We review this week’s new cinema releases, including ROAD and OCULUS…
ROAD (Northern Ireland/PG/101mins)
Directed by Michael Hewitt and Diarmuid Laverty. Starring Michael Dunlop, Joey Dunlop.
THE PLOT: Motorbike road racing is not only a hugely competitive sport, but it is one of the most dangerous of all motor sports. Two Northern Irish men dominated the sport for many years, Road is the story of Robert and Joey Dunlop; their lives, their legacy and those left behind.
THE VERDICT: Even if you are not a fan of motorbike racing, or you find yourself wondering what could possess someone to fling themselves around public roads at hundreds of miles an hour, it is not hard to understand the passion and determination of the Dunlop Brothers. Road examines their lives and careers, and the legacy they left behind, especially since Robert’s two sons followed him into racing.
Joey and Robert are fascinating racers and people, being, as they were, so opposite to one another in their attitudes towards fame and prosperity. Both were entirely engaged with their passion for the sport, but they dealt with the trappings of fame in different ways. In this way, Road becomes the story of family, love and loyalty and finding a balance between life and danger.
As well as being the story of racers, ROAD is also the story of the sport as a whole. As Joey and Robert grew more skilled, the sport became more and more popular, turning public attention onto the brave souls who took their lives into their hands on the roads. As well as this, Road is the story of passion and love, as we see the Dunlop family torn apart and brought back together by road racing.
ROADis a well formed and wonderfully narrated film that leaves the audience with the feeling that they may not understand the urge to get up on a bike and race, but that we can all understand passion and determination. The elder Dunlop brothers are celebrated and eulogised in a fitting and engaging manner, and the younger brothers shown to be the strong and fearless racers that they are; after all, last week William crashed at the Isle of Man TT, while his brother went on to take the title. A fitting example of the dangers and thrills that come with the sport.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FOOD GUIDE TO LOVE (Spain | Ireland/15A/91mins)
Directed by Teresa Peligri and Dominic Harari. Starring Richard Coyle, Leonore Watling, Simon Delaney, Bronagh Gallagher, David Wilmot.
THE PLOT: Celebrity Chef Oliver Byrne (Richard Coyle) may be a success in the kitchen, but after six months, gets bored of any romantic entanglement he is involved in. When he meets the mysterious and alluring Bibiana (Leonor Watling), Oliver struggles to avoid the six-month curse.
THE VERDICT: Richard Coyle does a great job of playing Oliver as an arrogant, self centred jerk who has just enough charm to draw people to him, but not enough to keep them interested. There is a glint in the actor’s eye that adds depth to the character, and his interactions with Watling are simply lovely. Leonore Watling is as mysterious and flighty as we could hope, but this is also what makes her character slightly irritating and selfish. Simon Delaney and Bronagh Gallagher once again prove that they have the strength to support the leading cast, and are both great in their small parts even though they do not have a huge amount to do. David Wilmot plays a highly caricatured and over the top character, and does well in the short amount of time he has on screen.
Writers Teresa Pelegri, Dominic Harari and Eugene O’Brien seem to have taken a leaf from Nora Ephron’s book, as they make Dublin a great setting for the film, and play with every trope from romantic comedies of the past. Some of the dialogue is a little hokey at times, and the ending feels more than a little trite, but there is plenty of Irish wit and outlandishness in there to bring the laughs, and enough touching and affecting scenes to give the film a little depth.
As directors Teresa Pelegri and Dominic Harari make Dublin look fantastic and new – even if some of the geography is horrifically off – and they capably bring the story and characters to life. That said, there is only so much that can be done with a romantic comedy to make it feel new and fresh, and even though The Food Guide to Love tries it’s best, some of the narrative choices in the film feel a little dated.
THE FOOD GUIDE TO LOVE shows Dublin in a new, exciting and surprisingly romantic light. The cast shine through in this quirky little tale of love and loss, but there is not a lot here that has not already been done in New York, LA or any number of glamorous cities around the world. THE FOOD GUIDE TO LOVE may not be about to change the genre of the romantic comedy, but it is an entertaining little diversion all the same.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cohrane
THE PLOT: Several years after their father brutally killed their mother and terrorised them, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) reunite in their old home. Tim has just been released from a mental facility, and Kaylie is determined to get to the bottom of the supernatural mystery that surrounded their trauma.
THE VERDICT: Karen Gillan, in her first role post-DOCTOR WHO, has disappointingly little to do. Her American accent is fine, and she does good scaredy face, but her character is paper thin, and is never really given a chance to develop. The same goes for Brenton Thwaites, Gillan’s co-star, who spends much of his time on screen arguing with Gillan and getting turned around by the supernatural elements at work.
Rory Cochrane has more to do as the kids’ murderous and possessed father, and he does have some rather creepy moments. Poor old Katee Sackhoff doesn’t seem to be able to catch a break though, spending most of her time on screen as the kids’ mother either unconvincingly paranoid or chained to a wall.
Based on Mike Flanagan and Jeff Seidman’s short film OCULUS: CHAPTER 3 – THE MAN WITH THE PLAN, OCULUS is a remarkable thing for a horror film; it is not scary. The scares, such as they are, are utterly predictable and not surprising at all. As far as the story itself goes, we get loads and loads of back story, but no real origins tale, so while the film feels a little creepy, we are never given enough origins story to truly be scared.
As director, Mike Flanagan never truly ramps up the tension or atmosphere enough to make the scares work, leaving the energy of the entire film feeling flat. This could be due, in part, to relentless flashbacks that continually break the mood of the film and drag the energy down.
In all, OCULUS is not a very scary, original or clever film. Gillan and Thwaites do what they can, Cochrane comes off the best and Sackhoff suffers in a film that feels ultimately flat, drawn out and lacklustre.
Review by Brogen Hayes
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (USA/PG/99mins)
Directed by Randall Wallace. Starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Rilley, Thomas Hayden Church
THE PLOT: After his four-year-old son has emergency surgery, Todd (Greg Kinnear) is surprised to hear young Colton (Connor Corum) talk about his trip to heaven, encounters with Jesus and people from Todd’s pat that he could never have met. Colton’s revelations stir up complicated feelings in the residents of their small town, and even more complex ones in Todd, a pastor at the town’s church.
THE VERDICT: Based on a book of the same name, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is the story of a little boy who goes for routine surgery to remove his appendix, does not suffer any adverse affects during the operation, but comes out of the procedure with the belief that he has been in the company of Jesus, met the sister he never had and has no reason to be afraid any more. There are so many things about this story that are so twee as to be stifling, and the fact that this child’s father is a preacher is just one of them.
Greg Kinnear immediately undoes any good he had done with his cameo role in ANCHORMAN 2 with his role in HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. It’s not that Kinnear is bad; it’s just that he is utterly unremarkable. Kelly Riley suffers the safe fate as Todd’s wife Sonja, and Lane Styles has so little to do as the miracle child’s older sister she may as well not be there.
Speaking of the Miracle Child, Connor Corum is not quite the worst child actor we have seen on screen, but he is so over directed, cautious and obviously afraid of making a mistake, that every step he takes – sometimes literally – is over thought and unnatural. Thomas Hayden Church is in the movie too, playing Thomas Hayden Church, or a version of him.
Writer/director Randall Wallace has created a film that not only bangs the audience over the head with religion, but also with the knowledge that we will never live up to Todd and his amazing family. After all, Todd is not only a garage door technician who will take carpet as payment, but he is also a volunteer firefighter, a pastor and a man so in love with his wife and kids as to be sickening. Honestly, there is almost no hint that this man is human at all. As well as this, many of the scenes try so hard to be wholesome and sweet that they end up being cringe worthy and painful. Couple this with a load of expository dialogue and disaster looms.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is a twee, embarrassing and painful film that tries to examine the nature of belief and faith, but ends up lost in its own sentimentality.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE YOUNG AND PROGIDIOUS T.S. SPIVET (France | Canada/TBC/105mins)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Kyle Catlett
THE PLOT: T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is as young and prodigious as the title of the film would have you expect, when he is named as the recipient of an award at the Smithsonian Institute, T.S. leaves his family behind in rural Montana, and journeys cross country to accept his award.
THE VERDICT: Casting Kyle Catlett in the lead role seems to have been a coup for Jeunet, as Catlett is as prodigious as his character, being fluent in English, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. The trouble is that while Catlett is warm and makes the character his own, the film relies on voiceover by the young actor and, at at times, he is difficult to understand.
The supporting cast is made up of Helena Bonham Carter who, ironically considering the tone of the film, takes a step away from her more whimsy fuelled roles of late as T.S.’s mother Dr Clair, Niamh Wilson as Gracie, and Callum Keith Rennie is T.S.’s father. The supporting cast are not really given a huge amount to do, but they add to the world of the film and give T.S. something to run away from, and back towards.
The film is based on a novel by Reif Larson; written for the screen by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant. Laurant and Jeunet’s screenplay plays up the whimsy of the story, but is rather jumbled at times, leaving the audience wondering why T.S. is so removed from his family, and which demons he is trying to fight by running away. The random encounters that young T.S. has on the road are rather lovely, but the film suffers from being a confused and jumbly sum of its parts, with lashings and lashings of dreamy whimsy, which begins to grate after a while.
As director, Jeunet coaxes some lovely moments from the cast, but choosing Catlett to do the voice over of the film, and making the story more about moments than a cohesive tale means that the film becomes a victim of its own whimsy. That said, Thomas Hardmeier’s cinematography is beautiful, making a train journey across the US as magical and wonderful as we could hope for.
THE YOUNG AND PROGIDIOUS T.S. SPIVET is, essentially, a film about a young boy trying to reconcile his place in his family, and come to terms with a tragedy that he blames himself for. This is not always obvious, however, and while the film looks good, Kyle Catlett’s voiceover is often unintelligible so emotion is often lost and the film is left to drown in its own whimsical ideals.
Review by Brogen Hayes
BENNY & JOLENE (UK/IFI/88mins)
Directed by Jamie Adams. Starring Craig Roberts, Rosamund Hanson, Dolly Wells, Charlotte Ritchie, Tom Rosenthal, Richard Elis.
THE PLOT: Life as a novelty folk pop duo isn’t all plain sailing for Jo (Ritchie) and Ben (Roberts), a surprise no.1 hit seeing this teenage outfit Jolene having to quickly cope with sudden Breakfast TV show appearances, difficult first album syndrome, and sorting out these messy sexual desires they secretly have for one another. When Jo suggests the two get it on so a song may ensue, anxiety on Ben’s part leads to the sort of song he would rather be kept private. Their lilly-livered manager and incompetent publicity team aren’t much help either, as an album launch slot at a Welsh music festival looms…
THE VERDICT: Taking the improv jazz approach to filmmaking, this debut feature was shot mockumentary style, with handheld cameras and much adlibbing from the cast. That rarely works. Originally titled Jolene: The Indie Folk Star Movie, the new moniker arrived just before the film’s LOCO festival world premiere, and its nod to the Johnny Depp and Mary Stewart Masterson 1993 comedy Benny & Joon makes little sense. Other than commercial.
Such slender connections to former glories won’t help this little film make any kind of big noise at the box-office. Catch it on the small screen. If you really have to.
Review by Paul Byrne