We review this week’s new cinema releases, including NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS I and II…
NYMPOMANIAC PART 1 (Denmark/Germany/France/Belgium/UK/18/118mins)
Directed by Lars von Trier. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nelson.
THE PLOT: Found beaten and abandoned in an alley, Joe (Gainsbourg) is taken home by middle-aged, seemingly asexual saviour Seligman (Skarsgard), the latter being rewarded for his good deed by a chapter-by-chapter account of his patient’s sexual adventures. “I’m just a bad human being,” warns Joe at the outset. In the first chapter, we see the young Joe (Martin) and her friend (Sophie Kennedy Clark) competing for a bag of chocolate sweets as they seduced men on a train. In the second, Joe falls in love with her office boss (LaBeouf), her first real lover, and first real heartbreak, but their rekindled affair ends when he leaves to marry another woman. In the third chapter, Joe and her married lover (Hugo Speer) are confronted by the latter’s wife (Thurman) – who wants to her kids to see “the whoring bed” – whilst the closing two chapters deal first with the painful death of Joe’s father (Slater) in hospital, and a doomed reteaming with her the man who took her virginity. All the while, Seligman delivers some analogies and homilies (all thanks to what the director is calling Digressionism)…
THE VERDICT: So, as the mainstream embraces – or, at the very least, accepts – porn as part of most people’s lives, it’s interesting to watch the lines being blurred ever further. The line between arthouse and porn has long been a hard one to find, of course, no matter how much time we claim to have spent looking for it. And when it comes to generating moolah, there are no prizes for guessing which one comes first.
Do the censors really have any control anymore about what people watch? The internet has taken porn away from the ravers and the rainmac brigade and brought it into the home. And into every room in that home. And for many fame-hungry young bucks today, shooting a porn is akin to getting a tattoo.
How could Lars von Trier not be attracted to such a rich subject, especially given that porn, for all its mainstream acceptance, still has the potential to shock and upset. And cause controversy. Two young girls playing at being frogs by grinding a wet bathroom floor, or enjoying the ‘sensation’ of wrapping their legs around a gym hanging rope; a girl at her volcano has always struck a very different chord to a young boy discovering his sexuality.
Released not only in the cinemas this weekend but also on-demand (through Volta in this country), Nymphomaniac is, as you would suspect, a tease. We’re constantly bracing ourselves for the nudity, the rush, the sadness,the brutality. Which means that, when it doesn’t happen, we’re left disorientated, disappointed, disjointed, unsure of what it is we really want from this film. Less yakking and more yowsa, I reckon, might have helped this highly charged but slyly de-eroticised Emmanuelle for nerds. Or Black Snake Moan with a PhD.
Review by Paul Byrne
NYMPOMANIAC PART II (Denmark/Germany/France/Belgium/UK/18/123mins)
Directed by Lars von Trier. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Willem Dafoe, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nelson, Mia Goth, Kookie Ryan, Papou.
THE PLOT: The further erotic adventures of the beaten and abandoned Joe (Gainsbourg) as she recovers in the home of middle-aged, seemingly asexual good Samaritan Seligman (Skarsgard) – including Joe falling pregnant by Jerome (LaBeouf), finding escape with two African men (Ryan, Papou), and dominator K (Dafoe). Which may explain why Jermoe takes their child away, leading Joe to sex addiction therapy. When she later gets a job as a debt collector, training in a new teenage girl, P (Goth), to catch a paedophile leads to an affair, and a journey back to Jerome…
THE VERDICT: More of the same. Only less so. Despite the longer running time.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Anson Mount, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy.
THE PLOT: In what feels like a film that you’ve seen at least a dozen times before, Neeson plays jaded air marshall Bill Marks, on a New York to London flight when he gets the first of a series of teasing texts. Either our boy gets $150m into his account, or one-by-one of his 150 fellow passenger is going to get it in the neck every 20 minutes. And just to add a little twist to proceedings, the bank account turns out to be Marks’ own. Which suddenly makes him suspect no.1, as his name gets splashed and bashed across the media. Cue a few more twists and turns. And lots of shouting. And shooting. And cliches.
THE VERDICT: It’s hard to get annoyed with Liam Neeson for becoming the new John Wayne. A recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s chatshow in the US had a nice set-up with a supposed fan requesting that the actor threaten him. To see Neeson turn it on with the flick of the light switch, you could see his happy embrace of this newfound nice-guy-turned-rampaging-revenger blockbuster role. Rather than settling into quiet, older man roles in earnest Oscar-chasing films, Neeson has, like De Niro and so many others, decided to have a little fun instead. And make a shitload of money along the way too, of course. And it’s not like anyone is about to tell Neeson that any of these movies are bad. This is Charles Bronson territory. Or, in the case of the very so-so Non-Stop (in which the Ballymena boy reteams with his Unknown director), Chuck Norris territory. Still, Neeson gives good snarl. And he’s one of us. So, you know, go see it. Or else
Review by Paul Byrne
THE BOOK THIEF (USA/Germany/12A/131mins)
Directed by . Starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Roger Allam.
THE PLOT: When her family is torn apart by the Nazi rule of Germany, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is taken in by Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rose (Emily Watson). As she grows curious about the world around her, Hans teaches Liesel to read, a pastime she finds comfort and solace in. Liesel soon shares her passion with others, including the young Jewish man being hidden in her family’s basement.
THE VERDICT: As Liesel, Sophie Nélisse captures both the fear and wonder of child thrust into a foreign home. As she opens up under Hans’s careful eye, Nélisse reveals her character to be as strong-willed as she is innocent, and the young actress manages the role well, even if it seems the accent she is given constrains her at time. Much of the warmth of the film comes from her relationship with Hans, and Geoffrey Rush makes the character gentle and sweet. The relationship between the two characters is warm, and provides the emotional heart of the film. Emily Watson gives a strong performance as Rose, a woman with a good heart but a gruff exterior. Nico Liersch captures childlike persistence as Rudy and Ben Schnetzer provides Liesel with another friend as Max.
The trouble with the film lies not in the performances, but with the tone of the film. Liesel’s life is undoubtedly tough, but it seems that director Brian Percival was trying to capture the tone of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and decided to gloss over many of the more challenging scenes and themes in the film, leaving the Nazi storyline on the back burner, in favour of focusing on the horrors of not having enough books to read. What we are left with is an overly sentimental look at the life of a German child in WWII, that feels unfulfilling, even though the film is crammed with strong performances. The pacing, over the 131 minutes of the film, also falters, leaving the film feeling drawn out and slow.
Screenwriter Michael Petroni introduces the idea that Death (Roger Allam) has a fascination with Liesel, but quickly drops the idea, which means that one of the most interesting notions in the film is sidelined until absolutely necessary. Death is one of the strongest themes of the film, and one of the most interesting characters, is not given a chance to make The Book Thief anything other than a sweet but thin look at the life of a girl obsessed with the written word.
In all, The Book Thief is a film that sets out to examine the plight of the German people in WWII, but quickly shies away from the idea leaving the film beautifully designed, full of strong performances but slow, thin and badly paced. Nélisse and Rush shine, but this is not enough to make The Book Thief anything other than perfectly average.
Review by Brogen Hayes
RIDE ALONG (USA/12A/99mins)
Directed by Tim Story. Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Lawrence Fishburne.
THE PLOT: Ever since he accidentally burned his future brother in law, Ben (Kevin Hart) has known that James (Ice Cube) has little affection for him. When he is accepted into the Police Academy, in order to win James’s trust – and the confidence to propose to Angela (Tika Sumpter) – Ben asks to go on a police ride along with James. Of course, the day does not run as smoothly as planned.
THE VERDICT: Ride Along is not really much in terms of a film, in fact, it is pointed out several times that it is a comic version of Training Day and, in as much as that film was far less than perfect, so is this one. Fans of the fast talking, wise cracking Kevin Hart will doubtless be delighted at his casting in the film, and those who have a lot of time for Ice Cube will surely appreciate his stern and mildly entertaining cop persona.
John Leguizamo turns up as police officer Santiago, and has some nice comedic interactions with fellow officer Miggs, played by Bryan Callen, but they sometimes feel like the token other characters, as this is a story all about Hart and Cube.
In terms of story, Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay feels like nothing particularly new, and the film relies so heavily on Hart’s motor mouth that when he finally shuts up, there is little that is entertaining about the film… Not that there was much to begin with. The story winds to such an inevitable and predictable conclusion as to be almost insulting, and the jokes mostly revolve around Hart screeching or getting beaten up, which hardly comprises comedy, let alone wit.
Director Tim Story seems to have phoned in his job from home, as it feels like he gave single word motivations to each of his lead actors; ‘screechy’ and ‘stern’. There are some moments of fun, but Ride Along ends up feeling like the pairing between Shrek and Donkey, only it’s not funny… Not funny at all.
Ride Along tries to be the comedic version of Training Day and in some ways, it succeeds; the characters are one note and difficult to relate to, and the story is so predictable as to be laughable. Ice Cube and Hart do their best, but without any true motivation or fleshed out characters, they are doomed to fail.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Mark O’Connor. Starring Hope Brown, Sarah Byrne, Evan Cashin, Stephen Clinch, Michael Collins, Barry Keoghan, John Connors, Peter Coonan, Shane Curry.
THE PLOT: Wandering the streets of Dublin as Christmas kicks in, like any headstrong homeless man, Oliver Nolan (Collins, from O’Connor’s King Of The Travellers) starts believing he’s on a mission from God. And that mission is, of course, to save some souls. Drink other people’s coffees. Ride the Luas for free. And seeing the world through red-tinted glasses. The first lucky soul to be saved is teenager Tommy (Keoghan), Nolan taking the boy under his wing after seeing off bullies, facing up to both his drug-addict mum (Monahan) and drug-dealer uncle Rudyard (Coonan), and even taking the impressionable young lad to his first IFI film.
THE VERDICT: Ireland’s first crowd-funded feature film, Stalker premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh back in July 2012. Where it failed to find distribution, hence filmmaker Mark O’Connor’s decision to self-release the film. For Irish audiences, the fact that the cast is largely made up of Love/Hate regulars muddies the water. It’s as they all got together at Christmas for an arty, improvised misery-porn panto. Coonan pimping it up with swishing ponytail, velvet-crush jackets, medallions and fey accent as the flamboyant, cigar-chomping, opera-loving, toyboy-attacking hairdresser is particularly comical, although it’s hard to tell if that’s the kick Coonan was aiming for.
It makes for a heady, disorientating little film, one that staggers to its own particular rhythm. Christmas is the perfect time for battling demons, and O’Connor – who co-wrote the script with his brother, John – isn’t afraid to let the madness reign. And they stay true to the crazy that just keeps on coming.
Pat Shortt does Travis Bickle. Whilst drunk.
Review by Paul Byrne