DIR: Doug Ellin • WRI: Doug Ellin, Rob Weiss • PRO: Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Rob Weiss • DOP: Steven Fierberg • DES: Chase Harlan • Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thornton, Ronda Rousey, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rex Lee, Emily Ratajkowski
When the idea of an Entourage movie was first mooted, it seemed like only a matter of time before it eventually came to pass. Four years have passed since the curtain came down on the popular HBO series, but despite covering plenty of ground during its eight season run, creator Doug Ellin clearly feels that the journey of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his childhood friends has not yet been completed.
Rather than looking at the principle players a few years on, the action instead picks up just nine days after the end of the final TV episode. We learn that Vincent’s marriage to a Vanity Fair journalist (an absent Alice Eve) has proven to be unsuccessful, and we also discover that his former agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), has emerged from his short-lived retirement to become the head of a major Hollywood studio.
Following the re-introduction of each major character – including Vincent’s manager Eric ‘E’ Murphy (Kevin Connolly), his half-brother Johnny ‘Drama’ Chase (Kevin Dillon) and personal driver/assistant ‘Turtle’ (Jerry Ferrara) – we then jump forward several months, as Chase attempts to apply the finishing touches to his directorial debut, ‘Hyde’.
Although an exclusive segment with Piers Morgan gives the impression that everything is going according to plan, Chase makes his third request for extra funding, which causes considerable stress for an under pressure Gold. This latest turn of events requires him to visit the studio’s main financier (a Texan billionaire played by Billy Bob Thornton), but when he returns to California along with his son – who is portrayed by former child prodigy Haley Joel Osment – it quickly becomes apparent that increasing the film’s budget won’t be easy.
When you consider how successful the Sex and the City movies were at the box office, it certainly makes sense from a monetary point of view to transfer Entourage onto the big screen. A modest budget of $27.5 million means that it will more than likely be a money-spinner for HBO and Warner Bros, but in moving away from its cable television roots, does it justify its presence in a cinema?
The fact that Entourage has opted against toning down its content for a softer rating makes it unlikely that it will reach the same income level of Sex and the City, but this will certainly placate those who are hoping to see a similarly explicit approach from Ellin for his first feature film in 17 years.
Unfortunately, the film’s big problem lies in the fact that it just feels like a succession of television episodes rolled into one. At 104 minutes, it is roughly the length of four episodes, and when you consider that the shortest seasons of Entourage still contained eight episodes (the third season stretched out to 20), the ending of the film does feel incredibly abrupt.
The sheer volume of celebrity cameos is often a distraction as well, and with several key supporting characters being pushed to the fringes, it is questionable how much they really add to the plot.
Not including Ronda Rousey and Emily Ratajkowski (who feature substantially as versions of themselves), there are a grand total of 47 guest appearances. Ranging from movie stars (Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba) to television stars (Kelsey Grammar, Richard Schiff), as well as sports personalities (Thierry Henry, Tom Brady) and musicians (Calvin Harris, T.I.), securing the participation of the rich and famous has become an all too simple task.
Producer Mark Wahlberg is also in one the act, and while the adventures of Chase and his entourage were loosely based on the Boston man’s early days in Hollywood, the characters have evolved way beyond that point since the pilot aired in 2004.
Entourage is at its best when it has the four boys from Queens, New York on screen together, but it doesn’t really work when the sub-plots are explored.
The use of Rousey and Ratajkowski as love interests, for Turtle and Vincent respectively, never materialises, and whereas similar storylines were explored in full detail on the small screen, they hit a number of speed bumps in this expanded format.
Osment has a lot of fun with his role, and there is definitely a pleasure in seeing Ari trying to establish himself in the studio business.
However, the aforementioned film-within-film does come across as strangely subdued, and you can’t help but feel that a different approach may have led to more satisfactory results. Chase’s previous movie sets have come complete with explosions and extravagant car crashes, and the absence of behind the scenes turmoil is notable.
Overall, there is probably enough material to keep the loyal followers of Entourage onside, but there will undoubtedly be an air of disappointment about the final outcome. Those who are unacquainted with the TV series will more than likely find their patience wearing thin very early on, and if sequels are to receive a greenlight (Ellin has plans to make a trilogy), they would probably be best advised to take their money elsewhere.
15A(See IFCO for details)
Entourage is released 19th June 2015
DIR: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch • WRI: Derek Kolstad • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Chad Stahelski, Mike Witherill • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: Dan Leigh • Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan.
For several decades, there has been a great tradition of movie stars juggling their acting careers with musical interests. Will Smith, Juliette Lewis and Jared Leto would be notable examples, but there are some Hollywood A-listers who have made slightly more obscure contributions to the music industry.
The Toronto-raised Keanu Reeves would fall into this category, as many people would be blissfully unaware of his past experience as a bassist with alternative rock band Dogstar. With just two albums to their name over an 11-year period (1991-2002), they were a fairly unremarkable group, but they gain some form of media coverage during the mid-’90s, when Reeves opted to tour with them rather than reprise the role of Jack Traven in the widely-panned Speed 2: Cruise Control.
When you consider the reception afforded to this ill-conceived sequel, this seemed like a wise move on Reeves’ part, though it would have been interesting to see how he may have fared opposite Willem Dafoe as the movie’s principle antagonist.
However, 18 years on from this near collaboration, Reeves and Dafoe finally share the screen in the frenetic John Wick. Working under the direction of his former stunt doubles, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, Reeves feels at ease in the titular role, and this helps to make it his most satisfying film in a number of years.
When we are introduced to Wick, we discover that he has recently lost his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to an unspecified illness, and has received the posthumous gift of a Beagle puppy – named Daisy – as a way to help him through the grieving process.
Initially, he struggles to make a connection with his new companion, but eventually understands the significance that he can bring to his world. Further tragedy awaits for Wick, though, and when he refuses to sell his car to Russian gang leader Iosef (Alfie Allen), he breaks into his house, steals his vehicle and brutally kills his dog.
In an unfortunate turn of events, it turns out that Iosef is the son of New York-based crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), who Wick previously worked for exclusively as an assassin. Because of his cold-blooded efficiency, he was nicknamed Baba Yaga (“The Boogeyman”), and as he fulfils his lust for vengeance over the course of 101 blood-splattered minutes, we realise it is a title that has been well-earned.
Taking inspiration from a wide range of genres and disciplines (including the gun fu technique utilised to considerable effect in films like Desperado, Kick-Ass and the Reeves-starring Matrix trilogy), John Wick has a body count that would put Taken to shame, and although there is an element of repetition moving into the final act of the drama, the film’s fast-paced nature ensures that it never becomes a lingering problem.
An extended nightclub fight sequence is a particular highlight, as is Wick’s bruising encounter with former acquaintance Ms Perkins (deliciously played by Adrianne Palicki). Both of these set-pieces take place in a hotel called The Continental, which is an establishment occupied solely by assassins.
It is ideas like this that helps John Wick to take flight, and if the reported sequels are to materialise, there is certainly plenty of creative scope for Stahelski and Leitch to develop interesting ideas. The impressive cast list also bodes well for their future projects, and despite making fleeting appearances throughout, Dafoe, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo all provide dependable support.
Nqvist (probably best known for his lead role in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) is a menacing presence in a film that is largely shorn of good guys, but as the movie’s eponymous anti-hero, Reeves makes a welcome return to form.
While he has never been an actor noted for his range (in spite of a filmography that includes several comedic roles and a major part in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing), he has chosen a number of characters that are tailored to suit his stoic qualities.
Johnny Utah, in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic Point Break, showed that he had credentials as an action star, while in addition to the box-office successes of Speed and The Matrix, he found his feet in Richard Linklater’s visually-dazzling A Scanner Darkly.
It is perhaps unlikely that John Wick will enjoy the lasting appeal of his most popular films (some of the dialogue and plot contrivances are ropey to say the least), but when you consider some of the misfires he has had throughout his career (2013’s 47 Ronin failed to break even upon release), there is a certain pleasure in seeing Reeves returning to familiar territory.
16 (See IFCO for details)
John Wick is released 10th April 2015
DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Brad Ingelsby • PRO: Roy Lee, Michael Tadross, Brooklyn Weaver • DOP: Martin Ruhe • DES: Sharon Seymour • Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Common
When Pierre Morel’s action thriller Taken was first released in cinemas back in 2008, many people were surprised to see the then-56 year old Liam Neeson taking on the role of anti-hero Bryan Mills.
While it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for the Ballymena man – earlier roles in films like Rob Roy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins presented a physical challenge to the Academy Award nominee – it was seen as a departure for the man who has memorably brought real-life figures such as Oskar Schindler, Michael Collins and Alfred Kinsey to the big screen.
Yet, despite being filmed on a relatively meagre $25 million budget, Taken proved to be a resounding success, earning almost ten times that amount at the worldwide box office.
With two subsequent sequels proving to be even more profitable, Neeson has firmly-established himself as a bonafide action star, and although Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Silence may well find him back on prime dramatic form, he is showing no signs of turning his back on the genre that he has seemingly embraced with opening arms in recent years.
2011’s Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop had been marketed in a similar vein to Taken, and the towering Antrim-native teams up with the director of those films, Jaume Collet-Serra, in Run All Night. Taking place over the course of 16 hectic hours, Neeson plays ageing Brooklyn hitman Jimmy Conlon, who was previously a major player in the crime empire run by his best friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).
He is estranged from his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman), who eager to distance himself from the murky world that his father operates, and is forced to don a Santa costume as he attempts to pay off an outstanding heating bill. Michael is a now-retired boxer (and incidentally shares his name with a real-life Irish Olympic medallist in the same sport) who is employed as a limousine driver around the streets of New York City.
This is helping him (and his family) to make ends meet, but his life is thrown into chaos one night, when he crosses paths with Shawn’s son Danny (an unhinged Boyd Holbrook) and he subsequently embarks on the run with Jimmy, who has had to take matters into his own hands to protect his offspring.
What follows is fairly standard fare, as the Conlons reluctantly team together to evade the forces that gather around them – most notably Common’s bespectacled assassin – and ensure that Shawn’s lust for revenge isn’t fulfilled.
Much like the previous partnerships between director and star, Run All Night is an efficiently-produced thriller, which allows Neeson to bring a grizzled edge to a tortured character. The addition of the energetic Kinnaman (who has made his name stateside in The Killing and also assumed the lead role in 2014’s Robocop remake) make the role of Jimmy less physically-demanding that Neeson’s more recent “geriaction” exploits, and in contrast to the often cringe-inducing interplay with Maggie Grace in the Taken series, there is a refreshing lack of sentimentality in the father-son dynamic.
However, the theme of family is explored in great detail, with the widely-explored “sins of the father” cinema trope forming a major part of the film’s narrative. Indeed, if anything, it often takes itself too seriously, which may be a little off-putting for its potential audience.
When it focuses on the nuts and bolts element of the story (which also features Vincent D’Onofrio as Jimmy’s long-time NYPD adversary), it has a firm footing, and despite being overstretched at 114 minutes, it manages to maintain its momentum ahead of the blood-splattered final act.
While it isn’t the goriest film you will see this year, it resists the temptation to drop below an R-rating, a move that made the Taken sequels seem alarmingly sanitised. This does lead to some occasional misfires (there are some sexual references that look like they belong in a completely different film), but with Neeson and Harris displaying confidence in their respective roles, they register as minor complaints.
If you try to analyse Run All Night in the context of Neeson’s wider back catalogue, it becomes clear that it won’t be a film that will have a lasting effect on fans of his output. How much longer he can continue in these action roles is also up for debate, but until then, his latest offering works as perfectly serviceable entertainment.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Run All Night is released 6th March 2015
DIR: Jonathan Sobol • WRI: Jonathan Sobol • PRO: Nicholas Tabarrok • DOP: Adam Swica • DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos
Since taking on the role of Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to 2007’s Grindhouse, Kurt Russell has been largely absent from the silver screen. He did make an appearance in stepdaughter Kate Hudson’s short drama Cutlass later that year, and also co-starred in the little-seen sports film Touchback, but by and large, the immensely popular Tombstone actor has been keeping a low profile.
The box-office failure of Grindhouse – the underwhelming ticket sales in the US ensured that Death Proof was released a stand-alone film on these shores – may have played its part in this regard, although he did turn down an opportunity to work with Tango & Cash cohort Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.
However, it was only a matter before the Massachusetts native stepped back into the breach, and having first acted in a 1962 episode of Dennis the Menace, The Art of the Steal ensures that his extraordinary career has surpassed the 50 year mark.
Directed by Canadian helmer Jonathan Sobol – whose only previous feature-length effort was A Beginner’s Guide to Endings – The Art of the Steal had earlier operated under the titles of The Black Marks and The Fix. Like many films in the genre, Sobol’s sophomore film kicks-off with a ‘heist gone wrong’, as well as the inevitable double-crossing for personal and/or financial gain.
Owing to his prowess on his prized motorbike, Russell’s Crunch Calhoun is the ‘wheel man’ on a crack team that includes his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), master forger Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopulous) and veteran colleague ‘Uncle Paddy’ (Kenneth Welsh).
When a job in Warsaw turns sour, Dillon’s ‘Ideas Man’ is subsequently arrested, but following evidence he supplies to the authorities, Crunch finds himself on the receiving end of a seven-year sentence in a Wronki prison.
After gaining early release for good behaviour, Crunch becomes a third-rate motorcycle daredevil, with the help of his new girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) and willing apprentice (Jay Baruchel), but is lured back into the game by his brother’s disgruntled former partner.
This forced him to, reluctantly, team up with Nicky once again, but the promise of a massive pay day for the capture of Gutenberg’s Gospel of James helps to aid their reconciliation. The appearance on the scene of a determined Interpol Agent and his informant sidekick (Terence Stamp) means that the reformed team need to be on their toes at all times, and always one step ahead.
With an impressive cast, and a director familiar with the surroundings of Quebec City and Niagara Falls, The Art of the Steal has the makings of a bonafide sleeper hit. Unfortunately, the end product is far too derivative, presenting the audience with scenarios and situations that have been explored in the past in a much more interesting fashion.
There is some pleasure to be had in the central performances, and there is plenty of spark between Russell and Dillon, who have always had the ability to elevate the most mundane of material to a greater level. Judd Apatow regular Baruchel does provide comic relief (especially in one moment that makes reference to Peter Weir’s Witness), and Stamp makes the most of relatively limited screentime.
Other members of the ensemble never quite register, however, with Winnick’s love interest marginalised for much of the action, while Welsh’s Irish accent seems to take a journey across several continents throughout the course of the drama.
In many ways, had Sobol opted to focus more on Crunch’s daredevil escapades (either partly or completely), this may well have been a more worthwhile exercise. As it is, The Art of the Steal is, at best, disposable fare, which comes complete with the standard final act plot twist/reveal.
With films like Fast & Furious 7, Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Road to Save Nome in the pipeline, as well as a possible Stargate sequel, Russell will continue to be a fixture in cinemas across the nation, and although the latest entry in his expansive body of work is a long way off being his best, his cult status remains very much intact.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Art of the Steal is released on 20th June 2014
DIR: John Curran • WRI: Marion Nelson • PRO: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman • DOP: Mandy Walker • DES: Melinda Doring • Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Emma Booth, Jessica Tovey, Melanie Zanetti
Since taking on the title role in Tim Burton’s long-awaited adaptation of Alice In Wonderland four years ago, Australian starlet Mia Wasikowska has seen her stock rising considerably with each passing performance. A noted ballet dancer in her youth, the Canberra native had previously featured alongside Gabriel Byrne in the critically acclaimed HBO series In Treatment, and could also be seen opposite Daniel Craig and future co-star Jamie Bell in Edward Zwick’s Defiance.
It was the coveted role of Alice Kingsleigh that truly put her on the Hollywood map, however, and although Burton’s CG-heavy re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel wasn’t necessarily the ideal scenario for her to display her acting chops, subsequent parts in The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre, Lawless and Stoker have shown that she can hold her own in A-list company.
She was also seen recently in the Jesse Eisenberg vehicle The Double, but in bringing Robyn Davidson’s award-winning book, Tracks, to the big screen, American filmmaker John Curran has opted to give Wasikowska centre stage. Girls star Adam Driver (whose silver screen credits include Lincoln, Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis) does offer dependable support, but for much of the film’s running time, the 24-year-old is sharing the screen with four camels and her faithful dog.
Curran’s fifth feature film depicts a remarkable nine-month period in Davidson’s life, when she embarked on a 1,700 mile journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean across the vast terrain of the Australian deserts. Having worked with camels for two years in Australia’s Northern Territory, Davidson finally began her arduous journey in 1977, with all her trials and tribulations captured by Driver’s inquisitive photographer Rick Smolan.
Davidson was originally reluctant to chronicle her adventures, but after recognising the sponsorship benefits that are available, she eventually decides to write an article for the famed National Geographic Magazine. Tracks was later spawned from this immensely popular piece, and was given the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980.
The importance that was attached to Davidson’s story inevitably attracted interest from the film industry, and in the years that followed the book’s release, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman (Wasikowska’s Stoker colleague) were linked to the lead role. Indeed, development on a potential movie adaptation started before Wasikowska was born, but for a variety of reasons, it has taken more than three decades for its arrival into multiplexes.
While the passing of time has perhaps made it difficult for the film to have the same relevance to a modern-day audience, the response at a variety of film festivals (including the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival) has made it a worthwhile venture.
In a physically demanding role, Wasikowska is in terrific form, and perfectly embodies the spirit that helped to make Davidson an enduring figure in her native country. She experiences an array of emotions during her expedition, but while there are times that she considers bringing her trek to an abrupt halt, she is ultimately determined to achieve her goal.
Whereas films of this nature normally focus on a singular journey, it is actually the people that Davidson encounters en route to her final destination that give us a true glimpse into the heart of the story. The inhabitants of Australia’s outback certainly have an impact on her journey, and force her to emerge even further from her comfort zone.
The most significant relationship of the film is undoubtedly the one between Davidson and Smolan, which is initially quite distant (Davidson views Smolan as both a nuisance and a distraction), but later becomes much more intimate. It takes a while for Davidson to fully realise how important Smolan is to her voyage of discovery, but the arrival of a more intrusive media presence shows us how sincere his motives are.
As with any film that aims to capture the Australian landscape (and it is a scenery that has been featured in a whole host of genres), Tracks has a very strong aesthetic, and in the capable hands of cinematographer Mandy Walker, it is beautifully realised.
The career of Curran as a film director has been erratic up to this point, and while he was lauded for his 2006 version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, he was accused of self-indulgence in his sophomore feature, We Don’t Live Here Anymore. His most recent film was 2010’s Stone, which was a major box-office disappointment despite the presence of Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, and he will hope that Tracks will have a bigger reach in his home nation when it enjoys a general release in late May.
He has certainly done everything in his power to make the story accessible, and though some may feel that it falls into repetition at times, and allows its plot to meander, there is more than enough to keep cinemagoers onside. An autumn release may well have given it more sleeper potential, but it will pass through cinemas before the congested summer schedule, which can only benefit the film’s prospects in the long run.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Tracks is released on 25th April 2014
DIR: Peter Segal • WRI: Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman • PRO: Michael Ewing, Bill Gerber, Mark Steven Johnson, Ravi D Mehta, Peter Segal • DOP: Dean Semler • ED: William Kerr • DES: Wynn Thomas •Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J
For a number of years, debate has raged as to which film is most deserving of the ‘best boxing movie of all-time’ mantle. For instance, whenever a new entry to the genre is greeted with some form of critical acclaim (such as David O. Russell’s 2011 awards favourite The Fighter), it is often described as the ‘best boxing film since Rocky’. Often, this seems like a heightened case of hyperbole, especially when you consider that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull was released back in 1980, a full four years after Sylvester Stallone’s career-making turn as the ‘Italian Stallion’.
There have been compelling arguments for either film being the very best of its kind, while some have stated that Rocky is ‘the greatest boxing movie’, whereas Raging Bull is ‘the greatest movie about boxing’, which does offer a vague (if nonetheless significant) distinction. What is generally accepted, though, is that both films have set a benchmark that has proven to be extremely difficult to follow.
Although, Stallone’s Balboa is a fictional creation, and Raging Bull’s protagonist (Jake LaMotta) was a real-life World Middleweight Champion, many have wondered who exactly would win in a fight between the two, and with the release of the Peter Segal-directed Grudge Match, we are given some form of answer to that quandary.
Eight years after he last donned a pair of red gloves for the nostalgic Rocky Balboa, 67-year-old Stallone is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp, while Robert De Niro (who won the second of two Oscars for his portrayal of LaMotta) is his long-time adversary, Bill ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. During their prestigious careers, Sharp and McDonnen fought each other twice, with McDonnen winning the first duel, before Sharp gained revenge in their second bout.
A final grudge match between the two was anticipated, but when Razor unexpectedly announced his retirement, the opportunity for a definitive confrontation had passed. Some 30 years later, they come to blows once again during the production of a computer game, and when the recorded incident goes viral, a young up-and-coming boxing promoter (Kevin Hart) begins to sell the idea of a third fight between the pair (billed as “Grudgement Day”).
Drawing on the exhibition fight motif of Rocky’s sixth cinematic outing, much of the film details the arduous preparation that the two elder statesman have to engage in as they aim to be in tip-top shape for their elongated return to the ring. While Razor hooks up with his former trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin, in typical scene-stealing form), Kid finds himself working alongside his long-lost son (Jon Bernthal) from a brief relationship with Kim Basinger’s Sally Rose, a former flame of Razor.
Certainly, with two heavyweights like De Niro and Stallone, and dependable supporting players like Arkin, Basinger and Bernthal (who can currently be seen sporting a handlebar moustache in The Wolf Of Wall Street), there is enough of a pedigree to make Grudge Match a worthwhile endeavour. The major problem it faces, however, relates to the tone of the film.
Whereas Rocky and Raging Bull were dramatic pieces, Grudge Match is very much played for laughs, with more than a fair share of references to the back catalogue of the principle stars. In the form of Segal, the film certainly has a helmer who is comfortable directing comedy, but despite enjoying great success throughout his career, much of his recent output has been workmanlike at best.
Indeed, much of the time Grudge Match seems overly reliant on the easy charm of its cast, and although the key players do their level best, they can only sustain momentum for so long. Having set-up the trajectory of the story within the opening half-hour, the script also appears to lack some much-needed inspiration, in spite of the input by Entourage creator Doug Ellin.
It also becomes more and more clichéd during the final act, and it is disappointing to see the nature of the relationship between Razor and Kid changing when it would seem more appropriate for the levels of hostility to grow.
That said, there is still some pleasure in seeing two veterans of the screen (De Niro has now reached the septuagenarian stage of his life) meeting face-to-face in an intense, and physically-exhausting battle, and when the titular ‘grudge match’ finally takes place, it does provide a satisfactory climax to the action.
The use of stock footage and digital trickery at the start of the film to show how Razor and Kid developed their rivalry over the years is also rather impressive, and there are some fleetingly funny moments throughout, most of them involving Arkin and Hart – a very popular stand-up comedian on Stateside.
Perhaps it would have been more advantageous for Grudge Match to have been made back in the mid-1980s, when both Stallone and De Niro were able to convince as genuine contenders for a World Championship crown. However, for those who are still looking to answer the immortal Balboa or LaMotta conundrum, then Grudge Match will have to make do.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Grudge Match is released on 24th January 2014
DIR: Adam McKay • WRI: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell • PRO: Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell • DOP: Oliver Wood • ED: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White • DES: Clayton Hartley • Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, James Marsden, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig
Following its release back in 2004, Anchorman: The Legendary of Ron Burgundy became an unexpected comedy smash, grossing just under $91 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of $26 million. It brought the creative team of director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (who had previously worked together on TV’s Saturday Night Live) a platform to develop the projects that were closest to their hearts, and also opened up several doors for co-star Steve Carell, who was best known at that time for his work alongside Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on The Daily Show, as well as a small-role in the Jim Carrey-starring Bruce Almighty.
With producer Judd Apatow also about to kick-start his directorial career, it is clear to see that Anchorman represented a pivotal point in the lives of much of the cast and crew. Indeed, many of them have enjoyed terrific commercial success since the original was released, but the idea of a follow-up to the ’70s-set satire has always been an enticing one for the main players.
The prospects of a second outing for Ron, Brick, Brian and Champ seemed bleak when Paramount Pictures decided against making a sequel in 2011, but a deal was finally brokered last year to make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues a reality. The story picks up in the ’80s, where Ron and now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are co-anchors at GNN, and now have a six-year-old son named Walter. However, Ron’s life is turned upside down when legendary newsreader Mack Harken (a growling Harrison Ford) decides to make Corningstone the station’s new weekend anchor, and relieve Burgundy of his position.
Although Ron’s career eventually plummets, he is given a second chance when he is approached about a new 24-hour news channel that is being established in Manhattan. Along with his trusted team of Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, he embarks on the Big Apple, where they shake the very foundations of broadcast news.
Nine years is certainly not the biggest gap between films in a series (the recent sequels in the Indiana Jones and Tron franchises took a lifetime to come to fruition), but it is nevertheless a long time since Ferrell & Co. brought their off-the-wall characters to the silver screen. While there was little pre-release hype for the original, the publicity for Anchorman 2 has been cranked up significantly, to the point that everyone who has even a passing interest in the film industry will be aware of its existence.
With all this in mind, it would have been easy for the various participants to rest on their laurels, but the good news for the many fans of the originals is that it maintains the spirit of the first outing, and registers a high laughter rate throughout.
The five principle returning stars (Ferrell, Rudd, Carell, Koechner and Applegate) clearly have too much affection for their characters to simply go through the motions, and they are all given their moments to shine. There are also some welcome additions to the cast in the form of Dylan Baker, James Marsden (as sharp-suited rival anchor Jack Lime) and Meagan Good as Ron’s new boss/love interest.
Witnessing the parameters of Ron’s romantic life suddenly shifting (Greg Kinnear also comes into the equation as a new partner for Applegate) provides much comic inspiration for the film, as does a dark third-act plot development for our eponymous hero.
Though lovers of the original will undoubtedly garner immense enjoyment from this second-parter, comparisons will inevitably be made with its predecessor. Only time will tell if the sequel will become as quotable as The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, but there is no doubt that its successor is lacking that certain element of surprise.
Also, at 119 minutes, it does over-stretch itself, and there are certain segments in the drama that could have been completely exorcised from the final cut. Aside from Brick (who finds his true soul mate in Kristen Wiig’s oddball secretary Channi), Ron’s fellow anchors are not given a great deal to work with, and when the celebrity cameos eventually arrive (in a heightened version of the first film’s Battle of the Anchors), they are thrown at the audience at a most extraordinary pace).
However, there are certain aspects to the film that are an improvement on the 2004 offering, namely the more coherent narrative structure, which indicates a desire on the part of Ferrell and McKay to properly develop the trajectory of their numerous creations.
Should the box-office receipts reveal healthy returns, then we can expect that a third film will follow in the not-too-distant future. On the basis of this film, there is no reason why the projected target audience wouldn’t be interested in another helping, because although the likes of Ferrell, Carell and Rudd have enjoyed great success away from Anchorman, it is clear that they are appreciative of what these characters have done for their careers.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is released on 20th December 2013
Illustration: Adeline Pericart
Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.
And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.
Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.
Since appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15 (a Marvel Comics Anthology) in August 1962, Spider-Man and his alter ego of Peter Parker have become a regular fixture in a number of different mediums. Whether it be the comic books themselves, the world of television (both animation and live-action) or the ever-evolving film industry, the adventures of the web-crawling teenager from Queens has always struck a resonance with audiences of all ages.
Having struggled to make it to the big-screen for a number of decades, in spite of its immense popularity, Spider-Man finally made its way into cinemas in 2002 – fresh on the heels of the Marvel-related Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000) – under the guidance of Evil Dead helmer Sam Raimi. As a massive fan of the comic-book series, Raimi seemed an ideal choice to bring his unique style and craftsmanship to a mainstream PG-13 superhero film, and with the highly-regarded duo of David Koepp and Bill Pope on screenwriting and director of photography duties respectively, the signs all seemed positive.
With a number of screen credits already behind them, the hiring of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst for the roles of Spider-Man/Peter Parker looked like wise moves, as did the decision to cast the excellent Willem Dafoe and James Franco (who was being heralded at the time as the “new James Dean”) as the father-son team of Harry and Norman Osborn.
There is always a certain leap of faith needed for films like this, as origin stories can be quite tricky, but Raimi handled Parker’s transformation from a bookish teen to a wall-crawling crime-fighter with a delicate touch. The Michigan native also knows how to crank up the action elements when needed, and with universally solid performances, as well cameos from series creator Stan Lee and Raimi favourite Bruce Campbell, there was something for everyone to embrace.
This meant it was completely unsurprising when box-office returns of $800 million dollars were matched by overwhelmingly positive critic responses, making a sequel an absolute certainty. 2004 was the date chosen for Spider-Man 2, and with the shackles now off to a certain degree, Raimi was given the scope to produce a bigger, bolder and better follow-up.
Having struggled with an over-reliance on Computer-Generated Effects for the sequences where Maguire was swinging between buildings in the first film, Raimi managed to make this seem more physical at the second time of asking, and having opted for a colourful, campy adversary in the form of Dafoe’s Green Goblin two years earlier, the menacing presence of Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) was now the avenue that was being explored.
A number of the film’s set-pieces, including Octavius’ brutal slaying of a medical crew with the tentacles that have become attached to his body, are handled with the trademark brio and energy that we have come to expect from Raimi. The showdown between Spidey and Doc Ock in a bank, as well as the former’s desperate attempts to halt a runaway subway train are other highlights, and due to the nature of the chosen villain, there are many oddly peculiar aspects to the drama.
There is much more than Spider-Man 2 than just spectacle, though, as it is also a coming-of-age story, with Peter Parker stepping out of adolescence to become the man he believes he can be. We also see him struggling with his secret identity, which has alienated him from his true love, Mary-Jane Watson, and his best friend, Harry Osborne.
Having adapted Uncle Ben’s mantra of ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’, Parker begins to explore the possibility of stepping out of the suit, before finally realising that he can’t escape the superhuman abilities that have been bestowed upon him. This thematic substance, supremely crafted action sequences, as well as further cameos from the aforementioned duo of Lee and Campbell, means that Spider-Man 2 holds up as one of the strongest superhero films ever committed to celluloid.
Unfortunately, despite plenty of hype and expectation, 2007’s ‘threequel’, Spider-Man 3, proved to be a major disappointment, as the introduction of Spidey’s black suit fail to achieve its desired effect. A bloated running time of 139 minutes also contributed to its problems, and a few too many enemies, including one (Topher Grace’s Venom) that Raimi didn’t approve of, meant that audiences were generally left underwhelmed by the whole experience.
With box-office takings of $890 million, it was the most successful film of the series, but it was felt that a return to the old formula was needed for the expected Part Four. Raimi’s return to the horror genre with Drag Me To Hell appeared to be the perfect tonic ahead of the next Spider-Man outing, but it was instead decided that a re-boot by (500) Days Of Summer director Marc Webb would be the next course of action.
With rising British actor Andrew Garfield stepping into Spider-Man’s spandex, and an impressive supporting cast of Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Sally Field Martin Sheen and Denis Leary joining him, The Amazing Spider-Man was given a Summer 2012 release. Bizarrely, unlike Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Webb’s film echoed many events from Raimi’s original film a decade beforehand, though a successful run at the box-office ($752 million off a budget of $230 million) means that Garfield & Co. will be here to stay for the time being.
Whether or not the 2014 sequel will be able to progress the franchise in the same way that Raimi did remains to be seen, but it is clear that there is still a huge appetite for the East Coast’s web-crawling hero. When the character was first written on the page, Lee and Ditko wanted to show how an angst-ridden teenager dealt with the burden of a superhero identity, and that is precisely what has made Spider-Man such a success throughout the ages.
DIR: Declan Lowney WRI: Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons DOP: Ben Smithard ED: Mark Everson DES: Dick Lunn Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall
If you were to analyse it from a critical standpoint, you would have to come to the conclusion that the history of British TV comedies transferring to the big-screen has been rather patchy. While there have been plenty of successes down through the years – the various films by the Monty Python crew being obvious examples – there have also been plenty of failed attempts to embody the spirit that was initially captured in its original format.
2002’s Ali G Indahouse was a misfire, and as recently as last year, we had Keith Lemon: The Film, which featured prominently on the ‘Worst Of 2012’ lists for many notable film critics.
Whenever films of this nature are released, there is always a huge amount of expectation from the loyal fans who helped to make the television series so popular in the first place, and it is no surprise that they are met with such derision when the finished product falls below the standards that were originally set.
The same sort of anticipation surrounds the arrival of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s most celebrated creation, to the silver screen for the first time in the intriguingly titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which finds the narcissistic Norwich broadcaster hosting Mid Morning Matters alongside his trusty ally, Side-Kick Simon (Tim Key).
Unlike films like Bean (the first of two cinematic outings for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean), Borat and Bruno (the latter two proving more successful for the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen), Coogan and his team of writers have resisted the temptation for sending Partridge to America (and thus making this a ‘fish out of water’ tale), and have instead kept him in the familiar terrain of his home city.
Indeed, much of the film (which is perfectly paced and constructed at 90 minutes) takes place within the confines of the Norfolk Digital Radio station, which is being re-branded as ‘Shape’ by a new multinational conglomerate. As a result of this takeover, late-night Irish DJ Pat Farrell (played by our own Colm Meaney) finds himself surplus to requirements, and after receiving his P45 from the station, he arrives at an office party armed with a shotgun, and proceeds to keep the employees of the station (and some members of the conglomerate) hostage.
Despite initially fleeing the scene, Alan Partridge is forced to re-enter the station, as he is the only person that Farrell is willing to speak to, and as a media frenzy starts to develop around the siege, Partridge finds himself thrust back into the media spotlight, with the former Knowing Me, Knowing You host only too willing to capitalise on a unique opportunity to boost his flagging profile.
Along with the return of the titular character, Felicity Montagu is also back as Partridge’s long-suffering assistant Lynn Benfield, while Simon Greenall’s Michael The Geordie has progressed from being a hotel worker and petrol station attendant in I’m Alan Partridge to the position of security guard at Norfolk Digital.
Side-kick Simon was also established in the recent web-based Mid Morning Matters mockumentary series, and with these much-adored characters back in the saddle, there is plenty for Partridge devotees to love about Alpha Papa. The wit and humour of his TV incarnations have also remained intact, but the filmmakers have worked overtime to ensure that they aren’t simply re-capping old material, and have made a film that is accessible to punters who have limited knowledge of a character that has been in the public domain since 1991.
By now, Coogan is so comfortable in his role as Partridge, that it doesn’t even seem like he is acting. He has shown in his other work (particular under the direction of Michael Winterbottom) that he is a fine actor with plenty of range, but this is the one role that he will always be remembered for. The new additions to the cast all adapt to the environment with a great deal of gusto, none more so than Meaney, who has to hold his own as a jilted, dinosaur Disc Jockey.
The former Star Trek star isn’t the only Irish involvement in making of Alpha Papa, however, as Wexford native Declan Lowney (who is best known for his work on Father Ted) is in the director’s chair, and there is also a supporting turn from Simon Delaney as one of the special forces operatives who are aiming to bring the siege to a satisfactory conclusion.
With jokes and set-pieces coming thick and fast at the audience, it is unsurprising that not everything in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa comes off in the way that you might hope, and though a huge effort has been made to ensure that the style of the film is cinematic, there are still some televisual touches to the overall product.
However, Coogan and co-writer Armando Iannucci (who has past form in transporting a TV series into the medium of cinema with The Thick Of It spin-off In The Loop), as well as the remaining three contributors to the finished script, have far too much affection for the character of Partridge (and indeed for the city of Norwich itself) to let their guard down, and with many quotable lines – “I am siege face” being one of the memorable – as well as some moments of genuine poignancy, Coogan & Co. have managed to deliver the goods on a project that had been in the pipeline for close to a decade.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is released on 9thAugust 2013
DIR: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • WRI: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker •DES: Chris L Spellman • Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna
Expanded from the 2007 short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, This Is The End is the feature film directorial debut of long-time writing and producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Having first worked together on the US version of Da Ali G Show, the childhood friends have subsequently collaborated on a total of nine films, and while Rogen has also become a major Hollywood player in front of the cameras, Goldberg has continued to be an unassuming (but pivotal) presence behind the scenes.
They have enjoyed plenty of creative control on their films to date, but This Is The End finds them being given free rein in a way that must have seemed like a pipe dream just ten years ago. Thanks to their connection with the prolific Judd Apatow, they have come into contact with a number of rising and established comedic actors, and it is therefore no surprise to see the vast majority of them make some form of appearance in this $32 million budgeted comedy romp.
The trump card of this film is that every actor in the film is actually playing themselves, or at least a version of themselves. At the centre of the piece is Canadian actor Jay Baruchel – who featured heavily in Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder but had earlier come to prominence in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. He arrives in Los Angeles to spend some time with Seth Rogen, his fellow compatriot and best friend.
Not being a fan of the L.A. party scene, he hopes to confine himself to Rogen’s abode, but the Funny People actor has other ideas, and they instead end up at the home of James Franco, who is hosting a housewarming party. There they are accompanied by a plethora of Apatow alumni including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Michael Cera, as you have never seen him before.
However, what starts as a typically rambunctious Tinseltown shindig quickly descends into something completely different. Initially oblivious to what is happening in the outside world (with the exception of Rogen and Baruchel who briefly exit the party), it some becomes clear to everyone that an apocalyptic disaster is happening before their very eyes.
Numerous guests are violently dispatched as the ground begins to crumble beneath their feet, and we are left with just six survivors – Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Robinson and Danny McBride – who barricade themselves inside the luxurious house in an appearance attempt to fend off the horrors that await them should be embark into dangerous terrain.
When you are dealing with a concept like this, it can be all too easy for the film to lose sight of what it is trying to achieve, and it certainly is true that This Is The End has moments of indulgence and is often too self-aware for its own good. As the film moves into the final half-hour, there is a lot of discussion about how they need to be to stop being so selfish and need to treat one another with good will and charity, which could be potentially off putting for some audiences.
In an overall context, though, these are only minor concerns, as given the lack of memorable comedies that have been released during 2013, the main question surrounding This Is The End is whether or not it is able to reach sufficient levels of hilarity. It is a relief therefore to say that the film does have plenty of funny moments, and is particularly at its best when the participating stars display a willingness to send themselves up.
This is especially noticeable in the case of Franco, who has really enhanced his current standing as a truly unpredictable oddball screen presence with recent roles in Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers and The Iceman. The eccentricities that have often characterised his public persona are on full display in this film, whether it be his unique art collection or peculiar choice of food and household beverages.
Credit must also go to Hill, who does a fine job of pitching his performance somewhere between suspiciously amiable and outright sarcastic. Rogen, Baruchel and Robinson all bring their customary level of comic timing to the fray, but McBride proves to be the ace in the hole as he starts off as the most troublesome and self-centred of the group and actually becomes progressively worse despite the obvious benefits of him being the polar opposite.
With improvisation high on the agenda, the stars riff off each other to telling effect, and as they try to keep themselves occupied while the world as they know it changes irreparably, they try their hand at making an amateur sequel to the popular Pineapple Express, which featured Franco, Rogen, McBride and Robinson in lead roles.
Though much of the action remains confined to the inner sanctum of Franco’s home, the biblical implications of the film dictate that they must eventually be taken out of their comfort zone, and thanks to their reasonably sized budget, they have enough to clout to develop some eye-popping special effects, and although it intends to satirise the current trend for apoca-blockbusters, it does its level best to match them in terms of scale. Whether or not this film will go down as the cult classic that Rogen and Goldberg are clearly hoping for remains to be seen, but come the end of 2013, it will certainly register in the memory banks of cinema-goers to a much larger degree than all the comedy films that have preceded it this year.
16 (see IFCO website for details)
This Is The End is released on 28th June 2013
DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Drew Pearce • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: John Toll • ED: Peter S Elliot, Jeffrey Ford • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Rebecca Hall
After making his name with his ground breaking screenplay for 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Shane Black went on to achieve writing credits on films such as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared off the Hollywood radar for close to a decade, before returning in some style with his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Despite not being a major player at the box-office, this film re-established Black’s standing in the industry, and gave its stars Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer roles to die for. While Kilmer has only occasionally threatened to build on his performance under the stewardship of Black, the previously troublesome Downey Jr has seen his career going from strength to strength, to the point that he is now the face of two major franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.
Along with last year’s Marvel Avengers Assemble, and his brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 marks Downey Jr’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark and his alter-ego, and with Black returning to the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, it is clear that the careers of both men have come full circle.
Having helped his fellow Avengers to defeat Loki and the Chitauri in New York City, Stark is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a mysterious terrorist leader known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) announces himself to the world by committing a number of atrocities across the globe. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes strained as a result, and with figures from his past re-surfacing in the shape of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall’s botanist, Dr Maya Hansen, matters quickly become complicated for Stark and those close to him.
Taking its cue from the ‘Extremis’ (a highly advanced virus created by Killian) story arc developed by Warren Ellis, Iron Man 3 has a tough act to follow after the overwhelming success of Marvel Avengers Assemble. In addition, the last stand alone adventure for the wisecracking superhero (Iron Man 2) was somewhat disjointed, despite being enjoyable in the most part, meaning that there were some necessary adjustments to be made this time around.
With all that in mind, it is pleasing to report that the latest chapter in the big-screen adventure of Tony Stark is consistently entertaining and gripping, making it arguably the finest film of the Iron Man series thus far. As ever, the chemistry between Downey Jr and Paltrow is right on the money, and Don Cheadle now looks fully comfortable in the combine roles of Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and War Machine.
Upon taking control of the film, Black talked about taking a step away from the premise of Iron Man facing off against another giant robot, and certainly the threat this time is an altogether more human and real-world based kind of threat.
It is also significant that Stark is taken out of comfort zone for a large section of the film, as circumstances mean that he is stranded in Tennessee (when he is presumed dead), where he has to rely on all his ingenuity to repair damage of his own making.
With one $15 million dollar film to his name before taking on this task, there were some question marks about how Black would handle the pressure of a film with such a major budget. His handling of the major set-pieces is extremely efficient, though, and in unison with co-writer Drew Pearce, he has maintained the sharp wit that has been synonymous with his work over the past couple of decades.
This framework was established by Favreau (who reprises his role as former bodyguard turned head of security Happy Hogan) in the earlier films, and blossomed under Joss Whedon in last year’s superhero team up, which makes the decision to hire Black for this film all the more obvious.
If there was a criticism to be labelled at the film, it does become slightly overblown in the extended finale, but considering all that gone before it, the filmmakers had more than earned the right to turn outlandish during the final act.
Stepping up to the plate alongside reliable regulars Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle, Pearce and Kingsley offer plenty of menace, while the often under-appreciated Hall also makes the best of the screen time she is afforded.
With a sequel to Marvel Avengers Assemble (those who are intrigued by that prospect should wait around the end credits) very much in the pipeline, this will not be the last we see of Tony Stark in his iron suit, and on the basis of this film, that can only be a good thing.
12A (see IFCO website for details)
Iron Man 3 is released on 25th April 2013
DIR: Amy Berg WRI: Amy Berg, Billy McMillin PRO: Amy Berg, Lorri
Davis, Damien Wayne Echols, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh DOP: Maryse
Alberti, Ronan Killeen ED: Billy McMillin Cast: Damien Wayne Echols,
Jason Baldwin, Jesse Misskelley, Lorri Davis, Eddie Vedder, Peter
Jackson, Henry Rollins
With an estimated population of 26,245 according to a 2010 census,
West Memphis is the 17th largest city in the state of Arkansas. It has
a strong connection to the Civil War, but is perhaps most notable in
the modern age for the case of the West Memphis Three, who were
convicted in 1994 of the murder of three eight-year-old boys in the
Robin Hood Hills area the year before.
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were given
sentences that ranged from life imprisonment plus two 20-year
sentences to the death penalty following their trial for the murders
of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, in spite of
some very inconsistent evidence and factual information to support the
With the help of a number of well-known faces, however, a series of
campaigns and appeals were set up in their favour, and as a result of
new forensic evidence presented in the case during July 2007, the
possibility of their name being cleared suddenly became a realistic
A successful 2010 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding
newly produced DNA evidence led to the West Memphis Three reaching a
deal with the prosecutors. On August 19, 2011, all three entered
Alford Pleas, which allowed them to maintain their innocence while
acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.
While this didn’t quite give them the clean slate that they had been
hoping for, it did finally offer freedom to the accused, and their
extraordinary 18 year journey to redemption is documented in Amy
Berg’s utterly compelling documentary, West Of Memphis.
Though the same subject has been covered quite thoroughly in the HBO
trilogy Paradise Lost, Berg’s film will now give the story the wide
audience that it fully deserves, and with every detail of the case
examined meticulously, it will provide you with all the tools you need
to form a decision about the case by the time the end credits role.
With that in mind, it is important to state that, while the film is
clearly designed to make you believe that these three men are innocent
of this appalling crime, it does offer the families of the victims
(and the prosecuting attorney) ample opportunity to show why they feel
justice was served at the first time of asking.
Indeed, the contrasting emotions felt by those closest to the case do
hit home very early on in the film, but what is perhaps most
remarkable about the story is how involved those on the outside have
become in trying to prove the innocence of the West Memphis Three.
The multi-talented Henry Rollins (a musician and talk show host who
featured prominently in Michael Mann’s Heat) has been a major public
campaigner on their behalf, along with Pearl Jam front man Eddie
Vedder, who has been an outspoken supporter of the movement from day
However, the two interviewees who extended themselves beyond the call
duty are, without question, Peter Jackson and Lorri Davis. Jackson,
seen by many as the one of the world’s leading fantasy filmmakers, is
one of the film’s producers along with his wife and production
partner, Fran Walsh, and has thrown his considerable clout around the
case to an extraordinary extent.
So involved is he in the quest for justice, that he helped to hire a
private investigator to look into the possibility that Terry Hobbs,
stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, may well be a potential suspect in
the murder of Branch and his two friends.
Davis, on the other hand, first became involved in the case when she
corresponded with Echols after seeing the first Paradise Lost
documentary in 1996. From there, she played a major part in helping to
secure their release, and would become romantically involved with
Echols. They married in 1999 while he was still incarcerated, but they
are now free to continue their lives as a couple in the outside world.
With a running time of 147 minutes, it is always difficult to maintain
the attention of audiences on a consistent basis, but at no point is
the film anything less than gripping, and is at various times
Despite being a fact-based account, it also works quite well as a
drama, and the numerous twists and turns in the story (such as the
potential implication of Hobbs by his close friends and extended
family) are as effective as anything you will find coming out of
Hollywood in 2013.
20 years on, the West Memphis Three are still to be fully exonerated
despite the freedom they enjoy today, but West Of Memphis highlights
exactly how the actions that led to their initial conviction were
badly handled, and is a must-see for all those with an interest in a
deeply fascinating subject.
West Of Memphis is released on 29th March 2013
DIR/WRI: Nicholas Jarecki • PRO: Laura Bickford,
Robert Salerno, Kevin Turen, Justin Nappi • DOP: Yorick Le Saux • ED:
Douglas Crise • DES: Beth Mickle • Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim
Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Bruce Altman
As we look back over the past 12 months at some of the worst comedies
that have graced our cinema screens, there are two films that will
feature quite prominently. The Adam Sandler vehicle That’s My Boy and
the star-laden Movie 43 were widely panned by critics and audiences,
with the latter in particular sparking much debate about the
involvement of so many A-List performers in what was a seemingly
torturous experience for all concerned.
Theories have abounded as to how exactly the producers of Movie 43
(and indeed That’s My Boy) managed to secure the services of some many
talented actors and actresses, although Peter Farrelly’s explanation
that the participants of the former were ‘guilted to death’ is
probably the most plausible.
A-Listers appearing in films that seems well below their usual
standards is nothing new, however, and it is often suggested that they
agree to take part in certain films because they know a much more
worthy role is about to come their way.
Nicholas Jarecki’s debut feature, Arbitrage, could be viewed as one
such example, as it features top-of-the-range performances from Movie
43‘s Richard Gere and That’s My Boy star Susan Sarandon.
Gere takes on the role of Robert Miller, a multi-billionaire who
manages a hedge fund with his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), with
Sarandon co-starring as his long-suffering wife. With his 60th
birthday having just passed, Miller is locked in a deal to sell the
fund for an extremely large profit, but unbeknownst to those involved
in his company (including his own daughter), he has cooked his own
books in order to cover an investment loss, making his upcoming
transaction all the more crucial to his future.
If these dodgy dealings are discovered, he faces the possibility of
being imprisoned for fraud, but even greater trouble lurks on the
horizon for Miller when he is involved in a late-night car crash with
his mistress (Laetitia Casta). When she is killed as a result of the
impact, Miller abandons the scene (realising that he could be
implicated in her death), covers his tracks as much as possible, and
enlists the help of a friend from his past to drop him back to his New
His efforts to sweep this incident under the carpet are not entirely
successful, though, and the suspicion of his wife and NYPD detective
Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) are raised, leading to a hectic few days
for the troubled Miller.
On paper, the combination of novice filmmaker Jarecki and screen
veteran Richard Gere was a curious one that had the potential to
produce mixed results. However, it has turned out to be a winning
partnership as the 33-year-old Jarecki provides the tools for Gere to
construct one of the most engaging and richly textured performances of
his highly accomplished career to date.
In the past, his abilities as an actor has been the subject of intense
scrutiny, but Gere has always been at his best when playing conflicted
or morally ambiguous characters, with the most obvious examples being
his iconic roles in American Gigolo, Breathless, Internal Affairs and
Days of Heaven, as well as Lasse Hallstrom’s much underrated, The
The character of Robert Miller is very much in this mould, and the
Pennsylvania actor clearly relishes playing a man that has allowed
himself to become compromised on so many different levels.
However, one of the great traits that Gere has generated in his 38
years working in cinema is his likeability factor, and although there
are several moments throughout Arbitrage when your appreciation of a
two-timing, corrupt businessman are brought in to question, the Pretty
Woman star ensures that you symphatise heavily with his situation.
Arbitrage is by no means a solo effort, though, as Sarandon is also on
top form as the put upon spouse, who is not entirely enamoured with
the ventures that her husband and daughter are involved in, but
nonetheless benefits financially from her husband’s elevated status.
Marling (who is best known for strong central portrayal in the
indie-spirited Another Earth) provides plenty of brio and verve as
Miller’s offspring, while Roth is on hand to supply the appropriate
level of threat that the script requires.
There are occasional mis-steps in the overall package, but with strong
acting across the board, confident direction from Jarecki, and a
screenplay as sharp as anything you are likely to see in the early
months of 2013, Arbitrage is a highly accomplished offering from a
very promising director, and serves as a welcome reminder of what Gere
and Sarandon are capable of when they place themselves in the right
15A (see IFCO website for details)
Arbitrage is released on 1st March 2013
DIR: Brandon Cronenberg WRI: Brandon Cronenberg PRO: Niv Fichman DOP:
Karim Hussain ED: Matthew Hannam DES: Arvinder Grewal Cast: Caleb
Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Joe Pingue, Malcolm McDowell
At the best of times, following in the footsteps of your famous
director father can be a tricky proposition. Jake Scott, son of Ridley
and nephew of the late Tony Scott, had a gap of 11 years between his
two big-screen directorial efforts (Plunkett & Macleane and Welcome to
the Rileys), Jennifer ‘daughter of David’ Lynch likewise found it hard
to climb back from the wildly-misjudged Boxing Helena, while Goro
Miyazaki famously had disagreements with his acclaimed father Hayao as
he tried to bring Tales from Earthsea into production.
However, there are also plenty of examples of filmmakers escaping from
the shadows of their much-loved parents, such as in the works of Sofia
Coppola, Nick Cassavetes and Rob Reiner, with Coppola and Reiner in
particular having to make it on their own in the presence of their
still active parents Francis Ford and Carl.
Only time will tell what category David Cronenberg’s son Brandon falls
into, but on the basis of his debut feature, Antiviral, there is
certainly some potential for the future. Starring the flame-haired
Caleb Landry Jones (a notable support player in The Last Exorcism,
Contraband and X-Men: First Class as Banshee), Antiviral follows Syd
March, an employee of a company that harvests diseases from
celebrities and then injects them into paying clients.
He is one of the company’s most gifted workers, and conducts his tasks
in painstaking detail to ensure that the diseases do not become
contagious. However, after sampling the disease that kills Hannah
Geist, one of the corporations most valued suppliers, he must unravel
the secrets surrounding this disease before it takes his life as well.
As expected, there are plenty of twists and turns throughout, and for
a maiden effort, Antiviral is extremely well made, with a lot of
attention paid to the production design, which is brilliantly realised
by Arvinder Grewal, who has worked with Cronenberg Senior on Crash,
eXistenZ, Spider and Cosmopolis in the past.
Indeed, in comparison to his father’s earliest works, it is has a much
slicker polish to it, although Brandon has far less obstacles in
bringing his vision to the screen.
With his father holding the title of ‘King Of Venereal Horror’, it is
clear that Brandon is eager to maintain this legacy, and through the
performance of Jones and his on-screen physical deterioration, we get
a genuine sense of how this specific disease can manifest itself
inside your internal organs. The use of real-life close-up shots of
needles entering the skin helps to add to the unease that audiences
will feel, and there is certainly an unsettling edge at many moments
in the film.
It also makes some very wry observations about the obsession with
celebrity culture, and how ordinary people have a desire to be just
like those they idolise, and in this case quite literally occupy their
skins. While this concept is an offbeat one, it does highlight the
absurdity of placing some members of the entertainment industry on
such a high pedestal, and the pitfalls that may come with entering
into a Faustian Pact of this nature.
On the downside, however, Antiviral does lack the visceral pleasures
that are readily associated with the best examples of the ‘body
horror’ genre, and despite developing plenty of unease, it never quite
translates into fear and trepidation. In fact, the film threatens to
lose its grip half-way through the drama, before being reinvigorated
once more by the presence of Malcolm McDowell as a mysterious doctor.
Up to that point, it was becoming difficult to see what direction the
film was heading in, but the introduction of the veteran star of A
Clockwork Orange helped to offer a new perspective on the narrative.
With six minute trimmed off the original version shown at the 2012
Cannes Film Festival, the film we see certainly feels that bit
tighter, and there are certainly enough interesting ideas to keep
audiences intrigued for the 110 minutes running time.
While there are faults with the finished package, this is entirely
acceptable given that Brandon Cronenberg is still learning his trade
in a very competitive field. What he does with his sophomore outing
will have a big impact on his career as a filmmaker, but on the
evidence of Antiviral, he stands a decent chance of being remembered
for his output rather than for his lineage.
Antiviral is released on 8th February 2013
DIR/WRI: Dan Mazer PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris
Thykier DOP: Ben Davis ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Simon Elliott Cast:
Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Jason Flemyng, Olivia
Colman, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver
A frequent collaborator of Sacha Baron Cohen (who can currently be
seen flexing his musical muscles in the awards-laden Les Miserables),
Dan Mazer forged his reputation as a producer/writer in both
television and film, with his crowning moment to date being his
Oscar-nominated work on the screenplay for Borat: Cultural Learnings
of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which went
down a storm upon its release Stateside.
He has previously worked on the small screen as a director of certain
segments of Da Ali G Show, as well as the Zach Galifianakis-starring
Dog Bites Man, but I Give It a Year marks his first foray into silver
Featuring an instantly recognisable cast of British and overseas
talent, I Give It a Year focuses on Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne’s
newlywed couple, who find themselves in a real bind just nine months
into their marriage. Mostly told in a series of flashbacks with Olivia
Colman’s marital counselor, we witness the ups and downs of this
initially happy union, and how they are affected by their specific
On hand to complicate the equation are Spall’s former flame Anna
Faris, who has returned from her charitable endeavours overseas, and
the roguishly charming Simon Baker, who is more than willing to mix
business with pleasure in his dealings with Byrne.
Aiming to become a breakaway British comedy success, like Bridget
Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral before it, I Give It a
Year is a somewhat uneven comedy, which sometimes tries too hard to
keep the laughter ratio on the right track, but nevertheless has
enough moments to sustain its relatively slender running time.
Key to the film’s sustainability are some fine supporting performances
from reliable faces like Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant and Minnie
Driver, the latter of whom is enjoying a mini-revival on the strength
of roles in the Conviction, Barney’s Version and the underrated Hunky
Her part is that of the bride’s best friend, which so often comes
across as stereotypical or caricatured, but thanks to the chemistry
between Driver and on-screen husband Flemyng, she helps to conjure up
some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Merchant is also entertaining, if a little underused (much like The
Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass) as Spall’s best man, while Colman
displays the comic chops that she honed in Hot Fuzz and Peep Show
before winning widespread acclaim for her extraordinary performance in
Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur.
In terms of the four-way romance at the heart of the film, the
Spall-Faris thread is more effective, as it is easier to symphatise
with with the husband’s predicament, given the warm history that he
shares with his former partner. Byrne, who showed in Get Him to the
Greek and Bridesmaids that she can be a dab hand at comedy, suffers
more when it comes to characterisation, though she does her level best
to make it work, as does Baker, her fellow Aussie co-star.
Spall, who is starting to step away from the shadow of his
highly-respected father Timothy, is a very engaging male lead, while
Faris (who is so often let down by the script in her chosen projects)
is as likeable as ever.
A neat twist on the standard rom-com finale aside, there is little
here that you won’t have seen before, and the jokes are quite often
‘hit and miss’, but Mazer’s film has more than enough going for it to
keep audiences onside.
16 (see IFCO website for details)
I Give It a Year is released on 8th February 2013
DIR: Mary McGuckian PRO: Mary McGuckian, Martin Katz, James
Morris, Karen Wookey DOP: Stefan von Bjorn ED: Matthew Booth DES:
Jennifer Carrol Cast: Donald Sutherland, Larry Mullen Jr, Graham
Greene, Kate O’Toole
Released back in 2002, L’homme du train (translated as The Man On The
Train) was an award-winning Gallic crime-drama by Patrice Leconte,
which went down a storm at that year’s Venice Film Festival. It told
of the chance encounter between a retired poetry professor and a bank
robber, who develop a strong bond over a short period of time, despite
being polar opposites to each other.
Veteran French actor Jean Rochefort starred as former academic
Manesquier, alongside Johnny Hallyday as criminal Milan. Despite
having a number of acting credits to his name before the film, the
casting of Parisian native Hallyday was seen as a curious choice, as
he is best known internationally for his prowess as a rock ‘n’ roll
singer, leading to him being described as the ‘French Elvis Presley’.
However, the triumvriate of Leconte, Rochefort and Hallyday proved to
be a successful one, as the film performed extremely well in the
foreign market, grossing more than $7.5 million off a budget of $5
Fast forward 11 years, and we are treated to an English language
remake from Northern Irish director Mary McGuckian, which is now being
screened exclusively in IFI Cinemas. Taking on the role of the elderly
professor is legendary screen actor Donald Sutherland and, repeating
the trick of L’homme du train, in the role of the thief we have Larry
Mullen Jr, U2’s drummer and founding member.
With the action transferred to a quiet Canadian town, Mullen Jr’s
Thief pulls into the local railway station hoping to pull of a heist
in the nearby bank, a task that he anticipates will go off with a
With the town’s hotel closed upon his arrival, he is welcomed to the
home of Sutherland’s septuagenarian, who is set to have heart surgery
on the same day that Mullen Jr and his crew are set to stage their
As the days go by leading up to their respective events, the two men
develop an unexpected friendship, and though the precise nature of his
house guest eventually becomes clear to Sutherland, it doesn’t prevent
both parties from yearning for each other’s lives.
Given McGuckian’s status as an independent filmmaker, it comes as no
surprise that the small, intimate nature of the original is
maintained, and in many ways the new incarnation is even more
ambiguous and enigmatic than its French counterpart (the characters of
Sutherland and Mullen Jr are listed simply as ‘The Professor’ and ‘The
However, the biggest problem the film faces is the lack of spectacle
that you would usually associate with English language remakes,
because at a running time of 100 minutes (which is 10 minutes longer
than the Leconte version) its pace is far too leisurely to keep
audiences actively involved in the drama.
The main interest of the film, though, will undoubtedly be the
big-screen debut of Mullen Jr, and despite having an understandably
limited range and a soft voice that doesn’t entirely compliment his
muscular presence, Mullen Jr. acquits himself reasonably well, and any
faults that the film has doesn’t lie at his door.
As the more experienced of the two, it is no surprise that Sutherland
offers a more nuanced performance, and after a series of films (The
Hunger Games, The Eagle, The Mechanic, Horrible Bosses) where he was
taking minor parts that didn’t stretch his considerable range to an
enormous degree, it is refreshing to see him given a leading role that
has genuine substance and emotional depth attached to it.
Aside from acting in the film, Mullen Jr also worked on the score
along with Simon Clime, and together they have conjured up an
efficient, if somewhat repetitive, beat that kicks in during vital
stages in the film’s development. Having attracted plenty of criticism
for her experimental multi-camera approach on 2005’s Rag Tale,
McGuckian and cinematographer Stefan von Bjorn wisely opt to keep
things simple here, and what they produce is quite often pleasing on
Ultimately, the film will mainly be of interest to avid fans of
Sutherland and Mullen Jr, and those who are intrigued by the set-up
would be better served checking out the original. With A Thousand
Times Good Night due for release later this year, Mullen Jr’s acting
career is set to have some sort of longevity, but despite the best of
intentions, Man on the Train will more than likely be remembered as a
stepping stone rather than a true game changer.
Man on the Train is released on 11th January 2013
DIR: Robert Lorenz • WRI: Randy Brown • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Robert
Lorenz, Michele Weiser • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES:
James J Murakami • Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake,
When Clint Eastwood stepped out in front of the camera for 2008’s
excellent Gran Torino (which he, of course, also directed), it was
assumed that it was to be his acting farewell, and given how memorable
a character Walt Kowalski was, it is easy to see why.
Indeed, the man himself had intended to stay behind the camera (he has
directed Invictus, Hereafter and J. Edgar in the meantime), but the
postponement of his planned A Star Is Born remake with Beyonce Knowles
has freed him to star in his long-term collaborator Robert Lorenz’s
debut feature Trouble with the Curve.
In many ways, Clint’s involvement with this film sees him coming full
circle, because whereas it has now become the norm to expect him to
direct rather than act, Trouble with the Curve finds him acting in a
film that he didn’t also helm for the first time since Wolfgang
Petersen’s In the Line of Fire back in 1993.
The four-time Academy Award winner stars as Gus, a veteran baseball
scout who is under pressure to deliver the goods on his latest
scouting mission, as he silmutaneously attempts to hide his
deteriorating eye sight from his employers. Concerns about his
condition leads to his boss, and best friend, Pete Klein (John
Goodman) sending Gus’ high-flying lawyer daughter (Amy Adams) along
with him on his latest trip.
It is here that we get a real sense of the estrangement between the
two, and as they struggle to get along, Justin Timberlake crops up as
a former hot-shot college player turned Boston Red Sox scout, who
re-connects with his one-time recruiter Gus, as well as becoming a
potential love interest for Adams’ Mickey.
To compare Eastwood’s performance here to what we saw four years ago
in Gran Torino is perhaps unfair, as it would be asking a lot to
expect him to deliver the goods to the same extent this time around.
It doesn’t shy away from dealing with serious and sensitive subject
matters, though, as Gus’ inability to catch the action as it happens
become a central point in the drama.
Lorenz, who has worked on a total of 16 Eastwood films in a variety of
roles, approaches the job of directing in the same kind of unfussy and
leisurely manner that has become a trademark of his mentor in the past
few decades. There are also some nice touches to Randy Brown’s script,
but it does suffer from having a somewhat predictable and unremarkable
However, if you are an Eastwood fan (and despite his bizarre episode
with an empty chair a few months ago at a Republican Party Convention,
a large number of people are), it is hard not to find some sort of
charm in the way the film is played out, especially when Eastwood’s
grizzled presence is balanced out with Adams’ endless charm.
The Unforgiven star’s iconic status has been there for all to see
since the Dollars Trilogy back in the 1960s, but equally Adams is one
of the finest young actresses working in Hollywood today, and can
currently be seen in scene-stealing form in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The
Timberlake shows once again that he is a very solid screen actor, and
it is refreshing to see that his character is the one with the
supporting romantic angle, as that is a burden that is so often left
at the door of an actress. Goodman is fresh from an excellent role of
his own in Ben Affleck’s Argo, and you are left to wonder why himself
and Eastwood haven’t worked together before now, as they have a very
easy chemistry with each other.
With small but pivotal characters also played by Matthew Lillard, Bob
Gunton and Robert Patrick, Trouble with the Curve never stretches
itself too far, and if it is a long way from the classic Clint of the
past, it is still something of a pleasure to see the great man on the
big screen once again.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Trouble with the Curve is released on 30th November 2012
DIR: Stephen Gyllenhaal • WRI: Stephen Gyllenhaal, Justin Rhodes • PRO:
Matt R. Brady, Peggy Case, Michael Huffington, Peggy Rajski, Brent
Steifel • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Neil Mandelberg • DES: Laurie Hicks • Cast:
Joel David Moore, Jason Biggs, Christopher McDonald, Cedric The
Entertainer, Cobie Smulders, Tom Arnold
Since appearing in raunchy Dane Cook comedy My Best Friend’s Girl in
2009, things have been quiet on the movie front for Jason Biggs. Aside
from his return to the American Pie series (American Reunion), which
helped to launch his career back in 1999, the New Jersey native has
worked primarily on television and short films, including the
short-lived CBS series Mad Love.
However, he is back on the big screen now courtesy of Grassroots,
which is brought to us by respected filmmaker Stephen Gyllenhaal,
father of high-profile acting siblings Jake and Maggie. Like this
week’s People Like Us, Grassroots is also based on actual events, but
Gyllenhaal’s film is much closer to the truth than Alex Kurtzman’s
It does contain the humorous disclaimer: ‘Most Of This Is True’, but
the protagonists at the heart of the action; Grant Cogswell (Joel
David Moore) and Phil Campbell (Biggs), are a real-life pair who lived
through the events depicted in the film.
Set in Seattle circa 2001, Grassroots starts with Biggs’ Campbell
losing his job as a journalist at a local newspaper and, with little
on his plate, he is coaxed into running a political campaign for
Cosgwell (Moore), his best friend and an unemployed music critic. He
is running for a position on the Seattle City Council against the
hotly-fancied incumbent, Richard McIver (Cedric The Entertainer, in a
surprisingly restrained role), who has served in his present role for
Though initially he seems like a complete no-hoper, Cosgwell’s
campaign starts to gather legs, with his passion and drive garnering
him considerable support as election day beckons.
His big trump card as a challenger to McIver’s throne is his
commitment to the role of a public transportation candidate, as he
favours an extension of the city’s restricted monorail over a planned
mass transportation system.
The mention of a monorail does offer up memories of the classic
Simpsons episode, where Homer becomes the driver for the ill-fated
maiden voyage of Springfield’s very first monorail. This is a slight
problem when you consider that the writers of the Simpsons used this
parictular form of rail to brilliant comic effect, and it is meant to
be a serious subject here, but to the credit of Gyllenhaal and his
writing partner Justin Rhodes, they do handle it in a manner that
seems both natural and realisitc.
Indeed, much of the political rhetoric used in the film does feel
quite genuine, and though Cogswell’s emergence as a major candidate
comes across as a major contrivance, it is only because that is how
events largely panned in the real world.
The involvement of 9/11 also looks somewhat tacked on, but this had a
major bearing on the race, particularly in the primaries. The big
problem the film will face, however, is the fact that it is being
billed as a broad comedy, which isn’t a surprise given Biggs’ track
record and also the involvement of Moore, who appeared in smash hit
comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog’s Tale.
In truth, the film isn’t really a comedy at all, but a sub-plot about
Cogswell dressing up a bear if he doesn’t get his way upon his
potential election does blur the lines between comedy and drama to a
How you feel about the character of Cogswell will have a massive
impact on audience’s opinions of the film itself, as he often comes
across as volatile and obnoxious, and occasionally immature for a
thirtysomething contender. This is entirely the point that Gyllenhall
is trying to make, but could prove to be off-putting for some people.
It is to the credit of Moore (who had a key supporting role in James
Cameron’s Avatar) that he manages to give a winning performance
despite Cogswell’s grating qualities, and Biggs is on solid form as
the brains behind the extravagant operation, which is crucial given
that Campbell wrote the book that this film is based on.
Aside from Biggs and Moore, however, the talented supporting cast are
largely underused with Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, The
Avengers) get little to do as a monorail worker, while Six Feet
Under‘s Lauren Ambrose is given the thankless role of Campbell’s
frustrated love interest.
The one ace in the hole, however, is Cedric The Entertainer, who
downplays his usual comic schtick, and gives us a sense that McIver
may not be as conniving as Cogswell makes him out to be.
In the end, there is probably little in Grassroots that hasn’t been
seen before, and it doesn’t hold a candle to high-quality political
fare like Primary Colors, but it has just the right level of
exuberance and panache to make it a worthwhile trip.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Grassroots is released on 9th November 2012
DIR/WRI: Andrew Dominik • PRO: Dede Gardner, Anthony
Katagas, Brad Pitt, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz • DOP: Greig
Fraser • ED: Brian A. Kates, John Paul Horstmann • DES: Patricia Norris •
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scott McNairy, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard
Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn
Although only on his third feature film in 12 years, Australian
writer/director Andrew Dominik has garnered quite a reputation for
himself. Having debuted with his homegrown black comedy Chopper in
2000 (which launched the film career of then TV comedian Eric Bana)
about Australia’s most notorious criminal, Mark ‘Chopper’ Reed,
Dominik took an extended break from filmmaking before returning with
the masterful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert
Ford in 2007.
Originally set to be released in 2006, Dominik’s take on the famed
American outlaw was delayed due to an on-going battle with Warner
Bros. to gain control of the final cut of the film (the studio were
angling towards a more action-driven picture, while Dominik was aiming
for a meditative feel), The Assassination of Jesse James… was
critically lauded, and would be recognised with two Academy Award
nominations for Casey Affleck and cinematographer Roger Deakins.
With such a prolific double whammy on his back catalogue, anticipation
was always going to be high for his next release, and with Jesse James
star Brad Pitt once again on leading man duties, Killing Them Softly
has all the appearance of a sure thing.
Dominic updates George V. Higgins’ Boston-set 1970s novel Cogan’s
Trade (the film’s original title) to modern-day New Orleans, where
Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, a professional enforcer, is brought in to
investigate a robbery of mobster Ray Liotta’s high-stakes poker game
by a pair of small-time crooks, played by Monsters’ Scoot McNairy and
Ben Mendelsohn (recently seen as the snivelling John Daggett in The
Dark Knight Rises).
Having previously organised the theft of his own game, people suspect
that Liotta may be the one behind it again, but Cogan suspects
otherwise, and he enlists the help of ‘New York’ Mickey to get to the
bottom of it.
Having set the bar so high with his extraordinary sophomore effort, it
is inevitable that his take on a straightforward crime thriller
wouldn’t have the same impact. Yet, though the use of archival footage
of George W. Bush and Barack Obama doesn’t really take effect until
the final moments, Killing Them Softly is nevertheless a slick and
stylish (and often darkly humorous) film, that will find favour with
fans of the genre, as well as Dominik and Pitt devotees.
Though he is off-screen for much of the opening-third of the film,
Pitt is on terrific form as Cogan, bringing the same kind of
effortless cool to the role that we have seen from the Oklahoma man in
films like Ocean’s Eleven, Inglourious Basterds, Fight Club and last
The supporting performances are also on the money, with the reliable
Richard Jenkins building up a good rapport with Pitt as his secretive
contact with an anonymous benefactor, McNairy and Mendelsohn are
perfectly cast as the hapless criminals at the centre of the piece,
and it is interesting to see a Sopranos reunion of sorts with
Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola and Max Casella cropping up alongside
Liotta, a gangster film veteran.
At 97 minutes, Killing Them Softly is somewhat slight (and like Jesse
James its running time was originally much longer), but it still comes
with a high recommendation, and the Dominik/Pitt partnership is one
that both parties should be eager to expand upon in the future.
18 (see IFCO for details)
Killing Them Softly is released 21st September 2012
DIR: Woody Allen WRI: Woody Allen PRO: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson,
Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum DOP: Darius Khondji ED: Elise
DuRant DES: Anne Seibel Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Penelope
Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig
Acclaimed as one of the great New York filmmakers, Woody Allen has
made a habit of searching outside his native city for inspiration in
recent years. Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream and You Will Meet
a Tall Dark Stranger were all filmed in London, and he also ventured
to some of Europe’s most exotic locales for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
and Midnight in Paris.
His sojourn in the French capital proved to be fruitful, as not only
was Midnight in Paris a major awards contender (Allen won his fourth
Oscar® for the film’s screenplay), but it was a surprise box-office
hit, raking in upwards of $150 million worldwide.
It is therefore no surprise to see the veteran helmer remaining in
Europe for his latest film, To Rome with Love, which, despite lacking
the invention or lasting appeal of Midnight in Paris, is a perfectly
acceptable addition to Allen’s canon.
Allen himself makes his first appearance since 2006’s Scoop, appearing
in one of four vignettes as Jerry, a retired opera director who
feels the urge to get back in the saddle when he hears his prospective
brother-in-law (tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, but has
to think outside the box when he realises that he is not as
accomplished under normal circumstances.
Elsewhere, Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi are young
newlyweds who become separated in their new city, and fall into the
company of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and a movie star (Antonio
Albanese) respectively; Life is Beautiful‘s Roberto Benigni is an
ordinary Joe Soap who wakes up one day to discover that he has become
famous for no apparent reason; while the final story (in chronological
terms) finds Alec Baldwin’s famed architect dishing out relationship
advice to young protege Jesse Eisenberg as he struggles to choose
between his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend,
played by Ellen Page.
All of the stories do work quite well on an individual basis, and
there are some familiar Allen traits that are clear for all to see.
The subject of infidelity (which has played a major part in his recent
films) is a common theme throughout, and Baldwin’s inexplicable
appearances during the scenes with Eisenberg and Page brings back fond
memories of the Allen-starring Play it Again, Sam when Humphrey Bogart
was the imaginary mentor for the film’s protagonist.
It is also interesting that he has chosen to give equal share in terms
of screen time to the Italian stars, with Benigni enjoying a welcome
return to mainstream cinema after a 10-year gap, and bright
young things Tiberi and Mastronardi making for an engaging screen
Overall, the film works better as a series of moments rather than as a
wholly satisfying picture, and there is certainly no danger of To Rome with Love
ever challenging films like Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper
or Love and Death as one of his very best.
However, as a comedy, the film does succeed on a number of levels, and
there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way. Allen, despite
giving himself a limited enough role on this occasion, has some
trademark zingers and one-liners that only he could deliver, and
Baldwin is in his prime 30 Rock form throughout, stealing every scene
that he is in with plenty of gusto and no little verve.
For those expecting Allen to repeat the winning formula that
brought such attention towards Midnight in Paris, they will probably be
left disappointed by his latest film, but for those who still hold a
fondness for his ‘early, funny ones’ and are looking for something
that will help to pass the time in an agreeable manner (as well as
something with a penchant for absurdity), then they might well find
something to enjoy in To Rome with Love.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
To Rome with Love is released on 14th September 2012
DIR: Tony Gilroy WRI: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy PRO: Patrick Crowley,
Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, Jeffrey M. Weiner DOP: Robert Elswit ED:
John Gilroy DES: Kevin Thompson Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz,
Edward Norton, Oscar Isaacs, Albert Finney
Five years on from the award-laden third entry in the franchise (The
Bourne Ultimatum), Robert Ludlum’s spy novels are given a fresh
big-screen spin in the form of The Bourne Legacy. With Paul Greengrass
currently taking a break from the series, helming duties for Legacy
have fallen the way of Tony Gilroy, who worked as a screenwriter on
the previous Bourne films, and made his directorial debut with the
excellent Michael Clayton in 2007.
From the outset, the loss of Greengrass as director should have a
detrimental effect on the overall quality of this film, but this isn’t
the main obstacle facing Legacy, as they have a very capable auteur in
the form of Gilroy, and it should be remembered that the franchise was
kick-started by Doug Liman some ten years ago.
The problem with The Bourne Legacy is the fact that, despite the title
(taken from one Ludlum’s books), Jason Bourne is absent from the
story. Taking over the action man reins from Matt Damon’s amnesiac
protagonist is Avengers star Jeremy Renner, whose profile continues to
rise with each passing film.
Here Renner plays Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, a black
ops program which is being driven into the ground by the CIA, with the
all agents within the program being picked off one by one. However,
Cross manages to evade his would-be assassination, and joins forces
with Rachel Weisz’s lab technician in an effort to get hold of the
pills that will stop his internal system from shutting down.
Along the way, we hear numerous references to events in the previous
films, much of it filtered through fleeting cameo appearances by
former MVPs like Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney.
Ultimately though, Gilroy’s film strives to make Cross the centre of
attention, and in the form of Jeremy Renner, they have a very reliable
presence filling the void that has been left by the impressive Damon.
He convinces in the action set-pieces (particularly in an extended
motorbike chase through Manilla), which are well-executed by second
unit director Dan Bradley and Oscar®-winning cinematographer Robert
Elswit (There Will Be Blood), and generally delivers a nuanced
portrayal of a complexed character.
Yet, despite his best efforts, and despite the fact that the film does
maintain the spirit of what has gone before it, this particular Bourne
film struggles without the presence of its eponymous hero.
Of course, it is not the first time (and presumably won’t be the last
time) that a franchise has carried on without its returning star,
Predator 2 (where Arnold Schwarzenegger was replaced by Danny Glover)
being one obvious example.
However, what helped to make Jason Bourne such a memorable character
was not just the fact that he was such an expert in hand-to-hand
combat, or that he could outwit his enemies at every turn, but the
fact that he was a suffering a very real identity crisis, and would
stop at nothing to discover who he really is.
Through the ever-reliable Damon, he was also a hero who registered on
an emotional level, personified by his teary-eyed confessions to
Oksana Akinshina at the end of The Bourne Supremacy and to Daniel
Bruhl at the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum.
This is the kind of resonance that is sorely lacking in Legacy, and is
something that needs to be addressed if the series is going to
progress further from here. Though the largely uncontrollable absence
of Bourne doesn’t help them in this matter, it is really a surprise
that this key ingredient is missing, as it is something that Gilroy
has been quite adept at conveying in the past, and Renner also has
form in this department, in film such as the aforementioned Marvel
Avengers Assemble, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Hurt
Overall, it is only right to state that The Bourne Legacy is by no
means a bad film, and though many have dismissed it as a ‘cash-grab’
exercise, there is still enough evidence on screen to suggest that
they are looking beyond purely the monetary potential that comes with
expanding the universe of Bourne.
Indeed, as an action-adventure film it does offer enough thrills to
keep audiences interested, and in Edward Norton it has an antagonist
with the potential to become a real threat to Cross/Bourne in future
films, much like Brian Cox in Supremacy.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together in the way that fans of
Bourne would like, and though they will be interested in seeing where
Gilroy has brought a story that was first developed by Liman, they
will probably by yearning for the return of Messrs. Greengrass and
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Bourne Legacy is released on 10th August 2012
DIR: Dan Turner WRI: Dan Turner PRO: Dean Fisher DOP: Richard Swingle
ED: Richard Alderson DES: Mickaela Trodden Cast: Ashley Thomas, David
Harewood, Michelle Ryan, Peter Mullan
A rapper by trade, Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas is, like Plan B (Ben Drew)
and Adam Deacon before him, also a rising British actor, and The Man
Inside sees him taking on lead duty for the first time following
supporting turns in The Veteran and Noel Clarke’s 126.96.36.199.
In writer-director Dan Turner’s third feature film, following
Experiment and Stormhouse, Thomas plays Clayton Murdoch, a young man
who seeks to distance himself from the gangster past of his father
(David Harewood) by channelling his aggression and anger into boxing.
His boxing trainer is Gordon Sinclair (played by the reliably intense
Peter Mullan), who took Clayton under his wing following his father’s
imprisonment, and helped him to avoid falling into the world of crime
and violence that seems particularly prevalent in this area of London.
However, the arrival of Gordon’s daughter, Alexia (Michelle Ryan), an
old schoolmate of his, on top of some threatening behaviour towards
his sister and brother by local thugs, starts to send Clayton
spiralling out of control, and down the same path that his father
travelled many years before. Question is, will he resort to the same
murderous deeds that he witnessed his father engage in or will he see
the light at the end of the tunnel?
Boosted by a strong central performance from Thomas, and good
supporting turns from Mullan and Jenny Jules, as the matriarch of the
Murdoch household, The Man Inside is a well-intentioned and finely
crafted, if not wholly satisfying, urban drama. It is tough and gritty
in all the right places, but the air of familiarity proves to be its
undoing in the end.
The fact that Thomas, as well as Ryan, worked with Noel Clarke on
188.8.131.52 is perhaps not entirely coincidental, as The Man Inside is
similar in ways to the Clarke-scripted Kidulthood and the
Clarke-directed Adulthood, which featured the vocal stylings of Thomas
on its soundtrack.
This in itself is not a major problem, but other contrivances, such as
Ryan’s ‘tart with a heart’ female love interest, take away from some
of the more admirable elements of the film.
There is every possibility that The Man Inside will find a respectable
audience upon its release, and those who do see it will find some form
of emotional resonance in the film’s finale. In his short and
feature-length films to date (as well as in TV series Girl Number 9),
Turner has proven to be an efficient filmmaker, who doesn’t mind
trying his hand at a variety of genres.
Unfortunately, the genre that The Man Inside belongs is one that is in
need of some fresh ideas, and despite the best efforts of all
involved, his film does fall short of providing them.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Man Inside is released on 27th July 2012
DIR: Daniel Nettheim WRI: Alice Addison, Wain Fimeri PRO: Vincent
Sheehan DOP: Robert Humphreys ED: Rolland Gallois DES: Steven
Jones-Evans Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor, Morgana
Davies, Finn Woodlock
A regular contributor to Australian television, The Hunter is director
Daniel Nettheim’s second foray into feature filmmaking after 2000’s
Angst, a New South Wales-set black comedy that was little seen outside
of his native country.
Much the same could have been said about his new film, staged in the
Tasmanian state capital of Hobart, which initially went on release in
Australia last September. However, ten months on, The Hunter has been
afforded a release in foreign territories, under the distribution of
Having gone for relative unknowns when making Angst, Nettheim has
opted for a more high-profile cast for The Hunter, with reliable
Antipodeans Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill (who originally hails from
Omagh, County Tyrone) supporting the charismatic Willem Dafoe as
Martin David, a mercenary hunter hired by a military biotech company
to track the sightings of a Tasmanian Tiger, previously thought to be
While in Tasmania, he stays in the Armstrong household, where
O’Connor’s Lucy lives with her two children (Morgana Davies and Finn
Woodlock). She has taken to prescription medication since the
disappearance of her environmentalist husband eight months earlier.
She has been aided in that time by local man Jack Mindy (Neill), who
offers himself as a guide to David, who is moonlighting as a college
professor searching for Tasmanian Devils.
As the film develops we see David evolving from an isolated figure to
someone who feels a deep connection with the Armstrong family, to the
point that he stands up for them against the tyranny of the local
loggers, who have had their differences with Lucy’s husband, Jarrah,
in the past.
Martin David is a complex and multi-layered character, and is
brilliantly rendered here by Dafoe who is on the very top of his game,
giving hidden depths to David at vital junctures in the narrative.
Though he has some clunkers on his CV (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Body
of Evidence, this year’s John Carter), he has also made some truly
unforgettable films, notably Platoon, American Psycho, Wild at Heart
and To Live and Die in L.A.
The Hunter doesn’t quite fit into that category, and it doesn’t have
the power of Animal Kingdom, another recent Australian production to
make it onto these shores, but it is certainly a worthy addition to
his already substantial filmography.
Though there was the temptation to make this a ‘man versus beast’
adventure like The Grey, The Edge, or even Razorback, Nettheim wisely
nods it in the direction of Anton Corbijn’s The American, and there
are many similarities between Dafoe’s David and George Clooney’s Jack
from Corbijn’s sophomore effort.
Special praise should also be reserved for Cinematographer Robert
Humphreys, who captures the Hobart landscape quite beautifully, while
Nettheim shows his knack for squeezing believable performances from
his cast, with O’Connor (who worked with Steven Spielberg on the
underrated A.I. Artificial Intelligence), Neill and youngster Davies
providing good support to Dafoe.
Though it does become slightly muddled around the middle-third, The
Hunter does nevertheless succeed on a number of levels, and will be a
must-see for fans of Dafoe’s captivating intensity.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Hunter is released on 6th July 2012
The documentary, which enjoyed its premiere in the Irish Film
Institute during the recent John Ford Symposium, take a detailed look
into the making of the 1952 classic The Quiet Man, regarded as one of
filmmaker John Ford’s most personal projects.
Daire Walsh caught up with director Sé Merry Doyle to talk about the film.
When did you first start to develop John Ford: Dreaming
The Quiet Man?
I started approximately seven years ago. It took a
while. Pretty much all the stuff (in the film) you would have seen of
Nancy in Cong, and stuff like that, people who were connected with The
Quiet Man, was filmed first for a lot of reasons. One that I thought
some of them wouldn’t be around much longer. That became the basic
material for a pilot, which also included initially Jim Sheridan.
Basically, I hawked that around to try and get a documentary written,
but really nobody was interested in it. Then on a chance encounter,
Alan Maher came into the Loopline offices many years later to talk
about another project, and I don’t why but I said ‘Hey, would you look
at this pilot before you leave’, and he immediately was struck. He got
what nobody else was getting, and then the film went into full
Have you always been a big admirer of The Quiet Man?
I’ve certainly always been an admirer of John Ford. I’ve grown up
watching his movies with my parents. The Quiet Man, I suppose for all
of us here, is a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of film. Way back, the
documentary was originally called ‘The Quiet Man: A Milestone Or A
Millstone?’. That idea would be a noose around our necks. I’ve always
been an admirer of John Ford, and the whole idea for the film started
when I was talking to somebody else, a colleague, who rubbished The
Quiet Man, and countered by saying ‘How could that be if it was made
by John Ford?’. I wanted to get to the bottom of what Ford was up to.
Was it difficult to secure the participation of any of the
interviewees we see in the documentary?
Maureen (O’Hara) was very difficult. She has never really spoken
at length about The Quiet Man. She had a feeling that people were
going to exploit the film. She didn’t want to, but I happened to meet
her nephew, Charles Fitzsimons, in Los Angeles, and we got on very
well and he put in the good word for me. After two years of trying to
get her, I finally secured an interview in 2010. That was difficult,
but it was also a wonderful interview, I had great fun with her.
Martin Scorsese really came about because years ago he came here to
give a talk, and also his editor Thelma Schoonmaker came. Because I
was an editor at the time, I kept a correspondence, and she led me to
Scorsese. Scorsese loves The Quiet Man, and loves Ford, so that kind
of worked well. Peter Bogdanovich, we just met him in LA, and he was
wonderful. But a lot of these people I think really wanted to
contribute to the documentary, it wasn’t too difficult with them.
What kind of an impact do you think The Quiet Man has had on Irish film?
Well I think it has been enormous. I think in all fairness, the
film was extremely popular. We all know that some did, and still do,
put it down as a stereotype. You know, John Ford created a stereotype
for America. I think all the early maverick Irish filmmakers,
especially say Joe Comerford, they were creating the new realism
cinema against The Quiet Man. Now those filmmakers have since gone on
to not be petrified and respect The Quiet Man. But back then Ireland
was trying to re-invent itself.
The film seems to give as good an insight into Ford himself as
does The Quiet Man. Was that your intention from the outset?
Absolutely. His 20 year quest to make the film, how it changed
from being a gung-ho IRA film to something totally different, that
became the tracking of the film. For instance, He was a Democrat, so I
think he was making a film about a lot of things we’re going through
in Ireland now. Will Danaher is a banker if you like in modern day
terms. Sean Thornton is someone who wanted to chill the land and lead
a decent life. He has created a world in Inis Free that is of
Shakespearean proportions. I think he knew his film would be more
understood with time. As he said, you couldn’t go around Hollywood
saying you were making an intellectual film. They’d kill you. As you
can see from the film, he’s a very complexed, difficult character, but
at the same time his troupe of actors, Wayne, O’Hara, McLaglen, were
very loyal to him and called him ‘Pappy’.
You had the film’s premiere last weekend. How did you find that?
It was fantastic, it really was. We had the original world
premiere in Cork, where we had 1,000 people in the Opera House with
Maureen O’Hara. That was a night to remember, and it broke box office
records for a documentary showing in Cork. What was special about the
other night was to have Dan Ford, John Ford’s grandson, in the
audience. Redmond Morris, who produced the film, and particularly
Peter Bogdanovich, who was a great friend and biographer of Ford, gave
the film the thumbs up. That was one of the best accolades I’ve had so
far for the film.
How important has the Symposium been for the film’s profile, and
also giving Ford the recognition he deserves in his ancestral home?
I think it’s amazing. I just think John Ford is an Irish icon. He
has peopled all his films as Westerns with Irish and lots of other
migrants to America. He was a good man, a great filmmaker. I think
they couldn’t have chosen anybody better to finally honour on a yearly
basis. He’s a real icon for emerging filmmakers, and when you see
people like Scorsese paying homage to him, and Steven Spielberg and
all the rest, it is a great platform for Irish film I think.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon at the moment?
I made a film that came out in the year 2000, that had a little
bit of that very first film I made in 1982, which is called Looking
On, which was documenting the inner city parts of Dublin. I returned
to that in 1996, and four years later it came out with a film called
Alive Alive-O: A Requiem For Dublin. It still has a strong presence,
it gets shown occasionally at the Archives, but the last time it was
shown everybody said you have to do a final chapter. The film ended
just as the Financial Services Centre was rising. Ireland was going
through a huge economic boom, so I’m trying to go back to the Irish
Film Board and do an epilogue or a full stop to that show. It just
seemed to chart a whole period of Dublin. That’s the next project if I
can get it made.
DIR: Adrian Grunberg WRI: Mel Gibson, Adrian Grunberg PRO: Mel Gibson,
Bruce Davey, Stacey Perskie DOP: Benoit Debie ED: Steven Rosenblum
DES: Bernardo Trujillo Cast: Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Dean Norris,
Bob Gunton, Kevin Hernandez
By any man’s reckoning, it has been a tough few years for one Mel
Colmcille Gerard Gibson. First there was his DUI arrest in Malibu in
July 2006, which gathered many headlines after Anti-Semitic remarks he
made to an arresting officer were leaked on the internet. Further
trouble would then follow for Gibson in 2010, when infamous voice
recordings of conversations between him and his then partner, Oksana
Grigorieva, were also released into the public domain, which opened up
allegations of racism, sexism and domestic violence against the
Though his earlier misdemeanour didn’t cause too much harm to his
career initially (his fourth feature as director, Apocalypto, went to
number one in the US Box Office towards the tail end of 2006), the
latter offence played a major part in the financial failure of his
most recent film, Jodie Foster’s The Beaver.
As a result, there is now uncertainty as to what standing the New
York-born auteur has in Hollywood. He has managed to secure a key role
in Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming Machete Lives, but that will come after
his third lead role in as many years in How I Spent My Summer
Vacation, which has gone straight to Video-On-Demand Stateside, where
it goes under the title Get The Gringo.
It has gained a theatrical run in the UK & Ireland, however, and for
those who are able to get past a frankly rubbish title, they will get
to see Mad Mel returning to the kind of role that he made his own in a
succession of films in the late 80s and early 90s. Sure, he looks a
lot more grizzled than he did in his action heyday, but Adrian
Grunberg’s directorial debut is as close as he has come to playing
Martin Riggs since his Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon franchise came
to an end in 1998.
This is quite fitting, as 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the
generation-defining original Lethal Weapon film, and though How I
Spent My Summer Vacation could never hope to hold a candle to the
adventures of Riggs & Murtagh, it does still serve as a reminder of
what Gibson can offer in front of a camera if he is presented with the
Based on a script that was co-written by Gibson and Grunberg (who
worked with Gibson as Assistant Director on Apocalypto and Edge Of
Darkness), How I Spent My Summer Vacation has Gibson as a getaway
driver, who is arrested across the Mexican border following a botched
robbery, and subsequently finds himself holed up in an unorthodox Vera
While there, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young boy
(Kevin Hernandez), whose heart is of great importance to the crooked
head of the prison. Much of the action takes place while Gibson’s
character (referred to in the credits as ‘Driver’) is on the inside,
though it does eventually move out into the open for a typically
Given his strong connection with Grunberg, and his presence as both a
writer and producer, it is clear that Gibson is giving his full
commitment to his latest project, and it will be a pleasure for many
people to see the Mad Max actor back in action mode.
As far as Grunberg is concerned, however, his first gig as the main
man behind the camera is somewhat unremarkable, as the finished
product that he has conjured up is ultimately a standard throwaway
action thriller, the kind that the aforementioned Robert Rodriguez
would usually come up with in his sleep.
It doesn’t have the exploitation edge of some of Rodriguez’s back
catalogue, but it does have an air of familiarity about it
nevertheless. Indeed, it is the charismatic presence of Gibson that
offers the main reason to see the film, although there are a few other
worthy elements to recommend.
Hernandez is a very accomplished young actor, who gives a very
authentic performance, there are entertaining supporting roles for
Peter Stormare and The Shawshank Redemption‘s Bob Gunton, and the
soundtrack by Antonio Pinto ensures that the film is finely paced.
Grunberg also handles the main set-pieces in a sufficient manner, but
the film simply won’t stay with you in the same way that Mad Max and
Lethal Weapon has done in the past. Still, How I Spent My Summer
Vacation is enjoyable fare while it lasts, which finds its
controversial leading man in fine form indeed.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
How I Spent My Summer is released on 211h May 2012
DIR: Cameron Crowe • WRI: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna • PRO:
Cameron Crowe, Marc Gordon, Julie Yorn • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Mark
Livolsi • DES: Clay A. Griffith• Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson,
Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning
More than six years on from his previous feature length effort, the
thoroughly underwhelming Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe returns to the
silver screen with We Bought A Zoo, based on a book of the same name
by Benjamin Mee, played in the film by the ubiquitous Matt Damon (who,
like Crowe, has an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay to his name).
Having first come to people’s attention with his screenplay for Amy
Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Crowe went on to become the
critically acclaimed auteur of films like Say Anything (which helped
to launch the A-list credentials of John Cusack), Jerry Maguire and
Almost Famous, which displayed not only his great abilities as a
storyteller, but also his great taste in music, which he developed
during his time as a writer with the iconic Rolling Stone magazine.
This has been the consistent through line in all his films, as even
Elizabethtown (a critical and commerical failure) featured the likes
of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Simple Minds and James Brown on its
The same is true of We Bought A Zoo, as the spirits of Petty and Bob
Dylan are evoked to tell the story of a widower (Damon’s Benjamin
Mee), who buys a house in Southern California in the hope of escaping
the painful memories of his late wife, only to discover that it is on
the sight of a delapidated zoo.
This is met with by the approval of his daughter, Rosie (Maggie
Elizabeth Jones), but the outright disapproval of his 14-year-old son,
Dylan (Colin Ford), who does not meet the prospect of living in a zoo
with much enthusiasm.
With the helping hands of Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church and
Patrick Fugit (the protagonist from Almost Famous), Damon has to
renovate the zoo within a tight timeframe, whilst trying to keep his
still grieving family on side.
Given the premise of the film, We Bought A Zoo does have the potential
to return Crowe to the heady days of Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous,
but also has the potential to recall the yuck factor of the
Certainly there are elements of the film that are somewhat grating,
the characterisation of the young son does come across as overly
stereotypical for instance, and at 124 minutes the film is much longer
that it needs to be. It also suffers from the fact that there isn’t
any real stand-out moment in the film, and there isn’t anything held
within to match the mini-bus sing-a-long in Almost Famous, or John
Cusack’s Boom Box moment from Say Anything.
However, the film does possess a certain charm, thanks largely to Matt
Damon, who has quietly turned into one of the most consistent and
reliable actors currently working in Hollywood. He gives a winning
performance as Mee, a real-life writer who went through many of the
trials and tribulations seen on screen, and he is given solid support
by the ever-excellent Haden Church and Johansson, who makes for a more
believable zookeeper than one would intially imagine.
Credit must also go to rising star Elle Fanning, who makes the very
most of a rather thankless role. Ultimately, We Bought A Zoo won’t be
too everyone’s taste, and will probably still come as something of a
disappointment to Crowe fans, but it certainly does have its merits,
and in the shape of Matt Damon, it has an actor who has invested his
character with real emotion and real heart.
DIR: Michael Winterbottom • WRI: Thomas Hardy • PRO: Michael Winterbottom, Melissa Parmenter, Sunil Bohra • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Mags Arnold • DES: David Bryan Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth
Two years from the controversial The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom returns to the big screen with Trishna, which offers a modern-day spin of Thomas Hardy’s penultimate novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Regarded as a very significant piece of English literature, it has been adapted in a number of different mediums, with the most recognisable being Roman Polanski’s Tess, made in 1979 with Nastassja Kinski, and the 2008 four-hour TV adaptation, starring Gemma Arterton in the title role. It has also been made into a stage show on several occasions in the past, which comes as no surprise, because Hardy is one of those writers, like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, whose work can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom has decided to transport it from the Long Depression-era Wessex setting of the novel to present-day India, with Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of The Planet of The Apes actress Freida Pinto starring as the titular Trishna, who accepts a job in a plush hotel in Jaipur after her father is injured in a road accident. While there, she catches the attention of the hotel owner’s son, Jay (Four Lions‘ Riz Ahmed), whom she later falls in love with, before moving to the glamorously-depicted Mumbai. However, as is also the case in Hardy’s source novel, things eventually take a turn for the worse for our young heroine.
All of this seems like perfect territory for Winterbottom, who has adapted Hardy’s work in two of his previous films (Jude and The Claim), and is a director of formidable talent when he is on form. In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom succeeds in applying the complexities and symbolisms of the Hardy book to a present-day location, but the film does have certain faults that stops it from being ranked alongside the very best Winterbottom films, like A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People or Wonderland. In terms of the film’s good points, the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and production design of David Bryan are of the highest quality, as they make good use of the film’s exotic locations, capturing perfectly the kind of world that Trishna has a desire to be a part of.
As expected, Winterbottom’s direction is sure-footed, ensuring that the varying segments of the film don’t feel disjointed at any particular stage. There are also fine performances from Pinto and Ahmed in the lead roles, who make a very believable screen couple. Unfortunately, the way their characters are depicted doesn’t quite work on screen, and while the filmmakers have remained relatively faithful to the novel (to the point that Hardy is the only one who has received a writing credit), some of the elements of the narrative don’t work quite as well within the confines of this film. Trishna, for instance, does seem all too willing to accept the circumstances she finds herself in, which makes it less of a surprise when matters take a turn for the worse for her in the film’s final act. Ahmed probably has the tougher task of the two, however, as his Jay takes on a sudden transformation from the charming young man we first meet to the increasingly unpleasant person he becomes during the film’s climax. The film’s depiction of gender inequality and class division is also rather muddled, and not entirely convincing, despite the best intentions of all involved. Nonetheless, as far being a modern-day spin on a well-told literary story, Trishna still rates as one of the better ones, and is certainly one of the best-made examples of a classic story getting the 21st century treatment. It is also refreshing to see Winterbottom having the courage to take liberty with certain elements of the book in his attempt to give the film a unique voice, and while Trishna is ultimately a flawed addition to his cannon, it still manages to highlight how effective his improvisational style of filmmaking can be.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Trishna is released on 9th March 2012