We review this week’s new cinema releases, including MALEFICENT and EDGE OF TOMORROW…
Directed by Robert Stromberg. Starring Angelina Jolie, Sam Riley, Sharlto Coplet, Elle Fanning, Imelda Stanton, Juno Temple
THE PLOT: Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent, a fairy whose good heart was hardened, turning her into the Mistress of All Evil, and causing her to curse the newborn baby Aurora. For the first time, we find out more about the woman behind the evil, and learn what drove her to such desperate actions.
THE VERDICT: Angelina Jolie is the best she has been in years as Maleficent. Jolie allows the character to grow and evolve throughout the film, and her relationship with those around her is wonderful. It is obvious that the actress relished the role, and the chance to play a character who is outwardly evil, and she shines. The brilliance of the performance though, is Jolie’s ability to show Maleficent’s vulnerability as well as her cruel side, and marry the two into the same character.
Sharlto Copley plays Stefan, the man who Maleficent fell in love with, and the man who betrayed her. Copley does not have a lot of room to do much here, but does well with what he has. Elle Fanning is a little annoying as the teenage Aurora, but then, this is a character who has been ‘blessed’ by the fairies to have everyone fall in love with her, and be filled with wonder at the world around her, so she can be forgiven.
Lesley Manville, Juno Temple and Imelda Stanton play the good fairies, and it seems as though they were transplanted into Maleficent from another film. There is nothing wrong with their performances per se, but their frivolous, slapstick antics do not seem to fit in with Maleficent and her world. Sam Riley has a lot of fun as Diaval – a crow who Maleficent turned into a man to save his life – and although he may not have much to do he has fun with what he has given, and is the voice of reason to Maleficent’s evil.
Linda Woolverton’s screenplay firmly plants Maleficent at the centre of the action, and twists the Sleeping Beauty story around, to make it clear that Maleficent was the wronged party, and had just reasons for her actions. Sadly, the story does end up becoming a little like a scorned woman’s attempt at revenge, but Maleficent is such as well written character, that audience sympathy immediately lies with her.
Director Robert Stromberg has had a long career as a VFX artist, but this is his first time directing the action. This combination of skill and experience shows, with some messy pacing and underdeveloped characters, but a world that is visually stunning. There are some beautiful scenes and great moments throughout the film, not least the knowledge that one of the young versions of Aurora is played by Jolie’s daughter, and the enjoyment that comes from watching them on screen together.
MALEFICENT is a clever twist on an old tale. Jolie carries the film on her capable shoulders, reminding us of her skill as an actress. The rest of the cast wither in her shadow, the pacing is rather messy and there are some questionable and sometimes annoying story choices, but overall Maleficent is an enjoyable journey. Just don’t think about it too deeply.
Review by Brogen Hayes
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (USA/16/116mins)
Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi.
THE PLOT: Albert (Seth MacFarlane) is the biggest coward in the small Frontier town of Old Stump. When he talks his way out of a gun fight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him, making Albert determined to win her back. It’s around then that a mysterious woman, Anna (Charlize Theron) blows into town, and strikes up a friendship with our cowardly hero.
THE VERDICT: MacFarlane is at a distinct disadvantage as lead actor; his voice is so familiar to fans of American Dad!, Family Guy and The Cleveland Show that it is immediately hard to reconcile the fact that the voice of Brian and Peter Griffin is coming out of a human man. As well as this, MacFarlane relies on slapstick and one-liners to create a character and provide humour, neither of which particularly work. Charlize Theron does not actually have a lot to do here – despite being billed second after MacFarlane – other than shoot well, laugh and look scared. Liam Neeson gets his bad guy on and obviously has fun with it, Sarah Silverman plays a pious prostitute and Giovanni Ribisi her devout yet horny boyfriend.
As well as this, Amanda Seyfried plays a watery girlfriend and Neil Patrick Harris an evil, moustachioed, girlfriend stealing villain. There are plenty of famous faces on display in cameo roles, with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lloyd and Ryan Reynolds getting the biggest sniggers of the movie.
On the outside, the story seems like a good idea, but once we get down to it, the clichéd Western vibe is offset with vulgar one-liners, penis jokes and poop jokes. Sure, this is what we had to contend with in Ted, but while MacFarlane’s delivery works on TV, like his ill-fated stint at the Oscars, he is clearly floundering here. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who have one thing to do, and do it repeatedly. The trouble with all of this is that it’s really not funny. Not even a little bit. Throughout the film, it feels as though everyone is trying to hard to be ‘funny’, and never allow the comedy – such as it is – to properly flow.
MacFarlane directs a film that is badly paced and frankly, a mess. The one-liners and sight gags never truly land, and MacFarlane seems to be caught up in his own hype, believing himself to be funnier than he really is. On the positive side, the cinematography and score are lovely, Monument Valley looks great and Doc Brown is alive and well.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is a film that is filled with puerile and childish attempts at humour that never really land. The fantastic cast is led by an inexperienced actor (MacFarlane) and are never really given a chance to shine. The shtick quickly wears off, leaving A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST a mess with a decent dance number, some great cameos and some lovely cinematography. If it’s Western spoofing you want, dig out Blazing Saddles again.
Review by Brogen Hayes
EDGE OF TOMORROW (USA | Australia/12A/113mins)
Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Lara Pulver, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor, Bill Paxton
THE PLOT: In the not too distant future, aliens have landed and are decimating Earth. When Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) refuses a mission to go to the frontline, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) has him arrested and charged with being a deserter. Cage fins himself on the frontline anyway and, when an ambush goes horribly wrong, he finds himself on the edge of death, with the peculiar talent for repeating the same day over and over again.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill, EDGE OF TOMORROW has many elements that scream ‘instant hit’; Tom Cruise, aliens – named ‘mimics’ here – Emily Blunt being a badass warrior soldier and a version of time travel. EDGE OF TOMORROW combines elements from GROUNDHOG DAY, SOURCE CODE and video games into one tightly scripted, visually impressive and surprisingly funny whole.
Tom Cruise takes a break from playing his usual character, and steps into the role of a man uncomfortable in the world he finds himself in, and a man who is definitely not cut out to be a hero. In fact, for the first 30 minutes or so of the film, Cruise spends much of his time running away from the action, rather than toward it. Emily Blunt takes on the role of Rita (AKA The Full Metal Bitch); an experienced soldier who has seen too much to show much to be soft, and has an obsession with bringing this war to an end. Blunt and Cruise spark well together on screen, their chemistry is great, their comedic and action timing works great and, without the requisite romance being shoehorned in between them, the characters are free to explore the world without becoming obsessed with the other.
Bill Paxton has a great turn as the fast talking, no-nonsense Master Sergeant Farrell, and brings comic relief to the tense world that Cage finds himself in, every time he wakes up. The rest of the cast is made up of Brendan Gleeson as a strict army General, Noah Taylor and SHERLOCK’s Lara Pulver.
Although EDGE OF TOMORROWis based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – the film title was changed from the arguably better All You Need is Kill – it is more inspired by the story in the book than an adaptation of it. Screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth have made Edge of Tomorrow a film that is as action packed as it is funny, and make sure that Cruise dies in a manner of imaginative ways. Rather than rehashing the day over again from the start each time, the screenplay takes a tip from GROUNDHOG DAY’s book, and picks up in the day when there is new information to be had. In this way, the audience keeps their interest, and the film becomes increasingly more like a video game; when Cage reaches a part of the day he hasn’t experienced before, he invariably bites the bullet. There are times, however, where the story is little predictable, and the ending leaves a heck of a lot to be desired.
Director Doug Liman takes the story and runs with it, making the set pieces thrilling, the aliens super intimidating and Tom Cruise the most hilarious coward we have seen in years. The film is nicely paced and, while Blunt and Cruise sizzle together, there is rarely any attempt to squeeze in a romance for the sake of it. And thank god for that. Blunt kicks ass all on her own, and does not need the love of a man – no matter how great a soldier he becomes – to validate her.
EDGE OF TOMORROW is a fun, funny and thrill packed action movie that reminds us of just how great Tom Cruise can be, when he doesn’t try to be ‘Tom Cruise’. Blunt kicks all kinds of alien ass, the set pieces are the right combination of funny and exciting and the time travel never becomes too confusing. EDGE OF TOMORROW would be in the running for one of the top blockbusters of the year if it were not for Brendan Gleeson being criminally sidelined, and an ending that made me want to get sick into my own scorn.
Review by Brogen Hayes
VENUS IN FUR (France | Poland/15A/95mins)
Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Mathieu Amalric, Emmauelle Seigner
THE PLOT: Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is a frustrated first time theatre director. Placing a lead actress for his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s book Venus in Fur has proved fruitless, and he is just about to give up for the day, when an unknown actress – who claims her name is Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) – arrives at the theatre, and begs Thomas for an audition.
THE VERDICT: There is something of an INCEPTION vibe about the whole VENUS IN FUR affair. The film is a play within a play, as was the stage play it is adapted from, and the book both were based on was a book within a book. It would be easy, if the performances from the lead actors were not so strong, for there to be an unintentional blurry line between actor and character here, but Polanski’s strong direction, and the actors’ talents, means that when the lines get blurred, it is wholly intentional.
This two hander lives and dies on the performances of, and the chemistry between, the two leads. Amalric channels his inner Woody Allen as Thomas, but as time goes on, Thomas is lost in a blur between actor and the character he is reading. The same goes from Seigner as Vanda, although there is a clearer distinction between the actress and the character she is auditioning for… To begin with, anyway. The chemistry between the two actors is wonderful and it is clear that their characters are enjoying the power struggle between the two.
Polanski directs with aplomb, and corrects the mistakes he made with CARNAGE. Although the setting is essentially one room, wider shots and changing the space allows the film to feel less claustrophobic and stunted, instead allowing the energy and spark between the two actors to ebb and flow. The screenplay is cleverly written, and always makes sure that the audience knows who is speaking; actor or character. There does, however, seem to be a lack of an end game and the deliberate choice to make Vanda’s origins and intents unclear means that the audience has plenty to talk about after the film – is she a seductress or a goddess in disguise? – but also leaves the film feeling rather unfinished.
VENUS IN FUR is an acting master class from Amalric and Seigner, both are on top of their game, and the chemistry and enjoyment between the two is obvious. Polanski reminds us of his skill as a director, but the unanswered questions means that the film ends with a whimper, rather than a bang.
Review by Brogen Hayes
JIMMY’S HALL (UK/Ireland/France/15A/109mins)
Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott, Jim Norton, Brian F. O’Byrne, Sorcha Fox, Aisling Franciosi, Karl Geary, Francis Magee.
THE PLOT: Taking place ten years after the Cork-set, brother-against-brother drama of Loach’s The Wind Shakes The Barley, deep in the heart of Leitrim, in a little priest-infested backwater named Effernagh, Jimmy Gralton (Ward) is determined to prove that true freedom means living under no one’s rules or regulations – whether that be the Catholic Church or the State, the British landowners or the right-wing flank of the IRA. At the centre of this determined stance is the local community hall, where not only are land disputes between poor farmers and their wealthy landlords resided over, and classes in arts, crafts and assorted skills given, but, with Jimmy having just returned after eight years in America with a gramophone and a bunch of jazz 78s under his arm, the locals are learning how to jump, jive and wail.
Unsurprisingly, dancing to the devil’s music soon comes to the attention of the local priest, Father Sheridan (Norton)…
THE VERDICT: On August 13th, 1933, James Gralton became the only Irishman to be deported from this country as an ‘illegal alien’. That Gralton was deported without a trial reflects just how keen those in power wanted him gone. That we handsome, young Irish boys and girls should feel, once the credits start rolling, like going out and finding the nearest Catholic Church foot soldier to kick firmly and squarely – and repeatedly – in the groin is hardly unsurprising. The Irish have been merrily oppressed by not only the black arts of the Church but the State too over much of the 20th century, and all those chicken-shit rules and regulations designed purely to keep us down and docile are now coming home to roost.
Which may sound a bit melodramatic, but, it’s at the very core of a deceptively jolly film such as this. Loach knows there’s no point in producing panto baddies and goodies here – Norton’s Palpatine-esque parish priest given a few moments of sensitivity and insight – offering up a few spoonfuls of sugar with all the bitter medicine.
It may not have the rousing diddley-aye call-to-arms appeal of When The Wind Shakes The Barley, but Jimmy’s Hall dances beautiful to its own drummer.
Review by Paul Byrne
OMAR (Occupied Palestinian Territory/15A/96mins)
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubani, Samer Bisharat
THE PLOT: Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian man who has taken on the mantle of freedom fighter. When Omar and his friends are sold out to undercover police, for killing a soldier, Omar is imprisoned and forced to start working for the authorities, who want to catch his friend, in order to gain his freedom and be reunited with the woman he loves.
THE VERDICT: OMAR is essentially a film about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but in truth, the film could be set anywhere, as it truly is a universal story. People are separated from the ones they love, and fighting for the land they love is not a new story, but in Omar, it is told incredibly well.
The cast is mostly made up of newcomers, and they manage the tricky and delicate source material very well. Although this is a political thriller with a love story at its heart, there are never any preachy sermons, and the relationships between the characters feel natural and warm. Adam Bakri, in the lead role, brings depth and sensitivity to his character, and reminds the audience that in a conflict, there is rarely any true winner.
Writer/Director Hany Abu-Assad, in telling the story through one character’s eyes, keeps the audience guessing and engaged with the film. That said, however, the film does begin to feel repetitive, as Omar drifts in and out of jail and struggles with his own morals about turning on those he loves.
OMAR is a powerful and engaging thriller that focuses on the universal struggle between family and freedom. Hany Abu-Assad’s screenplay keeps the audience guessing throughout, and – although the film loses its way from time to time – the ending is a twist we barely saw coming.
Review by Brogen Hayes