THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (USA | Denmark/G/104mins)
Directed by Chris McKay. Starring Will Arnett, Zach Galiafinakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper
THE PLOT: Fresh from his adventures in ‘The LEGO Movie’, Batman (Will Arnett) finds himself facing a new and unexpected adversary; himself. When The Joker (Zach Galiafinakis) demands that Batman acknowledge that he is the Caped Crusader’s greatest enemy, Batman is quick to remind the Clown Prince of Crime that he doesn’t need anyone; “I like to fight around”. Of course The Joker is not likely to stand for that, and although Batman claims to relish his life of solitude, he will need all of his wits, and his friends around him to take down the greatest threat that Gotham City has ever seen.
THE VERDICT: Since ‘The LEGO Movie’ was such a success, and delighted both adults and kids alike, it is not surprising that a follow up is on the way. What is surprising, however, is that the franchise decided to spin off in a new direction with ”The LEGO Batman Movie’ before returning to the world of Bricksburg to carry on the adventures of Emmett and Wyldstyle. That said, ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is an easy win, with a built in audience already in place and more villains and heroes than you can shake a (LEGO) stick at.
Will Arnett resumes his role as Batman from ‘The LEGO Movie’, and obviously has a whale of a time with the rapid-fire jokes, the throwaway references to Batmans past and the energy of the film. Arnett makes Batman an egotistical spoiled brat, exacerbating and stretching the personality of Batman, while also turning the idea of the humble superhero on it’s head. Elsewhere, Ralph Fiennes, Ellie Kemper, Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera, Mariah Carey, Eddie Izzard, Jenny Slate, Billy Dee Williams and Apple’s Siri lend their voices to characters in the film, and the sense of energy and fun that these performers had with their characters leaps off the screen.
The screenplay, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers – the latter known for their work on the absurd and wonderful Community for TV – keeps the over the top and ridiculously fun feel of ‘The LEGO Movie’, while also having fun with the notion that Batman is his own worst enemy, and his self-imposed solitude does not help. The jokes come thick and fast throughout the film, and the new back stories for some of the characters make sense for the ‘LEGO Movie’ franchise, even though they are not strictly canon. Bringing in some of the lesser known rogues from the Batman universe – such as The Condiment King, Orca, King Tut, Calendar Man, Mime and Zodiac Master is a great nod to the legacy of Batman and his stories both in and off screen, while bringing in LEGO villains from other franchises just underlines the feel of the entire LEGO franchise; that this is how a kid would play with LEGO.
Director Chris McKay, a self-proclaimed mega Batman fan, keeps the energy of the film going at almost frantic pace, while managing to keep the jokes coming, the visual gags working and the infectious feeling of fun going throughout the entire film. The voice performances of the film are great and bring the LEGO world to life, the film is just self aware enough to be fun and small touches underline the childlike heart of the film. There are times when the film lacks the almost tangible magic of ‘The LEGO Movie’ proper, but it hard to resist this labour of love and laughs that explodes on the screen in a roar of irreverent fun.
In all, there are times when ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ struggles to cash the cheque written by ‘The LEGO Movie’, but the cast is on form, there are tons of jokes and laughs to be had, as well as references to the Batmans of the past that we know and love. Kids will be enthralled and adults similarly laughing at this wild, frenetic and colourful celebration of The Caped Crusader, and just what we love about him and the characters that surround him.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FIFTY SHADES DARKER (USA/18/118mins)
Directed by James Foley. Starring Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote.
THE PLOT: Picking up where the first film left off, Ana (Dakota Johnson) finds herself unable to resist when Christian (Jamie Dornan) tells her he wants her back. Demanding “No rules, no punishments and no more secrets”, Ana quickly falls back into bed with her paramour, but soon finds that all is not as rosy as it seems.
THE VERDICT: Here we go again folks, another ‘Fifty Shades’ movie, and another burst of discussions about “Mommy porn” and sexual freedom. The trouble with this story, however, is that there really isn’t much of one, and anyone going in for an ogle at the sex scenes will be sorely disappointed.
After much speculation that Dornan and Johnson were not returning to their leading roles in the ‘Fifty Shades’ franchise, they are back, but director Sam Taylor-Johnson and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey are out. Do not despair, ‘Fifty Shades’ fans, their absence is not holding back this cinematic freight train. Dornan and Johnson reprise their roles, and other than Ana being a little less tolerant of Christian’s controlling ways, all is as it was the first time around. The performances are wooden and there is no tangible chemistry between these two leads playing characters who seemingly cannot resist one another. The rest of the cast features Marcia Gay Harden, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora and Bella Heathcote.
The story, adapted from EL James’ book by her husband Niall Leonard, is full of plotholes and inconsistencies – as we have come to expect from the first film – and although the main issue with the first film was Christan Grey’s stalker-ish and controlling ways, there has been little effort made to make him any less obsessive and possessive, although attempts are made to humanise him, that really don’t work. As for the dialogue, well it is just as painful as that of the first film, and contains gems such as “I don’t like strangers gawking at you” and “He wants what’s mine”, which elicited some uncomfortable laughter from the audience.
As director James Foley seems unconcerned with creating a dramatic arc, or ebb and flow throughout the film, so that when obstacles are thrown up in the young lovers’ way, they seem forced, for the sake of creating tension, and do not work. The sex scenes are as dull and vanilla as Ana herself hopes for, even as she begs to be taken back to the Red Room, and the entire film is unsatisfying, and feels rather pointless.
In all, ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ is Fifty Shades Duller than the first film, with unimaginative and clunky storytelling, boring – and surely painful – sex scenes, and beige characters that do little to set the screen alight.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Alice Lowe. Starring Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley, Tom Davis
THE PLOT: Believing that she is receiving messages from her unborn daughter, Ruth (Alice Lowe) sets out on a bloody rampage of revenge against those she believes to have wronged her, and her family.
THE VERDICT: ‘Prevenge’ is the first feature length film directed by Alice Lowe and is as dark, twisted, and subversively hilarious as you would expect it to be, being that this film comes from the actress previously seen in Ben Wheatley’s ‘Sightseers’, ‘Black Mountain Poets’ and TV’s ‘Inside No. 9’.
Alice Lowe leads the cast as Ruth, making her a woman who can fall into the role of almost anyone she wants to be – mother pet shopping for her son, night clubber, interviewee – and it is this, combined with her absolute lack of qualms or remorse over her killings spree that makes her fearsome. Of course, since the character is heavily pregnant, an element of vulnerability is immediately attached to the character, and this, combined with Ruth’s late stage doubts about what she believes her unborn child is bidding her do, makes for a surprisingly rounded, if damaged, character; the kind that Lowe plays best. The rest of the cast features Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley and Tom Davis.
Alice Lowe’s screenplay for ‘Prevenge’ is filled with gruesome moments and darkly hilarious situations, but it is in creating a vulnerable, terrifying character that the film excels. Pregnancy is normally portrayed as something life affirming, that creates a sense of nurturing in a person, and by making Ruth a pregnant killer, ‘Prevenge’ not only turns expectations on their heads, but makes the film dark and subversive.
As director Alice Lowe manages to create some incredibly, and deliberately, annoying characters on screen, all while giving Ruth a sense of being an avenging angel. It is difficult not to root for Ruth – even as we are unsure what has prompted her killing spree – as Lowe makes her identifiable, funny and with a twisted but real sense of justice. The killing scenes are as violent and bloody as you would hope, and those who are faint of heart or not fans of black comedy may struggle, but there is a sense of joy around ‘Prevenge’ that is hard to create, yet utterly irresistible. A stronger narrative and back story may have helped the film, but with the fearless Alice Lowe at the helm, ‘Prevenge’ is a dark, ugly and brilliant treat.
In all, ‘Prevenge’ is a dark, bloody and often hilarious film about a pregnant woman seeking justice, prompted by the demands of her unborn baby. Most of the characters in the film are utterly unlikeable, but it is difficult not to root for Ruth as she searches for revenge and the truth. A fantastic debut from Lowe as a director.
Review by Brogen Hayes
20TH CENTURY WOMEN (USA/16/119mins)
Directed by Mike Mills. Starring Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann
THE PLOT: In late 1970s California, Dorothea (Annette Bening) and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) live together in a large house, along with lodgers Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). The film navigates the relationships that Jamie forms between his mother, his housemate and Julie (Elle Fanning) the girl he has a crush on and who climbs in his window to sleep beside him every night.
THE VERDICT: ’20th Century Women’ is an examination of three generations of women in the late 1970s, and the choices they make in their lives. While the characters are well rounded, verbose and interesting, they are also let down by a script that has some lovely scenarios, but very little story.
Annette Bening leads the cast as the vibrant and engaging Dorothea, and makes a woman who grew up in the 1920s essential and bright, but also relatable and fun. Bening easily carries the film on her shoulders, and is the lynchpin that holds the film together. Greta Gerwig makes Abbie a lost but determined young woman who has moved away from her family, but thinks she knows what she wants in her life. Gerwig makes Abbie the least familiar character we have seen her play on screen to date, but she is also a character we have seen in film before. Still, Gerwig is vibrant and engaging on screen. Elle Fanning rounds out the central trio of women as a troubled young woman who is fascinating, but pushes people away from her. Billy Crudup makes William a fun character, and Lucas Jade Zumann makes Jamie a relatable teenager throughout the film.
Mike Mills’ screenplay gives a lot of focus to the characters in the film, making them rounded, engaging, verbose and relatable, but they seriously struggle to make the film feel like a contained story, as there is very little story to keep the scenes joined together. Several moments throughout the film are charming and filled with heart, but they never truly come together to make this well written, slightly pretentious film a narrative as a whole.
As director Mike Mills makes sure that the actors make their characters feel like truly real people on screen, and they are often vibrant and utterly engaging, but they struggle to keep the momentum of the film moving, since there is very little in the way of story to be told. That said, it is a delight to spend time with Dorothea and her house of assorted characters as they try to find where they belong in a newly feminist world.
In all, ’20th Century Women’ has a great cast, strong characters and lovely dialogue, but there is a sincere lack of story to hold this drifting and loose story together.
Review by Brogen Hayes
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (USA | UK | China/15A/113mins)
Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart
THE PLOT: On returning from Iraq after earning the Silver Star for valour in combat, Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) and his squadron are sent on tour around the US, culminating in an appearance at the NFL Thanksgiving Game in 2004, with Destiny’s Child. Through flashback, the audience learns just what happened on the day that Lynn is being hailed for, and the inner conflicts he is struggling with, when considering whether or not to go back to Iraq.
THE VERDICT: Based on Ben Fountain’s satirical noel of the same name, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ lacks the satire that made the book such a success, and in trying to tell several strands of Billy’s story over the course of one day, the film goes from a satire on the commerciality of war and the flag waving nature of America, to a mish mash of stories that really ends up saying nothing.
Joe Alwyn leads the cast as the titular Billy Lynn; compared to the rest of the troop, Lynn comes across as quiet and thoughtful, and even though the film tries to labour the point that Lynn is suffering from PTSD, this never really comes across. Alwyn is fine in the role, but he is really more of a plot point than a character, as others talk at him, and things happen around him but rarely seem to actually affect him. Steve Martin plays a charming but greedy billionaire, Garrett Hedlund plays the loud and strict Sergeant Dime, Chris Tucker plays the man trying to get the squadron a movie deal, Kristen Stewart plays Lynn’s sister Kathryn, who spouts anti-war sentiments that were perhaps fresh at the time in 2004, but feel staid and unoriginal. The rest of the cast features Vin Diesel, Makenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson and Elizabeth Chestang as a faux-Beyonce.
Screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli makes his debut with ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’, although he has worked with Ang Lee in the past, as associate producer on ‘Life of Pi’, and researcher on ‘The Ice Storm’. It seems that Castelli struggled to translate the trademark satire from novel to screen, leaving ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ feeling as though it is trying to address everything at once, but ends up actually shining a new or interesting light on nothing at all. The dialogue is expository and uninspired, and the awkward and clunky flashbacks in the film are jarring and do not flow at all. As well as this, there is little dramatic arc in the film, and it seems as though none of the characters learn or grow through their experiences.
As director, Ang Lee plays up the contrast between the decadence of the US and the poverty of the people of Iraq – not so artfully done with flashback – and the stereotypical Americanness of Thanksgiving, football, spectacle and the troops. There is a sequence that feels as though it is hitting the mark, when Lynn and his colleagues find them onstage with Destiny’s Child as dancers gyrate around them, but this is a fleeting moment, after which this biting criticism fades away. As well as this, casting a faux-Beyonce – as well as the rest of Destiny’s Child – does not work on screen. It is so obvious that the most powerful popstar in the world – who recently broke Instagram records with her pregnancy announcement – was not involved in the film at all, as to be laughable. The performances in the film are hit and miss, Garrett Hedlund is about the only actor who comes out unscathed, and Kristen Stewart’s performance is so wooden, it feels as though it hails from her ‘Twilight’ days, as she has greatly grown as an actress since then. The pacing is a mess, and the awkward flashbacks ruin any flow the film manages to create.
In all, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is a film that tries to be scathing and satirical, but in trying to address too many issues throughout the film, it goes from having the potential to say something new and interesting to a messy, badly paced, heavy handed and unengaging film that fails to deliver on the promise of its one moment of greatness.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MEETINGS WITH IVOR (Ireland/TBC/81mins)
Directed by Alan Gilsenan.
THE PLOT: Irish psychiatrist, author, former Chief Psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board, and Professor emeritus of psychiatry at University College Dublin, as well as self proclaimed maverick, Ivor Browne has been a controversial figure in his chosen field for many years, since he has come to oppose drugs often used in psychiatry after being involved in procedures including ECT, lobotomy and deep insulin coma as a means to treat mental illness.
THE VERDICT: ‘Meetings with Ivor’ focuses on Ivor Browne reflecting on his career in his own words, as well as having conversations with well known people including comedian Tommy Tiernan, Mary Coughlan, journalist Nell McCafferty and playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry. Through the conversations Ivor Browne comes off as affable and humble, and frequently talks about the anxiety that has plagued his life and driven him to succeed or, in his own words, “not to be an absolute failure”.
Cinematographer Colm Hogan has shot some beautiful images of Browne throughout his interviews and conversations, as well as ambient footage that underlines and gives life to the stories that Browne is telling. Director Alan Gilsenan makes sure that the film is beautifully put together, and that Browne’s views on the past and future of the way mental health is treated and regarded in Ireland and abroad are clearly and carefully laid out. As well as this Gilsenan allows Browne to speak about his views and predictions for the planet and the future of humanity, even though these are less than cheery.
Although ‘Meetings with Ivor’ is a beautifully put together film, and it is certainly a timely film about a timely topic, there are times when it becomes clear that this is a film with a limited appeal. Those who are unaware of who Ivor Browne is and his work in the medical world will find plenty to fascinate in the film, it is highly unlikely that the audience for the film will expand further than those who are already familiar with Browne.
In all, ‘Meetings with Ivor’ is a beautifully put together documentary about a self proclaimed maverick, whose views on mental health have always been controversial, but although there is plenty to fascinate audiences, it is unlikely to grab the attention of those who are unfamiliar with Browne and his work.
Review by Brogen Hayes