We review this week’s new cinema releases, including DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON…
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA/12A/130mins)
Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston.
THE PLOT: As the opening apocalyptic TV news montage explains, it’s been 10 years since the outbreak of the Simian Flu at the end of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and king of the swingers Caesar (Serkis) and his ever-evolving primate pals have set up their new colony in the woods on the outskirts of San Francisco. When not mentoring his son, Blue Eyes (Thurston), and getting ready for the arrival of a new sprog, Caesar is busy making sure that this nascent civilisation is that little bit more civilised than the one they ran away from. Only trouble is, man is still around, a scouting party led by the wide-eyed and compassionate Malcolm (Clarke) proving unwelcome guests as they set out to repair an old damn generator. Told in no uncertain terms to “Go!”, the fact that these apes can talk fascinates Malcolm. And sends a chill up the spine of Dreyfus (Oldman) back at base, pushing his determination to help this small human colony thrive, no matter what the cost…
THE VERDICT: It says a lot about how far motion capture has come that you never once pause to think about the technology involved in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. When Caesar goes head to head with a rebel in his ranks, or those pesky humans, it’s all about the performance, not the strings. Of course, it helps when that performance is attached to a good script, and director Matt Reeves (coming off of Cloverfield and that solid Let The Right One In remake, Let Me In) is a very steady hand for what could have been a very rocky ship. A solid franchise relaunch in 2011 (with the $481m-earning Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes) exited with an apocalypse, as the apes revolted and bolted and the human race battled against that deadly Simian Flu. How to follow that without going full Bay bombastic? Well, here’s how. Dawn is lush, serene, mean, moody and often magnificent – thanks in part to veteran cinematographer Michael Seresin (Midnight Express, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity), and the innovation of taking motion-capture outside the studio – and it’s definitely one for the big screen.
Review by Paul Byrne
I AM DIVINE (USA/IFI/90mins)
Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. Starring Divine, John Waters, Michael Musto, Mark Payne, Greg Gorman, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe.
THE PLOT: Born in Maryland, Baltimore to conservative, middle-class parents, the young Harris Glen Milstead – everyone called him Glen – was your typical bullied, overweight only child. And then he met the budding young filmmaker John Waters, and realised that, despite having a girlfriend for the past two years, deep, deep down, Glen wanted to be Liz Taylor. And so Divine, a brazen grotesque of a drag queen, was born, a growing cult status as the leading lady in Waters’ early outings finally breaking both of them into the mainstream with 1972’s Pink Flamingos – in which, famously, Divine ate a fresh-out-of-the-oven dog poo. It did the trick, launching Divine as a star, the growing movie fanbase leading to theatre hits, and an unlikely sideline into disco diva with a string of dancefloor hits. Not that it was all fun and dames, weight and drug problems never quite numbing the pain of being rejected by his parents as soon as he came out as a teenager. Determined to be accepted outside of his Divine persona, Glen’s career finally hit the mainstream in 1988 with critical acclaim for Hairspray (Waters’ and Divine’s Love Shack) and a role on the hot TV sitcom Married With Children, all not long after a tender reconciliation with his mother Frances (who died in 2009) and father Harris (who had passed in 1993)…
THE VERDICT: A life story that John Waters has gleefully and eloquently recounted through many a stage show and DVD commentary, it’s still something of a treat to see the awkward, likeable, round-faced Baltimore teen here become the foulmouthed, hip-shaking, lobster-shagging Hitchcock-in-drag Queen of Trash. Hinting at the pain behind all the gleeful madness every now and then, director Jeffrey Schwarz is far more interested in inviting us to celebrate and enjoy this wild party of a life than to go through the past darkly. That Glen had deep wounds and high goals meant Divine was no crash-and-burn Warholian pony, the quality of the work growing steadily better and better.
Besides Waters and Glen’s mum, there are, as expected, some beautiful freaks and chics on parade here, with the likes of Mink Stole and Glenn’s late stage co-star Helen Hanft offering up some sweet, chucklesome memories.
Review by Paul Byrne
PUDSEY THE DOG: THE MOVIE (UK/PG/97mins)
Directed by Nick Moore. Starring Jessica Hynes, David Walliams, Olivia Colman, John Sessions.
THE PLOT: The winner of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 makes his big screen debut in Pudsey the Dog: The Movie. Pudsey is taken in by the Wilson family as they move from London to a small village, but when Pudsey discovers that the family’s landlord intends to bulldoze their home to make way for a shopping centre, it is up to the dog to save the day.
THE VERDICT: Jessica Hynes stars as the head of the Wilson family, and she just about gets away with being in this thin and charmless film. Hynes is a great actor and writer, and she brings a touch of reality to this decidedly unreal and over the top film. The rest over the cast chew on any available scenery and generally ham it up as much as possible. The same goes for the animal cast who, bizarrely, have been provided with voices for the film. David Walliams voices Pudsey the Dog, with Pudsey’s trainer Ashleigh voices a cow, Olivia Colman and Pete Serafinowicz voice two horses.
Paul Rose has written a decidedly thin and familiar film around the fact that this dog can dance. The film feels a little like Nanny McPhee meets Mrs Brown’s Boys, with any dodgy kids TV show you care to mention thrown in for good measure. As well as the thin story, there is a pig who thinks he’s a chicken and numerous nonsensical plot twists.
Director Nick Moore brought us Horrible Henry and Wild Child in the past, and dials up the ridiculous for this film. The adults are all supremely over the top, and somehow the choice to have the animals’ mouths move when they are talking – but only sometimes – was thought to be a good idea. It would be easy to say that Pudsey the Dog: The Movie is a harmless film, but it is so saccharine sweet and melodramatic that exposing kids to this nonsense – instead of say, the likes of Coraline or The BFG – does nothing to promote their imaginations.
Pudsey the Dog: The Movie is a thin and decidedly unfunny film. Basing an entire movie around the fact that a dog can do tricks is shaky ground to begin with, but layering in talking animals and over the top adults is a recipe for disaster.
Review by Brogen Hayes
SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON (USA/IFII/85mins)
Directed by Mike Myers. Starring Shep Gordon, Mike Myers, Michael Douglas, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson
THE PLOT: Shep Gordon is something of a legend on the music and movie scenes, but while he is well known to those in the know, not many actually know the story of the man behind the management. Mike Myers – yes, that Mike Myers – directs a documentary about a man who singlehandedly brought the world Alice Cooper, celebrity chefs and Teddy Pendergrass, and has proven himself, time and again, to be one of the good guys.
THE VERDICT: Through the eyes of Gordon’s celebrity pals and clients – Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Myers himself and many more – as well as the man himself, Gordon’s story is told. From humble beginnings as a man with a sociology degree who found himself being punched by Janis Joplin, Gordon made famous friends, and found a way to deal pot; by posing as a manager. Before long, fiction became reality – when the cops clamped down – and Shep found himself managing Alice Cooper, and finding a way to make the schlock rocker a household name.
The story told is a fascinating and funny one; Myers allows the people in Gordon’s life to speak for themselves, and what emerges is the story of a man with a big heart and the desire to protect the people that he cares for. That’s where the title of the film comes from; mensch is a Yiddish word that means ‘person of integrity’, and from paying hotel bills that he ran out on, to finding a way for people to be paid a fair wage for their work, Gordon has proven himself worthy of the title.
Of course, being a friend of Gordon, director Myers rarely touches on the darker side of this Hollywood good guy, but then perhaps there is no dark side to explore. Myers weaves together the stories of those who have worked with, crossed paths with and admire Gordon – and those that he admires, namely His Holiness the Dalai Lama – including members of the paparazzi who Gordon has formed a relationship with. There are hints at the notion that Gordon’s womanising ways may have got him into trouble at some point, but then surely this balances out when you take into consideration the fact that he took care of his ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s family?
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon proves that nice guys do not always finish last, and sometimes the word legend is not just hyperbole. Myers has crafted an elegant, funny and touching documentary about one of the big-hearted greats behind the scenes, that is uplifting, engaging, funny and touching. Is this the new Mike Myers? We can only hope.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (USA/IFI/83mins)
Directed by John Maloof, Charlie Siskel. Starring John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark, Phil Donahue, Mary Ellen Mark.
THE PLOT: When he buys a box of negatives in 2007 for $330 at an auction house, in the hope of finding images for his history project on Chicago, John Maloof believes the photographs by one Vivian Maier are worth presenting to the world. After a surge of interest in 200 Maier photographs he posted online, and a rejection letter arrives from MOMA, Maloof decides to curate an exhibition of her work at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2011 (two years after Maier’s passing). It turns out to be a resounding success, sparking a mission to unearth as many photographs by, and facts about, this mysterious Mary Poppins with a camera. Maier took her photographs as she moved from job to job as a nanny, leaving behind 100,000 negatives, 2,000 undeveloped black and white film, 700 rolls of undeveloped colour film, and 150 Super 8 and 16mm home movies. Maloof talks to the various families whom Maier worked for, whilst those in the professional world assess her work, and the impact of this new discovery. Along the way, Maloof admist some guilt about raiding the late photographer’s work and the boxes upon boxes of personal effects (including cassette diaries, letters, uncashed tax rebate cheques and even train ticket stubs) this sternly private hoarder left behind…
THE VERDICT: There’s little doubt that the street photography of the late Vivian Maier is stunning, and the fact that she hid these thousands upon thousands of photographs from being seen speaks volumes about this highly secretive, gangly, curious nanny. Capturing all walks of life through her camera lens, beyond looking after other people’s children, Maier wasn’t interested in engaging in much of what she saw. She saw herself as a spy in the house of life, “the mystery woman”, forever moving from family to family, from town to town. Here’s a life that’s intriguing, fascinating and possibly even a little bit tragic.
But this is not a film entirely about Vivian Maier – this is also an account of how a young professional flea market vulture stumbled upon a box of her negatives, and was soon curating an exhibition of Maier’s work in his native Chicago. An exhibition that set the photography world alight, and turned Maier into the kind of star she apparently never wanted to be. So, we’re getting to view Maier’s life through John Maloof’s lens, and he’s a man who’s clearly very happy to be presenting his find to the world. That Maloof doesn’t include among the many talking heads here (mainly those families that Maier nannied for) the two other major collectors of her work, Jeffrey Goldstein and Ron Slattery, is a telling omission. Maloof fails to mention too that he was selling Maier’s prints on eBay before he realised just how important they may be. He states here that he was merely blogging Maier’s work when the online reaction sparked a realisation of their worth. Jill Nichols’ Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures? (shown on the BBC earlier this year) was a far more rounded portrayal – but then, Nichols doesnt have a box of Maier’s work to sell.
Review by Paul Byrne