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  1. This often-grim series set in North Ireland is based on incidents in the life of director/co-writer Shane Meadows (This is England TV series). This true-story nature explains its unrelenting no-holds barred realism that many viewers will appreciate. But, warning here, the film is not for everyone. The Virtues is a sarcastic title because many of the people in the film own no virtue. However, like grace unasked for, sometimes the worst of human nature is countered with the best--thus evil engenders the few, but definite, virtues in the film. Like real life though, not every hurt in the film receives the balm of forgiveness. Carrying the thrust of the story is an extraordinary actor who might be new to American audiences. Stephen Graham is well-known in England from his work in the Line of Duty TV series. With his Everyman face and uncluttered acting style, Graham creates a character that starts painfully ordinary, then rises to eloquent heroism. The story—alas not a unique one in the obscene history of Irish foster care--haunted me for weeks afterward. Liverpool construction worker Joseph (Graham) is devastated when his girlfriend movies to Australia with her boyfriend, and takes their 9-year old son with her. “I’m sorry,” Joseph says to her, words he proclaims many times more throughout the story. He breaks his precious sobriety on a bender that, truthfully, is so repulsive, it’s cringe-worthy. Having lost everything in life, Joseph decides to return to Ireland and face the repressed demons that have plagued him all his life. He crash lands on the front yard of the sister he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Anna (Helen Behan) is now happily married with three cheerful kids, a fulfilled life that’s in pitiful contrast to the childhood she and Josepha knew. Without warning, their widowed father had separated the two children, allowing Anna to be adopted, but sending Joseph off to a boys home called The Towers. What happened to him there was so horrendous he ran away, which meant most people thought he had died. Now, back home in Ireland, he’s determined to find the source of his nightmares – and seek justice. Complicating his plans is the growing affection he has for Anne’s fiery sister-in-law, Dinah (Niamh Algar). She has her own demons, focused on her heartless mother. Prominent among the anguishes separately endured by Joseph and others in the story are crucifixes--on a wall or gravestone or hanging from a neck chain--the ever-present symbol of Irish Catholicism and the perverse cruelties enacted in its shadow. Film techniques, such as masterful intercutting between the present and the ever-encroaching past, creates tension that an action adventure film would be hard-pressed to match. All the actors give subtle, emotionally satisfying performances. Recurring throughout are the disturbing lyrics by English musician PJ Harvey, “You will remember this…you will see us again.” Sometimes funny, often painful, honest, violent and unforgettable, The Virtues is one series that a brave person of faith should see. The Virtues is available to stream on Topic, the new streaming service from First Look Media that presents entertainment from around the world. SeeTopic.com.
  2. Released in the U.S. in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Extra Ordinary is a totally bonkers gem, a low-budget Ghostbusters, Emerald Isle style. If you’re slightly deranged, you’ll love it. If you cling to logic, well, you might not give it the 5 stars that most of the critics did. Rose Dooley (County Cork-born, New York-based standup comic Maeve Higgins) is a small-town driving teacher, trying to find happiness despite her tragic past. Self-deprecating, pleasant but frumpy and oh dear, still unmarried, she’s what you might call extra ordinary. That’s because she refuses to use her real talent. Her father, the famous ghost chaser Vincent Dooley, told her when she was a child— “Rose, you are a ‘paranormal facilitator’ of extraordinary talent.” Alas, that’s before she fumbled a spell and he got splattered by a speeding truck. These days Rose cheerfully acknowledges all the happy spirits she sees in town, but refuses to engage with the many living neighbors who beg her to get rid of their annoying ghosts. While Rose plods through her lonely life, across town is troubled widower and single father Martin Martin (Dublin-born Barry Ward). His wife, dead for 8 years now, is still nagging him and makes his life, well, makes it hell. His fed-up teenage daughter Sara (Emma Coleman) demands he get rid of Mom or she’s going to leave home. Meanwhile, not far away (at Charleville Castle, a renovated Gothic splendor), one-hit wonder rock star Christian Winter (American comic Will Forte) has made a pact with Satan to re-kindle his career. After performing numerous spells and burning hundreds of candles, chewing up the scenery and having entirely too much fun, all Winter needs now is a virgin to sacrifice. Of course, he’s chosen Sara Martin, who he spies working at the local housewares shop. The goofy plot thickens (and occasionally sickens, I must admit), careening from quirkiness to violence and whirling unapologetically around utter absurdity. It skewers spiritualism, witchcraft, tax haven-bound celebrities, the island’s awful food and its even more terrible sexual repression. Extra Ordinary is not a spiritual powerhouse, but, being Irish, it has plenty of laughs that remind you of what is good about being alive. “I’m always with you,” Rose’s dead father reminds her--isn’t that something we all want to know from our parents who have passed on? For me, the main spiritual message of Extra Ordinary is that you can make a perfectly wonderful film about heroes who are ordinary and decent. It seems these days more films are being directed by teams. A previous film I reviewed, the epic sci-fi film based on an epic poem, Aniara, was co-directed by two Swedish filmmakers. Extra Ordinary was helmed by two creative Irishmen, Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. It’s a promising debut, since all the performances are outstanding, and tech credits are accomplished, especially the simple special effects. Shot on locations in central Ireland (such as counties Wicklow and Offaly), Extra Ordinary doesn’t make any use of the spectacular landscapes tourists crave (though it did cooperate with the country’s Tidy Town efforts, no kidding.) It’s a gentle world, where the worst thing a person can do is use bad language. (“Language, language,” everyone is being reminded.) But the film does offer an endless string of weird curiosities to write home about – bloating goats, floating virgins, flying French-fries, a cawing magpie, a killer cuckoo clock, and a surprise ending that recaps Daddy Dooley’s message from beyond the grave -- “Love defeats evil.” Rated R for language, sexual content and some horror violence. Time: 94 minutes. Language: Irish-accented English.
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