We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE GRAND SEDUCTION, LET’S BE COPS and IF I STAY…
THE GRAND SEDUCTION (USA/12A/113mins)
Directed by Don McKellar. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Brendan Gleeson, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent, Anna Hopkins, Rhonda Rodgers, John Bartlett, Carly Boone.
THE PLOT: With their very quiet little Newfoundland harbour in danger of becoming extinct – even the mayor has packed up and gone to the mainland – the residents of Tickle Head might just be able to bring some pride, and wages, back to their fishing village if they can convince a large petroleum giant to plant their refinery there. Only trouble is, the large petroleum giant needs Tickle Head to have a resident doctor. And its sleazy CEO would like a little $100,000 bride on the side too.
Nonetheless, proud Tickle Header Murray French (Gleeson) isn’t about to see the family home fade away, and with that former-mayor-turned-airport-security stumbling upon some cocaine in the luggage of one Dr. Paul Lewis (Kitsch), a deal is struck. No cocaine was spotted if the good doctor spends a month on Tickle Head. Where the wily residents soon set out a major deception, faking a shared love for the doctor’s beloved cricket, adding his favourite dish to the local cafe, and generally trying to convince their reluctant visitor that he’s found a tailor-made paradise…
THE VERDICT: As all struggling little towns and villages in movieland now know, when you’re ailing, go Ealing, The Grand Seduction enclave of burly, bearded bowsies suggesting this really should have been called Whiskers Galore. Or maybe they could have gone with Faking Ned Devine? Either way, everyone on Tickle Head looks like they’re related to Willie Nelson. And one or two of the women look like they might actually be Willie Nelson.
Gleeson – Ireland’s answer to Jeff Bridges – is a solid centre to all the wry silliness, even if his accent sounds a little unseaworthy, whilst failed Hollywood hunk Taylor Kitsch does a fine job too, looking, sounding and acting like Timothy Olyphant’s chunkier brother.
Based on the eponymous 2003 French-Canadian farce, THE GRAND SEDUCTION makes up for what it lacks in originality with plenty of warm, wily, Sunday afternoon humour.
review by Paul Byrne
LET’S BE COPS (USA/15A/104mins)
Directed by Luke Greenfield. Starring Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D’Arcy, Keegan-Michael Key, Andy Garcia.
THE PLOT: Life is far from rosy for 30-year-old buddies Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans), but they soon realise what it might be like to be respected, righteous and ravished when they dress up as cops for what they thought was a fancy dress party. Mistaken for the real thing, the duo quickly realise that this new fake identity is a whole lot more rewarding than their real identities. And so it is that Ryan and Justin set about convincing people that, hey, they really are two of LA’s finest…
THE VERDICT: A family that makes Tyler Perry look like Orson Welles, the Wayans have produced some of the most slapdash slapstick to hit our multiplex screens over the last three decades (feels longer). And now the younger generation are joining the family business – and you’ll all be glad to know that Damon Wayans Jr. is keeping the bar real, real low. But, how low can you go, when you’re following the likes of MAJOR PAYNE, WHITE CHICKS, LITTLE MAN and DANCE FLICK? Well, lo and behold, LET’S BE COPS might actually be a certifiable low point for the Wayans family cavalcade of comedy crap. Then again, it could be one of their best. It’s hard to tell the difference.
Arrested development, indeed.
Review by Paul Byrne
IF I STAY (USA/12A/106mins)
Directed by RJ Cutler. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Stacey Keach, Mirelle Enos, Joshua Leonard.
THE PLOT: After she is involved in a horrific car accident, Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) flashes back over her life, and the people in it, as she has to decide whether to fight for her life, or simply slip away.
THE VERDICT: Chloe Grace Moretz has proven time and again that she is capable of great performances, so Mia is not really a stretch for the actress; she manages the character well, making her likeable and relatable, while capturing the feel of first love and first heartbreak. Jamie Blackley makes Adam – the love interest – a well rounded and engaging character, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the relationship between these two characters actually feel as though it is well balanced and they are allowed to be each other’s equal. The rest of the cast is made up of Mirielle Enos as Mia’s mum Kat, Joshua Leonard as Mia’s father Denny, Stacey Keach as Mia’s grandfather and Liana Liberato as Kim.
The story is really rather straightforward; young couple breaks up only to be brought back together as one of them is on the brink of death, but telling the tale backwards – as Mia flashes back over her life – makes a familiar yarn that little bit more engaging. There is nice chemistry between the two leads, and their passion for their lives apart from one another is the cause of most of their passion and most of their arguments. That said, the dialogue is rather forgettable – although there are some lines that are incredibly cringey – and there are times when the audience is left to wonder whether striving to live for the sake of an ex-boyfriend is really a life worth living. However, this is a tween romance, so there is bound to be angst and some odd decisions.
Director RJ Cutler doesn’t really leave a lasting impression on the film, other than allowing the schmaltz and perfect lives of the characters to take centre stage. The ‘ghost’ element of the story weakens the tale, as does the thin examination of Mia’s life and her reasons for living. There are moments that tug on the heartstrings, but these mostly come too late to save the film from falling victim to its own saccharine.
In all,IF I STAY tries to be a different approach to a love story, but ends up being too sweet, too thin and too reminiscent of LOVE STORY. Moretz and Blackley do well, but IF I STAY is not the story that is going to restore our faith in love, rather it celebrates the idea that we, as people, feel the need to keep fighting for life. This is not a bad message by any stretch of the imagination, but it is perhaps not the one that the film set out to convey.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MILLION DOLLAR ARM (USA/PG/124mins)
Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma.
THE PLOT: JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a struggling baseball agent, in a last ditch attempt to save his company, JB decides to recruit cricket players from India, via a huge talent competition, and turn them into professional baseball players. What could possibly go wrong!?
THE VERDICT: Jon Hamm doesn’t really stretch himself in the role of JB, and MAD MEN fans already know that the actor can play the jerk incredibly well. Here though, we see a softer side to Hamm as JB struggles to understand what it means to be a mentor and friend, as well as a manager. Lake Bell plays JB’s tenant Brenda, she is a lot less quirky than we have seen her recently, but she brings compassion and gentleness to the film, and manages to smooth down JB’s rough edges.
Alan Arkin plays the cantankerous baseball scout well, and his caustic and sleep filled scenes bring a lot of humour to the proceedings and Bill Paxton has a small role as baseball coach Tom House.
Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal play the two bewildered Indian kids, with talent for throwing a ball. They both manage the ‘fish out of water’ situation well, but are gentle and kind, making it easy for the audience to get on their side. Pitobash Tripathy plays Amit, a baseball fan brought in by JB to help him negotiate India. Tripathy makes the character eager and rather like a puppy; he doesn’t always get it right, but there is a sincerity and enthusiasm to the character that makes us care.
Writer Tom McCarthy has proven in the past that he has a talent for tapping into the emotional and engaging reality that we live in. As well as writing Up, McCarthy has also brought us the fantastic film THE STATION AGENT, which introduced Peter Dinklage to a wider audience. Here, however, McCarthy’s screenplay struggles to steer clear of the schmaltzy, saccharine side of the sporting success story. McCarthy manages to make the characters believable, but things tend to be resolved a little too easily – through a kind gesture or a motivating speech – which serves to pull the film away from reality a little.
Director Craig Gillespie most recently brought us the excellent remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, so this is a slight change of pace for the director. For a filmmaker whose previous films – including LARS AND THE REAL GIRLl – have felt rounded and engaging, MILLION DOLLAR ARM feels a little half cooked, and as though the universe it inhabits is not quite fully formed. Gillespie does his job, and the performances are fine, but everything feels a little too sweet and easily wrapped up.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM is an inoffensive, light movie, which feels a little half-baked at times. Arkin, Hamm, Lake, Sharma and Mittal are all warm and engaging, but they are let down by McCarthy’s (surprisingly) trite script, and some competent but uninspiring direction from Gillespie. MILLION DOLLAR ARM is sweet, but it’s hardly a challenge either for audience, cast or crew.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MYSTERY ROAD (Australia/TBC/121mins)
Directed by Ivan Sen. Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten.
THE PLOT: When a young Aboriginal girl’s body is found in the Outback, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his home town to investigate the case, turning over old memories and crating new conflicts in the process.
THE VERDICT: MYSTERY ROAD, at the heart of it, is a police procedural drama with some racial conflicts thrown in for good measure. Director Ivan Sen returns to the issue of race relations in Australia after his last film, Toomelah, addressed the issue through the eyes of a child. Sen has created a slow burning mystery drama, and the rich cinematography serves to underline the tragic beauty of the town, and create a feeling of a Western about the film.
Aaron Pedersen takes on the role of Jay Swan, an Aboriginal cop returning to the town he left to investigate a murder. There are plenty of issues raised through Jay’s appearance in the town, and his presence seems to irritate both the Aboriginal and the white locals. Hugo Weaving gets in touch with his nasty side as a racist white cop, and Ryan Kwanten steps away from the rather thick but well meaning Jason from TRUE BLOOD, to play a character with real menace.
Ivan Sen allows the conflicts to raise their heads sharply in the film, then relax into a slow burn. Pressures mount and feathers are fatally as Swan uncovers uncomfortable truths about the town he has returned to. There is a feeling of a Western about the film, as resentments and hatred are concealed just below the surface, and it is only a matter of time before they explode onto the surface. The death of a young woman sends Swan searching for answers and uncovering corruption, racism and hatred as he goes.
The film struggles slightly from an elongated running time, dragging the story out just serves to drag it out. The tension is already there and leaving it to burn for a two hour running time means the film is constantly in danger of burning itself out.
In all, MYSTERY ROAD is a by the numbers police procedural, elevated by throwing in racial tensions in the Australian outback. The performances are strong but, other than the racial issue that is constantly played throughout the film, it has surprisingly little to say. Beautiful cinematography, a tenacious cop and conflict between good and bad, as well as between two races serves to heighten the film to slightly above average.
Review by Brogen Hayes
OBVIOUS CHILD (USA/16/84mins)
Directed by Gillian Robespierre. Starring Jenny Slate, David Cross, Jake Lacy.
THE PLOT: Donna (Jenny Slate) works in a book store by day, and as a stand up comic by night. When her boyfriend breaks up with her for sharing too many personal details in her act, Donna has a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), a sweet and gentle guy, who Donna would never normally go for. Donna falls pregnant from their brief tryst, and has to finally face the ideas of adulthood, woman hood and friendship head on.
THE VERDICT: Jenny Slade is known to many as the brash and boisterous Mona Lisa in PARKS AND RECREATION, and she channels her quick fire wit into her performance as Donna. As well as this, Slade makes the character familiar and engaging; we have all met girls like Donna, or been her in our 20s. Slade is funny and warm, while not being afraid to show vulnerability and fear. Jake Lacy makes Max a sweet but seemingly ‘vanilla’ guy, he comes into his own when crisis strikes, reminding Donna – and the audience – that nice guys do not always finish last. The rest of the cast is made up of Gabe Leidmann, Gaby Hoffman, Richard Kind and David Cross.
Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm’s screenplay shines a light on the often-ignored phenomenon of the ‘Woman Child’. Donna is confident and self assured until her world takes a tumble, so she clambers back into bed with her mum for reassurance and comfort. That said, although Donna is shaken to her core by her unexpected pregnancy, she does manage to find strength and comedy in the situation, although she may not handle it as well as she could have. The film stumbles a little in terms of pacing, as it is sometimes unclear as to where the story is going.
Robespierre directs competently, allowing Slade’s natural comedic talents to shine. The film may feels a little like an extended, crisis episode of Girls, but Slade, while brash at times, is always endearing and relatable.
OBVIOUS CHILD may be a little bit of a mess in terms of pacing and focus, but Jenny Slade is fantastic in the leading role, the story is relatable, engaging, and finds the comedy in a dark and emotionally overwhelming situation. Improvements could be made, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for Slade and Robespierre.
Review by Brogen Hayes
NIGHT MOVES (USA/15A/112mins)
Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alia Shawkat, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard.
THE PLOT: A group of environmentalists set out to destroy a dam, in the hope of waking consumers up from their product laced coma. Things take a turn, however, when their plan goes almost exactly according to plan.
THE VERDICT: It is hard to say exactly what the story of NIGHT MOVES is, not because it is trying to be too many things, but perhaps because it is trying to be too few. Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard are the centre of the film, and they all do things we have seen them do before; albeit with considerably less flair. Eisenberg plays the jealous man set out on the fringes of the group, Fanning a completely vanilla girl who wants to wake people up, although it is hard to know what her motivation is, and Sarsgaard a charming and mysterious loner.
The story, written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt appears to be all about the slow burn of the dangerous environmental mission that these characters undertake, and for the first hour, it is. After that, the movie descends into meandering shots of the beautiful world – where is the destruction that the characters so lament? – with very little character development or a chance for the story to move forward. Perhaps we are told all we need at the start of the film when Jesse Eisenberg callously deals with a dead doe, who he finds to be pregnant, or perhaps I am trying to find meaning in a meaningless mess.
As director, Kelly Reichardt does not allow the characters to do anything but be in place to recite lines, and much of the exciting action of the film – which may have coaxed a reaction from those at the film’s centre – happens off screen. The pacing drags, meaning the film feels distinctly like one of two halves, where each half is drawn out for no apparent reason.
NIGHT MOVES may have started off as a film with a powerful human or environmental message, but this is lost in bad pacing, vanilla characters and a complete lack of direction. Go and watch The East instead; it’s not perfect, but it’s a darn sight better than watching this glacier of a movie work its way across the screen. Night may move, but this film does not.
Review by Brogen Hayes