INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (USA/12A/120mins)
Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
THE PLOT: Twenty years after a gang of plucky humans, led by President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), saved the world from invading aliens, earthly technology has been advanced by studying the remains of the alien ships, landmarks have been rebuilt and humans have set up a first defence base on the moon. The trouble is that while earth has had time to build defences against another attack, the aliens have also spent their time regrouping and, in the words of former President Whitmore; “They’re coming back, and this time we won’t be able to stop them”.
THE VERDICT: ‘Independence Day’ is one of a number of movies from the 1990s that have been granted cult status by fans and, with the advances in technology since the film was first released in 1996, it is little wonder that director Roland Emmerich wanted to revisit beloved characters to tell an even bigger, messier and louder tale.
Many of the original cast are back for this sequel, including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner and Judd Hirsch, and they are joined by newcomers Liam Hensworth, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Angelababy, Jessie T. Usher and Maika Monroe. All of the cast do fine in their roles, with Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner and Bill Pullman easily stealing the show. The newcomers to the franchise fare slightly worse, as it is with them that much of the exposition lies; there is a real attempt to tie these new cast members to ones from the original film, which does not always work, and some of the dialogue they are given is clunky to say the least.
Screenwriters Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt try their best to recapture the lightning in a bottle feel of the first film, and wisely put beloved characters to the fore of the film. This is where problems begin to arise, however, as many of the newcomers are not given a chance to develop on screen fully, with many of them feeling like they have been inserted into the story simply to deliver quips, one liners or to meet a gender/diversity quota. The story zips along at a strong pace, but in the second half of the film, this picks up into a near panic as the film scrambles to fill in the blanks that it created in the first half. Add to this a robot ex-cinema that comes to save the day and feels very out of place, and a sequence on the moon that would have been far more impactful if it took place on Earth, and ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ loses all of the shabby, plucky charm of the original.
As director, Roland Emmerich seems to have taken the line “Well it’s certainly bigger than the last one” as some sort of mission statement; the destruction is way up on the last one – bits of Beijing even get dropped on London – the aliens are bigger and more plentiful, as is the slightly clichéd and clunky co-operation between countries that we know to be at war in the real world. The performances are fine – Goldblum and his colleagues from the first film are infinitely more watchable than the newcomers – but the pacing is messy, as is the tension built and dropped throughout the film. That said, there are some nice call backs to the original film and although the film is loud and kinda dumb, there is a lot of fun to be had with this ridiculous all-out assault between humans and aliens.
In all, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ lacks the shabby, makeshift charm of the first film, but the returning cast shine in this destruction heavy, obviously heavily edited disaster movie/alien invasion flick. There is often too much plot going on, which means the development of characters suffers, and there are some story points that are beyond ridiculous, but there is a lot of fun to be had with this loud, slightly dumb, popcorn flick. Just don’t think too much about the original.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ELVIS & NIXON (USA/12A/86mins)
Directed by Liza Johnson. Starring Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, Johnny Knoxville.
THE PLOT: On December 21st, 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) arrived at the White House, asking for a meeting with then President, Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Elvis had a plan to become an undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, but getting a meeting with the leader of the free world is not easy… Even for The King.
THE VERDICT: ‘Elvis and Nixon’ is inspired by a true story, a story which led to a photo of the two together, a photo which is now one of the most requested in the history of the National Archive. There are certain things known about this meeting – such as the reason for Elvis seeking an audience with the President – but since this was several months before Nixon famously started recording every conversation in the Oval Office, much of this encounter remains a mystery.
The leading cast are strong in their roles; Kevin Spacey obviously revels playing Richard Nixon, and although his early scenes in the film feel a little overdone, Spacey soon settles into the role, making Nixon feel real without being a caricature of one of the most notorious Presidents in US history. Michael Shannon is an odd choice for Elvis Presley, but one that works in the context of this odd film. Shannon looks nothing like the King of Rock n Roll – even with the hair, the jewellery and the costumes – but there is something about his performance that captures Elvis’ way of speaking and his energy. Shannon makes Elvis almost wilfully ignorant of the reasons why he struggles to get the meeting with Nixon, but there are moments where the character opens up and not only makes this Elvis feel real, but makes him relatable, showing the person beneath the persona. Spacey and Shannon obviously had a great time working on the film, and the scenes in which they appear together are not only hilarious, but belie the oddness of the meeting as a concept. The rest of the cast features Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville as friends of Elvis, and Colin Hanks and Evan Peters as White House staff.
The screenplay, written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes plays up the surreal notion of the King of Rock n Roll wanting to meet the President of the US, while making the characters rounded and real, but without going into too much political or personal history. Much of the film is taken up with the entourages of ‘Elvis and Nixon’ trying to find a way to make the meeting happen, but there is enough wit and side story to keep the audience engaged. Of course when the two finally do get into a room together, everything is ramped up; the comedy, the personal tales and the quirky oddness of the entire situation.
As director, Liza Johnson struggles with the pacing of the film from time to time, with more time being spent trying to keep tabs on Elvis than examining just why Elvis wanted the meeting in the first place. That said, trying to stretch the story of this strange meeting out to fill 90 minutes was always going to be troublesome. That said, most of the performances are strong and even though Shannon doesn’t quite play an Elvis that we recognise, it is a version of Elvis in terms of the film and, it works, especially taking into account Elvis’ meeting with an impersonator early on in the film.
In all, ‘Elvis and Nixon’ is as odd and strange as you could hope it to be. Spacey and Shannon don’t make their characters caricatures, more slightly different versions of these famous men than the ones we know. The pacing struggles from time to time, but the film is redeemed by the energy between the two leads once they finally get into a room together. A stronger story and examination of just what Elvis was thinking could have made for a stronger film, but as it stands, ‘Elvis and Nixon’ is and odd, quirky and hilarious film that is not without it’s faults.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (USA/G/90mins)
Directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney. Starring Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper.
THE PLOT: A terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) lives in a Manhattan apartment building with his owner and best friend Katie (Ellie Kemper), and spends his days hanging out with the other neighbourhood pets, cat Chloe (Lake Bell), and other dogs Mel (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and Gidget (Jenny Slate). When Katie comes home with a new dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Max hatches a plan to get rid of the interloper, a plan that puts them both in danger.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is a cute idea for a movie; people have often wondered what their pets do when they are home alone – some even setting up Nanny Cams to keep an eye on them – but this new film from director Chris Renaud and screenwriters Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch and Cinco Paul feels more laden with plot than jokes, and that plot feels more than a little familiar.
The voice cast do well with their roles, with Jenny Slate in particular standing out as fluffy white dog Gidget. Slate’s comic timing, voice work and general charm make her stand out from the rest of the cast, which includes Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell and Albert Brooks. Another standout comes in the form of Kevin Hart, who genuinely does his best work to date as the fast-talking, maniacal bunny Snowball.
Screenwriters Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have fun with the smaller, throwaway moments of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’, but when the screenplay is boiled down to its component elements, it bears a strong similarity to Toy Story, albeit without all of the warmth and heart of the Pixar film, no matter how much it tries. Some of the characters work better than others, and this is down to both writing and the delivery from the actors, but the sheer amount of plot going on in the film and the amount of threats that frenemies Duke and Max have to face leaves the film feeling rather messy, and the comedy falls by the wayside.
Director Chris Renaud previously brought us the ‘Despicable Me’ films – alongside Pierre Coffin – and ‘The Lorax’ – alongside Kyle Balda – but teaming up with Yarrow Cheney for ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ does not yield the same comedic results as Renaud’s work with Coffin. There are plenty of attempts at injecting comedy and heart into the film, but they never quite land the way they should, leaving this plot heavy caper always feeling as though it is trailing behind recent animated films from other studios.
In all, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ feels rather familiar, and although the voice cast do their best with their roles, the comedy and warmth that the film needs are lacking, leaving this a brightly coloured, plot driven film that doesn’t always quite work.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE MEDDLER (USA/12A/100mins)
Directed by Lorene Scafaria. Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Michael McKean, Casey Wilson.
THE PLOT: Marnie (Susan Sarandon) has just moved to LA to be closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Although Marnie insists all the time that “basically I feel great!”, it soon becomes clear, from her constant voicemails to her daughter and the fact that she crashes parties and spends her money on anyone but herself, that the recent death of her husband has left her at a loss. When her daughter goes to New York for work, Marnie finds herself alone in LA for the first time, and struggling to make real connections.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Meddler’ is the first film from writer/director Lorene Scafaria in almost four years – her last being Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – and not only does the film feel rather like a companion piece to the excellent Lily Tomlin film Grandma, but also as though it is a subject close to Scafaria’s heart.
Susan Sarandon leads the cast here, and the whole film entirely depends on her performance as Marnie. Chewing a New Jersey accent to charming effect, and playing a character whose loss and grief are not so far from the surface, Sarandon makes Marnie a character many of us will recognise; the over bearing mother who is just trying to help but somehow ends up making everything worse. Sarandon makes the character relatable and sweet, while allowing her despair and loneliness to be glimpsed through the cracks in her emotional armour. Rose Byrne has a smaller role as Marnie’s exasperated daughter Lori, and it is a role that again, is recognisable, as Lori tries her best to have her own life while trying not to offend her mother. J.K. Simmons plays a smaller role as Zipper, a gentle and kind man intrigued by Marnie but struggling with his own issues when it comes to his kids. Michael McKean, Cecily Strong, Casey Wilson and Jerrod Carmichael turn up in supporting roles.
Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay is really the examination of what people do to come to terms with the death of their spouses or life partners. Marnie’s loneliness is palpable, and much of her dialogue feels real and instantly recognisable for any adult whose relationship with their parents has changed. There are times when it feels as though the film is drifting from scene to scene with no real throughline or over arcing plot, as well as a tendency to rely on songs to hammer home emotion or, in some cases, convey it entirely. This is not totally surprising since Seeking a Friend for the End of the World similarly relied on music, but these moments are shaken off by the second half of the film, and when Marnie finally begins to let her walls down and we get a glimpse of true emotion, the film is strong and affecting. The moments of humour also work well, and there is a warmth and sweetness that permeates the entire film.
As director, Lorene Scafaria coaxes strong performances from her cast, and Susan Sarandon easily carries the film with her heartfelt performance. There are times when the pacing of the film struggles and feels as though it needs a kick in the right direction to get it moving again; while it is fun to spend time with these characters, there does need to be a strong feel that the story is moving. That said, the relationships between the characters feel real and the deeper emotions of Marie that are slowly revealed keep the audience engaged throughout the film.
In all, ‘The Meddler’ is carried by Susan Sarandon’s wonderful lead performance as a woman struggling to find a new way to live her life after her husband died. Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons do well in their roles and, although there are times when the pacing suffers and the film as a whole relies rather heavily on songs to convey emotion, there is a sweet and warm heart to ‘The Meddler’, and a character that many of us will recognise.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Stefano Sollima. Starring Pierfrancesco Pavino, Greta Scarano, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Elio Germano, Giulia Gorietti, Claudio Amendola.
THE PLOT: Rome, and a crooked MP (Pavino) would love to see the Ostia waterfront turned into Las Vegas. Firstly though, he’s got to deal with an annoying little blackmailer who’s threatening to reveal that messy underage prostitute death in the MP’s hotel room. So, naturally, our boy takes out a hit. Which turns messy. Spectacularly messy.
And just to add conflict to the soul into the mix, Pope Benedict XVI has decided to get off the thrown. Holy.
THE VERDICT: It’s taken a little while for this Italian gangster hit to make it to our big screens, ‘Suburra’ – just like the acclaimed ‘Gomorrah’ – having proven a major hit in its native country before getting the go-ahead as a TV series.
And, hey, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the same director, Stefano Sollima having also director Romanzo Criminale and the subtly-titled feature A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards).
Once again, he’s exploring the underbelly of contemporary Italian life, and once again, it’s packed with violence, corruption, hot chicks and more than a dabble of comedy. Setting all the action against the backdrop of Pope Benidorm abdicating just adds another layer of absurdity to proceedings.
One of those outings where you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Which, in the case of Stefano Sollima, is a very good thing indeed.
Review by Paul Byrne