Movie Reviews: Mississippi Grind, The Queen of Ireland, The Legend of Longwood

Gamblers Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) meet at a poker table as Mississippi Grind (15A) opens, and strike up a friendship even though life has dealt them very different hands.

Gerry is a goofy loner whose desperation to claw back his financial losses finds him taking increasingly reckless risks. Curtis, the joker in the pack, is outgoing and charismatic, a man who cares less about winning than he does for the addictive buzz of laying it on the line. When Curtis tells Gerry about a fabled poker game in New Orleans, the pair set off on a road trip down the Mississippi, bound for riches and fame.

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind is a superb character study as it explores the mind-set of the irredeemably compulsive gambler. Reynolds and Mendelsohn are excellent in the lead roles, with Reynolds in effervescent form as the irascible Curtis, his shaggy dog yarns a kind of siren’s song for the hapless Gerry.

Mendelsohn, meanwhile, plays Gerry as a lovable loser, giving even his modest ambitions a heartbreaking quality once the audience understands that Gerry is just one of those guys who is doomed to fail in every aspect of his life. The bluesy soundtrack of hard-luck tales emphasises Gerry’s plight, in thrall as he is to the vicious disease of gambling, but Boden and Fleck invest their downbeat Huck-and-Jim odyssey with black humour and render Curtis and Gerry’s journey down the Mississippi both engrossing and enjoyable.

The Queen of Ireland (15A) opens on May 23, 2015, as Panti Bliss arrives at Dublin Castle for the declaration of the result in the referendum on marriage equality.

It’s a moment of triumph for Panti, aka Rory O’Neill, the drag queen who was the most flamboyant champion of the Yes vote, but Conor Horgan’s documentary about Panti, which was shot over the past five years or so, is a study in contrasts, as we go beyond the self-described ‘giant cartoon woman’ of Panti’s on-stage character to meet the man behind the persona.

In some ways, and despite its celebratory tone, the documentary is a sobering account of just how far Ireland has come in a couple of decades.

The film takes us back to Rory’s ‘idyllic childhood’ growing up in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, and a time when being gay in Ireland wasn’t just dangerous but illegal, and brings us up to date with the marriage equality referendum and Panti’s ‘Noble Call’ speech from the stage of the Abbey Theatre, when the two personas blend into one to remind us that ingrained homophobia means that Ireland hasn’t come as far as we might like to believe.

The film employs footage of Dublin’s ‘properly underground’ gay scene during the 1980s, juxtaposing its grainy bleakness with the hysterical glamour of the Alternative Miss Ireland, as Horgan continues his theme of duality throughout: for every outrageous pronouncement from Panti Bliss, there is a correspondingly thoughtful assessment of his life and times from her alter-ego Rory in a series of straight-to-camera interviews which engage with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, his HIV diagnosis, and the pressure of maintaining his/her public and private lives.

It’s a gripping tale, both a historical document and a deserved celebration of one of Ireland’s most fascinating heroes.

The Legend of Longwood (PG) opens with 12-year-old New Yorker Mickey Miller (Lucy Morton) moving to Longwood in rural Ireland, aka ‘the end of the world’.

Naturally, Mickey isn’t happy about the development, but soon she discovers that her arrival in Longwood is part of her destiny, as the ancient legend of the Black Knight begins to come to life.

Can the pony-crazy Mickey rise to the challenge of saving the mysterious herd of white horses that seem to possess the spirit of Longwood?

Directed by Lisa Mulcahy, The Legend of Longwood is a contemporary fairy-tale aimed at a young audience.

Lucy Morton is a likeable presence in the lead role as Mickey sets about untangling the threads of myth and reality, and Mickey’s courage and intelligence makes her an ideal role model for younger viewers (although it’s fair to say that Aaron Kinsella, playing Mickey’s younger brother Danny, steals every scene in which he appears).

The story hits all the beats expected of a fairy-tale, and there is some fabulous use of animation as the Lady Thyrza (Miriam Margoyles in a charming cameo) explains the legend of the Black Knight to Mickey, but older viewers might find that the story overall is too plainly told to grip the imagination.

Mississippi Grind ****

The Queen of Ireland ****

The Legend of Longwood ***


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