FANTASTIC FOUR (USA/12A/100mins) Directed by Josh Trank. Starring Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Tim Blake Nelson. THE PLOT: Four young scientists find a way to teleport to another dimension, and find themselves altered in shocking and new ways when they return. The four must come to terms with their new powers and band together as friends to stop a former friend from destroying the Earth. THE VERDICT: The central four are made up of Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm. Added to these four – who never really have a chance to show off their collective acting chops – is Toby Kebbel as Victor Von Doom, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson and Dan Castellaneta. Truthfully, it is hard to say whether any of the cast are good or bad at their roles as they are completely vanilla and, although time is given to develop them into real people, this never seems to quite happen.
The story, written for the screen by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank focuses on the origins of this merry band of superheroes, through their scientific experiments. The scenes with the characters as children are oddly anachronistic, with 2007 feeling like 1987 on screen. That said, the first half of the film is actually watchable, with the characters bonding and getting to know one another, but this is soon lost as soon as the action – such as it is – kicks in. Much of the development of the teleporting device is shown through montage, which doesn’t give the characters a chance to grow and develop. Add to this the fact that the most interesting year of the characters’ lives is cut out of the film, and some huge potholes and the film goes from gritty sciencey superhero movie to a fantastic mess.
As director, Josh Trank gives loving focus to the start of FANTASTIC FOUR, but as the film progresses, it seems that he lost interest. Plot holes abound and some of the dramatic choices made seem unfathomable. Add to this some messy pacing, actors who are never given a chance to truly act, and a final act that takes place in another dimension – meaning there is never a true sense of danger – and FANTASTIC FOUR loses its shine.
In all, FANTASTIC FOUR is a fantastic mess. The first half of the film does its job, and there are some nice touches throughout, but the pacing, vanilla characters and lack of true danger let the film down badly. Marvel fatigue may be setting in, but this film could have benefitted from some of the formula used over at Marvel Studios – fight, fight, quip – as FANTASTIC FOUR tries to be something new and exciting, but ends up being nothing much at all. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MANGLEHORN (USA/12A/97mins) Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina, Skylar Gasper, June Griffin Garcia, Rebecca Franchione, Elizabeth Lestina, Lara Shah. THE PLOT: A self-confessed wounded man, smalltown Texan locksmith A.J. Manglehorn (Pacino) is a quiet man with “real pain in my heart”. Just why that is we get to learn as A.J.’s narration reads us letters to the one that got away, Clara – letters that keep being returned to sender. It’s a state of affairs that has made A.J. a loner, and, beyond the happy face he puts on for his customers and his beloved 6-year-old granddaughter Kylie (Gasper), a plainly bitter and misanthropic man.
The only true ray of sunshine and hope emanates from perky bank teller Dawn (Hunter), the two exchanging witticisms and glances every Friday, as A.J. does his weekly earnings deposit. The question is, can A.J. turn off his crippling hatred for the world long enough to let Dawn in…? THE VERDICT: In that strange twilight world where he’s a film legend but – as with so many of his fellow 1970s heavyweight contenders (De Niro, Nicholson, etc) – his latest offerings tend not to get the hairs on the back of your neck tingling, or many bums on multiplex seats. Even when, as with MANGLEHORN, you have the well-trodden novelty of seeing a big old lion takes a stroll through indie park.
Having gone beyond parody quite a few years ago, there’s always the hope with an actor like Pacino that the combination of his immense baggage and his celebrated talent might just spark a great film. And with David Gordon Green – who has scored both in the mainstream (with the likes of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and TV’s EASTBOUND & DOWN) as well as on the arthouse circuit (GEORGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, PRINCE AVALANCHE) – behind the camera, those hopes get a little higher. So, sad to say that, even though MANGLEHORN definitely has its low-watt charms, and Pacino, Hunter and the gang pull their punches here just about enough to make you forget they’re very big fishes in this small pond of a story, there’s a distinct lack of purpose about this slacker version of AS GOOD AS IT GETS. As first-time writer Paul Logan has just found out, a heavy slice of sleight ain’t easy to get right. RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MAX (USA/12A/111mins) Directed by Boaz Yakin. Starring Thomas Hayden Church, Robbie Amell, Luke Kleintank, Lauren Graham, Mia Xitlali, Dejon LaQuake. THE PLOT: After his handler Kyle (Robbie Amell) is killed in an attack in Afghanistan, military dog Max seems doomed to be put down, until he meets Kyle’s younger brother, the surly teenager Justin (Josh Wiggins). The two form a bond, with Justin the only one able to get past Max’s PTSD, and Max bringing Justin out of his shell. THE VERDICT: It seems almost amazing that MAX has got a cinema release at this side of the water, since it is so obviously created for the US market, and a certain US market at that. The story is reminiscent of KES, but before you get too excited, remember that this is not a gritty Ken Loach movie, but one written by Boaz Yakin; the same guy who penned the script for NOW YOU SEE ME.
The cast, made up of Robbie Amell, Thomas Hayden Church, Luke Kleintank, Lauren Graham, Mia Xitlali and Dejon LaQuake seem to be just present in the film to recite lines and react to things the dog does. The acting is wooden and obvious, leaving Carlos the dog to take centre stage as the best performer in the film.
Boaz Yakin and Sheldon Lettich’s screenplay is so filled with cliché, flag waving and clunky narrative devices that it is often difficult to watch; the girl comes in to help the surly teen, surly teen is brought out of his shell, dog judges character better than people do… You have seen it all before, and there is nothing here to make the film anything more than a twee and obvious slice of flag waving Americana.
As director, Yakin seems to have no sense for pacing or the length of scenes; with some cut far too soon and others allowed to linger. The pacing of the film is a mess and, although there are some sweet scenes between boy and dog, this attempt to make a family film feels patronising and formulaic. As well as this, danger sequence, thrown in to give the film something to do, as well as closure, feels clunky, forced and goes on for far too long.
In all, MAX tries to be a family film about heroism and seeing the good in another creature. This is admirable, but the film is badly written, relies on cliché and well worn plot devices, meaning this redemption story between boy and dog becomes overblown, overly long and lacking in emotional engagement. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (USA/18/102mins) Directed by Marielle Heller. Starring Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Bel Powley, Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait, Quinn Nagle THE PLOT: Against the backdrop of San Francisco in the late 1970s, 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley) strikes up an affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). This opens Minnie up to a new world of experiences, but her almost compulsive desire to document her young life inevitably leads to her secrets being discovered. THE VERDICT: Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel – which director Marielle Heller previously staged as a play – THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is the examining of sexual awakening, and a young teenager setting foot on the road to adulthood.
Bel Powley is incredibly strong in the leading role as Minnie; the dialogue feels familiar to anyone who ever was a teenage girl, and while Powley allows this to be as self indulgent as it should be, she keeps the character feeling grounded throughout the film. Powley makes Minnie a Lolita-esque figure, albeit a lot older than Nabokov’s character, and although she pouts ‘truths’ like a sexually active teenager, Minnie still dresses and behaves more like a little girl, and Powley strikes a balance between the two. Alexander Skarsgard is charming as Monroe, and rarely seems to be struck with a crisis of conscience about the fact that he is sleeping with his girlfriend’s teenage daughter, Kristen Wiig actually does not have a lot to do as Minnie’s mother Charlotte, but she hovers on the fringes of the film, both stifling and ignoring her daughter. The rest of the cast is made up of Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait, Quinn Nagle and Austin Lyon.
Marielle Heller’s screenplay not only captures the free wheeling feel of San Francisco in the 1970s, but also the feel of being a teenage girl, at any stage in history. The dialogue feels real in its self-absorbedness, and the animated sequences around Minnie’s imagined conversations and flights of fancy are delightful, until they give way to Hunter S. Thompson-esque drug addled visions. There are times when it feels as though the film should have addressed the issue of statutory rape, but this being ignored is explained through Wiig’s character and her attitude toward life, her daughter and particularly, narcotics.
As director, Heller mixes fantasy and reality well, and makes sure that the audience is aware that we are seeing this story through the eyes of just one of its participants; making it feel as though we are truly leafing through Minnie’s diary at times. The movie stumbles from time to time, however, as the animated sequences come and go, Minnie becomes infatuated with graphic novels then leaves them to fall by the wayside, and her descent into drugs and further sexual experiences seems sudden and a little forced. As well as this, the film’s pacing is messy, which makes it feel a lot longer than it actually is.
In all, THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is a strong coming of age tale, with the character becoming a sexual being, but never quite becoming an adult. Bel Powley is incredibly strong as Minnie, and Skarsgard and Wiig back her up well, but the film suffers through ideas being left to fall by the wayside, and some messy pacining. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
HARD TO BE A GOD (Russia/IFI/177mins) Directed by Aleksey German. Starring Gali Abaydulov, Leonid Yarmolnik, Yuriy Ashikhmin, Remigijus Bilinskas, Valeriy Boltyshev, Aleksandr Chutko, Vasiliy Domrachyov, Lev Eliseev. THE PLOT: “This is not earth… This is another planet. Identical, about 800 years behind.” Fair warning, my friends, as we travel to Arkanar, basking in Medieval times, with a group of scientists having travelled back to try and right a wrong. Or two. Only trouble is, the scientists cannot change the course of history too drastically. This doesn’t stop Don Rumata (Yarmolnik) letting himself become something of a local legend, thanks to his incredible smarts and his handy way with a sword. So much so, they reckon this Don guy must be a god. Which is something you only get to realise, slowly, cautiously, as the film progresses. So, you know, I’ve saved you some time there. And the need to read the book… THE VERDICT: Based on brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s mindbending 1964 sci-fi novel, this boldly bonkers adaptation by the late Aleksy German has been winging its way to Irish screens since its Rome Film Festival debut in October 2013. And whilst it’s a film that’s worth such a wait, it’s also not that surprising that its commercial rampage through the world’s arthouse cinema’s hasn’t exactly been rapid. Hard To Be A God is hard to get your head around, German doesn’t play by anybody’s rules here, not even the Strugatsky brother’s, delivering a film that twists and turns to its own peculiar beat.
Your enjoyment of such a film depends on many things – including, your ability to deal with non-linear plots, stark visuals, metaphors, black and white, oddballs, dream sequences, nutters, and the other. Also, the firmness of your buttocks. At just three minutes short of three hours, German luxuriates in his majestically mad world. If you’re smart, and strong, you should too… RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne
A DOCTOR’S SWORD (Ireland/12A/70mins)
Directed by Gary Lennon. Starring Adrienne MacCarthy, Nicola MacCarthy, Kathleen MacCarthy, Dr. Aidan MacCarthy.
THE PLOT: Charting the remarkable story of the late Dr. Aidan MacCarthy, from Castletownberehaven, West Cork, a repeat survivor during the Second World War, awarded the George’s Cross for rescuing the crew of a burning RAF plane which had landed in a bomb dump, fell to the Japanese whilst serving in Asia, where he suffered 4 years of brutal captivity, later surviving the atomic bomb on Nagasaki whilst a POW there. Oh, and he also survived when being captive on a cargo ship that sank in the middle of the night after being torpedoed.
The strongest momento that his family own of this time – and is proudly on display down in the family’s famous Castletownbere pub – is the sword of a Japanese Samurai sword, given to him by an appreciative officer. And so it is that his daughter Nicola sets out on a journey to find that Japanese officer’s family… THE VERDICT: A documentary that first appeared on TV3 in a smaller, more succinct form, concentrating largely on the good doctor’s wartime survival stories, director Gary Lennon recognised there was another layer to this remarkable man’s life when the family expressed a desire to source just who it was that gifted their father the eponymous Samurai sword at the end of World War 2. What initially feels like a TV documentary becomes more and more cinemascopic as both the somewhat mindboggling tales of MacCarthy’s series of escapes, endurances and empathy unfold and the search by his daughter 68 years later for the man who clearly recognised the good heart of this brave soldier.
Aided by some sharp animation, we follow those WW2 hardships chronologically, each new medal-worthy bout of heroics bringing a new wave of admiration and awe. Based on MacCarthy’s autobiography ‘A Doctor’s War’, there are times that Lennon’s documentary comes across as an Abe Simpson wet dream, but there’s no denying the incredible life that’s being celebrated here. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne