JOHN CARTER (USA/12A/132mins)
Directed by Andrew Stanton. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, Daryl Sabara, Thomas Hayden Church.
THE PLOT: Victorian London, and the young Edgar Rice Burroughs (Sabara) is handed the private journal of his recently departed adventurer uncle, John Carter (Kitsch). The journal begins in 1917, in "the backside of hell", sometimes known as Fort Grant Outpost, Virginia, Carter finally stumbling up the gold in them there hills during an escape from both the natives and the cavalry. The Confederate deserted soon finds himself quickly transported to a strange new world though, where a lack of gravity means he can leap over 100 feet into the air. And where, he soon learns, the Therns (led by Mark Strong's Palpatine-like Matai Shang) are causing chaos and destruction, and then feeding off it (think: Goldman Sachs In Space), their latest plan involving the forced marriage of the feisty Princess Dejah (Collins) so her people, the Heliumites, can be crushed. Getting caught in the crossfire of this red planet shoot-out are the green, 9-foot, four-armed and tusked Tharks, led by the compassionate Tars Tarkas (Dafoe)...
THE VERDICT: Why can't all sci-fi blockbusters be this thrilling and - gulp! - moving?Originally created by Burroughs (the man behind Tarzan) back in 1912, over the last 70 years, many a filmmaker has tried and failed to tackle this seminal sci-fi creation - including Looney Tunes' Bob Clampett in 1931, Ray Harryhausen in the 1950s, and Tom Cruise in the 1980s. When Jon Favreau threw in the towel in 2006, Pixar's Andrew Stanton was halfway through making WALL-E, and he quickly phoned Disney about bringing his childhood hero to the big screen. Much to his terror, they said yes, but the man who also brought us Finding Nemo has delivered one of the finest sci-fi epics in years. If George Lucas was still alive and kicking today, he just might make a movie this good. If you're having trouble figuring out what the hell it's all about, think Indiana Jones & The Spiders From Mars. Yep, it's every bit as cool as that sounds...
Review by Paul Byrne
BEL AMI (UK/France/Italy/16/102mins)
Directed by Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod. Starring Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Colm Meaney, Natalia Tena, Holliday Granger.
THE PLOT: Ricci plays Clotilde de Marelle, the most consistent, and understanding, lover of young cad about 1890s Paris, Georges Duroy (Pattinson), accepting of his other dalliances, and even his opportunistic marriage to the wealthy Madeleine Forestier (Thurman). Rounding out an impressive trio of women is Kristen Scott Thomas as the unhappy wife of Georges' cruel boss (a huffing and cigar-puffing Colm Meaney). The conniving, Ripley-esque Georges is determined to shag his way to the top, and he might just get there...
THE VERDICT: Almost saved by stirring performances from the three female leads - Ricci, Thurman and the ever-reliable Scott Thomas - the latest big-screen adaptation of this classic 1885 novel suffers from a leading man who seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Or the weight of Twilight, at least, Pattinson looking positively pale and pasty throughout, even when he's supposedly wooing half of Paris. The poor sod's got the Elvis curse right now, like DiCaprio straight after Titanic; Pattinson just brings too much baggage to be convincing here. Perhaps when Edward Cullen is finally off every teenage girl's bedroom wall, Pattinson will prove himself a worthy actor. For now, he's all at sea, and never moreso than here.
THE RAVEN (USA/Hungary/Spain/16/111 mins)
Directed by James Mc Teigue. Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans
The Raven follows the last days of Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) as he chases down a serial killer who has a penchant for imitating the gruesome acts carried out in Poe's stories.
There is no doubt that Edgar Allen Poe has influenced many Gothic horror writers over the years, and his death has always been surrounded in mystery. This new film speculates on the cause of Poe's death, and takes liberties with the author's life. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but the execution of this story leaves a lot lacking.
John Cusack stars as Poe and plays the character as the drunk that he was believed to be at the end of his life. Poe is in love with Emily (Alice Eve) whose father (Brendan Gleeson) does not approve of Poe or his daughter spending time with him. Emily is then kidnapped by a serial killer who demands that Poe solve his mystery in order to save her life. This should have been a wonderfully dark and twisted Gothic horror story, but instead the story takes a dark turn... And not in a good way.
Cusack has not made good movie choices in recent years - except perhaps Hot Tub Time Machine - and The Raven was one of these choices. The character is over the top and melodramatic, but not in an appropriate way. There are times when Cusack hams it up so much on screen that his performance changes from the dramatic to comedic and it is hard for the audience to hold in their giggles.
The rest of the cast fare no better. Alice Eve is simpering and frivolous as Emily and Brendan Gleeson appears to be struggling with the Maryland accent as he attempts to make good on the script. Luke Evans is so bland as Detective Fields that he is almost instantly forgotten when he disappears from screen.
V For Vendetta director James McTeigue has managed to dish up a bland film that is almost painful to watch. The pacing is off, meaning that the film crawls through the middle act and there is absolutely no suspense or intrigue built up about who the murderer could be. By the time this is revealed, the audience no longer cares about motivations for murder - which are paper-thin at best - and just wants the torment to end. The film could easily have taken inspiration from From Hell, but instead of the streets and sets looksing rich and dark, they just appear dank and suffocating.
The script - ironically co written by someone named Shakespeare - is bordering on ludicrous. There are many different ways that the story could have gone (Poe's death is mystery enough), but turning Poe into a detective is as silly as turning Sherlock Holmes into a full-blown action hero (I am looking at you, Guy Ritchie).
In all, The Raven is a silly and miserable experience. The film crawls through its 111 minute running time without spectacle or intrigue. Cuasck is over the top and hammy, and his supporting cast are bland and forgettable. Nevermore? That just about sums it up.
RATING : 1/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
STELLA DAYS (Ireland/15A/100 mins)
Directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan. Starring Marytin Sheen, Stephen Rea, Amy Huberman
Father Daniel Berry (Martin Sheen) returns from Rome to a small parish in rural Ireland. He is a lot more liberal than many members of his congregation would like and his decision to open a cinema in the town – under the guise of using it as a fundraising scheme for a new church – ruffles more than a few feathers.
Martin Sheen returned to the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival tonight with Stella Days, his second film to play at the festival in as many years. Sheen plays a liberal priest in a small town. The town is just coming to terms with electricity, and Father Barry’s attempts to open a cinema frighten the small community. Sheen is great in the lead role; he is more than able to take on the conservative Brendan (Stephen Rea), defy the Bishop’s warnings but be tender and sweet with the younger members of the cast. This is Sheen’s film; this episode with the town mirrors Fr Barry’s struggle with Rome and the Catholic Church.
The supporting cast do so ably; Stephen Rea is on top form as the Bible thumping Brendan, Amy Huberman is sweet and graceful as Elaine and the relationship between schoolteacher Tim (Trystan Gavelle) and Molly (Marcella Plunkett) is carefully crafted, if superfluous.
Where Stella Days is let down is it’s attempts to cover several different stories at once; the subplots clutter the struggle between Barry and the church in such a way that they feel like a distraction from the main story. Barry’s conversations with a young boy give the audience more understanding of the priest, but there was no need for the family confusions around the boy, his father and the lodger to be introduced.
The idea of a priest struggling with the church’s strong censorship laws at the advent of cinema in Ireland is a fascinating one – especially seeing as it was the religious orders that set up the Irish Film Institute and provided it with much of it’s archive footage – but the film would have benefitted from bringing this relationship between modern Ireland and the church to the fore, and allowed the unnecessary aspects of the plot to fall into the background.
Martin Sheen ably carries this story and gives one of his most subtle, thoughtful and bittersweet performances to date. Stella Days could have been an interesting look at the nature of the priesthood and the choices that one makes through life, but sadly it loses its way through a muddled storyline.
Review by Brogen Hayes