FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (UK|USA/119mins/12A)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Starring Carey Mulligan, Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Juno Temple.

THE PLOT: In Victorian England, the headstrong and fiercely independent Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mullugan) attracts, and has to choose between three very different suitors; Gabriel Oak (Mattias Schoenaerts), William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Bathsheba’s decision is not an easy one for her to make, and has long lasting consequences.

THE VERDICT: Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD follows in the footsteps of the 1967 film starring Julie Christie and Terrence Stamp. In this incarnation, Carey Mulligan takes the lead role, and does surprisingly well as the feisty Bathsheba, bringing a fire and gutsiness to the character that we have rarely seen from the actress in the past.

Matthias Schoenaerts is not particularly convincing as a West Country farmer, but what he lacks in accent, he makes up for in energy, making Gabriel Oak a watchful and kind man. As well as this, he and Mulligan have great chemistry on screen together. Michael Sheen has a smaller role as William Boldwood, an established man who has a deep affection for Bathsheba, but he delivers a fantastically nuanced performance, and easily commands the screen. Tom Sturridge rounds out the love triangle (love square!?) as Sergeant Frank Troy, a man who falls in love with Bathsheba as soon as he lays eyes on her. Sturridge does well in playing a cad, but there are times when his character feels like less of a force of nature, and more of an petulant child. Juno Temple turns up briefly as Fanny Robbin, who is more of a catalyst than a character.

David Nicholls’ screenplay pulls the romance of the film to the fore, while allowing the story space for characters to become tortured, heartbroken or loyal. The dialogue is economical, but carefully written, and the screenplay is evenly paced, giving us a chance to get to know enough about these characters to care about them.

Thomas Vinterberg directs carefully, giving the film a tense and romantic feel, and coaxing strong performances from his actors, making the characters vulnerable, loyal, stubborn and as rounded as we could hope for. As well as this, the film plays with the notion that choosing the partner that excites us, is not necessarily the path to true and ever lasting happiness. There are times when the film takes seemingly dramatic turns, and seems to run out of steam; it soon gains its footing back, but never quite recovers from the narrative wobbles. Vinterberg is aided by the beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen, which plays with colour and light, making the film at once ethereal and utterly grounded.

In all, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is a strong adaptation of a classic novel. Some of the cast do better than others; Mulligan brings some much needed strength to the character, Schoenaerts shines as the quiet but loyal Oak, but both are let down by Sturridge’s superficial and slight Troy. Vinterberg shines a light on the dichotomies of love, and brings Hardy’s romantic drama to the screen with grace and style.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

GET UP AND GO (Ireland/15A/94mins)
Directed by Brendan Grant. Starring Peter Coonan, Killian Scott, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Sarah McCall, Ryan McParland, Natalia Kostrzewa, Aidan Lawlor, Sara Lloyd-Gregory, Fionn Walton, Paul Woodfull.

THE PLOT: Life is coming to a head for Dublin buddies Coilin (Scott) and Alex (Coonan). The former is a struggling stand-up comedian convinced that one-night stand Lola (Devereux) is the girl of his dreams. Alex, on the other hand, has already found his beloved, Sinead (McCall), who just happens to be Lola’s sister. She also, it turns out over pillow talk, pregnant. Which kinda scuppers the couple’s plans to travel the world. Sinead realises that having a baby will be adventure enough. Alex is not convinced. At all. And so he openly sets about getting the hell out of Dodge, enlisting the listless Coilin as he heads around town, trying to call in favours and loans, or just borrow some moolah.

As the day progresses, both Coilin and Alex are faced with a few grim realities, and the convictions that they set out with in the morning begin to shift, and wane, and wobble…

THE VERDICT: All the ingredients are here for a funky little film, including the highly likeable Coonan and Scott – best known, of course, as Fran and Tommy in LOVE/HATE – in the lead roles, plus a hip, happy supporting cast and a kick-ass Domino Records soundtrack. So, how come GET UP AND GO lacks a certain, well, get up and go?

There’s a growing air here of a smart writer/director just finding his feet, of the wheels of his would-be clever scripts grinding to a halt every now and then. As likeable and thoroughly modern as these young Dublin hipsters might be, there’s a lack of truth about the characters and their stories here that robs GET UP AND GO of some vital emotional grit. You don’t fully believe in these guys, as much as you want to. Given that it’s Coonan and Scott.
In the end, the soundtrack – Villagers, Jon Hopkins, Bill Ryder-Jones, etc – is the best thing about this film. Oh, and that funky mixtape-head poster.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne

TWO BY TWO (Germany | Belgium | Luxembourg | Ireland/G/87mins)
Directed by Toby Genkel and Sean McCormack. Starring
Tara Flynn, Franciska Friede, Robert Kotulla, Dermot Magennis, Callum Maloney, Robert Missler, Aileen Mythen, Alan Stanford.

THE PLOT: Dave (Dermot Magennis) and his son Finny (Callum Maloney) are Nestrians, brightly coloured creatures who seem to have a hard time settling anywhere. When they hear the flood is coming, they set out to get onto Noah’s ark. After they are rejected and subsequently sneak aboard, Finny and his Grymp friend Leah (Ava Connolly) fall overboard, leading them on a mad dash for survival, and their parents in a mutinous attempt to turn the ark around.

THE VERDICT: Supported by Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board, TWO BY TWO is a brightly coloured adventure animation that is great for little kids, but there is little here for anyone over the age of 7 or so.

The voice cast do well in their roles, making the characters seem warm and believable, but they are hampered by a familiar script, a tale we have seen before, and Alan Stanford doing a great job of imitating Jeremy Irons, which just reminds us all of The Lion King.

Richie Conroy, Toby Genkel, Mark Hodkinson and Marteinn Thorisson’s screenplay has a couple of giggles throughout, but for the most part, this is a story we have seen before; opposites attract in the name of adventure, and by the end of it all they are true friens. Creating the fictional creatures Nestrians, Grymps and Tanglefeet (Tanglefoots?) gives the story the advantage of the audience wondering what will become of them once the flood hits, but since this is a film aimed at the youngest among us, the peril never truly feels very perilous.

Toby Genkel and Sean McCormack direct capably, amping up the adventure and the themes of friendship and co-operation. These are sweet messages for the film to have, but other than the brightly coloured glowing creatures, there is little here in terms of story to set the film apart from any other animated film… FINDING NEMO is definitely one that comes to mind as a potential inspiration for the story. That said, however, the animation for the film is rather gorgeous, especially when the Nestrians get their glow on.

In all, TWO BY TWO is a prettily animated adventure that feels familiar and rather uninspired. There are a couple of giggles and a nice message for the kids, but the adults in the room may well find themselves switching off.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

UNFRIENDED (USA/16/83mins)
Directed by Levan Gabriadze, Starring Heather Sossaman, Courtnet Halverston, Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki.

THE PLOT: As a group of teens are chatting online, they find themselves targeted by someone using their dead friend’s Facebook page. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this is not someone playing a prank on them, but a restless spirit bent on revenge.

THE VERDICT: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the cinema, when you thought the found footage fad was dead and gone… Like the serial killer at the end of the slasher flick, it’s back and scarier than ever.

UNFRIENDED stars Heather Sossaman as Laura, Courtney Halverson as Val, Shelley Hennig as Blaire, Moses Storm as Mitch, Will Peltz as Adam, Renee Olstead as Jess and Jacob Wysocki as Ken. The cast do surprisingly well in their roles, since they spend most of their time seated and communicating through Skype, Facebook, Instagram or iMessage. The cast manage to convey the fears and frustrations of their teenage characters while hardly ever getting up from their desks, and although we only know what they reveal in conversation, we learn enough about them to root for them throughout the film.

Nelson Greaves’ script is told through the medium of the computer screen, specifically through Blaire’s computer as she goes through a terrifying evening online. Although this is her screen, we only ever see her on it – until the final seconds of the film – so we really never learn anything more than Blaire does. The audience is not in on the secret here, although we are generally faster to catch on to what’s happening, so we are in it with these characters. The banter between the characters feels real, like these are teens that you would encounter in real life, but the script starts to fall apart when they start vanishing from the story, as none of the other characters really seem to care once their friends have vanished off their computer screens.

Director Levan Gabriaze seems to know exactly who this film is for – 14-16 year olds – and aims directly at them, leaving little for those of us outside of that age range to relate to. The kids are recognisable, sure, but their decisions seem even sillier than the usual horror movie decisions. That said, the film is well paced, with the jumps and scares scattered throughout the film, and a sense of helplessness that builds throughout the film.

In all, UNFRIENDED is a film about teens, for teens. There are a couple of decent scares in there, but although the film tries to do something new with the found footage schtick, this is really nothing that we haven’t seen before. Even the scares aren’t that scary… And I’m a wuss.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

SAMBA (France/12A/118mins)
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. Starring Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Izia Igelin, Tahar Rahim.

THE PLOT: Samba Cissé (Omar Sy), a migrant from Senegal has lived and worked in Paris for 10 years. After unsuccessfully trying to gain legal residency in France, Samba is arrested and interred in a detention centre. Immigration officer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is assigned to Samba’s case, and while she struggles to get Samba the legal paperwork to allow him to stay in France, the two grow closer.

THE VERDICT: Based on the novel Samba Pour France by Delphine Coulin, Samba is directed by the team behind INTOUCHABLES; Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. The film starts out as a dramatic comment on the system of immigration in France, before evolving into a dramatic comedy and something less concrete.

Omar Sy brings the charm as the title character Samba; a good guy who makes mistakes. Sy makes the character endearing enough for the audience to root for him, and the film proves that this is an actor to watch out for, especially since he is starring in JURASSIC WORLD, out later this year. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s gently fragile character works well on screen; her empathy for Samba is the catalyst for the film, and her performance is understated and lovely. Gainsbourg also works well with the rather manic Manu – played by Izia Igelin – and Sy works well with the boisterous and flirty Wilson, played by Tahar Rahim.

The story, adapted for the screen by Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano starts out well enough, with the relationship between Samba and Alice taking centre stage. The trouble is that once Samba is told to leave France and doesn’t, the film seems to run out of energy, and instead becomes a catalogue of the mistakes that Samba makes, while he is obviously trying to be a good person. The final resolution for the film is not the one we might expect, but it still feels convenient, and also more than a little selfish, especially since Samba is a man who is plagued by the mistakes he makes. That said, however, the film is sweet and warm, and rather funny in places, even if it seems to forget the message of inclusion and acceptance that it starts off with.

Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano seem to have focused on the characters in SAMBA, and allowed the story to fall by the wayside for the sake of spending more time with the rather sweet and gentle relationship between Samba and Alice. This is all well and good, and the characters are certainly well rounded and endearing, but this means that the issue of immigration and legally staying in ones adopted country falls by the wayside, making Samba more of a rom-com than a dramedy with a message.

In all, SAMBA is a well-acted film filled with engaging characters and a sweet story. The trouble is that the story is more concerned with being sweet than finishing what it started, meaning Samba starts with a bang, but ends with a convenient whimper.

RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes