This weeks reviews from Paul Byrne including Wrath Of The Titans, The Pirates in an adventure with scientists and more…
WRATH OF THE TITANS (USA/12A/99mins)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Rosamund Pike, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston.
THE PLOT: More mythological crash, bang, wallop, as – now, let me get this straight – Hades (Fiennes) teams up with Zeus’ nasty son Ares (Ramirez, replacing Tamer Hassan from the original) to kidnap his pop (Neeson). Which, in turn, sparks Zeus’ half-human son Perseus (Worthington) to give up his simple fisherman life of the last decade to resuit and reboot for a rescue mission, aided and abetted by a leatherclad, arrow-shooting Andromeda (Pike) and the freewheelin’ Agenor (Kebbell). And for all too short a time, they’re joined by Hephaestus (Nighy), who knows his way around the labyrinth underworld, being its designer…
THE VERDICT: New and improved in all the technical departments, including the dreaded 3D, just like its very mediocre predecessor, Wrath Of The Titans is fatally weak on plot. And script. And even – gulp! – acting. To be fair, it would be nigh on impossible for Sam, Liam, Ralph and co to make a silk purse out of what they’ve been handed here. So, most of them simply resort to the Pierce Brosnan trick of SHOUTING THEIR LINES SO THEY COME ACROSS AS TORTURED AND VERY, VERY SERIOUS. A little divine intervention on the script side wouldn’t have gone amiss here; someone who actually knows how to build tension and excitement as opposed to stringing together a series of CGI battles straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. Still, none of that hurt 2010’s Clash Of The Titans, which earned over $490m at the box-office. RATING: 2/5
PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS (UK/G/88mins)
Directed by Peter Lord. Jeff Newitt. Starring the voices of Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Brendan Gleeson, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Brian Blessed.
THE PLOT: Based on the first of a series of comic novels by Gideon Defoe, this swashbuckling tale sees our highly incompetent plasticine pirates setting sail on CG seas, out to win the coveted Pirate Of The Year award. All seems lost until they happen upon Charles Darwin (Tennant), who quickly recognizes that the captain’s ungainly parrot is in fact a very rare, very prize-worthy dodo. Such a discovery would put Pirate Captain (Grant) on the map. And his motley crew off everyone’s laughing stock list.
THE VERDICT: You can’t help but come over a little Jeffrey Katzenberg when watching this latest Aardman Animation big-screen onslaught – a little tweeking here and there, and this could be so much funnier, and faster, and far more fandabidozi. As it is, Pirates! is full of that old plasticine charm and that particular brand of ye olde English chuckles – which is what you would expect from the creators of Wallace & Gromit, of course – but just not quite enough old plasticine charm and ye olde English chuckles. Ultimately, the film comes across – ironically, given that it’s the cardigan-and-slippers-toting Aardman – as far too eager, and busy, to truly please. RATING: 3/5
IN THE ABYSS (USA/UK/Germany/IFI/107mins)
Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Jason Burkett, Michael Perry, Charles Richardson, Lisa Stotler-Balloun, Fred Allen.
THE PLOT: Subtitled A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life, and divided into six chapters, Herzog’s latest documentary sees the intrepid German filmmaker exploring a triple homicide that occurred in Conroe, Texas in 2001. Amongst the interviews connected to the case, Herzog talks to Lisa Stotler-Balloun (whose mother and brother were brutally murdered, along with the latter’s best friend), as well as the two young men convicted of the killings – Michael Perry, facing execution in eight days when we first meet him, and his friend, Aaron Burkett, who is due out of prison in 2041. Those connected to the case – including Lieutenant Damon Hall of the Conroe Police and Delbert Burkett, Aaron’s father, who is also serving a 40-year sentence – shed light on not only the night in question but also the lives of those involved. You know you’re in dark territory when a barmaid working a dive bar in a town called Cut And Shoot is brought to tears over the things she’s seen there. Just what, she doesn’t say…
THE VERDICT: There’s something mildly Borat-esque about Werner Herzog interviewing style, a combination of his clipped German accent and apparent naivity giving him a licence to ask blunt and sometimes leftfield questions. Think Marge Gunderson with a moustache. There’s method to Herzog’s meanderings though – such an interviewing style can give you the most revealing answers.
It certainly works in the heightened reality of Death Row, or when talking to those who have lost loved ones in a violent crime. Although openly against the death penalty, Herzog plainly isn’t here to judge, letting his subjects do most of the talking, and leaving the conclusions up to the viewer. After all, there’s tragedy on both sides of the prison glass. For those of you wanting to dig deeper, Herzog has a further four separate TV productions under the banner Death Row, the first of which airs on Channel 4 Thursday March 29th at 10pm. RATING: 4/5
STREETDANCE 2 (USA/PG/83mins)
Directed by Max Giwa, Dania Pasquini. Starring Tom Conti, George Sampson, Falk Hetschel, Sofia Boutella, James Michael Rankin, Stephanie Nguyen.
THE PLOT: When he’s laughed off the stage by the American dance crew Invincible, street dancer Ash (Hentschel) decides to take revenge by going Ocean’s 11 on their asses, he and returning hero Eddie (Sampson) rounding up the best dancers from across the globe so they can, eh, deliver a whole new dance style. In Paris. Which is all you really need to know.
THE VERDICT: You know it’s strictly business when a film like this is co-funded by the British Film Institute and BBC Films, the two English stalwarts teaming up with Eagle Pictures in Italy and Film Eins in Germany. This is no labour of love; it’s a crass crapshoot, made more for the money than the honey, whilst also fulfilling a national obligation to get your country’s actors some work. No matter how degrading it might be. There will, of course, be those who regard a film like this as art, and find the fact that Madonna’s dancer Sofia Boutella has joined the story a major cultural event. Those people are idiots. In leotards. For the rest of us, this is just another song and dance about nothing, even if directors Giwa and Pasquini do throw every move they can at the screen. At least it’s in that dying art form, 3D, which means you can reach out and feel like you’re really punching the cast. RATING: 2/5
THIS IS NOT A FILM (Iran/IFI/75mins)
Directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi. Starring Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb.
THE PLOT: Under house arrest and facing six years in prison – as well as a ban from making a film, talking to the media or leaving the country for 20 years – we meet noted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The Circle, Offside, The White Balloon) in his Tehran home – having breakfast, taking phone calls, trying to find out from his lawyer what the verdict by the appeals court is likely to be. Having had previous scripts rejected by the Iranian censors, Panahi believes he’s found a loophole in the ban that allows him to act out, in his own home, the script that he had been prepping. Behind the camera is his friend, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (later arrested for espionage). Ironically, the script involves a young girl being kept at home by her absent parents, so she can’t attend a university arts course in Tehran…
THE VERDICT: A film that had to be smuggled out of Iran (on a USB stick inside a cake, in true prison fashion), This Is Not A Film offers up plenty of food for thought, about censorship, the nature and purpose of filmmaking, Iran today, and that burgeoning social phenomenon, being home alone. Just as German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi struggled to get his documentary about imprisioned Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky to the screen (with the completed film stolen twice before debuting), you’re constantly aware here of filmmaking in Iran is a labour of love that can so easily result in hard labour. Even as Panahi resorts to a one-man Dogville production of his latest script, you can’t help feel that this bird-singing-in-a-cage performance is going to get him into trouble. How much of This Is Not A Film was actually directed by the two filmmakers involved and how much of it is purely natural is hard to tell, but the grim message remains the same. Panahi is currently serving his six years in prison. RATING: 3/5
TINY FURNITURE (USA/16/99mins)
Directed by Lena Dunham. Starring Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Rachel Howe, Merritt Wever, Amy Seimetz.
THE PLOT: Aura (Dunham) is having trouble finding any reasons to be cheerful – she’s chubby, she’s isn’t pretty like her sister (Grace Dunham), or successful, like her photographer mom (Laurie Simmons). So, resigned to her fate, Aura takes on crap jobs and hangs out with horrible guys – married chefs who hit on her, or single geeks who would rather read Woody Allen in bed than lean over and touch her. And each day, Aura feels that little bit more worthless, that little bit more depressed. We soon know exactly how she feels…
THE VERDICT: Yep, just what we needed, another Hal Hartley in a dress. Isn’t Miranda July and her self-consciously pixie-girl relationship dramedies enough for now? To be fair, Dunham may have something more to offer, if the response to her HBO series Girls is anything to go by (think a very indie Sex & The City, apparently). Here though, she offers up what feels like a blatant calling card, a battle-cry for the festival circuit (Tiny Furniture grabbed a pair of Gotham Independent Film gongs, both in the Breakthrough category, of course). A heavy dose of mumblecore, Dunham plays the lead. Her family play her family. Her friends play her friends. And it’s all shot in her parents’ swanky Tribeca Loft. But we’re never sure if Lena Dunham is playing Lena Dunham, or a fictional character. And, to be honest, we don’t care. Because our heroine is a miserable sod. Trapped in a miserable film. Of her own damn making. RATING: 2/5
THE PLANE! THE PLANE!
Running for a limited time at the Light House – and, stay at home fans should note, available (alongside this week’s Herzog doc, Into The Abyss – to watch on Volta.ie for €5.99 – The Island President (USA/Light House/101mins) is the inspiring tale of a tiny nation’s quest to get the world to act on climate change.
Regarded as a “cross between paradise, and paradise”, the Maldives is a collection of 1,200 islands (about 200 of them inhabited) in the Indian Ocean, but rising sea levels has resulted in an alarming jump in eroded beaches. So much so that President Mohamed Nasheed even suggested relocating the populace to India or Australia.
Something of a Mandela figure, former political prisoner Nasheed came to power only after fighting a tyrant for decades, finally seeing democracy come to his country in 2008. And with some scientists predicting his country could be underwater by 2050, Nasheed put climate change at the top of his agenda. Luckily, Nasheed knows how to sell an idea – such as holding a cabinet meeting underwater, with officials sitting around a table in scuba gear.
Director Jon Shenk and his crew are given remarkable access, and Nasheed makes for a remarkable subject, never moreso than when confronting the big polluting countries at 2009’s Cophenhagen Climate Conference.
SHIP TO SHORE
Having picked up the Oscar for best live action short recently, Terry George’s The Shore will screen every Sunday throughout April at 1.10pm in the IFI.
Ciaran Hinds and Conleth Hill are Joe and Paddy, two former boyhood best friends who have been divided by 25 years of misunderstanding, thanks largely to the conflict that escalated around them in Northern Ireland. The two men meet again when Joe returns to his homeland with his 24-year old daughter Patricia (Kerry Condon)…
These free screenings are subject to availability, and can be reserved at the IFI Box Office on 01 679377.
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF…
Putting forth the argument that a talent genius doesn’t always make the best parent, CHILD OF GIANTS (USA/Light House/95mins) sees filmmaker Tom Ropelewski chart the troubled upbringing of Daniel Dixon, the older son of two contemporary art giants – landscape painter Maynard Dixon and documentary photographer Dorothea Lange.
Through interviews, archival footage and Lange’s own oral history, Ropelewski offers up a meandering but informative portrait of everyone involved, revealing as much about the two artists’ celebrated work as he does their poor parenting skills. The emphasis on Daniel’s own postcards from the edge might be explained by the fact that he’s Ropelewski’s father-in-law.
Screening at the Light House this Friday, March 30th, at 8pm, Child Of Giants will be followed by a Q&A with Ropelewski and his missus, Leslie Dixon, the latter screenwriter on such hits as Freaky Friday, Mrs Doubtfire and Limitless.