We review this week’s new cinema releases, including GRUDGE MATCH, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY…
GRUDGE MATCH (USA/12A/113mins)
Directed by Peter Segal. Starring Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal, Camden Gray, Jim Lampley, Rich Little, Ireland Baldwin.
THE PLOT: Having abandoned their decider boxing bout three decades ago, former champs Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) are tricked into confronting their old rivalry by a rookie promoter (Hart). Sharp has just lost his job at the steel mill whilst McDonnen is delighted to have a shot at glory once more. In Sharp’s corner is his old trainer, Lightning Conlon (Arkin, the only bright light here); in McDonnen’s corner, the 30-year-old son he’s never met, BJ (Bernthal), who just happens to be a brick shithouse personal trainer. Cue much huffing and puffing, and a little bonding…
THE VERDICT: Sylvester Stallone has been firmly in Las Vegas mode for quite a few years now, happy to trade off whatever goodwill and early glory there might be out there. He got his old box-office sparring partner, Arnie, in the ring for last year’s ESCAPE PLAN, and with THE EXPENDABLES, Stallone convinced quite a few of his similarly faded and jaded buddies to join his panto parade. It’s no less credible, of course, than Adam Sandler rounding up some of his deadbeat comic friends for the likes of the GROWN-UPS outings, and in a world gone crazy on sequels, remakes and franchises, why shouldn’t sly old dogs exploit their own particular brand? And it’s not like De Niro – The Greatest Actor Of Our Time, let’s not forget – hasn’t embraced his panto potential in recent years. The man did his time on the dark side; why shouldn’t he spend his autumn years making hay with some shamelessly little light entertainment? Well, mainly because it sometimes gives up something loveless like LITTLE FOCKERS. Or HIDE & SEEK.
Review by Paul Byrne
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (USA/France/15A/104mins)
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips, Jerry Grayson.
THE PLOT: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a young folk singer looking for his big break, or at least a pay cheque. Over the course of a week, the Coen Brothers take us into his world, and the creatures that inhabit it.
THE VERDICT: Oscar Isaac, as Llewyn, is a tortured soul whose raw talent is overshadowed by considerations of money, and the mess he leaves in his wake. Isaac shows us that Llewyn is generally a good man who tries to make the right decisions, but his focus on his career frustrates those who try to get close to him. The cat who spends much of his time in Davis’s company shows Davis off to be a caring man and in fact, his troubles with the cat can be seen as an allegory for the world around Davis; unpredictable, unreliable but ultimately comforting.
Carey Mulligan finally takes a step away from the simpering roles with which she made her name, and plays an angry woman who is even angrier at allowing herself to become involved with Llewyn. Mulligan spits curse words with vitriol and her sarcastic and prickly performance is a joy to watch. John Goodman makes an appearance as a caustic junkie jazz musician, and proves that the he thrives under the careful eye of the Coens. Garret Hedlund counteracts Goodman’s talkative character as his watchful and quiet valet. Justin Timberlake, Stark Sands and Adam Driver drift through the film leaving strong impressions and upping the quirky, random feeling of the movie.
The Coen Brothers have a beautiful talent for gazing at the odd little corners of America and pulling out a big-hearted story. A far cry from Christopher Guest’s parody of the folk music scene in A Mighty Wind, The Coens instead use the music of Inside Llewyn Davis to give us a greater understanding of the tragedy that mars the lives of their characters. The tone is as dark as we have come to expect from the sibling filmmakers, but the trademark Coen kookiness is dialled down here, in terms of dialogue, and even the most over the top characters feel scaled back in order to fit into this bleak and beautifully melancholic world. Where the film suffers slightly is through a lack of ‘plot’; Llewyn is drifting, and we drift with him, aching for a resolution or a choice that never happens.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a beautifully shot glimpse into the week in the life of a man whose life is slowly falling apart. Oscar Isaac beautifully captures the tortured soul of a heartbroken troubadour whose songs appear to be mourning his career, even as it dies and that darn cat is going to break hearts. The Coen Brothers, once again, cast their careful gaze on a slice of America, and pulled a darkly comic, heart-rending story to the fore.
Review by Brogen Hayes
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (USA/Russia/12A/105mins)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Kostner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff.
THE PLOT: In the wake of 9/11, Phd student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) drops out of college and joins the military. After he is shot down over Afghanistan two years later, Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work on Wall Street as an analyst to uncover potential terrorist organisations. When one company comes to the fore, run by Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Ryan is sent to Moscow to investigate. Things take a turn, however, when Ryan’s suspicious fiancée Cathy (Kiera Knightley) follows him on his trip.
THE VERDICT: There have been plenty of movies centred around Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – including THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS – and Chris Pine is the latest actor to step into the role. Pine does fine as Ryan, but is hardly given a chance to reinvent the espionage thriller wheel. There is little doubt that Pine is charming on screen, and while the audience is on his side, we are also given a character who we know to be deeply flawed, although we are never given a chance to experience this for ourselves, leaving Pine’s version of Ryan a thin, familiar but likeable character.
Kiera Knightley tackles the American accent for her role as Cathy and does remarkably well. Even though all of the character’s suspicions about her fiancé are justified, she comes off as insecure and incredibly whiny, even as we are told that she is a strong woman. Director Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of the villain, but does little with Cherevin, other than make him stereotypical Russian bad guy. Branagh does not so much chew the scenery as ignore it, which means we are left with a villain who falls more than a little flat. Kevin Costner carries on his trend of playing likeable father figures after last year’s Man of Steel. Costner is strong in the role and his bond with Ryan is one of the great things about the film.
The story by Adam Cozad and David Koepp feels very much like a throwback to action films set in the aftermath of the Cold War; once again the villains are Russians and their target is America. For the most part, the dialogue is expository and weak, and the story feels like one we have seen done better in the past.
Director Kenneth Branagh proved with THOR that he was well able to make an engaging and thrilling action film, but with JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, it feels as though the director has taken a step back. The fight scenes are choreographed well, but the pacing is a mess, which means the film feels much longer than it is. Many of the characters feel thin and badly realised, the tension is never truly ramped up and the action does little to make up for this. As well as this, Branagh is definitely the weak link in terms of acting.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT feels like a throwback to the action films of the late 1980s, which is not always a good thing. Chris Pine manages ably, as does Kevin Costner, but Knightley is given a character who is more than a little annoying and Branagh lets the entire film down with his performance. In the end, the film is moderately entertaining; carried, as it is, by the action sequences, but there is nothing new or remarkably engaging here.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH
Directed by Matt Wolf. Starring the voices of Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Alden Ehrenreich, Ben Rosenfield, Jessie Usher, Syrie Moskowitz.
THE PLOT: Charting the rise in the first half of the 20th century of the social menace that is The Teenager, Matt Wolf’s documentary concentrates largely on four in particular – tragic English ‘bright young thing’ Brenda Dean Paul, German ‘Swing Kid’ Tommie Scheel, Hitler Youth Movement member Melita Maschmann and black American Scout Warren Wall. With diary entries and teenage musings read by various contemporary voices (including Malone and Whishaw), we view archive footage and news stories, from the birth of the teenager in 1904, as new labour laws force kids out of the factories and onto the streets, to the rebellious waves and the various attempts by those in power – most notably, the Boy Scout movement and World War 1 conscription – to control this new, dangerous breed of restless free-thinkers and hooligans.
THE VERDICT: Having tackled the last great teen rebellion, punk, with his much-celebrated 1991 book England’s Dreaming (the basis for the 1995 BBC doc, Punk And The Pistols, and a major source for Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary five years later, The Filth And The Fury), music-journalist-turned-pop-historian Jon Savage turned his attention to the pre-history of this social phenomenon with his 2007 book, Teenage: The Creation Of Youth Culture. And now Matt Wolf has made it into a damn fine film.
Shades of Bill Couturie’s 1987 documentary Dear America: Letters From Vietnam abound, as actors once again read out dusty archived missives from the battlefront. Only this time, the war was being fought in every home, as children of a certain age decided that they were no longer content with being seen but not heard.
There’s tragedies and treats aplenty along the way, moments of pure explosive joy countered by crash-landings and firm slaps across the wrist from an older generation keen to keep their offspring under control.
No Larry Clark wet dream, TEENAGE is an inspiring, insightful documentary about a section of society that struggles more than ever these days to be, well, inspiring and insightful.
Review by Paul Byrne
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Directed by John Wells. Starring Meyrl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis.
THE PLOT: The Weston family have long since gone their separate ways, but when a family tragedy brings them back to the place they grew up, secrets are revealed and the women of the family learn more about themselves and the lives they have created.
THE VERDICT: Meryl Streep dominates the screen as Violent; the mother of the Weston family who has long since allowed her disappointment at life to manifest in an addiction to narcotics. Diagnosed with cancer, Violet seems content to bounce around her home until her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) disappears. Steep is forceful and cruel, but she allows Violet a degree of understanding of her own cruelty, and warmth shines through in her relationship with her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale). Such is the strength of Streep’s performance that the audience sympathises with Violet, even as her actions turn from thoughtless to downright cruel.
Julia Roberts reminds us all of her ability as an actress with her performance as Barbara. Just as forceful and domineering as her mother, Barbara’s desire to badger and control those around her hides a layer of vulnerability and pain. Roberts holds her own against Streep and the confrontations between the two – of which there are many – are horrifying but engaging. Juliette Lewis plays Barbara’s frivolous sister Karen and Julianne Nicholson strikes a balance between the caustic Barbara and the vapid Karen, as Ivy.
The rest of the cast is made up of Chris Cooper as Charlie, uncle to the Weston girls who comes off just as cruel as his sister-in-law but has kindness and a good heart underneath, Ewan McGregor as Barbara’s kind and gentle husband who reaches the end of his tether, Dermot Mulroney as a menacing playboy, Abigail Breslin as the granddaughter of this dysfunctional family, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles. The women fare much better than the men here; Benedict Cumberbatch feels slightly miscast as the gentle but overwhelmed Little Charlie, but this could be because we are used to him taking on strong roles and this is a change of direction for the actor. Ewan McGregor fares better than Cumberbatch as his story is slowly revealed and Chris Cooper does wonderful things with one speech.
It is obvious, when watching August: Osage County, that this was based on a stage play and although the story was lovingly adapted, at times the film ends up feeling as theatrical and constrained as Roman Polanski’s Carnage, and the actors often play everything to the rafters. This, however, is what also works in the film’s favour; containing the family in the house – apparently due to the heat outside – means that tempers quickly become frayed and secrets are blurted with little care for the consequences. The house is as haunted by the fast as the family are; once grand and now decaying the space is filled with dark corners and whispered secrets even as it isolates the family from the world around them.
It is easy to see that director John Wells allowed his cast to ramp up the melodrama, but this is where the film starts to wear lightly thin; the shouting and teasing become tiresome after a while. Eventually, people walk away from the confrontations, leaving an unfinished feeling about the story, even though it is hinted that history will repeat itself and Osage County will claim its next victim. It is also easy to see why Tracy Letts’s story would work well on stage and although the story is affecting and tragic, reining in the tale could have made it more so, and allowed the real tragedy to show through.
In all, August: Osage County is a film that will leave audiences thinking that maybe their family is not so bad after all. Drama turns to melodrama as secrets are revealed and Streep turns to puppet master as she abuses and criticises those she claims to love. Through the shouting – and there is a lot of it – a tragic, engaging and affecting story emerges and Roberts, Cooper and McGregor shine in a film filled with strong performances.
Review by Brogen Hayes
IN THE NAME OF…
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska. Starring Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska, Tomasz Schuchardt, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz
THE PLOT: Adam (Andrzej Chyra) is a priest in a small town, where he takes charge of some of the more wayward young men in the area. Adam is as comfortable kicking a ball around with his young charges, as he is speaking from the altar and it seems that he is well liked by all he encounters. That is, until a young man arrives in Adam’s care and upsets the careful balance by spreading rumours about the priest’s sexuality. The innate homophobia, racism and intolerance only adds fuel to the fire.
THE VERDICT: Director Malgorzata Szumowska has created a portrait of modern Poland that is as enlightening as it is disturbing. Abusive language and actions abound in a film that is anchored by the engaging leading man. Andrzej Chyra makes Adam a man who is very aware of his own desires, even as he runs from them. Adam’s gaze is magnetic, but Chyra makes the priest a fragile character, who seems to be only just holding himself together.
The rest of the cast is made up of Maja Ostaszewska as a lonely seductress, Tomasz Schuchardt as the bullish ‘Blondie’ who tips the balance in Adam’s world and Mateusz Kosciukiewicz as the young man who fatally tips Adam’s hand.
There have been many films exploring sexuality among the clergy but Szumowska and co-writer Michal Englert hve made a film filled with masculinity, in which the leading character struggles between the faith that chose him and who he has discovered himself to be. The film looks with compassion on the man who struggles with the choices he has made in his life and is equally filled with dread, fear, longing and desire, each a facet of the central character and each allowing us to learn more about a deeply conflicted man. Where the film falls down, however, is the final sequence, which manages to completely throw a spanner into the carefully ordered works. While this one moment serves as a commentary on the rest of the film, it also manages to contradict any progress that the characters have made. As well as this, the pacing does seem to falter from time to time, which means that the final payoff and revelations feel like they are a long time coming,
Michal Englert’s cinematography is filled with a haunting beauty, even as it captures a landscape as barren and unkempt as the characters themselves, and serves to underline the isolation that Adam feels as he struggles with where his life is going.
In all, IN THE NAME OF is a fascinating and compassionate look at the idea of sexuality, not just in the clergy, but in Poland as a whole. Andrzej Chyra commands the screen as the conflicted and tortured priest and the rest of the cast manages their roles ably. The final resolution may feel like a disappointment, but this take of desire and faith is engagingly told.
Review by Brogen Hayes