Review: Big Game

big-game-trailer

DIR/WRI: Jalmari Helander • PRO: Will Clarke, Petri Jokiranta, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer •DOP: Mika Orasmaa • ED: Iikka Hesse • MUS: Juri Seppä, Miska Seppä • DES: Christian Eisele • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Jim Broadbent, Mehmet Kurtulus, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman

You can forgive a film of a lot of things if it’s on the whole entertaining. Big Game will inevitably be uttered in the same breath as Snakes on a Plane given its claim to some key components: Samuel L Jackson, an airplane, and cheesy dialogue. Above everything else, however, the film certainly entertains.

It’s an intriguing premise: a Finnish-American co-production, starring Jackson as an unpopular American president who finds himself being hunted in a remote Finnish forest after Air Force One is shot down, with only a young Finnish boy, Oskari (Onni Tommila), to protect him. Oskari is on a rite-of-passage hunting expedition, the outcome of which will gain him his idolised father’s approval. Oskari is not quite as skilled a hunter, but the sudden appearance of the American president, and a band of violent marauders in pursuit of him, presents Oskari with an opportunity.

The marketing material puts Jackson as a typical action figure, but the film presents otherwise. He’s an incompetent president, down in the polls, and is initially useless and bumbling when his forest ordeal begins. It’s an unusual role for Jackson but it just about works. Oskari, his valiant yet often equally incompetent protector, is the true hero of the film. Tommila is constantly engaging, and Oskari’s hunting quest – be it for big game or fatherly approval – becomes the core of the narrative.

There are some well-worn tropes here: air disaster, CIA Situation Room, a chase across unforgiving terrain. Big Game is, on one hand, playing up the clichés, while at the same time happily repeating them. It knows what it is, and it delivers on its promise, with some horrendous dialogue thrown in. There’s not enough of the bad for it to qualify for ‘so bad it’s good’ territory but it does toe the line. The ‘terrorists’ in pursuit of the President are said to be psychopaths with ‘no ideology’, conveniently allowing this film to have no political undertones whatsoever. But it’s an entertaining action film, with some well-timed humour, and is worth a watch for that alone.

 

Cathy Butler

12A (See IFCO for details)

90 minutes
Big Game is released 8th May 2015

 

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Cinema Review: Closed Circuit

'Closed Circuit' Trailer: Eric Bana

DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Steven Knight  PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner DOP: Adriano Goldman  ED: Lucia Zucchetti MUS: Joby Talbot DES: Jim Clay CAST: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Ciarán Hinds

 

Martin Rose (Bana) is an arrogant but brilliant defence barrister. When a terrorist attack hits London and the main suspect’s lawyer dies, Rose is called in to replace him. The prosecution’s case against the suspect, Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto), involves classified evidence which can only be heard in closed court proceedings.

 

The Attorney General (Broadbent) must appoint a Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), who has clearance to see the classified evidence and is tasked in representing Erdogan during the “closed” proceedings. Once the evidence is revealed to Simmons-Howe, she and Erdogan’s defence lawyer, Rose, are no longer allowed to communicate due to national security.

 

But when secrets begin to emerge and lives are endangered, they must work together, despite their personal history, to seek the truth.

 

In Closed Circuit, director John Crowley (Intermission, 2003) tries very hard to ask important questions like what costs are acceptable in order to “protect national security”? And, at what point does protecting national security become an easy excuse to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Questions that are certainly topical in today’s world of Wikileaks and more recently, the NSA and GCHQ mass-surveillance operations revealed by Edward Snowden.

 

However, when it comes to stories of secrets and conspiracies, you get the nagging feeling that this sort of thing has been done before and done better. One notable example being Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (2010).

 

Crowley effectively punctuates his film with scenes using multiple CCTV camera angles of the same event making an interesting point about whether we’re right to be paranoid about the all-seeing surveillance state. But when he also has his characters continually shoot suspicious glances at CCTV cameras or strangers in the crowd who may, or may not, be secret service agents, you feel that Crowley is trying a bit too hard to get his point across.

 

Scripted by Steven Knight, who has written some exceptional scripts detailing life in gritty London including Redemption (2013), Eastern Promises (2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (2007), again produces an admirable script focusing on the morally grey area between seeking true justice and protecting the public at large. So it’s unfortunate when the plot really begins to stretch the limits of credibility as it approaches the third act and asks a lot of your willingness to suspend your disbelief to see it through to it’s conclusion.

 

As in any conspiracy thrillers, there’s always characters who are not quite what they seem, and when done well, you don’t see the character twists coming. But alas, Closed Circuit doesn’t do a great job in providing genuinely unforeseen twists. It won’t spoil the plot to point out how dastardly Broadbent’s Attorney General comes across from the very start. It’s almost a bit pantomime. (“Oooh, he’s clock-watching during a funeral, he’s definitely a baddie!”)

 

It’s also a shame to report how uninvolving the central relationship between Bana’s Martin and Hall’s Claudia is, as both actors have both done some very accomplished work in the past. Perhaps because this relationship, and the history they share together, is never really given enough screen time early on to help us believe in it later when the thriller aspect of the film kicks off. A sense of a lack of chemistry between the pair is also prevalent throughout most of their scenes, excruciatingly noticeable in the hotel room scene.

 

All in all, what looks like a good little taut conspiracy thriller on paper with a great cast and accomplished writer, in reality adds up to much less than the sum of its parts. Bana, Hall, and especially Broadbent, can all do much better than this.

Disappointing.

Chris Lavery

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 mins

Closed Circuit is released on 25th October 2013

Closed Circuit – Official Website

 

 

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Cinema Review: Le Week-End

Le Weekend

DIR: Roger Michell • WRI: Hanif Kureishi • PRO: Kevin Loader • DOP: Nathalie Durand • ED: Kristina Hetherington • MUS: Jeremy Sams • DES: Emmanuelle Duplay • CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Olly Alexander

With a title like Le Week-End, it would not have been unreasonable to expect yet another film made up of smug cineliteracy and French New Wave referencing. Pleasantly, what we actually have here is a very genuine, occasionally funny, sporadically emotionally devastating and disarmingly naturalistic meditation on the frustrations and realities of long-term marriage and getting old.

Despite being billed as a romantic-comedy of sorts, Le Week-End has more of an existentialist leaning in regards to its portrayal of romance. And in terms of the comedic element it reaches an approximation of what a baby-boomer version of mumblecore humour might look like; complete with awkward silences, mumbles, fumbles and some expertly handled long-suffering-spouse routines from both Duncan and Broadbent. While some of the more obvious jokes boil down to ‘we are so old’ (cue complaints about youth, the failings of ones aging body or some misunderstanding that stems from the characters’ advanced years), these moments never feel contrived or desperate for a crowd-pleasing, belly-laugh response. This is definitely an amusing film but it never feels the need to force its comedy onto you; it’s a thoroughly relaxed affair.

The film’s meditation on romance and the idea of lifelong relationships arguably takes precedence over the comedy half of the so-called romantic-comedy. What appears on first glance to be the predicable arc of: dwindling romance/moment of revelation/new lease on life, quickly mutates into an all too real muddle of confused and often contradictory emotions. Even when Meg (Lindsay Duncan) delivers what should be a devastating piece of news, the characters simply continue to wade through the complicated emotional tangle of love and hate that makes up the relationship of two people who have been married for thirty years.

The film actively denies easy answers or any form of clear resolution to the characters’ troubled relationships and personal crises. Indeed, as it moves from its somewhat light first half into the far more emotionally charged and emotionally distraught second half, there is a steady but sustained creeping in of cynicism and apathy toward almost everything the characters embody or have ever embodied. Most notably how their presently safe and staunchly middle-class existence is viewed in a new light once Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) enters the story.

An old friend of Nick’s (Jim Broadbent) from his college days, Morgan’s presence brings up much reminiscing of Nick’s more rebellious youth and Meg’s ‘guerrilla feminism’ from her younger days. Their present stale, static and uneventful lives thrown into harsh contrast by what they once were in youth. Goldblum is, of course, his ever watchable self but here the trademark awkwardness is used to great effect in making him thoroughly irritating and nicely allowing him to embody the film’s view of what Paris is often portrayed as in film. As a successful writer of armchair politics he lives the life of wine-party hosting (attended by turtleneck-wearing intellectuals, of course), philosophising and general beard-stroking that he assumes Nick must also live.

The performative nature of this wine-party lifestyle is nicely drawn attention to when Nick, while trying to escape the aforementioned turtleneck-wearers at one such party, stumbles across Morgan’s neglected son hidden away in his room smoking pot and listening to same anti-establishment music Nick once enjoyed. Neatly paralleling Nick and Meg’s own son and the family issues back home which keep intruding upon their attempted Parisian break from reality. Nick has far more ease sharing an honest conversation with Morgan’s son (played by the perpetually ageless Olly Alexander; here sporting a flawless American accent) in contrast to his struggles to hold a conversation with Morgan. Despite only a few minutes of screen time together, the clear pairing of Broadbent and Alexander’s characters acts as a subtle reminder to the, ahem, younger viewers that this film is just as much a foreshadowing of your mildly depressing future as it is a meditation on the mildly depressing present of the baby boomer generation.

It could be argued that the ending finally gives in and becomes the kind of film implied in the title; carefree and slightly more cinematic/dreamlike than realistic. Given where the various characters find themselves emotionally, financially etc., ending the film ninety seconds earlier could have lent the film a more uncertain and pessimistic vibe which would have been in keeping with the increasingly cynical tone the film had been steadily establishing. It is a pity that the script doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions to provide a more understated ending and instead lapses into the slightly saccharine final scene but it’s only a minor blemish on an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film. The script is funny without being obnoxious and packs genuine emotion without becoming melodramatic. This is matched by the two leads who share an effortless and convincingly ‘lived-in’ chemistry with one another and who are surrounded by strong supporting performances by Goldblum and Alexander.

It may not end up on any all-time best lists but Le Week-End is a pleasant little gem of movie with a surprising amount of emotional weight.

Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)

92 mins
Le Week-End is released on 11th October 2013

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmbbrIe80Fs

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Cinema Review: The Iron Lady

The lady's not for gurning

DIR: Phyllida Lloyd • WRI: Abi Morgan • PRO: Damian Jones, Anita Overland, Colleen Woodcock • DOP: Elliot Davis • ED: Justine Wright • DES: Simon Elliott • CAST: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman

A wikipedia-style synopsis about the life of Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady doesn’t do much more than showcase Meryl Streep’s incredible acting in a slightly too warm-and-fuzzy character study.

The film opens with an elderly and confused Margaret, being looked after by her daughter, Carol (Olivia Colman), all the while having hallucinations of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) prancing around the house. These modern day events are integrated with chronological flashbacks of her life, such as meeting her partner, raising her family, the Falklands War, the death of her colleagues in IRA bombings, all the way up until she was ousted from government.

As a premise for a film it was certainly a worthy one, however Thatcher’s career and life story is just too eventful to be crammed in to 105 minutes. The plot is simply made up of the bullet points of her life, punctuated with imagined insights. In fact no important political events are told in the detail they warrant –especially those closer to home.

The choice to have her talking to Denis as a plot device wears quite thin, especially as the film reaches it’s contrived ending. Meanwhile there’s a host of excellent, underutilised actors who only feature fleetingly, though their characters are so integral to Margaret’s political history.

From the brass-balled bully to an aged, forgetful grandmother, there’s an undeniable sense of humanity in the portrayal of Thatcher’s deteriorating mental health. This allows for some beautifully tender moments between Margaret and Carol, in which Olivia Colman really proves she is capable of a lot more than hilarious P.O.V. comedies.

The Iron Lady works well enough as a film, however Meryl works her subtextual magic, weaving it into something Oscar®-worthy, and once again proving to the world that she’s a world leader in her own craft.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

The Iron Lady is released on 6th January 201

The Iron Lady – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDiCFY2zsfc

 

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Cinema Review: Arthur Christmas

 

have you been good?

DIR: Sarah Smith • WRI: Sarah Smith, Peter Baynham • PRO: Steve Pegram • DOP: Jericca Cleland • ED: John Carnochan, James Cooper • DES: Evgeni Tomov • CAST: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy

Arthur (James McAvoy) is the son of Santa ‘Malcolm’ Claus (Jim Broadbent), who is nearing the end of his 70 year shift as festive gift-giver. But Santa is merely the public figurehead, with the entire operation run with military precision by next-Santa-in-line, Arthur’s older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie). But Arthur is the only one in the family who still brims over with the absolute joy that the season brings, and when a technical oversight sees one child left present-less, Arthur takes it upon himself to ensure that the child’s Christmas isn’t ruined, with the help of his Grand-Santa (Bill Nighy) and a ninja-level wrapping elf (Ashley Jensen).

The entire film takes place on one night, so there is a nice against-the-clock backdrop that keeps up the pace, even as the film flits from the North Pole to Toronto to the Pacific Ocean to Africa and, finally, to England. Aardman Studios keep their trademark look, even as they venture further into solely CGI creations, and while they’re not quite up to Pixar levels in terms of finesse, they surpass in terms of details, with almost every scene having something amusing going on in the background.

The voice cast are great, and the whole ‘Christmas is a time for family coming together’ message is nicely played out without being too cloying. And while the script is peppered with jokes for both adults and kids, there are very few moments of absolute hilarity, more just an overall sense of fun. And once again, the 3D was severely underused and just a way to make more money (which could be a sly joke about the Christmas season itself, come to think of it.) But these are just nit-picks, as chances are young ‘uns will be watching this every Christmas for years to come, wanting to get another behind-the-scenes look at their favourite jolly fat guy.

Rory Cashin

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
Arthur Christmas is released on 11th November 2011

Arthur Christmas – Official Website

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

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Another Year

Another Year

DIR/WRI: Mike Leigh • PRO: Georgina Lowe • DOP: Dick Pope • ED: Jon Gregory • DES: Simon Beresford • CAST: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville

Mike Leigh’s latest film concerns Geri and Tom, a couple in their late 50s living in London, and the passing of a year in their lives. Played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, Tom is a geologist who works in making roads and Geri is a counsellor. They also work together on a garden allotment, which brings us nicely through the seasons as the story progresses. Geri and Tom have a strong bond and affection for each other that hasn’t faded in all the years of their marriage. Their friends are not so lucky, particularly the rather mawkish Mary – a secretary at Geri’s clinic who’s always inviting herself over.

Brilliantly played by Lesley Manville, Mary is one of those richly entertaining Mike Leigh creations who borders on caricature, an overly animated flurry of neurosis. Highly dependent on her friends, her life is a bit of a mess – she’s divorced, self-involved, a bit of an alcoholic and the greatest thing she has to look forward to is buying herself a little red car. When Mary goes to Geri and Tom’s house for dinner, she gets rather drunk and starts lamenting the state of her life – something Geri and Tom are well used to. These are wonderfully lived-in characters in scenes that are brimming with the kind of authentic banter Leigh does so well.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the story concerns Geri and Tom’s son Joe, whom Mary has something of a crush on – it is nice to watch the flirting between the two, that is until Joe brings home a girlfriend whom Mary instantly despises – which only provides more entertainment. There is also a visit from their friend, Ken – a pathetic man who has no hope for the future and makes unwanted advances towards Mary. Imelda Staunton makes an appearance as a depressed woman suffering from insomnia whom Geri tries to counsel and her fatigue and bitterness are palpable, but her storyline is never resolved.

The film is fairly low-key, and unlike previous Leigh films such as Secrets and Liesand Vera Drake, there is no real plot or big reveal to keep the momentum and provide pay-off for the audience. This is more a collection of wryly-observed exchanges and catch-ups between characters that are somewhat over the hill rather than a tightly wound piece of drama. As warmly engaging and detailed as the film is both in characterisation and production design, none of the characters go through any noticeable change throughout the course of the film. In the third act, the film slows right down with the passing of Tom’s sister in-law – which is about the only significant event in the story – and by the end, Geri and Tom are still satisfied in their relationship and Mary is still lonely.

Still, despite this lack of story the film somehow maintains interest in the audience, if only for the excellent acting on display. Not one of Mike Leigh’s best but a worthy addition to his filmography nonetheless.

Eoghan McQuinn

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Another Year
is released on 5th November 2010

Another Year Official Website

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