Reviews – New movies opening March 28th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and MUPPETS MOST WANTED…

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Frank Gillo, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Dominic Cooper, Callan Mulvey.
THE PLOT: Everyone’s favourite 98-year old beefcake superhero Captain America (Evans) returns to active S.H.I.E.L.D. service with more than a tinge of regret that old-fashioned American ideals seem to be a thing of the past. The idea that America is now in the business of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction doesn’t sit well with this particular patriot.
His growing suspicions about where American justice is headed is confirmed when, whilst engaged in Operation Insight, his boss, Nicholas J. Fury (Jackson), is left for dead, and our boy soon finds himself being hunted down by his own espionage and law-enforcement agency. “Don’t trust anyone,” Fury barks as he hands over a mysterious USB stick to Captain America, and he’s soon joined by the Black Widow (Johansson) as they try to stay one step ahead of the hi-tech surveillance, and one-man killing machine The Winter Soldier (Stan), whilst trying to get to the bottom of the powerful organisation infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. Think Scientology led by Ted Nugent.
THE VERDICT: The latest Marvel onslaught comes with some tricky obstacles to overcome – namely, following up two of the biggest-grossing movies of all time (Avengers Assemble sitting pretty at no.3 and Iron Man 3 taking the 5th position) with a sequel to a movie that did less than a third at the box-office than either of those blockbusting monsters. On the plus side, that 2011 original outing, Captain America: The First Avenger, was a pretty damn fine movie, and unlike, say, the craperistic Iron Man 2, deserved to do big business. There’s every chance, therefore, that The Winter Soldier will do far, far more than The First Avenger’s $370.5m.
It’s refreshing too, to see a major Hollywood blockbuster franchise taking on an ongoing scandal, The Winter Soldier reminding us all that it’s a short walk indeed between the NSA and the N.A.Z.I.S. And it’s even shorter if you goosestep. The main arc of the story may be pure Bourne Again, but, once again, Marvel inject enough sexy set-pieces and screwball comedy alongside the political overtones to keep you bouncing in your seat. Sodastream whore Johansson channels Miss Piggy once again, using her sexuality to full effect (her stand-alone Black Widow movie will concrete her recent return to favour), Jackson is still the Al Jolson of the 21st Century (but at least here he’s given something to do here other than raise an eyebrow), and Evans has enough of the Gosling about him to make his superhero human. As for the star guest, it’s hardly surprising here (and this is only a spoiler if you’re really, really slow) that The Sundried Kid turns out to be the Tony Blair of the piece, riding his Make War, Not Love missile into the sunset.
Early on, The Winter Soldier might feel like little more than Jason Statham with a budget, but the thrills get smarter and smarter as Captain America’s self-doubt grows and grows. Be interesting to know how this popcorn-spiller goes down in The White House screening room on movie night.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by James Bobin. Starring Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and the voices of Steve Whitmore, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barrtta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel.
In the wake of their hugely successful reunion and telethon to save the Muppet Studios, Kermit and the gang are approached by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who wants to manage the Muppets on a worldwide tour. However, the World’s Most Dangerous Frog Constantin – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Kermit – has just been liberated from a Siberian gulag, and it is not long before the Muppets are separated and involved in an international crime circle.|
THE VERDICT: The story is just silly enough for it to work for Muppets fans and for the newer, younger fans in the audience, and there is plenty of slapstick and jokes to go around. Ricky Gervais is on fantastic form as the put upon, evil Dominic Badguy, and Tina Fey is wonderfully over the top as a guard at a Siberian gulag. Of course Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, The Swedish Chef and all our favourite characters are back, and they are splendid, as usual.
The story leaves plenty of room for confusion comedy, cultural humour and prison gags, but it is in all of this gallivanting around the world that things become a little muddled. Perhaps there is a little too much going on here, but by the time the gang reach Dublin (Hurrah!) the pacing stumbles and the film struggles. The songs – once again provided by Bret McKenzie – have tons of heart and warmth, but sadly there is no one standout showstopper like we had the last time with Man or Muppet.
The cameos, as we might expect, are fantastic, with Danny Trejo, Russell Tovey, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hiddleston, Jemaine Clement, Chrisoph Waltz and Saoirse Ronan turning up – to name but a few. The cameo performances have a little more to do this time out, and Danny Trejo in particular has a standout laugh out loud moment. Many of the jokes flash past the screen, leaving us still laughing long after they have gone, and the silly fun is infectious and warm.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED is a decent follow on to 2012’s THE MUPPETS, but it seems like there is a little too much going on, leaving the pacing a little muddled and the running time ever so slightly too long. That said, however, The Muppets are on hilarious, all singing, all dancing form and it is almost impossible not to get swept along with the silly crime caper they find themselves embroiled in.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Morgan Neville. Starring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Janice Pendarvis, Lyn Maybry, Judith Hill, Cindy Mizelle, Tata Vega, Mick Jagger, the Waters family.
Charting the lives of those who sing their hearts out so that the likes of Sting can sound good, the aptly-named 20 Feet From Stardom not only jumps back to such beloved backing singers as Darlene Love and Merry Clayton but also to those who still make their living from what is, thanks to modern tuning technology, what many of them recognise is a dying art form. Through archive footage and present-day interviews, we recognise just how pivotal a role some of these backroom legends played on some of the world’s most beloved recordings. For others, it’s still early days, some happy to be ear candy, others keen to make it on their own.
Whilst Michael Jackson favourite Judith Hill – robbed of her moment in the sun when the This Is It tour had to be aborted – tries to forge a solo career, others, such as Tata Vega and Lisa Fischer, prefer life in the shadows. The Grammy-winning Fischer lives an anonymous life when not onstage trading vocal blows with Mick Jagger.
Fittingly, this inspiring, soulful documentary brought the house down at the recent Dublin International Film Festival, even at 11am on a Sunday morning. Veteran director Morgan Neville (The Night James Brown Saved Boston, Johnny Cash’s America, Crossfire Hurricane) shines a light over the shoulder of many classic recordings and let’s us hear from those incredible voices that lifted and inspired the likes of the Stones, Joe Cocker and Bruce Springsteen to even greater heights. And highs.
It’s nigh on impossible not to feel a tingle of soul love when Merry Clayton recalls being woken at 2am to come join the Stones in the studio, arriving with her curlers still in her hair and then proceeding to belt out that awe-inspiring backing wail that pulled Gimme Shelter from being the devil’s music into something closer to gospel. And it’s nigh on impossible not to recognise the cruelty that befalls some great artists when the legendary Darlene Love finds herself cleaning strangers houses for a living. Until, that is, she hears one of her early Phil Spector hits blasting out of the radio. A hit that, ironically enough, Love wasn’t given credit for, Spector preferring to credit the recordings to his already-established artists.
Such is the fate of the often faceless backing singer though, with only a handful making that giant leap forward into the spotlight. Luther Vandross made it his business to encourage great singers out of the chorus line, having been propelled from such a role when David Bowie gave him a co-writing credit on the Young Americans track Fascination. For Love, recognition would finally come too, the now-70-year old having returned to active service in the 1980s, and earning his spot in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in December, 2010. As with Standing In The Shadows Of Motown (2002) and last year’s Muscle Shoals, it’s often in the linear notes that we find the sweetest soul.
RATING: 4/5 
Review by Paul Byrne

THE PAST (Frace | Italy/TBC/130mins)
Directed by
Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) reunites with his estranged wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) to finalise their divorce, but soon finds himself drawn into the domestic struggle between Marie, her new partner Samir (Tahar Rahim), Marie’s eldest daughter and the secrets they keep from one another.
THE VERDICT: Bérénice Bejo plays anything but the sweet and warm character we saw her bring to life in The Artist; Marie comes off as a selfish and angry woman who is determined to do what she wants, with little regard for the consequences. Bejo is a beautiful woman but she manages to make Marie ugly, even as we learn more about the character. The more we learn about Marie, the more we can understand why her relationship with Ahmad broke down, and Ali Mossafa makes the character warm and understanding with a weakness for helping people. Tahar Rahim plays Samir as a man conflicted but gentle, a man wife languishes in a coma after a suicide attempt and he seems haunted by her. One of the standout performances comes from Elyes Aguis, who plays Samir’s young son. Aguis is Samir’s link to the past and he holds on to this with a childlike stubbornness, his questioning of the change in his life is right on the nose and, even though he is mischievous, Aguis’s simple performance is moving and engaging.
The running time, at 130 minutes is not brief, but this time allows the pot of emotions and entanglements in the film to simmer, eventually boiling over and forcing the characters to confront the issues that are holding them back. Farhadi hones in on the people who find themselves in the house and picks apart the carefully constructed webs of secrets and lies that they have cast. Tension builds throughout the film, leading to one confrontation after another, but this is so well done that the audience is as gripped and engaged as we would be watching a thriller. In fact, this is what The Past becomes; an emotional thriller, minus the melodrama and hysterics that could so easily accompany such a piece.
THE PAST is an engaging domestic thriller where secrets and lies collide with spectacular emotional result. Mossafa, Bejo and Aguis shine through in a film carefully constructed and deliberately pulled apart.
Review by Brogen Hayes