Review: Don’t Breathe

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

DIR: Fede Alvarez • WRI: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues • PRO: Fede Alvarez, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert • DOP: Pedro Luque • ED: Eric L. Beason, Louise Ford, Gardner Gould • DES: Naaman Marshall • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette

 

Before delving too deeply into this fairly standard, pretty jumpy, generally quite entertaining movie, let’s just get the main criticism out of the way – the premise is absolutely, positively ridiculous.  Even the tagline is slightly embarrassed: ‘This house looked like an easy target.  Until they found what was inside’.  First of all, this house does NOT look like an easy target – even I could tell you that breaking into the heavily fortified home of a blind ex-army vet, who may or may not have some money lying around, sounds like one of the least fun ways to spend an evening.  Especially when this particular house sits in one of the more run-down areas of Detroit surrounded by vacant buildings and derelict wastelands – it’s very address a damning indictment of the occupant’s financial holdings.  However, these three teenagers, who steal from houses on a regular basis and who should know what wealth looks like, decide all the same that it looks like an attractive score.  They quickly discover that – shockingly – things aren’t as they seem, and their get-rich-quick job escalates out of control with alarming intensity.

 

Once you get past the ridiculousness of the premise, Don’t Breathe is actually quite a lot of fun.  There are jumps a-plenty, and the tension builds up at a steady pace before landing the audience with scream-worthy surprises.  The main characters are…well…not great – apart from Jane Levy’s Rocky, reprising her open-eyed terror pastiche from 2013’s Evil Dead remake to great effect.  The Blind Man of the house is played with utter seriousness by Stephen Lang, who somehow equates acting blind with T-Rex-inspired heavy sniffing, milky-eyed stomping and guttural growls.  However, he gives the character just enough menace for his living situation to be almost believable – and for his threat to be worth some of the terror it inspires.

The two fellas who join Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), are standard teenage compilations with standard teenage personalities.  Money acts exactly like someone called ‘Money’ would act if it was a name drawn from the hat in an improv class – Zovatto is all over the place trying to shoehorn every stereotype the name inspires into his character.  Minnette plays Alex with a quieter intensity and believability, but is nonetheless a one-dimensional angsty teen who really only serves to highlight Levy’s dedication to her character.  Fede Alvarez directs with surprising intent for a movie like this, but it doesn’t quite work, and smacks of an underachieving David Fincher imitation – swooping under beds and through keyholes, with excess tracking shots through long hallways.  While this flashy camerawork mostly amounts to distraction from his one-note directing skills, he at least forces the helm forward at all times – keeping the pace of the story snappy and jumpy, and mercifully short.

There are surprises throughout, which is why I won’t be giving a single plot point away in this review – the whole reason a film like this works is that you jump when you least expect it, and scream before you know what’s happening.  Don’t Breathe delivers bangs and wallops, and while the ridiculous story and generally awful characterisation leaves a bit of a bad taste, overall it’s a pretty fun way to pass an hour and a half.  A break from the stream of home invasion, haunted house or dystopian government ‘thrillers’ recently being churned out, it’s a decent piece of schlock suspense with enough thrills to shake the popcorn out of the box.

 

Sarah Griffin

88 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Don’t Breathe is released 9th September 2016

Don’t Breathe – Official Website

 

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Review: Things to Come / L’avenir

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DIRWRI: Mia Hansen-Løve • PRO: Charles Gillibert •  DOP: Denis Lenoir • ED: Marion Monnier • DES: Anna Falguères • CAST: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka

 

There’s something so beautifully captivating about this window into the world of a middle-aged French woman, embarking on life’s changes even as they are imposed upon her.  The storytelling is subtle, the acting is superb, and the direction has the lightest of touches – meaning that conversation and exposition unfolds naturally and without fanfare.  We are left, then, with a portrait of the life of Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) as her marriage ends, her children leave home and her life changes irrevocably.

What to say about Isabelle Huppert that hasn’t been said, and said again?  In her deservedly decorated career, she has been a consistently outstanding actor who brings realism and brutal honesty to every role she takes on.  Nathalie is no exception – a philosophy teacher who leads the examined life as much as she teaches it, yet beneath her intellectually vigorous nose her husband, Heinz, has been cheating with a younger woman.  Heinz (the wonderfully brusque André Marcon) slowly withdraws from the family home, leaving in incremental stages as they adjust to a marriage that has moved from a meeting of minds to a separation of books.  Nathalie’s free time is often taken up with caring for her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), a manically eccentric ex-model and actress who clings to her glory years like Norma Desmond – lamenting the world as it loses interest in her.  Nathalie is a respected teacher of philosophy, and has several books published on the subject – including textbooks for schools and fellow educators, though the publishers feel her approach might be too old-fashioned for today’s market.  She has also enjoyed excellent relationships with her pupils, who have appreciated her interactive teaching technique – perhaps in contrast to her husband’s more gruff approach to the education of youth.

One of her past students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), reappears in her life at a time when she most needs a friend, and becomes a confidante in the changing landscape of her identity.  A contributor to her books on philosophy, Fabien is embracing anarchy, and talks with a slightly-dismissive Nathalie about the ways the world can change – listening to music she once listened to, and arguing old ideas as though they are new.  And so, with both of her children grown and flown, Nathalie must stitch together a new world for herself from the various pieces of wife, daughter, mother and teacher she has accrued.

There are comic moments throughout Things to Come, but this is more an honest tale of real life, told from the inside out.  Nathalie is a very regular person, who reacts logically and breathtakingly normally to life’s hurdles.  It’s a well written piece that still gives the actors licence to meander and flow in a very natural way, making the conversations border on the meaningless while still being heaped with metaphor.  Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love, winning the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, her love for the art of thinking and self-exploration shines through this movie.  The daughter of philosophy professors, her films have garnered much praise and plaudits for their honesty and depth of feeling.  Here, she gives us another brushstroke from which we glimpse an entire life – Nathalie is a very real creation, with desires and failings and everything in between.

A genuinely lovely film, with honest storytelling and real profundity, Things to Come is a snapshot of real life, and a worthy vehicle for Huppert’s superb abilities.

Sarah Griffin

101 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Things to Come is released 2nd September 2016

Things to Come – Official Website

 

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Review: Sausage Party

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DIR: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon • WRI: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • PRO: Megan Ellison, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Conrad Vernon • ED: Kevin Pavlovic • DES: Kyle McQueen • MUS: Christopher Lennertz, Alan Menken • CAST: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill

 

Sausage Party has been a long time coming – and when early clips dropped last year, it hinted at an irreverent and hilarious parody of Pixar, Disney and the saccharine stories told via animation to our children.  For the most part, it does what it said it would – lampooning silly songs, unlikely friendships and introducing sexually active foodstuffs.  But the trailer was so relentlessly smart, hilarious and wild that no movie could ever live up to that promise…

This is a pet project of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg – a partnership that has brought us some of the funniest movies of the past decade, most particularly 2013’s This is the End.  Based on a story thought up by Rogan, Goldberg and Jonah Hill in a presumably smoke-filled room, Sausage Party tells the story of savvy supermarket-shelf dweller Frank (Seth Rogan as a talking frankfurter), his lady love Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig as the sexy hot-dog bun), and his package-friends Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera – a stumpy malformed frankfurter).  Every morning they sing the song of the supermarket, praising the Gods (ordinary people) for selecting them and taking them to The Great Beyond, where all your dreams come true.  However, when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) gets picked for rapture, and returned to the shop following buyer’s remorse, he brings with him the horrific tale of what the Gods actually do with foodstuffs in The Great Beyond.

When Frank and Brenda are finally chosen, they’re ecstatic that they can now join together in hot-dog nirvana.  But Honey Mustard’s panicked reaction in the trolley gets in the way, and they find themselves instead on a long journey across the supermarket to find their shelves again.  They’re joined by Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek as a lesbian taco shell), anxious Jewish carb Sammy Bagel Jr (Ed Norton) and volatile flatbread Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz).  Added to this unlikely mix is another victim of Honey Mustard’s panic – Douche (Nick Kroll getting typecast), who’s promise of a satisfying interaction with one particularly ample ‘God’ is cut short in the trolley frenzy.  Douche blames Frank and Brenda for the loss of his true purpose in life, and hunts them through the market’s aisles, destroying everyone in his path.  Seeking the truth of what really happens in The Great Beyond, Frank finds the non-perishable elders of the supermarket – a Native American bottle of liquor called Firewater (Bill Hader) and a box of grits names Mr. Grits (Craig Robinson).  Will they tell him the secrets of what lies outside the doors?  Will Frank find a way to escape his destiny?  Will Brenda finally get to open her bun?  All this and more, in a 90-minute manic escapade of craziness and colour!

It’s a testament to how good these guys’ previous films have been that Sausage Party just doesn’t quite cut the (honey) mustard.  In fact – Seth Rogan, please take consolation from my not thinking this movie was funny enough… it’s because I know you can, and have seen you, do better!  Cursing excessively doesn’t amount to comedy, there has to be underlying dialogue – it’s a fallback option, and smacks of laziness.  There’s some decent commentary on organised religion, as well as the constant sexual innuendo you would expect when hot-dogs want to get with hot-dog buns, and while these raise a few laughs, the underlying intelligence of other comic parodies is missing.

Simply put, in a world where South Park exists, there are no prizes for second best when it comes to animated satire.  With some very funny moments, and a few crazy setups, this is a good film.  It’s just not a great film, and ends up being more of a Sausage Soiree than a Sausage Party.

Sarah Griffin

88 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Sausage Party is released 2nd September 2016

Sausage Party – Official Website

 

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

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DIR: Justin Lin • WRI: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci • DOP: Stephen F. Windon • ED: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • CAST: Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto

Star Trek is practically begging for new movies with each generation, and has enough internal strength as a concept to survive new casts, new stories and new universes.  This instalment, despite some reservations about Into Darkness from the fanbase, is landing onscreen with appropriate excitement.  The alternate timeline has allowed for huge leaps in possible stories – no longer tied, as it would have been, to reflecting the canonical origin stories of Kirk, Spock, et al.  Having dipped into the darkness, quite literally, in the last movie, Beyond is instead returning to the kinetic energy and unabashed glee of the first – a reaction to the strong love/hate split fans had with the second, and a clear message that the filmmakers are listening.

 

We last saw the crew as they set off on a five-year mission into deep space, fulfilling their diplomatic duties for the Federation – to explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and civilisations.  For the most part, the crew of the Starship Enterprise are doing so.  However, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is finding the vast emptiness of space, and the pleasant work of the Enterprise, has brought on an existential crisis – he wonders who he really is, as the monotony begins to wear on him.  Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) fights a similar internal battle on the death of Ambassador Spock (a touching tribute to Nimoy) – with the Vulcan race almost wiped from the universe he considers what he might mean to his people.  For Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), this means that their relationship has become untenable – not exactly ideal in the close-quarters of space travel.  Karl Urban reprises his character of Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy, thankfully with a much bigger role than the last film, which barely used him, and joins Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg at his least annoying), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho) to fill out the crew of the Enterprise.  Into this slightly discordant group, with their own Captain directionless, a challenge is presented – to enter an uncharted nebula and rescue a downed Federation crew.  When the mission goes spectacularly wrong, the crew are divided on a strange planet and face the eerily familiar wrath of Krall (Idris Elba) – a being who is collecting parts of an ancient bomb with one goal in mind: destroy the Federation.

 

The split in the crew works brilliantly, with the new partnership dynamics adding extra layers to the movie.  Spock and Doc provide the best pairing, and the back-and-forth between sardonic Bones and his Vulcan crewmate humanises Spock beautifully, as well as providing the film’s funniest moments.  Meanwhile Kirk is paired with Chekov – their excellent interplay a sad memoriam to the fact that the brilliant actor, Anton Yelchin, is no longer with us – and Uhuru and Sulu find themselves prisoners together in the enemy enclave.  Scotty escapes alone, and meets the enigmatic Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), another stranded being who has come up against Krall in the past – and might just be their best hope at defeating his madness before he destroys millions of lives.

 

So far, so standard!  Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have taken writing duties, faithfully listening to the fandom when it came to constructing this instalment…and loathe as I am to admit it, pandering has worked in this case.  It had a real echo of Douglas Adams – perhaps thanks to Pegg’s English sci-fi sensibilities – in the overarching story of a sad megalomaniac collecting bits and pieces from all over the galaxy to construct a bomb.  ‘A very, very small bomb’, you could almost hear Hactar mumbling from the dust-cloud…  Pegg can’t resist the Spaced-style banter, but it works pretty well in this context – particularly on the Spock and Doc show – I would watch a whole other movie of those two bouncing off each other.  Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin takes the helm from JJ Abrams – which means less lens flare, for sure, but a massive increase in high-speed space donuts.  Not that I’m complaining, because the pace of this movie meant I didn’t draw breath until the two hours were up – and would have easily watched another hour.

 

Yes it’s formulaic, and follows a standard blue-print of space odysseys both in general and in a way particular to Star Trek – but if there’s anything Trek fans love (and I count myself in that group), it’s a little repetition.  I’d quite happily watch this crew of the Enterprise travel through space for the next ten years, growing into their roles and making them their own.  Star Trek Beyond is a fast-moving sci-fi adventure with the gentle comedy ribbing we’ve come to expect from this new generation…and odd-numbered or not, it’s a really, really fun movie.

Sarah Griffin

122 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Star Trek Beyond is released 22nd July 2016

Star Trek Beyond – Official Website

 

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Review: Ghostbusters

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DIR: Paul Feig • WRI: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig • PRO: Amy Pascal, Ivan Reitman • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Melissa Bretherton , Brent White • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon

 

It’s impossible to address Ghostbusters in a vacuum, because ‘the internet’ is determined to make this film some sort of litmus test of feminism/sexism/masculinity/intelligence and whatever else you want to throw in there. I am a woman reviewing the all-female reboot of a deeply beloved all-male classic…so let’s get this out of the way. The only time I’ll give to this whole male/female split is to say that for me, (a woman!) growing up as a massive fan of the originals, it was a genuine joy to watch women on the big screen playing these characters. I now have two sets of abnormal paranormal investigators to love. There have been countless reboots and re-imaginings of things precious to my youth – Spiderman, Superman, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Annie, Star Wars, Footloose, The Karate Kid, Dawn of the Dead, Point Break, Transformers, Poltergeist… it goes on and on. Film execs are dredging the past for faint glimmers of excitement, and trying to repackage it and sell it to a new generation – this is what Hollywood, that churning machine of movies, does. But I’ve never seen unnecessary venom to this degree before a movie was even released – is it really so terrible to have a female cast? So, this is where I’m landing now: watch Ghostbusters and critique genuine movie-related things that you like or dislike; don’t watch it if you are terrified of somehow sullying your precious childhood by 114 minutes of women being funny. Problem solved. And now, to the movie!

The film opens with a slow-building ghostly scare, a la the Library scene of the original, before introducing our new Ghostbusters. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is an uptight academic, trying to deny her past work with ex-collaborator Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) in the widely-derided field of paranormal investigations. This is proving difficult, as Abby is re-selling their earlier book on ghosts and drawing unwanted attention to Erin at her stuffy university. Seeking to shut her up she instead gets caught up with Abby’s new engineer, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and the three set out to visit a haunted mansion – Erin to finally move on from ghosts, and Abby and Jillian to chase them. The mansion turns out to be very haunted indeed, and the excited women soon find their ghostly proof ridiculed in the science community and their jobs taken away. Meanwhile, creepy evil-doer Rowan (Neil Casey) is setting up ghost-boosters all over the city, amplifying resident spooks and ramping up their full torso free-floating apparition credentials. Just as Erin, Abby and Jillian set up a new business in busting ghosts the city seems to need their expertise more than ever. Hiring nice-but-dim Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth – a very two dimensional addition) as their secretary, and adding tough-as-nails Metro worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to the crew, the Ghostbusters set out to fight their biggest battle as Rowan’s nefarious plan threatens to destroy the entire city.

This Ghostbusters reflects the original in narrative – we have a similar setup, with the main scientists losing their jobs and focusing on their kooky field just as paranormal activity ramps up all over NYC. There are legitimate complaints that this isn’t a continuation of the original universe, with the characters as protégées or daughters of the first Ghostbusters. Instead of existing in a New York where a giant marshmallow Stay Puft sailor once stomped through Manhattan, these paranormal investigators are instead living in a city that initially ridicules them before realising – in dramatic fashion – that not only are ghosts real, but that only the Ghostbusters can save them.

A lot of the humour depends on your tolerance for Saturday Night Live – the original also had that edge of American-sketch-show to it, and the back-and-forth has high moments of comedy, though more time could have been spent on the Ghostbusters’ building up their business and getting to know each other. It’s also possible to pay too much homage, and sometimes the film does lose its own flavour in an attempt to recapture the original’s very particular brand – especially in regards to jarring cameos from original cast members. But there are great jumpy-moments, and it’s a genuinely funny movie – the chemistry and real-life friendship between the four lead actors is a solid anchor, with Kate McKinnon’s crazy Holtzmann, in particular, stealing the show. They are simply four hilarious comedians, and there are moments of side-splitting comedy for adults as well as kids – they all work so well together that their banter is seamless. Skewing a bit younger, however, this is also less frightening and a bit less involving overall than the original – smacking of being the first of many instalments, rather than a complete movie of its own.

With the vitriolic vortex going on since its announcement in 2014, I wanted so much for this movie to be absolutely brilliant – to silence the ridiculousness of armchair critics, YouTube downvoters and idiotic sexists. And it is a really, really good movie! But there’s just enough wrong with it to give shout-loudest critics vindication – and that’s sufficient for some people to dismiss it out of hand. Here’s my advice: if you loved the original, show it to your kids – laugh and scream with them at the Keymaster, the Gatekeeper, not crossing the streams, and cats and dogs living together (mass hysteria!). But take them to see this reboot too…because it has good scares, it’s a solid addition to a classic concept, and it’s so very, very fun. And I ain’t afraid of no female Ghostbuster.

Sarah Griffin

116 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Ghostbusters is released 15th July 2016

Ghostbusters – Official Website

 

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Review: The Legend of Tarzan

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DIR: David Yates • WRI: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer • PRO: David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Jerry Weintraub • DOP: Henry Braham • ED: Mark Day • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • DES: Stuart Craig • CAST: Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson

Following on the heels of the Jungle Book remake and throwing its release-date lot in with Spielberg’s BFG, this revisit to an equally beloved childhood character is in good company when it comes to the more serious end of the family movie genre.  While animated flicks and new creations can rely on slapstick setups, ‘hilarious’ side-kick characters, modern-song medleys and loud, loud, loud colours, movies like these tend to carefully present old favourites in a more subtle package.  The Legend of Tarzan, at its best, does exactly this – presenting a Sunday matinee movie full of good acting, a simple story, and blended CGI…with a calmness that comes with not having your senses assaulted by lurid colour and noise.  Directed by David Yates who gave us the later, more adult, Harry Potter series of movies and who releases Fantastic Beasts later this year, it is a deeply serious attempt to make a modern version of the traditional all-rounder old-school family movie.

 

We begin our story in the late 1800’s with villainous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) seeking the legendary diamonds of Opar on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium, to prevent bankruptcy and help fund the takeover of the Congolese people.  Rom is evil as only the always-fantastic Waltz can be evil, never stooping to hyperbole, and played with a constant humanism that keeps his actions firmly in the real world.  Meeting Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) after a massive loss of life to his own men, Rom is spared death and promised the diamonds on condition that he bring the Chief a gift – Tarzan, a man who was raised from a baby by apes in the jungles of the Congo.

 

Meanwhile, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been living in rainy England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – still struggling with the dichotomy of his personalities.  He is convinced by American Civil War survivor George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, quiet and controlled and NOT playing himself for once!) to take up an offer to visit the Congo, and seek the truth of Belgium’s colonial takeover.  Skarsgård plays the role with subtlety, his fluid body language suggesting an animal nature rather than simply imitating their movements.  He maintains a brooding quietness that reinforces the notion of John/Tarzan being an outsider in both stuffy England and wildest Africa – trying to find somewhere that his mixed identities can fit.  His hulking mass (kudos to Skarsgård!) is evident even in the rigid clothes of Blighty – though, of course, it’s only when he gets to Africa that he truly lets Tarzan breathe, run, jump, bellow his iconic call and sail through the trees with the greatest of ease.  Jane is also anxious to return to Africa – having grown up there herself, before their serendipitous meeting as the only two white people living in the area – and convinces John to bring her along.  Once landed, they have brief moments of respite before Rom’s nefarious plans result in Jane’s kidnapping and the enslavement of their tribal friends.

 

The story, then, is basic Tarzan territory despite not being fully origin – though we do get flashbacks of his childhood – and is really a family adventure story with lessons to be learned; friendship, loyalty, anti-slavery ideals, respect for animals, strength of personal convictions, and a love of nature.  Some fairly glaring colonial undertones, a lack of inventiveness, slightly sluggish pace – these are issues that plague any retelling of a white man returning as saviour to Africa, despite Tarzan’s iconic status in lore.  Press weren’t treated to an IMAX 3D screening – though I can’t imagine it adds anything to what is, essentially, a quietly-paced film – so it’s hard to judge if it might make it more ‘blockbustery’, but as it stands it’s a reasonable addition to the beloved oeuvre.  The movie’s more ponderous attempts to ask postcolonial questions and be more sensitive to the treatment of tribal communities in Africa is a welcome effort to at least tentatively modernise a story that often smacks of cultural appropriation.

 

Nothing ground-breaking to report, but The Legend of Tarzan is a solid ode to a character that continues to draw the imagination of children and filmmakers alike.  Overall a perfectly fine family movie that trundles along at an even pace, and offers an oasis of calm in the barrage of over-hyped kids’ movies making the summer circuit.

Sarah Griffin

109 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Legend of Tarzan is released 8th July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan – Official Website

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Review: The Nice Guys

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DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi • PRO: Joel Silver • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: Joel Negron • MUS: David Buckley, John Ottman • DES: Richard Bridgland • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Russell Crowe

The Nice Guys is a convoluted crime caper set in 1977’s seedy LA underbelly, a dark world nonetheless painted with that colourful Californian palette of soft hues and gentle sunshine.  Opening with a strange and portentous car crash, the film draws the viewer into a web of mystery with strands leading to porn, the motor industry, and even the heights of the Department of Justice.  Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an alcoholic P.I. looking for murdered porn-star Misty Mountains’ lookalike Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), a young girl who has simultaneously paid Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep people like Holland March away from her.  When these two misfits meet each other, in comic and violent fashion, they quickly realise that neither of them know quite who is running things on this job – a discomfiting notion for two men who pride themselves on their instincts.  Holland and Jackson decide to team up as they’re targeted by unnamed attackers, with help from Holland’s wise daughter Holly (fantastic film newcomer Angourie Rice) and a bevy of unsavoury characters.  Nobody is as they seem, and things quickly move from bad to worse as Amelia’s powerful mother Judith, (Kim Basinger), shows them where the trail of death and money is really leading.

Writer/Director Shane Black carved out a one-film niche for himself with his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, pairing quick-fire dialogue and comic violence with an interesting buddy-crime story, and he returns to this ethos with gusto after a successful dalliance with comic-book legend Iron Man in 2013.  Improving on the sometimes-anarchic pace of this, The Nice Guys hits the right notes of comedy, intrigue and – very important in Black’s creative world – casting, harking back to the fun-packed buddy-cop feeling of the Lethal Weapon series (written by Black).

Russell Crowe, overweight and slow-moving, nonetheless embodies the menace of an old dog that still has ample bite left in him – his heavy-lidded eyes watching everyone and everything with wry amusement.  Ryan Gosling demonstrates yet again that he is not only a fantastic dramatic actor, but a fine comedic one also – in fact, the majority of the laughs in this movie come from Gosling’s physical humour, as he gamely throws himself from balconies and onto the roof of cars with reckless abandon.

Gosling’s Holland March is a perfectly depressed 1970’s L.A. hangover, who struggles to manage the combined roles of loving father, smart detective and raging alcoholic – all the while coping with a new partner who he regularly lets down.  Crowe’s Jackson picks up the slack, more charmed by Holland’s daughter Holly and her ability to corral her wayward father than he is by Holland’s prowess as a detective.  When psychotic assassin John Boy (Matt Bomer) travels down from New York to clean up after his less-thorough LA counterparts, Holland and Jackson begin to realise that this might not be a simple missing-persons job, and things quickly descend into outright anarchy.

The crime story itself is convoluted, in a sense, but really it’s all secondary to where that story puts its main characters – and the situation setups are so fast-paced and fun that while strands of narrative might fall by the wayside, it’s still a consistently entertaining over-the-top nostalgia-laced trip back to 1970’s craziness.  From massive parties for the porn industry, showcasing LA’s biggest scene as it rose towards its zenith, to palm-treed front yard fist fights, the film never slows its pace as it hurtles recklessly towards an impossible conclusion.

Chances are if you liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and similar slacker-neo-noir capers like The Big Lebowski (1998) and 2014’s Inherent Vice, you’ll be happy with The Nice Guys.  Best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek.

Sarah Griffin

115 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Nice Guys is released 3rd June 2016

The Nice Guys – Official Website

 

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Review: Money Monster

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DIR: Jodie Foster • WRI: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf • PRO: Lara Alameddine, George Clooney, Daniel Dubiecki, Grant Heslov • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Matt Chesse • DES: Kevin Thompson • MUS: Dominic Lewis • CAST: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell

When a heavy-hitter like Money Monster lands onscreen, you immediately take notice… but that can often blind you to a movie’s real stature.  Directed by Jodie Foster, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney with a host of more-than-capable supporting actors, this was always going to be a film that demanded to be seen.  Disappointingly, it doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its star-power investment – throughout Money Monster there is the distinct underlying feeling that this could and should have been a much better movie.

With all that, it still manages to be an entertaining piece of film – George Clooney’s ridiculous Lee Gates bounds onscreen with all the bravado of a talk-show bandit, and Julia Roberts’ exasperated producer, Patty, brings warmth and determination to the role.  Their sparring is an ode to that golden age of cinema, where professional partnerships between men and women had that tantalising air of respect and mutual understanding without descending into boring old romance.  In fairness, it is a pleasure to watch Clooney and Roberts onscreen under the gentle hand of Jodie Foster’s direction – it’s somewhat comforting to see a film made with charisma and sure-footedness by veteran thespians.

Things heat up when the borderline-MacGuffin of the piece, Kyle Budwell (ably played with dopey-eyed sadness by Jack O’Conner), arrives on stage with a bomb and a gun to point Lee and the narrative in a much firmer direction.  Blaming Lee and the ‘sure thing’ tips from his primetime programme for sending Kyle and his financial investments south, he has a bone to pick with the establishment.  Lee’s flamboyant show, a mix between Wall Street tips and gimmicky bells and whistles, had bet its bottom dollar on IBIS Global Capital – run by CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) – which had bottomed out in the worst possible way, losing billions for investors, and Kyle’s life savings to boot.  Walt was due to be a guest on Lee’s show but has disappeared on his private jet, leaving his chief CO Diane Lester (Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, with lovely accent intact) as proxy for all of Kyle’s dangerous self-loathing and despair.  Diane quickly realises that Walt may not have been entirely honest about the causes of the huge loss, and Kyle’s actions spur her and Lee to get to the bottom of this financial crisis.  Patty remains in Lee’s ear throughout the ordeal, guiding him towards safety and resolution, and remained steadfastly on his side throughout the escalating situation.

Part of what makes Money Monster less than it should be is the non-thrilling aspect of this thriller storyline – the danger of a gunman and bomb in a television studio is mitigated by Foster’s diversions into pop culture commentary.  While her black humour can be detected in these dalliances, the references to memes, vines, snapchatting viewers and cheering crowds obsessed with fame doesn’t add to the film as it should, and instead distracts with cheap laughs.  Most cinema goers didn’t see an ironic commentary on Wall Street and global finance buried in these allusions, and instead laughed heartily at the surface-level joke – which makes it a point not made for Foster.  Strong acting means Money Monster is an entertaining piece of filmmaking, but the sometimes preachy and often fragmented storytelling leaves it just short of where it should have landed.

Sarah Griffin

98 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Money Monster is released 28th May 2016

Money Monster – Official Website

 

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