BAD NEIGHBOURS 2 (USA/16/92mins)
Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Selena Gomez.
THE PLOT: Three years after they saw off the fraternity of Delta Psi from the house next door, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) realise their family is about to get bigger, and put their house on the market. With 30 days of escrow looming, all seems well until a new sorority – Kappa Nu, led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) – move into the vacant house. To see off the girls and ensure that the buyers of their house don’t back out, Mac and Kelly enlist the help of their former enemy Teddy (Zac Efron), who is feeling nostalgic about his days in the house.
THE VERDICT: Only two years after the first film came out, those Bad Neighbours are back with an idea that, on paper at least, feels rather predictable and obvious. The good news is that the story is actually rather self aware, and underneath all the daft humour there is actually a message about sexism and the perception of both young and not as young people.
Many of the cast of the first film return for this second outing; Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow and Carla Gallo all reprise their roles and do well with what they are given. Efron, Byrne and Rogen shine in particular, with their ability to improvise and comic timing really being shown off here. The new members of the cast are led by Chloe Grace Moretz, who has proven time and again that she is more than able to take on comedy, and does well here. The rest of the cast features Abbi Jacobson, Beanie Feldstein, Selena Gomez and Tara Bowles, and they are joined by Billy Eichner and Kelsey Grammer in cameo roles.
The screenplay, written by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg at first seems like it is going to go down very predictable lines – Girls are worse than boys! Shock! Horror! – and while there is a little of that at the start of the film, the film does touch on the sexualisation of women in American colleges – almost every party thrown by Efron’s character Teddy referred to women as hoes – and the blatant double standard between fraternities and sororities in the outdated Greek system, which is rather strange to us at this side of the world. The jokes still rely on either gross out or stoner humour, but the chemistry of the cast makes these work and the straight up silliness of the film is entertaining and fun.
As director, Nicholas Stoller manages the film well for the most part; the comedy is strong, the timing good and the more ridiculous notions out forward in the film are supported by the absurdity of the film’s idea as a whole. The pacing does struggle from time to time, particularly when the jokes become too gross or too repetitive, but there is plenty to laugh at in ‘Bad Neighbours 2’, especially when the cast are not afraid to poke fun at themselves.
In all, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’ is funny, daft and entertaining; a decent follow up to the first film and one that at least tries to have a deeper message than the one immediately evident. As with the last film, Efron, Byrne and Rogen shine, with the rest of the cast keeping up with them. It’s just a shame that the third act of the film does not live up to the promise of the first two.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (UK | France/PG/110mins)
Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Helberg, John Kavanagh.
THE PLOT: New York socialite and patron of the arts Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) has always had a love of music. When she hears Lily Pons (Aida Garifullina) sing, she becomes convinced that the time is right for her to start taking lessons again, with a view to staging her own concert. The trouble is, Florence Foster Jenkins cannot sing in tune and although she is surrounded by people who support her, none of them seem to want to tell her the truth.
THE VERDICT: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ is the second film released this year to tell the story of the woman branded “The World’s Worst Opera Singer”, the first being the French film ‘Marguerite’, which came out in Irish cinemas in March. Meryl Streep takes the lead here as the titular character, and although she makes Foster Jenkins sweet, enthusiastic and likeable, there is the feeling that there is information missing in this tale; information that could have made the film feel more rounded and engaging.
As mentioned, Maeryl Streep is on her usual fantastic form as Florence Foster Jenkins, and it is on her shoulders that the entire film rests. Streep makes the character likeable and childlike with her enthusiasm, but the naiveté that the character is imbued with makes her frustrating from time to time, as she seems to lack any self-awareness. Hugh Grant is on charming form as Foster Jenkins’ husband St Clair Bayfield, but the character has also got a selfish streak as he leads a double life, one that he hides from his trusting wife. Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory fame plays Foster Jenkins’ gentle and sweet pianist, and although he tries to be the voice of reason throughout the film, continually asking why Foster Jenkins is never told the truth about her voice, he soon succumbs to his own selfish whims as he gets the chance to play prestigious music venues. The rest of the cast features Rebecca Ferguson, Christian McKay and our own John Kavanagh.
Nicholas Martin’s screenplay jumps into Foster Jenkins’ story in the middle of events, before going back to reveal truths and secrets about the character throughout the film. There is enough in the film for the audience to root for the tone deaf but enthusiastic title character, but the characters that orbit her end up feeling selfish and borderline cruel. Although it is a fact that Foster Jenkins did perform in public, the film never quite makes it clear as to why no-one in her inner circle seems to have made an effort to tell her she was more likely to be ridiculed than adored. Perhaps it was a fear of being cruel, or perhaps because Foster Jenkins was wealthy; whatever the case, the film doesn’t seem to be able to make the reason plain, and this is a major issue.
As director, Stephen Frears makes ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ light and sweet, with a dark undertone that makes itself known through the cracks in Foster Jenkins’ life. There are problems with the film and its determination not to look at the people who lie to Foster Jenkins by omission and their reasons, but the film is well paced and, although the singing in the film is deliberately terrible, there is blessedly little of it.
In all, ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ feels a little by the numbers, but can never make its mind up as to whether it is an underdog story or one about the power of lies. Whatever the case, Streep, Grant and Helberg are on fine form, it’s just a shame that the motivations of some characters is never clear, and the film never tries to be anything other than entertaining, but not that special. After all, Florence Foster Jenkins’ determination and single mindedness was indeed what made her special.
Review by Brogen Hayes
I SAW THE LIGHT (USA/15A/123mins)
Directed by Marc Abraham. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson.
THE PLOT: Before his untimely death at the age of 29, Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) lived a turbulent life, filled with addiction, women and music. This look into his life shows his rise to fame, and his troubled personal life.
THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that Hank Williams not only was a huge star in his own right, but his style of music and the simplicity with which he told stories through music were huge influences on the world of popular music; a fact that is not explored throughout the film.
Tom Hiddleston does his best in the lead role as Hank Williams; there is little doubt that Hiddleston can sing, and often creates charming characters on screen, but it is in this dramatisation of an alcoholic and neglectful man that Hiddleston’s charm fails him. For I Saw The Light to work, the audience has to root for the lead character in some way, but Williams is shown on screen to be an alcoholic, an addict and verbally abusive, so the audience has no reason to care for this obviously talented singer. Elizabeth Olsen also tries her best as Williams’ first wife Audrey, but the screenplay cheats her as the character too quickly turns from infatuated newlywed to nagging harpy. As well as this, Olsen struggles with the Southern accent, often making it too chewy and unintelligible. The rest of the cast features Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson and David Krumholtz.
Marc Abraham’s screenplay lands the audience in at the middle of he story; with Audrey and Williams’ wedding, then spends the rest of the film’s 123 minute running time jumping from event to event, with little time spent in between. This means that Williams goes from being drunk to clean to drunk again, often within the space of minutes, and we never truly get a feel for the character and the nuances of his personality, as the film spends so much time trying to tell the story through events, rather than the story of the character. There is an attempt made to frame the story through dramatised interviews with record company heads, newsreel footage and home video shot by the characters, but this is used too infrequently to adequately give context to the story on screen.
As director, Marc Abrahams struggles with the pacing of the film, which feels languid throughout, and never seems to focus on the events that would give the audience a feel for any of the characters, meaning the film feels like a timeline of Williams’ achievements – including his marriages and illegitimate child – rather than an exploration of the person behind the music. In this way, ‘I Saw The Light’ feels dull and by the numbers, as it does nothing to distinguish itself from any other biopic you care to name.
In all, ‘I Saw the Light’ is a grim and badly paced tale of a disagreeable man behaving badly, while creating some of the most influential music of the last century. Hiddleston and Olsen try their best, but there is little spark between the two and the screenplay cuts them off at every turn, never giving them a chance to develop rounded characters.
Review by Brogen Hayes
KNIGHT OF CUPS (USA/IFI/118mins)
Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Wes Bentley.
THE PLOT: Rick (Christian Bale) is a writer in Hollywood, whose glamorous life of parties and excess holds no thrall for him any more, as he struggles with where his life is going and what his true purpose is, he crosses paths with six women, and has very different relationships with each of them.
THE VERDICT: Ah Terrence Malick, ever since the wonderful, experiential and divisive ‘Tree Of Life’, audiences have been waiting for the director to bring something to us that could get us thinking in the way his 2011 film did. To the Wonder failed to be even half as engaging as ‘Tree of Life’, and although ‘Knight of Cups’ is not as alienating as his previous film, there is a feel of “first world problems” about the entire thing.
The cast of ‘Knight of Cups’ is stellar, with performances from Christian Bale, Imogen Poots, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Teresa Palmer, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley and Antonio Banderas. As well as these, many famous faces turn up in cameo, including Jason Clarke, Joe Lo Truglio, Joe Manangiello and Kelly Cutrone in a rather hilarious turn. The trouble is that while all of the characters that orbit Christian Bale as Rick seem to have a clear idea of who they are and their relationship with him, Rick just drifts through every scene; more of an observer than a character, and since he is the one we spend the most time with, this becomes a problem.
Terrence Malick’s screenplay is one that deals with many issues, all of which are framed through the classic Rider-Waite Tarot card deck – from which the film takes its title – and as well as this, Malick uses Christian allegory tales both as voiceover and inspiration for the film, and the whole thing comes off as messy and indulgent.
Beautifully shot, ‘Knight of Cups’ does have a strong message about people using alcohol and other people to hide their pain, as well as the depression that can come with a mid life crisis, but this is so buried underneath rambling monologues, glossy visuals and indulgent conversations that it is hard to root for a wealthy, successful and handsome lead character who seems to be suffering from a malaise no worse than affulenza and feeling disconnected from the world around him. This is a gorgeous looking advert for first world problems, although a stronger edit could have led to the film exploring real issues, the 118 minute running time swallows any borderline profundity whole.
In all, ‘Knight of Cups’ looks incredible on the big screen but although Malick tries to discuss real issues that people struggle with, having a lead character that is more of an observer than participant in the film, and a story that feels like we are drifting through the memories of someone having them erased a lá ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ leaves ‘Knight of Cups’ feeling bloated and indulgent, and the audience wondering just why they should really care.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ÉVOLUTION (France | Belgium | Spain/TBC/81mins)
Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic. Starring Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard.
THE PLOT: The only residents in the town where young Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives are women and young boys. After he sees a dead body in the ocean while swimming, Nicolas begins to question things he always took for granted; why must he take medicine when he doesn’t feel unwell, why are all the boys hospitalised and where does his mother go every night.
THE VERDICT: Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s 2004 film ‘Innocence’ focused on female sexuality, and so ‘Évolution’ feels like a companion piece of sorts, since it focuses on the reproduction of this mysterious species through the male. The film is beautifully and bleakly shot, with the ocean playing a huge part in the lives of the inhabitants as well as the way the species reproduces. Sumptuous close up often strips back to bleak wide shot, giving the film a disconcerting feel.
The cast of the film is made up of Max Brebant as Nicolas, Roxane Duran as Stella; the nurse who takes pity on the young confused boy in her care, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld and Nissim Renard. Each performance is strong and layered, and each do well with underlining the strange and other worldly feel of the film without trying to give the audience answers.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Alanté Kavaïté’s film sets out to be strange and to set the audience on edge as we survey the strange world of the film, but although it obviously sets out to ask more questions than it answers, there is enough information given for the film to be satisfying, although perhaps not 100% understood; this is a story for the audience to engage with, rather than have everything explained to them.
In all, ‘Évolution’ is mesmerising and engaging, although sometimes slow to get to where it is going. This is a tale of another world that we don’t understand; yet we don’t have to be given all the facts to understand that all is not well here. The film is beautiful, bleak and challenging but doesn’t patronise the audience with simple or quick answers.
Review by Brogen Hayes