Looking to celebrate St. Patrick's Day by renting an Irish-oriented movie? Here are some possibilities:
If you've never seen it or haven't seen it in a while, get a copy of "The Quiet Man," easily the most entertaining American movie ever made about Ireland. Directed by John Ford, this 1952 classic is available on Republic Video, in some stores for about $10.
It stars John Wayne as a retired American boxer who returns to his hometown in Ireland, and tries to wed a woman (Mareen O'Hara) whose macho brother (Victor McLaglen) opposes the marriage.
Scenes of the Irish countryside are dazzling and Ford's version of Ireland is all homey and warm-hearted, with a distinct Hollywood glaze. It's gloriously fictitious, with no hint of the horrors of the Irish conflict with the English. On the debit side, the movie plays up the stereotypes of Irish men as boozers and brawlers.
The cozy Ireland of "The Quiet Man" is more fun and, in some ways, preferable to the grim reality of well-made, '90s dramas featuring Irish characters, such as "The Commitments," "The Crying Game" and 1993's grim "In the Name of the Father."
Worth renting: director David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter," a 1970 drama starring Sara Miles and Robert Mitchum and centered around the 1916 Irish uprising; John Ford's 1935 classic, "The Informer," starring Victor McLaglen, who won the best actor Oscar for his remarkable performance as an alcoholic Dubliner who turns informer to collect reward money. A bit dated, but still a powerful movie.
At the top of the list of movies to avoid, put Tom Cruise's "Far and Away," which tries--and badly misses--to recapture the spirit of "The Quiet Man." Some retailers will prominently display "Prayer for the Dying," a 1987 drama about an IRA hit man. Despite the great cast--Liam Neeson, Mickey Rourke, Bob Hoskins and Alan Bates--it's a bad movie.
One of the best and most overlooked movies ever made about Ireland is director Stephen Frears' "The Snapper," originally a BBC TV movie. It's about the upheaval in a Dublin family caused by a young lady, played by Tina Kellegher, who's pregnant but refuses to divulge the name of the father. As her father, Colm Meaney, steals the movie. The strong Irish flavor of this 1993 comedy/drama will definitely put you in a St. Patrick's Day mood.
Oscar-related videos: Since John Travolta's best actor Oscar nomination for "Pulp Fiction," many retailers have his old movies on display. But most aren't worth renting, including the trio of low-brow "Look Who's Talking" comedies, "Perfect," "Two of a Kind," "Shout," "Staying Alive" and "Blow Out." The exceptions are 1977's "Saturday Night Fever," which helped fuel the disco craze, and the 1980 drama, "Urban Cowboy," an important factor in bringing country music into the mainstream.
Tom Hanks, nominated for "Forrest Gump," has starred in his share of turkeys. In the Hanks section of your local video store, bypass "Volunteers," "Joe vs. the Volcano," "The 'Burbs," "The Money Pit" and particularly "The Bonfire of the Vanities." The quality of Hanks' performances in "Splash," "Big" and last year's Oscar-winner, "Philadelphia," is well-known. But if you're in the market for a good Hanks film that doesn't get much attention, rent the 1986 comedy/drama "Nothing in Common." He plays a cocky young executive who has to learn how to deal with an ailing father (Jackie Gleason) he hardly knows. Alternately hilarious and moving.
Best-supporting actress nominee Dianne Wiest is fine as the lustful actress in "Bullets Over Broadway" but she's even better in another Woody Allen movie, 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters." That performance earned her the best-supporting actress Oscar.
Foreign-Language films: Two exceptional movies are just out. First Run's drama "Sunday's Children," written by Ingmar Bergman and directed by his son, Daniel, is about a young boy's introduction to some of the ugliness of the adult world. Columbia TriStar's "The Scent of Green Papaya" is a sensuous, moody, slow-moving tale, set in Saigon in the '50s and '60s, about a servant girl who falls in love with her master. A 1993 Oscar nominee for best foreign film.
Less interesting is Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's outrageous, often silly soap opera, Vidmark's "Kika," about a flaky makeup artist named Kika. Once a daring filmmaker, Almodovar has slipped badly.
Special-Interest Videos: Men may dislike thinking about the threat of prostate cancer but "Straight Talk on Prostate Health" presents the information in a way that makes it as palatable as possible. This 90-minute tape includes footage not seen in a PBS telecast of the program. From WarnerVision at $20.
"The Jewish Holidays Video Guide" is a fascinating, detailed, 90-minute tape about Jewish traditions that's particularly educational for non-Jews. From Sisu Home Entertainment, at $30 (800-223-7478).
What's New on Video: "The River Wild" (MCA/Universal): An unhappy wife (Meryl Streep) takes her husband (David Strathairn) and son (Joseph Mazzello) on a river-rafting trip that turns into a nightmare when escaping thieves force her to transport them through treacherous waters. So the heroine, who's an expert oars-woman, has to deal with both family strife and a nasty villain (Kevin Bacon). Predictable, TV-movie-type plot but the spectacular rafting scenes make this one fun for action-adventure fans.
"Stargate" (MGM/UA): In a "Star Trek"-like tale, a nerdy Egyptologist (James Spader) and a rugged colonel (Kurt Russell) journey to a distant planet and wind up in the middle of a rebellion against an evil Sun God, played by Jaye Davidson, co-star of "The Crying Game." Neither the story nor the characters are anywhere near "Star Trek" quality but, because of the dazzling, special-effects-filled action sequences, it's worth a look for both sci-fi and action-adventure fans.
"Mi Vida Loca" (HBO): A cast of talented unknowns in a low-budget comedy-drama about female Latino gang members grappling with romance, bleakness and violence in East L.A. These women, though, are more into camaraderie than violence. Sometimes excellent, with a gritty, authentic feel, but it's also overstuffed with subplots and tends to meander. Still, director Allison Anders' movie is worth a look because it deals with a subject few filmmakers have ever tackled.