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What to watch this week: Irish edition

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If you missed the memo, St. Patrick's Day is Sunday. In lieu of assembling a roster of atrocious films, suffering through them, and concocting vaguely thematic drinking games in honor of the holiday, we've decided to take the higher road. Below, you'll find an assortment of (honestly pretty daggone good) movies about Ireland -- or set in Ireland to help you cinematically prepare for your Sunday excursions.

My Left Foot (1989, Netflix Streaming) From the director who brought you In the Name of the Father (see below) and Daniel Day-Lewis, the leading man who's preeminently adept at bringing true-life Irish characters into full-blooded humanity, comes the story of Christy Brown. Brown is a quadriplegic writer with cerebral palsy incorrectly diagnosed as mentally disabled for the first ten years of his life. As Slate film critic Dana Stevens has lately attested, Daniel Day-Lewis continues to operate "at a level of humanity that makes the rest of us seem like grunting cavemen." And it's ne'er been more true than in My Left Foot. In his arresting physical commitment to the role -- method acting's zenith and gold standard to date --  and in a few scorching scenes with his mother, Day-Lewis won't let you shut your laptop with dry eyes. It's told via flashback and shows the heroic life story of Brown, his impoverished beginnings in a huge working-class Irish family, and his growth as a writer and artist with only the ability to manipulate his left foot. (Hence the title.) The mother is boldly portrayed by Brenda Fricker. She's got all that Irish sternness and heart that we wouldn't see again until her turn as "Maggie" in Angels in the Outfield.  

In the Name of the Father (1993, Netflix Streaming) From the man who brought you My Left Foot (see above) and Daniel Day-Lewis, the leading man who's preeminently adept at bringing true-life Irish characters into full-blooded humanity, comes the story of a Gerard Conlon. Conlon is a small-time Belfast thief who's arrested and convicted of an IRA bombing with which he had no involvement after brutal police interrogation. To make matters much more judiciously suspect and morally outrageous, the authorities conspire to involve Conlon's father in the crime as well. Father and son are sentenced to life imprisonment and do what they can to endure their grave misfortune. Pete Postlewhaite plays the emotionally and physically afflicted 'Da.' Emma Thompson is the attorney who battles tooth and claw with a police system and justice infrastructure so elaborately involved in deception and red tape that it takes years to achieve any semblance of recognition or exoneration. Day-Lewis is Gerard Conlon at his nihilistic best and worst. A stunning performance and a captivating story of a father-son relationship strengthened by tumult and terror.  

The Last Leprechaun (1998, Netflix streaming). Man, both Leprechaun 5: In the Hood and Leprechaun 6: Back to tha Hood [sic] were unavailable on instant, so this substitute for the kiddies will have to suffice. Really nothing to recommend it, other than the word Leprechaun in the title and some happy forest scenery reminiscent (in live action form) of the 1992 animated cult classic FernGully: the Last Rainforest. Production value greatly resembles the Goosebumps TV series. (Drinking game, anyone?) The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, Netflix streaming) Netflix has probably been shoving this one down your throat forever, under the loosey-goosey auspices of any number of categories: Indie Foreign War Dramas? Festival Films about Brothers? Somber Historical Films of the Irish Countryside?  At any rate, it won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2006 and did well internationally, at least by Irish box-office standards. It's about two brothers in 1920s Ireland who take up the IRA mantle and fight against the oppressive Black-and-Tans (Brits) in the battle for Irish independence. It's an opportunity to see Cillian Murphy with his legit badass Irish accent and a much better option than the goofy crime comedy Perrier's Bounty (another Murphy movie streaming on Netflix.) Also, don't neglect this chance to acquaint yourself more fully with Irish folk music.  

Hunger (2008, Netflix streaming) Artsy fartsy auteur Steve McQueen -- the guy who granted America access to each exquisite inch of Michael Fassbender's dong in Shame in 2011 -- teamed up with Fassbender for the first time in 2008 in this superslow minimalist film about an IRA prison hunger strike. McQueen's inaugural foray is certainly a bold depiction (in its candid style and explicit content) of life behind bars, and its one of those gut-wrenching performances by Fassbender that we've frankly come to expect. Fass plays Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer who spearheaded a rebellion at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in the 70s. The film chronicles a "no-wash" protest -- truly memorable images of feces smearing and beard shearing -- and ultimately the hunger strike which would wreak physical havoc on the prisoners, not least of all Fassbender, who shrivels and scabs so thoroughly that Christian Bale's transformation in The Machinist seems downright bush-league. The film is notable for its brutally slow takes: There's one shot of a prison guard methodically mopping up a hallway for what seems like the sum total of eternity. Perhaps most famous is the unbroken 17-minute shot which depicts a conversation between Fassbender and a visiting priest before shit goes promptly skeletal. The actor who plays the priest, Liam Cunningham, reportedly moved into Fassbender apartment for a few days to rehearse the scene before it was filmed. If you view the movie's finite component images with the intensity you view, for instance, a Van Gogh, the pace is easier to endure. But expect some fidgety stretches. It's mesmerizing, but it's no Boondock Saints, folks.

The Secret of Kells (2009, Netflix streaming) The dark horse Oscar nominee for best animated feature in 2009 has been described as "defiantly 2D." Its animation style is like a sort of frantic picture-book -- most of the drawings, in fact, are hand-made. And it's not just a trip to look at; the story, one of courage and old-fashioned Irish perseverance, is uplifting as well. When a little medieval Irish village is under threat of Viking incursion, an orphan boy risks the wrath of his uncle and the dangers of an enchanted forest to procure berries to make ink for a master scriptmaker, who's newly residing at the local abbey. The film draws imagery from the actual Book of Kells, an Irish illuminated manuscript pictorializing the four gospels of the New Testament, and it's flush with magic and myth and lots of ethereal glow-in-the-dark shit. Brendan Gleeson lends his voice to the role of the forbidding Abbott uncle who's trying to keep everyone safe. Due to the obscure historical context, this one might actually appeal more to adults than kids.   

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