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2018 Irish American Movie Hooley

September 27, 2018



This weekend, the annual Irish American Movie Hooley  returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago for its fourth year, starting Friday, September 28th and running through Sunday, September 30th, showing one movie each evening. Selected by Siskel program director Barbara Scharres and Irish American radio personality Mike Houlihan, and according to Houlihan, their movies “present three distinctive stories that capture and evoke our Irish culture.” Below you’ll find a rundown of the lineup, as well as my thoughts on the films featured this year.

On opening night, Friday, September 28, 2018 at 8pm, SLANE Irish Whiskey presents the psychological thriller, “Covadonga“, featuring Irish-American writer/director Sean Hartofilis, who also plays the lead character. The screening will be followed immediately by audience discussion with writer/producer Hartofilis and follow up with an opening night reception at The Emerald Loop Pub on Wabash, where Hartofilis will perform songs from the film along with lively Irish tunes.

Saturday night is alright for fighting when Ireland’s smash hit, “Cardboard Gangsters“, screens on September 29th at 8pm, for its Chicago premiere. Director Mark O’Connor will be present to introduce this gritty modern-day crime tale – which earned lead actor John Connor Ireland’s Film and Television Best Actor Award – and will be on hand to discuss it after the screening.

Sunday at 5pm, brings the American premiere of the BBC production “Mother’s Day“, a film directed by Fergus O’Brien, that revolves around the historic events surrounding the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England. It’s a heartbreaking look at familial loss amid a decades-old battle between Northern Ireland and England. Director O’Brien will be in attendance for the screening and will discussion the movie afterwards.




I couldn’t quite tell whether or not “Covadonga” took place in its titular location – northwest Spain, in case you’re wondering – but I also couldn’t tell exactly what was going on in singer/songwriter/director Sean Hartofilis’ tale that touches on grief in a paranoia/delusional haze. Hartofilis plays Mark, a widower (recent? hard to tell) and Irish history/folklore aficionado who’s holed up in some undisclosed lakeside cabin. He walks around barefoot, in a robe, strumming his guitar and singing folky tunes, occasionally receiving nightly visits from what he believes to be his deceased wife. One night, he spots a young couple paddle off with his canoe, supposedly unaware that Martin lives there and as he watches them, he notices that the guy has returned without the girl.  Immediately, he assumes foul play and takes it upon himself to take the young man hostage, for unknown reasons and with no specific endgame.

For at least half of the film, the overall result is certainly intriguing, but with the main character spending most of his time singing (which I liked), I would’ve much preferred some kind of absurd musical than what I watched. At no point do we actually get to know who Marty is and what makes him tick. There are times when Hartofilis, who also wrote the screenplay attempts to inject comedy to the story, but it just feels off and the laughs never really land. As an actor, Hartofilis got an engaging presence, I just think maybe a co-writer might have helped add some perspective to the story that’s told, instead of Hartofilis trying to spin all the plates here.

As for the Irish connection, I’m really not sure why Marty was so knowledgeable in Irish history and folklore. Hartofilis definitely masters a monologue where he school his bound captive in a long list of Irish lore, yet that seemed to come from a different movie, or an audition.


(NOTE: songwriter/director Sean Hartofilis is scheduled to appear for audience discussion and a short musical performance. Following the show, the audience is invited to an opening night party at the Emerald Loop Bar and Grill, 216 N. Wabash Ave.)






Whenever there’s an Irish film festival, there’s bound to be one with Irish tough guys and/or one in which I can’t understand a lick of what they’re saying and “Cardboard Gangsters” happens to cross both descriptions off the checklist. Indeed, it took some getting used to the thick brogue used by the majority of the characters, but I still wound up understanding about half of the dialogue delivered by the actors. I know that’s probably just me and other viewers may not have such a hard time acclimating to what’s being said and heard.

Apart from that, from what I was able to glean from the story, written by director Mark O’Connor and lead actor John Connor, is a apparent authenticity within the confines of the kind of familiar conventions seen in movies that involving low-income neighborhood gangster tales. The story here takes place in a housing development outside of Dublin, where a local kingpin, Derra Murphy (Jimmy Smallhorne) has been calling the shots for some time now. Gangster wannabe, part-time DJ and all-around tough guy, Jason Connolly (John Connors) and his family, along with his three childhood pals, have felt the tight grasp of Murphy and his clan long enough. Connolly feels it’s high time the power is shifted and decides to make a move, yet he’s not the sharpest knife in the draw, often being driven by pure emotion. His actions include taking hold of the local drug flow with his pals, as well as hitting on Murphy’s wife, (despite his girlfriend being pregnant with his child) which doesn’t bode well for Connolly’s future. It doesn’t help that his right hand BFF, Dano (Fionn Walton) runs off at the mouth, getting himself and Connolly in hot water with Murphy and anyone related to the kingpin. Inevitably, the whole situation is going to come to a head in a very bloody and violent manner.

There’s no getting around that the plot and outcome of this story is predictable, so once you get past that there’s some solid performances that stand out. First and foremost, is Connor, who has a palpable fierceness that simmers throughout and occasionally blows up like a powder keg, yet there are also moments when Connolly realizes he’s in over his head and that’s where Connor shows some range, portraying understandable fear and frustration over his decisions that have now put him (and his loved ones) in an irreversible predicament. As Dano, Walton also shows some inner insecurities and fears, some that are more outspoken than the confident Connolly, which differs nicely in comparison.

Representation of Irish life in “Cardboard Gangsters” feels spot-on and fitting considering the demographic covered here and the atmosphere is accompanied by Irish rap and rock. The intensity is there, driven by the performances, but at no point were there any unique developments or surprising turns. Still, when its all said and done, I was hoping for a little more than what I’ve come to expect from tough-guy, blue-collar gangster conflict stories.

RATING: **1/2

NOTE: Director Mark O’Connor is scheduled to appear for audience discussion.




Of the three films included in this year’s Hooley, the best is the most emotional and serious, and oddly enough it’s a TV movie produced by BBC studios. It should be no shock to anyone paying attention that recent television is putting out some of the best stories, and even though its title may come across like a Hallmark Channel movie, when you discover why “Mother’s Day” is titled as such, you’ll feel a lump in your throat, or at least you should.

As long as there are Irish movies made in the last four decades, there will be movies covering The Troubles, a conflict in Northern Ireland which began in the late 20th Century and didn’t get resolved until the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006 (which was covered in the 2016 drama, “The Journey”). Thousands of British and Irish were killed in that time, and this film focuses on the aftermath of the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England, in which 12-year-old Tim Parry was killed while purchasing a Mother’s Day card. Many were injured in the bomb that went off on Bridge Street (including a three-year-old who died on the scene), but screenwriter Nick Leather (a Warrington nature) focuses on two sets of parents here.

Wendy Parry (Anna Maxwell Martin) and her husband Colin Parry (Daniel Mays) are devastated by their young son’s injuries and eventual death after days in the hospital.  When this is initially covered in the news, it upsets and shocks Dublin wife and mother, Susan McHugh (Vicky McClure), who with the support of her husband, Arthur (David Wilmot), organizes a rally to demonstrate against the violence against children, which created controversial movement that is covered heavily by the media. Meanwhile, after young Tim dies, his parents grieve differently, Wendy withdraws and tries to grasp normalcy for the rest of their children, but Colin is anxious to publicize what happened to them, in an effort to personalize these events and urge for peace. While Susan is whelmed by the support she receives, she is surprised by the backlash her family receives such as phone threats and accusations by republicans of being pro-British.

Eventually, Susan reaches out to Wendy in sympathy and when these parents meet a hesitant yet impacting connection is formed, which is where the film becomes quite moving and powerful.  All four actors who play the parents are great, but it’s Martin and McClure, playing the two mothers, who really ground the story in honesty and realism, both conveying an understandable amount of confusion and confliction, as well as determination, with the two women finding common ground for the sake of all children caught in the violence of The Troubles. There have been some very good movies covering The Troubles and I’m sure there will continue to be more, but this parental perspective was quite compelling.


NOTE: Director Fergus O’Brien is scheduled to appear for audience discussion.





More info on the Hooley, like ticket info, can be found here. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2018 7:31 am

    Awesome review!

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