We review this week’s new cinema releases, including MONSTERS UNIVERSITY and PACIFIC RIM
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (USA/G/104mins)
Directed by Dan Scanlon. Starring John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean P. Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plana, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger,
THE PLOT: It’s been a life-long dream of hard-working, by-the-book, one-eyed walking apple Mike Wazowski (voiced by Crystal) to scare the bejiggers out of kids. And that means attending Monsters University. Before you can say Scary Animal House though, Mike soon realizes that some monsters have to work hard to impress teacher, whilst others – such as James P. Sullivan (Goodman) – are blessed with a natural ability and a top-of-the-class family line. It doesn’t take long before this odd, warring couple have to work together though when they find themselves leading a fraternity house of losers through a series of boo-or-die tests as they cling on desperately to their college seats…
THE VERDICT: It’s hard to say exactly when Pixar’s Beatles-esque run lost a wheel, but the dream is pretty much over with Monsters University, an enjoyable but – gulp! – ultimately ordinary cartoon feature from the godfathers of CG animation. The wobble that set in with 2006’s Cars (aka The Magical Mystery Tournament) became a swerve into the ditch with that film’s 2011 sequel. And if Brave is a better film than many critics seem to realise, its nasty production history merely concreted Pixar’s fall from reverence.
And so, from hereon in, the arrival of a new Pixar film will be greeted with just as much trepidation as anticipation. Here’s hoping they can surprise us all again some time in the not too distant future. In amidst all these highly lucrative sequels, of course.
Review by Paul Byrne
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS (USA/15A/130mins)
Directed by Alex Gibney. Starring Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo
THE PLOT: Filmmaker Alex Gibney takes on the story of Wikileaks, in particular, the story of founder Julian Assange, who is currently an asylum seeker at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
The trouble with telling a story about Wikileaks is that it is going to boil down to two things; the enigmatic and charismatic Julian Assange and his personal life, and the story of Bradley Manning, who was jailed for revealing US military secrets to Wikileaks, and this is exactly what ends up happening.
Alex Gibney follows the story chronologically, and in doing so, reveals that Julian Assange was known as a hacker in Australia 20 years ago, and has since developed an obsession with an open and honest society. So far so good, but when Assange was accused of sexual assault crimes in Sweden and fled the country, journalist James Ball – who worked with Assange at Wikileaks – insists that Assange became obsessed with his own secrecy, even going so far as to demand his colleagues sign non-disclosure agreements. Not quite the behaviour one would expect from the founder of a website determined to ‘steal secrets’.
At the other end of the story is Bradley Manning; a US soldier who sent information to Wikileaks before confiding in a stranger online and being turned in for his ‘crimes’. The film takes an odd turn as it delves deep into Manning’s personal life, and reveals that he was gay and his biggest concern about being discovered was that he would be identified in the media as ‘a boy’. The film dips in and out of Manning’s story at seemingly odd points, and while Manning (and now Edward Snowden) is perhaps the most famous whistleblower in the history of Wikileaks, his story and Assange’s do not always gel together that well.
THE VERDICT: Alex Gibney has gone underneath the veneer of an organisation in the public eye for both the work that Wikileaks does and the scandals surrounding its founder. The film tends to meander, losing some of the efficiency that Gibney is known for, and trying to push Manning and Assange’s stories together does not always work. In the end, instead of this film being the story of the organisation, it becomes the story of its founder. That, in itself, is interesting as it is claimed that Assange deliberately did not separate the professional from the allegations against him so that they looked to be an attack on Wikileaks and it seems almost impossible to separate the man from the work on screen.
Although wedging Manning and Assange’s stories together may not always work, an interesting contrast emerges; Julian Assange, rockstar activist who is cool, aloof and often contradicts himself, and Bradley Manning; a man who lacks the confidence of the man he confides in and appears lost and lonely in a world too big for him. It appears that Assange ends up the victim of his own hypocrisy and Manning the victim of his own naivety. Neither one perfect but one certainly more sympathetic than the other.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is a fascinating film that uncovers a very different version of Julian Assange than the one we have seen so far. As with the organisation itself, the film becomes messy as it tries to untangle Assange from Wikileaks, but Gibney does show Assange in a less friendly light than we are used to, and even suggests that the assault cases in Sweden may not be as far fetched as first thought. Wedging Bradley Manning’s story into the film in so much detail was perhaps a mistake, although it gave a nice juxtaposition to the charismatic Assange, and the running time allows the narrative to meander in places, but the film is still a gripping watch that sheds a light on the man who overshadowed his own organisation.
Review by Brogen Hayes
PACIFIC RIM (USA/12A/131mins)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman.
THE PLOT: In the not too distant future, aliens have invaded Earth through a portal hidden deep under the ocean. The human race has created huge robots – piloted by two people – in order to battle the Kaiju and survive. Former pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) must team up with a rookie in a last ditch effort to save the world.
THE VERDICT: It would be fairly pointless to talk through the performances in any great detail, as each falls into the category of action movie cliché. As Raleigh, Charlie Hunnam is a man with a tortured past unwillingly brought back into the fray, Idris Elba is the commander willing to put his life on the line and Rinko Kikuchi is the rookie with everything to prove. The comic relief comes from Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the scientists tasked with finding out more about the enemy. Every single move by the characters can be seen a mile off, and there is really very little in terms of dialogue or characterisation – what little there is of it – to surprise.
Where the film comes into it’s own, however, is the visual. The Jaegers (Robots) and Kaiju (Monsters/Aliens) are not only well created, but they are built for scale. The battles between the two are epic in every sense of the word, and when a Jaeger collapses on an Alaskan beach, it is incredibly reminiscent of The Iron Giant. That said, however, the film suffers visually as all the major battles take place either at night, in the rain, or at the bottom of the ocean, which leaves them difficult to watch at times.
Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro’s screenplay is patchy, and the dialogue is often riddled with clichés, and del Toro’s direction certainly seems to be focused on the non-human characters in the film. There are some great moments, however; Charlie Day has rarely been as good, and his double act with Burn Gorman is fun (for the most part) and Idris Elba gets some of the best and most cheesy lines in the film.
If you go into Pacific Rim expecting fights on an epic scale, you will not be disappointed. If you expect strong dialogue and well fleshed out characters however, you will. Pacific Rim never tries to be anything it’s not, and that is where the charm lies. Just don’t think about it too much, the film ought to come with a plothole warning.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Pablo Berger. Starring Maribel Verdu, Macarena Garcia
THE PLOT: Blancanieves is a black and white, silent reimagining of the Snow White fairy tale, where Snow White is the daughter of a bullfighter and must struggle to find herself and pay homage to her father, while escaping the cruelty of her evil stepmother.
Thank god for The Artist. If we did not have Michel Hazanavicius’ love letter to Hollywood cinema, then we probably would not have Paolo Berger’s romantic, dark and twisted version of Snow White that pays homage to early horror films and silent melodrama.
In the past year, there have been two reimagining’s of the Snow White story – from Tarsem and Rupert Sanders – but each of them managed to fall flat, as they tried to squeeze the story into shapes that didn’t suit it. Not so here. The decision to make the film silent and black and white works incredibly well for the story. Gone is the technicolour explosion of Mirror Mirror, and it is replaced with the darkness and tragedy of the original story. As well as this, simplifying the story with minimal dialogue cards allows the emotion of the scenes to spill over to the audience.
THE VERDICT: Macarena Garcia shines as they teenage Carmen/Blancanieves, and she embodies the kindness of Snow White from the storybooks. Sofia Oria does equally as well, and ome of the most touching moments come as the young Carmencita secretly forms a bond with her father. As they play and talk, the scenes are warm and lively, something which belies the controlled and sterile environment created by the cruel Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Speaking of Maribel Verdu, she is a wonder; she embraces the cruelty and coldness of the wicked stepmother entirely, and her presence overshadows the home where Carmencita spends her childhood, and the film as a whole. There is a lot of Norma Desmond going on with the character, but this is to her credit. Verdu is deliciously wicked as the dominatrix stepmother and, while there is no doubt that this is a campy performance, it only serves to underline the melodrama and oppression of the house where Carmencita lives.
The story takes plenty of twists from the Brothers Grimm tale, but the bones of the story are still there. Once her wicked stepmother tries to have her killed, Carmencita develops amnesia and falls in with a troupe of bullfighting dwarves who name her Blancanieves. The secondary villain and the love interest develop from this merry band and, as Blancanieves remembers herself and finally fulfils the dreams of her father, the wicked stepmother pounces with her poisoned apple. This ain’t no Disney story though, and there was never going to be a happy ending.
Since the film is silent, a lot rides on the actors facial expressions – which are wonderfully melodramatic, but never over done – musical scoring and the visual. The music is inspired by the land of the film’s setting, and strangely flamenco music over treacherous plots works incredibly well. There are some wonderful visual moments, a standout being a close up of an apple that turns into a skull by way of explanation that it has been poisoned.
Director Pablo Berger had fun making this film, and it shows. Blancanieves is inventive, ambitious and broad and, while the film takes a while to get where it is going, the performances pick up the slack for the pacing of the film. Kiko de la Rica’s black and white cinematography is both austere and lush, and through the focus on the female face adds an old world feeling to a new twist of a classic tale.
Blancanieves is a funny, tragic and beautiful piece of filmmaking, which pays homage to European melodramatic and horror films of the silent era. There are a couple of lulls throughout the film, but the performances, cinematography and visual cues are so strong that the journey is enjoyable, despite the delays. Verdu shines as the campy villainess of the piece, and Macarena Garcia is magnetic as the title character.
Review by Brogen Hayes