This weeks new movies reviewed by Paul Byrne including Big Miracle, The Muppets, The Vow and more…

RAMPART (USA/16/108mins)
Directed by Oren Moverman. Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon.
THE PLOT: Harrelson plays LAPD Officer Dave Brown, his already shaky life hitting something of a tailspin when he’s caught on camera beating a fleeing driver who has just ploughed into his cop car. The force are facing a major investigation and Brown – regarded by even his own extended family (having a child each by two co-habiting sisters, Heche and Nixon; naturally, the kids are not all right) as “a dirty cop with a dirty mind” – soon reaches boiling point, convinced that he has been set up as a distraction. So, he refuses to go quietly, reckoning “I’ve nowhere else to go”. Having followed in his father’s footsteps for the last 24 years, Brown knows the law, and when the police brass circle, he spits out that, fighting it through the courts, “I’ll have my own show on Fox News within one week”. The self-righteous Brown reckons he’s “the one cop that gets it”, but his paranoia is soon out of control…
THE VERDICT: Somewhere between Bad Lieutenant and Training Day, Moverman and Harrelson’s second outing together (after The Messenger, for which both were Oscar-nominated) is a peach. As with Fassbender and Gosling, Woody (who does self-repressed rage beautifully, despite being a self-confessed Hawaiian hippie) really should have gotten an Oscar nomination here. Perhaps the Academy just don’t feel comfortable watching disturbed loners battling their inner-demons as they spiral into a self-created hellhole? Could be too close to the bone.
Director Moverman co-wrote with celebrated noir crime novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia), and the resulting script crackles and pops. As with much of Ellroy’s work, the devil is in the detail. Lucky for Moverman then, he has an incredible supporting cast, the likes of Wright, Foster, Beatty, Heche and Buscemi putting plenty of meat on what would traditionally be bare-bone characters. RATING: 4/5

Directed by Ken Kwapis. Starring Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson.
THE PLOT: Alaskan TV news reporter Adam Carlson (Krasinski) finally finds a story worth reporting when three gray whales become trapped beneath the ice, their oxygen supply running dangerously low. Not only is his news footage Adam’s big-break into national news (including the towering Tom Brokaw), it’s also noticed by his ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Barrymore), an environmental activist. Naturally, she’s soon by Adam’s side as the community, and the news crews – and even nasty oil barons looking for a little greenwash – rally round to help in the rescue…
THE VERDICT: This had all the signs of being a cornball stinker – a feelgood romance set against the true-life 1988 rescue of trapped gray whales; yowsa! – but, somehow, Drew and crew deliver a film that doesn’t make you want to go and punch a dolphin in the face. And it’s not like the director, Ken Kwapis, has form when it comes to spinning turds into gold, he and Barrymore having worked before on the painful He’s Just Not That Into You. In the end, the day is saved by a cast who more than rise to the occasion, and a backstory that, at heart, is a true ice melter. Even for a cynical old critic like me.

THE VOW (USA/12A/104mins)
Directed by Michael Sucsy. Starring Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange, Scott Speedman, Wendy Crewson.
THE PLOT: Based on a true story, happy loving couple Leo (Tatum) and Paige (McAdams) have a sweet night out at Chicago’s Music Box cinema mildly ruined by a truck rams their car from behind as they drive home. Sending Paige through the windscreen, and wiping out all memory she has of her loving hubby. Which suits her wealthy, snobbish parents (Neill and Lange) just fine, keen as they are to take their pretty little daughter back home. With the mantra of “I’ve got to make my wife fall in love with me again” running through his head though, Leo isn’t about to give up on the love of his life…
THE VERDICT: Hey, it’s 50 First Dates, only without the meager laughs! From the writers of Valentine’s Day. And Never Been Kissed. And He’s Just Not That Into You. So, you know even before the curtains open that this is going to suck. And suck it does, Tatum and the once-promising McAdams grinning and bearing it for 107 minutes of maudlin heart-tugging. Is it any wonder that Sony only sent soft journalists to talk the duo when they went out on their press junket, The Vow being the sort of shameless girly filler fluff that will make a little money for everyone involved – only, no one involved will ever want to speak of it again once that money has all been counted up. Director Sucsy’s previous directing gig was the HBO dramatization of Grey Gardens in 2009, so, he definitely should know better too. Avoid. Even if the missus keeps on nagging you about it. RATING: 1/5 

Directed by James Bobin. Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, voices of Steve Whitmore, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz.
THE PLOT: Gary (Segel) and Walter (voiced by Avenue Q’s Peter Linz) are just your average Smalltown brothers – barring the fact the former is a big lug of a lad and the latter is, well, a muppet. Funnily enough, Walter grows up obsessed with The Muppets, and when Gary and ever-patient fiancée Mary (Adams) head off on the greyhound bus to LA for a holiday, Walter jumps at the chance of joining them. So he can visit the legendary Muppet Theatre. Only, it’s fallen into disrepair. And when Walter overhears evil oil baron Tex Richman (Cooper) plans to level it all, he convinces Gary and Mary to join him in reuniting the Muppets for a fundraising show to save the theatre…
THE VERDICT: The first big-screen outing for Jim Henson’s much-loved comic creations in 12 years, Disney unleashed a marketing tsunami to ensure that The Muppets opened strongly last December in the US. And it worked, this new Muppet big-screen outing already proving the most successful ever.
Longtime Muppet fan Jason Segel convinced Disney in 2007 that he was the man to rejuvenate the once-towering brand (at its height during the late 1970s, the TV series The Muppet Show hit a worldwide audience of 235million), and here, he and co-screenwriter Nicolas Stoller (who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall) employ the old plot device of getting the old band back together to save the day. With Flight Of The Conchords’ regular director James Bobin behind the camera (and Bret McKenzie on board as musical supervisor), the tone is both tongue-in-cheek and a kiss on the cheek. From the start, Segel wanted to be reverent to The Muppets’ sweet-natured irreverence, and so, as with their much-loved TV series, you get cameos from the likes of Feist and Sarah Silverman alongside old family favourites such as Mickey Rooney and Willie Nelson. And seeing Dave Grohl as a substitute Animal in a low-rent tribute band is pretty hard to resist. If not quite the charmer it could have been (Segel should never be allowed closer than 15 feet to a camera), it’s still good to have the Muppets back. RATING: 4/5

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (UK/Canada/Sweden/15A/94mins)
Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McAteer, Ciaran Hinds, Sophie Stuckey, Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley.
THE PLOT: Radcliffe plays young lawyer and single father Arthur Kipps, facing financial worries and the recent death of his wife when he’s employed to handle the estate of the faithfully departed Alice Drablow. Whilst there, Arthur glimpses a mysterious woman in black. The following day, a young girl who has drunk lye dies in his arms. The little girl turns out not to be the first child in the town to commit suicide, the locals believing the mysterious woman in black is wreaking revenge for the children taken away from her…
THE VERDICT: Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel about a menacing spectre that haunts a small Edwardian town, foreshadowing the death of children, The Woman In Black’s popularity as a tale is unquestionable – it’s the West End’s second longest-running play ever, after The Mousetrap. And now, the Radcliffe-led big-screen adaptation is already proving a hit with the critics. More importantly, cinema-goers in the US have embraced it, giving The Woman In Black a higher-than-expected opening weekend of $21m. Is it really any good? There was no Irish screening for me, so I have to catch it on opening day, will let you know soon. RATING: N/A 

Review by Paul Byrne