Reviews – New movies opening March 1st 2013

We review this week’s cinema releases, including Stoker and Arbitrage

STOKER (USA/18/99mins)
Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine.
THE PLOT: It’s her 16th birthday, but India Stoker (Wasikowska) has other things on her troubled mind. Like the recent tragic passing of her father (Mulroney), the two having been extremely close. Which is more than can be said of India’s relationship with her mother, Evelyn (Kidman) – the sort of mum who has never brushed her daughter’s hair, and is, by her own admission “not much in the kitchen”. The arrival of the deceased’s suave and long-estranged brother Charlie (Goode) puts just about everyone’s noses – and other body parts – out of whack though, even if there is a growing sense in this Grey Gardens-before-the-fall mansion of having let the wrong one in…
THE VERDICT: For the first hour or so of this ethereal, sensual-world film, you really, really want someone to walk in with a hammer and go seriously nuts. When the blood does finally arrive, it’s not quite enough, and too late.
The faded, jaded Kidman is actually well cast, as the faded, jaded Shelley-Winters-in-Lolita mum (even if she does seem to be channeling Courtney Stodden), whilst Wasikowska – the only good thing about Burton’s Alice debacle – is as wistful and windswept as ever. It’s Goode who lets the side down, having nowhere near enough of that Ripley-era Jude Law to justify the tremors he sends through the women here. By the time the big bad wolf finally reveals himself, it’s not quite enough too late. Which is a killer, given that Chan-Wook Park made that fine Vengeance trilogy that gave us the towering Oldboy. 
Review by Paul Byrne 

ARBITRAGE (USA/15A/107mins)
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Nate Parker, Laetitia Casta, Stuart Margolin, Chris Eigeman.
THE PLOT: Money’s too tight to mention for billionaire investor Robert Miller (Gere) – and so, he’s had to borrow $400million to cover his recent losses as he tries and sells his business. And time is running out, a problem that is somewhat accelerated in stress terms when a late night drive leaves Robert with one dead French mistress in his passenger seat. Keen to keep all this from not only his wife (Sarandon) and daughter (Marling) but also the cops (led here by a constantly slouching Roth), Robert spends one very nerve-racking weekend trying to find lies to cover his lies…
THE VERDICT: On paper, it’s hard to get excited about a Richard Gere thriller. Mainly because it’s old kinda-reliable Richard Gere. It comes as something of a pleasant surprise then to find that Arbitrage is actually pretty darn good, being a timely and informed drama that takes us behind the velvet curtain of high finance. Bernie Madoff would seem like the obvious inspiration here, but Gere has said they were thinking more of JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who manage to lose $9billion of other people’s money before being rumbled.
Jarecki – making his debut feature – knows both the filmmaking and the financial world, coming from a family steeped in both, and he’s put all that knowledge to good use here. A major hit in the US, where it broke the record for a day-and-date theatrical and VOD release, Arbitrage is actually a pretty safe bet.
Review by Paul Byrne

BROKEN CITY (USA/15A/109mins)
Directed by Allen Hughes. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler.
THE PLOT: In a city that’s, well, broken, ex-cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) ain’t about to crumble when crooked Mayor Hostetler (Crowe, of course, reduced to playing panto baddies these days) engages in a little double-crossing. Having also framed Billy for the crime, revenge is on our boy’s mind, and he’s just the man to bring the city’s most powerful man to his knees.
THE VERDICT: Is there a time-warp hitting Hollywood right now? Have the studio chiefs all been hypnotised into believing we’ve jumped back ten years? To a time when Tom Hanks and Halle Berry as your leads in a $200m sci-fi extravaganza made sense? To a time when Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta Jones topping a corruption thriller just might make money?
Broken City feels like a dream sequence in The Walking Dead. You can only imagine that Wahlberg is either fulfilling a contractual obligation here, or just trying to help the aged. Either way, dumb move for such a smart Hollywood player.
Review by Paul Byrne 

SAFE HAVEN (USA/15A/115mins)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons, Irene Ziegler, Juan Piedrahita, Noah Lomax, Mimi Kirkland.
THE PLOT: Running away from her brutish Boston husband, Katie (Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina seaside town, and is soon drawn to sensitive widower  Alex (Duhamel). Alex is, of course, A Good Man, raising his two little loveable rogues (Lomax, Kirkland) when he’s not rescuing kittens from trees, or orphans from burning buildings. The only blip on this otherwise fairytale romance is back in Boston, the nasty and liquored-up cop (Lyons) who’s determined to track Katie down…
THE VERDICT: The sort of maudlin, manipulative romantic drama that Hollywood shits out in its sleep these days (with raving heterosexual Josh Duhamel seemingly happy to star in just about all of them), Safe Haven is for schmucks. It’s the sort of film that has a faint tint of pedigree on paper, mainly because it was written by Nicholas Sparks, but up on screen, it’s second-rate all the way.
As any middle-aged Cathy Kelly fan will tell you, Sparks is the man who wrote the novel that became The Notebook. But then, he’s also the man who wrote the novel that became The Lucky One. Ditto The Last Song, Message In A Bottle, Dear John and A Walk To Remember. In other words, Sparks might just be a one-trick pony, and, if we’re talking about movies that people actually like, a one-hit wonder. This latest offering isn’t going to change that lucrative but lonely claim to fame.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Starring Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare 
 In this twist on the classic fairy tale, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) survive their childhood ordeal at the hands of a hungry witch, and set out to rid the world of witchy evil. When a large number of children go missing from one town however, it will take all of their strength and skill to save the day.
We have Jack the Giant Slayer coming out in cinemas soon; has Hollywood really run out of ideas that it has had to turn to a story that is over 200 years old? Well, probably not, but Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the latest in a long line of reboots and reimagining’s that are not entirely terrible, so they will be around for some time to come.
Arterton and Renner make up the title sibling duo, and their chemistry works rather well and they balance each other out, until their chemistry goes from familial love to the point where the audience is full sure they are going to see a very awkward kiss. Thankfully, they full away at the last moment. Both characters are very crudely drawn, but that’s OK, because they can kick ass, and do. Regularly.
Famke Janssen is the leader of the witches and there is not a single scene in which she does not chew the scenery, but somehow that’s OK as well, because she is having such a good time doing it and to be honest, the film needed a campy villain in order for it to work. Peter Stormare tries his best to out-ham Janssen, but doesn’t really get the chance.
THE VERDICT: The story is rather thin in parts, and definitely an underdeveloped vessel that was created to allow people to look good kicking ass. That said, there are some great one-liners – mostly involving profanity – but not enough of them. Speaking of profanity, when the film starts off, it seems as though it is going to go the route of Your Highness in terms of cursing, but it shies away, meaning that there is both too little and too much in order for it to work.
Writer/Director Tommy Wirkola has made a name for himself in his native Norway by making schlocky horrors and parodies of the Kill Bill movies, so it is hard to tell whether it is the language change or whether something else has got lost in translation, because Hansel and Gretel: With Hunters does not work as well as it should. All the elements are there; cursing, badass heroes and oceans of blood and gore, but the movie feels like it is missing the spark that could have made it great. Perhaps this version is not tongue in cheek enough?
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the latest fairy tale to get a Hollywood makeover and, while the gore and schlock work well for the story, the plot feels as though it could have been fleshed out a little more, and some slightly riskier decisions made.
Review by Brogen Hayes

CAESAR MUST DIE (Italy/78 mins/TBC)
Directed by Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani. Starring Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano

THE PLOT: At 77 minutes long, Caesar Must Die does not take on the entire story of Julius Caesar but instead, by using prisoners at an Italian prison, adds a layer of real human drama to an ancient story, while subtly comparing the decision of Brutus to overthrow a tyrant, with the potential for prison riots
Make no mistake though, Caesar Must Die is not a documentary, the cast follow the filmmakers script very carefully, and even the scenes that appear to be between the prisoners on a personal level – outside their Shakespearean performances – are scripted. While this serves to underline the issues facing prisoners, it is also the weak point of the film, as the actors perform their “real life” characters with the same gravity that they give their fictional roles. That said, the performances within the world of Shakespeare are often surprising. A former prisoner turned actor leads the cast but Salvatore Striano as Brutus gives a string and nuanced performance as the conflicted assassin
Filmed in a combination of colour – for the stage performances – and black and white – for the “rehearsals” – which marks the difference between the performances, Caesar Must Die is an examination of the world of a prison and how it can easily substitute for the ancient city of Rome. The comparisons are clear, and while this is clever, it runs out of steam incredibly quickly.
THE VERDICT: Caesar Must Die is a clever idea with some surprising performances, but the film is let down by a combination of characters that are not made clear enough through performance. If a prisoner turned actor story is what you are after though, this is an interesting affair and underlines the fact that there is redemption to be found, even after violence and incarceration.
Review by Brogen Hayes