Ireland on Location: ‘Saving Private Ryan’ & Curracloe

9 Nov

As a child I played often on the beaches of Curracloe in Wexford. Just down the road from where my mother grew up, this stretch of Irish coastline is blessed with white sandy beaches and warmer waters than the coastline on the Atlantic side. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to the now infamous Omaha landing beach in Normandy, the location where thousands of American soldiers lost their lives during the D-Day landings. This resemblance may have passed my 6-year-old self by as I built my sandcastles and frolicked merrily in the sea, but it certainly didn’t pass by the notice of a certain Mr Steven Spielberg.

Omaha, Normandy               Curracloe, Wexford

Now, at the grand age-old age of 24, as a self-confessed Spielberg war film and general D-Day fanatic, the fact that I spent a large proportion of my childhood on the very beach that was to become the location for one of the greatest war film sequences in history feels rather fitting.

Of course, the beaches of Curracloe known to the locals and tourists of Wexford are very different from the one seen in Spielberg’s 1998 Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan. The pristine stretches of white sand were transformed by Spielberg’s extensive operation to faithfully re-create the bloody Omaha landings. An incredible inferno of barbed wire, gallons of fake blood and realistic explosions took over the beach for a number of weeks. The result has gone down in film history as one of the best battle scenes of all time and the most realistic representations of the Normandy landings, with many D-Day veterans commenting that they’d never seen anything as true to reality as Spielberg’s 18 minute scene. The way in which the Omaha beach scene assaults the senses makes the viewer feel like they were really there, a technique that has been replicated many times since.

Curracloe transformed for ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Like many filming locations in Ireland, part of Curracloe’s attraction was the remoteness. Though the beach is only a 30 minute drive from the large towns of Enniscorthy and Wexford, the area immediately around the beaches is relatively sparsely populated, primarily by holiday cottages and villas. The woodlands parallel to the beach also echo the type of woodland found atop the cliffs around the landing sectors in Normandy, and so the area provided the perfect Normandy double, with little chance of swarms of Spielberg/Hanks fans to contend with.

The impact on the small local area was, not surprisingly, quite grand. Many of the extras seen in the landing sequences were members of the local Irish Army Reserve, who used their honed military skills to enhance the realism present in the scene. The Spielberg-wagon took over region for weeks, with scores of actors, film crew and journalists swarming the area and giving local businesses a definite boost. The filming itself had a profound effect on the local Irish actors involved, giving a start to some of the then up-and-coming actors that have gone on to become household names. Dublin-born actor Andrew Scott, now best known for his deliciously unsettling portrayal of Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, recounted his experiences as ‘Soldier on the Beach’ in a recent interview:

“Filming it, you couldn’t see the camera, you couldn’t see Spielberg, and you had no idea of the camerawork. You had no idea where they were. It was just you heard, ‘ACTION!’, and you had the sound of explosions, had dirt flying in your face, and you couldn’t really see anything. You kind of knew that, when it was edited together, that it was going to be extraordinary, though. It was an amazing experience”. (Courtesy of danofgeek.com)

One question that might present itself when considering this topic is why Spielberg didn’t use the real Omaha beach in Normandy. Afterall, Spielberg did take his crew to the area to film the poignant opening and closing scenes in the Colleville American Cemetery, which is located atop the hill overlooking the Omaha landing sector. Fairly obviously there  were some concerns that recreating the scenes in their original location might be in bad taste. It is clear once you’ve visited the area that this isn’t just a place that people visit for the anniversary of the landings every June 6th. All year-round veterans, descendants, historians and school children visit the area to reflect and pay tribute to the forces who lost their lives there. There is a perpetual sense of respectful silence about the area, especially the Omaha area. To break this calm with a full-scale Hollywood-guns-blazing re-enactment would have been akin to breaking the peace that the soldiers of D-Day fought for.

Spielberg filming on Curracloe in 1997

Another reason for the location of Ireland is Spielberg’s self-professed love of the country. He has made several visits to the country, both for work and family vacations, commenting that visiting Ireland is always like ‘life changing experience’ for him. He regularly comments on the spellbinding quality of local music, poetry and art, the relaxing effects of the stunning natural scenery and the fact that he can lead a relatively low profile existence while in the country. His time in Wexford filming Saving Private Ryan is evidently still dear to the director, as a tract of land that Spielberg owns in the Hamptons is even under the holding name of ‘County Wexford.’ His continued fascination with the country and Irish talent can be seen in his recent casting of Irish acting heavy-weight Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln. Spielberg reportedly chased the actor for 9 years before Lewis agreed to take the part. Interestingly, if Lewis had continued to decline, Spielberg’s second choice for the iconic role was another of Ireland’s finest; the one and only Liam Neeson.

Though the filming of Saving Private Ryan occurred nearly 15 years ago, the continued importance of  the Spielberg connection can be seen in the area. A plaque behind the beach commemorates the filming and local businesses are still full of people who will happily recount their own personal tales of the time Spielberg came to stay. The influence of Ireland can also still be found in Mr Spielberg himself, with reports claiming the director may be planning a return to Ireland to film a project based on the 1798 Irish rebellion.

Needless to say, if that happens, I’m there with my Spielberg-shaped bells on. And Stevie, I can promise you that I make a mean cup of tea.

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Ireland on Location: ‘Ondine’ & Castletownbere

30 Sep

Back in 2008, Colin Farrell came to the area of West Cork known as the Beara Peninsula to film his latest film Ondine, directed by the Oscar winning Irish film-maker and novelist Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins).

The film centres around Farrell’s character Syracuse, nicknamed ‘Circus’, a fisherman on the coast of Cork who one day captures an enchanting young woman in one of his nets. Syracuse’s young daughter becomes increasingly convinced that the young woman is a ‘selkie’, a mythical creature said to live as a seal in the water, but who can also shed her skin to live as a human on land.

I always find that Colin Farrell is a hit and miss kind of actor. He either gets it really right, or really really wrong. He makes a very good vampire (Fright Night), an excellent guilt-ridden hitman (In Bruges) and an outstanding slobbish, cocaine-addled nightmare of a boss (Horrible Bosses). Yet he makes a shocking comic-book villain (Daredevil), and lets not even talk about his Alexander the Great (Alexander). Thankfully in Ondine, he manages to hit the mark perfectly as a West Cork fisherman and devoted father. His accent is scarily good, succeeding in mastering the very particular and peculiar regional twang of the West Cork region without  even breaking a sweat. It’s something that I can’t even get close to imitating, even though I live in the area.

While the film is well acted and the narrative is well told, the film’s strongest point is the bewitching use of Beara’s stunning scenery. Beara is a shining example of what makes this region of Ireland such a joy to behold.

Beara’s ragged beauty, surveyed by Alicja Bachleda’s mysterious character Ondine

Filming took over the town of Castletownbere, the Roancarrig lighthouse, and the small harbour of Pulleen, to the west of Castletownbere from July to September 2008. Hollywood star Colin Farrell reportedly embraced the small town’s life during his time there, lending his services to the opening of the town’s regatta and frequenting the local watering holes in the evenings (no surprises there…). The town also had the honour of hosting the first public showing of the film in March 2009, when the film was shown by the ‘Cinemobile’ cinema van at the Beara Community School.

The Beara Peninsula is no stranger to film crews looking for something special, a landscape that captivates and draws you into a film. Other films made in the area include the Japanese film Tamatama in 2011, the popular Irish classic Falling for a Dancer, and the 1977 Fred Astaire film The Purple Taxi. With its rugged coastal cliffs and hills, vast fields of green and quaint, yet weathered, fishing cottages, the area does have a slight otherworldly feel to it. While this stretch of coastline can be cruel, with its sharp rocks and the dark stormy skies typical of Irish weather, there is an almost unexplainable sense of beauty about the place as well.  Like much of West Cork, there is a sense that time’s relentless onwards march has passed the Peninsula by. It’s easy to feel lost in time, or, as I often like to think, lost in some great landscape reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

In Ondine, Jordan is dealing with a story that has a touch of fairytale about it. However, it isn’t the type of fairytale that involves pampered princesses in distress, waiting patiently for her handsome young prince to rescue her upon his white stead. Like the coastline of Beara, there is something savage, yet beautiful, in the legend of the selkie and in the story of Ondine. This is why the setting for the film couldn’t be more perfect. It’s not a straightforward fairytale, just like West Cork isn’t a straightforward place. There’s always a touch of the cruel reality to the otherwise captivating scenery. One day West Cork can be the loneliest  bleakest place in the world, small pockets of civilisation battered by the unforgiving elements and the next it can be an alluring haven of beauty, nature’s most inspiring display of survival against all odds.

It’s no surprise then that Jordan returned to Beara to film his latest movie Byzantium in February 2012. Again, the story has both a touch of mythology and reality to it; it’s a vampire movie, but Jordan’s vampires don’t have fangs and can walk around during daylight. So thankfully, not a bit of this sparkling vampire nonsense brought to us by Twilight in sight!

The peaceful co-existence of reality and mythology around the Beara Peninsula, and its long history of being a friendly host to the film crews that visit it, will surely mean that the area will continue to draw film-makers to the region for a long time to come.

Or at least that’s what this aspiring film-maker hopes. Mostly because I’d quite like a job sometime soon…

 

Guess who’s back?!

28 Sep

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your computer… The Reel Thing is back and better than ever! With a slightly new name and a slightly new look, I’ve decided it’s time to get back on the proverbial horse and deliver my own unique brand of film rambling to the public once more.

The Reel Thing Rises, inspired by the similar rising of Dark Knight this summer, will feature all your old favourites; the latest reviews, random film news babble, public apologies to stars who I’ve threatened death upon or generally bad-mouthed in the past, and, of course, my own special brand of wit (and rage).

However, as the name reveals, this blog is rising to the next level and thus will also parade before you some brand spanking new features! Mostly because The Reel Thing Stays The Same just didn’t have the same ring to it…

You’ll be able to look forward to:

-A run down of my Top 20 film scenes of all time (I fully imagine that this feature will see me getting hella excited and hyper. Pardon my enthusiasm.)

-Prepare to be Irish-ified, as I explore the film industry in Ireland. As well as recommending and reviewing little known Irish classics, I’ll be adding a new feature called ‘Ireland on Location’, looking at the long history of filming in Ireland.

-And in early November you’ll be able to follow my coverage of the Corona Cork Film Festival.

So look forward to my first proper filmy post over the weekend. I’ve not really decided what to treat you with yet, but be assured that it will be awesome!

Ahhh, it’s good to be back…

A public apology to Channing Tatum

18 Jul

Dear Channing,

In the past I have very publicly bad-mouthed your acting and your films, mostly because ever since tasting success in Step Up you have a tendency to accept roles in below-par romantic weep-fests (Dear John, The Vow) or mindless, plot-deficient action films (The G.I. Joe Franchise).

I mostly felt let down because I actually really liked you in Coach Carter and (as much as it pains me to admit it) Step Up. You had some bang-tidy moves. But then you sold out. I’ll admit I haven’t seen 21 Jump Street yet and I hear very good things about that, but I am finally here to humbly offer my apologies.

I have just seen Magic Mike and I am a woman converted. I salute your choice to star in Steven Soderbergh’s latest film. Yes, this was a film about male strippers and included many scenes that were evidently designed to get a female audience going, but your portrayal of the tortured life of a male stripper was also believable, emotive and exciting (despite the plot of the film being a tad sparse). Of course, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves…you’re not going to win any acting Oscars just yet. You have a way to go there yet, young padawan.

But your spectacular rear should win an award. The Guardian‘s review commented that your buttocks could probably affect the tides and I can confirm that they do. They have turned the tide of my opinion. Such a fine behind makes up for your past indiscretions and has thus restored my faith in you. It even managed to surpass Matt Bomer’s knee-weakening beauty, a feat that I before believed impossible. Roll on the sequel (because let’s face it, Soderbergh squeezed 2 sequels out of Ocean’s 11 and so will definitely want to cash in on your bankable buttocks again).

So well done and thank you, Channing Tatum. Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable film and an even more enjoyable ass. Keep up the good work.

Yours,

The Reel Thing x

*The Reel Thing does not entirely endorse the objectification of men (though there are some other male actors who should take note of Tatum’s redemption technique…Zac Efron I’m looking at you.)

Review: Snow White and The Huntsman

4 Jun

This was one of the films that I recommended many moons ago in my Summer 2012 preview post, and back then I was confident that Snow White and The Huntsman was going to be an awesome, kick-ass movie. From the producer of Tim Burton’s recent re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, my hopes were high for oddness and violence. The trailer made it look like that. In reality, the trailer kind of lies. Sure, ass-kicking occurs at certain points in the film, but no where near as much as I expected. In reality Kristen ‘doom and gloom’ Stewart’s Snow White is just as much of a defenceless twit as I was expecting her to be, only donning her chain-mail towards the end. For the majority of the film she relies on the Huntsman, childhood friend William and a pack of dwarves to protect her. I wanted her to protect herself. Alas, it was not really so.

The story is basically a twist on the classic Snow White fairytale (if you hadn’t already guessed that), where the Huntsman originally sent to kill the young girl actually becomes her mentor, protector and eventually falls in love with her. The twist was interesting, mostly because the Huntsman was by far the most interesting and watch-able character in the film. Chris Hemsworth does a very good job of making his Huntsman a tortured yet funny man, and so his presence in the entirety of the story is welcome. And as much as I really wanted to hate her, especially since she wasn’t as ass-kicking as I wanted, Kristen Stewart did do a good job as Snow White. But then I have low expectations of the girl, who generally just annoys me. However, when Stewart is outside of the Twi-shite universe, she can actually act. And she is annoyingly quite beautiful to look at. All the dwarves did a superb job as well (think more LotR and less Disney Snow White), especially since all the actors were pretty tall lads in reality. Ray Winston as a dwarf…just genius really. He should get his own feature film.

So what was my problem with the whole thing then? Apart from the film not having enough violence and general action (yes, I know I’m a bit too happy slappy), it was a film that had too many drastic high points and low points. And the low points were pretty low. I mean, really low. I felt like I was excited and entertained one minute, and then ridiculous bored the next. It was a shame, because the high points of the film were very good and if the entire thing had been like these moments then this could have been one of my films of the summer. There was one particular scene that stands out in my memory as making me despair beyond belief; the ‘sanctuary’ scene. Usually I like cute animals in magical settings, but this wasn’t what I went to this film expecting. And thus it just felt really lame. And I wanted the cute animals to all die.

Mad props go to Charlize Theron’s evil queen though. Damn, that girl knows how to be a massively good-looking-but-bad-ass bitch. More of that and less of the lame bunnies please. Long live villainous characters.

‘Nothing comes close to the East Fife Coast’

18 May

This week The Other Guys, of ‘Royal Romance’ fame, released a new video for their charity single ‘St Andrews Girls.’ It beautifully parodies Katy Perry, One Direction, Belinda Carlise and Chariots of Fire, creating a tongue-in-cheek portrait of St Andrews Girls. Hunter and Barbour sales are sure to surge… The video has already made the youtube charts and has had support from big names such as Colin Montgomerie, Lemar and ex-strictly judge Arlene Philips.

The video is truly hilarious (and very well made), the song is for a really good cause (Breast Cancer Care) and the lyrics are brilliant in places (‘Nothing comes close to the East Fife Coast’ is a particular favourite of mine).

So follow this link to view the video and experience some true St Andrews talent:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLhPd7kdQIc

And if you enjoy that, support the charity and the guys by downloading the single at http://www.otherguys.co.uk. It’s only £1 to download, but you can make any further donation on top of that if you wish.

Review: Avengers Assemble

16 May

Having already seen Joss Whedon’s other big screen effort this spring (Cabin in the Woods), I was optimistic that Avengers Assemble would, at the very least, be entertaining. Joss Whedon rarely makes anything that makes me want to fall asleep, but I must also admit that Avengers Assemble didn’t have me as excited as your average comic book geek. Something in the back of my mind knew that this film would not be my kind of comic book thing. But, as I hadn’t heard anything but praise for the Avengers, I decided to part with my £8 to see the film in 3D (not that I had a choice in that really…NPH didn’t offer the 2D alternative).

The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) are called into action when the dastardly Loki steals the powerful Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube for those who’d prefer to stick to the original source material..) and threatens to rein alien terror down on the world using a portal that the Tesseract can open. Loki, played by the wonderful Tom Hiddleston, also plays mind tricks with our heroes along the way, the worst/best of which brings forth the Hulk. The film culminates in a final battle on the streets of New York, which is just fantastic and it is where you really get your monies worth.

If you are looking for 160 minutes of entertainment, then Avengers Assemble is definitely the film for you. It had many strong points; witty comedy, rip-roaring action, and er, Captain America (swoon). Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk are a definite highlight, as is Thor’s slightly ridiculous British accent. Hulk steals the show during the final battle, smashing ‘demi-god’ Loki into submission in fine fashion. A man/beast after my own heart.

I was glad I saw the film, but my worst fears were confirmed. Did I laugh? Yes, a great many times. Was I transfixed by the action? Oh, hell yes. But did I care about the characters? No. Don’t get me wrong, they are good, entertaining characters but there just wasn’t the depth there that I like in comic book heroes. Now, I realise this might have something to do with the fact that I haven’t seen any of the Iron Man films, any of the Hulk films or Thor, and I’ve only seen Captain America: The First Avenger because I read it featured both WWII and superheroes and I thought ‘gee whiz, that sounds like my kind of party.’ I don’t know too much about the characters either because they weren’t my comic book thing when I was a kid. Apart from the Amazing Spiderman, I am more of a DC comics girl. Marvel has it’s moments, most of them involving Spiderman or the X-Men, but my interest largely lies with DC’s Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the delightfully feline Catwoman. I like my superheroes to be slightly tortured, questioning what it really means to be a hero, juggling a double-life and continually trying to live up to all that ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ jazz.

The plot of Avengers Assemble also just felt overly drawn out. The film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and up until the last hour or so the film fell a bit flat for me. This, again, might have been because of my lack of complete understanding that would come from having seen the individual’s previous films. It is something that I hope to rectify soon, and perhaps Avengers Assemble will take on a whole new meaning and I will have to eat these words. But I’m quietly confident that they still won’t surpass the complexity and intelligence of Spiderman or Batman. I was also hoping that Black Widow and Hawkeye would get a bit more screen time, as I think those are the characters who could have a really interesting back story and thus bring a bit more human interest to the film. Jeremy Renner did a great job as Hawkeye and has possibly even succeeded in changing my mind about his upcoming turn in The Bourne Legacy (see my Guide to Summer 2012 for more details). He really is a fine actor and I am very pleased to see that Hollywood picked up on that after his fantastic performance in The Hurt Locker. 

This was the superhero film that I was least looking forward to this summer, and I dare say it will remain thus once The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises have their say and show us how comic book heroes should be done (in my world anyway). But, none the less, if you are apathetic to comic books or just like a solidly entertaining film then I’m sure the Avengers will deliver in droves for you. For the fellow DC geeks among us, I’d say see it and enjoy it for what it is (i.e. don’t keep thinking ‘the Justice League would be so much better’), but see it in 2D. The 3D aspect of the film completely passed me by, and only helped to strengthen my growing apathy to this technological ‘advance’.

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