GIRLS TRIP (USA/16/122mins) Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Starring Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Mike Colter. THE PLOT: In college, Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) were best friends, calling themselves the Flossy Posse. Years later, the friends have drifted apart, but when successful author Ryan is to be keynote speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, she invites her friends, in the hopes of rekindling their friendship. In between the drinking, dancing and brawling, the four friends uncover some uncomfortable home truths that put their tentative friendship in jeopardy again. THE VERDICT: Fresh from glowing reviews in the US, ‘Girls Trip’ hits Ireland this week, but although there are some giggles to be had throughout the film, which’s tarts well, the charm quickly rubs off the film, leaving the 2 hour running time feeling long and drawn out.
The cast is made up of Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish, and although the four characters start off as distinct from one another, albeit one dimensional, it is not long before the women begin to blend together in a screeching, over the top mess. The rest of the cast features Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh and Luke Cage’s Mike Colter.
The screenplay, written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver feels as though it was inspired by ‘The Hangover’ and ‘Bridesmaids’; sending a group of women into debauchery and silliness, and making them behave incredibly badly for laughs. At the start of the film the four women feel distinct, with their own personality traits and quirks, but as time goes on, they all become similar to one another, screeching their way through the film and playing up the stereotypes that Ryan so carefully calls Kate Walsh’s character out for. The jokes get increasingly more disgusting and bizarre as the women try to one up one another, culminating in some uncomfortably placed grapefruit, and a full bladder in a zip wire. Dina gets all the best lines in the film, and easily steals the show with her fantastic comic timing, but she, as with all the other characters, quickly becomes tiresome as they are never given a chance to develop.
Director Malcolm D. Lee never manages to pace the film properly, with plot points and antagonists seemingly coming out of nowhere. The New Orleanian shenanigans get out of hand rather quickly, with celebrity cameos from Sean Combs, Mariah Carey and Ne-Yo just seeming to up the ante as the four main characters attempt to recreate their college days even though they all know they are too old for such nonsense. The laughs are sporadic throughout the film, and there are far more cringeworthy moments than laugh out loud ones.
In all, ‘Girls Trip’ is a comedy filled with jokes that never quite seem to land. The characters quickly lose any traits that make them distinct, leading to them blurring together in a shouting, screeching mess, and although the film tries to have a message, this too never quite hits home. Keep an eye out for Tiffany Haddish, she is an actress with great comedic timing, and someone to watch out for; the rest of ‘Girls Trip’ however, is awkward and ultimately forgettable. RATING:2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FARTHEST (Ireland/PG/121 mins)
Directed by Emer Reynolds. Starring John Casani, Frank Drake, Carolyn Porco, Lawrence Krauss.
THE PLOT: “There’s a limit to what you can learn, just looking through a telescope from Earth” Documentarian Emer Reynolds shines a light on the Voyager space exploration programme of the 1970s, talking to the scientists involved in the mission to find out just what was known about the solar system before the programme, and how Voyager – which will still be going long after our sun has burned out – changed our view of the solar system around us. THE VERDICT‘The Farthest’ could well be a dry and science-heavy documentary, aimed at those who have a passion or academic interest in space exploration and study, but director Emer Reynolds has coaxed incredibly strong, emotional and fascinating interview from her subjects in the film, which make The Farthest an engaging, fascinating and engrossing piece of work.
Shot beautifully and scored with a soundtrack just as odd but tranquil as space itself, The Farthest includes interviews from those involved with the Voyager missions, including Charley Kholhase, Ed Stone, Don Gurnett, Larry Soderblom, Tom Kimigris, Carolyn Proco, Brad Smith and Fran Bagenal. All of these interviewees in the film are passionate and surprisingly emotional about the mission that ended a long time ago – Voyager is now carrying on its mission by carrying a “golden record” of music and speech from Earth throughout space, but communication is no longer possible – and they all bring up lovely anecdotes about working on the mission, such as the idea that Voyager is covered in tin foil, and the child who spoke the line “Hello from the children of planet Earth” on the golden record is Nick Sagan, the son of astronomer Carl Sagan.
Of course there is enough science throughout ‘The Farthest’ to keep everyone happy, and it is explained in layman’s terms for the non-rocket scientists in the audience, but there is a warmth and heart to the film that is quite surprising; such as the scientist who wonders where Voyager is now as he gets ready for bed, or the woman who cried as she said goodbye to the project. As well as being a fascinating scientific study, Voyager missions also became a study of human emotion and sentiment, all of which Reynolds manages to capture beautifully, without being mawkish, in her film.
In all, ‘The Farthest’ is a surprising documentary. Not only is there tons of information in the film that audiences may not have realised before, but there is a heart and soul to the film that is unexpected, but most welcome. Emer Reynolds has truly created something special here. RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE BIG SICK (USA/15A/120 mins)
Directed by Michael Showalter. Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano.
THE PLOT: Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comedian who moonlights as an Uber driver in Chicago. Or maybe that’s the other way around. At one of his shows, he’s heckled (negatively) by sparky Emily (Zoe Kazan). They chat afterwards and an instant attraction develops. That progresses to a hook-up. Emily is not really in a position to date and have a relationship right now, but she’s continually drawn to the honest Kumail. He has obligations of his own to his Pakistani family, where an arranged marriage is expected. Emily finds out and they have an argument. Shortly afterwards, she ends up in a medically-induced coma after being struck down by a mysterious illness. While she’s sleeping, Kumail watches over her and bonds with her laid-back parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano)… THE VERDICT: When a film is drawn from a real-life experience, it takes on another dimension. Someone is sharing a part of their life with the world, so it becomes that bit more tenable to an audience. ‘The Big Sick’ is based on the courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, from their initial spark through to a challenging period when he wasn’t quite her boyfriend but still acted like one. This could have been TV-movie-of-the-week stuff, a weepie with all heart and no humour. Thankfully, Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is so sharp and spot-on in its observations of these imperfect but decent characters.
The film’s major plus point is its wicked, well-judged sense of humour. Much like Nanjiani’s stand-up routines, the humour veers on the fringes of the potentially controversial at times. Asked about 9/11 by Terry, Kumail delivers a cutting response. Though, there’s no indication that he actually means it. That’s the beauty of the humour here – you can laugh without feeling guilty about it. It’s a delicate balance, but the humour is true to life in all its messiness and imperfections. If you can’t laugh at life, then you may need a humour transplant. Later scenes involving Emily feel honest and atypical of a movie of this kind.
Many of the laughs come courtesy of the slightly dim Terry, delivered with perfection by the deadpan Romano. Kazan continues to delight with her quirky performances – we really should see more of her. She’s absent for a large part of the film, yet her presence is missed and certainly felt. The real find here though is Nanjiani, who has been acting for a number of years. If you didn’t know him before, then you’ll certainly remember him after seeing this film. Essentially playing himself, he’s frequently hilarious and also touchingly self-aware, challenging his family’s traditional views. The banter with them is a highlight. ‘The Big Sick’ is a touching, bittersweet delight, buoyed by a brilliant script and wonderful performances. If only more romcoms could be this simple and yet sophisticated.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
47 METRES DOWN (UK / USA / Dominican Republic/15A/89 mins)
Directed by Johannes Roberts. Starring Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris Johnson, Matthew Modine.
THE PLOT: Nursing a broken heart, Lisa (Mandy Moore) takes a holiday with her sister Kate (Claire Holt) in Mexico. They flirt with local Javier (Chris Johnson), who convinces them to try something daring and completely different. The next morning, they get onboard on a boat captained by Taylor (Matthew Modine). The object of the dare is a rusty old anti-shark cage, which will lower them five metres down into the depths so that they can observe the underwater world… and get up close and personal with some 20-foot great white sharks. The winch slips and then snaps, plunging the sisters to the bottom 47 metres down. With air running out, sharks circling and a route to the surface fraught with danger, can they make it out alive? THE VERDICT: ‘Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water’. Watching 47 Metres Down, it’s obvious that Lisa and Kate have either never seen Jaws… or have forgotten Quint’s doom-laden statement. However, that’s the basic premise of this economical underwater thriller from director / co-writer Johannes Roberts. He’s a workman-like director who delivered forgettable horrors Storage 24 and The Other Side Of The Door. 47 Metres Down is more in tune with its stripped-back premise and Roberts actually delivers the frights on more than a few occasions.
He wrings considerable tension from depleting oxygen levels, with nerve-wracking scenes involving masks being taken off and tanks being switched. He also creates a swirling sense of mystery about his underwater world, staying with the sisters and not returning to the surface for cutaways involving the boat crew. You’re with them every agonising minute as the clock ticks away, wondering how they’re going to get out of this potentially watery grave. It’s quite a mechanical film in that sense, with the plot creaking like its anti-shark cage as it tries to pose alternative rescue options. In fact, there’s an option presented early on which is ignored… and then played out later on. Though, that would result in a shorter film. The script isn’t entirely watertight.
Although it’s quite tense throughout, Roberts underuses his toothy menaces. That’s fine for Jaws, which was mostly on the water and the shark a latent threat. When characters are deep down, the sharks should come more into play and pose a more immediate menace. The performances are serviceable, given the limitations of the masks and the murky cinematography (thankfully not in 3D). Most of the acting is through the voices, with tomandandy’s score working well in unison. 47 Metres Down almost didn’t make it into cinemas, but we can be moderately thankful that it did. It may not be the superior shark film that was last year’s The Shallows, but it’s still a fun ride to the bottom of the ocean. RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE (USA/G/89mins)
Directed by David Soren. Starring Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Kristen Schaal, Kevin Hart.
THE PLOT: After their school Principal Mr Krupp (Ed Helms) threatens to put them in seperate classrooms, best friends George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) must find a way to stay together. When George discovers a magic ring that Krupp once confiscated, he hypnotises their teacher into believing he is a character the duo created; Captain Underpants. When teacher Professor P (Nick Kroll) arrives at the school with the plan to remove all laughter from the children, George, Harold and their newly created hero must find a way to stop him. THE VERDICT: Based on Dav Pilkey’s series of kids’ books, ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ is a story of friendship and overcoming the odds, all while taking down evil and saving the day. Although the film is obviously aimed at the smaller members of the audience, there is a charm to the Captain Underpants film, fart jokes and all.
The cast of the film features Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal and David Soren, who all do a great job with voicing their characters, creating a balance between over the top humour, heart and warmth, which makes ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ work on more than just a superficial level.
Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay is based on Dav Pilkey’s books, and combines adventure, imagination and the dread of school with some references to movies that play to the adults in the audience, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Joe Versus the Volcano. There is a nostalgia in the screenplay that will remind adults of the magic of Saturdays, with plenty of fart jokes, over the top pranks and silly names to keep the younger ones in the audience laughing.
David Soren takes on directing duties for the first time since ‘Turbo’ in 2013, and makes sure to keep the tone of ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ light and fun, with the only antagonist being people who dislike fun, and what it means to be a child. There are times when the dull kid in school seems to be problematic, but he is painted to be so ridiculous that it is probably unlikely that kids will find themselves bullied for being “Melvins”. The film is well paced and charming, and Soren makes sure that the voice work is grounded in emotional reality to keep the audience on board.
In all, ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ has some trouble with characterisations, but ends up being a charming film full of heart and laughs. There is something here for the little ones and the adults brought with them to the cinema, and there is an infectious silly energy to ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ that is hard to ignore. RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes