MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES (USA/16/98mins)
Directed by Jake Szymanski. Starring Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root.
THE PLOT: When their parents demand they bring dates to their sister’s wedding, Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) turn to craigslist to find some “nice” girls that will tone down their antics. In need of a change, and of course a free trip to Hawaii, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) hide their real personalities to make sure they are the dates chosen.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by the true story of Mike and Dave Stangle turning to the internet to find wedding dates and their story going viral, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a film that tries incredibly hard to be funny, unfortunately for the talented comedians involved, the evidence of this struggle is all too evident in this unfunny and cringeworthy film.
Zac Efron is no stranger to comedy, and regularly pokes fun at himself in his movies, and ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ is no exception. Efron has great chemistry with the rest of the cast, but this does not lead to laughs, unfortunately. Adam Devine plays Mike as a spoiled, screechy brat, and while this works in the TV show ‘Workaholics’ that gave Devine his break, this petulant act soon becomes tiresome in this wedding comedy. Aubrey Plaza obviously has a ball playing a character very different to those we have seen her play before – her most famous character, April on ‘Parks & Recreation’ and many of her others are sarcastic and unenthused about everything in their lives – but this loud mouthed and vulgar character is no more funny than the others in the film. The same goes for Anna Kendrick, who has fun with the dim Alice, but rarely manages to make the character anything other than annoying. The rest of the cast features Stephen Root, Sugar Lyn Beard and Kumail Nanjiani.
Screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien have taken Mike and Dave Stangle’s story – which, unlike the film, was all about the lead up to the wedding, not the shenanigans the brothers got up to at the actual event – shifts the focus of the film to the wedding, and seems to delight in making the girls as loudmouthed, crass and emotionally unengaged as the boys. While it is clear that this worked on paper since Kendrick and Plaza signed on for the film, this makes the film one full of unlikeable characters, crass and unfunny dialogue and situations that escalate but never manage to provoke giggles.
As director, Jake Szymanski paces the film badly, and never allows the characters to seem emotionally rounded, instead focusing on putting the characters into one ridiculous, over the top and unfunny situation after another. There seems to be a focus given to improvised scenes throughout the film, which means that every attempt at a joke is drawn out and painful. Add to this a very formulaic flow to the story means that ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ is not only very far from the truth, but also drawn out and unfunny.
In all, ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ is a waste of a strong cast and although the characters work well enough together, they are let down by never being fleshed out, allowed to learn from their experiences and a sincere and troubling lack of laughs in this wedding crashing “comedy”.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE SHALLOWS (USA/12A/86mins)
Directed by Juame Collet-Serra. Starring Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Angela Jose, Lozano Corzo, Jose Manual, Trujillo Salas, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge.
THE PLOT: Having just flunked out of medical school, the footloose and fancy-free Nancy (Lively) is on a spiritual journey, to the secret Mexican beach where her late mum conceived her. Hitching a ride with local Carlos (Jaenada), Nancy can’t even charm the name of this hideaway paradise before she’s suddenly there. Out on the waves, two locals surfing the evening waves, Nancy giving a quick call to her beloved little sis and her disappointed dad before joining them. As they pack up though, Nancy notices the bloody carcass of a whale floating nearby. And then she quickly discovers the cause, as a shark knocks her from her board and bites into her thigh. Managing to scramble to a nearby rock, Nancy’s call to the departing surfers falls on deaf ears. After a little med-student-heal-thyself makeshift surgery, Nancy realises that she’s going to have to come up with a plan if she’ll survive beyond high tide…
THE VERDICT: ‘The Shallows’ is a taut, tight and thrillingly terrifying jolt to the system. Director Jaume Collet-Serra delivers far beyond his pedestrian genre career could have predicted, hitting the right balance between old-fashioned blood spills and attack thrills with the sensual world of someone caught in the eye of a storm that may very much engulf them. Never flashy, modern technology means we can duck above and below the sea, that dark parallel universe below just waiting to pull another holidaymaker through that looking glass.
Lively (known largely for the TV series ‘Gossip Girl’) is well-cast as the ripped Ripley, her tanned and toned body proving well prepared for this battle to the death. Man, after so many recent blockbuster bombs, it’s great to see a small movie that can fill a cinema with enough electrical charge to fry and entire cast and crew of ‘Suicide Squad’.
Review by Paul Byrne
PETE’S DRAGON (USA/PG/102mins)
Directed by David Lowery. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley.
THE PLOT: After his parents tragically die in a car crash, young Pete (Oakes Fegley) grows up in the woods with his only friend: a big, furry green dragon he names Elliott. Having discovered each other in the woods and become best friends, they live an adventurous but low-key life. Elliott keeps under the radar, as he has the ability to become invisible to humans when he wants to. Old-timer Meacham (Robert Redford) once saw Elliott, but nobody in the logging town of Millhaven really believes that he saw a dragon. His ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) almost comes across Pete in the woods one day, but it is her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) who finds Pete and befriends him. Pete’s secret cannot stay hidden for much longer though, as logger Gavin (Karl Urban) comes across Elliott and decides to catch himself a dragon…
THE VERDICT: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is one of Disney’s lesser-known films, at least on this side of the pond anyway. The 1977 film now looks quite dated and clunky, so when Disney started digging deep into their back catalogue and remaking them for a 21st Century audience, it was not the most obvious choice. That is, until you have seen this new take, which is still true to the original while keeping it fresh.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a curious change of direction for David Lowery, whose previous film was the Terrence Malick-like drama ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’. He describes his new take on the story as a re-imagining rather than a remake, in order to distance his film from the original. It is indeed a re-imagining, which jettisons the songs and slapstick humour for something more modern, measured and relevant. The core of the story is essentially the same: it is a boy and his dog friendship story, except the dog is much bigger, has wings and can breathe fire.
The superb re-design of Elliott as a furry dark green dragon gives him a cuddly aspect, but he can be threatening when attacked. He is a gentle soul though, much like Pete. That makes the audience care, to the point where the two characters seem one and the same. This is beautifully illustrated in a scene of Elliott gazing into an upstairs window, as Grace tells Pete and Natalie a bedtime story. Does Pete really belong with a dragon, or does he belong with his own kind? Or maybe he could have both? The film makes a subtle point about the importance of belonging and being part of a family.
The lack of a central villain / antagonist is a weak point in the story. Gavin is ostensibly set up as the villain, but he is more of an opportunist. Despite good work from the reliable Urban, the character is never really fleshed out – much like Wes Bentley’s father figure, who is also underdeveloped. The two children are excellent though and Redford adds a touch of old-school Hollywood class, raising the acting bar. Shot in stunning, scenic New Zealand locations, the environment is also a character in itself.
While it does have some minor flaws, Pete’s Dragon is undoubtedly a better film than the original. It is a simple story of an unlikely friendship, but one that works well in this shiny new makeover. Disney are certainly on to something with their live action remakes. Maybe they will get around to finally remaking ‘The Black Hole’. As much as this reviewer loves ‘The Black Hole’, the possibilities are now infinite with modern visual effects. Until then, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ should entertain adults and children alike with its tale of boyhood wonder.
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Juliette Lewis.
THE PLOT: Staten Island resident and teenager Vee (Emma Roberts) has always been the safe, sensible girl. That is, until her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) introduces her to an online game called Nerve – a sort of truth or dare, without the emphasis squarely on the dare part. Players play for cash rewards by carrying out dares of increasing risk and ever-increasing rewards. Watchers comment and suggest these dares. Curious about the game, Vee watches at first but then proves to Sydney that she is willing to take risks. She becomes a player, with her first dare to kiss stranger Ian (Dave Franco). The watchers like the couple and send them off to Manhattan for the night. What begins as an innocent game of cheeky fun soon takes a turn into the sinister…
THE VERDICT: Adapted by Jessica Sharzer from the book by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve is reminiscent of recent online ‘games’ like happy slapping and Neknominate, which proved to have darker and more tragic real-world consequences. Nerve tries to distance itself from those references by setting up its world as a hip and fun place, inhabited by supposedly sensible young people who are drawn in by the cash rewards and instant fame that the game brings with it.
It starts innocently enough, with dares like trying on expensive dresses and leaving the store half-naked. Then it gets a bit risky, to the point where it becomes less of a cautionary tale and more of a mash-up between other films like ‘Saw’ (soon to be resurrected), ‘My Little Eye’ and even ‘The Purge’. That was presumably not the intention of co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who have form in the darker side of the Internet with the original Catfish documentary. They set out to make an original film but ended up with something all too familiar.
However, for most of the running time, it’s a film that feels reasonably entertaining and, at times, gripping. Watch the sequence where Sydney tries to walk across a suspended ladder through your fingers, or a sequence involving a motorcycle zipping through the Manhattan streets. Roberts and Franco make an attractive and sparky couple, their on-the-go chemistry developing as their antics get ever more colourful. Lewis is wasted though in a basic, bland mother role that belies her talent.
Just when you think that the film might really have the nerve to follow through on its dark agenda, it cops out with a conventional ending that just does not ring true. Character loyalties shift jarringly, to the point where this reviewer felt tricked. Was it all just a game? Joost and Schulman duly slip on the banana peel and blow the ending, but it is not enough to derail the whole film. It still manages to be engaging and free-spirited, with a dash of youthful exuberance. For what it’s worth, being a watcher on Nerve is light fun – but you are unlikely to remember it next week.
Review by Gareth O’Connor
INGRID BERGMAN IN HER OWN WORDS (Sweden/TBC/114mins)
Directed by Stig Björkman. Starring Ingrid Bergman, Pia Lindström, Isabella Rossellini, Liv Ullman, Sigourney Weaver.
THE PLOT: Over the course of her life, Ingrid Bergman kept diaries, and wrote letters to her children and her friends, as well as filming hundreds of hours of home videos. Under the eye of director Stig Bjorkman, these valuable assets have been pulled into a film about the actress’s life. These, combined with interviews with her children and interview footage, paint a picture of the actress when she was not on screen, and her fascinating personal life.
THE VERDICT: It seems as though there are thousands of documentaries doing the rounds about public figures who are no longer with us – surely one will crop up about Robin Williams any day now – but since this is the year that Ingrid Bergman would have been 101 years old, and she is such a luminous screen presence, it seems right that she be the face of the Cannes Film Festival last year, and the subject of this Cannes Classics documentary that screened at the festival.
Stig Bjorkman has carefully woven together Bergman’s home movies, interviews, letters to her friends – narrated by Alicia Vikander – and talking heads with her children and friends to give audiences a glance at the private person behind the movies, the scandals and the legend.
‘Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words’, as is hinted by the title, is a film made up of home movies shot by the actress herself – the idea that she felt intimacy with the camera bcause her father always filmed her as a child is an interesting one – but there is a disconnect throughout the film between the person we know from the screen and this new version of the person that we see in the film. There needed to be a balance between home movie footage and the films of Bergman that we simply do not see. As well as this, the film feels drawn out and slow from time to time, making this less a journey of discovery and more a story whose impact has been lessened due to some bad pacing.
In all, ‘Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words’ is an interesting documentary for fans of this luminous and natural actress, but those who have less knowledge of Bergman may often find themselves struggling to fill in the gaps.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE CONFESSION: LIVING THE WAR ON TERROR (UK/TBC/96mins)
Directed by Ashish Ghadiali.
THE PLOT: British Muslim Moazzam Begg spent two years detained in Guantanamo Bay before being released without charge. For the first time and in great detail, Begg tells his story to filmmaker Ashish Ghadiali.
THE VERDICT: The story of Moazzam Begg is an interesting one, and as the documentary unfolds, the parallels between Begg’s life and the lives of Muslims around the world become clear. What does not become clear however, is how this articulate, smart, outspoken and charming figure could not see that his actions and movements have led to a light being shone upon him, and just how he is rather emotionless about the ordeal he talks about throughout the film.
Begg begins his story with a familiar tale; one of a second generation English Pakistani man trying to find where he belongs in the world. Is he British? Pakistani? Muslim? Asian? This topic has been covered numerous times in cinema over the years – a particular standout being ‘La Haine’ – but what we have not seen before is a man believing all his questions are answered through Islam, and his choice to travel to some of the most dangerous areas of the world.
What becomes clear throughout ‘The Confession: Living the War on Terror’, is how smart and self censored Begg appears to be. There is very little emotion from this central interviewee as he tells his story about mistreatment and detention for what he believes to be his faith and the way he looks. As well as this, it seems as though Begg is telling only one side of the story, and while this may be his story, he gets off rather lightly from filmmaker Ashish Ghadiali, who seems sceptical once or twice, but never really pushes any line of questioning.
There are interesting questions raised about choices made by Western powers in the past, and how these choices have influenced not only the West but the Middle East as well, but these are never truly answered – other than by Begg – so there are times when the film feels unsatisfying; there is only one side of the story here, not an engaging and rounded discussion. As well as this, there are times when the film is badly paced at times, and the thread that holds the film together often seems to disappear completely.
In all, Moazzam Begg is an interesting interviewee, but it seems that director Ashish Ghadiali often lets him away too lightly with his line of questioning. There are some interesting issues raised throughout the film, but without a rounded discussion, the audience never gets what feels close to the real story.
Review by Brogen Hayes
VALLEY OF LOVE (France | Belgium/15A/91mins)
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurélia Thiérrée, Dionne Houle.
THE PLOT: Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) and Gerard (Gerard Depardieu) meet in the sweltering hot Death Valley. The couple were once married, and their son Michael has sent them letters detailing his suicide, and his plans to return. The stipulation is that both his parents must be present for this to happen, and the site of his return will be one of seven Death Valley landmarks. As the two wait to see their late son, they argue, debate and converse about their lives together, and apart.
THE VERDICT: Guillaume Nicloux’s film reunites Huppert and Depardieu on screen for the first time in over 35 years – the last time they worked together being Maurice Pialat’s ‘Loulou’ – and while the chemistry between the two actors is as good as you would hope, they are let down by a story that is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
As mentioned, Depardieu and Huppert are easy and relaxed on screen together. Even as their characters argue – and they frequently do – it is clear these two actors have a great respect for one another, and strong chemistry. As details of their past life together come to the surface, they become protective and kind to one another, further serving to underline the strength of these two performers.
Guillaume Nicloux’s screenplay wavers between the reality of the relationship between these two people, and the spiritual ‘quest’ the find themselves on. The trouble is that the real is all too real and he metaphysical element of the film is more of an intrusion than a plot twist. That said, the dialogue between the two characters is great, with the exposition and back story always being revealed through an argument or conversation that feels natural and real.
As director, Guillaume Nicloux seems to have thrown all his energy into allowing the audience to get to know these people, their relationship and their grief, but never truly allows the film to feel balanced in all the magic that it is trying to achieve. Christophe Offenstein’s cinematography makes Death Valley look beautifully desolate, and the perfect austere backdrop to the rich emotional conversations happening on screen.
In all, ‘Valley Of Love’ never quite strikes the balance between this world and the next, which is a main plot point for the film, and one that audiences are never allowed to get on board with. Huppert and Depardieu are wonderful, however, and it is a shame to see their reunion after more than 35 years let them down so badly.
Review by Brogen Hayes