We review this week’s new cinema releases, including LUCY and WHAT IF…
Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroeder, Luca Angeletti.
THE PLOT: Whilst holidaying hard in Taipei, American party girl Lucy (Johansson) finds herself forced into a supposedly simple briefcase drop-off by her sleazy boyfriend of one week – and suddenly, she’s in the middle of Oldboy. The briefcase belongs to crime boss Mr. Yang (Choi, from, yep, Oldboy), and it contains a new synthetic drug designed for the final weeks of pregnancy. The petrified Lucy soon has a bag of it surgically implanted in her stomach, her new life as a drug mule cut short when the bag bursts, and she gets a sudden rush to the brain. Which proves to be something of a spider bite, giving Lucy ever-increasing brain power. Something Professor Norman (Freeman, being very Morgan Freeman) has been researching heavily – which is why Lucy gets in touch, hoping to find out her fate as she goes full Neo-in-lacy-knickers on everyone’s ass.
THE VERDICT: What is it about Luc Besson movies that, despite all their slinky, figure-hugging visuals and sexy plotting, they pretty much always fall short? At heart, the man is Michael Bay in a beret, more concerned with those trailer-worthy money shots than with such stuffy nonsense as story development or character arc.
There’s nothing wrong with a little pulp action every now and then, of course, but Besson films always promise so much – and the bugger always throws so much into them – that it’s particularly disappointing when his cartoon noir always turns out to be far more Itchy & Scratchy than Bogart and Bacall. Johansson does her mouth-agape, hips-a-swivellin’ Marilyn Monroe routine, but Besson’s weaknesses as a filmmaker merely exposes Scarlett’s.
Besson is particularly heavy-handed here with interjected clips from the likes of Ron Fricke’s SAMSARA, just so we understand that whole circle-of-life, what’s-it-all-about-Alfie? undercurrent here.
Review by Paul Byrne
WHAT IF (Ireland | Canada/15A/101mins)
Directed by Michael Dowse. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall, Adam Driver>
THE PLOT: When Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party, they immediately hit it off. Wallace walks Chantry home and she gives him her number. The only catch is, she has a long-term boyfriend. Wallace has to decide whether he really wants to be just friends with Chantry and whether he can stand to have his heart broken again.
THE VERDICT: Based on the play TOOTHPASTE AND CIGARS by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, What If (apparently still titled THE F WORD in much of the world) takes the romantic comedy and does something new with it, putting a new twist on a genre that lost steam approximately 5 Cameron Diaz movies ago.
Daniel Radcliffe finally puts his breathy, Harry Potter acting to bed with What If, and plays a funny, sweet and cautious character, the perfect manic pixie boy foil to Zoe Kazan’s manic pixie girl Chantry. Although that said, neither one is particularly manic… Or pixie like. Instead, we are shown the story of two characters who find a connection with one another, through shared sense of humour. Kazan plays a character who feels like a watered down version of Ruby Sparks, but she still manages to make Chantry engaging and warm.
Adam Driver plays Alan, the catalyst for Chantry and Wallace’s relationship. Alan spontaneous and headstrong, making him the perfect best friend to Wallace, and leading to some great clashes of ideals between the characters. Rafe Spall plays Chantry’s boyfriend Ben. The character is not as evil or sleazy as he could have been, but Spall still manages to make him a bit of a jerk and keep the audience on Wallace’s side.
The screenplay, written by Elan Mastai takes every cliché from the romantic comedy genre and turns it on its head, while still managing to keep the film funny and warm. The big gestures happen, but are missed, the moments for public embarrassment happen, but are skipped, and somehow Wallace ends up being set up with Chantry’s sister. The rapid-fire banter between the characters is where much of the comedy comes from, but the frustrations that develop between the characters feel real and familiar.
Director Michael Dowse has experience with light-hearted romantic films – such as TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT – and he directs with a light touch here. Dissuading Daniel Radcliffe of his awkward manner of speaking is the best thing Dowse has done in his career, but as well as this, he allows the characters room to grow and get to know one another. The performances feel natural, Toronto looks amazing and – although the reasons for it are a little strange – Dublin is allowed to feature and look damn good on screen too.
Taking a cue from the great rom-coms that have gone before is a smart one, but turning conventions on their head makes What If one of the most surprising films of the year so far; instead of being familiar schmaltz, the film is filled with heart and warmth, and somehow still manages to reflect real life. Of course, it all still feels slightly unreal – and the geography of Dublin is off, again! – but WHAT IF is a charming, funny and sweet film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DELIVER US FROM EVIL (USA/16/118mins)
Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick.
THE PLOT: New York cop Ralph Sarchie (Bana) has seen it all on his South Bronx beat, and his latest string of cases – attempted infanticide, domestic violence, noisey neighbour – seem pretty standard fare. “Nothing that can’t be explained by human nature,” as he flatly states. Nothing, that is, until Ralph and his partner, Butler (McHale), realise that these latest cases are all connected – all investigations leading to former Marine Santino (Harris). Whiskey-guzzling Jesuit priest Mandoza (Ramirez) informs Sarchie that suspect no.1 is possessed – and given the week that Sarchie has had, he takes the claim seriously. Very seriously. Things have been going bump in the night in his own home of late, with some tell-tale scratches under his daughter’s bed…
THE VERDICT: Fans of smart horror will already be familiar with the work of Scott Derrickson, the writer/director behind HELLRAISER: INFERNO (2000), THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and SINISTER (2012), films that never tried too hard to play to the crowd. And he’s at it again here, taking this true detective story (based on the real NY cop-turned-paranormal investigator Ralph Sarchie) that handily blends noir with the possession genre. The results are fittingly frightening, but far more rewarding than just a series of cheap shocks to the system.
It helps, having the likes of Bana as your main man, but the real diamond here might just be English actor Sean Harris, so effective in the likes of HARRY BROWN and the RED RIDING series. Harris does menacing beautifully, and his turn here as the demonic Santino is scarily convincing.
One of those horror outings that will brown, season and thicken the underpants of even the toughest Bisto kid.
Review by Paul Byrne
INTO THE STORM (USA/12A/89mins)
Directed by. Starring Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sumpter, Pete Walsh, Richard Armitage.
THE PLOT: When a massive tornado threatens a small town, school kids, adults and storm chasers must find a way to survive. The trouble is, however, that humans cannot always control – or accurately predict – the weather.
THE VERDICT: It has been 18 years since TWISTER and evidently, the writer of STEP UP: ALL IN and the director of FINAL DESTINATION 5felt it was time that we all got scared of the weather again. As if living in Ireland didn’t give us all the weather we needed.
The cast is made up of Sarah Wayne Callies – who has experience in looking scared and running away from her time on THE WALKING DEAD – Pete Walsh, Richard Armitage, Jeremy Sumpter and Stephanie Koenig. Everyone in the film does their job well, but they are given an underwritten script that focuses on the twee, the emotional and the oncoming storm, which is really the star of the show.
Screenwriter John Swetnam brought us one of the most ridiculously written movies of the year (so far) with STEP UP: ALL IN, and the dialogue in INTO THE STORM is not much better than his previous movie. The crucial difference though, is that it is better – even just slightly – and being faced with death gives the characters something to emote over. The dialogue is rather twee, however, and there are times when the film becomes predictable and familiar. As well as this, since there are so many, we never really get to know the characters, so when they are put in danger we are concerned, but never fearful for them, thus the focus shifts on the power of the storm, rather than the potential loss of characters that we care about.
Director Steven Quale tones down the melodrama from FINAL DESTINATION 5, and while the situations the characters are in are completely over the top, there are some nice touches – such as drunken idiots chasing the storm to upload the video and become YouTube famous being swept away. Not all of the peril comes from the immediacy of the twister itself, much of the danger comes in the storm’s aftermath, meaning that the pace is kept up throughout the film.
INTO THE STORM is a film that suffers from having too many characters, and relying on spectacle to create emotion. That said, the storm scenes are terrific and although the emotion – when it does happen – is overplayed and slightly hokey, the film is still an entertaining watch, once you leave your brain at the door.
Review by Brogen Hayes
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (USA/16/102mins)
Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Bruce Willis, Dennis Haysbert and Powers Boothe.
THE PLOT: In this sequel to 2005’s SIN CITY, we are taken back to the world of Frank Miller’s graphic novels, where a son encounters his father, a woman seeks revenge and a man tries to forget his past.
THE VERDICT: In 2005, SIN CITYSin City was a novelty; filmed to look like a graphic novel, and depicting scenes of intense violence against a backdrop of love and loyalty. This time out, the characters of (Ba)Sin City are more bent on revenge, and like the first film, the novelty gets old rather fast.
The cast is made up of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Bruce Willis, Dennis Haysbert and Powers Boothe, with cameos from Christopher Lloyd – in a non-comedic role – and Lady Gaga. Most of the cast give similar performances to one another; menacing, hardened and vaguely sexualised. Eva Green and Jessica Alba come off the best, as a woman with everything to gain, and a woman with nothing left to lose, respectively. Mickey Rourke rushes through his voiceover narration, giving the film a thin feel, but this is redeemed with Josh Brolin’s weighty and engaging story.
Speaking of the story, like the first SIN CITY outing, we are treated to several separate but interwoven stories about the inhabitants of a city completely corrupted and demoralised. The most engaging story is the one from which the film takes its title – A DAME TO KILL FOR – which tells the tale of a man with demons driven mad by his ex-lover. In saying that though, the story is rather thin, and utterly predictable, even as it is entertaining. Perhaps this is down to the novelty factor again? Or perhaps it’s because Eva Green is naked a lot of the time? Whatever the case, when this story ends and the others begin, the shine has worn off, and the film has outstayed its welcome.
As directors, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have created a film that is visually engaging, but filled with performances that are one note, some bad CGI and a story that is thin, and outstays its welcome. Going for the noir-esque feel for the film is fine, but there is little variation between the characters, and the cameos of Lloyd and Gaga seem to be more for the novelty value, rather than the sake of the story – even though Lloyd is on great form and Gaga can actually act.
In all, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR for is exactly what you expect it to be. Fans of the original will get a kick out of returning to the depraved and dark city – and seeing one or two storylines wrapped up – but the film as a whole is thin, dark and bland.
Review by Brogen Hayes