We review this week’s new releases, including THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and JERSEY BOYS…
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (USA/12A/126mins)
Directed by Josh Boone. Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe, Lotte Verbeek, Ana Dela Cruz.
THE PLOT: Sixteen-year-old Hazel (22-year-old Woodley) is dying of cancer, and she doesn’t want anyone’s pity. Especially not that of her mum (Dern) and dad (Trammell). Reluctantly agreeing to attend a self-help group to shake off what her doctor reckons is depression rather than just dark sarcasm, Hazel meets 17-year-old Augustus (Elgort), who is as full of the joys of life as Hazel is full of the doom and gloom. Naturally, chalk and cheese hit it off, and slowly, they become inseparable. In return for reading Gus’ favourite video game novelisation, Hazel gets her new pal to read her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction by reclusive writer Peter Van Houten. Perhaps the reason Hazel loves the book so much is that it ends abruptly, leaving many unanswered questions. Gus isn’t so crazy about unanswered questions, and so tracks down Van Houten. And gets a reply. Hazel can’t quite believe she’s got a chance to talk with her very own Salinger, but then, her health takes a turn for the worst…
THE VERDICT: Given just how loved the eponymous 2012 John Green novel is, and the fact that you’ve got such a solid lead in Shailene Woodley (managing to glow even as she shadows Jennifer Lawrence’s career), it was hardly a surprise that The Fault In Our Stars battered all in its wake at the US box-office. This is Love Story multiplied by 2, with quotation marks on. It’s Little Miss Raincloud, as Woodley’s “walking grenade” Hazel battles against all the cliches that we’ve come to expect from Disease of the Week stories. Hazel doesn’t want to sugarcoat the simple fact that she’s dying; she wants to confront it straight on. And when it comes to falling for Ansel Elgort’s irrepressibly sunny Gus, well, Hazel’s determined not to go all mushy on us there either. But she does. And so will you, as director Josh Boone (who previously gave us 2012’s so-so ensemble miss STUCK IN LOVE) seduces us with smarts rather than smarm. You may just feel manipulated every now and then, but the throat-gulps will come. Tragic young love porn of the highest order.
Review by Paul Byrne
3 DAYS TO KILL (USA | France | Greece | Russia/TBC/117mins)
Directed by McG. Starring Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard.
THE PLOT: Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a CIA Agent whose health is seriously deteriorating. Discharged from his duties, Ethan returns to Paris to spend time with his ex-wife Christine (Connie Neilsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). It is not long, however, before Ethan’s past catches up with him, and he finds himself on a job for which payment could well be his life.
THE VERDICT: It is obvious that Kevin Costner thought 3 DAYS TO KILL would be his TAKEN, written as it is, by Luc Besson, but where Taken succeeded, this movie fails. Costner is fine in the role of Ethan Renner, but this is nothing we haven’t seen him do before. Hailee Steinfeld is also fine as Renner’s angry daughter, and Amber Heard hams it up as Vivi, the woman who drags Ethan back into service.
Screenwriters Luc Besson and Adi Hasak do not try to do anything new or important with 3 DAYS TO KILL, which is fine, but they have created a lead character with terminal lung cancer who is still able to carry bikes up hills, drive like a maniac and kick bad guy ass. This may seem like a trivial observation, but it is hard to shake the ridiculousness of the situation. As well as this, Ethan spends most of the film chasing a bad guy we know nothing about, and have no idea what his end game is.
McG has produced yet another moderately entertaining, yet moderately irritating film in 3 DAYS TO KILL. The film is never really sure if it is a family drama or a spy thriller, and struggles to reconcile the two sides of the story. None of the actors are stretched in their roles, the chases are fairly fun to watch, but the final set piece is dull and uninteresting.
In all, 3 DAYS TO KILL is exactly what you would expect from a film written by Luc Besson and directed by McG; mildly interesting, over the top but faintly ridiculous. Don’t think about it too deeply, and try to put the cancer subplot to the side, and you may just enjoy the experience.
Review by Brogen Hayes
JERSEY BOYS (USA/TBC/134mins)
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda.
THE PLOT: Based on the hit musical of the same name, Jersey Boys is the story of how four young men from New Jersey left behind their loves of petty crime, to form the iconic band, The Four Seasons.
THE VERDICT: The cast of JERSEY BOYS is made up of actors who have worked on the various incarnations of the stage show, with John Lloyd Young winning a Tony Award in 2006 for his role as Frankie Valli; a role which he reprises here. The problem with casting actors who are familiar with the material is just that; they are familiar with the material and, instead of creating the performance for the screen, it often feels as though the performances in Jersey Boys were simply transplanted from the stage, meaning these characters rarely feel properly fleshed out. Christopher Walken is amusing but criminally underused as Gyp DeCarlo and is completely sidelined in the one scene where he actually gets to dance.
Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice don’t actually seem to have adapted their stage script for the screen at all, but turned up on the first day of shooting with a scenario that worked for the theatre. This leads to some odd, fourth wall breaking narration and characters walking off screen in the middle of lines of dialogue. The years of the story zip by at lickety speed, leaving the audience wondering just which era they are in, and unsure of which stage of the story we are at. There are some lovely scenes, such as the first time the Four Seasons actually sing together, but it is entirely possible to watch the entire film and come out none the wiser about the characters involved.
Clint Eastwood can be a great director, as he proved with MILLION DOLLAR BABY, GRAN TORINO and others, but it seems that he is completely out of his element with Jersey Boys. Either that, or he saw the stage show one too many times, making the film feel like a recorded version of the stage show, rather than a fully fleshed out musical for the screen. The film seems to operate in a bubble free of history, or anything outside the world of the band, meaning that we never really get a feel for the era, for fame or for the sacrifices these characters made for success. Flashbacks don’t help proceedings, nor do outdated shooting methods – rear screen projection for a scene in a car – narration to camera that comes and goes, several literal lightbulb moments and some seriously dodgy aging makeup.
JERSEY BOYS is a film filled with great songs, but little else. The performances are one note – sorry! – and the screenplay seems more concerned with getting through the events than telling the audience about the characters we are spending time with. At 134 minutes, the film is not brief, and to come out with a song in your heart but little else, is seriously underwhelming.
Review by Brogen Hayes
CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 (France/Club/95mins)
Directed by Bruno Dumont. Starring Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, Emmanuel Kauffman, Marion Keller, Robert Leroy, Myriam Allain.
THE PLOT: Her family scandalised by an extramarital affair with artist Augustin Rodin, the 50-year-old noted sculptor Camille Claudel (Binoche) suddenly finds herself being carted off to a Paris asylum in 1913, only to be moved to the remote Montdevergues in south-eastern France following the outbreak of World War 1. Here, boredom and paranoia take over, as Claudel becomes convinced that her mother and brother have abandoned her, and that her former lover and mentor Rodin is trying to steal all her work. When her brother Paul (Vincent) does finally visit, he brings little affection, but plenty of contempt and a belief that his sister’s incarceration is all part of God’s plan…
THE VERDICT: The acclaimed French sculptor having already been tackled on screen in Bruno Nuytten’s 1988 eponymous biopic, that Isabelle Adjani outing ended just as our heroine was being carted away to the asylum, having been consigned there by her mother and brother. That Bruno Dumont should take up the story shortly afterwards, following Claudel over three days as she was held in the Montdevergues asylum makes for an interesting sequel of sorts. That there was another biopic, the Spanish 2011 production Camille, in-between muddies the water only slightly.
Taking a very different approach to Nuytten’s bold, passionate 1988 outing, Dumont is, well, typically Dumontesque here, offering up a sedate, sombre account of a troubled soul held prisoner in a godforsaken hellhole. Dumont put Binoche alongside real psychiatric patients, and the effect is as disturbing as it should be. As a portrait of what becomes of an artist when they are deprived of their art, Camille Claudel 1915 is touching and insightful. Binoche, as is so very often the case, is wonderful.
Review by Paul Byrne
ARTHUR AND MIKE (USA/TBC/93mins)
Directed by: Dante Ariola. Starring Emily Blunt, Colin Firth.
THE PLOT: Arthur (Colin Firth) is a man on the run from his past failings, and his family. Setting out to become the pro golfer that he always hoped to be, Arthur meets Mike (Emily Blunt), a woman in a strikingly similar situation to his. The two journey across America and find that they may be running from the wrong things.
THE VERDICT: It is not really encouraging that Arthur and Mike came out in the US last year under the name Arthur Newman, and we have had to wait almost a year for the film to reach our shores. Director Dante Ariola somehow manages to make the pairing of Colin Firth and Emily Blunt a rather dull and tedious affair, with Becky Johnston’s screenplay seeing the couple break into people’s houses, assume their identities – if only for a night – and leave before they are caught. There is an interesting story in Arthur and Mike, but it is not the one told on screen.
Films about depression and denying the past are not so rare, but Arthur and Mike is a film that draws its characters incredibly thin; what we see of them at the outset is pretty much all we get. By the end of the film, it feels as though this detour the characters take across America is less of a Bonnie and Clyde type journey, and more like a Bachelor Party; both know what they have to do in their very near futures, but they are determined to have one last fling before they do. There is very little to draw us in and keep us interested here; bored and boring characters become difficult to watch after a while.
In all, Arthur and Mike could have been a great examination of the demons we all carry, and the ones we are forced to face, but instead it feels like a road trip of two selfish and uninteresting characters, and it is clear from moment one where they will end up. Even Blunt and Firth can’t save this one, there is little or no chemistry between them.
Review by Brogen Hayes