We review this week’s new releases, including THE HEAT and ONLY GOD FORGIVES.
THE HEAT (USA/15A/117mins)
Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rappaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons.
THE PLOT: Uptight, by-the-book but highly effective FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashurn (Bullock) is sent to Boston to investigate a drug kingpin on the promise of promotion. Only trouble is, jeez, she’s partnered with the highly effective but foul-mouthed, fuck-the-book police officer Shannon Mullins (McCarthy). Crazy, I know.
Much chasing, bonding and forced laughs ensue…
THE VERDICT: There’s something instantly jaded about this chalk-and-extra-cheese buddy-buddy cop movie, and it’s not just the achingly familiar plot outline. Bullock is still on a comeback trail of sorts, desperately clinging on to that freaky late-career double-whammy of The Blind Side and The Proposal, but the smell of desperation is still very much there. As for the likeable McCarthy, well, she’s wearing out her welcome pretty quickly, thanks to her incredible lame movie choices since Bridesmaids made her an unlikely leading lady.
Even with the latter’s director, Paul Feig, behind the camera, The Heat makes you long for a Lethal Weapon reunion. And no one wants that. Except Mel Gibson’s agent, of course.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE SMURFS 2 3D
Directed Raja Gosnell. Starring Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jacob Tremblay, Nancy O’Dell, Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry.
THE PLOT: Celebrating her birthday gives Smurfette (voiced by Perry) an opportunity to recall her troubled beginnings – the far from true-blue little charmer having been created by the hapless evil sorcerer Gargamel (Azaria). Not that Gargamel has given up on unlocking the magic of the Smurfs. If he can kidnap Smurfette, Gargamel is sure that Papa Smurf (Winters) will cough up the magic formula that helps you turn blue.
THE VERDICT: It’s very easy to dismiss franchises such as The Smurfs – not quite interesting enough to be interesting or offensive. Just, well, there. Like Alvin And The Chipmunks. Or Michael Buble.
Aimed almost exclusively at lazy parents as something shiny and blue to look after their kids for an hour and a half, The Smurfs latest outing is no great leap forward from the last. Which means it’s still basically ho-hum instead of hi-ho. And, with the first outing pulling in $563,749,323 at the box-office, this will no doubt make hundreds of millions of dollars. Which, ironically enough, makes me feel kind of blue.
Review by Paul Byrne
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
PARADISE: HOPE (Austria/France/Germany/IFI/100mins)
Directed by Ulrich Seidl. Starring Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas, Viviane Bartsch.
THE PLOT: Teenager Melanie (Lenz) is off to fat camp, where she is soon sharing a room with three other overweight girls. When they’re not busy being put through their repetitive paces by their mullet-haired sports trainer (Thomas), secretly raiding the kitchens or just talking about oral sex or absent fathers, these kids are clearly looking for someone to love them as they are. And none moreso than Melanie, who quickly finds herself playing doctors and patient with the camp doctor, Arzt (Lorenz)…
THE VERDICT: The three colours of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy (Hope following the very recent Love and Faith) have all been kind of blue. There’s something strangely soothing and hypnotic at play here, the girls engaged in pointless exercise played out like uninspired Busby Berkeley routines. The sadism inherent in children being uniformly disciplined, the never-ending love that is a teenage crush, the linoleum halls, the plaster on the knee – Seidl builds up a sense of time and place where we bring our own soundtrack (there’s no music here), our own anxieties, hang-ups and sense memories. Think Larry Clark, without the sleaze.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE CONJURING (USA/15A/121mins)
Directed by James Wan. Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Joey King, Shannon Kook, Nate Seman.
THE PLOT: It’s 1971, and the Perron family have just moved into a farmhouse in deepest, darkest Rhode Island, where they quickly find there’s an abundance of bumps in the night. Such as a grizzly old woman. And a sad little boy called Rory (Seman). For mum (Taylor), it’s all too much, and so she calls in paranormal investigator couple Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) – who have been having a little trouble getting over a recent case. Lorraine discovers that a witch who sacrificed her child before committing suicide once lived in the house, and that a later owner also took the life of her son – the forlorn Rory – before taking her own. And that means the Perron kids are in very real danger…
THE VERDICT: In fine Amityville fashion, The Conjuring is based on a true story, and somehow manages to breathe some new life into a very old ghost story. It helps that Splat Pack director James Wan has been here before, both with his recent, playful Insidious (2010) and his franchise-launching Saw (2004). Blessed with some decent actors, it’s hardly surprising that Wan aims a little higher here, and if The Conjuring never actually delivers any new frights or tricks of the light, it does deliver all its jolts and jump-cuts in the right places.
Review by Paul Byrne
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (France | Thailand | USA | Sweden/18/90mins)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Gordon Brown
THE PLOT:After his brother is killed in retribution for murdering a prostitute, Julian (Ryan Gosling) must find a way to avenge his brother and placate his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas).
THE VERDICT: Nicolas Winding Refn has said that he wanted to make a dark fairy tale about a mother and son, but the story seems to be more influenced by Oedipus than the existential. Sex, and the promise of sex, drip from the screen and, when a character asks Julian why he allows Crystal to treat him as she does, he replied ‘Because she is my mother’, at this stage of the film, this is believable, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that Crystal and Julian’s love for one another may not be platonic after all. Couple this with some facts from Julian’s past, and his reaction to certain events of the film, and it becomes clear that this is a man with an Oedipal streak. Not that he ever says as much.
The film is beautifully shot and saturated with colour. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes use of hallways and doorways to create a film that is more focused on the journey than the destination, although it is obvious that Stanley Kubrick’s work, and Steve McQueen’s SHAME, were huge influences on the production as tracking shots and loud patterns rule the day.
Only God Forgives is a film that is much greater than the sum of it’s parts. Winding Refn’s goal for the film may not have been achieved, but we are presented with a film about control, power and manipulation that does not have to be wordy to work. That said, there are times when it feels as though the film is an extended version of the trailer (or a particularly beautiful music video), and it is hard to find a protagonist in the mix as no one actor delineates enough to allow his character to change. This is a film that will spark debate, and hugely divide audiences. I am not sure yet whether I loved it or hated it. Probably both.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (Japan/91mins/TBC)
Directed by Goro Miyazaiki. Starring the voices of Masami Nagasawa, Jun’ichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita
THE PLOT: From her house at the top of the hill overlooking the bay, Umi raises flags as a message to her long dead, but never forgotten father. As she struggles to hold the household together, Umi meets a charming boy at her school and their friendship is forged through the shared endeavour to save a rickety but beloved clubhouse.
THE VERDICT: The story is obviously one that will resonate with Japanese audiences, and centres on a young girl and her friend, Shun, who is struggling to find his birth father, after he was given to his parents in the aftermath of the Korean War. This tragedy, compounded with the notion that both of the kids in the film have lost part of their families is something that will resonate with audiences.
The rest of the story is one of friendship and preserving the past that we come from. Again, this is a universal theme for audiences to relate to, and it is shown in the film in a charming and gentle manner. That said, there are issues here, which mainly come from the balance between the three conflicting subplots. At times, it feels as though From Up On Poppy Hill is not sure what kind of film it is trying to be, and there are issues that are touched on and forgotten, leaving the story feeling a little jumbled.
FROM UP ON POPPY HILL is a gentle and beautiful film that lacks the strength of style and script that we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli. That said, there is something rather sweet about the film, and it is by no means a bad story, it just struggles to get out from under the shadow cast by those who have gone before… And some messy script and directorial choices.
Review by Brogen Hayes