Reviews – New movies opening July 26th 2013

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE WOLVERINE and BLACKFISH

THE WOLVERINE 3D (USA/12A/126mins)
Directed by James Mangold. Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi.
THE PLOT: Having spent a year in hiding, Logan (Jackman) has vowed never to use his mutant powers as Wolverine ever again. The sleeping giant is disturbed from his cave though by a mysterious Japanese martial arts babe Yukio (Fukushima), who whisks our wild man of the woods away to meet her ailing master. Who just happens to be the soldier who survived Nagasaki, thanks to Logan. The old man is dying, and is keen to swap Logan’s immortality for his own mortality. He may be tired of life, but Logan decides to hold onto his everlasting DNA just before he’s seduced by the old man’s Amazonian nurse (Khodchenkova). Shortly afterwards, the non-healing has begun, Logan now in a race against time to save the old man’s chosen granddaughter (Okamoto) from the assassins who keep springing up out of the woodwork…
THE VERDICT: Well, this is an incredible achievement – a big-budget comic-book outing with manga babes, ninja nuts, a Russian vixen, a Samurai robot, and, of course, little Jimmy Scissorhands brooding in the shadows of his mutant superpowers, and yet, somehow, The Wolverine is one very ordinary movie.
It may be considerably more eventful than 2009’s Origins outing, but, despite all the crash, bang and wallowing, this latest X-Men entry is every bit as dull. Which has got to be worrying for the money men here, given just how far ahead Marvel have run when it comes to record-breaking box-office and all that lovely merchandising moolah.
Hard to pin the blame here. Jackman is, as always, a highly likeable leading man, and his two female Japanese leads fulfill all the Comic Book Guy criteria (the fiesty Fukushima’s Yukio being damaged and kick-ass, Okamoto’s Mariko’s coming across as the favourite fragile niece). In Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper though, they have somehow managed to find a long-legged blonde vixen who looks crap in leather trousers. She’s a Catwoman who’s just cat. As for Mangold, he’s a director-for-hire making a director-for-hire job of it.
Review by Paul Byrne 

BLACKFISH (USA/Light House/83mins)
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Staring Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall, Ken Balcomb, Dawn Brancheau, Daniel Patrick Dukes, Howard Garrett, Tilikum.
THE PLOT: Captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983, Tilikum has spent the last 30 years performing at marine parks in Canada and the US. A major draw at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida, the five-tonne Tilikum has been responsible for three deaths – in 1991, when a trainer slipped into the pool in the now-closed Sealand Of The Pacific in British Columbia; in Florida, a homeless man was found in the orca’s tank in 1999, whilst in February 2010, one of Tilikum’s regular handlers, Dawn Brancheau, was killed. Here, former marine-animal trainers, the relatives of those killed and scientific researchers, amongst others, are interviewed, whilst archive footage from staff and tourists are also used as Tilikum’s story is pieced together…
THE VERDICT: Further proof – if further proof were needed – that wild animals often don’t thrive in captivity, Blackfish will leave most viewers dreaming of their own Free Willy moment. The fact that no human has ever been killed by an orca in the wild makes their regular moniker of killer whale a tad cruel. Especially when you realise the life that Tilikum has endured.
The second documentary feature (after 2010’s City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story) from writer/producer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite may be an easy sell (hands up who likes to see nature’s babies ripped from their mothers’ teeths and made balance beachballs on their nose until dead?), but Blackfish digs deep. That SeaWorld refused to take part is all you really need to know about their culpability, whilst their policy of hiring young trainers who make up for what they lack in experience and scientific knowledge with wide-eyed enthusiasm and the ability to look good in a wetsuit might need some tweaking.
Review by Paul Byrne

FRANCES HA (USA/15A/86mins)
Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Charlotte d’Amboise.
New York dancer and choreographer Frances (Gerwig) turns down the chance to move in with her boyfriend just before her flatmate Sophie (Sumner) decides to move out, leaving her feeling like a motherless, rudderless child. As she begins a little couch-surfing, Frances is also let go from her dance troupe, and so decides to move back to her parents in Sacramento, just in time for Christmas. When she returns to her couch-surfing life, fellow dancer Rachel (Gummer) joins her, and the offer of an office job in her old dance company only sparks further nomadic discoveries…
Delivering somewhat on her mumblecore queen status, and thankfully maturing as an actress too, kooky covergirl Gerwig shines brightly here. Even if she is still wallowing in self-conscious, wish-I-was-Annie-Hall hipster land. Gerwig’s step forward is hardly surprising though, given that she co-wrote the script here with director Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Greenberg). As for Gerwig’s co-star, Mickey Sumner, it’s hard not to shake off the knowledge that this is the daughter of Sting and producer Trudie Styler. 
Luckily for Sumner, there are plenty of distractions here – such as Baumbach’s decision to shoot in black and white. And the easy comparisons to be made here to Lena Dunham’s Girls. Or the work of Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman. Which should give you some warning as to the arch nature of the New York naturalism on sale here.
RATING: 3/5 
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson, Leo Britt, Patrick Allen, George Leigh, Robin Hughes.
When he discovers that his wife (Kelly) is cheating on him with a crime writer (Cummings), ex-professional tennis player Tony Wendice (Milland) decides to get revenge. By plotting his wife’s murder. Which involves blackmailing an old Cambridge friend into doing the dirty deed for £1,000. But, hey, the hit goes wrong. And so Tony sets about covering his tracks. And framing his wife’s lover. But that doesn’t quite work out. And so he settles on framing his wife. After that, things get a little twisty…
Upon its original release in 1954, Hitchcock had just missed the second 3D boom, with most of the film’s audience happy to watch this fine thriller in glorious 2D. As Hitchcock himself said of 3D at the time, “It’s a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day”. The master of suspense would no doubt see the delicious irony of this 2013 re-release facing a similar dilemma, as more and more cinema-goers opt for the 2D version. Still, all of this can’t take away from the fact that Hitchcock is on fine form here, adapting English playwright Frederick Knott’s West End play (having already premiered on BBC TV), aided and abetted beautifully by a particularly Hitchcockian cast.
Review by Paul Byrne