Reviews New Movies Opening August 5th 2011 August 4, 2011 This weeks movies reviewed by Paul Byrne, including Knuckle, Super 8, Mr Popper’s Penguins and more… SUPER 8 (USA/12A/111mins) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills. THE PLOT: Smalltown, Ohio, 1979, and budding teen filmmakers Joe (Courtney), Charles (Griffiths) and Cary (Lee) have convinced school beauty Alice Dainard (Fanning) to join the cast of their latest monster movie. Their secret latenight shoot is derailed though by a derailing freight train, and soon the men-in-black are swarming, determined to put their strange cargo back in the box… THE VERDICT: A child of the Spielberg age, J.J. Abrams has the distinct advantage here when paying homage to the Norman Rockwell of modern American cinema of having the legendary man himself on board as a producer. Fittingly, the whole thing plays like a lost Spielberg gem, but, as with Cloverfield, Abrams has come up with a disappointing monster. The kids stuff is darn near perfect though… RATING: 3/5 MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (USA/G/94mins) Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond, Jeffrey Tambor, Philip Baker Hall. THE PLOT: Based on Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1938 book, Carrey plays divorced businessman Mr. Tom Popper, who, eh, inherits six penguins after his explorer father pops his clogs. Naturally, Tom decides to pack Captain, Bitey, Stinky, Lovey, Nimrod and Loudey off to the local zoo, but then, his kids fall in love with the little black’n’white rascals. And so begins a valuable life lesson. Or two. THE VERDICT: Jim Carrey has done pretty well in the past when it comes to breaking the golden rule about not working with animals or children, but his good luck has run out here. Feeling about as forced and false as his recent George A. Romero’s A Christmas Carol, once again Carrey does his trademark mugging and pratfalling to little or no avail here. Not even the cute penguins can save this from playing like a cynical and overcooked feelbad family comedy. RATING: 1/5 KNUCKLE (Ireland/15A/85mins) Directed by Ian Palmer. Starring James Quinn McDonagh, Michael Quinn McDonagh, Big Joe Joyce, and assorted relatives, friends and foe. THE PLOT: Against the backdrop of a feud between three traveller families (the Quinn-McDonaghs, the Joyces and the Nevins), over twelve years, Irish filmmaker Ian Palmer explores the underground tradition of bare-knuckle boxing as each family challenges the other to yet another bout. With prize money running as high as £120,000, it’s more than family pride that’s at stake, but there’s clearly tragedy and regret just below the surface of all this macho posturing… THE VERDICT: Like Fight Club with lots of sunburn and bad tattoos, Ian Palmer’s hard-hitting documentary proves that hatred itself can become a tradition. Especially when it comes to the Irish. Any potential comedy soon gives way to tragedy here, underpinning the simple ugly truth of one former friend beating another former friend into submission. Or unconsciousness. It’s a rocky road to self-respect, and the fact that our main protagonist, the undefeated James Quinn McDonagh, would, in his own words, rather be at home with a Jaffa speaks volumes about the stupidity and futility of it all. RATING: 4/5 SARAH’S KEY (France/IFI/111mins) Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frederick Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy. THE PLOT: Moving into an old, rundown Paris apartment owned by her husband’s family stirs up a few ghosts for investigative journalist Julia (Scott Thomas). Through flashbacks to 1942, we see the previous owners, the young Starzynski family, as they are rounded up alongside the rest of Paris’ Jews and taken to a local sports stadium. Only 10-year old Sarah (Mayance) has hidden her little brother in a secret wall closet. From there, her only thought is escape, so she can rescue Michel, as promised. Soon, Julia is obsessed with completing Sarah’s story. And finding out the truth about her in-laws… THE VERDICT: It’s shameful to say, but it’s possible that most cinema-goers have grown weary of seeing the holocaust up on the big screen. And certainly Sarah’s Key suffers in its early stages from overly-familiar scenes of degradation and cruelty being inflicted upon France’s Jewish community during World War 2. Even if it was the French themselves who were being cruel – 74 trains taking 76,000 Jews out of France and to their deaths. The beautiful Scott Thomas grates a little too as the righteous, lip-biting, Cheshire cat-posturing investigative journalist who begins to question the culpability of her hubby’s family, and France as a nation, in this tragedy, leaving Sarah’s Key a little lost at sea when it comes to invoking our sympathies. Ultimately, this is all just a tad too Oprah. RATING: 2/5 THE TREE (Australia/Various/IFI/100mins) Directed by Julie Bertuccelli. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas, Christian Byers, Tom Russell, Gabriel Gotting, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Aden Young. THE PLOT: When her husband suffers a stroke and dies, mother-of-four Dawn O’Neil (Gainsbourg) struggles to keep head and heart together. Especially when her precarious daughter Simone (a staggering Davies) insists that dad talks to her through the large, sprawling Moretan Bay Fig that is threatening not only the O’Neil family home but also that of their very nosy neighbour (Hackforth-Jones). As Dawn begins dating plumber George (Csokas), Simone’s stubborn refusal to let go heads into overdrive. And then the tree starts acting weird… THE VERDICT: The second feature from French filmmaker Bertuccelli – who earned her stripes as an Assistant Director to the likes of Kieslowski and Tavernier – The Tree has a lot going for it. Magic realism in the Australian outback, a strong lead actress in Gainsbourg, and an incredible child actor in Morgana Davies (think of that little tyke in Outnumbered, only not as possessed). Bertuccelli pushes her luck though with a ridiculous plot development or two, leaving you with a vague and hazy sunny afternoon of a film. RATING: 3/5 SUMMER HOLIDAY The Sugar Club plays host once again to the bi-monthly film event Film Fatale on Saturday, August 6th when it celebrates summer with a screening of Roman Holiday. The club will be transformed – it says here – into a 1950s Little Italy especially for the screening, with an Italian-themed after-party featuring live performances and resident DJs, The Andrews Sisters’ Brothers. Appropriate vintage dress is encouraged. Tickets are €15, and available on tickets.ie. Doors open 8pm, with after-party tickets at the door for €5. A CUT ABOVE To mark the release of Ian Palmer’s powerful documentary Knuckle, the IFI will be playing host to Travellers On Film Season. Running over the coming weekend, Aug 6th and 7th, the retrospective starts with the first-ever feature-length film about Traveller life, Paul Rotha’s 1951 offering No Resting Place, whilst other films include the more recent Pavee Lacken, Joe Comerford’s 1981 feature Traveller and Liam McGrath’s Southpaw, the celebrated documentary on 19-year old amateur boxer Francis Barrett representing Ireland at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. There will also be a panel discussion, Framing Travellers, featuring filmmakers Palmer and McGrath alongside actor and writer Michael Collins and Catherine Joyce from the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group, ITM. Full details on ifi.ie. DON’T WALK AWAY, RESNAIS Running from this coming weekend to August 29th, Time, Memory, Imagination: The IFI Presents The Cinema Of Alain Resnais does pretty much what it says on the poster. Recently described by Positif magazine as ‘the greatest living French filmmaker’, Resnais is now approaching his 90th year. Which would seem as good a time as any to throw him a month-long party. Included in the retrospective is a restored digital version of 1961’s Last Year In Marienbad, the second feature from Resnais (after 1959’s Hiroshima mon amour). Other films include 1963’s Muriel, 1977’s Providence and 1983’s Life Is A Bed Of Roses. The second part of the Resnais retrospective will continue in September, with full details available on irishfilm.ie.