by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
CAST: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 96% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, bringing unexpected consequences for them both.

Is The Banshees of Inisherin slow?  Yes.

Is The Banshees of Inisherin sad?  Yes.

Does the movie have a sad ending or a happy one?  Yes.

These are not normally the trademarks of a movie I rush out to see.  In fact, I didn’t see The Banshees of Inisherin at a movie theater for those very reasons.  I had heard that, yes, it is well-written and extraordinarily well-acted, but that it was a bit of a slog.  I had hoped Banshees would be another film like In Bruges, one of the finest dark comedies ever made, but that did not seem to be the case.  So, I stayed away.

Well, I have just finished watching it at home, and I can confirm the film’s slowness and unavoidable moments of sadness, but they are contrasted with unexpected comic beats.  (I was going to say “unintended,” but they were surely intentional, further confirming the ingenuity of the screenplay by director Martin McDonagh.)  I can also confirm that this is one of the most unpredictable stories I’ve ever seen, and I mean literally, like ever.  At first, I was comparing it to Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, but that turned out to be woefully inadequate.  The Banshees of Inisherin does have the structure of a fine short story, but there its similarities to Melville ends.  I’m not sure if Banshees has a chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture, but it’s certainly one of the strongest contenders for Best Original Screenplay.

Pádraic (Farrell) lives on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the Irish coast, in the early spring of 1923.  He is stunned one day to learn that his best friend, Colm (Gleeson), has abruptly decided to end their lifelong friendship, cold turkey.  Colm doesn’t want to talk to Pádraic for any reason whatsoever, nor does he give a reason, at least not initially.  When Pádraic persists in speaking to Colm, Colm gives him a warning: Every time he talks to or bothers Colm in any way from here on, Colm will cut off one of his own fingers and give it to Pádraic, until he stops or until Colm has no fingers left.

It was at this point that I sat up and started really paying attention.  I’ve lived long enough to know the specific kind of grief and consternation that occurs when a long-term friend abruptly cuts off all contact for reasons that are not at all clear.  So I felt Pádraic’s pain, I saw it in his face, when he realized how serious Colm was with his threat.  At that moment, I drew mental lines: Pádraic was the protagonist, and Colm was the antagonist.

Of course, Pádraic is the good guy.  He’s nice!  His adult sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), confirms it!  I mean, sure, he’s a little dull, and maybe not all that smart, and maybe he has a pet miniature donkey that he lets in the house when his sister isn’t looking, and he’s never heard of Mozart, but is that a crime?  Is that reason enough to end a friendship?  Pádraic doesn’t think so.  I didn’t think so!  Pádraic is so full of righteous anger that he confronts Colm.  Colm is dumbstruck.  Their conversation ends in a bit of an impasse.  And then, the next morning, as Siobhan prepares breakfast, they hear a thunk on the front door…aaand you’ll have to watch the movie for further plot developments.

(While I watched The Banshees of Inisherin, my girlfriend wondered if I was watching some kind of slapstick comedy with the volume of laughter coming from our movie room.  My explanation of why I was laughing, and what I was laughing at, didn’t quite translate.)

What is Banshees trying to say?  In my opinion, perhaps it’s this: you can’t go through life worrying about what other people think of you.  When Colm lays down the law, Pádraic should have just sucked it up and moved on with his life, right?  I was originally comparing their situation to something that might happen on social media, when someone expresses a very negative view of your post or opinion or whatever.  What do you do?  Latch onto it and let it gnaw away at you?  Post rebuttal after rebuttal until you change their mind?  (Spoiler alert: you won’t.)

As I said, that kind of thinking made Pádraic the good guy and Colm the bad guy.  But then Pádraic starts making some very bad, very DUMB decisions.  He starts listening to the advice of the closest thing they have to a village idiot, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), who suggests that Pádraic just needs a new approach: tough love.  At that point, if he’s dumb enough to take advice from a moron, whatever happens next is on him, right?  So now the balance changes.  Now Pádraic is the bad guy/dumbass and Colm is the good guy.  Just leave him alone, dude.

(For the record, Colm does explain his decision, which may shed some light on his own state of mind.  Depression?  Despair?  The screenplay offers clues, but nothing truly definitive.)

All through the film is Pádraic’s sister, Siobhan, who functions as the audience surrogate.  “You’re all f*****g boring!  With your piddling grievances over nothin’!”  She is as dumbfounded as we are at Colm’s stubbornness.  Not to mention at her brother’s foolish attempts to reconnect with someone who clearly doesn’t want to be bothered.  There are a couple of moments when it seems as if all is forgiven, but alas, it is not to be.  Siobhan’s solution to rid herself of their bickering is as simple as it is final.

When the credits rolled, I found myself wondering what kind of review this was going to be.  I liked the movie.  But it is slow and sad.  But its massive unpredictability sucked me in as inevitably as if I were watching Kill Bill or Interstellar.  That’s the key factor to The Banshees of Inisherin.  You may think you know what’s about to happen, but just try to guess exactly how the movie ends, and see how wrong you are.


By Marc S. Sanders

You ever hear of the modern term “ghosting?”  Normally, it applies to social media, like with Facebook, Instagram and every other brain cell sucker app we occupy ourselves with on our electronic devices.  It’s where suddenly, for no reason at all, a friend or acquaintance will stop speaking to you.  They will ignore your attempts to talk.  If they do talk to you, they simply will say stop talking to me and do not call me again. They will never share a reason for this new perspective they have for you.  They just want to continue with their lives without you being a part of it.  I have been ghosted on two separate occasions.  It hurts.  It really hurts, and I constantly must remind myself not to dwell on these people.  They don’t care.  They lack any further regard.  It’s just unbelievably puzzling when it happens.

With The Banshees Of Inisherin, director Martin McDonagh reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who shared the screen together in the well received In Bruges, to portray these two former friends.  Farrell plays Padraic.  Gleeson is Colm.  The film takes place in 1923 on the fictional Irish coastal island of Inisherin.  Padraic strolls over to Colm’s house to walk with him to the pub for their daily 2pm pint together while they chat.  Upon arrival, Colm is seen sitting in his home, ignoring Padraic’s knocks on the door and window.  It’s odd and unexpected. 

When Padraic shows up at the pub alone and later Colm arrives, the other regulars ask Padraic if the two lifelong friends are “rowing.”  Not to Padraic’s knowledge.  Maybe this is an April’s Fools joke?!?!

Colm holds true to his new position.  He explains to Padraic, with no uncertain terms, that he no longer wants to speak with him.  Padraic makes attempts to open up to Colm hoping they can hash this out, but there is nothing penetrating Colm’s stance.

What lends to the sustenance of the near two-hour film is the setting that Padraic resides within.  An island in the middle of nowhere where he has no interests or hobbies or specialties for anything.  He really has only happily lived with his friendship with Colm, which is now suddenly yanked away from him.  He lives well with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), and his adoring miniature donkey, Jenny.  Siobhan truly loves her brother, but not Jenny or the other animals who reside on their property.  As the Irish Civil War is coming to a close, an educated Siobhan is ready to move on from the nothingness of Inisherin.  Padraic is not.  He’s lived so comfortably on the Irish coastal island his whole life.

Colin Farrell is an actor you want to embrace in this film.  As I’ve experienced something similar to what Padraic endures, I can relate to what stuns him at his sudden loss of friendship.  Padraic is a good man.  Colm knows this which is seemingly why extremes needs to be undertaken to stress exactly how Colm feels about Padraic going forward.  Colm cannot simply plead for Padraic to move on.  He first makes the request.  Later, he has to do something else to deliver his point.  When I say extremes are taken, you can not even imagine what occurs.  It’s shocking, but believable. 

Brendan Gleeson normally offers an intimidating presence on screen.  He falls into roles of men you’d likely only cautiously approach.  The same goes for his character of Colm here.  McDonagh wrote the character with no compromise. Only when a significant turn occurs, does Colm violate his feelings with how he regards his former friend.

Kerry Condon should get an Oscar nomination along with Gleeson and Farrell. Siobhan is both a loving sister but while she’s the younger sibling, she is also the more sensible.  As Siobhan, Condon’s timing for losing patience in the part is well paced.  Condon is awarded with some of the best dialogue in the script.  McDonagh could have written this film from the perspective of her role, rather than Padraic’s, and I bet it would still work thanks to what she lends to the piece.

Barry Keoghan plays a young regular around Inisherin named Dominic.  Kind of like a local idiot who is undeservedly abused by his policeman father.  Keoghan’s role is a side story, but he plays it so well.  Despite Siobhan’s protests, Padraic takes Dominic in.  He’s not meant to replace the void that Colm left in Padraic’s life but it further reminds you of the kindness of Farrell’s character.  It begs the question why someone would ultimately stop speaking with a good person like Padraic, at a given instant.

My wife was not interested in watching this film and asked me to give her a rundown of what happens from beginning to end.  When you describe The Banshees Of Inisherin out loud, you sound ridiculous even though you’ve appreciated some of the surprising moments you just watched.  I told my wife; you have to see it to understand.  I understand Padraic’s yearning for the friendship he once had.  I understand the measures he takes in response to the one thing he valued beyond his sister and his pet donkey.  When you live in a low populated island town with little stimulation beyond the people who have been a part of your entire life, to suddenly lose that is devastating.

Martin McDonagh has crafted an unusual script.  Often, break ups in films go the traditional route of the loving relationship going through a split.  If it’s a friendship, I’d argue I’ve seen it occur more often between two women.  McDonagh’s film acknowledges the impasse among two grown men.  His script could have been occupied only with dialogue constructed of standard duet scenes between two very strong actors.  Fortunately, he doesn’t just rely on that.  McDonagh stretches his imagination further to drive home the point of how these two men respond to this unfortunate outcome.  The actions they take are startling, but as I reflect on the script for the film, I cannot deny how alert McDonagh is with crafting the motives of his characters. At the very least, I’m empathetic for poor Padraic who struggles with the loss of a friend. 

To lose a friend is to lose a part of your soul. What can I say? I’m an overly sensitive guy.  It’s always been my Achille’s heel.  How do I survive, though? I think back to what my father once told me.  He said “Marc, if you have one friend in life, then you’re the luckiest guy in the world.”  Thankfully, I’m rich in many friendships.

Forgive my digression though.  It’s important to know The Banshees Of Inisherin is a very good and a very sound film.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Joel Coen
Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins, Stephen Root
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 93% Certified Fresh

PLOT: William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of murder and guilt gets a stylistic re-telling with moody direction from Joel Coen and powerhouse performances from its two leads.

I am of two minds when thinking about Joel Coen’s take on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

First, I must admit I am no Shakespeare scholar. I can count on one hand (maybe two) the number of filmed Shakespeare adaptations I have seen, and I can count on one finger how many theatrical productions I’ve seen. I’ve only read two of the Bard’s plays beginning to end: Othello and Julius Caesar. I have acted in a production of the popular Shakespeare parody The Compleat Workes of William Shakespeare (Abridged), but I doubt anyone would find that an acceptable credential.

So I must be honest and say that, when it comes to the nitty gritty specifics of the dialogue in The Tragedy of Macbeth, I was lost for, oh, 50-60% of the time. Like, “out to sea” lost. I am moderately familiar with the story, so in those times I was lost, I was able to glean what was going on or what was being said in context. I know who Banquo and Macduff and poor Duncan are, and so was able to follow their various comings and goings as revealed in the frequent chunks of expositional dialogue.

[Full disclosure: If the name of the Ross character is ever actually mentioned in the film, I must have missed it…for the duration, I wondered what his name was, and he is a vital character in certain scenes.]

But I have to say, whatever I missed in the dialogue was more than compensated for by the sensational visual language of the film, and by the stunning performances from the two leads.

First, it was shot in glorious black-and-white, and it was all shot on soundstages, giving the director (Joel Coen, working for the first time without his brother Ethan) and cinematographer (Bruno Delbonnel [Amélie, Across the Universe]) absolute control over the lighting and shadows. The resulting visuals look like something out of the early silent films of Fritz Lang and, especially, F.W. Murnau, with compositions that must have taken hours and hours to set up, with high-contrast shadows creating elaborate framing devices on walls and floors. When Macbeth famously sees a dagger before him, it’s accomplished by shining a reflective light on a highly polished door handle. In the few shots that take place outside the castle, more often than not shadows are moving slightly in the frame, as if the sun or the clouds were in constant motion. Those shadows always seem to be sliding down over the characters, perhaps mirroring Macbeth and his lady’s constant downward spiral towards their fate.

Another factor in the visual look of the film was the decision to frame it in the standard 1:33 ratio, sometimes known as the “Academy” ratio. Basically, instead of watching the film on a rectangle-shaped viewing area, you’re watching it on a square set in the middle of the screen. One might think that doing so would limit the possibilities of visual expression, but not so. For me, it had the effect of making everything a little more claustrophobic, which I think is important in cementing the state of mind of our two main characters. As the guilt over their evil deeds threatens to overwhelm them both, the smaller screen is a constant, subtle reminder that their options are limited, and becoming fewer as time goes on.

All in all, a visual feast, in a nutshell.

But what makes The Tragedy of Macbeth even more delightful to watch are the performances. To be sure, everyone involved acquits themselves incredibly well. (Keep your eyes open for a young man named Harry Melling, aka “Dudley Vernon” from the Harry Potter film franchise.) But the two that shine brightest are Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth is as quietly vicious and malicious as they come, and it helps that her attitudes are quite at odds with McDormand’s kind, open features. It is a little startling to see the face of good-hearted Marge Gunderson fiercely exhorting Macbeth to commit regicide in sharp, clipped tones, her whispers piercing the air between them like poison darts. Her despair at her husband’s inability to calmly deal with the guilt is clearly evident; when he reveals he went above and beyond what was originally planned, her shocked “are-you-kidding-me” looks are worth pages and pages of dialogue. And, of course, in the late stages of the story, when madness finally overtakes her, when no amount of washing will wipe the blood from her hands, her animalistic howls of anguish are almost worth the price of admission.

But the highlight of the whole venture (for me, anyway) was watching Denzel Washington demolish the screen as Macbeth himself. Words fail me. I haven’t seen a performance this amazing and praiseworthy since Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. I may not be a Shakespeare scholar, but I know enough to understand that making it flow as easily as normal speech takes a great deal of research and rehearsal and collaboration. What I would not GIVE to see him reprise this role on stage somewhere! He navigates the twists and turns of Shakespeare’s tortured syntax as easily as if he was telling a story about his day at work. As with any great performance, there are peaks and valleys, and his teeth-clenching, fist-pumping outbursts are used as periodic punctuation marks, not entire sentences. There is a brief scene where he angrily berates a messenger, and his seventeenth-century taunts and name-callings are as surgical and cutting as anything from Mamet. It’s a miraculous performance, and I would not be surprised in the least if he gets another Oscar nomination. (The same goes for Frances McDormand…what a duo!)

(I would be remiss if I did not also mention the performance by a little-known actress, Kathryn Hunter, as the famous Witches. Her voice and face open the film, and if there’s any justice, it will go down as one of the great opening sequences of the movies. There are portions of her performance that must have taken great courage and trust in director Coen, to make sure she did not come off as simply a kook. She does not. She is one of the most ineffably creepy individuals in a movie in quite some time. I dare not say more without ruining the effect. But she was breathtakingly successful.)

When I walked out of The Tragedy of Macbeth, I can clearly remember thinking, “Well, great movie, but one that I wouldn’t purchase for my home video library, because how can it possibly equal the experience of seeing these precise visuals married to these insane performances, on a big screen?” But the more I think about it, the more I think I will pick up a copy when it becomes available, for a couple of reasons. First, a little extra culture never hurt anyone, and second, it will be worth the purchase price just to see Washington and McDormand tear up the screen as the Macbeths again, not to mention those stunning visuals, AND those creepy witches. This movie is really growing on me.


By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 88% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A young wizard (Radcliffe) finds himself competing in a hazardous tournament between rival schools of magic, but he is distracted by recurring nightmares.

[DISCLAIMER: This review will more than likely contain spoilers, as well as Potterhead references galore.  I apologize in advance.]

When I first saw this movie, I grieved over how much of the enormously entertaining book had been sacrificed on the altar of box office viability.  Why not make two films out of it?  (Which they did later on with the final book, of course.)  What happened to Winky?  What on earth is going on with the tournament scoring?  (Seriously, try to keep track of it…it makes no sense in the film.)  Where’s the subplot about how Rita Skeeter obtains her inside information?

Watching it again years later, for perhaps the 6th or 7th time, I think I’m a little mellower.  Comparing a movie to its source material is a fool’s errand.  There’s a great story about how, years ago, someone complained to Raymond Chandler how Hollywood had ruined his book, The Big Sleep.  Chandler calmly pointed to a bookshelf, and said, “Well, there’s my book right there.  Hollywood didn’t ruin it.  It still exists.”  (I’m paraphrasing, to be sure.)

So.  Movies and books, apples and oranges.  To quote Carl Weathers in Predator: “It comes with the job.  I can accept it.”

Having said all that, I think the best way to give my impression of the film of H.P.a.t.G.o.F. is to list what it gets right and what it gets wrong.

RIGHT: The second task, involving hidden treasures in the Black Lake.  I loved the look of the mermen and mermaids and the hinkypunks.  This scene managed to captured almost exactly what I saw in my head when I read the book.

WRONG: The first task, involving retrieving a golden egg.  We see FAR too little of how the other contestants fared in their attempts, jumping right past the first three just to see what Harry does.

RIGHT: “Mad-Eye” Moody.  I’ll never be able to read the books again without seeing Brendan Gleeson’s magnificent performance in my head.  That amazing enchanted eye, the facial tics, the glee with which he transforms a student into a ferret…it’s perfect.

WRONG: The Yule Ball.  As it appears in the film, it literally brings the movie to a halt.  It’s all about the interpersonal relationships between Ron, Hermione, and Harry, but nothing happens to move the plot forward.  I can’t help thinking there was a better way to stage this pivotal event.

RIGHT: The events in the graveyard.  I can recall vividly the moment when I read the words, “He was dead” in the book.  I sat up on the sofa, my eyes grew wide, and I exclaimed out loud, “Holy s**t!”  The movie gets this entire sequence right.  As I recall, the graveyard covered two or three entire chapters in the book, and the film condenses it nicely into a 10-minute sequence.  (Approximately.)  It’s the moment, in both the books and the films, when the franchise became much more than “kid stuff.”

WRONG: Snape’s role in the film.  The movie curiously omits the incredibly relevant moment in the book when, after Dumbledore observes the Dark Mark on Snape’s arm, he tells him, “You know what to do.”  And Snape nods curtly and leaves the room.  That comes into play to a GREAT degree in the latter stages of the franchise.  Ah well.

And I’ll leave it there.  I could go on.  All in all, it’s a good film, a great spectacle, and a turning point for the series.  They could have called it, Harry Potter and the Advancement of Maturity.