Reviews – New movies opening May 31st 2013

We review this week’s cinema releases, including Populaire, Byzantium and The Big Wedding

POPULAIRE (France/12A/110mins)
Directed by Régis Roinsard. Starring Deborah Francois, Berenice Bejo, Romain Duris
THE PLOT: In 1959, a small town girl makes her way to the dizzying heights of secretary-hood for a powerful but lax French businessman. Although Rose (Deborah Francois) is a terrible secretary, she is a brilliant typist, and it is not long before her boss Louis (Romain Duris) enters her in a speed typing competition with dreams of her going all the way to the top.
THE VERDICT: Retro cinema is all the rage at the moment, in case you haven’t noticed, with films such as THE ARTIST smashing expectations around the world and Mad Men still being one of the biggest shows on TV. The premise of Populaire is not unlike a season arc of Mad Men, and as Rose and Louis grow closer, their relationship ends up feeling similar to that of Don Draper and Peggy Olsen from the hit AMC show. Unlike Peggy, However, Rose does not have dreams of outdoing the men; she is happy to stay in the female role of secretary and end up marrying the boss – oh cliché! However, as the film progresses, Rose challenges the men around her, while somehow still fitting into gender stereotypes.
As Rose, Deborah Francois is sparkling and bright. She is feisty and demure but balances the two facets of the character well. It is just a shame that as a character, Rose is let down during the final act of the film and any groundbreaking that could have gone on is lost in a swell of love. Romain Duris is just mysterious and stoic enough to keep the audience’s interest piqued, and along with Francois, the two make a winning combination.
The film is comedic and light and, makes gentle commentary on the time period it was set in, but rarely goes further than that. The idea of setting Rose up as a speed typing champion may seem dull, but it is hard not to root for the plucky young woman. As well as this, the sets are sumptuous and the music is wonderfully fun.
Where POPULAIRE falls down, however, is through some lacklustre decisions with regard to the characters – particularly in the final act – and the decision to play with the gender streotypes of the 50s, but not actually do much about them, and certainly not do anything the challenge them. The world of Populaire is one where men and women are kept in their roles and, while Berenice Bejo’s character goes some way to playing with what she has been given and Rose is determined to escape her small-town life, none of the other characters seem interested in doing anything to change their lot in life. As well as this, at 110 minutes, the film feels overlong and stretched, with the final act dragging its heels.
In all, POPULAIRE is a light, funny and entertaining film. Francois and Durais make a wonderful team and the film is beautiful to look at. However, POPULAIRE stumbles in its final act and in some poor decisions made about characters.
Review by Brogen Hayes

BYZANTIUM (UK/Ireland/15A/118mins)
Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Daniel Mays, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel, Jonny Lee Miller.
THE PLOT: Mother and daughter vampire team Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have always been together, and they have always had to be secretive. Things change, however, when Eleanor finds someone she can confide in and the past catches up with Clara.
THE VERDICT: It is interesting that Neil Jordan has returned to the vampire story after so much time away, but his return is a welcome one, but his cast is hit and miss. Saoirse Ronan is just otherworldly enough to capture the essence of a girl who has been 16 for 200 years and longs to be able to tell the truth to someone who would believe her. Ronan’s gaze is electric and, although the story may twist out of her grasp slightly, she is rightfully the focus of the film.
Gemma Arterton fares less well as Clara. Here is a woman who is 200 years old, but seems to have learned nothing, like drinking someone’s blood in broad daylight is a bad idea, as is setting up a brothel in a run down hotel. Arterton’s accent grates, and she never seems to fully inhabit Clara, but she looks great in a corset… So there’s that. Caleb Landry Jones carries on his streak of playing the weird character with his turn as Frank. Although Frank’s storyline may be obvious, Landry Jones is charming and graceful in the role, proving that ANTIVIRAL was no fluke.
Based in a stage play, BYZANTIUM forms it’s own rules with regard to vampire mythology – no fangs and the vamps are able to go for a stroll in sunlight – some of the atmosphere we have come to expect from Jordan films is definitely lacking. This may be because Jordan is clearly poking fun at himself or it could be because the story and script are ever so slightly garbled. What should be a simple story that hinges on the characters rambles through time periods and there are elements of the vampire mythology that are never fully explained. That said, the visuals are lovely in parts and, when it does find it’s footing, the film finds beauty and atmosphere in the strangest of places. Jordan handles the scenes in the past incredibly well, but stumbles in the present, as was the case with Interview. Could it be, like Clara, Jordan has learned nothing over the years? Or is he making a statement that vampires are creatures of legend and should probably remain in a more superstitious age?
It would be difficult to talk about the film without talking about Jordan’s previous work, and in a way BYZANTIUM forms an odd companion piece to Interview with the Vampire. There are moments when the film feels similar to INTERVIEW in tone and style, but there is so much different to allow it to stand apart. Setting two women at the heart of the story, two women who are incredibly similar to Louis and Lestat, cannot be coincidence, but the mythology that surrounds the pair and their actions in the present, are completely different. Thankfully, even though there is a love story at the centre of BYZANTIUM, TWILIGHT this ain’t.
In all, BYZANTIUM tries to stand up to the might of Interview with the Vampire, and fails. Feeling like Interview’s little sister is not a crime, but strong performances from Landry Jones and Ronan are not enough to make up for a messy, but entertaining, film.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Justin Zackman. Starring Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Ben Barnes, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace.
THE PLOT: Don (Robert DeNiro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) have been divorced for years, but when their adopted son brings his conservative birth parents to his wedding, the pair must pretend that their divorce never happened.
THE VERDICT: THE BIG WEDDING is probably one of those stories that looked good on paper, but the magic that was on the page does not translate to the screen. Of course, this could be a case of literal non-translation, as THE BIG WEDDING is a remake of French film MY BROTHER IS GETTING MARRIED.
The cast is made up of actors who seem to be making one questionable decision after another; Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace never really moved past their stints on TV, Robin Williams has not made a good film in years and Ben Barnes has been incredibly quiet since his dodgy Irish accent in KILLING BONO. Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton and Amanda Seyfried also star, and none of them do particularly well. The characters are underdeveloped, the actors are never challenged and it is hard not to wonder why some of them signed on to the film.
The story is that a divorced couple’s adopted son is getting married, but he has never told his birth parents – who are non-Americans, and conservative – that they divorced. Cue a screwball mess that may have been funny in the hands of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, but does not work in a modern setting. In fact, the film starts to feel patronising and borderline racist when the family decide to lie to the foreigners for fear of upsetting them. This is like the movie equivalent of shouting in English in the hope that a French speaker will understand you.
As well as this, the supporting cast’s arcs are utterly, utterly predictable. Jared (Topher Grace) has been saving his virginity for love, but wavers when a pretty girl looks his way, Lyla (Katherine Heigl) has magically overcome her diagnosed fertility problems and the divorced couple soon find themselves sharing more than a house again. Every character over reacts to little issues, but happily forgives big transgressions.
Writer/Director Justin Zackham has created a pretty enough, but rather insulting film that offers nothing new or even slightly funny. The film feels like a combination of every thin rom-com from the past few years, and is insulting to it’s characters, it’s actors and the audience. A situation that is supposed to create comedy creates prejudice and petulance, and the prettiness of the scenery is soon forgotten when the film centres around the families from hell.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

THE PURGE (USA/15A/85mins)
Directed by James DeMonaco. Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller, Rhys Wakefield, John Weselcouch.
In that most unpredictable of places, the near-future, America has decided to introduce one night every year when crime is legal. So, as The Anger Games commence, happy-go-wealthy family the Sandins are bracing themselves for the onslaught. Man of the house, James (Hawke), knows what he’s doing, being a security expert who specialises in turning your average house into an electrified fortress. Unfortunately, such smarts don’t extend to his son, the aptly-named Charlie (Burkholder), who disables the system to give shelter to a whimpering homeless dude (Hodge). Only trouble is, this terrified stranger is being chased by a bunch of wannabe droogs, led by a certifiable psychopath (Wakefield)…
A film that boasted quite a lot of promise in its trailer, you may very well want to purge this movie from your memory long before the final credits roll. At heart, a standard home-invasion horror, any hopes of a John Carpenter-esque layering of tension and meaning here soon flies out the broken window as The Purge settles into straight-to-VOD, standard-issue, look-out-behind-you schlock.
If you want to experience real horror, you’d be better off renting out DeMonaco’s earlier scribe offering, Jack. Now, that’s one dark, soul-sucking movie.
Review by Paul Byrne