THE WOLFPACK (USA/15A/90mins) Directed by Crystal Moselle. Starring Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo THE PLOT: Filmmaker Crystal Moselle tells the story of the Angulo family, six brothers and one sister kept away from the outside world in a Manhattan apartment. Moselle interviews the boys of the family about their lives, and their attempts to get to know the world beyond their windows through movies and eventually, escape. THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that the story of seven siblings kept under lock and key in a Manhattan apartment for 14 years is a gripping one; these children were home schooled for fear that the outside world would contaminate them and were only allowed out into the streets a handful of times a year. The trouble is that filmmaker Crystal Moselle seems to have got too close to the family in her five years of filming them, and there are many unanswered questions by the end of the film.
Of the seven siblings, we mostly spend time with the boys; Bhagavan, twins Govinda and Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna, and Jagadesh. Their sister Visnu and their father rarely appear on camera. The story that emerges is one of a group of kids trying to find a way to live in their small apartment under a controlling influence and who found an escape and a learning through movies, so began to recreate them in painstaking detail for their own entertainment. These recreations are interesting, as it shows the glee these kids take in such recreations, but it also shows how little they have learned about the world around them.
All of the brothers are bright and engaging, and tell their story through talking heads and interviews. It seems that they are aware that their family situation is more than a little unusual and, although they say they understand the motivations of their over protective father, they often rail against him. This leaves them in an odd halfway spot then; they no longer want to be confined, but they refuse to open up to therapists assigned to them and on a rare trip to the cinema, they become convinced that someone is following them – their father’s paranoia coming out in them.
Director Crystal Moselle spent years with this family, recording them and interviewing them about their lives – she encountered them on one of their rare trips outside the apartment. The trouble is that the subject of the documentary seems more fascinating than the product itself. It is often hard to differentiate between the brothers as they all wear their hair long and look strikingly similar, and although there are moments of greatness – such as home movie footage of kids on Halloween, filmed from above, being juxtaposed with the brothers dressing up in elaborate costumes for their own celebration – it seems that the brothers are guarded. This means that Moselle seems limited in the story she can tell here, as the family will only open up so far. As well as this, it doesn’t seem that there are any answers as to why this family was confined for so long – the father just seems to have a disdain for the world and, as one of the boys says, rebels against the government by not working – and if there are answers, they are not present in this film.
In all, THE WOLFPACK is the story of seven smart and engaging kids whose childhood was about confinement and control. Although they seem to trust director Moselle, it is fairly clear that they never truly open up on camera so while it is fascinating to spend time in their world and observe their relationships, the final film is nowhere near as strong as it could be, and leaves far too many unanswered questions. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
PAPER TOWNS (USA/12A/109mins) Directed by Jake Schreier. Starring Cara Delevigne, Nat Wolff, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Jaz Sinclair, Caitlin Carver, Halston Sage. THE PLOT: Ever since they were young friends, Quentin (Nat Wolff) has been in love with his neighbour Margo (Cara Delevigne). Over the years, the two grew apart, so Quentin is surprised when Margo turns up one night demanding he drive her around since she has nine things to do in one night. After a night of adventure and fun, where Quentin falls even deeper in love with Margo, she simply vanishes. Quentin quickly realises Margo has left clues as to where she has gone, and rounds up his friends to help track her down before prom. THE VERDICT: PAPER TOWNS is the second film based on a John Green novel to be released in the past 18 months – the other being THE FAULT IN OUR STARS – and although this is another tale of first love and romance, it feels far less doomed and much more hopeful than the one that went before it.
Cara Delevigne is engaging and mysterious as Margo; the kind of girl that people flock to, and want to emulate, Delevigne brings the character beautifully to life on screen. Although she is not actually in the film that much, Delevigne is the one whose absence haunts the rest of the characters, and she is impactful enough to make this work when she does appear. Nat Wolff plays Quentin as a romantic, gentle soul who is completely fascinated with Margo and the idea of a happy ending. Austin Abrams and Justice Smith play Quentin’s friends Ben and Radar, and the three are lovely together on screen, both when they are playfully teasing and egging one another on. The rest of the cast is made up of Jaz Sinclair, Caitlin Carver and Halston Sage, with a surprise and small appearance from Jay Duplass.
John Green’s story, written for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seems to be one about endings, but is really one about beginnings and moving forward with life. The dialogue is full of clever lines and romantic notions – Quentin’s voiceover opens the film declaring he believes that everyone gets one miracle, and his was Margo Roth Speigelman – and Margo is idealised enough for her randomly capitalising letters within words because ‘the rules are so unfair to the letters in the middle’ to be enigmatic, rather than simply annoying. The film is essentially a road trip coming of age tale, but rather than boobs and beer, the characters get up close and personal with their ideas about love and their preconceptions about other people.
Director Jake Schreier does well enough when the characters are based in Orlando; Delevigne is the heart and soul of the first half hour, but the pacing and magnetism of the film suffering as soon as those left behind hit the road in search of Margo and adventure. That said, the film does capture the feel of mystery and those final days of school rather well, and allows the characters to cling to their last days together without ever becoming too sentimental. As well as this, the film is resolved in a way that tilts expectations slightly, while still being a little trite, but still satisfying.
In all, PAPER TOWNS is a sweet story about the expectations we have about love, and the people in our lives. Cara Delevigne is great in her first leading role and Nat Wolff captures the feel of a young man experiencing love for the first time. There are times when the film feels overly long and rather convenient, but it is resolved in a satisfying, if sentimental manner. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
VACATION (USA/15A/99mins) Directed by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley. Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, Kaitlin Olson, Chevy Chase, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins THE PLOT: Ed Helms stars as Rusty Griswold, a man whose only dream is to take his family on a nostalgic holiday to Walley Word, where he spent holidays as a kid. Of course, nothing goes right along the road, and it is not long before the dream holiday turns into a nightmare. THE VERDICT: In case you didn’t see the original National Lampoon VACATION films, the first was released in 1983, and starred Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold – Rusty’s father. Written by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis, the film, and its sequels, focused on the Griswold family trying unsuccessfully to have an uneventful family holiday. This latest film serves as a reboot and a prequel to the original series of films.
Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are two actors with buckets of charm and precise comic timing, and this is certainly on display from both throughout the film. The story may not be a stretch for either actor, but it is clear that they had a lot of fun making this silly and over the top movie. Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins play James and Kevin Griswold and there is a decent joke between the two, where the younger son bullies his older brother throughout the film. The rest of the cast comprises of cameos from some of film and TVs biggest stars at the moment, including Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day, Chris Hemsworth, Ron Livingston, Regina Hall, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann and Nick Kroll. Of course, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo turn up too.
The story, written for the screen by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, is reminiscent of the original 1983 film, as it focuses on a man desperate to create the perfect holiday for his family. The situations the family find themselves in are often ridiculous and over the top, but not always as funny as they should be. As well as this, since the family drift from one disaster to the next, the film often feels episodic, and lacks a cohesive feel. That said, there are nice nods to the original, with Rusty flirting with a woman in a red sports car – just as his father did in the original film – and an entertainingly self aware conversation among the family about how this vacation will stand part from the original.
As directors Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley allow the family to bounce from one plot point to the next, but don’t always manage to draw the humour out of the situations they find themselves in. The film is well paced for the most part, but audience sympathy for these obstinate characters who seem only too delighted to make deliberate mistakes begins to wane toward the end of the film; perhaps there is one joke too many, or perhaps Chevy Chase’s small but hilarious role shows the rest of the film in a less favourable light.
In all, VACATION is light and silly, but lacks some of the charm and warmth of the original. There is enough to laugh at here to keep the audience engaged, but the over the top jokes and scenarios begin to wear thin by the final act of the film, and a lot of the jokes don’t land quite as well as they should. In 1983, this style of film felt fresh and new, but in 2015, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve seen this all before. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
SINISTER 2 (USA/16/96mins)
Directed by Ciarán Foy. Starring James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Nick King, Lucas Jade Zumann, Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden M. Fritz.
THE PLOT: Having been fired from his job as a police officer (unfairly, of course), the man known as Deputy So & So (Ransone; think Bruce Campbell meets Ty Burell) has turned private investigator, determined to find the links to a series of grisly family murders where, in each case, only a single child survives. His trail leads him to believe that the family homes themselves possess much of the voodoo power, and so when he sets out with petrol cans in hand once more to destroy his latest possessed find, he’s shocked to find lip-biting single mum Courtney Collins (former manic pixie girl Sossamon) and her bickering Spielbergian twin sons are resident there. Courtney is hiding from a violent husband (Coco), who might just be the reason younger son Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) has been having nightmares. Then again, the nightmares may also be there because Dylan sees dead kids, who nightly take him down into the basement to watch grisly Super 8, Christopher Doyle-worthy footage of those Seven-esque family slaughters. The deal being, these Children of The Corney promise him, that the nightmares will stop once he has watched them all, and that nasty bogeyman Bughuul (King, looking scarily like THE ROOM’s Tommy Wiseau) will be gone from his bedroom closet for good. It’s enough to make jealous older brother Zachary (Dartanian Sloan) green with envy, and he’s soon battling for the creepy ghost kids’ affections… THE VERDICT: SINISTER 2, a so-so sequel to an intriguing 2012 horror creation. The creators, Scott Dickerson and C. Robert Cargill, are here again, as co-writers and executive producers, but behind the camera is young Irish filmmaker Ciarán Foy, who made quite an impact with 2012’s CITADEL (a Dickerson Twitter rave actually led to this gig). Foy clearly understands the musical timing of horror, but there’s little here that jumps beyond the predictable he’s-right-behind-you jolts. On the plus side, there’s probably enough here to spark some serious box-office moolah, a sequel, and a Hollywood career for young Ciarán. So, you know, hooray all round. RATING: 2/5
Review by Paul Byrne
THE TREATMENT (Belgium/TBC/131mins) Directed by Hans Herbots. Starring Geert Van Rampelberg, Johan van Assche, Ina Geerts, Ingrid De Vos THE PLOT: Inspector Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg) is assigned to the case of a family held prisoner , whose young son was abducted by a sexual predator. Unable to shake the idea that this is somehow connected to the disappearance of his brother when he was nine years old, Nick finds himself drawn back into the case surrounding his brother and a manhunt for this new sexual predator. THE VERDICT: Based on a novel by Mo Hayder, THE TREATMENT is a slow burning crime thriller filled with uncomfortable moments and engaging characters, but runs just a little too long in the end.
Geert Van Rampelberg is fantastic in the lead role as Nick Cafmeyer. Still living in the family home, and consistently harassed by Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche), the man Nick believes is responsible for his brother’s disappearance, Van Rampelberg captures the wide eyed and manic feel of a man whose ordered life is just for show. Ina Geerts plays Nick’s superior officer Danni; a woman who knows Nick all too well, Johan van Assche is wonderfully creepy as the antagonistic neighbour and Ingrid De Vos is vile as Nancy Lammers, a woman with little scruples.
Carl Joos’s screenplay winds together the personal tale of Nick, and the fact that he has never been able to move from the house where his brother disappeared – perhaps he likes being messed with, perhaps he is waiting for his brother to return? – with the ongoing investigation into a new case of child abduction. In weaving these stories together, with their many twists and turns, the film becomes a little bogged down, and although we spend a lot of time with these characters, we never really get to know them all that well. The same can be said for the criminal’s motivations, which are given a lot of screen time, but end up making little sense.
Director Hans Herbots creates a tense, violent and often gut churningly violent thriller in THE TREATMENT, but struggles to make the film feel as urgent as the characters would have you believe it is. Subplots appear and disappear seemingly at random and, although the final act of the film is thrilling, the pace of the story until this point is uneven and makes the film feel every bit as long as it’s 131 minute running time.
In all, THE TREATMENT is a dark and often tense crime thriller, but struggles under the weight of the many sub plots it establishes. Tighter editing and a clearer voice throughout the film would have benefitted it, but as it stands it is a decent and often disturbing piece of cinema. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THEEB (United Arab Emirates | Qatar | Jordan | UK/TBC/100mins) Directed by Naji Abu Nowar. Starring Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Jack Fox, Marji Audeh, Hussein Salameh THE PLOT: During World War I, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) lives with his Bedouin tribe, away from the front lines and the ravages of war. One night, a British soldier (Jack Fox) and his guide Marji (Marji Audeh) come across the tribe and ask for help getting to a well near the newly laid train tracks. Theeb’s older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) is sent to take the strangers along their journey and although Theeb wants to go with them, he is forced to stay at home. This doesn’t stop the young boy, however, and as he follows in search of adventure, he is walking into a dangerous and volatile situation. THE VERDICT: THEEB is a coming of age tale, the tale of a clash between the old and the new ways of life and a Western, all rolled into one. Young Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat is fantastic in the leading role; all eyes and cheeky statements to begin with, but when things turn sour, the young actor makes his character studious and still. It is Theeb’s story and the young actor carries the burden of the story on his shoulders with seeming ease. Hussein Salameh – Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat’s real life cousin – plays his character well, and the chemistry in both the playful and serious scenes with his younger brother is obvious. The rest of the cast is made up of Jack Fox as the gruff English soldier and Marji Audeh.
Naji Abu Nowar and Bassel Ghandour’s screenplay scrimps on the detail, and as such avoids clunky exposition. Enough is revealed through dialogue for the audience to understand the time period, the loyalty of the Bedouin people and the idea that all of this is about to change. The screenplay is light on dialogue – in fact, there are about 20 minutes of the film where Theeb is alone on screen – but this makes for an economical and strong film.
As director, Naji Abu Nowar has coaxed a wonderful and powerful performance from the young actor at the centre of the film; he plays the role with such ferocity that he lives up to the meaning of his name – Wolf. There is the feeling of a Western about the film, and it takes place at around the same time as many of the classical Westerns, but this is a film that could easily sit beside Lawrence of Arabia as a companion piece, while feeling oddly contemporary through its cinematography and use of the Monument Valley-esque landscape.
In all, THEEB may be slow in places and sometimes maddeningly light on detail and exposition, it is this that makes the film strong and engrossing. Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat is a delight in the leading role and easily carries the film on his young shoulders and, although the film drags its heels from time to time, it is almost always surprising and utterly engrossing. RATING: 5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
GEMMA BOVERY (France | UK/15A/99mins) Directed by Anne Fontaine. Starring Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng, Neils Schneider, Mel Raido THE PLOT: Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and her husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng) move from London to a small French village. There, they catch the attention of Martin (Fabrice Luchini), a baker who moved home from Paris to take over his father’s bakery. Although the couples become friendly, Martin becomes fascinated with Gemma, and the fact that her behaviour seems to so closely resemble that of Gustave Flaubert’s famous character Emma Bovary.
THE VERDICT: Based on a serialised cartoon in The Guardian – which was later published as a book in 1999 – by Posy Simmonds, GEMMA BOVERY is the tale of life imitating art… And nosy neighbours.
Gemma Arterton is lovely in the leading role; she is charming and sweet, but sometimes it feels as though she is the subject of so much attention because she is the youngest person in the town, not the most captivating. Fabrice Luchini has perfected his hangdog expression and his comic timing over his career, so it is no surprise that he is strong here. Jason Flemyng, Niels Schneider and Mel Raido have less to do as Gemma’s various lovers, and Elsa Zylberstein does well enough as Gemma’s neighbour Wizzy, but again, doesn’t have an awful lot to do.
The story, written for the screen by Pascal Bonitzer and Anne Fontaine is mostly told through the eyes of the nosy neighbour Martin, and there are some nice devices used, such as Martin giving exposition by talking to his dog. That said, point of view switches several times throughout the film, so it is often unclear whether events are actually happening, or Martin simply believes that they are. As well as this, although it is often referenced that Gemma is bored by provincial life, there is little evidence of this on screen, so the characters motivations are often muddled.
As director Anne Fontaine starts out strong, but as the film goes on and the affairs begin to materialise, it seems that she loses her grasp on the film, with it almost turning into a farce from time to time. The pacing is also messy, with relationships springing up from nowhere and disappearing just as quickly. The overall effect is a slight and enjoyable but forgettable film, which gently errs on the side of silly.
GEMMA BOVERY is an interesting idea for a film, but it seems that this particular story would have worked better in print, as it is just a little to slight to justify a film. Gemma Arterton is lovely, however, and Fabrice Luchini is well able to carry the film; it’s just a shame that the story, style and conviction of the film are not stronger. Rating: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE GREAT WALL (Ireland/IFI/74mins)
Directed by Tadhg O’Sullivan.
THE PLOT: This documentary charting the presence of fortification walls around the world – whether they’re there to keep people in or to keep people out – plays its cards close to the chest. A German voice flatly narrates as we see footage from all over the world, and from both sides of the fence. The fact that there is no discernible narrative arc leaves the viewer to make up their own ideas about the words and the images beaming out, from London towers of power to North African border controls. Suffice to say, there’s very little joy on display, with even the hint of escape – such as a large group of people scaling two layers of high fencing as agitated security guards wait to grab them on the other side – tinged with an inevitable sadness, an inevitable cruelty… THE VERDICT: The fact that Tadhg O’Sullivan is not only a filmmaker and editor but a sound designer and sound recordist might give you some idea of the sensory approach to documentary film this Carlow native has taken here. Having previous worked as editor and sound designer with director Pat Collins on SILENCE, LIVING IN A CODED LAND and WHAT WE LEAVE IN OUR WAKE, O’Sullivan’s first film, YXIMALLOO (co-directed by Feargal Ward) won the Prix Premiere for best first feature at FiD Marseille in 2014.
More art installation than a Noam Chomsky lecture with pics, O’Sullivan takes Franz Kafka’s short story, ‘The Building Of The Great Wall Of China’, and runs with it. As that flat German voice delivers the riddles and rhymes those chilling visions of border control, of barb wife, surveillance cameras, darkened surveillance monitor rooms, night vision goggles, security guards with that Bond henchman distant stare – it all adds up to a fittingly unsettling experience. Which is what Kafka would have wanted, of course. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne