We review this week’s new cinema releases, including Flight and Bullhead

BULLHEAD (Belgium/15A/129mins)
Directed by Michael R. Roskam. Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Robin Valvekens, Baudoin Wolwertz, David Murgia, Tibo Vandenborre, Erico Salamone, Philippe Grand’Henry, Kristof Renson.
THE PLOT: Rural Belgian farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Schoenaerts) is a frustrated man. And we soon learn why – but, for now, he’s a man somewhat on the edge. We first meet Jacky when he steams up to another farmer and threatens him into putting the Vanmarsenille family back to the top of his supply list. And to make that a supply list of one. Later, as he and his brother Stieve (Renson) take another load of illegal hormones for their cattle, we realise that Jacky too is relying heavily on steroid injections.
With a new business opportunity arising in the black market, Jacky is wary, especially when he discovers that his estranged childhood friend Diederik (Perceval) is amongst the low-rent, high-stakes small time criminals involved. Jacky smells a rat, and he’s right, but whilst he’s busy stalking the girl (Dandoy) of his brutally aborted teenage dreams – a flashback story that explains much of today’s anger and frustration – the dodgy deal is being pushed ahead behind his back. Is it any wonder everything goes a little Lance Armstrong…?
THE VERDICT: Having been so impressive in last year’s Rust & Bone, the incredible bulk that is Matthias Schoenaerts proves himself to Belgium’s answer to Javier Bardem here in a powerhouse performance. Thankfully, writer/director Michael R. Roskam has the skills and imagination to put that performance to good use, the multi-layered Bullhead something of a dizzying treat. A dizzying treat akin to Henry Hill gatecrashing The Archers.
The pale and pasty criminal masterminds here are as far from Ocean’s 11 smooth as you could get, whilst the bungling car-jacking duo who ensure that the cops hardly need their informer seemed to have wandered in from a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie. Shades of Mystic River, Killing Them Softly and The Wasp Factory abound, but Bullhead has a sting all of its own. Don’t miss it.

Review by Paul Byrne

FLIGHT (USA/15A/138mins)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reily, Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty, James Badge Dale, Nadine Velazquez.
THE PLOT: When is a hero not a hero? Well, when he’s ripped on cocaine and alcohol as he crash lands a malfunctioning plane and saves the bulk of his passengers and crew – that can be a real pickle. Waking up in hospital to that hero’s welcome, pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) is a little crushed to find out the naked stewardess he had woken up with just that morning is amongst the six who didn’t survive the emergency landing. He’s also more than a little worried that his regular over-the-limit partying is about to be revealed, once those hospital test results are back. Determined to give up the demon drink, Whip nonetheless falls in with a former junkie he meets in the hospital, with not even the determination to reconnect with his teenage son quite enough to make Whip finally go cold turkey…
THE VERDICT: Giving us all a well-earned break from his disastrous performance-capture onslaught (The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol), Robert Zemeckis keeps it live action and traditional for this solid Denzel Washington thriller. Then again, ain’t all Denzel Washington thrillers solid? The man just keeps ploughing on, neither trying to reinvent the wheel nor sticking his tongue in his cheek, the great man’s clear and present respect for the genre giving us such recent reliables such as Training Day, Inside Man, The Taking Of Pelhman 123, Unstoppable and Safe House. Oh, and now Flight. It didn’t exactly set the box-office alight in the US – which must have been a kick in the bank balance for Washington (this being the first film where he took a cut in pay for a bigger slice of the profits) – and Flight isn’t half as credible and cool as it plainly wants to be, but it is one of those films that will have a life well beyond the opening weekend numbers. On DVD, mainly. If they’re still around.

Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Martin McDougall.
THE PLOT: The Second World War is looming, and King George VI (West) – or Bertie, as he’s known to his friends and family – and his good lady wife, Queen Elizabeth (Colman), have travelled over to the US in the hope of persuading President Franklin Roosevelt (Murray) to give old England a helping hand against those nasty Nazis. Roosevelt has other things on his mind though, such as the recent blossoming of his affair with a sixth cousin, Spinster Daisy (Linney). For Queen Liz, the trip is not a welcome one, convinced as she is that their call for help will be in vain, and, worse, that Eleanor Roosevelt (Williams) may be plotting to humiliate the royal couple. Just as Daisy discovers there’s another mistress – Roosevelt’s secretary, Missy (Marvel) – the two power couples nonetheless spark up a different kind of special relationship…
THE VERDICT: Bill Murray with a cigarillo and an uncontrollable libido – what’s not to like? Well, the often clubfooted direction of Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) for a start. The current trend for history-behind-the-scenes – spearheaded by The King’s Speech – may have peaked, if this promising but ultimately pedestrian all-star chuckle is anything to go by. And chuckle is the wrong word, Hyde Park On Hudson never quite tickling your fancy, never mind delivering on its awards-fave promise. And this must have looked like such an awards winner on paper. Originally conceived by writer Richard Nelson as a BBC Radio 3 play in 2009, it must have been crushing to see his stuttering King make it to the big screen – and Oscar glory – before the cameras even rolled here. You can almost sense the air of everyone here being late to the party.

Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by: Walter Hill. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kand, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater
THE PLOT: Mercenary and police officer Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) and Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) form an unlikely alliance to bring down a common enemy.
Yes, you have heard this story before; it seems that many films over the years have centred on an odd couple who have to overcome their differences in order to survive; Tyler Durden and the Narrator in Fight Club, Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, just about everyone else in an English language Jackie Chan movie… Bullet to the Head is no different.
THE VERDICT: Stallone is his usual unintelligible, veiny self as Jimmy Bobo, but he tries to be the brains and the brawn of the operation and he often succeeds. This then begs the question, why have Kang in there at all? Well, apart from the fact that the film is based on a book that this was obviously the plot of, there needed to be some tension to make the film more than Stallone beating up everyone in Louisiana up for 90 minutes, and Kang’s character knows everything because he calls it in on his cell phone.
Seriously, that’s how all the mysteries are solved. Ask a guy who’s paying him, Taylor calls in for information, they find the guy and beat information out of him. Silly and rather annoying.
It is, however, easy enough to overlook this choice by realising that Bullet to the Head is not supposed to make much sense, but it is supposed to be fun. And fun it is.
Christian Slater camps it up as bad guy Marcus Baptiste and it is clear that he is having a good time being back in New Orleans and back on the big screen. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje unexplainedly limps through the film without a great deal of anything, especially malice; that falls to hired henchman Keegan, played by Jason Momoa. It is when Momoa and Stallone finally meet that the film gets interesting, and their fight scenes are incredibly silly but also fun to watch.
Director Walter Hill has directed a lot of stuff for TV – and Brewster’s Millions – and it is obvious that the film needed a stronger directorial hand. That said, Bullet to the Head is one of those ridiculous films that doesn’t make a lot of sense but is a great cinematic ride. As well as this, he makes good use of New Orleans and the surrounding areas as part of the film. Screenwriter Alessandro Camon’s strength does not lie with dialogue, and it is pretty clear that he had no idea how to keep the film moving – hence the phone thing – and he obviously heard New Orleans referred to as the ‘Crescent City’ once, thought it sounded good, and used it as much as he could. New Orleanians generally do not refer to their city as such. Just saying.
Bullet to the Head is a brainless action film that is rather silly in parts, but is also a thrilling ride and a lot of fun. Stallone is unintentionally hilarious, and Momoa makes beating the crap out of people look surprisingly effortless. So bad it’s good? Yes.

Review by Brogen Hayes

I WISH (Japan/IFI/128mins)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Ryoga Hayashi, Cara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe, Hoshinosuke Yoshinaga.
THE PLOT: Havinf moved with his mother to his grandparents’ volcanic island home in the south of Japan, young Koichi (Koki) has one simple wish; that his family be reunited. Especially given that his little brother, Ryu (Ohshiro) lives in the north with their father. It’s going to take a miracle, and when a new bullet train is scheduled for the area, Koichi becomes convinced ,that two trains passing each other at 170mph would most probably create enough magic friction to spark that miracle…
THE VERDICT: Capturing the hazy dream world of childhood, writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda (Nobody Knows, Still Walking, After Life) offers up a children’s film that will enchant any adult who ever had a childhood. And a few who didn’t. It helps, of course, when your young lead has enough charm to power a hundred bullet trains, and as the two brothers arrive at that faithful crossing point, bringing along their own individual entourages, you really, really want to believe that Koichi’s miracle will come true. Think Ghibli, without the Gehry.

Review by Paul Byrne