THE BOSS (USA/15A/99mins)
Directed by Ben Falcone. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Annie Mumolo, Kristen Schaal.
THE PLOT: In and out of foster care, Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) had a troubled childhood, but reinvented herself as a success guru in her adult life. When former flame Renault (Peter Dinklage) turns her into the police for insider trading, Michelle must find a way to get back to the top, with the help of her former assistant Claire’s (Kristen Bell) skills at baking.
THE VERDICT: “My name is Michelle Darnell, and I am the wealthiest woman in America”. So begins ‘The Boss’, with McCarthy lowered from the ceiling at a pop star-esque conference before rapping and dancing with T-Pain. If this sounds like standard McCarthy comedy fare, that’s because it is in some ways, but it is also the best comedy we have seen from the actress in some time, perhaps because she obviously revels in playing the villain for once.
McCarthy is on top form as Michelle Darnell, with script and improvisations on set working well together, and some of the trademark awkwardness we have come to expect from McCarthy’s characters being toned down. As well as this, McCarthy obviously has fun with playing a slightly darker, more selfish character, and this works well for the movie. Kristen Bell plays the sweet character to McCarthy’s selfish one; Claire is a single mother struggling to make ends meet after Michelle is sent to prison, and makes the character warm and gentle. It is the relationship between Claire and Michelle that makes the film work as well as it does, and the two actresses have great chemistry together. Elsewhere, Peter Dinklage plays Renault; former lover of Michelle, turned worst enemy. Dinklage tries his best with the role, but it is becoming more and more clear that he is not a strong comedic actor. Still, Dinklage is always a joy to watch on screen, even in his weaker, smaller roles. The rest of the cast features ‘Bridesmaids’ co-writer Annie Mumolo, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal and Cedric Yarbrough.
Husband and wife writer team Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy are joined this time by Steve Mallory, in his first writing credit, and the three do well enough with the screenplay. There are some great jokes and strong pacing, although these are mixed with odd jumps through the story and a story that becomes more than a little predictable at times. Michelle pushing people away because she was pushed away as a child is a plot device the audience can see coming within the opening moments of the film, and the tone often shifts from over the top comedy to calmer family tale with little warning, meaning the film feels disjointed at times. The dialogue is where the film shines, however, and it makes good use of the entire cast’s acting and comedic timing.
Director Ben Falcone makes great use of the cast, and there is strong chemistry and great timing between Bell and McCarthy that makes the film work. The pacing is steady for most of the film, although some clunky edits and decisions to skip some situations that could have been mined for comedy feel strange.
In all, ‘The Boss’ has problems, but is one of the funniest comedies Melissa McCarthy has produced in a long time. The actress obviously revels in playing a nastier character, and pairing her with Kristen Bell is a stroke of genius. It’s just a shame that an uneven performance from Peter Dinklage, some strange edits and messy pacing drag this film down from great to good.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (USA/15A/120mins)
Directed by and starring Michael Moore.
THE PLOT: Michael Moore, in the context of the US going to war in Iraq to gain control of the nation’s oil, goes on a journey across the world to find out where the US should invade next, to take home the best ideas on education, working hours, prisons, fighting drugs and women in power. The results are not all that surprising, but are definitely illuminating.
THE VERDICT: It has been some time since Michael Moore’s last film was released in cinemas, so it is easy to wonder just what the documentarian has been doing since ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ in 2009. Turns out, the director and filmmaker has once again been shining a light on the most problematic areas of the US, by heading away from his home country, and finding out which countries have better systems than the US, and which ideas he can bring home to improve life for every day Americans.
As usual, the tone of Michael Moore’s film is comedic and light, being as it is framed in the (fictional) idea that the Joint Chiefs of the US have sent Moore on a mission to “invade” other countries. As he travels through Germany, France, Italy, Tunisia, Norway and Iceland, Moore looks at the systems these countries have in place to benefit their people, and compares them to similar situations in the US. This is all well and good, as Moore has set out to find ways that the quality of life of the average American can be improved – and this is certainly interesting in the context of this being an election year – but the trouble is that the people who are going to see this film are the ones who already know that improvements can be made. So then the question becomes, who is this film for?
As Moore travels around the world, the pattern of women being in power and this being better for the country emerges. This could well be seen as a hint toward Moore supporting the election of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, but this seems moot as none of Trumps supporters are going to be interested in seeing such a liberal film, especially one that explicitly says that America may be a great country in some ways, but there are improvements to be made. As well as this, Moore’s film over simplifies the issues – even as he says that there are no quick fixes to America’s woes, and the Portuguese Minister for Health agrees with him – but Moore certainly makes sure that he is asking the right questions; questions that could go a long way to starting a bigger conversation. With a running time of 120 minutes, however, ‘Where To Invade Next’ runs out of steam about halfway through, which the film then struggles to claw back in the end.
In all, Moore’s film over simplifies the solutions to the problems facing the average person in the US today, but it asks all the right questions to get the audience thinking and talking about change. Although this film may not have a huge impact on the US, it is definitely worth looking at from an Irish point of view, and wondering how these strong, people led, dignified policies from around the world could be applied here at home.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MOTHER’S DAY (USA/12A/118mins)
Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Sarah Chalke, Jason Sudeikis.
THE PLOT: On the run up to Mother’s Day – that’s Mother’s Day in the US, by the way – a single mother struggles with her ex’s new wife’s desire to be part of her sons’ lives, a widower comes to terms with his wife’s death and two sisters finally open up to their parents about the people that they love.Read more…
THE VERDICT: Another year, another themed movie from Garry Marshall. Like ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’, ‘Mother’s Day’ is an ensemble story that brings the disparate parts together through connections between characters, and one again, is a thin film that tries hard to be sentimental and comes off feeling trite.
The cast consists of Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Kate Hudson, Sarah Chalke, Julia Roberts and Timothy Olyphant, and although each actor has their strengths, none of these are evident in this film. The performances are wooden and one dimensional, with these people feeling more like they belong in a commercial than a rounded film since we never truly get to know nay of them and thus, are never truly able to root for or relate to them. Jennifer Garner perhaps gets the rawest deal of all, only appearing in home video.
Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker and Tom Hines’ screenplay not only over sentimentalises Mother’s Day – who gets so torn up over such a generic, greeting card day!? – but makes sure that the characters include a mixed race couple and a gay couple who have to lie about the people they love, a jealous single mother who is made out to be crazy even though her fears and anger feel justified as a younger wife appears to steal her kids’ affections, and a widower whose daughters are trying to drag him back to happiness while appearing rather dispassionate about their mother’s death. There are merits to each one of these stories, but throwing them together in a big melting pot of mush and sentimentality undermines all of them to such a point that they feel like they belong on the greeting cards the film is so obviously inspired by.
Director Garry Marshall doesn’t even seem to try to make these characters feel real or relatable – although Jennifer Aniston does her damnedest – and although many of them have worked together in the past, there is very little chemistry between the actors. Add to this some clunky and jumpy editing and characters that change their mind seemingly at random, and ‘Mother’s Day’ is a messy, overly sentimental film that is almost painful to watch.
In all, ‘Mother’s Day’ doesn’t even try to be sincere; instead it is a film that feels like scenes from better films cut out and stitched together, with the characters thin and one dimensional, not chemistry between the cast and the problems they face easily resolved by a pep talk or a quick frolic with a small child in a palatial back garden. Mushy, trite nonsense.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (USA/PG/109mins)
Directed by Patricia Riggen. Starring Jennifer Garner, Martin Henderson, Queen Latifah, Eugenio Derbez, Brighton Sharbino.
THE PLOT: Ten year old Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers) is plagued with an unresponsive digestive disease, and there seems to be no hope of her ever living a normal life. Anna’s patient and tenacious Mom Christy (Jennifer Garner) does not rest until Anna is seen by one of the top gastroenterologists in the country, but even with medication and constant monitoring, Anna’s condition does not change and Christy begins to lose her belief in God. That is, until something inexplicable happens…
THE VERDICT: ‘Miracles from Heaven’ is the latest tale of a child returning from heaven to first be a bestseller, before being turned into a movie. There are moments of true warmth and humanity in this twee, religion heavy tale, but with an almost two hour running time, everything takes so long in this movie that it struggles to hold audience interest.
The cast seem earnest in their depiction of this story, which is based on the book by Christy Beam ‘Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing’. Jennifer Garner leads the cast and, although it is through Garner that much of the emotion of the film is conveyed, it is hard to shake the feeling that the actress is capable of so much more than this formulaic, slow and overly sentimental film. Queen Latifah is completely underused as the stereotypical sassy black friend Angela and John Carroll Lynch plays the comedy pastor at the local church. The rest of the cast features Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler and Eugenio Derbez.
Randy Brown’s screenplay is based on Christy Beam’s bestselling book, but the adaptation causes problems right from the off; these characters place their faith on God, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, this alienates viewers from the very beginning of the film. If the religious element of the film were removed, the story would simply be one of spontaneous remission and would most likely never have been made into a film. It is the religion we are here to see, and it is this that pushes away those who do not share the same beliefs as the family. The film is told through the eyes of Christy Beam and although this allows Jennifer Garner to give the film some warmth, it is also problematic since many of the rude, dismissive and borderline cruel people depicted in the film simply would not keep their hospital jobs if they truly behaved this way. This means that the film is heavily tinted by Beam’s experiences, which once again alienates viewers. As well as this, the film takes so long to get anything done that the running time is drawn out and the film sluggish.
Director Patricia Riggen does her best with Miracles from Heaven, and while the performances are fine for the most part – sassy black friend though, really!? Haven’t we moved past that!? – the pacing of the film is a true issue, as are the drawn out scenes that needed to be edited more tightly, other editing that sticks out like a sore thumb, overuse of a manipulative piano based score, stereotypical characters and the almost painful earnestness of the film as a whole. Oh, and this is not to mention the catch up with the real family at the end of the film, which is wholly unnecessary, and the crushing feeling that parental neglect leads to miracles.
In all, ‘Miracles from Heaven’ is twee, drawn out and heavy handed, with religion and faith being the orders of the day. Jennifer Garner does her best to bring emotion to the film, and succeeds from time to time, but the overall feel of the film is overly long, saccharine sweet and far too earnest. Jennifer Garner, you are better than this.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FIRE AT SEA (Italy | France/12A/114mins)
Directed by Gianfranco Rosi.
THE PLOT: Documentary maker Gianfranco Rosi shines a light on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the first place that many African refugees land in Europe. Rosi looks at both the life of the islanders and those who find themselves seeking refuge there, often after their crossing from African turns to disaster.
THE VERDICT: ‘Fire at Sea’ is a strange sort of film, being that it tries to blend the imagery of the people of Lampedusa with the plight of the African refugees who find themselves there, often without choice. The film is scattered and messy, and feels as though Rosi tried to make a film about the people affected by thousands of refugees landing on their small island home, but instead met a young boy who was so lively and raucous that he could not help but include him in the film.
Much of the film is taken up with this young boy, Samuele, as he roams around the island with his friend Matthias. The film follows the two as they make slingshots, argue over who gets to go on their tiny motorbike and, in one hilarious scene, as Samuele goes to the doctor complaining that he cannot breathe. The idea that the film could have been a look at the life of an anxious, hypochondriac kid who would not have been out of place in a Woody Allen film is an amusing one, and for the most part, Samuele is a joy to watch on screen, but he is not the full focus of the film.
The rest of ‘Fire at Sea’ is taken up with islanders calling the radio station to get songs played, talking about their lives as fishermen, and going out to see to rescue refugees on overcrowded boats whose lives are in danger. The final act of the film is taken up with filming these refugees as they arrive dehydrated and ill, healthy but heartbroken or dead. This throws up problems outside of the film’s narrative, as to who gave permission for these images to be used in the film? Many of the subjects seem to not be in a fit state to grant permission; so then this is where the film begins to feel exploitative. The plight of these refugees cannot be forgotten, but juxtaposing these images of extreme suffering with a young boy unable to aim his slingshot properly because he has a lazy eye feels reductive. Perhaps the point is being made that people die every day as we get on with our lives, but the adage of “Show don’t tell” goes too far here, and it by the end of the film, the entire message is a muddle, other than one short segment of a doctor being interviewed about his experiences, which is extremely powerful.
In all, it seems that ‘Fire at Sea’ director Gianfranco Rosi has tried to make a film about the people on both sides who are suffering due to crisis. The trouble is that without context, history or several answers, ‘Fire at Sea’ feels like an observational piece and not a cohesive film about a real life issue.
Review by Brogen Hayes