We review this week’s new releases, including DIVERGENT, THE DOUBLE and NOAH
Directed by Neil Burger. Starring Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Jai Courtney
THE PLOT: 100 years after a war devastated the world, society is divided into factions based on virtues. When she comes of age, Tris must undergo an aptitude test before choosing which faction she will spend her life with. When Tris learns she does not fit in with any faction – effectively marking her as Divergent – she soon learns that she must hide this truth from her new home with the Dauntless faction, in order to survive.
THE VERDICT: Shailene Woodley takes a step away from the role that made her famous – as George Clooney’s daughter in THE DESCENDANTS – and does an admirable job as a girl lost in a world that she thought she understood. As Tris, Woodley is charming and fun, but manages to convey the drama and urgency of the film. Woodley immediately has the audience on her side with her warmth and charm, and as the character begins to enjoy her world more, so do we.
Theo James takes on the role of Four, a Dauntless trainer with a mysterious past. As a foil for Tris, James does fine, providing someone for the character to both hate and admire. Ashley Judd has a small role as Tris’s mother Natalie, Jai Courtney plays his more aggressive side as Eric, Miles Teller keeps up his trend of playing less than charming characters, and Maggie Q makes an appearance as tattoo artist/mentor Tori. Kate Winslet has one of the more interesting roles in the film, as Jeanine; leader of a rival faction with a secret agenda. Winslet is not actually given a whole lot to do in the film, but what she is given she does incredibly well, bringing an air of menace to Jeanine’s every move.
The story of the film, for all of it’s differences to THE HUNGER GAMES, does suffer from feeling a little familiar, but for all of it’s similarities, there are enough differences to keep the audience interested, and enough engaging performances and characters to keep the story moving. Precious little has been changed from the book, other than Jeanine’s part being beefed up slightly, and a scene whose removal may have fans of the book up in arms. The pacing, however is much improved from the print world, with director Neil Burger keeping an air of menace hovering over the entire affair.
The world looks good too, with DIVERGENT set in what’s left of Chicago. Setting the story in a familiar place may have its drawbacks, but it works in Divergent’s favour, making the story feel like something that may actually happen. Some of the CG is a little on the ropey side, however, and we don’t learn enough about the individual factions to understand the world as a whole. Oh, and perhaps explaining the devastating war that led to the factions being created would have lent the film a little more clarity.
DIVERGENT is doomed to be compared to THE HUNGER GAMES, but in the end, it is a very different beast. Shailiene Woodley shows herself to be a great leading lady – although she looks a little too childlike at times – Kate Winslet camps up the evil and seems to enjoy every second of it. It is very clear that DIVERGENT is a set up for a franchise of films, but with warm and engaging characters and many mysteries only hinted at so far, audiences are sure to be curious about the rest of Tris’s story.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE DOUBLE (UK/16/93mins)
Directed by Richard Ayoade. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
THE PLOT: Simon is a young man, remarkable in his complete lack of remarkability. Simon works for a data processing company and is completely in love with his co-worker Hanna, but is probably never going to do anything about it. When James (Jesse Eisenberg) is transferred in from a sister branch, Simon’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos; this newcomer looks exactly like him, yet no-one seems to be able to see it.
THE VERDICT: Based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, THE DOUBLE is adapted for the screen and directed by Richard Ayoade. Casting Jesse Eisenberg is a genius move; it seems hard to imagine an actor who could capture such arrogance in James, and such awkward frustration in Simon. As with the best double or twin performances, it is easy for the audience to tell who is who, as Eisenberg’s performances are so strong and assured.
Mia Wasikowska is warm and engaging as Hannah, and the rest of the supporting cast – including Wallace Shawn, James Fox – flesh out the world of THE DOUBLE, while allowing the heart and soul of the film to hang on Simon and James’s interactions. There are also some nice nods to the work that Ayoade has done in the past, with Chris O’Dowd, Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts turning up in the film.
Richard Ayoade has created a world that is as retro futuristic as a Terry Gilliam film, and has carefully layered in story and characters. The world is as drab and grey and Simon finds his life to be, and the cinematography with its sweeping cuts serves to back this up. Ayoade has created a world that lives and dies on rhythms; the data processing work is all about the beats, and the precise rhythm with which the characters talk serve to underline the oddness of this world; nothing seems to be thought about too much, everything is accepted without question. When Simon does question anything, he is punished for it.
THE DOUBLE is a darkly funny drama that not only reminds us of the skill of Eisenberg as an actor, but also cements Richard Ayoade’s position as a skilled and precise director. The world of THE DOUBLE is an odd one, for sure, but it is easy to relate to the characters and the mediocrity of their lives. The cinematography and design of the film is wonderful and the actors do a superb job. THE DOUBLE isn’t always a comfortable watch, but it is a rewarding one.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Mark Margolis.
THE PLOT: A hard rain is gonna fall, and lucky for Noah (Crowe), he’s got God on his side. Because God has warned him of the impending flood, and has advised, through dreams and visions, that Noah should build a great big ark, and take two of every creature on the planet with him. Along with his family, of course. Everyone else can, well, go to hell. Or a watery grave, to be more precise.
Only trouble is, God hasn’t reckoned on Noah’s teenage sons. The older one (Booth) is none too upset about the state of affairs, given that he’s hooking up with his adopted sister (Watson), but young Ham (Lerman) doesn’t want to spend the rest of eternity just beating his meat. Ironically enough.
Oh, and there’s a band of Mad Max 2 extras somewhat keen to take over the ark, led by the very Ray Winstone-esque Tubal-cain (Winstone).
THE VERDICT: There’s much to dislike, and distrust, about this film – not least former box-office champ Crowe doing his Good Samaritan tour (all that sudden smiling is going to leave a mark) as he tries to get back into Hollywood favour through the unblinking, unthinking Bible belt audience – but, what starts out feeling like Waterworld: The First Coming steadily finds its sea legs. By the time we’re locked away with the psycho saviour, his petrified family and one oversized petting zoo, things turn deliciously dark. Dogville dark.
Of course, despite the moustache, Darren Aronofsky is a smart filmmaker, and one who was never going to go for the soft sell here. This is the man, after all, who made Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. And the studios would have been optimistic too, given that The Passion Of The Christ was pure Bible porn that earned Mel Gibson quite a few pieces of silver. Let’s not forget though that Aronofsky also made The Fountain, another fantastical, philosophical, metaphorical, historical and hysterical piece of sci-fi hocus pocus that got very lost at sea. Once again, there are Malick-esque circle-of-life art installation passages here, but the brutality of this truly, eh, Biblical tale brings a welcoming counter-balance of gritty reality. Not that any of the Bible is necessarily true, of course, given that there is no god. Or God.
Still wish this wasn’t Russell though. He’s Steven Segal now. Trying to claw his way up to being Chuck Norris. Aronofsky’s old buddy Hugh Jackman would have been a better fit. Or Ben Mendlesohn. Or Mark Ruffalo. Or Madonna.
The likes of Connelly, Watson, Winstone and especially Hopkins are all exactly as you would expect, but the film itself slowly rises to something approaching worthy.
Review by Paul Byrne
RIO 2 (USA/G/101mins)
Directed by Carols Saldanha. Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jermaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Kristen Chenoweth, Bruno Mars, Andy Garcia, Janelle Monae.
THE PLOT: Opening with Blu (Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway) raising their three young blue macaws in Rio de Janeiro, playing happy families is put on hold when they learn that their former guardians, Linda (Mann) and Tulio (Santoro), have discovered another rare batch of blue macaws deep in the Amazon. Jewel reckons it’s time they all got back to their roots, and so the proud parents pack Bia (Amandla Stenberg), Tiago (Pierce Gagnon) and Carla (Rachel Crow) off to that great big forest, with old buddies Rafael (Lopez), Nico (Foxx) and Pedro (will.i.am) joining them for the trip. Once there, they discover Eduardo (Garcia) and his sister Mimi (Rita Moreno) ruling over dozens of blue macaws – all protected by Roberto (Mars), a childhood buddy of Jewel’s. There are a few more suprises in store for Jewel though. Oh, and that nasty cockatoo Nigel (Clements) has found some new birds to torture…
THE VERDICT: The original was an intoxicating explosion of colour – parrots, in Rio de Janeiro, during the festival; how could it not be? – that also managed to be touching and very, very funny. And, thankfully, director Saldanha (the Brazilian-born director who broke through on the Ice Age movies) has come up with an equally wonderful sequel. Animation lends itself to exotic locations, and they don’t come much more exotic than the Amazon. What makes the Rio movies so enjoyable though is the clever casting – Eisenberg does his Woody Allen Lite routine as the hypochondriacal Blu, the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement does a fine line in panto evil, and even soulful twats such as will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and Bruno Mars can come across as likeable. When you can’t see them. And forget that it’s will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and Bruno Mars. Sweet film. Don’t forget to bring the kids too.
Review by Paul Byrne
TOM AT THE FARM (Canada/France/IFI/105mins)
Directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu, Manuel Tadros, Jacques Lavallee, Anne Caron.
THE PLOT: Arriving at the family farm of his late lover, Guilluame, in rural Quebec, Tom (Dolan) quickly realises that the mother of the house, Agathe (Roy), doesn’t know about her son’s sexuality, as she asks about his non-existent girlfriend. Later that night, Tom is violently awoken by Guillame’s brother, Francis (Cardinal), who is determined that his mother never finds out about his younger brother’s sexual orientation. Still, Tom can’t stop himself reading out a heartfelt eulogy at the funeral the following morning, a eulogy that upsets Agathe and lands him a beating from Francis. When Tom finds his tyres have been stolen the following morning, he soon suspects Francis. The man clearly wants Tom to stick around for a while. And it’s not because Francis fancies him.
THE VERDICT: The fourth feature from the Quebec-based Dolan – after I Killed My Mother (2009), Heartbeats (2010) and Laurence Always (2012) – is every bit as self-consciously cool as his previous outings. But in a very different way. This time, Dolan goes for the much less is much more approach, stripping away his usual grandeur for something smaller and grittier. It just about works.
Based on Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, gone is the jukebox soundtrack (replaced by Garbriel Yared’s sweeping strings), and gone are the epic cinematic sweeps (replaced by lots of talking heads in claustrophobic rooms), Dolan making a very definite move away from the sort of films Rufus Wainwright has swirling around his head 24 hours a day. Dolan is still a little too cool for school for my tastes, but Tom At The Farm is the first of his films that I actually enjoyed, rather than just admired.
Review by Paul Byrne
OUR VINYL WEIGHS A TON: THIS IS STONES THROW RECORDS (USA/UK/Club/94mins)
Directed by Jeff Broadway. Starring Madlib, Common, Mike D, Flying Lotus, Talib Kweli, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Kanye West, James ‘Jay Dee’ Yancey, Peanut Butter Wolf.
THE PLOT: From the start, Stones Throw was an underground label for alternative artists, a self-confessed “stomping ground” – as founder Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf, puts it – for musicians to find their true voice. Bookended by a 2012 Christmas party at the label’s LA HQ – a converted family home, with floor-to-ceiling vinyl, Manak spinning discs, and various artists grabbing the mic – this is very much a celebration of Stones Throw, as the likes of ?uestlove, Kanye West (hip-hop’s answer to Bono), Common, Mike D and many on the label itself wax lyrical about its rise, fall and rebirth.
The love-in kicks off as we revisit Manak’s music-loving childhood (making DJ shows with his childhood friend, Steve Helmer, later signed as Baron Zen), his growing love of hip-hop, punk rock, classic soul, and anything else fab and groovy (“Everything but heavy metal,” says Helmer) leading to his own attempts to make music. With record deals in short supply, Manak set up his own record label in 1996, dedicated to signing bands that were often neglected by the mainstream. And that Manak loved. Stones Throw’s reputation soon spread, with signings such as Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, The Stepkids and J Dilla placing the label at the cutting edge of new music, and in particular, hip-hop. The passing of major Stones Throw artist J Dilla on February 10th, 2006 sent the label into a spiral though, Manak reacting by going even more esoteric. An unexpected hit in Aloe Blacc’s I Need A Dollar in 2010 would prove highly lucrative, and befitting.
THE VERDICT: Screening at the Sugar Club this coming Sunday, April 6th, with founder Peanut Butter Wolf in attendance for a Q&A and an after-screening gig (€12.50, 6pm kick-off, early outdoor BBQ, info: http://www.thesugarclub.com/listings/event/our-vinyl-weighs-a-ton-this-is-stones-throw-records), ultimately, fittingly, Jeff Broadway’s documentary is all about the music. The tracks by the likes of Madlib (in all his various guises), J Dilla, The Stepkids, Jonti and Mayer Hawthorne make you want to run to the nearest record store (and that’s where you should run, bastards!). Beyond that, it’s hard to get too excited about Manak’s story – this isn’t quite Muscle Shoals, never mind Motown, Stax or Def Jam. The trials and tribulations of a small record label will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in music and a simple understanding of economics, so, what really shines here, amidst the abundance of home video, talking heads and looking funky, is the music itself. And that’s probably just how the slightly awkward and painfully hip Manak would have wanted it. The DVD will be released on May 26th. Now, go buy J Dilla’s Donuts. And Jaylib’s Champion Sound. And Quasimoto’s Yessir Whatever. And Mayer Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement. For starters.
Review by Paul Byrne