We review this week’s new releases, including The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Earthbound
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (USA/12A/100mins)
Directed by Don Scardino. Starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jim Carrey.
THE PLOT: Everything’s coming up Siegfried and Roy for Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), childhood magic-obsessed nerds and now headlining their own Las Vegas show. But they are about to meet their tiger, in the shape of street magician Steve Gray (Carrey). Gray is young, daring, mock-gothic and faux dangerous – four things Burt and Anton are not. And that’s something that their casino boss (Gandolfini) has already noticed. The boys know they have to up their game if they are going to stay in it, but a trick on the wild side proves almost fatal…
THE VERDICT: On the surface, it has all the right credentials. The man behind the camera is 30 Rock director/producer Don Scardino. The two main guys in front of the camera are Carell and Buscemi, two very funny, very reliable, highly likeable Steves. Helping them out, you’ve got character heavyweights Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini, along with promising hottie Olivia Wilde and former funny fucker Jim Carrey (now reduced to the ‘And…’ billing). And the story is set amongst the Vegas/Phoenix Nights world of magicians. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. Not that anyone who sat through that Mitchell and Webb dud Magicians will be all that surprised.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Alan Brennan. Starring Rafe Spall, Jenn Murray, David Morrissey, StephenHogan, Rory Keenan, Aoife Duffin, Carrie Crowley, Ned Dennehy, Peter Vollebregt.
THE PLOT: With a little help from his late father (Morrissey), sending him messages beyond the grave, young Joe Norman (Spall) has the simple task of saving his alien race from extinction. Just as he starts dating the cute-as-a-button Maria (Murray) though, life suddenly becomes a little Joe vs World, as sinister shadows start to bear down. And their strongest weapon is convincing Flash Joseph that his Super 8 guardian alien – along with all his tales of intergalactic battles – is merely a figment of his imagination…
THE VERDICT: Sweet little homegrown sci-fi comedies don’t tend to find much of a welcome here on Planet Eire, as John Carney’s criminally-underappreciated Zonad (2009) proved, but, with a bona fide famous face in the lead here, Earthbound might actually make contact. Certainly the always-likeable Rafe Spall and the sugar-sweet Jenn Murray both charm here, effortlessly, and DOP PJ Dillon makes the million-euro budget look like, well, a million dollars. The only thing Earthbound lacks is a baddy you can root for, an Alan Rickman swine you almost hope gets the girl, and the universe, instead. Still, if you’ve ever wondered what Rob Reiner’s When Mork Met Mindy might look like…
Review by Paul Byrne
WELCOME TO THE PUNCH (UK/USA/15A/99mins)
Directed by Eran Creevy. Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong, David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough.
THE PLOT: Notorious criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) is forced to return to London after his son is found dead, and detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) takes the chance to capture the man who shot him three years earlier.
James McAvoy plays Max, the cop whose soul has been tortured ever since he let Jake Sternwood, one of London’s biggest criminals, slip through his fingers. His leg has also been tortured since Sternwood shot him. McAvoy captures the essence of a man who is determined not to let Sternwood go and, while he does not have a lot of room for character development, the film is so plot driven that McAvoy gets away with a few smart ass lines and a couple of impressive scenes.
While Mark Strong manages the role of Jake Sternwood ably – and has a lovely scene where he is confronted with his son’s dead body and really proves that he can do more than shout and look imposing – he is perhaps the wrong choice for the role, simply because we have seen him do this too many times before. It would have been interesting to see the film if McAvoy and Strong’s roles were switched, however, as it seems both are just staying with the roles that he knows he can do well. There is nothing wrong with that; it just gets samey after a while.
The rest of the cast is made up of David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough and Peter Mullan and, while none of them really have a lot to do, they serve to further the plot and keep the action moving.
THE VERDICT: Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is its visuals. London has never looked so blue and dark, other than in The Sweeney, but Welcome to the Punch is the film that The Sweeney would like to be. The plot, written by Creevy, is complex enough that the audience is left guessing, but just clear enough that we are never lost or overwhelmed. The payoff is fairly standard for a crime thriller, but there are some lovely twists and turns along the way, and a complete 180 degree turn in terms of loyalty, that reminds us that Creevy has an eye for plot.
As director, Creevy is less strong, and seems to rely on visuals and odd camera angles for flair. The character’s motivations are clear, but they are just a little too one dimensional and too focused on their goals to be properly rounded out. That said, there are some fantastic uses of slow motion and silence that make Welcome to the Punch more than your standard crime thriller.
In all, Welcome to the Punch may feel familiar in terms of story, but Creevy has created a film filled with visual flair. The plot is a little too slight to cover the running time, but Welcome to the Punch is a definite step up for the director. McAvoy and Strong don’t get a chance to delineate, but this is a film that is driven by plot, not character, and in that respect, it does well.
Review by Brogen Hayes
RED DAWN (USA/12A/93mins)
Directed by Dan Bradley. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Will Yun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Peck, Connor Cruise, Edwin Hodge, Brett Cullen, Alyssa Diaz.
THE PLOT: It’s far from just another day in the sleepy Washington town of Spokane when its inhabitants wake up to find the U.S. has been invaded, and they are now prisoners of those nasty North Koreans. Who must have been feeling onery, so onery. But, hey, these are Americans, and they’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to know that there must be at least one bunch of handsome young teen patriots amongst them who can fight back. And leading that team is Iraq War vet Jed (Hemsworth), with the rest of the motley crew including Jed’s quarterback star kid brother Matt (Peck), head cheerleader Erica (Lucas) and mayor’s son, Daryl (young Cruise, in a nice bit of typecasting).
THE VERDICT: A film that is wrong on so many levels – politically, spiritually, technically, rationally – Red Dawn is a mess. The annoying thing is, it’s almost enough of a mess to be an unintentional comedy, but not quite. This is a one-joke turkey. It’s also Hemsworth’s Leprachaun, having been shot before playing Thor and The Huntsman made him the biggest box-office hunk of 2012. If you have any respect and love for this fine young Australian actor, you’ll make like this film never happened either.
Review by Paul Byrne
SOUND CITY (USA/Light House/108mins)
Directed by David Grohl. Starring David Grohl, Neil Young, Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, LindsEy Buckingham, Paul McCartney, Joshua Homme, Jim Keltner, Jessy Greene, Barry Manilow.
THE PLOT: Situated in the no-man’s land of Van Nuys, deep in the Valley, the LA studio that gave us After The Gold Rush, Rumours, Nevermind and a whole slew of ‘80s hair metal million sellers was, even at its height, a shameless dump of a studio. But it had one of only four Neve consoles in the world, one custom-made by the British engineer Rupert Neve, and that meant for those who worked in the studio, the sound was something else. For Dave Grohl, the 16 days he, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic spent at Sound City recording Nevermind changed his life. And it’s because of this that he has decided to tell the story of the little studio that could, from its shaky beginnings through its golden years and onto its death at the hands of digital…
THE VERDICT: Clearly made with deep love and affection for what was a unique studio, if Sound City wasn’t quite Sun, or Stax, or Muscle Shoals, it did give the world some sweet, crisp analogue magic. The idea of family comes up again and again here, and you can sense the good vibrations from just about everyone who went through its doors. Even from Rick Springfield, the one and only homegrown million-seller that the studio produced, although this plastic Elvis would later abandon his Colonel Parker.
Such stories as this betrayal and the chance coming together of the Fleetwood Mac line-up that would make one of rock’s finest – and biggest-selling – albums make this an engaging and entertaining documentary for the most part. It’s the final act, as Grohl puts together a tribute album with some all-star friends, where Sound City hits a few bum notes.
Review by Paul Byrne
BEYOND THE HILLS (Romania/France/Belgium/15A/155mins)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Starring Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta, Dana Tapalaga.
THE PLOT: Returning from a holiday in Germany to her native Romania, Alina (Flutur) visits her friend Voichita (Stratan), the two having grown up in an orphanage together. Voichita is now part of an austere religious commune – they have 464 sins to choose from! – run by Papa (Andriuta) and Mother (Tapalaga), and Alina is soon trying to convince her old friend to return with her to Germany, but Voichita is committed to her new life. When Papa encourages Alina to confess her sins and join them, she refuses, and is soon behaving erratically. Hospitalised, Alina returns, but is even more strange now…
THE VERDICT: Inspired by true events, the third feature from Romanian director Mungiu (who broke through with 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days) is once again a masterful study in the human condition. In this case, it’s nuns of the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although that makes Beyond The Hills sound like something of a romp when, in reality, it’s slow, methodical and serene. So, yes, it’s long, but you never lose sight of the fact that Mungiu knows what he’s doing here. Despite the juicy subject matter, and the fact that there’s truth in dem there hills, this is a far from thrilling psychological drama, but it is a rewarding, and beautiful, film nonetheless.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE SPIRIT OF ’45 (UK/Light House/94mins)
Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Tony Benn, Eileen Thompson, Ray Davis, Dot Gibson, Raphie De Santos.
THE PLOT: Tracking the birth of new socialism in the UK after World War II, the good people of Britain, ready for change after seeing off Hitler and co, say goodbye to Winston Churchill and hello to Clement Attlee and his Labour Party. And so the Welfare State was born, Britain becoming a brave new world of democratic socialism based on full employment, a mixed economy and free healthcare for all. Ah, those were the days, my friend, as Benn, Davis and others lament here the dismantling of all that good work after the arrival into Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher in 1979…
THE VERDICT: The godfather of the kitchen sink drama, Ken Loach takes a rare side-step into documentary here with a film that is both a celebration and a lament for the socialist idealism that swept Britain in the wake of the Second World War. Having been left battered and bruised after the First World War, Britain was determined to build a better tomorrow second time round. Or, as pre-war Labour leader George Lansbury put it, build the New Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. For the men and women on the street, it felt as though they were finally taking charge of their own lives.
The joy of that first hour takes a marked shift downwards when the screen turns to black and the final act of The Spirit of ’45 is given over to the Thatcher years. No prizes for guessing what Loach and his interviewees feel about her sterling work on behalf of the Tories. Ultimately, Loach – polemicist and partisan, and proud of it – leaves us with a call to arms. Preaching to the converted, of course, but the revolution has got to start somewhere…
Review by Paul Byrne
THE PAPERBOY (UK/16/107 mins)
Directed by Lee Daniels. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack.
THE PLOT: Ward (Matthew McConaughey) returns home to his Southern US hometown to try and uncover the truth about Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and his conviction for the murder of a law enforcement official. With the help of his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), his writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) and the convicted man’s lover Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), Ward digs deeper into the story, but does not always like what he finds.
Matthew McConaughey seems to be making good use of his comeback; his performance in The Paperboy is strong and slightly heart breaking. Efron backs up his ‘older brother’ and becomes the lynchpin to the story; the character around whom all others orbit. Efron proves with this role that he is actually a fairly strong actor, and it is great to see him making wise career choices, rather than relying on his youthfulness and good looks.
As usual, Nicole Kidman simpers her way through the role as the sexually loose Charlotte, but she does not play as insipid a character as normal. In fact, Kidman, as the only woman in this cast of men, is brash and brave and gives a rich performance. John Cusack brings the creepy as killer Hillary, and his interactions with every character he encounters is enough to make the audiences’ skin crawl. After the absolute diaster that was The Raven, Cusack needed a cinematic win, and he gives this best performance in years as the sinister, abusive and disturbing character in The Paperboy fits the bill entirely. Macy Gray rounds out the main cast; it is her voiceover telling much of the story and, while this is necessary to bind the messy story together, it becomes a little too obvious and expository.
THE VERDICT: Lee Daniels, best known for his work on Precious, does not have a tight rein on this film. The story is fragmented and jumps from pillar to post. The story is simple, but in Daniels’s hands it becomes overly saturated and bloated out to fill the running time. The voiceover, for the main part, binds the story together, but as Kidman finally allows herself to be seduced by Efron, suddenly Macy Gray is talking to the audience. This, and moments of flashback and fantasy, serve to alienate the audience by jarring them out of the flow of the movie.
In all, The Paperboy is a film with an intriguing story, rich source material and beautifully understated performances from the lead cast that is let down by bloated and garbled direction.
Review by Brogen Hayes