Review: Joy

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DIR/WRI: David O. Russell • PRO: John Davis, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok, David O. Russell • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross, Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: David Campbell, West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

When an award-winning writer/director and an A-List cast work together on a good old rags-to-riches tale inspired by self-made millionaire Joy Mangano’s life, what could possibly go wrong? What indeed?

Alas, there was no joy in David O. Russell’s Joy for me.

The movie centres around Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a washed-out separated Mom struggling to keep on top of her job and take care of three generations of her family in a very unattractive home.

So downstairs we have Tony (Édgar Ramírez) the Venezuelan crooner of an ex-husband below in the basement who, within minutes, is engaged in an acrimonious turf war with his ex-father-in-law Rudy (Robert de Niro) also in the basement having being returned as ‘damaged goods’ by his third wife.

On the ground floor, we have Joy’s dysfunctional mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), whose lifelong addiction to a particular daytime soap along with a bad case of agoraphobia prevents her from getting off the bed or engaging in conversations outside the comings and goings of the show.

Upstairs, we have her two children and Grandma Mimi (Dianne Ladd), the only person that both supports and believes in her potential having noticed what a dab hand Joy was at Origami as a child. Next door we have the nasty half sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) and soon enough we meet Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) – Rudy’s latest squeeze who is instantly absorbed into this Italian American family.

For fear the audience don’t do nuance, we’re presented with way too many examples of just how harried poor Joy’s life is, which include flashbacks to her glory days of childhood origami, a very nasty divorce (during which some Origami gets damaged) and some dream sequences involving both her family and the cast on the set of mother’s favourite daytime show.

And that’s all before Joy starts her own business with and taking some particularly poor business advice from the very same circle of people that have been running her ragged for seventeen years. The blow-by-blow product design, inner mechanics and 300 feet of continuous loop cotton of her miracle mop were lost on me but was soon awoken by the hard knocks of zero sales. Enter snake oil salesman and QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who promises to raise her back to life but not before a few more knocks and a second mortgage on the house.

I must have been taking off my coat at the beginning of the movie and missed the timeline but it was only in this first scene at the QVC shopping channel set was I given an indication of the era. Neil the futurologist made some predictions about the future of retail and home computing whilst giving Joy a tour of their very shabby premises.

You have to be tough for business is a key theme of the movie but you too join the club with a bad hairdo, a raised voice and some finger pointing.

So, anyway, Joy does make it, there’s no spoiler as it’s a biopic of a self-made millionaire but not before encountering more stress and disappointment.

So what’s not to like?  I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Any-rags-to-riches journey to the top is always a good yarn, the acting solid, the characters and their side stories quirky and fun yet together it hung uncomfortably accentuated by the inane voiceover from Grandma Mimi with platitudes like ‘that day Joy was not to know that in ten years …’

The closing scene sort of sealed the deal for me with the present day successful Joy now ‘arrived’ in her mock tudor mansion replete with very bad hairdo, dressed and behaving like Princess Diana offering alms to peasant inventors that had been waiting their turn for an audience with Joy. The happy ending was the silent reappearance of her son who must have been abducted as a toddler only to be returned as a teenager in the final scene, having been cut out and upstaged by his big sister throughout the movie.

Watching interviews with the real Joy Mangano about the movie, she hopes it will be an inspiration to other women and people out there with ideas to just do it. As a Joy myself and self employed, I couldn’t agree more and first on my not to-do list is to spend 124 minutes watching inferior quality movies. From the crew and cast behind classics such as The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, we’d expect a little more joy,

Joy Redmond

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Joy is released 1st January 2016

Joy – Official Website

 

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American Sniper

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DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Jason Hall • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz, Peter Morgan • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: Charisse Cardenas, James J. Murakami • CAST: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Brian Hallisay, Luke Grimes

In reviewing Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper – the latest in an almost obnoxiously prolific directorial career – much has been made of the film’s position on the war in Iraq, whether as a chest-beating tribute to the troops or a morally-distilled and utterly misleading account of a man whose trade could be called murder but for the stars-and-stripes pinned to his chest.

True enough, Sniper has plenty of time to deliver on both fronts; over a run-time in excess of two hours, there is sufficient flag-waving and male bonding to satisfy even the deepest of patriotic fervours. Likely more palatable to those dismissing the story as reductive are the slight dips into fancy in an otherwise taut and grounded tale; comrades confide in one another moments before becoming so much cannon fodder, and an obscure enemy sniper (barely mentioned in the source material) turns up as a bandanna-wearing, rooftop-leaping nemesis against whom our hero must test himself – though not before the audience is treated to the obligatory revelation of the “We are not so different, you and I” variety.

Both views, however, overlook the true strength of the piece, clearly outlined in the film’s opening moments. Propped on a rooftop with a young Iraqi boy caught in his sights and a commanding officer bleating in his ear, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) flashes back to the Texas of his youth, his father outlining the moral foundation that will bring him to this point – that the world consists only of wolves, sheep, and those willing to stand between.

It is in the soldier’s struggle to reconcile his clean and unquestioning view of what is right with what he sees through his rifle-scope that American Sniper truly shines. Full credit is due to Cooper here, who sheds the easy charm of earlier roles to deliver perhaps the most understated performance of his career. As four tours of war slowly transform the easy-going and unassuming cowboy into a relentless and near-fanatic killer, it is actually the moments at home that deliver the most, as Kyle goes about the day-to-day tasks of modern suburbia with a barely-restrained violence that’s difficult to watch.

Does American Sniper paint a more sympathetic picture of its hero than even a quick Google search might suggest of its inspiration? Perhaps. Equally the film fails to provide a broader contextual view of the conflict itself, but by the latter stages this very much feels like the point – as the initial battle cries fade and the post-911 fury lapses instead into a grudging war of attrition in which Kyle and his comrades are but further flesh on the scales, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion of fighting for a cause he can believe in.

Far from Eastwood’s best but certainly a return to form, this is a film on a subject so contentious it seems destined to provide ammunition enough for near any perspective – those hoping for a nuanced look at the problematic notion of patriotism might perhaps find a little more.

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
132 minutes.
American Sniper
is released 16th January 2015.

American Sniper – Official Website

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Serena

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DIR: Susanne Bier • WRI: Christopher Kyle • PRO: Ben Cosgrave, Mark Cuban, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz, Todd Wagner, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Morten Søborg • ED: Pernille Bech Christensen, Matthew Newman, Simon Webb • DES: Richard Bridgland •  MUS: Johan Soderovist  • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Tobey Jones, Rhys Ifans, David Dencik, Ana Ularu

 

Adapted from a 2008 novel by Ron Rash, Serena is essentially another rewrite of Macbeth, this time relocated to the harsh but picturesque Smokey Mountains of North Carolina in 1929.  The story revolves around timber magnate George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and his formidable but unhinged wife Serena (Jennifer Lawrence).  As Pemberton’s empire begins to unravel, Serena goads him into violent action, drawing the attention of the rumpled local sheriff (Toby Jones).  Meanwhile, Serena allies herself with a sinister employee (Rhys Ifans) as her jealousy of her husband’s illegitimate child leads to further tragedy.

 

This brew is heated to nowhere near boiling point by the prolific Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (best known for the Oscar-winning In a Better World).  Tellingly, despite Bier’s pedigree and the box-office appeal of her two leads, Serena has spent over two years in search of a distributor since shooting wrapped in 2012.  This kind of long wait is often a sign that something’s amiss, and Serena bears tell-tale marks of a troubled production.  No less than three editors are credited, and yet the pacing is still choppy.  In the opening stages particularly, the film seems both rushed and repetitive, as George and Serena’s courtship is dispensed with in a montage that makes perplexingly disorganised use of fades to and from black.  Several crucial players, including Ana Ularu, as the mother of George’s baby, languish on the edge of the action until they are pressed into service by the plot, while a key development involves the murder of a character so peripheral she never actually appears on screen.  Rhys Ifans’ role as Serena’s henchman is particularly perplexing, especially when his apparently quasi-supernatural character is foregrounded towards the end.

 

Jut-jawed and cobalt-stared, Cooper never gets to grips with the inner weakness of his deeply unsympathetic character, and the narrative’s late attempt to give Pemberton the dimensions of a tragic hero – complete with a little half-baked animal symbolism – falls entirely flat.  The eponymous Serena might have been a fine addition to a banner year for sympathetic villainesses – from Angelina Jolie in Maleficent to Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl – but Jennifer Lawrence feels miscast, not least because she seems rather young for a part originally intended for Jolie.  The strikingly naturalistic star of Winter’s Bone has never felt further away than she does here, as we’re treated to a succession of vampy poses and regal glares that might have picked up a cult following were the surroundings not so staid.  Fans of Lawrence’s over-ripe turn in American Hustle (2013) will be pleased to know that she remains among contemporary cinema’s least subtle performers of drunkenness, even resorting to a comical hiccup this time out.  More pressingly, neither she nor Cooper seems particularly at home in the period setting, and their wandering accents – like those of Jones and Ifans – do little to dispel the piecemeal feel of the enterprise.

 

Production designer Richard Bridgland and cinematographer Morten Søborg do sterling work, conjuring an authentic Smokey Mountains feel on sets and locations in Denmark and the Czech Republic.  The landscape shots that bookend the film are particularly striking, evoking an elemental, folkloric quality that the rest of Serena gestures toward, but never effectively captures.

 

David Turpin

15A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

Serena is released 24th October 2014

Serena – Official Website

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Guardians of the Galaxy

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DIR: James Gunn  WRI: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman  PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Ben Davis  ED: Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, Craig Wood   DES: Charles Wood MUS: Tyler Bates  CAST: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

Guardians of the Galaxy continues Marvel’s impressive streak, with its characteristic technical polish and comic irreverence.

It opens brilliantly. In 1988, young Peter Quill listens to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” on a mix tape. His grandfather takes him to visit his dying mother, who has a gift for him. Young Peter’s grief and sorrow at her death are too much to bear. He runs from the hospital, falling to the ground, crying, emotional, upset. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a spaceship appears and takes Peter up in a beam of light. The sequence takes a cheesy song, milks the sentiment from a dramatic situation, before ending with the humour and irreverence that director and co-director James Gunn sustains for the film’s length.

He keeps the action moving at a frenetic pace, introducing a ragbag of cynical characters motivated mainly by greed or a desire for vengeance. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown up to be an interplanetary bandit, choosing “Star-Lord” as his moniker. He has made a deal to source a mystical orb, finding himself caught up in political strife. Ronan (Lee Pace), a radical Kree, agrees to retrieve the orb for Thanos in return for his assistance in defeating his enemies, the Xandarians.

While trekking across the universe, Quill teams up with Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper; Groot, a tree-like creature, voiced by Vin Diesel; Drax (Dave Bautista), a warrior seeking vengeance against Ronan for killing his family; and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an orphan trained by Thanos. Also in the mix are Yondu (Michael Rooker), a bandit and father figure for Quill; Nova Prime (Glenn Close), leader of the Nova Corps and protector of Xandar, whose force includes Rhomann Dey (John C Reilly); and The Collector (Benicio del Toro), who keep his collection of space oddities in a place called Knowhere.

Groot almost steals the film. He can only say, “I am Groot,” and the running gag works well. A wide-eyed smile on his plain face, expressing delight after he has beat up some goons, provides another highlight, while the light given off by his branches gives the film one of its most striking images.

Rocket vies with Groot for attention, coming up with elaborate plans (notably to escape prison on Xandar). Benicio del Toro hams it up in his small role, while Glenn Close has one of the film’s best lines, a nicely timed delivery of a single choice word.

Surprisingly, Chris Pratt is the film’s weakness. His face, one of the few not plastered in layers of makeup or CGI effects, lacks expression, and Star-Lord makes for a poor main character among the more entertaining array of supporting players. He’s funny, sure, but he lacks the charm or charisma of, say, Han Solo.

Guardians of the Galaxy risks being an elaborate send-up of the Star Wars movies, but it’s been put together enough style, imagination and panache to make it an entertaining effects-laden extravaganza worthy of judgment on its own merits. Sequel guaranteed and, based on the first instalment, should be highly anticipated.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
120 mins

Guardians of the Galaxy is released on 1st August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lVH3ogPE0w

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Cinema Review: The Hangover Part III

THE HANGOVER PART III

DIR:  Todd Phillips WRI: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin  PRO: Daniel Goldberg, Todd Phillips  DOP: Lawrence Sher   ED: Jeff Groth, Debra Neil-Fisher   DES: Maher Ahmad CAST: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman, Ed Helms

It’s a general rule of thumb that a third entry into a franchise – a threequel, if you will – rarely trumps what came before. There are more than enough examples to highlight the point; Return of the Jedi, Men In Black 3, The Godfather, Part 3. That said, however, there are those entries that skirt the middle ground in terms of quality, neither topping what came before nor lowering that which spawned it. The Dark Knight Rises, Return of the King and The Last Crusade all are more than effective at rounding out the trilogy. The Hangover was an unexpected hit. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifinakis were all upcoming actors, brought under the direction of comedy veteran Todd Phillips. The formula wasn’t exactly inventive, but everyone was trying their best. Todd Phillips was recovering from the commercial / critical flop, School For Scoundrels, Bradley Cooper and co. were out to prove themselves in leading roles. Now, in the third instalment, it’s clear to all and sundry that everyone has moved on.

 

The manchild Alan (Zach Galifinakis) is spiralling out of control and is off his meds. In one particularly brutal scene involving a giraffe and a motorway sign, Alan is confronted by his father (Jeffrey Tambor) who suffers a heart attack mid-argument. The group agree that it’s better for Alan to stay at a mental institute. Enroute, they’re kidnapped by Las Vegas mobster Marshall (John Goodman) who tells them that Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped prison in Thailand. Unsurprisingly, Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage while the others are ordered to find Chow and bring him back. It’s an interesting enough premise and it’s clear that Phillips is trying to break the mould with the third instalment. However, the reality is is that there shouldn’t have been a sequel or a threequel. The first Hangover worked perfectly on its own. It was neat and lean and had a wholly-contained story. There was no room from pushing it out beyond itself and yet, here we are.

 

It’s clear that Bradley Cooper has grown in stature and ability since the first Hangover. Anyone who’s seen Place Beyond The Pines and Silver Linings Playbook will know that Cooper is finally coming into his own. Galifinakis and Helms haven’t had the same luck, career-wise, but both are happily ploughing their own furrow. When brought together for this, it’s clear the chemistry is still there and it’s infectiously funny to watch them squabble and bicker amongst themselves. Nothing in their interactions is forced or unnatural, yet everything outside of it – the plot, the premise – is the exact opposite. Ken Jeong’s role is expanded to a greater degree in this instalment; something that could have saved the second film from its fate. As chaos personified, Jeong’s one-liners and general terrorising is funny in places, but it relies heavily on shock value. It can be tiresome in places, but the film has a brisk pace that means you can’t focus on it for too long. Goodman’s role is pretty much exposition and it’s a real shame. He’s proven time and again that he is a capable comedic actor that can do these smaller roles. Here, however, he’s criminally underused and the film is lesser for it.

 

Each of the posters and the official synopsis all underline the fact that this is the end of the trilogy. Going in, you’re looking forward to seeing them tie up the story and finally draw a line underneath it. There’s a sense of freedom in that, that they can go anywhere with it as there’ll be nothing beyond it. However, as the films wears on, it becomes clear that this isn’t the end. In fact, the final five minutes of the film state this in unequivocal terms and that feels like a cheat to the audience. Phillips’ attempt to move the comedy towards action comedy works for the most part, however it goes into some very dark territory that falls flat most of the time. Overall, The Hangover Part III is reasonably entertaining if you go in with lowered expectations.

 

Brian Lloyd

99 mins
The Hangover Part III is released on 17th May 2013

The Hangover Part III – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

 

 

DIR Derek Cianfrance WRI: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder PRO: Lynette Howell, Sidney Kimmel, Katie McNeill, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof  • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Jim Helton, Ron Patane • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta

 

Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 breakthrough feature Blue Valentine gave him instant recognition as a mercilessly honest student of human failings, tracing the blossoming of love between a young couple intercut with the furious demise of their relationship some years later.

Reuniting with Blue Valentine star Ryan Gosling, Cianfrance’s follow-up The Place Beyond the Pines similarly juxtaposes two contrasting stories, although this time they are loosely connected tales about two men, fathers, under pressure to do the right thing. In the style of La double vie de Véronique or Chungking Express, the two tales play out sequentially, and the ties that bind them are not entirely clear from the get-go.

Set in the small city of Schenectady, New York (Schenectady translates loosely as ‘beyond the pines’ from the native Mohawk), we are first introduced to daredevil fairground stuntman Luke Glanton (Gosling), mechanically twitching a flickknife in his campervan before going on stage. In a superbly choreographed single take, Hunger and Shame D.P. Sean Bobbitt’s camera follows Glanton across the fairground, to his motorbike and, with a clever off-camera actor switcheroo, into a steel cage where he performs his gravity-defying entertainment.

Learning he has an infant son in the city from a previous passing-through, Glanton opts to abandon his travelling act and stay in town, mindful of the effect not having a father had on him. His baby-mama Romina (Eva Mendes) is not entirely happy with the arrangement – her live-in boyfriend is furious with it – but a serious attraction between the pair lingers. Encouraged by his mechanic friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to ‘use his skillset’, Glanton turns to bank robbery, escaping through winding streets on his motorbike. With money comes increased danger of being caught and a desire to play a greater role in his son’s life, but Glanton is not one to give up easily when he’s on to a good thing.

Equally stuck to his own guns is honest cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), whose story becomes the sole focus of the film in the second act. Also a father to a young son, Avery is the natural foil to Glanton – his father (Harris Yulin), a district attorney, supports him; his wife (Rose Byrne), shows her love and concern. Yet, by pursuing corrupt colleagues within his own department, Avery shows the same determination to make the world a better place for his son as Glanton did.

These two stories are meticulously filmed and paced by Cianfrance, who co-wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. Like the best dual-story films the echoes of the first story in the second make both stories all the stronger. Glanton’s tale allows Bobbitt’s camerawork to ignite the screen. Avery’s story provides some superb character development and bubbling tension.

Casting two of the most desirable male movie stars in the business right now is a stroke of genius that pays off superbly. Gosling channels the pain of his Blue Valentine character and pours it into the empty vessel of his Drive persona, creating an aching but deep-down kindly criminal, whose face constantly fights back the emotions it wants to betray. Cooper expresses more of the frustration and isolation he performed so strongly in Silver Linings Playbook, playing a character who is willing to sacrifice his own happiness for what he believes is right. The two handsome stars reflect one another like Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Persona, almost merging in the audience’s mind, as Gosling’s central role transfers to Cooper.

It is as the second story comes to a close that everything goes terribly wrong. Not content with a superb compare-and-contrast, Cianfrance’s film begins an epilogue, set 15 years after the earlier sequences, to tie up the loose ends that were better left undone. What might have been covered in five minutes is dragged out to a mind-numbing 45, as the epilogue mutates into a yawn-inducing third act.

We follow the teenage sons of Glanton and Avery (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen respectively) as they interact and suffer for the sins of their fathers. Story, acting and style go out the window in favour of this hackneyed, utterly predictable conclusion that simply has no need to exist, except to hammer home a metaphor already beautifully and understatedly handled in the first two acts. It is a painful experience to endure; not only is it mind-numbingly boring, but watching a modern masterpiece of cinema dissolve into a mediocre work before your very eyes is like seeing an art gallery on fire and knowing there is nothing you can do. Like Avery seeing his son grow up and becoming a drug-abusing disappointment, Cianfrance seems to sit back and let this bastardisation of his own work continue, and continue, and continue.

Still, even the disastrous conclusion is not enough to completely derail this stunningly made film, even if it does leave a bitter aftertaste. Eva Mendes gives a superb supporting performance as a woman bitterly torn between what she wants and what she needs, and traumatised when that decision is made for her. Ben Mendelsohn, now typecast as the shifty working class goon, plays strong support, as does his Killing Them Softly co-star Ray Liotta as a vengeful crooked cop. Dane DeHaan is passable as the younger Glanton, but Emery Cohen is a mumbling drain of energy in every scene he appears.

One thing the final act cannot sully is the sublime score by Michael Patton, with its echoing keyboard effects conjuring a romantic melancholy that electrifies many of the film’s key scenes. It is further evidence of Cianfrance being able to surround himself with talented artists at the top of their game, and points towards even better things ahead for the director.

But there’s no denying here that Cianfrance has scuttled his own ship, and a film that might have been one of the year’s finest is now one that will likely be forgotten by many. It’s a lesson in self-indulgent storytelling, and a tragedy for great drama and filmmaking. Enjoy what you can in it; for all its shooting itself in the foot, there is much beauty here.

David Neary

15A (see IFCO website for details)

140mins
The Place Beyond the Pines is released on 12th April 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Hit and Run

 

DIR: Dax Shepard, David Palmer  WRI: Dax Shepard  PRO: Andrew Panay , Nate Tuck, Kim Waltrip  DOP: Bradley Stonesifer  ED: Keith Croket  DES: Emily Bloom  CAST:  Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Bradley Cooper

 

Chase movies are often derided as being flat and singular in their narrative and their characters. When you take films like White Lightning or The Driver, there’s little exposition beyond the necessaries in order to forward the story. There’s rarely much story other than the chase and why the characters are being chased. However, Hit and Run is attempting to mesh recent dramedies like Knocked Up and TV’s Scrubs with chase movie tropes. It’s an interesting choice of genre-mashing as you wouldn’t expect them to work – yet here, it strangely does. Dax Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a former getaway driver who’s living in smalltown America with his beautiful girlfriend, Annie Bean (Kristen Bell). When Annie is offered a new job in Los Angeles, Charlie agrees to take her. Shrugging off his Witness Protection agent, Tom Arnold, Charlie takes his Lincoln Continental on the road and heads for the city. Not only are the couple being chased by Tom Arnold, Annie Bean’s ex-girlfriend takes after them and manages to wrangle in Charlie’s former gang to help.

The mixture of genres is interesting and some of the comedy moments do go over quite well. Shepard’s ease working with both his real-life fiance Kristen Bell and long-time friend Bradley Cooper is very much evident throughout. The improvisational nature of the dialogue works well and the fun everyone had making the film comes through. As well as that, Shepard’s love of old-school muscle cars comes through. It’s clear he isn’t just paying lip service to old chase movies or, indeed, the use of American cars for key chase sequences. However, most of the action / chase scenes are quite flat and lack clear direction and energy. Given how Shepard wrote, starred, directed and edited this and without studio intervention, it’s abundantly clear that Hit and Run was a passion project. His enthusiasm for American cars and gearhead culture bursts through the film – particularly in one scene where he and Bell discuss the type of person that would actually drive a blacked-out, tooled-up Lincoln Continental.

 

Sadly, for all of Shepard’s enthusiasm and pluck, it doesn’t translate into much. The film is overwrought with bland subplots, particularly the ex-boyfriend (Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum) and Tom Arnold’s closeted homosexuality that verges on offensive. As mentioned, the chase sequences become uninteresting very quickly and lack real pacing and vigour. While the film was made for a measly two million dollars, half of which was spent on securing the film’s genuinely impressive soundtrack, it’s clear that Hit and Run was being pushed along by Shepard himself. Had he brought in a full-time director and given the screenplay over to a more experienced writer, something much more credible and enjoyable could have been made. Overall, Hit and Run is reasonably enjoyable but doesn’t have any sustaining qualities or glaring faults.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
99 mins

Hit and Run is released on 12th October 2012

Hit and Run   –  Official Website

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The Hangover Part II

The-hangover-part-II-

DIR: Todd Phillips • WRI: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips • PRO: Daniel Goldberg • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Debra Neil-Fisher, Michael L. Sale • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

The problem with sequels is the weight of expectation; people have seen and loved the first one, so any follow-up is going to be compared under the harsh light of comparison. The problem with sequels to comedies is that there has never been a really good sequel to a comedy. Sure, there have been one or two exceptions to the rule (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Wayne’s World 2) but almost every follow up to a great comedy has been a great let-down. And the problem with a sequel to The Hangover is not only did the original break box-office records ($467 million worldwide), but it also managed to win Best Comedy Picture at the Golden Globes. The original was a big deal. So does the sequel break the trend of comedy sequels and live up to its predecessor’s standards? In a word – no.

All of the original Wolfpack are back, with Ed Helms inviting Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha and Zack Galifianakis to his wedding on a secluded beach in Thailand. Two nights before the wedding, the guys are enjoying a quiet drink on the beach with Helms’ wife’s little brother. Cut to the next morning, and the guys wake up with no recollection of the night before. Also they are now smack bang in the middle of Bangkok. Also, the little brother is missing. Also, there’s a monkey, somebody’s finger in ice, Helm’s face is tattooed, all of Galifianakis’ hair is gone, etc, etc.

Anyone who has seen the original will know the drill, as the sequel repeats the comedic beats of the original almost to the point of it being a remake rather than a sequel. Except this time the comedy is much, MUCH darker. Without ruining any of the surprises, tonally the film has more in common with dark comedy/thriller Very Bad Things, especially once the dead bodies, brothels, drug cartels and human trafficking references start rearing their heads.

The relative safety of Vegas is replaced by a constant foreboding threat of the unknown (‘Bangkok has you now’ is spouted more than once, giving a sense that the city is alive and capable of consuming people at will). Much of the laugh-out-loud comedy of the original is now replaced with shocked-into-stunned silence, the cameos range from ‘Why exactly are YOU here?’ to ‘Who exactly are YOU?’, and the whole endeavour smacks of trying too hard to out-do the original without actually trying too hard to make anything different. Perhaps if the original never existed, The Hangover Part II could be an acceptable summer comedy. But as it stands, its level of mediocrity can be viewed as nothing more than an unsurprising disappointment.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Hangover Part II is released on 26th May 2011

The Hangover Part II – Official Website

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