This weeks new movies reviewed by Paul Byrne – including Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, The Smurfs, Project Nim and more…
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA/12A/106mins)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Jamie Harris.
THE PLOT: With his father (Lithgow) in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, San Francisco scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is determined that his five-and-half-years spent coming up with AO112 will prove the miracle cure. But just when he has a boardroom of investors convinced that he has, Will’s no.1 laboratory chimp comes crashing through the hi-tech LCD display in a bloody, foaming rage. Leaving behind a baby, which Will saves from a cull by secretly adopting him. He soon discovers that little Caesar (Serkis) has remarkable intelligence…
THE VERDICT: Finally, a summer action blockbuster that’s actually evolved, and involving, this clever reboot pulls off the same trick as Nolan’s Batman Begins and Abrams’ Star Trek by making us truly excited again about a flogged franchise – Tim Burton having remade the 1968 original to within an inch of its life back in 2001. After making us care not only about our extra-clever primate but also his naïve master, Brit director Wyatt (and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) have some emotional punch to underpin all the rather fine Weta Digital crash, bang, wallop that’s unleashed as evolution leads to revolution. Imagine Michael Bay, with opposable. RATING: 4/5
THE SMURFS (USA/G/102mins)
Directed by Raja Gosnell. Starring Hank Azaria, Katy Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Vergara, Tim Gunn.
THE PLOT: Fulfilling a vision by Papa Smurf (voiced by Winters), the Smurfs find themselves sucked into a vortex when they try to rescue the headstrong and aptly named Clumsy (Yelchin) from a forbidden cave. And, as so often happens when people are sucked into a vortex, our little blue friends end up in New York. Where the evil Gargamel has plans to kidnap Grandpa and, eh, steal his Smurf essence. Which so often happens when you’re a tourist in New York.
THE VERDICT: So, just as Alvin And The Chipmunks unexpectedly pulverized all contenders at the box-office with their two big-screen outings, so it is that our little blue fiends has bettered – or perhaps battered, considering the expectations – Jon Favreau’s adaptation of the graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens in the US. I’m guessing Belgian cartoonist Peyo (aka Pierre Culliford) must be spinning with delight in his grave, his 1958 creation now set to dominate a whole new generation’s pocket money. The fact that it’s a noisy crock of charmless cock hardly seems to matter. Certainly not to those under 10. The 3D, needless to say, is as pointless as the plot. More importantly, director Raja Gosnell previously gave us two Scooby-Doo outings and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. And yet, he lives. RATING: 2/5
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE (Belgium/16/108mins)
Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim.
THE PLOT: Baghdad, 1987, and army lieutenant Latif Yahia (Cooper) is called upon to act as a body double for Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son Uday (also Cooper). Which means some plastic surgery. And tolerating Uday’s cruel torture of his enemies, his abuse of prostitutes, and his pursuit of schoolgirls. Plus, Uday’s charming way with words – “I love cunt and I want to fuck it”. Developing a relationship with Sarrab (Sagnier), one of Uday’s many women, Latif decides to escape. No matter what it takes.
THE VERDICT: With a performance that lifts this true-life drama well above the average, pretty boy Brit actor Dominic Cooper finally comes into his own here. It’s just a shame that everyone else involved – including scriptwriter Michael Thomas (working from Latif Yahia’s memoir) and director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) – fall far short of their leading man. Somewhere between The Last King Of Scotland and Scarface, but nowhere near as compelling as either, The Devil’s Double is nonetheless worth seeing for Cooper alone. RATING: 3/5
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
PROJECT NIM (UK/USA/12A/93mins)
Directed by James Marsh. Starring Bob Angelini, Bern Cohen, Reagan Leonard, Dr. James Mahoney.
THE PLOT: Starting in November, 1973, a young chimp is taken from his mother and given to a Manhattan family as part of an experiment in animal language acquisition. As time goes by, Nim learns to communicate, but his behavior becomes violent enough for the experiment to be halted in September, 1977. When the Oklahoma research facility where he is returned to runs out of funds though, Nim is sold, along with all the other chimps, into medical research at New York’s Lemsip. The fact that the experiments are run by a man, Dr. James Mahoney, who looks like a malnourished Peter Cushing doesn’t help…
THE VERDICT: A perfect companion piece to Rise, Project Nim is Brit documentary maker James Marsh’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Man On Wire. Inevitably, Philippe Petit’s incredible lust for life is somewhat absent from this hippy-dream-gone-sour, but Project Nim is no less powerful in its raw beauty and difficult truths as we follow a chimp being used and abused in the 1970s in the name of science. It’s a film that will break your heart, and if there’s no walking on air finale, there is something approaching redemption and a hug at the end. RATING: 4/5
THE SALT OF LIFE (Italy/IFI/90mins)
Directed by Gianna Di Gregorio. Starring Gianna Di Gregorio, Valerio De Franciscis, Alfonso Santagata, Kristina Cepraga, Valeria Cavalli, Elisabetta Piccolomini.
THE PLOT: Fiftysomething mummy’s boy Gianna (Di Gregorrio) may be married with a teenage daughter, but he has begun to suspect that his days of being able to turn a beautiful young woman’s head might be over. This being Rome, everywhere he goes, there are beautiful young women, and most of them are happy to talk to him, some are very happy to kiss him on the cheek, but none, it turns out, see Gianna as anything more than a dream grandfather. Interrupting his own daydreams with a constant barrage of requests for a helping hand is Gianna’s ninetysomething, money-burning mother (De Franciscis, who played the same role in Di Gregorio’s charming Mid-August Lunch)…
THE VERDICT: As with Mid-August Lunch (2008), Gianna Di Gregorio doesn’t stray too far from his own particular reality here. Such as naming all his characters after the actors who play them – because, explains the filmmaker, their real lives aren’t all that far removed from the ones they play onscreen. Di Gregorio himself is once again playing another mummy’s boy who’s caught up in the little victories and minor defeats of everyday life. Like a sun-kissed, hang-dog Italian Woody Allen, Di Gregorio revels in the small details, happy to bask in the haze of unfulfilled fantasies and a fine glass of wine. Sweet. RATING: 3/5
BE THEIR GUEST
Boasting a new score by Niall Byrne, the 1935 classic Guests Of The Nation will be screened at the National Concert Hall, Dublin on Sunday September 11th before heading to the Lincoln Centre, New York on Thursday 22nd September as part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland’s year of Irish arts in America.
A collaboration between The Irish Film Institute, the RTE Concert Orchestra and The National Concert Hall, the conductor at the NCH will be David Brophy. The film itself, an adaptation of Frank O’Connor’s story of friendship between British soldiers and their IRA captors, features early performances from Cyril Cusack and Barry Fitzgerald, as well as a cameo from O’Connor himself.
Also screening on the night will be Andrew Legge’s experimental silent film The Lactating Automation, with a live orchestra score by Liam Bates. Tickets are €25 (€20 concessions), and are available from the NCH box office on (01) 4170000 or on nch.ie.