Quite often with this column, I am looking for that underseen gem that few people saw or have heard of, but is definitely worth a look. Sometimes this is by necessity — just couldn’t make it to the theater — and sometimes it’s because there’s nothing on worth watching (“Smallfoot” in both theaters? Really?).
Unfortunately it’s a gamble. Sometimes I hit on something good, but just as often I find something lame, or worse, boring, and my review ends up along the lines of “Here’s something you’ve never heard of. Now don’t go watch it.”
Check out my review a couple of weeks ago of “UFO” for an exa mple.
Fortunately, this week was better. “Black ‘47” is an Irish film set during the devastating potato famine of the mid-19th century, and bears the distinction of being the only film I’ve ever seen where a good portion of the dialogue is in subtitled Gaelic.
Whatever else there is to recommend this film, no one can deny it has major atmosphere. It gets right into the mud of that blasted landscape and wallows around in it in a way I haven’t seen since “Winter’s Bone.” The color palate is muted and the lighting is perfect.
Feeney is a small-town boy who, in order to take the burden off his poor family, joined up with the British army to fight overseas. In a chilling parallel to his modern day counterparts, Feeney comes home a veteran of battles in the Middle East and Asia. The equivalent of a special forces soldier, he deserts after the futility of it all overwhelms him.
But futility isn’t easy to escape as Feeney returns to a home bereft of family, who have been driven out, starved out, or executed. When a callous landowner drives the last remaining members of his clan out of their home into the freezing night, Feeney loses all connection to humanity and any reason to act with moderation. What follows is a murderous revenge tale that is as sad as it is thrilling.
This movie isn’t a lot of fun, but definitely worth seeking out. As Feeney, actor James Frecheville is dynamic even in his stoicism. Better still is veteran Hugo Weaving as the similarly shellshocked Inspector Hannah — a man who is as broken as his prey, if not more so. Weaving has proved a versatile character actor in some of the biggest franchises in history, but he’s not always asked to do particularly hefty work. Here you can see him really acting and it’s great. Grade: A-
There’s something really satisfying about going into a film with little to no information and coming out with something to treasure. That sense of discovery is exciting. With that in mind, here’s a few little seen treasures to seek out for yourself.
Directed by Martin McDonough in 2008, “In Bruge” is another Irish film, but one with a decidedly different tone. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleeson, and, briefly Peter Dinklage, it’s a darkly comic tale about hitmen on the run after a job goes terribly wrong. Farrell and Gleeson give incredible performances , managing the tonal shifts perfectly. The movie is, at turns, hilarious, tragic, thrilling, and contemplative. I liked this film so much better than McDonough’s latest, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Grade: A+
“The Brothers Bloom”
A lot of people know who Rian Johnson is today, mostly for the incredibly polarized reactions by fans to “The Last Jedi.” (Sidenote: A recent study shows that a significant percentage of the hate that film got was orchestrated by the same Russian troll/hackers that worked to influence the 2016 election. Crazy!) Before he worked on blockbusters, however, he was known as the author of stylish, twisty thrillers like “Looper” and “Brick.” Most people forget, however, my favorite Rian Johnson movie, “The Brothers Bloom” from 2008. “Bloom” stars Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con men brothers, one of whom wants out and the other who wants one last score. If you like movies about con men, this movie is for you. Really, if you like movies, this movie is for you. It’s funny, sweet, sharply written, and constantly surprising. Grade: A+
“The Station Agent”
Another movie with Peter Dinklage, “The Station Agent” is from 2003 and tells the tale of a man adrift in his own life. Somewhat prickly due to people’s reactions to his size, Dinklage plays Finbar McBride as a man who’s grown so accustomed to negativity, he can’t seem to accept his own good fortune. After inheriting a small train depot in rural New Jersey, this jaded city dweller relocates and finds himself among an eclectic small town population. It’s sweet, funny, and incredibly heartwarming, without ever turning saccharine. Grade: A+
“Black ’47” is rated R for gruesome violence.
“In Bruge” is rated R for language, nudity, violence and drug use.
“The Brothers Bloom” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and violence.
“The Station Agent” is rated R for language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.