We review this week’s new cinema releases, including X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and BLENDED…
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (USA|UK/12A/131mins)
Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry.
THE PLOT: In the not too distant future, a war between mutants and humans has devastated the world, and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) traces the war back to a single event in the past. The Professor, along with Magneto (Ian McKellen), devises a way for Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time, to end the war before it even begins.
THE VERDICT: There has been much buzz around Days of Future Past, the fifth ensemble X-Men movie outing, and for good reason. Not only are a lot of the old gang back together – Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin – but we get to see the cast of First Class back together as well, including Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence. Fans! REJOICE!
The story is based on the storyline from the Uncanny X-Men published in 1981, and it is filled with huge set pieces, political thrills and emotional hooks. Michael Fassbender ditches the Kerry accent for his second turn as Magneto, and makes his performance not only one that mimics Ian McKellen’s, but has tons of scope for the actor to enjoy himself. James McAvoy gets to play Charles Xavier as a rock and roll mutant hero stuck in clouds of disillusionment, and Jennifer Lawrence appears to have tons of fun making Mystique a character with a story, and not just a foxy woman in blue body paint.
Also new to the franchise is Peter Dinklage as Dr. Bolivar Trask; a scientist with a plan to deal with the mutant problem once and for all. Dinklage continues his run of great roles as Trask and is horribly convincing in the anti-mutant arguments he makes. Also new to the cast is Evan Peters as Quicksilver – the character to be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in The Avengers: Age of Ultron – who makes his character just arrogant enough to work and just likeable enough to be fun.Taylor-Johnson has a tough act to follow.
Screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Jane Goldman allow the story to unfold, and twist and turn, while making the time travel elements of the story simple and engaging. Sure, there will be a megafan who picks holes in the logic, but the time travel is not the biggest deal here. The banter between the characters is great, Wolverine’s humour is back and better than ever, and the climactic scene is truly brought right down to the wire.
Bryan Singer is back in the director’s chair for his first X-Men movie since X2, and his experience with the franchise shows. The film is tightly and skilfully directed, with only one really noticeable lag in proceedings; not bad for a 131 minute long film. The set pieces are huge and, if truth be told, a little silly, but they are engaging and well paced, and serve to forward the action of the film.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the best superhero movie to come out of a Marvel property since AVENGERS ASSEMBLE in 2012, and it is sure to be a contender for one of the best blockbusters of 2014. Fassbender and McAvoy shine in a cast filled with strong performers, the story is engaging and the pacing – apart from one lull – is top class.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Frank Coraci. Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Joel McHale.
THE PLOT: Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and Jim (Adam Sandler) decide, after a disastrous blind date, that they never want to see each other again. Of course, the universe has other plans, and the two – and their kids from previous relationships – soon find themselves on safari in Africa, where they realise they may have to reconsider their thoughts on one another.
THE VERDICT: Barrymore and Sandler play stereotypical characters; both recovering from long term relationships, and both unhappy about finding themselves in the dating pool again. Barrymore’s ex-husband – played by Joel McHale – cheated on her, and Sandler’s wife passed away some time earlier. Both have young families, and both have their flaws. Barrymore plays the cutesy role that we are used to seeing, and Sandler takes a slight step up from Jack and Jill, playing a man with three young daughters who he has no idea how to death with. Neither one of them challenges themselves, and neither one of them makes any sort of real impression.
The rest of the cast is made up of Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bella Thorne and Joel McHale. McHale perhaps comes off worst of the supporting cast, as it seems his hatred for the role he finds himself playing transfers into his acting, making Mark a sarcastic and overacted character. We know you’re better than this Joel!
The story, frankly, is ridiculous, and the families being on safari in Africa simply sets up the jokes; Sandler on an ostrich, Sandler teaching a kid to play baseball with the help of a cricket coach, Barrymore singing kids to sleep, Barrymore spectacularly taking Sandler out, while in a parachute and a tacky over/underused African choir who try their best to be funny, and fail. In fact, nothing about Blended feels original or even remotely funny, most of the jokes come off as embarrassing, and the characters are caricatures of reality more than having even a touch of reality about them. There are some sweet moments involving Sandler’s kids dealing with the loss of their mother, but these quickly descend into saccharine sentimentality. Director Frank Coraci seems to have lost the subtle touch that made THE WEDDING SINGER so great, and writers Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera show their lack of experience in this faintly embarrassing, unfunny mess.
BLENDED is a film that is not funny, lacks charm and is instantly forgettable. Sandler and Barrymore do nothing new or fresh here, McHale suffers greatly after his fantastic run on Community and the film is predictable and ultimately, dull. Those expecting The Wedding Singer style greatness will be disappointed, as will anyone going into this film expecting a comedy.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE PUNK SINGER: A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA (USA/IFI/81mins)
Directed by Sini Anderson. Starring Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Sara Marcus, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Jennifer Baumgardner, Adam Horovitz, Lynnee Breedlove.
THE PLOT: Opening on Hanna spitting out a spoken word poem in her hometown of Olympia, Washington – “I’m your worst nightmare come to life” – shortly after a very wise tutor pointed out that no one listens to spoken word, the punk rock group Bikini Kill was born. A punk rock group that would help spark the feminist Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s, Bikini Kill being the perfect vehicle for the angry and outspoken Hanna – think (the band’s buddy) Kurt Cobain as a Spice Girl. Or Patti Smith in a boob tube. With the word ‘SLUT’ scrawled across her midriff.
Through modern-day interviews from those on the scene (including Hanna’s hubby, Beastie Boy Horovitz) and those who have charted it, we quickly realise that the strongly-feminist Hanna had always impressed those around her, through her early photography exhibitions and, at the tender age of 18, her fashion range (including a dress inspired by a sexual attack on her roommate). But it was when Bikini KIll and Bratmobile moved to Washington DC that the riot grrrl movement began, exploding shortly after Hanna and co. opted for a media blackout, thanks to a scathing, sarcastic USA Today review. In the meantime, the congratulations, the conflicts (Courtney Love punching Hanna out at a Sonic Youth gig) and contradictions were there. In regard to the latter, a 1992 report in the Washington Post claiming Hanna was raped by her father is denied by the singer now, just as we flash back to a provocative image of the singer with the word ‘incest’ written across her chest. Her story takes another turn when, in 2005, Hanna mysteriously retired from public life…
THE VERDICT: Like many a cult pin-up, the grand ideas of Kathleen Hanna are often far more intoxicating than the flat reality, and that certainly seems to be the case in the first half-hour or so of Sini Anderson’s kickstarter documentary. Gradually though, as Hanna’s early feminist anger finds focus – when the screeching, aggressive Bikini Kill gives way to 1998’s quirky, bedroom-recorded Julie Ruin album, which then leads to the dancefloor party that was Le Tigre – the reality becomes ever more intoxicating here. It’s a sweet pay-off, as the early stages of this lo-fi documentary are a little too reverential, a little too congratulatory. Apparently, insisting at gigs that all the girls should stand up the front and all the boys should stand at the back was a “flip of the script that blew people’s minds” (according to one colleague here), a mighty blow against the boy’s club that was your average mosh-pit. Good to know.
By the end, there is a flip though, and you’ll fall in love with this sexy, funky feminist.
Review by Paul Byrne
HELI (Mexico | France | Germany | Netherlands/TBC/105mins)
Directed by Amat Escalante. Starring Armando Espitia, Andrea Vergara, Juan Eduardo Palacios.
THE PLOT: Heli (Armando Espitia) is a 17-year-old man living with his father, his sister, his wife and their son. Heli’s 12-year-old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) is dating Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios) a man the same age as her brother and, when she says she will marry him, Beto steals drugs to fund their wedding, thus involving the entire family in the violent and dangerous drug fuelled underworld.
THE VERDICT: The story is undoubtedly one that needs to be told, and it explores not only the violent underworld of Mexico, but the over sexualisation and desensitising of children. The torture scenes are unpleasant to watch, but what is more shocking is watching a couch filled with kids calmly observing the violence, and idly wondering what the victim did.
Amat Escalante, as writer and director, has created a film that has some strong messages that go completely under explored, and a film that really could have functioned as a short. Other than a couple of scenes, very little happens throughout of the film, and some of the action is odd and unexpected, then ignored for the rest of the film. At 100 minutes, Heli contains a story that could have been told in 15.
HELI is a film that explores some complex and important issues, but completely fails to do anything other than scratch the surface. It seems as though director and screenwriter Amat Escalante willing to acknowledge that there is an elephant in the room, but do little to find out where it came from or where it should go. HELI is an important chance that has been utterly wasted.
Review by Brogen Hayes
HILL STREET (Ireland/12A/82mins)
Directed by JJ Rolfe. Starring Tony Hawke, Damien Cody, Rich Gilligan.
THE PLOT: Irish documentary Hill Street takes a look at the rise, fall and rise again of the Irish skateboarding scene, with particular attention paid to Clive’s Cycle Shop on the titular Hill Street, and how the proprietor helped skateboarding as a sport, a subculture and a social scene take off in Dublin.
THE VERDICT: As is mentioned in the early moments of HILL STREET, Dublin in the 1980s could not have been further removed from the home of skateboarding, California, and yet – as the documentary reveals – this is a sport that has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world.
Crammed to bursting with interviews from early Irish skateboarding adopters, professionals such as Tony Hawk and the many that have been inspired by those that went before, Hill Street is not only a documentary about the origins of skateboarding in Ireland, but an examination of Dublin as a whole and of how people can shape the city they live in.
The documentary may well be aimed at Irish audiences, and an understanding of Ireland and Dublin is definitely an advantage, but there is something here for fans around the world. Dublin is shown as a city filled with tenacious and sometimes foolhardy people, who refused to let go of the sport they loved, even when it was labelled as a ‘fad’, when security guards chased them from every prime skating spot and when locals near Clive’s shop chased them both into and out of the store. Where HILL STREET excels is showing how skating captured the imaginations of people at the other side of the world, and how people in rainy Dublin began to rival those in California for their dedication and skill.
HILL STREET is an examination of skating, at its core, but it is also a look at people, their passions and their refusal to let public pressure or a lack of any official skateparks stop them from doing what they loved. Those of us who remember when Central Bank was a hub for skaters will probably remember being annoyed at their presence in the centre of the city, but in watching the documentary, it is hard not to be impressed at their drive and resolve. Every time a skater is chased away from a public building, it becomes harder and harder to root for the security guards. The trouble with the film, however, is a slightly scattered focus and the feeling that once we move closer to the present day, the film begins to run out of steam.
HILL STREET is a niche documentary that celebrates the tenacious underdog as they desperately hold on to the sport that they love. The film is a trip down memory lane for Dubliners, and reveals a new side to the city that we have lived in perhaps all of our lives.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER TIME: CELEBRATING THE MUSIC OF INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (//)
Directed by Christopher Wilcha. Starring Oscar Isaac, Jack White, Joan Baez, Gillian Welch, The Punch Brothers.
THE PLOT: Last year, some of the musicians involved in, and others who were inspired by the music in the Coen Brothers’ latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, gathered together to put on a concert, celebrating American folk music in all its glory.
THE VERDICT: For fans of folk music, the soundtrack to INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a dream come true. Oscar Isaac’s soulful voice adds to the understanding of his character, and the songs used are moving and engaging. It’s little wonder that a concert was born from the movie, and a film was born from the concert.
Featuring artists such as Joan Baez, The Punch Brothers, Jack White, Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford and Gillian Welch, ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER TIME is a celebration of the music that inspired Llewyn Davis, but it is also a celebration of the music that inspired these artists to perform.
The music is familiar and comforting, and beautifully performed by those in the concert. The Punch Brothers hold the show together after their great rendition of Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and often crop up to support other artists. Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez and Jack White give great performances – as we would probably expect – and some new stars are born in the shape of The Milk Carton Kids, their odd and awkward stabs at humour aside.
As well as the concert, we are treated to some rehearsal footage, some shots of the artists jamming together and working songs out, as well as interviews with the performers, in which we find out who inspired them and why. We also get some honesty from Oscar Isaac, who admits to being terrified to follow Jack White! That said, for all that the songs are entertaining and the interviews engaging, there are times when the energy of the piece drops, and it feels far longer than its
ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER TIME is a film firmly aimed at fans of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, and fans of folk music, but that’s no bad thing. The passion of the performers shines through and there are great songs showcased here, there is plenty here for fans and the curious, but if long ago, you discovered your apathy toward folk music in all it’s forms, then this is not the film for you.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FADING GIGOLO (USA/15A/89mins)
Directed by John Turturro. Starring Woody Allen, John Turturro, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sofia Vergara.
THE PLOT: When his bookstore goes out of business, Murray (Woody Allen) proposes a new business venture to his former employee Fioravante (John Turturro), in which Fioravante would become a professional Don Juan. Initially reluctant, Fioravante accepts the hand that fate has thrown him; after all, he’s broke, semi-unemployed and has a ready-made manager on standby.
THE VERDICT: There is a certain joy to be taken from the chemistry between Allen and Turturro in the film, but neither actor is particularly challenged by his role; Turturro plays a likeable everyman, and Allen reprises his lifelong role as a fast talking, slightly neurotic, over the top character. The rest of the cast is made up of Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber does well enough with a tricky role, although he does not have a lot of time on screen, while Paradis shines through in a still yet engaging turn as an orthodox Jewish widow, who finds herself the centre of Fioravante’s attention.
Where the film utterly fails, however, is in the story. The pace picks up rather early, and rattles along well. Fioravante’s new career unexpectedly takes off, but he finds himself drawn to Avigal (Paradis), as they become intimate, but never physically. This is where the story quickly ties itself in knots; in trying to be a culture clash comedy, the film treads an entirely predictable route – without actually being funny – then abruptly u-turns, without any of the characters actually learning anything, or changing as people. Well, except for one, but that’s a supporting character at best. As well as this, there is an elaborate scene where Murray is put on trial in front of Jewish elders, that makes no sense, and for all of its effort, the film is not funny. Did I mention that before? I did? Well, it’s not.
FADING GIOLO may have seemed like a good idea on paper – and there are some nicely executed shots and sequences – but overall, the film feels familiar, predictable and ultimately, a bit of a damp squib. Still, it’s better than TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON – Turturro’s last blockbuster outing – so there’s that.
Review by Brogen Hayes