"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Widows: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A poorly written, cliche ridden, Hollywood heist movie that stumbles over its own absurdity. Worth seeing for free on Netflix or cable if you want to see director McQueen’s visual prowess, but has scant few other worthwhile qualities.

Widows, directed by Steve McQueen and written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, is the story of a group of women in Chicago who plot a robbery amidst political intrigue after their criminal spouses are killed pulling a big money heist. The film stars Viola Davis with supporting turns from Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya.

This has been a bad few weeks of movie going for me. As I stated in a previous review for At Eternity’s Gate, 2018 has been a down year for film. There were two films I was greatly anticipating seeing this Autumn that I thought might break this year’s cinematic malaise, the first was the aforementioned Julian Schnabel film At Eternity’s Gate, and the second was Widows. At Eternity’s Gate failed me miserably, and so I was left with all of my optimistic eggs in one basket, and that basket was Widows

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The reason I was excited for Widows is that Steve McQueen, not to be confused with the iconic actor Steve McQueen of Bullitt and Papillon who died almost 40 years ago, is one of my favorite directors. McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave was a Best Picture (and Best Adapted Screenplay) Academy Award winner, and is a truly terrific movie, but my personal favorite, and McQueen’s best film in my opinion, is his first feature, Hunger (2008). In Hunger, McQueen’s cinematic vision and dynamic style jumped off the screen in his big screen debut about the I.R.A. hunger striker Bobby Sands.

McQueen’s approach has always been a bit unconventional, for instance, in Hunger there is a static shot of a conversation between two characters that is held for 17 straight minutes. It is a staggeringly courageous maneuver for a rookie filmmaker to attempt, but McQueen dramatically pulls it off, aided in no small part by two pulsating performances from Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham.

McQueen’s dexterity with the camera, his flair for framing and shot composition and his ability to draw out superb performances, make him one of the great film makers working today, a true auteur….which is why I was so anticipating Widows.

But much like my disappointment with At Eternity’s Gate, Widows dashed my hopes of a 2018 cinematic revival onto the rocks of cold, hard, Hollywood reality.

Widows is a movie terminally at odds with itself. On the one hand, Widows is a filmmaking masterclass filled with expertly rendered shots, and on the other hand its story is a nauseatingly contrived piece of Hollywood hackery that is so far-fetched as to be absurd.

Widows is meant to be a Hollywood crowd-pleaser, but by the looks of the box-office it isn’t drawing much of a crowd, and it certainly didn’t please me. The main issue is that the story is too much, the script is too much and the movie is too much in that what it asks of its audience is too much. For the movie to succeed the viewer must make such gargantuan leaps of logic and suspend their disbelief to such a degree that the entire enterprise simply isn’t tenable.

Gillian Flynn co-wrote the screenplay with McQueen, and as she has proven in the past with her decrepit Gone Girl script, Ms. Flynn is not very good at screenwriting. The dialogue in Widows is just as forced and manufactured as the inane plot, the fault of which no doubt lies with Ms. Flynn and her writing accomplice Mr. McQueen.

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The performances, for the most part, are pretty lackluster as well. Viola Davis is a good actress, but she never finds her footing as Veronica Rawlings, the leader of the widowed women’s brigade. Daniel Kaluuya is also pretty underwhelming as Jatemme Manning, the alleged badass in the movie. Kaluuya strikes the right pose but his Jatemme is a one dimensional character that never goes anywhere and is more akin to a dog chasing its tail than a pitbull on the loose. Both Davis and Kaluuya’s performances are entirely predictable and lack any spark of originality.

Colin Farrell, who in recent years has gotten his acting groove back with quality performances in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, badly misfires as Jack Mulligan, the candidate to replace his father for Alderman in the newly reshaped Chicago district where the film is set. Farrell’s accent is all over the map and his character work is unfocused and erratic.

Michelle Rodriguez plays one of the widows and she gives the same Michelle Rodriguez performance she’s been giving her entire career where she is tough…real tough…but also boring as hell. She is joined in her uncomfortable acting futility by Liam Neeson, who comes across as equally unprepared and awkwardly out of place.

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As for the bright spots, there are a few. The first of which is Elizabeth Debicki who plays Alice, widow of Polish descent. Debicki is the only actor in the film who feels like a real person. Her grounded yet charismatic performance lights up and jumps off the screen. Debicki looks like a supermodel but obviously has the soul of an actor as she never poses or preens but rather inhabits a genuine character. I have never seen Debicki act before, but after her intricate and nuanced performance in Widows, I expect I am going to be seeing a lot of her in movies that matter in the future.

Another positive was that one of my favorite, and one of the greatest, actors of all-time, Robert Duvall, has a small part in the film. Duvall plays Tom Mulligan, the patriarch of the political dynasty that Colin Farrell’s Jack hopes to inherit. While Tom Mulligan is not much of a role, Duvall plays it with aplomb, filling it with as much ornery old man piss and vinegar as you’d imagine.

Widows also has a fairly interesting sub-text that touches upon issues of race, class, power and politics that McQueen highlights with some exquisite shots, like when he places the camera on the front of a limousine while candidate Mulligan rants and raves out of sight in the back of the car. The shot travels from the desperate urban blight where Mulligan is campaigning to the tony upscale neighborhood where Mulligan actually lives. To McQueen’s credit, it is a fascinating shot that says more than any of the dialogue in the film. Sadly though, as interesting as the sub-text is, it gets pulled under by the cliched silliness that is the main plot.

Sean Bobbit’s cinematography is top notch, and his framing and shot composition, particularly his use of mirrors, borders on the sublime. Bobbit is McQueen’s long time collaborator, having worked as a cinematographer on all of McQueen’s features, and his confidence with the camera and his mastery of craft have always enhanced McQueen’s vision. In Widows though, with its ludicrous script, Bobbit’s superb cinematography is akin to putting a silk hat on a pig.

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In conclusion, Widows in not the cure for what ills 2018 cinema, instead it is more a symptom of what ails the art form. What Widows has going for it is an Oscar level auteur at the helm (McQueen), a master craftsmen behind the camera (Bobbit) and a superb cast (Davis, Kaluuya, Fareel, Debicki, Duvall), but the albatross around its neck is the hackneyed script that scuttles the whole ship. As a result of that ill-conceived and executed script, Widows ends up being a contrived and vapid film that makes the fatal error of trying to give the audience what it wants, instead of giving them all that it has.

Whether you are an art house cinephile or an action movie creature of the cineplex, Widows leaves you lacking. It simply isn’t worth the time, money and effort to see it in the theatres, and you will feel like you’ve been on the short end of a heist if you do end up paying to see it. If you stumble upon it on Netflix or cable, feel free to watch it for free for no other reason than to see Bobbits cinematography and to maybe catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Dibecki’s star being born.

At the end of the day, cinema is the great love of my life, and Widows left me feel like a grieving black-clad widow of the art house. I am not sure what stage of cinematic grief I am currently in, but if I keep getting disappointed at the movie theatre like I did with Widows and At Eternity’s Gate, I am pretty sure anger is right around the corner.

©2018

St. Patrick's Day : The Five Best Irish Films

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2015

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

I am Irish-American. Most of my best friends are Irish. Among the loveliest of the plethora of lovely ladies in my prodigious gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends are Irish. I love the Irish. I love being Irish. But...I do not love St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is the day people of all types get to embody the most base and degrading stereotypes of the Irish. They dress in kelly green, wear "Kiss Me I'm Irish" pins, get roaring drunk and vomit all over themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be within vomit radius. For some reason I can't quite understand, stereotyping of the Irish is permitted by our culture which is so quick to take offense when other groups or nationalities are stereotypically portrayed. Ironically, in attempting to celebrate Irishness, people end up being incredibly and disgustingly disrespectful to the Irish and what it means to be Irish.

Irishness, contrary to common beliefs, is not about leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o' gold. Nor does it entail wearing green, getting drunk and puking. Rather, Irishness is a complex combination of fierce defiance, intellectual curiosity, contemplative melancholy, and roguish charm that outwardly manifests itself in artistic, cultural and spiritual works of immense depth and genius.

So, as an actual tribute to the Irish, instead of drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage today, I recommend you dive into the plethora of fantastic Irish works of art. Whether in the form of music, literature or film, true Irish culture is worth exploring in order to get a sense of who the Irish really, truly are, and what has made them that way. Go read the works of James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw or Seamus Heaney. Go listen to some traditional Irish music, or put on some Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher or U2. Or, since this is an acting coaching website...go and watch a great Irish film!

With that in mind, here are a list of my favorite Irish films which I thoroughly encourage you to watch. Instead of going to a crowded bar and being surrounded by idiotic jackass phony-Irish wannabes and taking the risk of getting covered in your own vomit,  or worse, someone else's, sit down and watch these films and come to understand the heart and soul of the greatest people on earth.

TOP FIVE IRISH FILMS

1. BLOODY SUNDAY directed by Paul Greengrass : 

Bloody Sunday (2002) is the true story of the 1972 shootings of innocent protestors in Derry in the occupied six counties, by British Army paratroopers. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Greengrass, who later went on to direct some of the Bourne films and United 93

Through the dynamic use of handheld camera, Greengrass creates an intimacy and immediacy that is riveting, and that impacts the viewer on a visceral level. In addition to Greengrass, lead actor James Nesbitt does spectacular work as Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the peaceful protest that ends is bloody slaughter. Nesbitt's performance is the centerpiece of an outstanding ensemble.

Bloody Sunday may be difficult to watch, but it is a truly great film that is must-see.

2. HUNGER directed by Steve McQueen :

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Hunger (2008), is the story of the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the I.R.A. at the H.M.S. Maze prison. This is Steve McQueen's first feature film, which he later followed with Shame and the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen proves right out of the gate that he is an artistic and creative master as a director with Hunger. The visuals of the film have such a unique grit and texture to them that they can, and often do, tell the story all by themselves. Along with McQueen's brilliant direction, Hunger boasts Michael Fassbenders tour-de-force portrayal of Bobby Sands, which elevates the film to a transcendent work of genius. Fassbender's performance in Hunger is as intricately crafted and delicately human as any captured on film in the last twenty years.

Again, Hunger is not for the feint of heart. It is a brutally unforgiving film. Yet, it is such a finely crafted film, that it takes its much deserved space in the pantheon of great Irish films.

3. JIM SHERIDAN FILMS - IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), IN AMERICA (2003), MY LEFT FOOT (1989), THE FIELD, (1990), THE BOXER (1997)

Jim Sheridan is the Grand Master of Irish filmmakers. No other director has been as consistently great as Sheridan. In fact, Sheridan's work is so superlative that I couldn't pick just one film to put in my top five, so I gave him a top five list all to his own.

  1. In the Name of the Father (1993): Based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombing by the I.R.A. which killed five people. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a wayward Irish youth who gets blamed for the bombing, as does his father, family members and friends. Day-Lewis' gives a powerhouse performance that propels this film to the tops of the Sheridan list.
  2. In America (2003) : A semi-autobiographical film about the Sullivan family, husband Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel who move to New York City from Ireland in 1982 in the wake of the death of their young son Frankie. Samantha Morton stars as Sarah and earned an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance, as did Djimon Hounsou in a supporting role as their HIV positive neighbor. The entire cast, particularly the two young actresses, Sarah and Emma Bolger, are outstanding. In America is a deeply moving, and insightful look into the struggle to find forgiveness and peace in a new land.
  3. My Left Foot (1989) : The film that put Sheridan on the map, is the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only use his left foot. Brown overcomes his obstacles and becomes a writer and painter. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable work in the lead, and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actor as Bridget Brown, Christy Brown's mother. An excellent film buoyed by sterling performances.
  4. The Field (1990) : The story of an old Irish farmer, Bull McCabe, trying to hold onto a strip of land, his family and tradition. McCabe is played by Richard Harris, who earned an Oscar nomination for his fine performance. Have you noticed a pattern? Actor's get Oscar nominations when they are directed by Jim Sheridan, which is why so many great actors want to keep working with him.
  5. The Boxer (1997) : The story of a boxer recently released from prison, who was a former member of the I.R.A. Once again Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn and is really incredible as the boxer trying reform his ways in the ever more complex world of "The Troubles". Emma Watson plays Maggie, Flynn's former girlfriend, and gives a subtly compelling performance. Day-Lewis' continuous commitment to realism in the portrayal of a boxer wins the day, as his seamless portrayal is as spot on as any in film history.

4. ONCE directed by John Carney

Once (2007), is an Irish musical film about the trials and tribulations of a Dublin singer/songwriter street musician as he tries to make a career in the music business. The "guy", played by Glen Hansard, meets and falls for a piano playing Czech immigrant "girl", played by Marketa Irglova. The two lead actors have a phenomenal chemistry and charm. The music is heartbreakingly good.  Once is joyously exhilarating in its artistic spirit, its musical power and its heart felt honesty. An absolute gem of a film.

5. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is the story of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan who join the Irish Republican Army and fight in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy stars as Damien and gives the strongest performance of his fine career. The film excels due to Murphy's complex work and also because of director Loach's clear, detailed and specific dramatic explanation of the wars for Ireland and what caused them and why. Definitely worth your time if you enjoy Irish history. 

In the spirit of the day, I leave you now with the words of one of the great Irish poets.

Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  - He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats
 

And thus concludes my St. Patrick's Day sermon.  Go forth, spread the word and try to remember what it actually means to be Irish today. Sláinte Mhaith!! 

© 2015

The Birth of a Nation : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip It.

The Birth of a Nation is based on the true story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher in 1831 who rallied free and enslaved blacks to rise up against the ruling white power structure of their Virginia county in a bid for freedom. The film is written, directed, produced and stars Nate Parker as Nat Turner.

The story of Nat Turner is an important one in the history of America and African-Americans. Turner's story should resonate with audiences of today as they try to come to terms with their nation's checkered history, the evil of slavery and the racial divisions of our time. Sadly, The Birth of a Nation does not live up to the audacious ambition of its writer/director/star Nate Parker. Instead the film is an unoriginal, one-dimensional, pedestrian and generic take on the scourge of slavery and the damage it has done.

"BLOOD WILL BE BORN IN THE BIRTH OF A NATION" - "PEACE FROG" BY THE DOORS  

The problems with The Birth of a Nation are multiple, so let's start at the beginning. The Birth of a Nation takes the same title as the iconic D.W. Griffth's film from 1915, which portrayed Blacks as savages and the Ku Klux Klan as the saviors of the white race from the scourge of Black barbarians set free post-civil war. Griffith's film was a monumental achievement in filmmaking of the time and was a blockbuster. Griffith's film was also, obviously, a piece of unabashed racist propaganda. Parker's 2016 The Birth of a Nation is propaganda as well, just from the other side of the spectrum, he basically said as much in an interview when he said, "so I wanted a film that people could watch and be affected - almost hold them hostage in the theater, where they have to see this images, and they have to see the parallels and the themes that are echoing right now in 2016." The problem is that  Parker's The Birth of a Nation isn't nearly as well made in relation to the current cinematic times as Griffith's film was in its day. 

Propaganda sets out to convince you of something, for instance Griffith convinced a lot of people that the Klan were the guardians of "real America" with his Birth of a Nation. As Ava DuVernay's wonderful documentary on Netflix The 13th (which I highly recommend) shows us, the Klan was nearly non-existent until Griffith's film came out and wowed audiences across the country. Not surprisingly, Griffith's well made propaganda shifted people's perspectives, that is what propaganda is supposed to do. The problem with Parker's The Birth of a Nation as propaganda is that in order to put Nat Turner in as positive and saintly a light as possible, Parker softens the rough edges, complexity and depth of his characters and situations, thus neutering a cavalcade of potential drama and insight. This blunting of the edges of Turner in order to sell him as a saint or messiah of a movement may not be the most wise move dramatically, but it could work in terms of propaganda, the problem is that Parker lacks the skill and vision as a writer/director to be able to pull it off. The film needs to be spectacularly well made in order for it to work as propaganda, but it just isn't. It is visually flat, cinematically stale, and the writing, directing, staging and acting are all painfully amateur.

"TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE." - POLONIUS, HAMLET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with the film is that it doesn't entirely know what it wants to be. Is it a revenge film like Django Unchained? Or is it a horrors of slavery film like 12 Years a Slave? Is it trying to be both? It ends up being neither. Django was a delicious and entertaining bit of wish-fulfillment that was incredibly well made by Quentin Tarantino. 12 Years a Slave was a relentlessly intense journey into the brutal physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realities of slavery directed by one of the great directors of our time, Steve McQueen. Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a lukewarm, middle of the road rehash of every slave movie stereotype and trope. It is not bloodthirsty and action packed enough to be revenge entertainment like Django Unchained, and not thoughtful and meticulous enough to be high art like 12 Years a Slave.

"AMBITION BITES THE NAILS OF SUCCESS" - "THE FLY" BY U2

Writer/Director/Star Nate Parker is a solid, if unspectacular actor. Parker gives himself a handful of speeches that should have been rousing but instead feel rehearsed, not uncommon when a writer is reciting his own words. Parker's big speeches feel too performed and not vibrantly alive and immediate. That said, Parker does have an undeniable charisma that should serve him well in a quest for stardom, but artistically speaking his eyes are way too big for his stomach. Parker simply lacks the skill and talent as a writer and director to have taken on the task of telling this most vital of stories. Whether it was Parker's ego or blind ambition I don't know, but he does Nat Turner no justice by directing this film. 

There are no doubt many, creator Nate Parker included, who were hoping The Birth of a Nation would resonate with audiences and reviewers alike so that the film and its cast and crew would be among the Oscar contenders this year. Parker said in regards to making The Birth of a Nation, "…it's kind of like a battle cry from a filmmaking standpoint. Because yes, we need to deal with pervasive racism in Hollywood…", so obviously the whole "#OscarsSoWhite"
meme was part of the impetus to make the film. The reality is that the #OscarsSoWhite meme is untrue and that Black actors are not underrepresented by the Academy Awards, I have done the statistical analysis myself to prove it. Regardless, The Birth of a Nation is nowhere near Oscar worthy, and neither are any of the performances. 

"WHAT'S PAST IS PROLOGUE" - ANTONIO, THE TEMPEST BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with The Birth of a Nation is that it alters history in order to make a stronger argument as propaganda, but in doing so it removes some of the greatest dramatic material at its disposal. For instance, Parker's Turner is made to be a messiah of the anti-slavery movement, a man who sacrifices himself for the sins of a nation. This is not historically accurate. The slave uprising is also not historically accurate as it doesn't portray the murders of white women and children, which were a large number of the targets, and it also doesn't portray Turner's impotence when it comes to the act of killing. I understand why you would leave those things out in order to make Nat Turner a hero, but by making him an unquestionable action hero they have removed the nuance that makes him dramatically imperative.

For example, Turner's inability to kill could be used as tremendous symbol for the impotence of the Black male in modern America. Showing Turner and his rebels massacring women and children could highlight the moral depravity brought about by slavery upon all who come into contact with it. It would also be an interesting way to show how Turner's fervent religious beliefs could be skewed to make slaughtering woman and children not only necessary but righteous, a parallel to the terrorists of today who mask their murderous wars behind the righteousness of their cause and their God. The theme of religion being used to both support slavery and support the uprising against it, is briefly, but poorly, touched upon in the film, but it could have been mined for much more interesting material than Parker unearths.

"HE JESTS AT SCARS THAT NEVER FELT A WOUND." -ROMEO, ROMEO AND JULIET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

One final point about missed opportunities in The Birth of a Nation has to do with Nate Parker's personal history, which I read about after seeing the film. Seventeen years ago, when Nate Parker was in college, he and his roommate were charged with raping a white woman. Parker was acquitted and his roommate was convicted, but had his conviction dropped on a technicality a few years later. The woman who alleged she was raped committed suicide in 2012. What does this have to do with Parker's film? Well, I am not the type of person to judge a film by the moral character of it's maker, I try to judge a film on its merits, and I was unaware of the charges prior to seeing the film. But what struck me as odd in hindsight was that Parker added a rape to the narrative of Nat Turner that is not historically accurate. That he did this is not surprising given his limited ability as a writer, adding the rape is sort of a "propaganda 101" move on Parker's part. But when you put the film rape in to the context of Parker's actual history, it becomes a bit disturbing to say the least. And the irony of it all is that the most interesting part of the Nat Turner story in particular, and slavery in general, is how it feeds the shame and self-loathing of an entire race in our current culture. The shame of the victimization by slavery still marks Black culture today, both consciously and unconsciously. The self-destructive, uber-masculine Black culture of our time is a direct result of the emasculation of Black men in slavery and Jim Crow over the last 400 years. The reason Nat Turner is so important as a symbol to African-Americans is because he was not a victim, he was not without agency, he did not take his slavery lying down, he stood like a man and fought back. Turner may have lost, but instead of living on his knees he died on his feet.  The ironic thing in regards to Parker's personal life, is that his alleged rape victim suffered from a very similar shame as the descendants of slaves, the shame of victimhood and not having fought back hard enough. The shame carried by Parker's alleged victim led her to kill herself, much like the descendants of slaves today lead self-destructive lives over their historical shame. Parker's alleged rape victim had to carry the shame of her rape and her inability to stop it, just like Black culture of today has to carry the shame of slavery and their forefathers inability to stop it. This shame and victimhood felt by both Parker's victim and African-Americans is a consequence of trauma and is not rational, but that doesn't mean it isn't very real.

The emasculation of the Black man in the past has led to a deep seeded shame of today which rears its head in self-defeating riots, an embracing of criminality, generations of boys with absent fathers and endemic poverty. This shame is born of a lack of agency during slavery and creates a sub-conscious lack of agency in our current time. This is not to say that this slave shame is the entire reason for the aforementioned issues in Black culture, as those issues exist in other cultures as well, but it is to say that this historical victim shame is fertile soil for cultural self loathing from which these issues can grow and prosper. Until the deep seated shame of victimization by slavery and the emasculation that came with it, is taken head on and resolved, all other efforts to change things in the broader culture will fail. This doesn't mean that there isn't racism today or structural white supremacy or anything of the sort, it is to say that until Black culture can heal itself of this historical victim wound, the endless cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction will continue. It is also to say that until America can heal its palpable historical guilt over slavery, it will continue to suffer from its festering racial wound and the suffocating and calamitous hate and violence that accompanies it.

One bit of proof for this thesis is brought up in the previously mentioned Ava DuVernay film The 13th, where the idea of Black criminality is explored and its roots uncovered. While it was White men who criminalized the Black man to the broader culture, it wasn't just White culture that believed that story, Black culture believed it too. I believe Black culture wouldn't have believed such a denigrating and self-destructive myth if not for the shame of victimhood by slavery and the self-loathing that accompanies it that lives deep in a people's soul.

 

"BEING IRISH, HE HAD AN ABIDING SENSE OF TRAGEDY, WHICH SUSTAINED HIM THROUGH TEMPORARY PERIODS OF JOY." - WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Of course, the argument could, and most likely will, be made that I am a white man, so what the hell do I know. That might very well be a valid argument. In my defense I would say this, that being Irish, I know a little something about being the descendant of a people who were held captive and emasculated and having that cultural victim wound be passed down through generations. The Irish were under the thumb of the British, suffering genocides and indentured servitude along with other horrific indignities, for as long as Africans were enslaved in America. The Irish to this day carry the victim's shame, and the anger and self-destructive impulses that go along with it, as a result of their being under a brutal British rule. It might not be an exact parallel, but it is a parallel. Take my opinion and experience for whatever you judge it to be worth.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, The Birth of a Nation should be a vital film for our time, but it isn't. The film is a terribly wasted opportunity as Nat Turner's story is such a rich, complex and fascinating one which could enlighten and entertain people of all races. Sadly, Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a run of the mill, dramatically limp disappointment. The audacity of the film's star and creative force, Nate Parker, strangles the potential of the Nat Turner story in its cradle. The Birth of a Nation is not worth seeing in the theatre, or frankly anywhere else. If you stumble across it on cable, feel free to watch and see what you think, but appointment viewing it ain't. One can only hope that a few years down the road, a more talented director tells Nat Turner's story, as it is a story that is ripe with dramatic potential. It is also a story that, if told well, could bring about some much needed healing and change.

©2016

St. Patrick's Day : The Five Best Irish Films

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2015

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

I am Irish-American. Most of my best friends are Irish. Among the loveliest of the plethora of lovely ladies in my prodigious gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends are Irish. I love the Irish. I love being Irish. But...I do not love St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is the day people of all types get to embody the most base and degrading stereotypes of the Irish. They dress in kelly green, wear "Kiss Me I'm Irish" pins, get roaring drunk and vomit all over themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be within vomit radius. For some reason I can't quite understand, stereotyping of the Irish is permitted by our culture which is so quick to take offense when other groups or nationalities are stereotypically portrayed. Ironically, in attempting to celebrate Irishness, people end up being incredibly and disgustingly disrespectful to the Irish and what it means to be Irish.

Irishness, contrary to common beliefs, is not about leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o' gold. Nor does it entail wearing green, getting drunk and puking. Rather, Irishness is a complex combination of fierce defiance, intellectual curiosity, contemplative melancholy, and roguish charm that outwardly manifests itself in artistic, cultural and spiritual works of immense depth and genius.

So, as an actual tribute to the Irish, instead of drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage today, I recommend you dive into the plethora of fantastic Irish works of art. Whether in the form of music, literature or film, true Irish culture is worth exploring in order to get a sense of who the Irish really, truly are, and what has made them that way. Go read the works of James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw or Seamus Heaney. Go listen to some traditional Irish music, or put on some Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher or U2. Or, since this is an acting coaching website...go and watch a great Irish film!

With that in mind, here are a list of my favorite Irish films which I thoroughly encourage you to watch. Instead of going to a crowded bar and being surrounded by idiotic jackass phony-Irish wannabes and taking the risk of getting covered in your own vomit,  or worse, someone else's, sit down and watch these films and come to understand the heart and soul of the greatest people on earth.

TOP FIVE IRISH FILMS

1. BLOODY SUNDAY directed by Paul Greengrass : 

Bloody Sunday (2002) is the true story of the 1972 shootings of innocent protestors in Derry in the occupied six counties, by British Army paratroopers. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Greengrass, who later went on to direct some of the Bourne films and United 93

Through the dynamic use of handheld camera, Greengrass creates an intimacy and immediacy that is riveting, and that impacts the viewer on a visceral level. In addition to Greengrass, lead actor James Nesbitt does spectacular work as Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the peaceful protest that ends is bloody slaughter. Nesbitt's performance is the centerpiece of an outstanding ensemble.

Bloody Sunday may be difficult to watch, but it is a truly great film that is must-see.

2. HUNGER directed by Steve McQueen :

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Hunger (2008), is the story of the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the I.R.A. at the H.M.S. Maze prison. This is Steve McQueen's first feature film, which he later followed with Shame and the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen proves right out of the gate that he is an artistic and creative master as a director with Hunger. The visuals of the film have such a unique grit and texture to them that they can, and often do, tell the story all by themselves. Along with McQueen's brilliant direction, Hunger boasts Michael Fassbenders tour-de-force portrayal of Bobby Sands, which elevates the film to a transcendent work of genius. Fassbender's performance in Hunger is as intricately crafted and delicately human as any captured on film in the last twenty years.

Again, Hunger is not for the feint of heart. It is a brutally unforgiving film. Yet, it is such a finely crafted film, that it takes its much deserved space in the pantheon of great Irish films.

3. JIM SHERIDAN FILMS - IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), IN AMERICA (2003), MY LEFT FOOT (1989), THE FIELD, (1990), THE BOXER (1997)

Jim Sheridan is the Grand Master of Irish filmmakers. No other director has been as consistently great as Sheridan. In fact, Sheridan's work is so superlative that I couldn't pick just one film to put in my top five, so I gave him a top five list all to his own.

  1. In the Name of the Father (1993): Based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombing by the I.R.A. which killed five people. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a wayward Irish youth who gets blamed for the bombing, as does his father, family members and friends. Day-Lewis' gives a powerhouse performance that propels this film to the tops of the Sheridan list.
  2. In America (2003) : A semi-autobiographical film about the Sullivan family, husband Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel who move to New York City from Ireland in 1982 in the wake of the death of their young son Frankie. Samantha Morton stars as Sarah and earned an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance, as did Djimon Hounsou in a supporting role as their HIV positive neighbor. The entire cast, particularly the two young actresses, Sarah and Emma Bolger, are outstanding. In America is a deeply moving, and insightful look into the struggle to find forgiveness and peace in a new land.
  3. My Left Foot (1989) : The film that put Sheridan on the map, is the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only use his left foot. Brown overcomes his obstacles and becomes a writer and painter. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable work in the lead, and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actor as Bridget Brown, Christy Brown's mother. An excellent film buoyed by sterling performances.
  4. The Field (1990) : The story of an old Irish farmer, Bull McCabe, trying to hold onto a strip of land, his family and tradition. McCabe is played by Richard Harris, who earned an Oscar nomination for his fine performance. Have you noticed a pattern? Actor's get Oscar nominations when they are directed by Jim Sheridan, which is why so many great actors want to keep working with him.
  5. The Boxer (1997) : The story of a boxer recently released from prison, who was a former member of the I.R.A. Once again Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn and is really incredible as the boxer trying reform his ways in the ever more complex world of "The Troubles". Emma Watson plays Maggie, Flynn's former girlfriend, and gives a subtly compelling performance. Day-Lewis' continuous commitment to realism in the portrayal of a boxer wins the day, as his seamless portrayal is as spot on as any in film history.

4. ONCE directed by John Carney

Once (2007), is an Irish musical film about the trials and tribulations of a Dublin singer/songwriter street musician as he tries to make a career in the music business. The "guy", played by Glen Hansard, meets and falls for a piano playing Czech immigrant "girl", played by Marketa Irglova. The two lead actors have a phenomenal chemistry and charm. The music is heartbreakingly good.  Once is joyously exhilarating in its artistic spirit, its musical power and its heart felt honesty. An absolute gem of a film.

5. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is the story of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan who join the Irish Republican Army and fight in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy stars as Damien and gives the strongest performance of his fine career. The film excels due to Murphy's complex work and also because of director Loach's clear, detailed and specific dramatic explanation of the wars for Ireland and what caused them and why. Definitely worth your time if you enjoy Irish history. 

In the spirit of the day, I leave you now with the words of one of the great Irish poets.

Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  - He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats
 

And thus concludes my St. Patrick's Day sermon.  Go forth, spread the word and try to remember what it actually means to be Irish today. Sláinte Mhaith!! 

© 2015