This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and a lot of people, Irish or otherwise, will be wearing green and getting shitfaced in public. But even with all the revelry going on, our weekly Netflix recommendations can still come in handy when looking for a movie to watch before or after you celebrate (or if you want to avoid the party entirely).
For those in search of something to get them in the mood for the holiday, The Commitments is a crowd-pleasing, early-90s depiction of a local Irish band trying to make it big in Dublin. If outrageous comedies are more your style, then try The Young Offenders, a film about two Irish teenagers who get in over their heads when they go searching for a shipment of cocaine that was lost during a drug seizure.
The rest of this week’s films are not Irish-focused, although one is an emotionally-driven Disney fantasy that features, appropriately enough, a magical green dragon. Also on the list is Burning Sands, a disturbing portrayal of hazing at an all-black college, as well as The Hollywood Shorties, an engaging documentary about little people who play basketball.
For those who don’t like to count on luck—Irish or otherwise—when deciding what to spend your precious free time watching, these Netflix picks are just for you.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
The Commitments (1991)
Starring: Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Angeline Ball, Johnny Murphy
Director: Alan Parker
Genre: Musical, Comedy
The Commitments is not only a solid St. Patrick’s Day choice, it ranks as one of the best movies made about making music. The film captures all the hopes and struggles of a recently-formed band, whose members see their one-in-a-million shot at stardom as the best option to escape their dreary lives in Dublin.
The man with the vision is manager Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins). The enterprising leader guides the group towards performing blue-eyed soul and encourages them to study music giants like James Brown. But he has his work cut out for him, dealing with clashing personalities and giant egos.
But no film like this would succeed without great music, which The Commitments delivers in abundance. The numerous spot-on covers of classic tunes makes this a movie worthy of repeat viewings, as does the steady stream of hilarious banter and witty one liners, like when Jimmy’s father (Colm Meaney) quips: “Is this the band then? Bet ya U2 are shittin' themselves.”
For a great double feature, watch this back-to-back with the equally enjoyable Sing Street (2016), a movie about Irish teenagers who start a new wave band in the ’80s. The more recent flick was undoubtedly inspired by The Commitment, and singer Maria Doyle Kennedy even appears in both films.
The Young Offenders (2016)
Starring: Alex Murphy, Chris Walley, Hilary Rose, Dominic MacHale
Director: Peter Foott
Inspired by true events, The Young Offenders tells the comedic tale of two dimwitted lads prone to stealing bikes and other misdemeanors. Upon hearing news about a large-scale drug shipment getting washed ashore, they get the bright idea of traveling down the coast to snatch a brick of cocaine worth seven million euros, hoping they can flip it and get rich overnight.
Alex Murphy and Chris Walley star as Conor MacSweeney and Jock Murphy. They’re not exactly nerds, but they’re not as cool as they think they are, either. Their back-and-forth banter make up most of the film’s funniest moments, although P.J. Gallagher as a vengeful drug dealer nearly steals the show.
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For those looking to extend their St. Paddy's Day celebration, this movie is filled with outrageous humor that works great if watching with a crowd—that is, if you can deal with the super thick Irish accents and slang. Aside from being funny and featuring eye-catching natural scenery, it somehow manages to also be a genuinely heartfelt look at trials and tribulations of a lasting friendship.
Pete's Dragon (2016)
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford
Director: David Lowery
Genre: Fantasy, Family
Last year’s remake of Pete’s Dragon couldn’t be more different than the 1977 original, which was a comedic musical that combined live action with animation. Sure, there was an abusive foster family chasing after the titular Pete in the first film, but it was played for laughs.
In the far more dramatic new version, we first meet Pete as a four-year-old who survives a car crash that kills both his parents. After the accident, he’s chased into the woods by wolves, where a giant green dragon covered in fur saves him. The two develop a bond, and Pete has to protect the creature (who he names “Elliot”) from locals in his Pacific Northwest town.
Adults might find the story of a feral child living in the woods with a CGI dragon a bit too predictable, but one of the main themes of the remake is bravery, providing a constructive way for parents to talk to their kids about facing their fears. Plus, we have to give props to filmmaker David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) for his ability to pull heartstrings in the last half hour as Pete and his green monster friend Elliot try to reunite after being separated. Yes, it’s mushy, but have Kleenex around just in case.
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Burning Sands (2017)
Starring: Trevor Jackson, DeRon Horton, Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris
Director: Gerard McMurray
Director Gerard McMurray’s first film may not tell us a whole lot we didn’t already know about the trauma pledges often experience during Hell Week. After all, there have been numerous news reports in the last few years, detailing how dangerous fraternity hazing can be. But what makes the stirring Burning Sands worth watching is how McMurray visualizes the emotional impact ritualized hazing has on victims, diving deeper in his fictional account than most media coverage of similar real-life events.
It helps that the cast is packed with fresh talent. Lead Trevor Jackson makes us feel his pain, and in perhaps the most intriguing performance, Nafessa Williams plays a fast food employee who is more than meets the eye. (There’s also some familiar faces in the mix. Look for Empire’s Serayah McNeil and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes in supporting roles.)
The Hollywood Shorties (2016)
Starring: Tony Cox, George Rossitto, Kevin Thompson
Director: Ryan Steven Green
Genre: Documentary, Sports
The Hollywood Shorties focuses on the overlooked Hollywood Shorties, a sports team composed entirely of little people (most of whom worked in the film industry) that was started in 1948 by prominent actor Billy Barty.
At first, they played baseball, but shifted to basketball in the mid-70s. Before long, the Shorties went from doing charity high school games to facing off against NBA cheerleaders during halftime shows in the ‘80s. Their style was a mix of Harlem Globetrotter-esque entertainment and athleticism, showcased by players like Tony Cox, perhaps best known to mainstream audiences for his part in Bad Santa, who had an amazing knack for sinking three-pointers.
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The informative documentary does a great job of chronicling the history of the Shorties, but it also brings to light the struggles of little people who for decades were regulated to portraying only leprechauns, Oompa Loompas, or Ewoks, and rarely appeared in roles that didn’t involve masks or costumes. Their desire to be taken seriously as both actors and athletes rings strong in this doc, and the uplifting message comes through loud and clear.