Reviews – New movies opening May 2nd 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including BLUE RUIN and BAD NEIGHBOURS

BLUE RUIN (USA/16/90mins)
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Starring Macon Blair, Devi Ratray, Amy Hargreaves.
THE PLOT: Dwight (Macon Blair) is a man who has seen better days; with little to his name, he lives in his ancient car, and keeps himself to himself. This all changes when a man is released from prison, and Dwight finds himself on a collision course with a dangerous and gun loving family.
THE VERDICT: Macon Blair holds steady at the centre of the film, it is obvious that the crime that the former jailbird committed had a devastating effect on Dwight, and it is also obvious that Dwight has spent many a year thinking about the revenge he takes. Blair is quiet but fierce in the role of Dwight, and even though one of his first acts his a violent one, it is hard not to root for the devastated outsider. The rest of the cast is made up of Devi Ratray as Ben, Amy Hargreaves as Sam and Kevin Kolack as Teddy, but make no mistake, this is Blair’s story.
Saulnier’s story is one of revenge, revenge and more revenge. Dwight kills as an act of revenge, and then holes up in Sam’s house to wait for the retaliation that he knows must come. Saulnier’s script is light on dialogue, but his triad of work as director and cinematographer means that an atmosphere of tension runs through the entire film, and there are more pauses than words spoken. Saulnier has made Dwight a relatable character – although we know little about him – and makes sure that the audience is always on the underdog’s side. As well as this, Saulnier has made Dwight a man who abhors violence, but knows it is the only language that his enemy understands, thus making him resort to actions that will be understood.
The cinematography of the film, as you may expect from the title, focuses on the colour blue; a rather nice juxtaposition to the action on screen, as blue is traditionally believed to be a calming and tranquil colour. As well as this, the cinematography allows the tension and ambiguity of scenes to build, and shows off the Virginia countryside at it’s most unkempt, and most beautiful.
BLUE RUIN is a tense, thrilling and engaging revenge movie. Blood may fly – and some of the scenes are incredibly graphic – but this is not a film about gore, it is a study of the nature of revenge, and what is lost when balance can only be achieved by death. Macon Blair and Jeremy Saulnier make a formidable team, and the strength of the film comes from Blair’s performance, and Saulnier’s careful attention to detail. Blue Ruin may feel slow at times, but it is both rewarding and utterly engaging.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have just moved to suburbia in order to raise their newborn daughter. Just as they come to terms with their choices and the fact that they have got that little bit older, a Frat House from the local university moves in next door to them. Faced with the prospect of loud parties and obnoxious neighbours, Mac and Kelly go and introduce themselves to the Head of the Frat, Teddy (Zac Efron) in the hopes of forming a good relationship with their new neighbours. It is not long, however, before both sides realise that their differences mean this is war.
THE VERDICT: Seth Rogen plays the typical Seth Rogen character that we have come to know, only this time the character is planted in suburbia, only smoking a little pot and wondering when life became so serious. Rose Byrne plays Kelly as a sweet woman who, like her husband, is wondering where her carefree days have gone. Zac Efron plays Teddy as a guy so focused on the fun aspect of college that he seems unaware of life outside of the academic system that supports him. It is clear that Teddy is a clever guy – the pranks and parties he comes up with are spectacular – but he seems more focused on the now to realise there is more to life than partying.
The rest of the cast is made up of Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Roberts as members of the Frat, and Carla Gallo and The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz as Mac and Kelly’s recently divorced friends. There is some lovely banter between Barinholtz and Rogen, which proves that Barinholtz is destined for more than TV.
The story, to be honest, is rather predictable but that said, there are some pretty good laughs along the way, mostly courtesy of Efron and Rogen playing off one another, Efron embracing the more ‘evil’ side of his character and some seriously inventive pranks. The trouble arises when director Nicholas Stoller allows the actors to ad-lib and improv their lines, which means that scenes not only go on too long, but some of them feel forced and irritating. It is clear that some reaching is going on at times, and this means that the jokes don’t always land.
In all, BAD NEIGHBOURS is a decent, if predictable, comedy. Rogen does what he always does, Byrne narrowly avoids being a harpy, Efron obviously enjoys being bad for once and Barinholtz definitely holds his own on the big screen. Problems arise from ad-libs and an over reliance on vulgar jokes, but BAD NEIGHBOURS- for the most part – is a damn fine comedy.
Review by Brogen Hayes

RUN & JUMP (Ireland/Germany/15A/106mins)
Directed by Steph Green. Starring Will Forte, Maxine Peake, Sharon Horgan, Ruth McCabe, Edward MacLiam, Clare Barrett, Ciara Gallagher, Ri Galway, Kelby Guilfoyle.
Returning home after a stroke and several months in a coma, Conor (MacLiam) is not quite sure what to make of the big happy, extended family that are there to greet him at the door. And this big, happy family isn’t too sure what to make of American neurologist Ted Fielding (Forte) who’s tagging along making notes in return for free medical care. The woman of the house, Vanetia (Peake), tries to fill the awkward silences with fun and laughter, but her efforts are falling on deaf and constantly distracted ears when it comes to her husband. It doesn’t take long for her charms to start working on Ted though, as the two find themselves spending more and more time alone. Much to the annoyance of Conor’s parents, and the growing suspicions of the town.
A grand little drama, with some fine performances (and one, in the case of Edward MacLiam, that’s all at sea, even for a character that’s lost at sea), and a steady hand from first-time feature director Steph Green (who bagged an Oscar nom for her 2007 short New Boy, there’s plenty to like and admire about Run & Jump. There just isn’t quite enough though. The premise is intriguing enough, and the script – co-written by Green and Ailbhe Keogan – hits some tender moments, but this is a story that never surprises. Or truly delights.
Still, Forte and Peake work well together, and although this hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of being a hit at the box-office, it’s certainly sweet to have another truly solid non-Oirish Irish film on the scoreboard.
Review by Paul Byrne 

BRICK MANSIONS (France | Canada/15A/90mins)
Directed by Camille Delamarre. Starring Paul Walker, RZA, Daniel Belle
THE PLOT: In 2018, the most dangerous and uncontrollable neighbourhoods of Detroit have been walled off from the rest of the city. Police officer Damien (Paul Walker) is sent into this contained part of the city – along with criminal/vigilante Lino (David Belle) to take down a volatile drug lord who has plans to destroy the entire city. 
THE VERDICT: Walker really does not have a lot to do here that we have not seen him do before; he’s undercover chasing bad guys, driving at a rate of knots and hitting people. This is what Walker was good at and fans will not be disappointed at his performance here. Sadly though, it’s really nothing new. David Belle is credited as the inventor of parkour, and certainly puts his skills to use in Brick Mansions as he jumps, climbs and runs his way over any obstacle in his path. RZA plays an adequate, cardboard cut out villain, and does fine with the role, even though he is almost always cooking when big plot points are being revealed.
Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri’s screenplay hints at a deeper reason for the film, like maybe a message about segregating people, corruption and poverty, but sadly the film never goes past hinting at these ideas. The dialogue is expository and clunky, and it is easy to see where the film is headed. As well as this, there really seems to be no concrete idea as to the time frame of the film; it could take place in 24 hours, 24 days or 24 weeks; the only clue is the clothing that one of the hostages wears, which stays pretty clean, hinting at a short enough time frame.
Director Camille Delamarre has had a fairly successful career as an editor; working on the likes of TAKEN 2, LOCKOUT and TRANSPORTER 3, so it makes sense that the set pieces, car chases and parkour sequences of the film look and feel pretty great. The trouble is that the rest of the film suffers from over acting, under emoting and some horribly clichéd characters, making it hard to forgive the former part of the film for the sins of the latter.
BRICK MANSIONS could have been a great examination of modern day apartheid, segregation and poverty. Instead it is a rather silly film that feels a little like the over the top Bond movies of yore. Walker and Belle do fine, but they are never really given a chance to make Brick Mansions an over acted, dumb thriller, with some decent set pieces thrown in.
Review by Brogen Hayes

POMPEII (Canada | Germany/12A/104mins)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Kit Harington, Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Browning, Jared Harris, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned gladiator, sees his chance for justice and freedom when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD throws the city of Pompeii into chaos. As Milo seizes his moment, however, he soon realises that he must also fight for the life of the woman he loves. 
THE VERDICT: Each member of the cast does what they can, but they are utterly lost in the hammy and campy tale that has been wrapped around the story of Vesuvius erupting. The cast are not allowed to ham it up enough for the film to work – although Kiefer Sutherland truly gives it his best shot – and so their performances fall surprisingly flat.
The script is filled with clumsy exposition and takes more than a few liberties with the story of Pompeii; adding disaster onto disaster, which leaves the film feeling faked and overdone. Screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson not only play fast and loose with historical fact, but they somehow manage to suck and fun out of the ridiculousness of ships sailing through city streets on a tsunami, and the citizens of Pompeii believing that the gods are punishing them while being struck with flaming rocks falling from the sky. A central story was needed, to hang the audience emotion on to, but the one we are given feels so convenient, contrived and familiar that the dramatic suddenly becomes laughable.
Director Paul WS Anderson has a name for making over the top movies, and Pompeii is certainly one of these; there is little in the film that feels real or natural; Kiefer Sutherland talks like he has swallowed a marble, and not even the gentle subtlety of Jared Harris can save this film from being camp, but not camp enough.
POMPEII is a film based on an epic and engaging true story. The film, however, feels horribly familiar, overdone and relies too heavily on special effects. The cast do what they can, but they are never really given a chance to outshine the ludicrousness of the set pieces and action sequences, and the clichéd and over the top script.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

TARZAN (Germany/PG/94mins)
Directed by Reinhard Klooss. Starring Kellan Lutz, Robert Capron
In this update of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story, young Tarzan (Kellan Lutz) is orphaned and stranded in the jungle, after his parents are killed in a helicopter crash. Taken in by a mountain ape, Tarzan grows to adulthood with almost no experience of the human world, until the evil CEO of Greystoke Energies – the company that Tarzan’s father owned – comes back to the jungle, looking for the mysterious meteorite that killed the dinosaurs and reshaped life on Earth. 
THE VERDICT:Screenwriters Reinhard Klooss and Jessica Postigo have given the Tarzan story a new and more modern twist by including the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs, and this twist almost worked. Sadly, a screenplay that can only be described as embarrassing horrifically betrays the interesting environmental theme brought into the story. The dialogue is filled with unnecessary exposition and clichéd, hokey turns of phrase. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, cringe-worthy voiceover kicks in, further explaining the already over explained plot.
As director, Reinhard Klooss seems to have an eye for action, but any strong directorial choices that he may have made – it’s hard to tell sometimes – are utterly destroyed by the screenplay and layers of exposition. The cast do what they can, but it seems their dialogue was recorded over many different sessions, with the audio awkwardly stitched together. Kellan Lutz as Tarzan comes out the best, but only because he has very little to say.
TARZAN has some of the worst animation ever to ‘grace’ the big screen. The animals, dinosaurs and landscapes look fairly decent, but Tarzan himself is the only human character to be designed with any skill or precision. The rest of the human cast – Jane Porter (Spencer Locke) included – look and move like early animation tests, never fully fitting in with their surroundings, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the cheap animations used in Asian news segments.
TARZAN has some interesting story ideas that are lost in a film that looks cheaply and shoddily made. Adding 3D does little to disguise the poor animation and dialogue here, leaving TARZAN an embarrassing mess. Not all animation succeeds, but TARZAN is one that has surely failed. 
Review by Brogen Hayes 

A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT (Norway | Ireland | Sweden/12A/117mins)
Directed by Erik Poppe. Starring Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), one of the world’s top war photographers, finds her world thrown into chaos when she finds herself closer, and more emotionally involved with her subjects than ever before. When she returns home to Ireland, Rebecca’s husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) offers her an impossible choice; her family or her career.
THE VERDICT: A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT is ultimately the story of what happens when we try to fight our nature, and turn our back on the things – and people – we love. In Rebecca’s case, she is equally torn between her family and her work. Binoche is great, as usual, as the conflicted photographer who finds herself, for the first time, having to make an impossible choice. The two halves of Rebecca’s life don’t always fit together and she struggles to decide which ones she needs most. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau alternates between angry and gentle, as Rebecca’s husband Marcus. It is easy to see that he was always the rock she depended on, but his patience has definitely worn thin.
Rebecca’s daughter Steph, played by Lauryn Canny, is the true catalyst in Rebecca’s life; although she fears her mother’s return to conflicts, it is she who ultimately convinces her to go, and it is her fear that spurs Rebecca to make an honest decision once and for all. Canny brings fierceness to the role, and completely encapsulates a character infatuated with and terrified by her mother. Maria Doyle Kennedy and Larry Mullen have small roles as family friends.
Writers Erik Poppe, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Kirsten Sheridan have created a world that is utterly believable, and as such, make Rebeccca’s struggle a relatable one. The film throws up the issue of what happens when we fight against our passion and the destructive path this can lead us down. The film also explores the idea of whether it is enough to stay at home with our families when we have the power to create change. There are, however, far too many scenes that could be called montage – ugh – that serve to drag the film’s running time out, even as they try to show the depth of the relationships between the characters. The resolution, however, leaves a little to be desired, as it seems the protagonist never really learns from her choices, and perhaps Steph is destined to follow in her mother’s destructive footsteps.
Director Erik Poppe makes A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT a tense yet tender affair although there are moments that are handled rather heavily, and could have done with a lighter touch. Binoche and Canny form the heart and soul of the film, and the chemistry between the two is warm and almost candidly realistic.
In all, A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT is a film about the choices we make between love for our families and love for ourselves; Rebecca may feel that she is helping the world but the truth of the matter is that her dangerous job is her passion, and she loves it. Humanity be damned, she just wants one more photo. Binoche, Canny and Coster-Waldau shine in a film that is slightly heavy handed and over sentimentalised at times, but packs a strong emotional punch.
Review by Brogen Hayes

IN BLOOM (Georgia | Germany | France/TBC/102mins)
Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili. Starring Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria
In 1992, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria) are two friends on the cusp of adulthood. As they learn more about themselves, men and the world around them, that world is as chaotic as their journey to leave childhood behind. 
THE VERDICT: Based on, and inspired by writer/director Nana Ekvtimishvili’s own experiences growing up, In Bloom is a slow moving but engaging film, which examines the nature of adolescence, and the nature of a country thrown into chaos by war and poverty.
Throughout the film, the power shifts back and forth between Babluani and Bokeria. The latter seems the older of the two girls – although both are just 14 years old – as she is the one attracting attention from boys, and seems at first to have a deeper understanding of the world she lives in. It is only when she is given a gun as a present from a suitor, that the audience are shown this girl’s immaturity. Babluani plays Eka as are more careful character, one who carefully considers herself and the actions of others. There is a terrible loss in her family, and although the edges of this hole are filled with grief, she still has a more stable and caring home life than her friend, who seems to spend all of her time diffusing arguments or ignoring them.
It is often hard to tell what kind of message IN BLOOM is trying to convey, or whether there is a message at all to the film, which often feels as though it is merely observing a period of time, rather than telling a story. As well as this, the film does rely on a little knowledge of Georgia and the historical struggles it went through, as well as the customs of the time period, such as kidnapping young women to force them into marriage. That said though, when everything comes together, Nana Ekvtimishvili’s film is a powerful and engaging one, with the threat of violence hanging over almost every scene.
IN BLOOM is often a challenging watch, but it is also a rewarding examination of a microcosm of life in Georgia for young women. The film is slow moving and often seems to hop from place to place with no real sense of direction, but once everything comes together, and the characters reveal themselves and their strengths, IN BLOOM is a worthwhile piece of work.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

ILO ILO (Singapore/12A/99mins)
Directed by Anthony Chen. Starring Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani, Tian Wen Chen, Yann Yann Yeo, Jo Kukathas.
Singapore, 1997, and busy parents Teck (Wen Chen) and his pregnant wife Hwee Leng (Yeo) are worried about their 10-year old son and his growing trouble at school. Hiring a nanny seems to be the best option, and so Filipina maid Teresa (Bayani) from Ilo Ilo is employed to look after Jiale (Jia Ler). Initially, Jiale wants nothing to do with Teresa, but, as time goes by, the two become close. Just as Teresa takes on an extra job to help her own infant son back home, Teck is let go from his high-paying job, and is soon struggling. Hwee Leng meanwhile begins to resent the increasingly close bond between her son and his nanny…
Winner of a truckload of festival awards – including the Camera d’or at Cannes – before a mild critical backlash over its stubborn lack of flash, bang or even a wallop, Ilo Ilo is a refreshingly subtle affair. Reflecting as much on the family dynamic that comes with a nanny rearing other people’s children (the story here being very much autobiographical for writer/director Anthony Chen) as it does on the economic collapse that Singapore suffered in the late 1990s, the stubborn casualness of Ilo Ilo means that it can sometimes feel slight and ineffectual. But then, gradually, you realise that such sly stillness is the film’s greatest strength.
Review by Paul Byrne