The Land Before Time (1988)

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Littlefoot and his mom are caught up in the Big Earthshake and he is now orphaned, left to find The Great Valley on his own, but with her tree star (a leaf) and instructions on how to get there. He teams up with other little dinos and they endure obstacles and giant dinosaurs from other tribes as they attempt to survive. This thinly-rendered visual exploration of what could have happened is however charming, well voiced and established and comes courtesy of Don Bluth who established an animation outfit in Ireland for a spell. We don’t learn what species these kids are but we can relate to the difficulty of being in gangs, remaining friends with other kids you fear or dislike or don’t trust and how to cope when you’re all alone in the world. Dazzling score by James Horner. Sweet as anything but not for the gun-totin’ Creationist in the family.

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Crash and Burn (2016)

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Irishman Tommy Byrne is a legend in the motor racing world – the extravagantly talented driver who screwed around, screwed up and threw it all away, is how the story goes. He raced in F3, pissed off a lot of people like Van Diemen teammate Ayrton Senna, himself the subject of an even more ultimately tragic film, and aroused the ire of rivals like Keke Rosberg who used to hit him on the head in passing and whom Byrne openly calls ‘a dick.’ He got to drive for F1’s McLaren team at a time when they had the best car going but his attitude annoyed Ron Dennis. His lifestyle had a major question mark over it, with no money to pay his way into the sport, he took forms of sponsorship which led to his socialising in extremely dodgy company. His car was switched and he lost his drive, in every sense of the term. Instead of hanging around in Europe as Eddie Jordan suggests he should have done, he decamped to the US where he was top driver in his class and seconds away from seizing the 1989 triple crown and getting a free ride into IndyCars, another driver crashed into him and his dream was over: he lost the $80,000 winnings and his marriage hit the skids. He went to Mexico where he consorted with more gangsters, did drugs and whores and messed up all over as he drove his career into the ground. His sponsor was found dead in a swimming pool. Byrne spent a long time drinking, smoking weed and collecting ferns for a living while living in a trailer. It took years for him to get back in the driving world where he works training young up and coming champions. He could have been a contender. He should have been winning in F1. But he’s alive to tell the tale.  His current wife says she believes the sadness is still with him. Produced by David Burke and directed by Sean O’Cualain, this is just an amazing story, compellingly told, with a cast of interviewees known to every petrolhead and there’s the charismatic Byrne himself in the middle of the action, supplying VHS archives of the glory days.

Dare to be Wild (2016)

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Wasn’t it Voltaire who advised people to tend their own (metaphorical) garden? Garden designer Mary Reynolds does it here, in spades. This story of a young country girl who believes in fairies and grows up to be a willful eccentric who wants to compete at the Chelsea Garden Show is a most unusual Irish film:  it looks great. DoP Cathal Watters and debutante director Vivienne DeCourcy obviously decided, Enough of the grey skies and the muddy vistas, and tore up the rulebook about how to present a country where it rains 10 months of the year. They might even have taken a leaf from the Irish National Gallery and noted the palette of William Leech’s garden paintings with their blistering sunlight, glistening whites and brilliant tones. This is a film of playful, rainbow colours, dominated by Consolata Boyle’s extraordinary costume design telling Mary’s story through her clothes – compensating perhaps for a rather wayward if charming performance at the story’s centre by Emma Greenwell as she makes her way gawkily through Dublin society. She has to fight for funding and gain the trust of fellow outsider Christy Collard (Tom Hughes), an eco-designer whose preoccupation with bringing water to Ethiopia sets them at odds when she appeals for his aid because his family’s business can help supply wildflowers and 200-year old whitethorn trees to build her Celtic dream garden. The tone of the film is somewhat damaged by the unnecessary caricatures of Mary’s bete noire, Shah, the socially mobile employer who steals her design book;  Madden, the Bono-like rock star; and Nigel Hogg, the head of Chelsea. These strike an odd note in a film of otherwise impeccably offbeat taste. The diversion to the desert of Ethiopia is a sensual breath of fresh air, the eventual romance hardly surprising given that Hughes is probably the most delectable flower on display, here or anywhere right now, a right royal heart throb as viewers of ITV’s Victoria will already know. In a fitting touch, Mary’s winning speech is the cosmic order tacked on her refrigerator door. Despite using the true story, the connection is disavowed at the conclusion, rather like Chelsea did to Reynolds when they wouldn’t allow her into the celebration at the Show’s finale. Quirky, lovely and just a little bit wild.

A Date for Mad Mary (2016)

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Darren Thornton’s adaptation (with his brother Colin) of his stage play is surprising: a female-centred comic drama set in the Irish Republic with the tangled knot of long-term friendship at its heart. Mary McArdle (Seana Kerslake) returns to her working class terraced home in Drogheda after a short stint in prison and the first person she wants to see is her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) who’s getting married in three weeks and she’s her maid of honour. Charlene never visited her and now expects her to turn up for fittings and sort out all the wedding things and Mary is miffed that Formerly Fat Leona is her other bridesmaid and she got a plus one – but Mary doesn’t because she never has a date. Then she meets wedding videographer Jess (Tara Lee) and they become friends while Mary dates any number of no-hopers and signs up with an agency looking for someone to accompany her to the wedding, which creates all kinds of complications when bridezilla Charleigh bumps into her meeting a gay guy for the first time just as they’re agreeing to go to other people’s weddings. Mary’s feelings for Jess confuse her and we learn from an online video just how she wound up in prison and in the fast food joint where she works her victim shows up and both are shocked by the experience – Mary flashes to the scarred face and is horrified by the consequences of her mad behaviour. Her up and down friendship with Charlene hits a major bump when she presents her with her own speech for the big day – and she finally hears just how badly people have suffered from her actions. She has a one night stand with Jess and everything contrives to trigger another night of madness … This is really a surprising, mature, funny, satisfying film with an amazing performance by Kerslake. Her relationships are realistic, empathetic and never dull. The foul language has an in-built critic in the text – everyone tells Mary to stop cursing – the story is told in inventive ways and everything harks back to the school yard but slowly everyone is growing up, however hard it may be and however much pride needs to be swallowed. This is worth catching.

Sing Street (2016)

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A musical from the man who directed Once. The colour of the title on the poster says a lot – it taps into memories of the Easter Rising (centenary alert), the bad old Eighties in Ireland with dire economics, no jobs, hypocrisy, bad clothes, grey skies (nothing will ever improve the look of the country on film unless they go back to using Technicolor) and everything is imitation British including the songs which tell more of the story than the plot mechanics (change of school, family breakup, stoner brother). Not terrible at all and there are a couple of good laugh out loud moments but one finds oneself remembering Gregory’s Girl and Last of the High Kings with something a lot more than nostalgia. There were some great opportunities here to capitalise on the fantastical elements of the script with more inventive visuals. I better shut up now or some Provo will take me out and shoot me.

The Legend of Longwood (2015)

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A film about fairies in Oireland. Or something. Well that’s not quite fair but that’s how it appeared at first glance. In fact the story of an American girl whose mom inherits a broken-down cottage in the deep bogs of Ireland and there’s a knight galloping through the mists of time does conjure up some of the worst ideas you can fear. But it’s better than that mainly courtesy of some sharp writing by writer/director Lisa Mulcahy, canny casting (particularly the cherishable Miriam Margolyes as the local mad lady descendant of the Black Knight) and some fairly recognisable forms of modern existence.

Brooklyn (2015)

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Nostalgia was a recognised illness, starting out as extreme homesickness amongst soldiers at war in Europe four centuries ago.  The last acknowledged afflictee was in World War 1. Homesickness dominates the first part of this film when smalltown Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) leaves class-ridden Enniscorthy in 1952 courtesy of an offer made to establish a new life in New York city by a benign priest friend of her golfing accountant sister Rose. Ronan’s wonderful performance is the still centre of an incredibly simple story and it is hard to see how the film would survive its broad strokes without her. The pace is slower than we are accustomed to these days, assisting with the attenuation of her role. We read a lot of ourselves into her own silent reactions, rather like we would to Garbo. She gradually becomes accustomed to her new life and when a tragedy takes her home she secretly marries her Italian beau before departing. She then attracts the kind of rugger bugger that wouldn’t have given her a second glance before. Then the reality of her home town’s spitefulness hits her and she leaves again – this time for good. And that is that.