Review: Hail Caeser

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DIR/WRI: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen • PRO: Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Jess Gonchor • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton

To utilise a recurring phrase from Hail Caesar the Coens Brothers always make prestige pictures. Though increasingly their individual filmic output seems to be instantly and strictly branded by critics as either serious fare or lighter fluff. Based on their own terse thoughts in interviews, it’s hardly a distinction the brothers make themselves. And yet here we are again, ostensibly and somehow undeniably at the lighter end of the sliding scale of seriousness.

Cards on table, I am avid fan battling to hold onto impartiality and discernment. Still, I can’t fight the feeling that the serious pictures are being a tad over-praised these days and the lighter pictures unnecessarily lambasted. Early word and trailers for Hail Caesar! were highly promising. The studio setting. The welcome presence of Josh Brolin in a lead role. Clooney looking to poke fun at acting hubris. What’s not to love? And since when have the Coens not wrangled tension, humour and even emotion out of a kidnap plot?

The elements are all present and correct. And yet something at the heart of the film fails to fire, leaving the entertainment soufflé stubbornly refusing to rise. Certainly, there are moments of quality and levity that hit the mark but they are scattered throughout the film like an bony archipelago where a spine should be. Hail Caesar! is brightly shot and endearingly performed by a terrific ensemble cast but crucially and fatally, it’s never exactly fun or funny.

It’s a danger for any reviewer to start reviewing the film Hail Caesar! with what could or should have been but I contend that the promotional materials promised one film while delivering another. Not an uncommon occurrence but insightful since the most effective trailers for this film pitched it as a thriller. And surely that was the connective tissue to ease an audience through this maze of murky plot and uneven tone. The central character Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is a Hollywood studio fixer and initially seems to be occupying a recognisably hard-boiled world. Everyone else is literally acting in a different movie – which may be a very meta-joke as Eddie flitters from film set to film set trying to quell problems – but it’s still an unsolved flaw at the heart of Hail Caesar! Summed up by the kidnapping of one of the studio’s biggest stars Baird Whitlock (Clooney) being drained of any tension by the audience being privy to both sides of the abduction from the get-go.

Again, the Coens are proved masters of making even this scenario sing but here it’s off-key. Thrillers need tension and so occasionally do comedies. Moments of potential interest like studio extras being braced for information are referenced in passing but not depicted – who doesn’t want to see that scene? And yet the Coens are clearly more enthralled with evoking this era on soundstages onto which Mannix walks to impotently watch entire musical numbers of impressive scale but scant narrative interest. In The Big Lebowski, the Dude’s drug fevered dreams still advanced the story and deepened character. As impressive as Channing Tatum’s dance sequence is, beyond the nimble hoofing, it has nothing going on under the hood.

Even by Saturday night multiplex standards, the whole thing starts to feel frightfully slight. Amiable performances alone aren’t enough. Ralph Fiennes returns to mining his recently discovered comedy chops and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich has fun as a drawling cowpoke pushed into a period drama but it’s all a little dramatically inert. Even the solace of great dialogue is mainly absent but of course, there is the occasional golden line.

Overall, one has to be careful and acknowledge historical precedent. The Coens’ body of work contains several films that have grown in affection and stature as the years pass. Personally, Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty have risen off the floor and proved to have an afterlife. I fervently hope Hail Caesar! grows in prestige as the years go by. Hell, that would be swell.

James Phelan

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes

Hail Caesar! is released 4th March 2016

Hail Caesar!  – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: The Hateful Eight

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DIR: Quentin Tarantino • WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh, Stacey Sher • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: Ennio Morricone • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Quentin Tarantino hates you. He really hates your guts. His hatred for humanity is all too clear from this hateful film The Hateful Eight, coincidentally his eighth feature film and by far his worst. He feels no shame for this utterly brazen and immense hatred. He is proud of it. This film is his best expression of contempt for his audience and indeed life itself.

Do you agree with Danny Boyle’s rule-of-thumb that there’s rarely a good reason for a film to be longer than two hours? Quentin Tarantino loathes you. He will punish you with a pace slower than the melting of glaciers for more than two and a half hours for a story easily told in half the time. He will draw scenes out as long as they can be with over-written repetitive dialogue bereft of any charm it had in his other films.

Do you love the characters he and his collaborators have brought to life on-screen before? Tarantino’s had enough of that for now. The clue is in the title. Every character in The Hateful Eight is hateful in a literal sense, so despicable that there is no reason to be invested in what happens to any of them. When a mystery unfolds surrounding the poisoning of coffee, that could still have been an interesting dynamic to see play out, had it not taken almost two hours of tedium for the film to reach that point.

Do you invest in his reputation for writing strong female characters? Among the male-dominated cast of characters, the outlaw Daisy Domergue has tenacity and roughness in the hopes that these superficial traits hide that she is a damsel-in-distress and a plot device. She is also loathsome in every way, giving you no reason to wish her success in overcoming the captors bringing her to justice. At the same time however, you have no reason to enjoy the really distasteful and repeated violence inflicted on her.

Do you appreciate his attempts at writing strong characters for people of colour? He wants you to shove it. Sit back and watch Demián Bichir wasted on a stereotype of Mexicans so egregious, that even Robert Rodriguez would surely reprimand him and that’d be coming from a director who once cast Willem Dafoe in brown-face. Hear so much about the vivacious shack-owner Minnie and then discover an outdated black mammy caricature when she shows up. Assume Samuel L Jackson’s character is an upright bad-ass who walks the path of the righteous man, as it were. Turns out he’s a lying scoundrel who rapes people as punishment.

Oh yes. In what has to be one of the film’s most bizarrely misjudged scenes, of which there are far too many to choose from, he recounts to the father of a man he murdered that he had forced the man to fellate him. This man was a racist confederate so that might make one less inclined to care about his well-being. If, however, Samuel L Jackson’s character reveals that he considers rape a fitting punishment, hilarious in its symbolism, one also cares significantly less about his. As you should any character who considers rape appropriate in any circumstance ever.

But perhaps you like it when Tarantino pushes limits? Well just because a film is “challenging” does not make it good and the circular logic that anyone who doesn’t enjoy a film like this is either a baby or a prude is such a lazy strawman defence. Tarantino still hates you though and he seems intent on making you regret what you wish for. It’s not just wounds and severed limbs that gush with obscene amounts of blood; poisoned characters vomit blood in such ludicrous quantities that it passes beyond the cartoonish fun of his previous films and just becomes obnoxious.

Did you like how brilliantly Pulp Fiction played around with chronological order? Tarantino hates that you did, so very much and this time around, he is going to have a clumsy, snail-paced flashback entitled “Earlier that morning…” more than two hours into this bloated mess.

Do you care about film in general, as a medium for visual storytelling? Tarantino despises you. This brings us to the moment where he atrociously fails as a filmmaker. There are several scenes of characters talking about each other’s back-stories. We do not see these past exploits; we see characters sitting in a coach or a shack talking about these past exploits even when they sound like more interesting stories to see than the film we got. Characters are not revealed through action but through other characters talking about them. This is not how film as a narrative medium works and it is astonishing that a seasoned filmmaker with Oscars and a Palme D’Or needs this explained to him.

The truly unforgivable lapse in competency comes long after the film’s half-way point when we hear a narrator’s voice that had not been introduced previously, explain additional details about what different characters are doing. Rather than conveying that information visually. LIKE A FILM. Who is the narrator? Quentin Tarantino himself, of course. This is basically a filmmaker of iconic status, openly admitting that he has failed as a filmmaker. The film got to the point where his footage was no longer good enough and he personally stepped in to fill in the gaps. That this voice-over is established so late in the film is what makes the crutch so glaringly obvious.

This, along with so many other baffling decisions, amount to such an abject failure in basic, fundamental, visual storytelling that it could only have been deliberate. It is as if Tarantino is intentionally, purposefully trolling the world by setting out to frustrate audiences as much as possible. And the only defence flimsier than “you just didn’t like it because it was challenging” is “I don’t make films for audiences; I make films I want to see”. This is a new low for him and you can absolutely afford to skip it.

Jonathan Victory

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hateful Eight is released 8th January 2016

The Hateful Eight – Official Website

 

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Jupiter Ascending

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DIR: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • WRI: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • PRO: Bruce Berman, Grant Hill, Roberto Malerba, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • DOP: John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Hugh Bateup • CAST: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean

 

The Wachowski siblings have arguably struggled to reignite the commercial success of The Matrix, which altered the parameters of the science-fiction blockbuster in the late 1990s. Whilst their ambitious visual style marks them as visionary masters of their craft, critical opprobrium generated by films such as Speed Racer (2008) and Cloud Atlas (2012) points to an inability to reconcile an intense and elaborate visual technique with that of nonsensical and awkward plots. Such criticism has become the norm in the Wachowskis’ oeuvre and Jupiter Ascending does not appear to deviate from this career trajectory. Originally scheduled for release in July 2014, the film was delayed by seven months owing to an intricate editing process, casting a grim foreboding air over its future.

Written and directed by the Wachowskis (with more than a nod to Dune), Jupiter Ascending is a science fiction space opera starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter, a dissatisfied cleaner who discovers via genetically engineered ex-military hunter Caine (Channing Tatum) that she is the genetic reincarnation of the murdered matriarch of the intergalactic royal Abrasax family and rightful owner of Earth, the most profitable planet. The three Abrasax heirs are one of the ruling dynasties of the universe who harvest the planets once overpopulated to create a youth elixir that will see them live for millennia. When the Abrasax siblings discover Earth and their vast galactic inheritance rightfully belong to Jupiter, the duo embark on a frenetic galactic odyssey, intercepting the Abrasaxes attempts to kill her and reclaim ownership of Earth.

Adapting the classic big guy versus smaller guy narrative and attempting to elevate it to another level fails miserably in Jupiter Ascending and this is largely owing to the film’s egregious script. Whilst the reported $175 million budget for the film is clearly evident through its ambitious production design, resplendent costumes and intricately choreographed combat sequences, once the enterprising if not rather turgid spectacle has been stripped away, the audience is left with not much else. In an attempt to compensate for an over-investment into the film’s elaborate special effects, the Wachowskis infuse the narrative with a romance between the protagonists but this proves to be regressive, misplaced and underwhelming in a film containing convoluted sub-plots and involving too many archetypal characters delivering hackneyed and disjointed dialogue. All that is achieved is a chaotic core narrative with the film’s players evidently overwhelmed by the deluge of the CGI stunts involved and having very little else to do.

Kunis is undoubtedly miscast as the hapless toilet cleaner turned kick-ass action heroine and Tatum, as the hypermasculinised, saturnine, elf-eared hero, is just redundant throughout. Kunis struggles to connect with the oppressive characteristics of Jupiter and can only muster enthusiasm for the role once involved in combat. Only Eddie Redmayne as the dastardly, camp Balem Abrasax and Sean Bean as poker-faced Stinger appear to inject any sort of emotional depth into their characters, although Redmayne does border on the comical at times.

Unlike The Matrix or Cloud Atlas, which provided texts rich in philosophical musings and religious symbolism, Jupiter Ascending fails to offer its audiences anything other than a one-dimensional and disappointingly regressive visual saga of sci-fi fantasy and 1950s pulp. As craftspeople, the Wachowskis cannot be faulted for the dazzling spectacle they have created in Jupiter Ascending. Alas, this has come at a cost to both the film’s actors and audiences, who have just been deposited into a glaring void of ennui and confusion.

 

               Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

127 minutes
Jupiter Ascending is released 6th February 2015

Jupiter Ascending –  Official Website

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Foxcatcher

 

Foxcatcher

DIR: Bennett Miller • WRI: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman • PRO: Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill • DES: Jess Gonchor • MUS: Rob Simonsen • CAST: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

There is a scene toward the beginning of Foxcatcher, the sports drama about wrestling star Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his relationship with troubled millionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carrell), that neatly encapsulates the depth of the film.

Mark grapples with his brother Dave, whom he is eclipsed and overshadowed by in the wrestling world. They playfully twist and turn, circling around and clambering at one another. On one level, it is a friendly spar between two close brothers and competitors who respect one another’s skill.

But in each spirited stretch there is a kind of simmering tension and a sense of unease. The careful observer sees the frustration in every lock and the jealously in each hold. Eventually it boils over and Mark delivers a headbutt that causes Dave’s nose to gush blood. Dave shrugs it off, but the illusion of friendly sibling competition is over.

Foxcatcher trades blows under the friendly veneer of a sports drama, but once you watch its movements more carefully you pick out its real passions and concerns: masculinity, identity, legacy and one of the most insightful looks into post-war American politics you’re likely to see in a film about greased-up beefcakes grappling at one another sensually.

Foxcatcher is based on a shocking true story. It concerns Olympic gold medalist in wrestling Mark Schultz who is promised fame and glory by millionaire John Du Pont if Schultz will join and champion Du Pont’s private wrestling team, based at his home on Foxcatcher farm, which he hopes will become the base for the sport of wrestling in the United States. Their relationship ends in violence, brought on by du Pont’s simmering schizophrenia.

As we meet Mark, he is a young man whose bright determination is forever dimmed by the shadow of his brother’s greater success. He is mistaken for his brother as he plods through a motivational speech to a group of bored looking children and his frustration is evident later, his annoyance painted in vibrant streaks of blood across his brother’s face.

In many ways Du Pont faces a similar dilemma. He is the heir to the du Pont millions, mountains of cash built with munitions and artillery. He deifies his forefathers, while still evidently feeling frustrated by the comfortable, lavish existence their work has given to him. He disdains the snobbishness and notions of class that come with it. This conflict is epitomised by Du Pont’s mother, an “old money” type who regards only the elegant equestrian sports as befitting the pedigree of her great family, regarding her son’s enthusiasm for wrestling as a sort of brutish, filthy, animal occupation.

And so, after a phone call, Mark journeys to meet Mr Du Pont who seems to have everything Mark has ever looked for. As the pampered rich boy talks of regaining America’s glory and masculine, pioneer toughness, Schultz eats it right up. Du Pont will employ him to make America a “shining city on the hill” again, and perhaps in the process some of that shining light might thrust him from his brother’s long shadow.

Foxcatcher is, in so many ways, a restrained film. Given the true story’s violent conclusion, the cinematic adaptation could have been a vicious and lurid thing, depicting Du Pont as a man overflowing with entertaining insanity, a vision of mental illness like a clown at a circus.

But the way the film handles it is so much more compelling. Its cinematography is tight and controlled. Its performances are, for the most part, quiet and deliberate and all the more menacing for those qualities. Du Pont’s troubled psyche, as he strolls into his gym with a pistol and requests that his athletes refer to him as “Golden Eagle”, is not a grand, flashy fireworks display but a slow, corrosive burn. Steve Carrell, an actor who I ordinarily have little time for, is truly excellent as the nasal, slight yet sinister Du Pont.

The film is really an opportunity for its actors to flash their talent. Tatum proves once more he is far more than just something for the ladies of the audience to stare at, with a performance that perfectly captures all the arrogance and anger that testosterone pumping through your blood tends to inspire and especially in a field as machismo-dominated as professional wrestling. If Du Pont and Schultz represent unbridled American Machismo, then Ruffalo’s Dave turns the spotlight on its Latin American counterpart: Caballerismo. He is tough and yet at the same time warm-hearted and responsible, powerful without needing to exercise that power to harm others. Ultimately the film is a collision of these two visions of masculinity, a restrained compassion endorsed by a gentle giant and a violent glory expounded on by a weak, anemic rich kid.

The film’s music seems to emphasise the conflict in du Pont’s psyche between his refined upbringing and his vision of traditional strength. The score alternates between delicate stringed instruments and the rich, pounding heartbeats of drums that seem to signal war.

In much the same way that Rocky VI was the Cold War writ large in a boxing ring, Foxcatcher paints a much grimmer portrait of American domestic politics of the age, daubing its red, white and blue shades on the wrestling mat. So many of du Pont’s inspiring soundbites about “National Glory” and “Honour” and “Strength” could be ripped word for word from the speeches of Ronald Regan and other American Neoconservatives of his day, who wanted to see a new dawn of a tough, brave and essentially macho America. This grim vision of the ’80s is only completed by a scene where du Pont instructs Schultz in the right way to praise the millionaire as the two snort cocaine on their way to a formal dinner.

Foxcatcher is about wrestling with the past, about wrestling with our legacies and where we come from, about wrestling with who we used to be or who people perceive us as, and about wrestling with an old political and cultural world we think we can throw away. Foxcatcher is a film about manning up and stepping out of the shadows. But it’s also about what happens when the only part of yourself you can reach out of those shadows is a fist.

 

David O’Donoghue

15A (See IFCO for details)
134 minutes.
Foxcatcher
is released 9th January 2015.

Foxcatcher  – Official Website

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The Book of Life

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DIR: Jorge Gutierrez  WRI: Jorge Gutierrez, Doug Langdale  PRO: Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Guillermo del Toro, Carina Schulze  ED: Ahren Shaw  MUS: Gustavo Santaolalla, Paul Williams  CAST: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Christina Applegate

 

An eye-popping digitally animated piñata inspired by Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead, The Book of Life bears the unmistakable mark of producer Guillermo Del Toro in its combination of the supernatural and the sentimental.  The story – a mishmash of Romeo and Juliet, Orpheus and Eurydice, and about a dozen other sources – involves a love triangle between gentle Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), lovely Maria (Zoe Saldana) and vainglorious but good-natured Joachin (Channing Tatum).  The trio become the subject of a wager between the supernatural figures Xibalba (Ron Perlman) and La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), with the eventual result that Manolo must travel through multiple levels of the afterlife in order to prove his devotion to Maria.  Also involved are a magical medal, marauding bandits, and some discomfiting business about bullfighting.

 

In fact, the plot is so busy that more than half the running time has elapsed before Manolo even gets to the afterlife.  When he does so, the parallel Lands of the Remembered and the Forgotten are visual marvels, the former bursting with vibrant colours, the latter near monochrome.  Innumerable flower petals and flickering candles are captured with exquisite detail, the immersive environments enhanced by excellent 3D rendering.  In fact, so spectacular are the supernatural planes that it’s a shame the film has to rush through them in double-quick time, only to return to the Land of the Living for the resolution of the rather rote central love story.  The subplot, involving the villainous bandit Chakal, feels shoehorned in to provide a villain and an action climax, eating up time that would have been better spent luxuriating in the film’s richly imagined visuals.

 

The characters are rendered as minutely detailed wooden puppets, and are prettily designed, if occasionally blocky and inexpressive in motion.  The central trio’s appeal is almost entirely visual, as bland voice work from most of the cast – particularly Saldana and Tatum – does little to bring them to life.  In smaller roles, Perlman and Del Castillo chew the digitised scenery with relish, though Christina Applegate’s Nickelodeon-ready voice brings little mystique to the quasi-supernatural museum guide whose narration frames the action and is used to provide reassurance in potentially upsetting moments.  While the visuals are pleasingly distinctive, the songs don’t do much with Mexico’s rich musical culture, with gimmicky mariachi renditions of played-out numbers by Radiohead and Mumford and Sons working against the folkloric quality for which the story is aiming.

 

Despite the Day of the Dead theme, and consequent frankness about death itself, The Book of Life is geared primarily to young children.  Its riot of colour and activity is likely to go down a storm with that audience, although adults drawn in by Del Toro’s prominently billed involvement may be left hankering for a richer exploration of the material’s gothic potential.  Nevertheless, the film represents a quantum leap from animation studio Reel FX’s last feature, the convoluted and unappealing Free Birds (2013).

 

Consistently delightful to look at, even when it flounders as storytelling, The Book of Life is certainly the most vivacious film about death since Beetlejuice (1986).  With a little more of that film’s antic invention, and a little less focus-grouped proselytizing about the virtues of heroism, it might have been a classic.

 

David Turpin

G (See IFCO for details)
95 minutes

The Book of Life is released 24th October 2014

The Book of Life – Official Website

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22 Jump Street

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DIR: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller • WRI: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman • PRO: Jonah Hill, Neal H. Moritz, Channing Tatum  • ED: Keith Brachmann, David Rennie  • DOP: Barry Peterson • DES: Steve Saklad • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Just how self-aware is too self-aware?

Take any old film review as an example – perhaps that of 22 Jump Street, the sequel to 2012’s surprise critical success 21 Jump Street, which saw inept police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover as teenagers in order to infiltrate a high-school drug ring with genuinely hilarious results.

In writing such a review, anyone might throw their hands up in despair, reasoning that each and every serious journalistic word-play concerning the film’s premise (see: Jonah “Over-The” Hill and Channing “Age-um” Tatum) has surely already been played out to their natural conclusion the first time around, and as such cannot be recycled into a new review. Unless, of course, said reviewer was enterprising enough to package those same old jokes as a form of meta-humour, and slip them past audiences with a wink, a nudge and an overwrought introductory paragraph such as, why, this one. The same reviewer might indeed ask you to bear with him, as this awkward metaphor pays off later.

In a continuation of the same self-satire championed by the likes of Arrested Development and Community but rather fumbled by this reviewer above, 22 Jump Street isn’t long in establishing that it is well aware of its status as a sequel. “Just do the same thing,” the duo’s police commissioner reasons. “Do the same thing, and everybody’s happy.”

Indeed, Jump Street’s latest case sees the two faced with a carbon copy task of last time, simply bigger – to infiltrate a group of college drug dealers and identify their supplier, with much of the same shenanigans ensuing along the way. With an inflated budget, their resources are greater, the guns bigger, the cars faster, Ice Cube’s angry police captain even angrier.

Hill and Tatum are on form again with a screen chemistry that is one part brotherly machismo to nine parts desperate co-dependence; Tatum, in particular, stretching comic muscles that leave those of his petty mortal flesh in the dust. The script, by turns, thumbs its nose and rolls its eyes at all the typical conventions expected of blockbuster sequels and, while it often works, therein also lies the rub. To hark back to our reviewer’s awkward opening paragraphs, while fun, Jump Street’s pointed awareness of the failure to deliver anything fresh does little to enliven reheated gags and plot points, and the constant navel-gazing ultimately speaks of a desire to play it safe as much as poke fun.

As a sequel, 22 Jump Street has developed along much the same lines as its aging undercover protagonists – though once lean the writing inclines to flab and quick wits begin to wander, a dose of boyish charm and bountiful goodwill is still enough to save it – if not quite enough to recapture the good old days.

Fans of the first will love it, and sticking it through to the end is recommended for all.

Ruairí Moore

 

16 (See IFCO for details)
111 mins

22 Jump Street is released on 6th June 2014

22 Jump Street – Official Website

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Cinema Review: White House Down

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DIR: Roland Emmerich WRI: James Vanderbilt PRO: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt. DOP: Anna Foerster ED: Adam Wolfe DES: Kirk M. Petruccelli CAST: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke

It is one of the terrible beauties of Hollywood genre filmmaking that it remains committed to the cause of ideological equivocation, even while seeming to attempt to confront the Realities of Globalization, Extremism, and Socio-Political Anxiety in the Post-9/11 World: it is consistency amidst chaos, perpetuating chaos.

White House Down, the latest from disaster film director par excellence Roland Emmerich, performs such a dance of prevarication with all the outwardly liberal leanings of the 18-34 millennial demographic. The baddies (and this could not possibly spoil anything) are inside-job conservatives in the pocket of military armament providers; the president (Jamie Foxx) is Backbone Obama with a penchant for Air Jordans and a natural affinity for the rocket launcher; the hero (Channing Tatum) is tough on terrorists and gentle on squirrels.

…He is, of course, also white because of course he is. Tatum, who has been lauded for the past year and a bit as Hollywood’s next superstar leading man (always the “next”, never the “now”) takes top billing despite Foxx’s having won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and despite the film’s multiple protagonist scope that could just as easily have seen President Sawyer’s role listed first on cast and credits. It’s not Channing Tatum’s fault he’s white, male, and conventionally attractive; it is Hollywood’s fault that so is every other marketable male action star today (with the recent, ageing exception of Will Smith).

That said, Tatum is just Sylvester Stallone-vapid enough to function as the all-American hero who just wants to impress his daughter by landing a job with the Secret Service and gets caught up instead in a terrorist attack at the White House. Handy that he learned to fight and defend – for politically sanctioned reasons – while serving in Afghanistan. And handy that as a foil for the ex-servicemen-gone-rogue responsible for blowing up Capitol Hill, he offsets anxieties about the essential moral corruptibility of the individual soldier trained to kill for money. The noble one – in Emmerich, in Hollywood – excuses (or eliminates where he cannot redeem) the several corrupt. That’s how capitalism saves the day every evening from the problems it posed in the morning.

Ideological dissonances notwithstanding, Channing Tatum’s Bankability Down boasts an excellently devised car chase across the White House lawn and the requisite number of explosions. Its narrative economy is remarkable – Die Hard-esque even – despite running over two hours long: there is nothing superfluous, nothing wanting in its plot. And yet, as the film’s recent tanking at the American box office would suggest, there is something fundamentally lacking in its design.

Perhaps it’s because Antoine Fuqua already made the same movie earlier in the year with Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps it’s because Roland Emmerich actually blew up the White House way back in 1996, when the scariest enemies were from outer space, and techie nerds like Jeff Goldblum were more sexy-exotic, less Julian Assange-anarchist. Maybe the myth of the Hollywood disaster-action flick has been exploded one too many times in real life on tv, YouTube and the video phone to function as cathartic of our repressed fears and internalized anxieties. Whatever the case may be, what worked twenty years ago doesn’t work today, even with massively improved CGI and cynically-politically correct casting.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131 mins

White House Down is released on 13th September 2013

White House Down  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

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DIR: Jon M. Chu • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Brian Goldner • DOP: Stephen F. Windon • ED: Roger Barton, Jim May •  DES: Andrew Menzies • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, D.J. Cotrona, Channing Tatum

 

A sequel that surely not too many people asked for, G.I. Joe: Retaliation belatedly follows 2009’s summer blip G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, arriving in cinemas almost nine months after it was originally due. The party line is that this delay was entirely to convert the film to 3D, although rumours circled on the internet of rewrites and reshoots. But there’s no evidence of any post-shoot tightening in this sluggish, unambitious schlockbuster. And the 3D’s not even that great either.

Following the events of Rise of Cobra, the evil Cobra Commander remains imprisoned in an impenetrable high-tech facility and the Joes are still the world’s No.1 defence force. Channing Tatum’s Duke now runs the show, backed up by Dwayne Johnson’s human sandbag Roadblock. But, as none of you will remember from the first film, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) remains a hostage of Cobra, and their evil stand-in Zartan has his finger on all the triggers. Soon Cobra Commander is unleashed and the Joes are being wiped out in an impossibly well-planned attack that kills off (off-screen) all the characters whose actors refused to return to the franchise. Only a handful of the elite soldiers remain to try and defeat the plans of Cobra Commander and his evil POTUS. You can imagine how it goes.

G.I. Joe 2 corrects many of the mistakes of the first film, reducing the degree of sci-fi chicanery in favour of fists-and-bullets action. However, where the first film had some very basically sketched characters (backstories, flashbacks and everything!) and an infantile but to-the-point narrative momentum, Retaliation has almost no character development and its second act is a disaster of storytelling. As Roadblock and his team try to build a guerrilla unit in the US with retired general Bruce Willis and his band of G.I. Joeriatrics, martial arts expert Snake Eyes (the boundlessly athletic Ray Park, still silent and fully masked) must journey to somewhere in Asia to fight all the ninjas that ever were. Remember that bit in Iron Man 2 where Agent Coulson leaves to go to New Mexico and deal with the events of Thor? Now imagine if those two films were intercut with one another. That’s how jarring the mismatch of quests in this film is.

Character-wise this film is bankrupt. A bit of bromantic banter between Tatum and The Rock in the first act adds up to nothing. Willis manages to be just slightly less spaced out than he was in A Good Day to Die Hard. The female Joe (Adrianne Palicki) has daddy issues and looks good in tight clothes. The white male Joe (D.J. Cotrona) may actually not have any lines for all you can tell. Snake Eyes can’t even speak, let alone demonstrate facial expressions, yet he still out-acts his sidekick girl ninja (Elodie Yung). In some bizarre casting, RZA shows up as blind martial arts master Blind Master (the G.I. Joe series was never very subtle with its character names), bringing the rapper’s charisma-less movie career to a new low by drudgingly rattling off exposition like a screen between video game levels.

The villains have far more fun. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been replaced as Cobra Commander by It Doesn’t Matter You Can’t See His Face, Lee Byung-hun and Ray Stevenson have plenty of fun as evil ninja Storm Shadow and Southern-fried pyromaniac Firefly, respectively. But when it comes to delivering Cobra’s (actually inspired) end game, it is Jonathan Pryce who delivers, hamming it up beautifully as President Zartan in an epic game of nuclear chicken. Twice as over-the-top as he was in Tomorrow Never Dies, Pryce is undoubtedly the film’s highlight.

But with the exception of the big bad plan, the story is a mess, and much of the dialogue is cringe-worthy to the point of spasm-inducing. The Joes have gone from an international fighting team to a deadly serious Team America, while no one seems to bat an eyelid when the President hires Cobra as his elite bodyguard unit, despite the world’s most dangerous terrorist being called “Cobra Commander”.

Not even The Rock, who is finally being taken seriously as a charismatic action lead thanks to Fast Five, cannot save this film from floundering. Somehow, in spite of its near-$200m budget, director Jon M. Chu (most known for some of the Step Up dance movies and a Justin Bieber concert film) has managed to make a cheap-looking action movie. The effects look flimsy. The rapid cutting and dim lighting seem to be hiding uncompleted sets, while also causing the 3D to blur frantically. The final skirmish is not on a scale anywhere near as huge as the first film’s climax, while the images of Roland Emmerich-scale city destruction are so brief there’s hardly a frame of it in the film not featured in the trailer. Compare to the ridiculous but amusing Eiffel Tower sequence from Rise of Cobra and you realise big money clearly does not go as far as it used to.

A brainless popcorn movie for a cold night in with a DVD if ever there was one, G.I. Joe: Retaliation cannot live up to its promise of mayhem and The Rock and ninjas. And surely that was an easy one to get right.

David Neary

12A (see IFCO website for details)

110mins
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is released on 29th March 2013

 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2YMu52MfqA

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Cinema Review: Side Effects

DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Scott Z. Burns  PRO: Scott Z. Burns, Gregory Jacobs, Lorenzo di Bonaventura  DOP: Steven Soderbergh  ED: Steven Soderbergh   DES: Howard Cummings  CAST: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

It’s a big day for Emily Taylor (Mara). Her young husband Martin (Tatum) is being released from jail after serving four years for insider trading, and it should be a chance for the young couple to start all over all again, and maybe recapture the glamorous lifestyle they had. But then Emily drives her car into a wall – and it doesn’t look like an accident.

At hospital, the on-call psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) believes she’s not suicidal, but she does become his patient – and the search for a drug that will help lift her ‘fog’ of depression begins. Things improve, but then it goes sideways; she begins to sleepwalk, loses her sense of time, and then there’s another possible suicide attempt. Nothing’s working, so after consulting Emily’s former therapist Victoria Sibert (Zeta-Jones), Law cautiously prescribes ablixa, a new ‘wonder’ drug he’s acting as a consultant for.

At this stage, the fim takes one of its many turns and things aren’t all they seem as Soderbergh skilfully lays out his revelatory drama. An incident results in Emily being shipped off for court-ordered psychiatric care, but then a question mark forms over Dr. Banks and his actions. Was what happened a terrible side effect of ablixa, the drug he prescribed? Is someone else to blame here?

Mud sticks though, and now Banks becomes front page news. There’s a medical enquiry, and he quickly begins to lose everything: patients, the consultancy, and then his practice. His psychiatrist his sessions with Emily have to continue though, and he becomes suspicious about her. Some of the things she said don’t add up, and the stock prices for a rival to ablixa have soared in the wake of this scandal; can the two things be related?

Then Banks receives some compromising photographs in the mail, and a story from his past comes back to haunt him. His wife Dee (Vinessa Shaw) leaves him, taking their son, and Banks realizes that he’s being set up, and there’s nothing he can do about it – except work with his patient, Emily, to find out what’s going on…

Apparently Soderbergh’s last movie before his retirement, Side Effects is a low-scale thriller that again marks another tight collaboration between him and writer Scott Z. Burns (they worked on Contagion and The Informant! too). Soderbergh – again working as his own cinematographer and editor under assumed names – keeps the tension up, and though there are some good performances from Rooney and especially Law, there’s a distinct lacks of thrills and danger.

 

Whether there’s the suggestion of a huge medical industry conspiracy or not, you still expect Law to get into some real trouble, be in real danger – but here it’s more garden variety career and family ruination. When you start with a bloody stabbing and get into lies and deception you expect more of a drama spiral, but never the less it’s a solid piece of modern filmmaking. No matter what, make sure you check out the great ablixa ‘website’: www.tryablixa.com

James Bartlett

15A (see IFCO website for details)

105mins
Side Effects is released on 8th March 2013

Side Effects – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGe2ZE0prGg

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Cinema Review: Magic Mike

cheeky

 

DIR: Steven Soderbergh • WRI: Reid Carolin • PRO: Reid Carolin, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Steven Soderbergh •  Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn

By day, Mike (Channing Tatum) is busy at one of his many jobs; construction worker, auto-parts dealer, furniture designer. But by night, he transforms into Magic Mike, the star of Dallas’ (Matthew McConaughey) all-male stripper show in Tampa Bay, where he performs alongside a bevy of muscular studs (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez) to a throng of screaming, dollar-throwing females of all ages. One day Mike bumps into The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and through a string of coincidences, ends up shoving him on stage when one of their crew falls ill, and wouldn’t you know it, The Kid looks good in his underwear.

And so begins an Obi-Wan/Luke relationship, with Mike taking The Kid under his wing to show him the highs (and inevitable lows) of the world of male stripping. Straight off the bat, this is not a male version of Showgirls. Directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) and based in part on Tatum’s own experiences as a stripper, there are two ways to enjoy this movie; (1) As an excuse to enjoy all of the well-toned flesh on stage. There is A LOT of it, and it has to be sad that the dance sequences are pretty impressive. Or (2) An argument could be made that this film is an essay in modern-day male bonding, or in the relatively recent invention of ‘Bromance’, or the reacquisition of male sexuality, or whatever reasons uptight straight males have to give in order to go see a fun movie that just happens to have guys shaking their butts in ass-less chaps.

Tatum brings his usual puppy-dog charm and carries the film well, Pettyfer continues to have one of the most punchable faces in modern cinema, but that serves him well for this particular role, and the rest of the supporting cast are fine, with a standout being McConaughey, who brings the same sleazy sexuality and inherent threat level he presented in Killer Joe, but dialled way down to a less homicidal, but more entertaining level here.

If there are any faults, it’s that considering the movie’s primary fan base will be women, the women in the movie are very poorly represented. There are only two worthy of note; one (Olivia Munn) being a bisexual wingman for Mike, and the other (Cody Horn) is supposed to be Mike’s romantic interest/soul salvation, but is such a constantly moaning harpy that it’s hard to ever warm to her. Also, as inevitable and supposedly necessary as the ‘If you have too much sex, alcohol and drugs, there’s going to be a downside’ arc is, the fallout scenes with hollow sex with strangers, hangovers and overdoses are still a total bummer and drag down the whole fun, frivolous vibe the film had going until that point.

But aside from these gripes, Magic Mike is still an easy to enjoy movie, with Soderbergh bringing some of his distinctive camera work and editing to make what could have been a trashy night out into a visually interesting, well told story about oiled up guys who don’t like wearing clothes.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
110m 10s

Magic Mike is released on 13th July 2012

Magic Mike – Official Website

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Cinema Review: 21 Jump Street

DIR: Phil Lord, Chris Miller • WRI: Michael Bacall • PRO: Stephen J. Cannell, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Barry Peterson • ED: Mark Livolsi • DES: Peter Wenham • Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Johnny Depp

21 Jump Street falls neatly into the category of ‘why?’ remakes – an iconic ’80s TV series turned into movie franchise brings to mind a disaster like Miami Vice. However, unlike other attempts to repackage the ’80s as relevant to modern times, 21 Jump Street uses the old series as a jumping-off point to create an original angle on an unoriginal idea. Two policemen going undercover as high-school kids is as hackneyed as they come, but by dint of some genuinely hilarious writing and top-class casting choices, 21 raises its head well above the parapet.

The two leading men, Channing Tatum as Greg and Jonah Hill as Morton, are misfit ex-enemies from high school – one thick but kind, and the other smart but socially inept – who end up best friends whilst training in the police force. Their early policing attempts play for laughs, one hilarious scene boasts them chasing a hardcore biker gang on push-bikes, and they find themselves pegged as immature and childish. Happily, these are the exact attributes required by the covert operations at 21, Jump Street, where Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson rules with foul-mouthed glee. They are assigned high-school detail to search for a new drug, and the sheer idiocy of this is never ignored, as students continuously comment on their obvious age – a comic tactic employed by this tongue-in-cheek movie as it takes itself not one-ounce seriously. Here they meet the super-popular gang – Greg, as ex- high-school jock and all-round cool kid, takes control of the situation, showing Morton the keys to maintaining status. However, in yet another hilarious scene, they are confronted by the fact that the ‘geeks’ now rule the school – led by Dave Franco’s Eric, an environmental champion who heads up the school paper and gets excellent grades.

Jokes abound in the comical mix-up of their identities, with Greg getting sent to the ‘smart’ classes, while Morton is expected to play for the football team, but there are some great action sequences too – culminating in a long-overdue epic explosion. Much has been made of the cameo appearance of the original TV series’ actors, but it is to the credit of those holding down the story up until that point that the appearance of Johnny Depp merely adds another comedic layer to a well-built structure, instead of upstaging them.

Despite the relative inexperience in the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the actors involved, (all of whom could at any moment steal the show), are kept in check, providing a seamless impression of teamwork and camaraderie that makes this buddy film. While by no means exceptional, the movie is lifted above the mediocre by its snappy writing, excellent set-ups and by the shockingly brilliant comedic talents of Channing Tatum – who manages to make Jonah Hill seem like the amateur. An escape to teenagehood, this stands as a solid comedic reimagining of a TV series that takes loving jibes at the original, makes fun of itself at all times, and overall delivers laughs a-plenty. An inoffensive undercover romp that guarantees a hefty giggle – just what this awards-heavy season needed!

Sarah Griffin


Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
21, Jump Street is released on 16th March 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k0mo_oJfn4

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Cinema Review: The Vow

get a room

DIR: Michael Sucsy • WRI: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn • PRO: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Paul Taublieb • DOP: Rogier Stoffers • ED: Melissa Kent, Nancy Richardson • DES: Kalina Ivanov • Cast: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange

The interestingly-named Michael Sucsy’s new romantic drama The Vow is best encapsulated by not so much a single word as a single sound, and that sound is ‘eeuuchh..’. Released to coincide with Valentine’s Day and designed in every aspect to ensnare as many hormonally-charged teenage couples as possible, this is a Hallmark card of a movie, pre-packaged and sanitised to within an inch of its life. The Vow is loosely based on a true story, and concerns young artist Paige (Rachel McAdams), married to recording studio owner Leo (Channing Tatum), who survives a near-fatal car accident only to be left with no recollection of her husband or their marriage. Leo subsequently sets about re-staging the key events of their courtship as he tries to make Paige fall in love with him a second time.

Now I realise that as a mildly grizzled thirty-something male I am probably not the ideal audience for this type of froth, but it seems to me that the least that even the most easily-pleased of audiences should expect is a script that manages to rise above the level of something churned out over a wet weekend by a gaggle of lovestruck 12 year-old girls. There are lines of dialogue in The Vow so hideously clunky that you can practically feel your seat buckle beneath you. The performances are similarly insipid, Rachel McAdams (apparently the go-to actress for those dealing in this type of slush) sleepwalks through an unchallenging role, vainly trying to establish a connection with love interest Channing Tatum. To be fair to McAdams though, this is in large part due to the fact that Tatum, who seems to be some class of talking bicep, is impossible to take seriously in any kind of dramatic role. He’s even harder to buy here as a cool and charming music producer, being possessed of all the charisma of a filing cabinet. His primary task in The Vow seems to be to proudly exhibit his chiseled linebacker physique and predilection for chunky knitwear at every available opportunity, while failing utterly to convince as a love interest to McAdams’ free-spirited artist / sculptor. The idea that anyone would fall in love with this mug not once, but twice, is risible. In terms of the rest of the cast, Sam Neill and Jessica Lange have the good grace to look mildly embarrassed to be involved, with Lange in particular looking suspiciously as if she’s ingested a small wheelbarrow full of Xanax just to get through the experience.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of romantic mush at this time of year, the least one should expect is a modicum of playfulness and wit. The Vow is devoid of these qualities, and plays out its awkward, sickly-sweet melodrama over a soulless, charmless 104 minutes. In fact, I’ve seen Health and Safety instructional videos that inspire more romantic ardour than this foul potpourri of cynical sentiment and putrid cliche. I repeat, eeuuuch….

Martin Cusack

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Vow is released on 10th February 2012

The Vow – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Haywire

thems' fightin' words

DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Lem Dobbs  PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Alan Moloney, Michael Polaire,Tucker Tooley  DOP: Peter Andrews  ED: Peter Andrews  DES: Howard Cummings  Cast: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan Mc Gregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas

Director Steven Soderbergh has averaged a film a year since his acclaimed 1989 debut Sex, Lies & Videotape, an incredible work rate by modern filmmaking standards especially for one who frequently works within the political vagaries fof the studio system. A slippery stylist, Soderbergh’s films hop from genre to genre with creative restlessness appearing to be his defining characteristic whether filming glossy,  expensive star laden confections such as the Oceans series or experimenting with digital video and unknown actors on low budget conceits such as Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience.

With Haywire – his 23rd full length feature – he takes another stylistic left turn this being an independently financed, relatively low budget B-movie style action film of which a large portion was filmed in Dublin back in 2010. Mixed martial arts star Gina Carano portrays Mallory Kane, a covert operative for hire who performs certain ‘tasks’ for shady global organizations such as rescuing a Chinese journalist held hostage in Barcelona  which is the first instance in the film that we witness Carano’s and Mallory’s athleticism and asskicking skills as she fights her way out of a corner.

After a successful mission, Mallory is then dispatched by her handler Kenneth (Ewan Mc Gregor) to Dublin. Her mission is to assassinate an Iranian ambassador with the help of a suave British operative portrayed by Michael Fassbender but things go awry and she soon finds herself doublecrossed and left for dead. On the run, she flees back to the States where she devises a plan to exact revenge on those who’ve betrayed her.

The  generic plot of Haywire could have been lifted from any ‘international’ action thriller stretching back from 1960’s to the present day. In fact, one could easily imagine Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson or James Coburn or on the lower end of the scale Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal inhabiting Carano’s role in decades past.

What makes Haywire stand out from the pack? Well probably the only thing for this reviewer were the fight scenes which crackle with realism, vigour and fluidity meaning there is none of the fast editing/shakycam technique that has become the signature style of Hollywood action films since the success of the Bourne franchise. Obviously the fact that Carano is quite a formidable physical presence in her own right  adds to the believability of these expertly choreographed confrontations and we get a sense of the sweat, the struggle and pain of close combat in Soderbergh’s long takes.

The film makes light use of  a fairly heavyweight cast: Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas  in particular come and go, act in a couple fo scenes and then leave without making much of an impression. Of course, Carano is the star here and Soderbergh is subverting a male dominated genre so maybe the point is to make these iconic actors subservient so that their mere presence doesnt detract or overwhelm the female lead. Fassbender makes the strongest impression but then he does get to take on Carano in a violent hotel room one on one.

So as a showcase for Carano’s natural abilities, sultry good looks and relaxed screen presence, the film is enjoyable but outside of the action, the film feels rather lethargic, which is only exacerbated by the rather flat dialogue and understated David Holmes score. It feels like a detached exercise rather than a project which the director was passionate about, a chance for him to develop his skillset in another genre and while there is certainly nothing wrong with a stripped down action film too often Haywire feels diffuse and perfunctory.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Haywire is released on 20th January 2012

Haywire – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU_v6Wl3tBw

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