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Pictiúir Paradiso: Comedic actor John Colleary on the films that shaped him
21 Aug 2015 : Paul Byrne
As the Irish actor makes the move from such TV comedy hits as ‘The Savage Eye’ and ‘Irish Pictorial Weekly’ to big-screen dramas such as Ken Loach’s ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ and Jake Gavin’s ‘Hector’, we find out what films shaped John Colleary...

John Colleary: When asked to point to the films that had an impact on me I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to school days. Namely the dreaded 1980s. Pre-Internet, no Netflix,no Skybox.

In other words, in between infrequent visits to the cinema to see some Hollywood action nonsense, I had to pay attention to whatever them there in Montrose deemed suitable for my eyes and ears.

In fairness, they did provide, and to their credit they kept the scissors quiet, in the most part treating us to the full version of whatever was on offer.

Most of what I have chosen here comes from that happy memory bank.

APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

I saw this first on RTE2 on a Sunday night in 1985, the year I finished school. I didn’t actually know what it was and had mixed it up in my mind with a film called ‘Capricorn One’. When I discovered it was a Vietnam movie and not a space film I was quite pleased. My brother liked space movies and I had seen too many - to me they were all the same. Space and then more space.’

‘Apocalypse Now was so dense with imagery and theme that I didn’t quite get it on that occasion. There was an entire narrative that I had no clue of to be honest. More annoyingly, vital parts of the story were interrupted by ads for Brennans bread and Mazda 323s. RTE, eh?

However, I did realise that this was a significant movie, so I stored that knowledge in the back of my head until the time came a few years later to actually ingest it properly. Visually stunning to begin with, the movie sets up its world beautifully. The Saigon Hotel, housing a delusional captain Willard, certainly set the tone.

As well as that, when given the mission to end all missions by his superiors, the tension in that room is superbly portrayed. Then, the trip upriver. The story winds like the water all the way to its brutal conclusion.’

So many key scenes in this movie, it’s almost impossible to pick a winner. Kilgore’s Napalm speech always ranks high. Lance, on acid, carrying a puppy to a gunfight is suitably weird, and the Kurtz death scene, aided by Jim Morrison’s dulcet tones, is so iconic its almost funny.

A massive movie that nearly did for cast and crew, Coppola mortgaged his house to finance the project. Martin Sheen had a heart attack and nearly died. Fred Forrest, Sam Bottoms, et al, drifted into drug psychosis and were barely earth-based throughout. Not exactly I Know What You Did Last Summer, but sure, who wants that?

RAISING ARIZONA (Coen brothers, 1987)

Saw this movie in 1988, not long after it came out. Watched in on VHS, which as a term is about as relative now as KKK.

A great early Coen brothers work, centred on the odd coupling of crook H.I and cop Edwina, played by Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter.

Hunter’s cop character is wooed by Cage, the repeat offender, small-time criminal, as their paths invariably cross in the workplace!

It’s all roses until they discover they can’t have kids, and adoption is out of the question, due to Daddy’s past. So, they hatch a plot to kidnap a baby, namely, one of the Arizona quintuplets, born to Nathan Arizona, a successful business man.

Here’s where the fun begins. The execution of the crime is hilarious and the next hour is just one of my favourites of all the movies I’ve ever seen. I just love this film. Cage’s character has my sympathy from the off and his past never lets him go. Visited by escaped convict buddies headed up by John Goodman, disaster looms. H.I loses his job and everything inevitably starts to crumble. His convict buddy lends his support - “H.I., you’re young and you have your health, what do you possibly want with a job?”

Plenty of themes here too, mostly about childhood, and men’s reluctance to leave it behind. I saw this movie so many times, I had all the dialogue down at one point.

If I ever meet the Coens, I’m gonna recite it to them. They will love that, right...?

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (Mel Brooks, 1974)

I love this film, one of Mel Brook’s finest. Released the same year as Blazing Saddles, it was slightly overshadowed by its better looking cousin, but for me, this has much more going on. Shot in black & white, so as to parody the Hammer horror era, this movie is full of classic lines, sight gags and the odd chunk of ironic innuendo. As the title suggests, the story is an old one, but given the full Brooks treatment. A work of genius and for me, an education in how to present and pace a comedy movie.’

ON THE WATERFRONT (Elia Kazan, 1954)

This is considered a classic, and rightly so. I didn’t know that when I first saw it somewhere in the mid-’80s. I was always attracted to the atmosphere of black and white movies, especially those from the 1950s.

Once again, my introduction to this gem was by virtue of Radio Telefis Eireann. One Friday night I decided not to have underage pints and stayed home instead and caught this masterpiece for the first time. Beginning to end, I was glued. Great story throughout and the performances are the stuff of legend. Brando is superb. The scene with Rod Steiger in the back of the car has been celebrated to death, so I’m not gonna mention it. I just did. I shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have if you had ha looked out for me.You shoulda looked out for me, just a little bit...

Oh dear.

The story of the waterfront, its workers’ struggle, the politics and the downright brutality form the central themes of this film. Supporting roles from Karl Malden, Eve Marie Saint (who I’d been introduced to via Lloyd Cole’s song Rattlesnakes) and the brilliant Lee J. Cobb helped make this movie one of the most brilliant ever made. In my opinion.

COMMUNION (Philippe Mora, 1989)

I said I didn’t like space films but ill make an exception in the case of this tale of alien abduction.

It’s possible it would have been a very boring film without Christopher Walken though, who is absolutely fantastic. Big question is, was he abducted or is he just off his head? I prefer to believe the latter as it makes for more comedy. If you take it seriously, it actually starts getting scary. There’s a scene on a bus where Mr Walken encounters a group of green-headed alien types and his reaction to it is just class. As he leaves the bus he addresses them as a schoolteacher might - “You people... are in for one hell of a surprise...”. I’d forgotten about this film until asked to do this article. I thank you, Paul, as now I’m gonna enjoy it all over again.

PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Saw this when it was released here. Went alone to the cinema in Sligo on a Monday night. Was a little fond of the foaming ale at the time and as I remember I was suffering from the excesses of the weekend just past. I had a fiver left after buying the ticket, which I earmarked for a post movie ‘settler’.

Then the film started. From moment one, I was entranced. Couldn’t believe how fast and downright funny this movie was. So many stories weaved together, timelines all over the place and action all the way. And the soundtrack. Ah, here. Game over, as they say. Fell in love with the thing and still get romanced by it until this day. Pointless trying to pick a scene or a line from this - they’re all great.

Saw the movie Grease in the same spot in 1979 and as I left the cinema 15 years later, I remember thinking that John Travolta had certainly come a long way.

I went to the pub. I didn’t have a pint, I had a Ballygowan. That’s a good film.





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