We review this week’s new cinema releases, including WALKING ON SUNSHINE and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (USA/PG/102mins)
Directed by Dean DeBlois. Starring the voices of Jary Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. MIller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harrington, Kieron Elliot.
THE PLOT: With vikings and dragons now the bestest of buddies, four years on from when we last saw unlikely hero Hiccup (Baruchel), and life on Berk has become a whole lot sunnier – and safer – since the vikings and dragons became the bestest of buddies. All thanks to Hiccup nursing the much-feared fire-breather Toothless (think Stitch in S&M leather), and sparking a friendship between the two warring factions. Naturally, when life is this sweet – Hiccup also has his swetheart, Astrid (Ferrera), by his side – trouble has to rear its ugly head. And that ugly head belongs to Drago Bludvist (Hounsou), who rules an army of slave dragons, and, yep, is planning on taking over the land. If that weren’t enough, Hiccup also meets the Jane Goodall-esque Valka (Blanchett), who carries the pain of both having abandoned her baby years ago and having to talk with a strained accent stuck halfway between Ireland and Scotland…
THE VERDICT: Director Dean DeBlois – who co-directed the 2010 original with his Lilo & Stitch buddy Chris Sanders – puts the pedal to the metal on just about every front for this much-anticipated sequel, pushing the technology that little bit further, right alongside the darker material, the blossoming tween romance and that light and fluffy war-is-bad subtext. It makes for one busy if beautiful film, one that will no doubt benefit from repeated viewing (something of a must for kids), but with everything turned up to 11, the charm so inherent in that truly loveable original outing is sometimes lacking here.
It was that first Dragon outing – complete with Oscar-winning DoP Roger Deakins (the Coens’ regular having just come off of WALL-E) behind the lighting and lens flare – that saw Pixar’s influence on animation truly coming home to roost. Here was a majestic, funny, touching and visually stunning slice of big-budget cartoon that John Lasseter would have been very happy to call one of his own. If only he hadn’t fired DeBlois and Sanders off of American Dog (which later became Bolt).
Based once again on Cressida Cowell’s series of books, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is, at heart, a film all about flying the nest, and the growing pains that come with finding independence, true love, and the best defence against being burnt to a crisp by an angry, mythical monster. Games Of Thrones for (slightly older) kids? Nothing wrong with that.
Review by Paul Byrne
MRS BROWN’S BOYS D’MOVIE (UK | Ireland/15A/94mins)
Directed by Ben Kellett. Starring Brendan O’Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Simon Delaney.
THE PLOT: A ruthless property developer threatens the street traders on Moore Street, including Mrs Brown (Brendan O’Carroll), and when she is presented with a massive tax bill, it seems that all is lost for Mrs Brown. However, her family, friends and fellow traders band together to try and save Mrs Brown – and Moore Street – from extinction.
THE VERDICT: Mrs Brown’s Boys, the TV show, is a huge hit and has made a star of lead performer Brendan O’Carroll, so it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the show was brought to the big screen. Well, that moment has finally arrived, but the question now is whether O’Carroll’s TV shenanigans can translate to cinema.
O’Carroll is well known to Irish audiences, simply because he put in the hard graft at home before he found success overseas. O’Carroll’s performance is the most natural of the entire cast – with the notable exception of Simon Delaney – and that’s saying something, since the entire film is over the top and utterly silly.
The screenplay – written by Brendan O’Carroll – follows a true Dublin story, to an extent. During the boom years, there was a plan to redevelop Moore Street, a plan which put traders, whose profession was passed down from generation to generation, under threat. Of course, O’Carroll has taken this scenario, heightened it, thrown in the Russian mob and some blind ninjas, and just run with it. The problem with the film, however, is not the heightened, slightly surreal nature of the story, it’s that every single joke in the film fails to land. There are plenty of pauses for laughter that don’t come, and the choice to leave outtakes in the finished film is an odd one. However, there is a great monologue delivered by O’Carroll’s wife Jennifer Gibney, about Moore Street being part of the fabric of Dublin. That said, for all that this is great, there is the feeling that O’Carroll’s persona pokes fun at inner city Dublin people, rather than celebrates them for the people that they are.
Director Ben Kellett, transfers from the TV show to the big screen project, and this shows. The rhythm, beats and direction of the film is remarkably similar to a TV show used to having a laugh track, and some of the actors are truly wooden and hard to watch. However, Dublin looks great, thanks to some lovely cinematography from Martin Hawkins. The geography is all over the place, but we can’t be too picky.
In all, MRS BROWN’S BOYS D’MOVIE transplants the wildly popular TV show to the big screen, with varying levels of success. There is surprisingly little to laugh at here, and some of the racial and gender stereotypes are more than a little insulting. That said, Dublin looks great, and the film obviously comes from a place of affection. It’s just a shame that it is nowhere near the comedy it is supposed to be.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WALKING ON SUNSHINE (UK/12A/97mins)
Directed by: Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini. Starring Hannah Arterton, Leona Lewis, Katy Brand, Giulio Berruti.
THE PLOT: Taylor (Hannah Arterton) flies to Puglia, Italy to join her sister Maddie (Annabel Scholey) for a girlie holiday. When she arrives Taylor is reminded of her holiday fling in the town 3 years ago, and she wonders if Raf (Giulio Berruti) still thinks of her. When Maddie announces she is getting married however, Taylor’s question is answered… Maddie’s husband to be is Taylor’s former love.
THE VERDICT: As the title suggests, WALKING ON SUNSHINE is a feel good, sun filled movie, which also happens to be Jukebox Musical, crammed with the biggest and cheesiest hits of the 1980s. Gemma Arterton’s little sister Hannah takes the lead here; she is sweet and light, and has a lovely singing voice. In fact, the same goes for much of the cast, who show off their skills at singing and dancing, but are never really given the chance to develop their characters very far. Everyone is pretty – even the token quirky friends – and there is always the feeling that things will work out for the best. Leona Lewis deserves a mention, making her movie debut in WALKING ON SUNSHINE, but mainly sticking to singing, thereby making her character sound good, and not testing the audiences’ patience by being another pop star trying to switch careers.
Screenwriter Joshua St Johnston has woven the biggest hits of the 80s into the screenplay. While the songs are well performed, and are still great tunes, there is the feeling that the story plays second fiddle to hits such as Walking on Sunshine, Venus and Don’t You Want Me. The musical sequences are great fun, but the threads that tie them together are thin at best.
Directors Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini also seem to forget that there is a story at the heart of Walking on Sunshine, meaning the showstoppers are huge and fun – if a little cringey to begin with – but the scenes with dialogue and no singing are overdone to the point of melodrama, and the actors seem to have been given one word motivations for their characters, such as sleazy, cheesy and smiley. That said, this mostly works for the film, which is a sundrenched romantic musical, and there isn’t much dialogue anyway.
WALKING ON SUNSHINE is sparkly and light, and filled with great song and dance numbers. Hannah Arterton is a more than capable leading woman, and Giulio Berruti is a devilishly handsome leading man. The story is thin but the songs are huge, and the fun side of the film just about balances out the melodramatic acting. Not every film is meant to change the world, and Walking on Sunshine may not challenge audiences, but it is cheesy fun that will definitely leave you singing.
Review by Brogen Hayes
COLD IN JULY (USA | France/16/109mins)
Directed by: Jim Mickle. Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson.
THE PLOT: After he shoots a home intruder dead, Richard 9Michael C. Hall) fears for his family’s safety when the victim’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) is released from prison. After Ben targets the family and is arrested, Richard realises that the man he killed is not Ben’s son, and the police are covering up something far more sinister.
THE VERDICT: Michael C. Hall, in his first role post-Dexter, does well for the first half of the film, as a family man whose life is thrown into turmoil. As the film deflates however, so does Hall’s performance, until the audience is entirely unsure of the character’s motivations. The same goes for all of the cast, but Sam Shepard comes out of proceedings a lot better than the leading man. An ex-con with a strong moral compass, it is easy to see Ben’s motivations and Shepard is strong and engaging, as usual. Don Johnson brings some levity and comedy to the film, playing a larger than life PI, whose Texan pride is writ large in his music tastes, sartorial style and mode of transport.
The story, written for the screen by Nick Damici, starts off with tension, danger and suspense. Somehow, as the motivations of the characters disappear and the moral of the tale becomes muddled, the film begins to deflate, ending on a whimper, rather than a bang. It could be that Damici is adapting a novel here, or it could be that he simply got caught up in the idea of revenge and justice, but COLD IN JULY is definitely a film of two halves, one of which is not equal to the other.
Director Jim Mickle has brought some great indie B-Movies to the big screen through his career – not least the cannibal tale WE ARE WHAT WE ARE – but in the wake of such great indie dramas as BLUE RUIN and LOCKE, COLD IN JULY feels inferior. As well as this, the soundtrack, cinematography and character arcs feels jarringly familiar to Drive, which diminish the film even further. Motivation and character development go out of the window in the second half of the film, meaning that COLD IN JULY seems to end because it has simply run out of steam.
Despite a great premise, a strong start and the involvement of some serious talent, COLD IN JULY is an underwhelming film that starts as one thing and ends as another, with the audience unclear as to how we got to where we are. The pacing and runtime seriously let the film down as well. Disappointing that COLD IN JULY never lives up to it’s own promise.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE GOLDEN DREAM (Guatemala | Spain | Mexico/TBC/108mins)
Directed by: Diego Quemada-Diez. Starring Brandon López, Rodolfo Domínguez, Karen Martínez, Carlos Chajon
THE PLOT: Three Guatemalan teenagers set out to illegally cross the Mexican border into the US, with US dollars sewn into their jeans and a plan to jump freight trains until they reach the border. Along the way, they realise that their dream may be harder to achieve than they first thought.
THE VERDICT: Director Quemada-Diez cast three unknowns as the leads in the film; Brandon López and Karen Martínez play Juan and Sara, two kids who are so desperate to realise their American dream that Sara cuts her hair and binds her chest to disguise herself as a boy. As they travel, they meet Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) a kid they refer to as ‘Indian’, who does not speak the language and is as lost as they are. The three actors persevere through the film bravely, showing the teenage stubbornness that often leads to reward, but in a cruel land; to suffering.
Quemada-Diez film is filled with both hope and despair as the trio travel northwards; kindness is shown by some, but more often than not the kids are robbed, taken advantage of or simply taken. The lives of these three teenagers don’t seem to matter to police or fellow travellers, and in some cases, to one another as racism and cruelty abound.
The trouble with this gritty drama arises in terms of the pacing. At two hours long the momentum of the film is slow for the first half; the cinematography is beautiful, but even though the kids are physically moving, we learn very little about the characters or the world around them. Once the story actually begins to move, however, a brutal tale of selfishness and loyalty emerges and we learn more about these vulnerable but stubborn kids.
However, those hoping for a happy ending with THE GOLDEN DREAM – the title recently changed from THE GOLDEN CAGEe – may be disappointed, as Quemada-Diez focuses on the reality of the situation the kids find themselves in; there is no deus ex machina here, and every time trust is formed, it is horribly betrayed.
THE GOLDEN DREAM is a grim tale of the struggle many people go through in order to find a better life. The three kids shine in the lead roles and director Quemada-Diez cements his position as a strong storyteller with an eye for detail and emotion. It’s just a shame that the film is let down by some sluggish pacing.
Review by Brogen Hayes