singer Róisín Seoighe, street theatre director Noeline Kavanagh, visual artist Pádraic Reaney and musician Máirtín O’Connor. A seventh comes from the narration of comedian Tommy Tiernan which adds context and character to the scenes observed.  The last topping bow of auditory presentation comes from composer Jake Morgan and music from Matthew Berrill and Nicola Geddes.  

The title word “cumar” translates to “confluence.”  In its most natural definition, confluence refers to where multiple waters converge.  In Galway’s case, that matches the River Corrib and the churning bays washed by the Atlantic Ocean.  Through labeled sections, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody one of those artists is highlighted and the various sub-definitions of cumar and confluence preface each vignette.  Some of those thematic pinpoints include cumar as “the accord between the artist and his tools, the energy that binds the ensemble, the influence of a place on the human spirit, and the unity that stems from a gathering of people.

With this draping chapters, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody is well-paced and patient with unwrapping its historical notes and asides. Each chapter is an anecdote to the soul of the people.  Parallel to the human element, each chapter, as well, is an earthly sermon to the land and sea. This is a fine credit to O Coileain and his editing team which included Conall de Cleir and Oisin Misteil.    

The true feast of this documentary is the serene photography.  Fast and slow, the blend of urban and domestic landscapes is observational and pastoral.  Near and far, the film is lifted even greater by the wondrous aerial photography captured by Roman Bugovskiy and fleet of cameras.  Theatrical screens will fill with this imagery and evoke dreams of reaching out and touching these divine treasures. That is an impressive treat and feat to enjoy at the Irish American Movie Hooley.


Paddy’s Irish Whiskey will offer a sampling station in the lobby of the Gene Siskel Film Center before each screening, and also hold a free “whiskey raffle” after each screening and award a complimentary bottle of Paddy’s Irish Whiskey to the winner. After the Misty Button screening, director Seanie Sugrue will be in attendance for a talkback. As an added perk, the welcome audience is invited to an opening night reception at The Emerald Loop Bar and Grill, 216 N. Wabash Ave., immediately after the film, with complimentary Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.

For more information about the Movie Hooley, visit:

All screenings and events are at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, located at 164 N. State St.

Tickets to each screening — unless stated otherwise — are $12/general admission, $7/students, $6/Film Center members, and $5/Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) staff and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) faculty, staff, and students. All tickets may be purchased at the Film Center Box Office. Both general admission and Film Center member tickets are available through the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website.