Cinema Review: This Means War

A man called McG on the loose

DIR: McG • WRI: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg • PRO: Simon Kinberg, James Lassiter, Robert Simonds, Will Smith • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Nicolas De Toth, Jesse Driebusch • DES: Martin Laing • Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler

Remember McG? The barely named director was seen as a Hollywood wunderkind in the early 2000s after his kinetic, girl power nonsense take Charlie’s Angels was released. One intelligence-insulting sequel and a Terminator reboot with more plot holes than six viewings of Inception later, McG has managed to keep himself in the game by producing semi-popular schlock TV, such as The OC and Supernatural.

Now he’s back in the director’s chair with this self-important action comedy. This Means War is a confused film that attempts to be the ultimate date movie, pitting two best friend super-spies against one another for the hand of the girl they both fancy. Dripping in eye candy for women and full of Sex and the City-style ‘witticisms’ about penises while boasting less-than-inspired action, few men are likely to come out of this feeling they got a fair share.

Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play FDR and Tuck, two top CIA agents reduced to deskwork after a mission goes awry. FDR is cocky and up for anything. Tuck wants to settle down and is inexplicably English. One day, at separate times, the pair each meet Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a feisty, no-nonsense girl who is fed up with disappointing men. Tuck falls head over heels. FDR finds he may want more than just a quickie for the first time ever.

Of course, the friends soon realise they’re dating the same girl, and a high-tech pissing contest soon begins as they use the CIA’s facilities to recon their target, find out what she likes and sabotage each other’s efforts to woo her. It’s entirely as morally inexcusable as it sounds. Not only have they bugged her apartment, but their competitiveness over her reduces Lauren to little more than a sack of meat prize with all spoils going to the victor.
Of course, Lauren is hardly free of blame. Bolstered by her jealous, seemingly miserable married best friend (Chelsea Handler), she proceeds to date two men at once because, sure, guys do it all the time.

This Means War really is about as sexist as a film can get these days. Women are portrayed as irrational, self-centred, needy and borderline bipolar. Sure, men get it pretty bad too – they’re portrayed as being aggressive, competitive and insecure – but comparatively these character defects seem hardly as negative. The film is so convinced it is a modern tale about a woman getting to choose between two near-perfect men, but really it’s more conservative than It’s a Wonderful Life and without a fraction of the charm.

And all this might be excusable if it was well made, but it isn’t. The writing is simply abominable, featuring some of the laziest dialogue you will find. The agents’ boss talks like a mission guide between computer game levels. One of Chelsea Handler’s Carrie Bradshaw-est moments, where she compares a man’s penis to a poltergeist, sounds like it was written by picking nouns at random out of a bowl. Determined to ruin the manlier aspects of the film too, the shaky action sequences are shot by a cameraman who appears to have a bee inside trousers. One sequence, a strobe light-heavy shootout in a strip club, seems determined to seek out the person in the audience with epilepsy and give them the seizure of a lifetime.

In fairness to the actors, the three leads are all up for it, and give their portrayals far more effort than the material deserves. Chelsea Handler brings down the tone enormously however, injecting sheer misery into the film as its “comic” relief.

While the sabotage scenes are fun, they’re not enough to save a film so utterly out of touch with its audience that when the villain wants to track down the film’s two heroes, he goes to FDR’s London-based tailor to find out where the owner of his one-of-a-kind suits lives. No one would care about the film being a sexist tale of the sex-lives of the wealthy if the thing were at least entertaining. Realistically the only viewers who could enjoy this film will be those with uncontrollable lust for Messrs Hardy and Pine and pop culture academics revelling in the simmering homoeroticism at the heart of the movie’s bromance.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
This Means War is released on 2nd March 2012

This Means War   – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsAqVvlR5DQ

Share

Cinema Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Indiha

 

DIR: John Madden • WRI: Ol Parker • PRO: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Chris Gill • DES: Alan MacDonald • Cast: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson

Over the past 20 years British filmmakers have shown a remarkable knack for producing solid, if not exceptionable, entertainment for older filmgoers. Films such as Calendar Girls and Mrs Henderson Presents have brought in the viewers, often in their senior years, while also being satisfying enough to keep the critics from giving them the mauling their American equivalents receive (c.f. It’s Complicated).

The latest of these goldies for oldies is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a coming of old-age comedy drama about finding yourself, even if it’s only in the autumn years.

The film follows seven seniors (played by actors ranging from their late 50s to their mid 70s) who find themselves travelling together to a paradisiacal retirement home in Jaipur, India. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are escaping a future in an old folks’ home. Widow Evelyn (Judi Dench) needs to get away from the memory of her husband. Wheelchair-bound Muriel (Maggie Smith) needs a new hip, and will get it sooner in India. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) quits his role as a top judge to seek out an old friend in the city where he grew up. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is just there to get his geriatric jiggy on, while Madge (Celia Imrie) is after her umpteenth husband.

Of course the hotel is not what its Photoshop-blitzed website advertised, and the seniors find themselves at the mercy of Dev Patel’s hotel manager – a kind-hearted but cheesy salesman type, determined he can “outsource” Britain’s elderly. As repairs to the crumbling hotel go on around them, the British guests find themselves, for the most part, being slowly seduced by India’s blatant and hidden beauties.

There’s no denying the first 30 minutes of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feel familiar. They follow the same trajectory as every holiday from hell comedy you’ve ever seen. But after that something shifts, and this late-life crisis movie becomes something altogether different, more honest and much, much sweeter than expected.

While this is partially down to the restrained direction of John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and an unexpectedly original script, the real saviour of this film is the performances. While Dench is a little on auto-pilot, she manages to pull off some magic here, especially when opposite Bill Nighy. Maggie Smith goes completely against type to play a working-class woman who spouts the sort of racist comments that would cost a highly rated American comedian his career. Penelope Wilton, best known to half the audience as Shaun’s mum in Shaun of the Dead (where she was also married to Nighy, curiously) and to the other half as Cousin Isobel in Downton Abbey, also rejects the usual sweetness she is typecast with and here plays the uptight bitch.

However, it is Tom Wilkinson, playing an Englishman again for the first time in what feels like forever, who steals the film, with his best performance since Michael Clayton in 2007. He delivers many of the film’s best lines with an honest intensity beyond what the film calls for, and his story would only fail to touch the stoniest-hearted of viewers.

With little sense of mysticism or magic and none of the ‘white people solve foreigners’ problems’ one might expect of a similar Hollywood production, this is honest, well-meaning fun, and won’t just appeal to filmgoers over 60. Patel’s performance may hover on the border between stereotype and racist, but the overall image of India presented is a positive one. Though, much like some of the film’s characters, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

A final word of warning; the film suffers from a violent case of ‘best lines in the trailer’-osis. If you’ve already decided to give the film a look, I recommend avoiding the trailer at all costs.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on 24th February 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDY89LYxK0w

Share

Cinema Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

audience member at screening

DIR: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor • WRI: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer • PRO: Ashok Amritraj, Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Michael De Luca, Steven Paul • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Brian Berdan • DES: Kevin Phipps • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido

The first clever decision made by the makers of Marvel’s latest superhero movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is to assume that you didn’t see 2007’s Ghost Rider – to which this film is to some degrees a sequel – because, let’s face it, you didn’t. (Although that film made more than $200m around the world, so surely someone did…)

The film opens with a crudely animated rehashing of the more important elements of the first film; motorbike stuntman Johnny Blaze made a dodgy deal with the Devil, who turned him into a skull-faced, soul-reaping monster who rides a flaming chopper. But now he uses those powers against the minions of Satan, in an attempt to earn back the soul he has sold. In the first film, the Rider could only come out at night, but this film happily does away with that requirement as it doesn’t fit the plot, which requires one daylight action scene. Sure, why not?

In fact, the only continuity here is that Blaze is once more played by Nic Cage, but to complicate matters, this is the ‘other’ Nicolas Cage – while the first Ghost Rider made use of the slightly spaced-out, dull Cage of Knowing and National Treasure, Spirit of Vengeance unleashes the off-his-face whacked-out lunatic of Face/Off and Bad Lieutenant.

The plot follows the trippy Blaze – driven as mad as Nic Cage by guilt over selling his soul, apparently – hiding out in Eastern Europe, because it is cheaper to film there. Seeking redemption, the Ghost Rider teams up with a drunken, shotgun-wielding monk (played by The Wire’s Idris Elba, with a Moroccan-French accent) to save a young boy the Devil has a little too much interest in.

Ciarán Hinds, rapidly gaining ground on Brendan Gleeson to become Ireland’s answer to Samuel L. Jackson (he’s in everything), takes on the role of the Devil, and chews an unfortunate amount of scenery for a film also featuring Nic Cage. There’s only so much growling you can do to try and make a script this lazy work, and it doesn’t help that his ‘evil’ makeup includes one gratuitously bloodshot eye.

The demented duo of directors known as Neveldine/Taylor, the pair behind the ludicrous but undeniably inspired Crank movies, give the film a sort of flair and show a talent for controlling Cage’s uncaged mania that only Werner Herzog has managed in recent years. But the material is all wrong. With PG-13 deaths resulting in offed villains bursting into CGI embers (think the Phoenix deaths in X-Men 3, only slightly less pixelly), and a child actor so dull he drains the energy from the screen, there’s simply nothing Crank going on here. One can only hope Neveldine and Taylor will work with Cage again in future but on more… eccentric fare.

While the film is almost worth seeing for the unleashing of Cage at his craziest – a scene where he repeatedly pops little blue pills feels all too real – the sloppy writing, confusing action scenes and the generally cheap appearance of this $75 million production make this film well worth keeping your distance from. It’s almost an added insult that the story is by David S. Goyer, who gave us The Dark Knight.

If you must catch it, be sure to avoid the unconscionably poor 3D, which is the worst retro-fitting since Clash of the Titans, and barely works for a moment with Neveldine/Taylor’s Tourettes-like camerawork.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is released on 17th February 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgvBmvF1RB8&feature=fvst

Share

Cinema Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene – Film of the Week

DIR/WRI: Sean Durkin • PRO: Antonio Campos, Patrick Cunningham, Chris Maybach, Josh Mond • DOP: Jody Lee Lipes • ED: Zachary Stuart-Pontier • DES: Chad Keith • Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes

Sean Durkin’s debut feature Martha Marcy May Marlene won him an award for direction at the Sundance Film Festival last year and since then the film has accumulated shelf-loads of trophies from festivals and critics’ circles all across America. Now arriving in Europe, its slow, sombre tone and pitch-perfect acting are likely to win it similar praise around the world.

The film opens on a farming commune in northern New York State; a sort of idyllic escape for young school drop-outs who don’t feel the world “gets” them. One morning, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) rises from her bed and runs away. Reuniting with her well-to-do older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she has not spoken to in over two years, and Lucy’s yuppie husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), Martha struggles to adapt to life with regular people. Delaying a return to society as a whole by waiting out the weeks at her sister’s holiday home, Martha reflects on her life at the commune.

Through a series of well-connected flashbacks we quickly come to realise the commune was a highly seductive though seemingly unambitious cult, led by a charismatic snake-charmer of a man named Patrick (John Hawkes). We see how Martha, known to the cult as Marcy May, came to be indoctrinated and how the unapparent danger of the cult began to escalate.

The crowded farmhouse, home to more than a dozen cult members, contrasts brilliantly with Lucy and Ted’s vast, near-empty country home. The film uses its flashbacks to compare the soullessness of modernity to the communal bliss that seems to be at the core of Patrick’s cult. As Martha clashes with her sister and her husband over the morality of the real world, she is left wondering if she was perhaps better off remaining with her fellow outcasts.

Shot with ponderous long-takes and minimal camera movements, Durkin’s film has an airy quality that works well with the uncertainty of its central character. Young Elizabeth Olsen, in her debut performance, is simply outstanding; equal parts strong and determined, and weak, lost and petrified. Former Winter’s Bone Oscar nominee Hawkes also stands out, giving a chilling performance as a crooked man with more power than he ought to have.

While its ending will undoubtedly divide audiences, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an interesting study of an unlikely form of post-traumatic stress disorder, held together by one superb performance. Its slow pace will not keep the attention of all viewers, but it is a welcome start for a director and actress who will likely bring some more great films in the near future.

David Neary

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

Martha Marcy May Marlene is released on 3rd February 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Official Website

 

Share

Cinema Review: Carnage

DIR:  Roman Polanski • WRI: Yasmina Reza • PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd • DOP: Pawel Edelman • ED: Hervé de Luze • DES: Dean Tavoularis • Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz

Roman Polanski’s first feature film Knife in the Water, which is 50 years old this year, is a masterpiece of power plays and claustrophobia. Carnage is not that, but it does play on the same ideas as Polanski’s debut, and succeeds to a large degree.

The film begins with a scuffle between children in a Brooklyn park that results in one child swiping at the other with a large stick. As the film’s drama opens we are in the apartment home of the victim, and the parents of both parties are hashing out an agreement about responsibility for the incident. The victim’s parents, nouveau riche and secretly uncultured Michael (John C. Reilly) and his pretentious, politically correct wife, Penelope, scuttle the amicable proceedings when they passive-aggressively imply that the parents of the young aggressor, stressed pacifist Nancy (Kate Winslet) and disinterested corporate lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz), should pay to repair the damage done to their son’s teeth. Arguments ensue.

What should have been a simple meet-and-greet turns into a day of drunkenness and verbal violence as hosts turn on guests, husbands turn on wives and men and women turn on one another.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage – a winner of both the Olivier and Tony awards for best play, perhaps the highest honours any theatre piece can achieve – Carnage suffers from its one location structure. While the play can hold the four characters in the apartment for the story’s duration, using that subconscious theatrical device that implies if a character leaves the stage they will somehow cease to exist, the film forces all four to remain in the apartment unnaturally. This is not 12 Angry Men! At one stage Alan refuses to get into the elevator to leave in case he loses phone reception for an important call, and subsequently they stay another hour. There’s only so much disbelief a film audience can be expected to suspend.
What Polanski and Reza, in their adaptation, lose in believability they win back in the performances. Reilly is a keg full of rage just waiting to crack open. Waltz is the manipulative snake we haven’t seen since Inglourious Basterds. The ever-reliable Winslet goes fluidly from repressed to outright hostile as the drinks flow, while Foster gives her best performance since Silence of the Lambs in a role seething with bitterness and resentment.
The film uses its top-notch performers well to bring out the dark comedy and carry the film’s satirical content; the moral here is man is, at heart, a selfish, amoral beast. The savagery of the personal attacks mirrors the childish scuffle they have condemned. Characters seem to care more for their personal belongings than the wellbeing of those around them. Alan is more concerned that a pharmaceutical company he represents may have its reputation damaged than the fact its faulty medicine is killing people.

Unfortunately, all the strengths of this film are largely undermined by the sudden and pointless ending. What possessed Polanski to end the film with an infantile punchline instead of the source material’s acceptance of mankind’s universal failings is beyond comprehension. The ultra-PC conclusion is totally out of keeping with the core of the film, and leaves a bitter aftertaste from what was an otherwise enjoyable adaptation.

Carnage, for all its successes, is a hard film to recommend due to its ending, but it should still be lauded as an entertainment and for its fine performances.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Carnage is released on 3rd February 2012

Carnage – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxX02-KdsXM

 

Share

We Love… 2011 – 13 Assassins

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

We laughed, we cried, we sneaked in our own popcorn. 2011 brought with it some memorable trips to the cinema to revel in the joy of film. And so the Film Ireland collection of filmbots look back in love and recall their favourite films of the last year in the latest installment of…

We Love… 2011

13 Assassins

(Takashi Miike)

‘… a delirious, ultra-violent entertainment of the highest calibre …’

David Neary

Few can deny 2011 has been a fantastic year for cinema, but in the age of social media it’s rare to see a great film without expecting greatness beforehand. The only true surprise of 2011 for me was 13 Assassins, a delirious, ultra-violent entertainment of the highest calibre.

Director Takashi Miike is best known in these parts as the man behind the creepifying horror Audition, but has also shot films such as the bizarre genre-bender Sukiyaki Western Django, a retread of A Fistful of Dollars set in a Japanese/Wild West fusion world and co-starring none other than Quentin Tarantino. For 13 Assassins, itself a remake of a ’60s samurai cult classic, Miike opted for a curiously and uncharacteristically realistic style – a muddy, almost monotone image that echoes the feel of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai just as its story echoes that of perhaps Japan’s greatest ever film.

In this instance the samurai assassins are not simply defending a village against bandits but saving the entire country by slaying the sadistic Lord Matsudaira (and any of his 200-strong bodyguard who stand in their way), who is next in line to be Shogun. Matsudaira makes most movie villains look like heroes in comparison – Miike shamelessly highlights how much of a monster this man is; he uses children as archery targets and mercilessly mutilates a rape victim.

Secretly, an alliance of lords opposed to Matsudaira’s reign of madness hires noble samurai Shinzaemon to assassinate him. The weary legendary swordsman rises to the challenge and gathers eleven comrades in arms to his side and with the aid of a roguish misfit from a bygone era of banditry lays a trap for the villain and his entourage in a deserted town.

Revelling in its slow pace, 13 Assassins builds the tension and excitement over the course of more than an hour; giving each of the minor players light but satisfactory character backgrounds while raising the stakes between the main players with a decades-old rivalry between Shinzaemon and Matsudaira’s No1 bodyguard.

When the action kicks off, it is seemingly unending – a whirlwind of blades and arrows, explosions and flaming cattle. Action fans could get their fix for a month here; those of a tamer disposition will be left mesmerised by the choreography of the carnage. The thrilling tale is richly shot with incredible attention to period detail and with sound effects that rival the best Hollywood has to offer – when one character performs ritual disembowelment off-screen, you hear it so clearly you it actually pains your insides.

Old-fashioned storytelling by a modern master, 13 Assassins is dripping in action, drama and blood. Not to be missed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgPC74-Tde8

Share