We review this week’s new cinema releases, including HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS and THE EXPENDABLES 3…
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (UK | Germany | Canada | South Africa/15A/112mins)
Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Simon Pegg, Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Collette, Jean Reno, Rosamund Pike.
THE PLOT: Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist, who discovers that he is wildly unhappy in his perfectly ordered life. Taking a chance, and leaving his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) behind, Hector heads on a trip around the world to find out what makes people happy, with the hope that he will find some happiness of his own.
THE VERDICT: The question of what makes people happy is one that has engaged us for a long time. Be it simple pleasures or more complicated ones, it seems that humankind is on a constant search to be happy – whether we know it or not. With HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESSs, however, Simon Pegg knows exactly what he wants from his travels around the world.
Before I go any further, I should confess that I am a fan of Simon Pegg; he has made some great TV and movies in the past – and he is a genuinely nice guy – but it seems that his endeavours outside a franchise, in the leading role or without the steady hand of Edgar Wright are not quite what they should be. HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE was disappointing, and A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING was weird, without ever quite being weird enough. HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS has the same sort of problem. It could be that Pegg is not actually cut out to be a leading man, or it could be that he chooses odd and unfinished projects. Whatever the case, Pegg is fine in the role as Hector; he is warm and engaging, but the changes the character goes through feel forced and a little rushed.
Rosamund Pike plays another role where she nags Simon Pegg, this time as his girlfriend Clara. Stellan Skarsgard, as Edward, facilitates Hector’s first foray into happiness, and plays the irritable banker rather well. Jean Reno has a tiny role as a drug baron, Christopher Plummer facilitates Hector’s final realisation and Toni Colette turns up as Hector’s old flame, the one he can’t stop thinking about.
It seems that HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is a personal project for writer/director Peter Chelsom, but the film feels a little like a midlife crisis while interrailing. Many of the encounters that Hector has are warm and genuine, but a lot of the character lines drawn are clichéd, unimaginative or potentially offensive; pretty Chinese girl is a prostitute, Hector gets kidnapped in Africa… You get the idea.
As director, Chelsom makes Hector’s midlife search for something more engaging, but forces the character through changes that the audience often struggles to keep up with. The film zips along nicely – apart from the third act – but the realisation that Hector comes to about his life is sudden and almost unforeseen, as though the audience never knew the character at all, despite having spent almost 2 hours with him. As well as this, stylistic choices are made and quickly abandoned, leaving the film feeling unfinished and muddled.
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is a sweet enough film about searching for something that we had all along. Pegg is engaging and the search he goes on is a relatable one. The film suffers, however, from a strange tone, clichéd characters and characters literally changing from scene to scene.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE EXPENDABLES 3 (USA | France/12A/126mins)
Directed by Patrick Hughes. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Kellan Lutz.
THE PLOT: This time out, ‘the Expendables’ have their biggest fight yet on their hands; the co-founder of the team – Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) – has become a ruthless arms dealer who has sworn to take down the team he helped to create.
THE VERDICT: The first EXPENDABLES movie was a nice little curiosity; the old team back together, or rather, a lot of actors who are getting on years, teaming up to fight the bad guys. This time out, the novelty factor has gone, however, and what is left is tonally confusing and often cringe worthy.
Stallone has written the third XPENDABLES outing, and it is obvious that he is incredibly attached to the project. So much so, in fact, that it feels as though his performance belongs in a different film than the rest of the cast; SCHINDLER’S LIST? Maybe. The rest of the team seem to know that the film is a ridiculous 1960s Bond rip-off, and layer their performances as such. Standouts have to be Mel Gibson – who delivers ridiculous threats with aplomb – and Antonio Banderas, who is just as fast talking and zany as he is in real life.
The story is nothing new, exciting or anything to write home about. Stallone’s screenplay borrows from the great action movies of the past, and throws in tons of terrible quips, real life details about the actors – Snipes’ character jokes that he was in prison for tax evasion – and what feels like hours of exposition. As well as this, the stage is very much set for a reboot of the series with the younger actors. EXPENDABLES BABIES seems to be on the way.
As director, Patrick Hughes seems to have been intimidated by his cast, and the entire process of making the film. Most of the performances are entirely one note, plot holes abound and the editing is a mess. There are plenty of set pieces though, filled with explosions, fearless fights and supremely silly stunts.
In all, THE EXPENDABLES 3 is a hot mess. The dialogue is more exposition than anything else, the editing is a mess and the film seems utterly unnecessary. A sequel is sure to be announced any day now. Sigh.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DINOSAUR 13 (USA/PG/93mins)
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller. Starring Peter Larson, Susan Hendrickson, Timothy Larson.
THE PLOT: In August 1990, a group of palaeontologists from the Black Hills Institute in Hilly City, South Dakota, discovered the fossilised skeleton of a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex, in a cliff face in Sotuh Dakota’s Badlands. After carefully excavating the fossil – and paying the landowner $5,000 for the discovery – they took the skeleton home to prepare her for exhibition. A year later, the FBI and the National Guard seized the skeleton – affectionately named Sue, after Susan Hendrickson, the woman who first discovered her – claiming the skeleton had been stolen from the land. Sue languished in storage for several years, as a massive court battle was fought over her.
THE VERDICT: The title of DINOSAUR 13 comes from the fact that Sue was the 13th, largest and most complete T-Rex fossil to ever be found. At the time of Sue’s discovery, and at the time she was seized by the US government, the case was shrouded in mystery, petty laws and controversy, with several parties laying claim to Sue, and protests at her removal taking place in Hill City.
Director Todd Douglas Miller has gone back to the beginning of the story, and told Sue’s tale – and that of the Larson family who founded the Black Hills Institute – through talking heads and footage shot at the time. DINOSAUR 13 turns into a thriller documentary as the audience is brought on the incredible and tragic journey that the Larsons, Hill City and the Black Hills Institute survived.
Essentially, DINOSAUR 13 is the story of a legal battle, but what makes the story interesting is that it is the legal battle over a T-Rex; the biggest and most complete specimen ever found. The US government, the land holder where Sue was found, and those who found and lovingly cared for the fossil were dragged into a legal battle, which saw people imprisoned for petty crimes, families damaged and Sue held in storage for several years.
The trouble with the film is that it gets a little too caught up and bogged down in the legal issues surrounding Sue. This is the story from the perspective of the Black Hills Institute, who were prosecuted for theft for removing fossils, so of course it is a complicated and heart rending story, but a little more focus on the emotional fall out of the events, rather than the laws and crimes being tried could have made the middle section of the film more engaging.
DINOSAUR 13 is a heartbreaking, and astonishing story about people whose love for dinosaurs landed them in prison, and the incredible journey that Sue went on, millions of years after she died. The legal debates detract from the film slightly; the heart of the story is truly the people who dedicated years of their lives to Sue, and it could have been a stronger film with a more focused narrative.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE ROVER (Australia/16/102mins)
Directed by David Michod. Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Tek Kong Lim, Tawanada Manyimo, David Field, Scott Perry.
THE PLOT: Australia, ten years after the collapse, we’re told, and it’s very much a dingo eat dingo world out there. All primary colours have been bleached out, and there’s little more than rust and bone left, all jaded tattoos and faded glories. Silently feeling the weight of it all is the tightly-wound, tight-lipped Eric (Pearce, in full Proposition mode), taking a break in yet another ramshackle, galvanised bar when three fleeing, panicked criminals decide to steal his car. Giving chase, Eric wakes up dazed and somewhat slightly battered by the side of the dusty road – and even more determined to get his car back. When he stumbles upon an injured soldier, Rey (Pattinson), who turns out to be the left-for-dead brother of one of the car thieves, Eric quickly puts his newfound guide on a very short lease. Their relationship takes a few unexpected turns along the way though…
THE VERDICT: It has the tone, it has the look, it has the landscape (the Australian outback always looks like an aftermath), but there’s something not quite there about this post-apocalyptic fable. It’s not that Pattinson is still Elvis, thanks to the Twilight franchise (the kid is obviously trying very hard, and he may yet follow Leo into a real career), and it’s not that the mighty Guy Pearce’s Eric isn’t so much Mad Max as Sad Sack; it’s more to do with the overriding sense that we’ve been down this road before. In fellow Aussie director John Hillcoat’s The Road, to be precise. With an extra-added pinch of Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, and a small side-order of Dude, Where’s My Fucking Car?.
Also, it doesn’t help that the trailer has the line ‘From Visionary Director David Michod’. Okay, so Animal Kingdom was beautiful, but you’re crusing for a Shyamalan critical bruising with self-aggrandising huff’n’puff such as that.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE CONGRESS (Israel/Germany/Poland/Luxembourg/Belgium/France/15A/122mins)
Directed by Ali Folman. Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Paul Giamatti, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David.
THE PLOT: “You had it all, Robin,” barks Al (Keitel) at the sad-faced, sunken 48-year-old actress, “a movie queen at 24, all the big studios came crawling, and you slammed all the open doors, crushed all the dreams.” Well, Hollywood can sometimes be about second chances, especially if the height of your star power can be preserved forever inside a computer. And so it is that a desperate Wright heeds her agent’s words and signs up to having her avatar unleashed upon the world – so she can finally say yes to all those roles that she was just too proud to allow on her CV back in those early, heady, idealistic days. All the real Robin Wright has to do is lay low, and let her sampled self do all the hard red carpet work. That her son, Aaron (Smit-McPhee), needs some expensive medical care helps with this bitter pill. Jump forward twenty years, and Wright is box-office gold, on her way to speak at a conference when we suddenly shift to animation. And a new perspective on this crazy world…
THE VERDICT: From the director of Waltz With Bashir, and based on Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 novel The Futurological Congress, the notion of celebrity, identity, artificial intelligence, reality vs virtual, artistic worth versus box-office gross, and even just the age-old conundrum of aging are all addressed in The Congress. It’s a film of smart questions if not exactly smart answers, the busy 1990s animation aping such cartoon travesties as Cool World and Space Jam, and the heavy-handed metaphysical musings conjuring up unwelcome Matrix sequel flashbacks.
Still, it’s an ambitious film, and a highly admirable one at that. Wright is the right choice for just such a role, and the fact that her career is actually in very fine fettle right now makes her doppelganger desperation here all the more devilish. There’s just a little too much going on here, too much information, too many ideas, all bustling for space in a dizzyingly busy film.
Review by Paul Byrne