This week’s new movie releases, including Smashed and The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey

SMASHED (USA/TBC/85mins)
THE PLOT: After years of drinking, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) reaches crisis point, and realises that her alcohol use is more akin to abuse. Even though her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) is not on the same page as her, Kate decides that sobriety is the right choice for her.
THE VERDICT:Smashed is not the typical film about addiction; you know the one that takes you through the characters facing withdrawal and their difficulties staying sober. Instead Smashed is a film how relationships change when people change, no matter where the change comes from.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes on Kate unflinchingly; this is not a glamorous character, but Winstead appears to relish in the fact that she gets to portray a person, warts and all. Kate is nowhere near perfect, when she gives up drinking she becomes passive aggressive and controlling, before she realises that the changes she has to make in her life are not just down to her consumptive habits. Winstead is strong and has no difficulty in carrying the story, but the story is precisely what lets her down…
Aaron Paul as Charlie comes off as selfish as his wife, but Paul allows his character to have some genuine and gentle moments with Winstead, before her decision to change affects them both. Nick Offerman is sweet but totally underused in the film, as is Megan Mulally as the principal of the school that Kate teaches at. In fact, none of the smaller characters seem properly rounded out, as all care an attention seems to have gone into creating Kate.
Director James Ponsoldt co-wrote the film, and such is the attention given to Kate’s character that it seems to be a very personal story. This is where the problem lies, however. Instead of creating a strong ensemble from a cast of incredibly talented actors, the script reduces actors who are not Mary Elizabeth Winstead to peripheral characters, orbiting around a character that is not that endearing. Ponsoldt directs Winstead superbly, and she is certainly the standout, but the script prevents the character from changing on screen so the audience can share her journey, and this is the weakness of the film.
In all, Smashed allows Mary Elizabeth Winstead to step into the spotlight as a strong dramatic actress, but the entire cast is let down by underdeveloped characters and a seeming squeamishness at showing the characters’ journeys on screen.

Rating: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (USA/New Zealand/12A/169mins)
Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee.
THE PLOT: Once again, there is trouble afoot in Middle Earth, and the young Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is more than a little surprised – and very, very reluctant – when the wise old wizard Gandalf (McKellan) chooses him as the burglar in his Ye Olde Ocean’s 13 heist gang. This unlikely band of dwarves are off to the Lonely Mountain, where they plan to reclaim treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug, and thus help exiled king Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) finally sit on the throne his father died for. Amongst those making their mission that little bit more difficult are some giant blue trolls, assorted orcs, a few oversized spiders and a nasty necromancer. Oh, and that bastard Saruman (Lee).
THE VERDICT: Ever since proving that bigger can be better with the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Peter, son of Bill, has been shedding the pounds whilst simultaneously letting his films become ever more bloated. He did it with his update of King Kong [2005] and he did it again with his much-delayed adaptation of The Lovely Bones [2009], both never-ending Weta dreams that proved, painfully, that more is sometimes less.
And Jackon’s done it again here, taking a 600-page book and turning it into – if this first near-three-hour installment is any indication – a nine-hour trilogy. How the hell was that allowed to happen?
Well, Warners were never going to put up much of a fight, the studio giant having benefited greatly when Potter started splitting his golden eggs in two. 
The crushing length wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if An Unexpected Journey didn’t have other major glitches in the machine. Such as the much-hyped 48-frames-per-second (double the standard number), a new development that seems designed to bring stark, crystal realism to the visuals whilst also robbing cinematography of its inherent warmth and magic. Ironically, the hi-tech effect makes the footage here look like a PBS special on goblins and fairies. To quote Dolly Parton, it costs a lot of money to look this cheap.
And then there’s the fact that, as a director, Peter Jackson seems to have little or no sense of comic timing, as proven early on by a cluttered and contrived circus juggling act as Bilbo’s house is magically and musically cleaned up by his 13 unwelcome diminutive guests.
On the plus side, once we get the hell out of the silly shire and on with the mission, the action set pieces begin to shake off some of that early stiffness. Even then, at one point we get a shaky aerial shot of a chase sequence; you’d find better graphics on Super Mario Goes Medieval. Old familiar faces belonging to the likes of Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and even Elijah Wood appear to have been airbrushed to within an inch of a mass card too, whilst the scary monsters and super creeps on offer really aren’t all that scary, or super.
Of course, there are those who will no doubt find much comfort in all three Hobbit outings – from ye olde typeface to the Enya landscapes – no matter how bad the films themselves might actually be. And it’s not like we’re dealing with The Phantom Menace here. Or The Matrix sequels. It’s just that, well, these films are supposed to be magical. This, from the making to the marketing, feels largely mechanical. 

RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne

YOU WILL BE MY SON (France/IFI/102mins)
Directed by Gilles Legrand. Starring Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Anne Marivin, Nicolas Bridet, Valerie Mairesse.
THE PLOT: As far as veteran winemaker Paul de Marseul (Arestrup) is concerned, his son and heir, Martin (Deutsch) has the ear to run the historical family vineyard “but not the nose”. It’s an opinion brought home to Martin every day, as he and his feisty wife (Marivin) fend off thinly-veiled insults and constant career obstacles from the man determined to remain totally in charge. That is, until his vineyard manager, Francois (Chesnais) falls terminally ill, and his dashing son, Philippe (Bridet), rushes home from his job at Coppola’s vineyard in California. Here, Paul quickly lets it be known, is the son he wishes he had. But when he openly starts making plans to let Philippe run the business, the old man finds resistance from just about every corner…
THE VERDICT: There’s something very French, and very familiar, about You Will Be My Son. Shades of Jean de Florette early on, but it’s the long-serving plot device of father and son banging heads that threatens to make You Will Be My Son feel like arable land. Luckily, the film is perfectly cast, Bridet looking like Deutsch’s Tyler Durden, Marivin a natural at fiery French femme, and de Marseul (so striking as the doomed Cesar Luciani in A Prophet) clearly knows how to huff and puff.
Those of you who appreciate your wines may be interested to note that a ticket to You Will Be My Son at the IFI also includes a free glass of Chateau Meaume – a wine that would normally set you back €30 a bottle. Nice.

RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne 

TINKERBELL & THE SECRET OF THE WINGS (USA/G/75mins)
Directed by Robert Gannaway, Peggy Holmes. Starring the voices of Timothy Dalton, lucy Hale, Megan Hilty, Angelica Huston, Matt Lanter, Jesse McCartney, Mae Whitman, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symone.
THE PLOT: We’re back in Pixie Hollow, the early 1900s, and TinkerBell (Whitman) stumbles upon frost fairy Periwinkle (Hale) whilst venturing into the Winter Woods, and soon realizes that they are sisters. Unfortunately, Queen Clarion (Huston) and Lord Milori (Dalton) insist that the two stay apart, given that winter and warm fairies simply don’t survive in one another’s worlds. When TinkerBell builds a snow machine so that Periwinkle can visit, it ends up spreading a thick frost across Pixie Hollow, and warm and winter fairies must band together in order to save it…
THE VERDICT: When Sir John of Lasseter vouched that Disney Animation would no longer make cheapquels to their certifiable classics, the belief was that fairytale icons such as Cinderella and TinkerBell would be left alone. Turns out he was more concerned about the cheap part rather than the sequel insult, TinkerBell And The Secret Of The Wings been given the sort of budget and star cast to suggest a little more quality control. Shame that the improved animation is brought down a peg or two as 3D once again spreads its Dulling Fairy Dust. Oh, and this is really just for the little ones.

RATING: 2/5
Review by Paul Byrne

GIRLFRIEND (USA/TBC/94mins)
When Evan’s (Evan Sneider) mother dies unexpectedly, the young man – who has Down’s Syndrome – is left to his own devices. Although it seems he has always had a fondness for a former school friend Candy (Shannon Woodward) his feelings and actions soon spiral out of control, especially when Evan realises that Candy is still mixed up with her ex-boyfriend.
The idea behind Girlfriend is an interesting one – what happens to those who have always had someone in their life, when that someone is taken away? Evan’s mother was always the one who doted on her adult son, and kept him in check, when she disappears however, the vacuum that she has left must be filled.
Evan Sneider is possibly the best thing about the film, even though his character is certainly not the innocent he would like to think he is. Sneider balances a desire for unconditional love and affection with the character’s desire for sex in an amazingly nuanced way. It is clear to see that Evan’s actions are not as genuine as he would like those around him to think, and there is a sinister undertone to every good deed that Evan does. That said, Sneider manages to make Evan lost but predatory, which is a rare combination.
Shannon Woodward – the object of Evan’s affections and best known for her role on TV in Raising Hope – is much more overtly selfish than her co-star. Without wondering whether she is taking advantage of Evan – for more than a moment, anyway – she takes as much advantage of him as he does of her. Woodward brings a rare sorrow to the character and, even though there is little more to Candy than her grief, it is great to see the actress make the move from small screen.
Writer / director Justin Lerner has taken an interesting angle on the issues of abandonment and selfishness, but while the movie raises the question of whether Evan’s behaviour and Candy’s selfishness would have been different had Evan had different emotional development, the film does not answer the question. Instead, Girlfriend spends much of it’s time focusing on violence and obsession, which is something that we have seen on screen a million times before, without the added layer of awkwardness surrounding Evan’s Down’s Syndrome. This may have been Lerner’s ambition all along; to make the audience cast aside their assumptions of a character based on what is on the outside, but this is not explored fully and so falls flat.
Girlfriend is an examination of two characters selfishly using one another for different reasons. Lerner may have intended the film to make a statement on society, but somehow the message is lost and the film becomes a study of whether Evan and Candy will ever sleep together. Sneider, for his part, is excellent and although Candy may be one dimensional, Woodward manages to make audience empathy for the character ebb and flow in an interesting manner.

Rating: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes