SING STREET (Ireland | UK | USA/12A/106mins)
Directed by John Carney. Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor.
THE PLOT: In Dublin of the 1980s, Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself sent to a new school – the Christian Brothers’ school on Dublin’s Synge Street – after his family runs into financial trouble. While trying to impress Raphina (Lucy Boynton), Connor tells her he is in a band, and finds himself having to reverse engineer one when she agrees to be in their music video.
THE VERDICT: John Carney’s latest film carries on the warm, huggable feel of ‘Begin Again’, with a tale of first loves and heartbreaks that has touches of ‘The Commitments’ and ‘School of Rock’, with a sprinkling of John Hughes-esque teen romance for good measure.
The young cast of ‘Sing Street’ do a great job of making the film come to life, Lucy Boynton, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka and Karl Rice are backed up by a lovely turn from Jack Reynor playing the pop psychology spouting, pop music loving Brendan, the brother of our young hero. The adults are made up of Don Wycherley, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aidan Gillen who have significantly less to do, other than deliver plot points and foil plans.
John Carney’s screenplay for ‘Sing Street’ feels autobiographical and deeply personal, and it is this, combined with the energy of the young cast, the infectious songs and the great big dollops of Dublin humour that makes the film so charming. As well as new songs composed for the film – each in the style of a different 80s artist, such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and The Cure – the film’s soundtrack features songs from the greatest hits of past; keep an ear out for ‘I Fought the Law’ by The Clash, ‘Maneater’ by Hall & Oates, and ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet. The original songs are charming and sweet, with plenty of references to Dublin streets and landmarks for the home audiences.
The story of the film is simple – boy meets girl, boy starts band to impress girl – but it is the songs, the energy and the dialogue between the characters, which swings from insulting banter to charming in the blink of an eye, which makes the film special. Although the arc of Sing Street is fairly small, the crescendo is a gig at the school disco, this is such an emotional triumph for the characters that this small scale becomes part of the film’s charm.
In all, ‘Sing Street’ is a great big ball of energy, songs and humour, as well as a story about first love, first heartbreak and making tough choices. Less of a musical than a film with songs, ‘Sing Street’ has a huge heart and captures the breathlessness of young love.
Review by Brogen Hayes
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
THE PLOT: After leaving her fiancé in a hurry, and being sideswiped by a car, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a cellar, injured and shackled to a wall. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her from a terrible fate, since there has been an attack on the world above. Sceptical, Michelle enlists Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) – the only other person in the bunker – to make good their escape, not knowing what kind of world waits for them above.
THE VERDICT: Originally envisioned as a captive/end of the world type thriller, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ has been rewritten to be what JJ Abrams describes as a spiritual cousin to the 2008 alien invasion movie ‘Cloverfield’. Filled with tension and shifting loyalties, it is not immediately obvious that ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ needed the ‘Cloverfield’ connection, but it certainly doesn’t harm this small, well acted and engagingly scripted thriller.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead leads the cast in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’, and it is through her eyes that we see the film. Michelle is a well scripted and well acted character, with the audience going along for the journey with her. Winstead creates the role well, keeping the audience on her side, and keeping us changing our mind about what is actually happening as she does. John Goodman plays up the sinister as Howard, switching from sweet and kind, to dangerous and threatening in a heartbeat, and this is what keeps the atmosphere of the film tense and dark. John Gallagher Jr plays both sides in this battle of wits between Michelle and Howard, going with whichever side is more compelling, but Gallagher Jr makes for a good sounding board for Michelle and a vehicle for exposition.
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle’s screenplay focuses on the events that happen in the bunker, with Michelle and the audience never sure what to believe. The characters are well written and the atmosphere kept tense and strained throughout the film, until things come to a violent and action packed close. The dialogue is strong, with enough known about the characters to engage with them, but enough left unsaid for there to be uncertainty throughout the film.
Director Dan Trachtenberg – who took over after Damien Chazelle left to make ‘Whiplash’ – creates a tense, bizarre and unsettling thriller in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The tension ebbs and flows cleverly throughout the film, with John Goodman playing a character who seems fit to blow at any moment. The real danger becomes Howard, and not the threat that has caused the trio to retreat to the bunker, although this literally and figuratively hangs over the characters’ heads for the entire film. The final 15 minutes or so of the film become an action movie with characters fighting for survival, and this is a welcome change of pace after the tense time in the bunker, and although it is ridiculously over the top at times, the action is fun and compelling. There are times, however, where the pacing of the film drops, and the constant indecision about what is actually happening in the outside world becomes repetitive.
In all, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ did not need to be connected to ‘Cloverfield’ for it to be an engaging and fun thriller with a burst of action at the end, but it doesn’t suffer for the association either. Winstead, Goodman and Gallagher are all strong in their roles, with Winstead carrying the film ably, and Goodman stealing the show as the dangerous and volatile Howard. The film could have benefited from some stronger pacing and tighter editing, but as it stands ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is fun, compelling and deeply unsettling.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk.
THE PLOT: In an animal world where predators and prey have evolved enough to live together in peace and harmony, the big city of Zootroplis beckons to newly minted bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin). After she is assigned to parking duty, and becomes acquainted with the cunning fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), mammals start to go missing, and it is up to Judy and Nick to put their differences aside and work together to solve the case.
THE VERDICT: The world of ‘Zootropolis’ is a fun one, and the storytellers and animators of the film obviously had a blast pulling together the different districts of Zootropolis, built so that different animals could live in places close to their native habitats, such as Tundra Town, Sahara Square and the Rainforest District. At its heart, ‘Zootropolis’ is an odd-couple buddy movie, pairing a rabbit and a fox together, but it also has messages about prejudice and making assumptions about others based on how they look.
The voice cast is led by Ginnifer Goodwin – known for playing the good hearted Mary Margaret in ‘Once Upon a Time’ – and she is on her usual chirpy, tenacious form here, making Judy Hopps an endearing character. Jason Bateman seems the perfect choice for a cunning and laid back fox, with his voice suiting the character incredibly well. The rest of the cast features Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Don Lake, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk and Shakira.
The screenplay, written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston plays with the old fashioned Disney idea of anthropomorphic animals, walking and talking in a human style city. This is the idea that made Disney the powerhouse that it is today, and it is great to see the studio turn their wit upon themselves, both sending themselves up while telling a fun story. As mentioned, the story is an odd-couple cop movie, which plays with the preconceived notions about animals – bunnies are stupid, foxes are sly and sheep are meek – turning them on their head for comedic effect. There are times when the screenplay struggles to keep the energy of the first act of the film going, but in general, the film is well written with smart dialogue and plenty of laughs.
Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush have created a wonderful world in ‘Zootropolis’, with the action and laughs balanced almost perfectly. The action sequences are well paced, and we are given enough about these characters too root for them, while having fun with the idea that not everyone can be judged by the way they look or where they are from. There is a slump in the pacing just before the third act, and while the animation is beautiful and the districts of the film are used well, there is the feeling that this becomes more of the joke than the screenplay itself. That said, ‘Zootropolis’ is fun and funny, but just not quite as smooth as it could have been.
In all, ‘Zootropolis’ is a fun and action packed film that plays with preconceptions and stereotypes in the animal kingdom, while sending up the idea of anthropomorphised animals; the one that made the studio its name. The voice cast do well and the film looks great, there are just some slumps in pacing and story toward the end, which the film never quite recovers from.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Dan Renton Skinner, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith.
THE PLOT: It’s a droog-eat-dog world when we first meet Tom Hiddleston’s Dr. Robert Laing, reduced to living off his questionable wits after the experimental high-rise community he’s moved into goes feral. From the very poor at the bottom to the very wealthy up in the penthouses, not even the great architect behind it all (Jeremy Irons) is able to maintain any kind of law and order once the water, food and electricity dries up and the crazy kicks off.
Pretty soon, it’s cabin fever, on every level. A towering infernal, if you’ll excuse the genius pun.
As various characters at various points of insanity battle for control or simply some food, shelter or violent sex, our anti-hero tries to remain calm. Even when he’s clubbing a man to death in the abandoned supermarket, as the two desperate scavengers fight over that last tin of grey paint.
THE VERDICT: There’s something about a movie that simply doesn’t try to please a mainstream audience that you have to admire.
Think of Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Frank’, of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Tideland’, Richard Ayoade’s ‘The Double’, or the entire works of Gasper Noé. It would be so easy for these filmmakers to give us kittens in a boot. Instead, they’re rather give you a boot being slowly forced into a kitten. Whilst Scott Walker goes full banshee on the soundtrack and the lighting technician has a stroke.
‘High-Rise’ is one such film.
It’s all very dark and disturbing, as you would expect from the pen of J.G. Ballard (the late British sci-fi novelist who also gave us Crash and The Drowned World), and the director, Ben Wheatley (the acclaimed British filmmaker who gave us ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’, amongst others).
Producer Jeremy Thomas – who became friends with Ballard after steering David Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation of ‘Crash’ – had spent almost ten years trying to get High-Rise to the big screen before Wheatley and his screenwriter wife Amy Jump decided that J.G.’s 1975 novel might just be the challenge they were looking for after 2013’s period romp, ‘A Field In England’.
The resulting film has divided critics somewhat, being a stubbornly difficult watch. Dave Fanning hated it with a passion – which some smart people will take as a recommendation.
Gotta say, it eventually bugged the s**t out of me too. Which some idiots will take as a recommendation.
Review by Paul Byrne
ROCK THE KASBAH (USA/15A/106mins)
Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel. Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Danny McBride, Scott Caan.
THE PLOT: Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a down on his luck talent agent based in California. When a USO show organiser sees his act Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) singing in a bar, he gives Lanz the idea to take Ronnie on a tour of US bases in Afghanistan. On arriving in Kabul, Ronnie is disillusioned with the city and quickly absconds with Lanz’s money and passport. To make some cash to find a way home, Lanz agrees to deliver arms to a small village, and while there, discovers Salima (Leem Lubany) has a wonderful voice, and he sets out to convince her to take part on TV show Afghan Star.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by the 2009 documentary film ‘Afghan Star’, ‘Rock the Kasbah’ could be forgiven for having good intentions at its heart; showing Afghanistan to be a country trying to get back on its feet after years of Taliban rule. The trouble is that the script is flabby, the editing strange and although Bill Murray doing the Bill Murray schtick is always wildly entertaining, there needed to be a stronger directorial hand here.
The cast is made up of Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Scot Caan and Danny McBride, but the trouble is that other than Bill Murray, this wonderful cast are not given a chance to do much. Deschanel disappears after a small freak out, Hudson plays a shockingly stereotypical hooker with a hear of gold, Willis just gets to shout a bit and point guns, and McBride and Caan get to raise a little bit of hell, before being forgotten. This is a serious waste of strong talent.
Screenwriter Mitch Glazer has done some great work with Bill Murray in the past – in the form of ‘Scrooged’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘A Very Murray Christmas’ – but the screenplay here is an absolute mess. Characters come and go, the dialogue is nothing to write home about, and the final moments of the film make little to no sense at all. The character of Salima is interesting on the surface, but other than being feisty and able to sing, she is little more than a plot device.
Director Barry Levinson has made some brilliant political satires in the past, including ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and ‘Wag the Dog’, but there is none of the director’s trademark critical and biting observations on show here. Instead the film is a watered down showcase of how quirky Bill Murray can be, and a little patronising to the situation going on in Afghanistan at the moment. The film is badly paced, subtitles are notably absent and the final act of the film is a rambling, badly edited mess.
In all, ‘Rock the Kasbah’ relies too heavily on Bill Murray, who is nowhere near on top from here. The rest of the cast come and go seemingly without reason and although the film has good intentions at its heart, it comes off as patronising, flabby and messy.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MARUERITE (France | Czech Republic | Belgium/IFI/129mins)
Directed by Xavier Giannoli. Starring Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Christa Théret, Denis Mpunga, Michel Fau.
THE PLOT: Directed by In Paris of the 1920s, Baroness Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) has always dreamed of being a singer, the trouble is that she consistently sings off key and no-one, not even her husband, those in her music club or her eventual music coach, have the guts to tell her the truth. Spurred on by the kind words she hears, Marguerite decides to perform in front of a real audience, yet still no-one will tell her the truth.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by a real story – most probably that of Florence Foster Jenkins, whose story is making its way to the screen with Meryl Streep in the leading role – ‘Marguerite’ is a story that starts off laughable and strange, but soon becomes tragic and rather sad. The trouble is that at 129 minutes, this lovely, well made and heartwarming film becomes drawn out and overly long, losing its impact and audience attention.
Catherine Frot is luminous in the leading role as Marguerite, and it is difficult not to root for this woman who so firmly believes the things she is told. Swinging between innocence and delusion, Frot makes Marguerite endearing and tenacious; willing to do anything to have a career as a singer, and finally define herself in her own right, and not just as the wife of a powerful man. The rest of the cast features Andre Marcon, Christa Théret, Denis Mpunga and a wonderful turn from Michel Fau as Marguerite’s flamboyant and narcissistic singing teacher.
Written and directed by Xavier Giannoli, and obviously heavily inspired by the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, ‘Marguerite’ is a carefully constructed film that allows the audience to laugh at the awful screeches coming from the throat of a woman who believes herself a wonderful singer, but also allows us to fully see the fragility and innocence of the woman who believes herself a star. Giannoli never truly tells the audience just what Marguerite’s delusion is, but as the film wears on, it becomes clear that she is earnest in her beliefs, and those around her are taking advantage of her. The trouble with the film is that at 129 minutes, the conclusion feels as though it is never coming, and when it does, it feels unsatisfying.
As director, Giannoli has created a wonderful leading character in Marguerite Dumont, but everyone around her seems to be varying degrees of cruel. The films first act is well paced and engaging, and we truly get a feel for the character, and the changes she goes through throughout the film, but the second act of the film begins to drag its heels, and the finale is all too swift to engage with.
In all, ‘Marguerite’ is a story of innocence bordering on delusion, wonderfully performed by the entire cast, but none better than Catherine Frot – how talented a singer she must be to sing so terribly off key! – but the film’s running time and slightly muddled script leave it feeling drawn out and in the end, unsatisfying.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Starring Joseph Fiennes, Cliff Curtis, Tom Felton, María Botto, Andy Gathergood, Luis Cajello.
THE PLOT: Told through the eyes of a Roman Tribune (Joseph Fiennes), Risen is the story of how this loyal Roman leader became curious about the man named Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), and followed his disciples to find out more about the man who rose from the dead three days after being crucified.
THE VERDICT: There is an interesting piece of trivia about ‘Risen’ on the film’s IMDb page; in 2013, director of ‘Risen’, Kevin Reynolds, was attached to a project that was seen as the unofficial sequel to the 2004 film ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Well, having seen ‘Risen’, it seems that this is that film.
Joseph Fiennes leads the cast as the Roman Tribune, loyal to Pontius Pilate until seeing becomes believing. Thank god for Fiennes and his even if stoic performance, since he manages to shoulder much of the drama of the film. The trouble is that the film is badly written and drawn out, with an incredibly uncharismatic portrayal of Jesus and a band of disciples that are so happy with their faith that they come off as grinning simpletons. Cliff Curtis plays the monosyllabic Yeshua – that’s Jesus to you and me – and Tom Felton, María Botto, Andy Gathergood, Luis Cajello and Antonio Gill make up the rest of the cast.
The screenplay for ‘Risen’, written for the screen by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello, hinges on an idea that is not a bad one in and of itself; the idea that a Roman soldier could be curious about the man crucified by Pontius Pilate, but the trouble is that the film is so filled with anachronistic colloquialisms, odd accents and uneven performances that this idea is stilted before it begins. Add to this some heavy-handed religious moments and a terribly slow pace, and Risen becomes dull and unengaging.
As director, Kevin Reynolds makes the film drawn out and dull, with the audience able to feel every second of the 107 minute running time. Add to this the fact that the film’s audience is obviously the engaged Christian one, and any fun, action or dramatic licence that could be taken with the characters is studiously ignored. Jesus becomes rather like a miracle working Jedi wandering through scenes in long shot and even though Joseph Fiennes is obviously a talented actor who brings some weight to the film, he is never allowed to be anything other than an observer, making his performance stoic and rather quiet.
In all, ‘Risen’ is a film directly aimed at those who will want to go and see it. Anyone curious about the Bible stories, looking for a way in or a good old fashioned epic along the lines of ‘Ben Hur’ or ‘The Ten Commandments’ are not going to find what they are looking for here. Fiennes tries his best, but with an uninteresting script and drawn out pacing, he is fighting a losing battle.
Review by Brogen Hayes