Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.


This film by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012), is loosely based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson who had been keyboard player to the original Frank. And that was my problem.
You see being Irish, I remember the original Frank (the late Chris Sievey) who was a comedian and musician, the head was an on-stage persona and I have to say he kind of freaked me as a kid. Thankfully Abrahamson did not go with the original instead, he used the memoirs as an inspiration for what he went on to make. So with that in mind what did he do?
Abrahamson took the idea of Frank (Michael Fassbender, Hunger 2008) and his band and turned it in to a highly entertaining, witty and original piece. It is essentially a one-trick donkey but the trick carries throughout the film. The trick is about Jon Ronson , or more particularly his character Jon Burroughs (Donal Gleeson, About Time, 2012) who is a frustrated song writer who meets a rather eccentric group just as they lose their key-board player.
Whiling away his life trying to write songs from the life around him Jon is a study on mediocrity, even his twitter account is only more than a dozen people, but on lunch one day he comes across the band and is invited to gig with them that night (replacing the current keyboard player who has just tried to drown himself). Jon heads to the gig, which turns out to be a case-study in chaos. The gig ends , they drive off and Jon is left disillusioned and more-than-ever dreaming of musical success. Then out of the blue one day, they ring him and ask him to join them for something they are doing in Ireland, Jon gladly says yes and heads off for what he thinks in a weekend in Dublin.
Pretty soon is becomes clear to Jon that the band member s are all quite eccentric and not just Frank. Indeed there is a certain hostility to him from some quarters. He quickly befriends the band’s “manager” and former keyboard player, Don (Scott McNairy) from whom he learns that Frank and Don met in a mental hospital. The rest of the band is made up of the Theremin playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart, 2009) who resents Jon’s presence as much out of jealousy as any other reason and who give an intense performance such as to the extent that Jon at one stage asks her what she was in hospital for; to which she clarified that she was not mentally ill, his dead-pan response was that he had presumed she was mentally ill, it was a matter-of-fact reply with no malicious intent, nicely delivered.
Frank never takes off the head, and also has a medical cert to prove that he has a psychological condition, this of course intrigues Jon. As he begins to experience Frank and the band Jon jumps in with all the vigour of one new to the experience, only to learn very quickly not to expect his contributions to be noted or used. His fascination with Frank and the Band actually grows and Jon is swept along with the experience, even if he is capable of realising just how unique an experience it is. He wants to find out what is it that makes somebody a great song writer, he is convinced it is the experience of live, for the other it was situations like mental hospitals or prisons, this would be his mental hospital.
Jon ends up financing their year- long stay in a cabin in Ireland . It took a year due to Frank’s exactness and refusal to record anything until he is happy with the sound. This is an excellent piece of cinema, original, challenging and ever so much slight “off-track”, however it always stays on the right side of the joke, never tipping into obscurity. Much happens in the year long journey which eventually sees them making their way to a gig in Texas, but before they do they, must deal with the loss of Don whose daemons finally over-came him. The gig in Texas came about from Jon putting clips on the band on Youtube and tweeting about them, it becomes clear that he is getting a following. Frank is amazed and agrees to Texan while Clara is against it – she is only in it for the music and might even prefer if they had no fans.
While in Texas things become intense resulting in Frank going missing and Jon setting off to find him and bring him back, some months later he tracks him down to his parent home. The music to the film is original and performed by the cast. In some places it is highly experimental, while in others it resembles a Sigur Rós album (which is a good thing). At one point watching Maggie Gyllenhaal perform on stage I was reminded of the Midnight cabaret from Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 1999) indeed much of the story line is similar, people leaving all they have to chase a dream, a dream that does not always come true, but they keep chasing. That said, another Irish based movie also springs to mind; Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place, 2011. A musician looking for his place in the world, a not very conventional place, but one none-the-less
And why not, a person may not find their dreams but maybe they will find something else along the way, perhaps something ,more valuable.
****stars, Original and smart, it will keep you entertained.

Man About Dog

Set in Ireland it is the story of three perpetual losers, who despite their many schemes are still as broke as ever and find themselves driving the length of the island trying to pull of that One scam which will set them up. Events kick off in Belfast where the guys, looking for a few pounds, agree to interfere with a greyhound race, in return for a greyhound to them from a local bookie, the kind of bookie (Sean McGinley, Republic of Doyle, 2010) who you do not want to owe money to and things go downhill from there. Directed by Paddy Breathnach (I went Down, 1997) and staring Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, 2014), who is nominally the brains of the outfit, Ciaran Nolan (dead Men Walking, 2008) the superstitious and unlucky unfortunate who at least tries to do something; and of course “Cerebral Paulsy” the grass smoking, brain fried one of the three constantly catching up.

Having been sold a pig-in-poke as it were, the dog they were given is useless and not capable of doing any good. This of course provides a whole set of challenges for the boys. Their luck might be changing though. They have been noticed by others. The wealthy widow of a former dog owner has a dog that can do what is needed, she gives them the dog, as a means to destroy their not so friendly bookie.

They enter the dog I a race only to find it did not even leave the box at the start. As if their day could not get any worse, the bookie finds them, kidnaps them and lets it be known that he finds them personally responsible for the race they nobbled and demands £50,000 from them. Not having this, they need to produce it fast.   They head south to the Republic to try the dog but to no avail. About to give up, they sell the dog to travellers (Pat Short, Garage 2007) where they quickly realise the dog is actually guite good, it is just that he does not chase plastic hares, only real ones.

They guys decide to rob back the dog. Needless to say this does not exactly go as planned and a night of mayhem ensues. The rest of the film is about the three boys making their way south to the coursing fares and in the process trying to raise cash to enter the dog in the necessary races while at the same time avoiding Belfast bookies and various travellers.

Eventually as they get set-up at the Clonmel Coursing festival, their bookie and the travellers are also there and all want their share of the guys. The dog proceeds to win its races and of course draw the attention of said folks. Ultimately the boys are trapped in to a corner which Scud manages negotiate themselves out of.   The negotiations work for them, and the film closes with us seeing how the guys are finally seeing some success.

What Breathnach manages to do is not only to pull together the story by Pearse Elliot (Shrooms) who he wrote with a number of times, but managed to do it so well. There are a number of set-piece situational gags, some excellent one liners and even a couple of continuing character jokes. The movie works well, some of the gags are sign-posted but that possibly adds to the enjoyment as we have a certain sense of expectation. It might be tempting to compare this movie to others such as RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008). On the surface they are both drama comedies but are very different styles, Dog is more of a series of well stitched together sketches while with RocknRolla the humour flows differently, bit excellent comedies, but both very different comedies both is style and nature. Man About Dog needs to be viewed as an Irish comedy and with the associated style.