This weeks new movies reviewed by Paul Byrne including Margin Call, War Horse, The Darkest Hour and more…

MARGIN CALL (USA/15A/106mins)
Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore.
THE PLOT: It’s 2008, and at a Manhattan Wall Street investment bank, as he’s been led out of the building, senior risk manager Eric Dale (Tucci) hands a USB stick to his protégé Peter Sullivan (Quinto). Later that night, Peter realizes that the company is in serious trouble, holding enough plummeting mortgage-based assets to close them down. And so he lets his boss, Will (Bettany), know, and a meeting involving all the big guns is quickly pulled together. So they can work a way of passing on these toxic assets to unsuspecting customers…
THE VERDICT: Written and directed by newcomer J.C. Chandor (who has just landed a two-picture deal with Warners), this dramatized account of the financial meltdown of 2008 has plainly been inspired particularly by the Lehman Brothers collapse. Jeremy Irvine has a lot of fun here as slightly clueless and shamelessly ruthless CEO John Tuld; Lehman’s real-life CEO was called Dick Fuld. Although Elmer Fudd might have been a better moniker, given the cruel misery his company helped create. Of course, one can hardly forget Goldman Sachs either in all this, flying high after having sold its clients investments on whose failure it then bet quite profitably. Don’t you just love the world of finance! Chandor does a fine job in capturing the agony and the sleave involved, Margin Call making a fine companion piece to Craig Ferguson’s 2010 documentary Inside Job. RATING: 3/5

WAR HORSE (USA/UK/12A/146mins)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thwelis.
THE PLOT: Set during the Great War of 1914 to 1918, the film opens in Devon, just before the war, as proud if slightly drunk farmer Ted Narracott (Mullan) outbids his conceited landlord (Thwelis, once again playing a thwat) for a chestnut horse. Ted’s wife (Watson) reckons the horse was too expensive, and clearly not a farm horse, but their teenage son, Albert (newcomer Irvine), finds a new best friend in Joey. When war breaks out though, and money proves too tight, Ted sells the family pet to Captain Nicholls (Hiddleston). And so Joey’s four-year adventure abroad begins, Albert determined that, one day, he’ll bring his horse home…
THE VERDICT: When, on February 1st, 2010, Steven Spielberg saw Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel at the New London Theatre, he wept. Three months later, after seeing Richard Curtis’ first script draft, he leapt from being producer to directing for the first time since 2008’s Crystal Skull. By the following month, the cast were ready to roll. Spielberg had time on his hands, as the Weta special effects wizards worked their magic on Tintin, and so, as anyone would, he decided a $90m WW1 movie would help pass a good three months in the English countryside. And give Spielberg a Serious Movie to contrast with the blockbuster, motion-capture extravaganza of Tintin.
The results taste a little more like Amistad than Schindler’s List though, being another well-intentioned movie that buckles under the weight and expectations of its own pomp and historical importance. Think Saving Black Beauty. Only not as intriguing or entertaining as that might sound. RATING: 2/5

THE DARKEST HOUR (USA/Russia/15A/88mins)
Directed by Chris Gorak. Starring Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachel Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Ozerova.
THE PLOT: Two would-be software designer moguls Sean (Hirsch) and Ben (Minghella) arrive in Moscow only to find that their Russian investor Skyler (Kinnaman) has decided instead to simply steal their globetrotting app. Down but not entirely out, the duo attempt to drown their sorrows in a local nightclub where they meet up with holidaying babes Natalie (Thirlby) and Anne (Taylor), the foursome having just about enough time to introduce themselves before strange electric charges descend from the sky. And proceed to microwave the hell out of Moscow. Surviving the massacre, along with the cowardly, double-crossing Skyler, our incredibly irritating protagonists hook up with what appears to be Russian tribute acts for Right Said Fred and Vanessa Paradis (Ozerova), as they make their way across the city to a waiting submarine…
THE VERDICT: I think we might just have found the worst film of 2012. And it’s only January! For the first half hour, I thought I was watching a homemade 1978 cinema ad for Zhivago’s nightclub (Baggot Street’s failed answer to Studio 54). And given the fact that you’re always at least two steps ahead of the protagonists here meant The Darkest Hour played like a new Channel 4 series, Surviving An Alien Invasion With The Amish.
It’s easy to tell who here has a good agent; their character gets killed off early. How bad is this movie? Hilariously bad. Just not hilariously bad enough for me to actually recommend it. The lighting, the script, the acting and the direction are ferociously flat, the 3D seems to exist purely to make the subtitles float, and Max Minghella runs like he’s just had an unfortunate run-in with a poker. A dull film. In every possible way. RATING: 1/5

SHAME review is coming soon! Watch this space!

Reviews by Paul Byrne