This weeks movies reviewed by Paul Byrne including Carnage, Jack & Jill, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Journey 2 and more…
Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Elvis Polanski.
THE PLOT: After their son ends up in hospital, the bookish Penelope and bathroom salesman Michael invite over the parents of the boy who struck him – lawyer Alan (Waltz) and his prim and proper wife, Nancy (Winslet). As the two couples attempt to come to some agreement over how their sons should progress, the building tension delivers some awkward home truths, on both sides. When a fine Scotch whiskey is thrown into the mix, those ugly truths come spewing out. Along with quite a bit of Penelope’s homemade cake. It doesn’t help that Alan is constantly on his phone, trying to deal with an impending lawsuit over a dodgy pharmaceutical drug. A dodgy pharmaceutical drug that Michael’s mother just happens to be taking. As the afternoon progresses, sheep becomes wolves and wolves become sheep, and this polite peace negotiation turns into a typical playground spat.
THE VERDICT: Staying true to its stage roots (Le Dieu du carnage, by Yasmina Reza, who co-writes the script too), Polanski here keeps his four actors on the same set for the entire film. All the better to have each of the characters blow their top, of course, as this pressure cooker meeting veers between politeness to vitriol, and back again. Despite the bickering, you just know these four acting powerhouses are having a ball. The wit crackles and cuts. It’s Abigail’s Party on some serious steroids. Or Revolutionary Road, only somehow funnier. And grimmer.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (USA/16/102mins)
Directed by Drake Doremus. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawke, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbot.
THE PLOT: Arriving on the doorstep of her older sister Lucy (Paulson) and the latter’s husband, Ted (Dancy), Martha (Olsen) has been AWOL for two years. In flashback, we see Martha joined a cult, living on a remote farm and being sweetly brainwashed by the guitar-playing, dungaree-wearing leader Patrick (Hawkes). But this is no Kamp Krusty, despite the crappy conditions; as with so many cults, sex and violence is just below all the happy-clappy, and it has left Martha a highly distrustful person. One who is incapable of revealing to her sister and her brother-in-law what she has been through. As Martha’s paranoia builds, she starts noticing strangers hanging around her sister’s lakeside holiday home. And so, naturally, she’s goes a little Greystoke on them…
THE VERDICT: A title like Martha Marcy May Marlene has its own built-in hall of mirrors, reflecting the schizophrenia and paranoia that Olsen’s cult escapee is going through. The purpose of most cults, of course, is to take damaged people and then break them. Completely. And when it comes to hippie communes, it’s not all about the free love; it’s all about the free sex. Olsen – who looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal on a healthy diet – gives it her all in the title role, and this bleak film – a big hit at Sundance last year – has meant her future certainly looks bright. A dark, twisted film, it gradually got under my skin, like a bad itch. Then again, maybe that was the intention. RATING: 3/5
JACK AND JILL (USA/PG/91mins)
Directed by Denis Dugan. Starring Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, David Spade, Norm McDonald, Dana Carvey.
THE PLOT: As Thanksgiving approaches, advertising executive Jack Sadelstein (Sandler) is not feeling all that thankful – for it is at this time of year that his obnoxious, needy and somewhat toxic twin sister, Jill (Sandler), pulls into town. To, it would seem, embarrass the hell out of Jack and his loving family. Much sibling rivalry ensues. But not much hilarity.
THE VERDICT: A naturally funny guy, the only way you really want to watch Adam Sandler these days is through his early, funny movies. Or on latenight TV, where that natural wit gets to shine without any PG restrictions or crass plot devices. Now specializing in the sort of movie that Tracey Jordan and, worse, the Wayans are usually found fronting, Sandler is merrily sticking his middle finger up to the notion of comedy as art. Which means it must be tough whenever he hangs out with his old roommate, Judd Apatow. Of course, Sandler can always argue that their film together, Funny People, just didn’t make enough money (budget: $75m/box-office: $71m), or inspire enough laughs. Whereas a dog-fart of a movie like Grown-Ups (budget: $71m/box-office: $261m; sequel on the way) has everyone walking away happy. Everyone except for lovers of comedy, of course. It’s a lesson Sandler has learnt more than once before (Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Of Fire, Spanglish), the $71m Jack And Jill is already running at a profit before it even opens on this side of the Atlantic. Still absolute rubbish though.
MAN ON A LEDGE (USA/12A/102mins)
Directed by Asgard Leth. Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Burns, Kyra Sedgwick, Ed Harris.
THE PLOT: Having escaped from prison, former NYPD detective Nick Cassidy checks into a New York City hotel so that he can end it all. With a little tribute to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. Or maybe he’s just trying to kickstart the Disgraced Cops For Justice campaign? Could the whole thing be an advertising stunt? For a new Summit Entertainment film? Whatever the motivation, we’re soon questioning Nick’s every move, every plea, as a string of negotiators (amongst them, Banks’ jaded cop and Bell as Nick’s younger brother) try to talk him back from the ledge. Either way, it doesn’t take long before we the audience smell a rat. We certainly smell it long before director Asger Leth (making his directorial debut) reveals it to us.
THE VERDICT: As tantalizing film titles go, Man On A Ledge isn’t exactly up there with Snakes On A Plane. Then again, Colin Farrell managed to make Phone Booth stretch to 81 minutes without boring the audience, so, there was some hope here. It’s soon dashed by what’s up on screen though, as the corny dialogue and behind-the-beat plotting has us secretly willing Nick to just jump and put us out of our misery. Only Kyra Sedgwick, as a hard-nosed, self-loving New York TV reporter seems to be having fun here.
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (USA/PG/94mins)
Directed by Brad Peyton. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Josh Huthcherson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Kristin Davis, Luis Guzman.
THE PLOT: Turning 17, Sean (Hutcherson, soon to be seen in The Hunger Games) is none too impressed by the latest father figure, new stepdad Hank (Johnson), a Navy vet. Some serious bonding goes down, of course, when Sean intercepts a distress signal from deep uncharted territory in the middle of the South Pacific. It’s there they meet OAP adventurer Alexander (Caine), and soon they’re joined by helicopter pilot Gabato (Guzman, once again providing comic relief) and his headstrong daughter Kailani (Hudgens), as they embark on a game of survival in this strange, exotic, largely CG-created land.
THE VERDICT: At last, a movie with Michael Caine riding a giant bee. My life is now complete. Actually, this garish and brazenly corny sequel to the Brendan Fraser-led, 3D-pioneering Journey To The Centre Of The Earth isn’t quite as bad as its B-movie credentials would first suggest. Pretty much everyone here – including Caine’s oversized honeyboy – joins in the fun with a nudge and a wink to camera, whilst the often-reliable Johnson is certainly at home amidst all the flash, bang and wallop. The fact that the 2008 outing managed to pull in $250m worldwide means a sequel was inevitable, if not exactly welcome. The novelty of 3D has, thankfully, warn off, and there’s little doubt that Jules Verne wouldn’t find much magic in this latest spin-off from his original creation.
A MONSTER IN PARIS (France/G/89mins)
Directed by Bibo Bergeron. Starring the voices of Vanessa Paradis, M, Gad Elmaleh, Francois Cluzet, Ludivine Sagnier, Bruno Salamone, Julie Ferrier, Sebastian Desjours.
THE PLOT: It’s Paris, 1910, and delivery man Raoul (Elmaleh) is best friends with cinema projectionist – and would-be lady’s man – Emile (Desjours). Taking a ride through the Paris streets, the two end up at the greenhouse of a reclusive scientist, where, naturally, they trigger off a chemical reaction or two. And before you can say The Fly, For Kids!, there’s a giant flea on the loose. A giant flea who obviously doesn’t know his B-movie rules, opting out of a roaring rampage and instead to duet with nightclub singer Lucille (Paradis), the curvy apple of Raoul’s eye.
THE VERDICT: A movie that Woody Allen will no doubt want to take his young ‘uns to, this French production may be, well, French, and it may be in 3D, but it definitely has its charms. Part of the appeal is the quirky animation, part the fine voices Vanessa Paradis and Mathieu Chedid (aka M), and part the short and sweet running time. Director Bergeron may have directed the DreamWorks atrocities Shark Tale and The Road To El Dorado, and been a storyboard artist on Flushed Away, but let’s not hold all those crap films against him. Here, the Frenchman gets to fly solo, and in his hometown too. And he flies high. Still, it’s taken four years for this one to reach our shores. Not to be confused though with Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s superior A Cat In Paris (out on DVD), which is up for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.
HOUSE OF TOLERANCE (France/18/125mins)
Directed by Bertrand Bonello. Starring Hafsia Herzi, Celine Sallette, Alice Barnole, Jasmine Trinca, Iliana Zabeth, Noemie Lvovsky, Adele Haenel.
THE PLOT: The turn of the last century, and life inside an expensive brothel is proving increasingly tough, and expensive, for the girls working inside. And the work can get tough too, Madaleine (Barnole) ending up with a slashed mouth after a client attacks her. As new arrival Pauline (Zabeth) is shown the ropes – and the chains – we get to see the demands put on the girls (robotics, fake geisha, champagne-a-go-go). And we get to see one of them die from syphilis. Sweet.
THE VERDICT: All the fun and frolics – and the odd hairy bollocks – of a turn of the 20th century French brothel are brought to life in this soft porn-dressed-up-as-arthouse romp. More stylish rumpy-pumpy, in other words, from the aptly-named French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello, who previously gave us The Pornographer and Tiresia. Bertrand would plainly like to see himself as the new Bernardo Bertolucci but, in reality, he’s far closer to being Robin Askwith in a beret here.
THE GREY (USA/15A/117mins)
Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson.
THE PLOT: Still nursing a broken heart, oil refinery troubleshooter John Ottway (not to be confused with the Really Free one-hit-wonder, John Otway) boards a plane along with some fellow workers only to head into some of the scariest turbulence ever known to man or Hollywood. After crashlanding in the Alaskan wilderness, only eight survive – and seven of them are soon relying on Ottway to lead them out of trouble. And away from the giant wolves who smell lunch…
THE VERDICT: After Taken and Unknown comes another Liam Neeson action man adventure, something of an annual event now. And a welcome one at that, the Ballymena giant having long ago proved his acting prowess. Why not show off his broad shoulders and traffic-stopping stare too? With a second Taken outing currently in the works (due out in October), Neeson keeps himself fighting fit here, with this Touching The Void, But With Wolves!. And it does pretty much as you would expect, the wolves scaring the bejasus out of the supporting cast and Neeson scaring the bejaysus out of the wolves. Carnahan – working from a short story by Ian Mackenzie – has the smarts to give each of the supporting players a little moment in the spotlight. So, we’re never quite sure who’s next for the feeding frenzy.
Directed by Josh Trank. Starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood.
THE PLOT: Given that life at home is an Eminem video (terminally ill mum; permanently drunk father), unpopular high school teen Andrew (DeHaan) finds a ray of light through his new, if ridiculously large, DV camera. Taking everywhere he goes, we soon see Andrew is the bullies’ favourite at school, and far from the girls’ favourite. Luckily, there are two guys – popular school president candidate Steve (Jordan) and budding ladies man Matt (Russell) – who are willing to hang with Andrew, and they’re quick to take him to the mysterious cave they’ve found out in the woods. The one with the weird tremors and, they soon discover, a glowing orb that might as well be an oversized radioactive spider. For soon after, the three friends have immense telekinetic powers. Or, to be more precise, supernatural, lo-budget CGI powers.
THE VERDICT: Which, eh, they eventually put to use in a magic show during the school talent contest. A film with practically no plot and very little purpose, Chronicle starts off as The Video Diary Of A Wimpy Kid before going distinctly J.J. Abrams, with a cross between Cloverfield and, in the overblown finale, Carrie. There’s a lot to hate about this film. The main protagonist comes across like a teenage Jon Ronson. As this idiotic threesome guffaw their way through another supernatural prank, and begin talking about their feelings whilst perched atop a very tall building (they can fly, see), you long for Patrick Stewart to swing by and administer a severe mental beating. And then call one of them fat. Nothing. Really. Happens. These guys desperately need a nemesis. Besides me. The whole thing plays like a high school drama class project. If you liked Jumper, you’ll like this. RATING: 2/5
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Reviews by Paul Byrne