AMY (UK/15A/128mins) Directed by Asif Kapadia. Starring Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Nick Shymansky, Mark Ronson, Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett, Blake Fielder-Civil, Tyler James, Salaam Remi, Juliette Ashby. THE PLOT: Talking to over 100 people, and spending over 20 months in editing, director Asif Kapadia presents a chronological career diary of Amy Winehouse, the London-born soulster who became an international, Grammy-winning, multi-platinum-selling sensation in 2006, with her second album, Back To Black. Her Blood On The Tracks, charting the painful break-up with Blake Fielder-Civil, the man she believed was the love of her life, Back To Black would make Amy a star, and send her on such a fame spiral that, for her remaining five years, she would never get to record another album. The contrast of the young, vibrant, cheeky girl out on the road promoting her first album, 2003’s Frank, against the increasingly haggard and high Amy that the parapazzi came to love and hound provides much of the emotional punch here. Towards the end, there were still flashes of brilliance, of mischief, of that inspired young soul sister, but the well-documented tragic downfall rears its ugly head early on here… THE VERDICT: A classic rise and fall, the late Amy Winehouse’s career reads like a modern-day fable, a join-the-dots guide to the pitfalls of fame, but it’s also a timeless in its depiction of an artist who was willing to walk the walk. Having fallen in love with those jazz giants who gave their heart and soul to music, Winehouse was smart enough to recognise the familiar pattern her life was following, but not quite smart enough, it seems, to avoid its inevitable sorry, messy fade-out.
Or perhaps she was, only there were those around Amy Winehouse who didn’t want this golden goose sober up and fly straight? Director Asif Kapadia – who did such an incredible job with SENNA, the 2010 cut-and-paste documentary on the late, great Brazilian Formula 1 driver – claims to have no agenda here beyond telling Amy’s story. There may be no target of blame, but it’s not too hard to recognise who the baddies are here. Each would say that Amy was ultimately out of their control, but, as the dazed and confused young star clearly lost control, that’s when those closest to her should have grabbed the wheel. Instead, as the iceberg veers into view, the best that Kapadia can do is present us with the facts as he found them.
That his documentary reminds you first and foremost just how wonderful Amy Winehouse was makes her sad, scattered end all the more painful. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne
MAGIC MIKE XXL (USA/16/115mins) Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Starring Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Donald Glover, matt Bomer, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith,Elizabeth Banks, Alison Faulk, Vicky Vox. THE PLOT: Three years after the events of MAGIC MIKE, Mike (Channing Tatum) has got out of the ‘male entertainment’ game, and is running his own furniture company. When his old strip crew roll through town, Mike seizes the opportunity to join them for ‘one last ride’ and to go out in a blaze of glory and dollar bills. THE VERDICT: The trouble with the first MAGIC MIKE film was that while there was a drug running story in there, it was too thin on the ground for the film to be anything other than a dance film; the same almost goes for MAGIC MIKE XXL, which feels as though it is following the story arc of any number of street dance movies, but at least it is not trying to take itself too seriously, and instead gives the audience what it wants.
Channing Tatum is back as Mike, and the good news is that he can still bust a move. The same goes for Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie and Matt Bomer as Ken. The trouble is that some of the acting that happens in between the strip scenes is painful and awkward. Yes, strong acting is not what MAGIC MIKE fans are looking for, but a step up from the level of soap opera would be nice. The rest of the cast is made up of Jada Pinkett Smith – who obviously has a ball with her predatory character – Elizabeth Banks, Amber Heard, Adam Rodriguez, Donald Glover and Alison Faulk, with a special appearance by drag queen Vicky Vox. McConaughey and Pettyfer are out this time, and the presence of the former is sorely missed.
The screenplay, written by Reid Carolin, is basically a road movie with strippers, which is completely fine, but some of the dialogue is cringe worthy, and we never get to really learn about the characters on screen, even though the film is 115 minutes long. This means that the film drags its heels often, with the gaps between the dances often too long and too boring. As well as this, the gang are headed to a Stripper Convention, not a competition, so the audience is never truly given a reason to root for these ripped ‘underdogs’. That said, MAGIC MIKE XXL never tries to be anything that its not; it seems to have learned the lessons from the first film and cuts out any unnecessary story to make the film one about male strippers on the road.
Director Gregory Jacobs seems to have no interest in rounding out these characters, and focuses too much on the dance/strip sequences, which become cringey and repetitive. As cinematographer and editor, Steven Soderberg seems to have lost the touch of magic from his previous work, with some truly odd camera angles, and filler scenes left in that drag the pacing of the film down to a crawl.
In all, MAGIC MIKE XXL is a road movie about male strippers. The strip sequences are well choreographed, but much of the dialogue is cheesy and badly acted, and without a reason to root for Mike and his band of ripped cohorts, MAGIC MIKE XXL is simply too long, and has little resolution. Fans of the first film will love it though, and the film definitely knows its audience. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
TERMINATOR GENISYS (USA/12A/125mins) Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Arnold Scharzenegger, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Smith. THE PLOT: As the fight against Skynet draws to a violent end, the machines send the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to stop John Connor (Jason Clarke) from ever being born. The humans send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), but when he arrives there, Sarah is all too aware of her role in the battle against the machines, and nothing is as Reese expected it to be. THE VERDICT: Another week, another blockbuster; this week it’s the turn of TERMINATOR GENISYS to take over our movie screens. The good news is that it is a helluva lot better than TERMINATOR SALVATION, but the bad news is that that’s not saying much.
The cast do their jobs well enough here; Emilia Clarke makes Sarah Connor tough and no-nonsense, Jai Courtney is loyal and only slightly misogynistic as Kyle Reese, Jason Clarke takes John Connor in a new direction entirely, but the show is stolen by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a kindly Terminator, sworn to protect Sarah Connor. Schwarzenegger provides much of the levity and comedy in the film, while keeping the Terminator monosyllabic and strong. Matthew Smith and JK Simmons turn up briefly, and both are completely underused.
Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier’s screenplay starts off well enough, with call backs to the original 1984 film, and a fleeting shot for shot remake of the opening sequence, but once it starts trying to be the BACK TO THE FUTURE II of TERMINATOR movies, and goes even further with the crossing timelines and to-ing and fro-ing through time, the pacing of the film suffers and the audience begins to pull holes in the film. As well as this, this film completely resets the canon of the TERMINATOR franchise; something that definitely did not need to happen.
Director Alan Taylor, who most recently brought us THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD, starts the film well enough, but once the timelines get tangled and everyone is jumping around through time, clarity is lost and the pacing of the film suffers as a result. As well as this, there are times when the CGI in the film looks so shaky that it at first seems to be a reference to the 1984 level of special effects, but it later becomes clear that most of the budget was used on just one character. That said, there are some brilliant comedic moments thanks to Schwarzenegger, and the action is explosive, silly and fun.
In all, TERMINATOR GENISYS gets caught up in its own timelines and myth, and tangled up the original franchise while trying to create a new one. Most of the cast are fine, but Schwarzenegger stands out and brings some much-needed levity to proceedings. A new, unnecessary franchise is surely on the cards, but there needs to be some clarity brought to the events of this film for that to work properly. Oh, and it seems Matt Smith wants to be called Matthew Smith now… RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (USA/IFI/91mins) Directed by Chuck Workman. Starring Orson Welles, Simon Callow, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Christopher Welles Feder, Richard Linklater. THE PLOT: Oscar winning filmmaker and long time editor of the Academy Awards, Chuck Workman takes a look back over the life and career of one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time; Orson Welles. THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that Orson Welles was one of the greatest American directors of both stage and screen, and documentary filmmaker Chuck Workman goes behind the scenes of the man’s life and work to remind audiences of the huge influence Welles had on cinema, and the struggles he went through in the Hollywood system.
MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES is an incredibly well edited and put together documentary. While the film works through Welles’ life in chronological order, there are clips of Welles himself, at various stages of his life, used throughout to add a touch of seriousness and come comic relief to the film. As well as Welles himself, Workman has assembled an incredible cast of interviewees, including Peter Bogdanovich, Simon Callow (himself a Welles biographer), Welles’ daughter Christopher Welles Feder, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Charlton Heston and Richard Linklater. Workman also uses clips from some of the many films about Welles’ life, including Linklater’s ME AND ORSON WELLES, and TV movie RKO 281.
What emerges through the film is the picture of a man who was incredibly confident and self-assured from the get go of his career in theatre – including some time on the stage at Dublin’s Gate Theatre – but found himself stifled and held back by the Hollywood studio system. Workman takes pains to point out that not only did Welles revolutionise radio with the infamous broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS – which audiences believed was real – at the age of 23, but he was one of the first – if not the first – independent filmmaker, in a time when independent filmmakers simply didn’t exist.
Workman divides his film into the various chapters of Welles’ life – The Boy Wonder, The Outsider, The Master – and although the people who knew and loved Welles form the foundation of the film, in allowing Welles to speak for himself through archive footage and interviews, the film is given a strength and depth, and Welles comes off as incredibly clever, self deprecating and warm, and incredibly self aware.
The trouble with MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES is that while it is appropriate that the film is released around the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth, it seems to take pains to show Welles in a positive light (although a former classmate was clearly not a fan!), and is not really anything we have not seen before. Welles fans will delight in this documentary about the great filmmaker and actor, newcomers will find themselves curious about Welles’ work, but this is not the film to change your mind if you labour under the impression that CITIZEN KANE is overrated. Still, it’s a strong examination of Welles’ career, and a celebration of the life of a trailblazer of modern cinema. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
STILL THE WATER (France/Japan/Spain/IFI/121mins) Directed by Naomi Kawase. Starring Nijiro Murakami, Jun Yoshinaga, Miyuki Matsuda, Tetta Sugimoto, Makiko Watanabe, Jun Murakami, Hideo Sakaki. THE PLOT: When teenager Kaito (Murakami) discovers the naked, tattooed corpse of a man, it sends shockwaves through the subtropical island community. Most are concerned how a dead body might be bad for business, but Kaito quickly has bigger fish to fry – his girlfriend, Kyoko (Yoshinaga), is none too happy that he had ran from their seaside meeting spot the night before. Then again, it’s clear that Kaito is hardly Barry White – when Kyoko tells him that she loves him, Kaito merely replies, “Thanks”. The fact that the two have largely absent or ill parents would suggest these teenagers need one another, but love of any sort rarely runs smoothly. Besides, there’s the mystery of that dead guy to get back to at some point as well… THE VERDICT: Cannes favourite Kawase takes a step away from her grandiose earlier outings, such as 2007’s THE MOURNING FOREST and 2003’s SHARA, for this stripped-down subtropical tale that, as expected, is beautiful to look at but, thanks to a flat script, hard to love.
It’s one of those films where you know there are layers upon layers of meaning in even the slightest gesture, but the simple truth is, you often get the impression that STILL THE WATER doesn’t quite know what it’s doing. For all the beauty, and all the teen angst, and the noir bookend, STILL THE WATER feels, well, a little shallow. RATING: 3/5 Review by Paul Byrne