This weeks new movies reviewed by Paul Byrne, including Contraband, In Darkness, We Bought A Zoo, 21 Jump Street, The Sound Of Sleep and more
CONTRABAND (USA/15A/109mins) Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Caleb Landry Jones, Robert Wahlberg, Connor Hill. THE PLOT: When Andy (Jones) lets his boss, Tim Briggs (Ribisi, going the Full Cage), down on a drug-smuggling job, his life is very much in danger. And so Andy’s brother-in-law Chris (Wahlberg) steps back into his old smuggling ways to repay the debt, heading to Panama to collect some counterfeit cash. Back home, his wife, Kate (Beckinsale), is feeling the heat, the man who’s supposed to look out for her and the kids, Chris’s business partner Sebastian (Foster), secretly in league with Briggs… THE VERDICT: Wahlberg has a knack for delivering smart, unpretentious thrillers (Four Brothers, Shooter) alongside the odd high-concept, lowbrow disaster (Max Payne, The Happening), and thankfully, Contraband belongs firmly in the former camp. It’s a traditional one-last-job outing, without any new twists or even a trace of irony – but, sometimes, that’s exactly what you want. And need. Based on the 2008 film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, which starred director Kormakur in the Wahlberg role, Contraband keeps it lean and mean, plain and simple. RATING: 3/5
IN DARKNESS (Poland/Germany/Canada/15A/145mins) Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader, Oliwer Stanczak, Krzysztof Skonieczny, Herbert Knaup, Marcin Bosak. THE PLOT: Poland, the 1940s, in the small city of Lwow, and a group of ghettoized Jews have finally dug their way into the sewer tunnels – only to be met by petty criminals Leopold (Wieckiewicz) and his young colleague Szcepek (Skonieczny). The latter two are sewer workers, and Leopold quickly recognizes some easy money; knowing the tunnels like the back of his hand, he will offer a safe hiding place in return for daily fee. As the reality of the situation intensifies, the horrors above ground as well as the battle for survival down below – avoiding detection, raising children, love affairs, betrayals, having a baby, battling class and nationality divides – intensify. And Leopold begins to look upon these people he instinctively despised with new eyes… THE VERDICT: Hey, welcome to Shitter’s List. Based on a true story, this Oscar-nominated Holocaust drama was always going to be a tough sell – we’ve been here before, many times, and the cruelty of the Nazis is never pretty, or easy to watch; plus, we’re in a sewer. The refusal of director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden) to soften the blows though makes In Darkness truly engaging. That those underground are not always likeable people helps create real drama too, with leading man Robert Wieckiewicz capturing perfectly the good and evil at the heart of this grim story. RATING: 4/5
THE DEVIL INSIDE (USA/16/87mins) Directed by William Brent Bell. Starring Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley, Ionut Grama, Bonnie Morgan, Brian Johnson, D.T. Carney. THE PLOT: The action opens in 1989, Italy, and emergency services are called out to a crazed woman (Crowley), who has just brutally murdered three fellow members of her church group. Two decades later, the woman’s daughter, Isabella (Andrade) heads to Italy with a videographer in tow, determined to find out how and why her mother ended up in the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There to hold her hand are two ordained priests (Quarterman and Helmuth), ready to expel any demons who might surface… THE VERDICT: When it comes to mainstream horror, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you come up with something original. In fact, it’s probably wiser, for the most part, to give people exactly what they expect – so there never truly frightened. And certainly The Devil Inside is a moc-doc horror flick we’ve seen quite a few times before, most recently thanks to the superior 2010 offering The Last Exorcism. All the scares here are pure ghost train stuff, the only true screams coming from the film’s producers, when The Devil Inside opened to $34m in the US, setting a record for early January releases there. RATING: 2/5
THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP (Ireland/IFI/93mins) Directed by Rebecca Daly. Starring Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Sam Keeley, Olwen Fouere, Cathy Belton, Gina Moxley, Aaron Monaghan, Zsuzsa Varga. THE PLOT: Opening on Arlene (Campbell-Hughes) waking up in her nightdress, in a forest, with the body of a young girl sharing her duvet, we’re soon questioning reality when we discover that our leading lady has a tendency to sleepwalk. And have anxiety dreams. The fact that Arlene lives alone in a dingy flat in the middle of a small Irish town in deepest, darkest Offaly whilst holding down a numbing job in a local plastics factory only adds to the foreboding sense of despair. Especially when a local girl goes missing. She’s 23, the same age Arlene’s mother was when she went missing… THE VERDICT: One of those Irish offerings that automatically earns a festival rave or two and an early two-page hooray in The Sunday Times but isn’t actually up to much, The Other Side Of Sleep is a grim, grimy fairytale that attempts to seduce us with a sensual world – there’s no music, just crescendos of silence – but merely confuses instead with a nonsensical plotline. You get the distinct feeling that everyone involved is partaking in a sleep deprivation test. Funded by the Irish Film Board. The malnourished Campbell-Hughes has some presence, but it’s almost impossible to warm to anyone here. Everyone seems broken, and guilty, a smoke always on the go, skin as pale as a dirty Irish Tuesday. RATING: 2/5
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (USA/PG/124mins) Directed by Cameron Crowe. Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Angus Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins. THE PLOT: Southern California, the present, and Damon’s Benjamin Mee is struggling to get over the recent death of his wife. Quitting his job as a journalist just as his 14-year old son gets expelling from school, Benjamin decides it’s time to move out to the country. Where he buys a zoo, much to his 7-year old daughter’s delight. Teaming up with head keeper Kelly (Johansson), and ignoring all the warnings from his brother (Haden Church), Benjamin throws himself into resurrecting the decrepit family attraction… THE VERDICT: Originally slotted for release here at Christmas, this strange and strained family film from the increasingly suspect Cameron Crowe (possibly still reeling from 2005’s Elizabethtown, the film that propelled Orlando Bloom into oblivion) will be available at your local Tesco for €2 within six months. So, if part of you just wants to know what Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson might look like running a zoo together, you might want to employ a little more gratification delay. As you might expect from a former Rolling Stone journalist, the soundtrack is pretty damn fine though, Crowe once again collaborating with Sigur Ros’ Jonsi. RATING: 2/5
Reviews by Paul Byrne – Next week don’t miss our review of The Hunger Games!