Reviews – New movies opening May 8th 2015

BIG GAME (Finland | UK | Germany/12A/90mins)
Directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson.
THE PLOT: Oskari (Onni Tommila) is sent into a Finnish forest on his 13th birthday to bag some big game and prove himself a man. When Air Force One is shot down en route to Helsinki, Oskari finds himself rescuing the Leader of the Free World and returning home with the biggest game of all.
THE VERDICT: BIG GAME is a wonderfiul, gleefully self conscious movie; heavy on the silly and the overacting, but incredibly funny and wildly entertaining.
The cast are on fantastic from for this B-Movie style adventure; Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as the President, Victor Garber plays his usual morally ambiguous character as the Vice President, Jim Broadbent gets to be bumbling but brilliant, Felicity Huffman plays the stereotypical strong woman in a crisis, Ray Stevenson brings the menace as Morris and young Onni Tommila is part Goonie, part Elliot from ET as the brave Oskari.
Jalmari Helander’s screenplay nostalgically borrows from many of the great movies of the 1980s; there are touches of ET, Flight of the Navigator, TTHE GOONIES and INDIANA JONES in there, as well as some of the great blockbusters of the 90s, such as Con Air and The Rock. Quips fly during the face off scenes, the President inspires his young friend through rousing speeches, then it all goes a bit James Bond before coming back to Earth in style. The villains’ motivation starts off as a little ridiculous, but somehow when its all tied together in a more recognisable reality, some of the sparkle is worn off the film.
As director, Jalmari Helander ramps up the action and the silliness in the film, while keeping the pacing fast enough that the audience is constantly entertained. Helander also keeps the film gleefully self conscious; this is most definitely a film with a B-Movie feel, but no shame about being a ridiculous romp through the Scandinavian mountains.
In all, BIG GAME is a surprisingly hilarious, nostalgic B-Movie that is well paced, well written and over-acted just right. Jackson and Tommila have a wonderful chemistry that keeps the film going, and the rest of the cast are obviously having fun in this farcical adventure that gets almost everything right.
Review by Brogen Hayes

TOP FIVE (USA/16/102mins)
Directed by Chris Rock. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Tracey Morgan, Gabrielle Union,
THE PLOT: Comedian Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is struggling with the transition to serious movie star, and his upcoming reality show wedding. When journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) spends a day with him to write an article about him, Allen finds himself realising some truths about himself and the world he has constructed for himself.
THE VERDICT: It feels like a long time since we have had a Chris Rock movie – in reality it has only been two years since GROWN UPS 2 – so for the actor to return as writer, director and star of TOP FIVE feels like a full on assault on audiences, but the good news is that TOP FIVE is sweet, funny and warm.
Rock does well as the lead actor here, perhaps playing a version of himself to an extent. Rock is funny and honest, and his chemistry with Rosario Dawson is a joy to watch on screen. Dawson’s performance is unshowey and again, feels honest and warm. The supporting cast is full of recognisable faces, including Tracey Morgan, Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Sienfeld, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union and Cedric the Entertainer. Most of these performances are small comic roles, but they work well and bring a sense of community and warmth to the film.
Chris Rock’s screenplay focuses on the conversations between Andre and Chelsea, and although the two start of frosty, this soon gives way to honest conversation between the two. The story is rather simple, and perhaps a little familiar, but the dialogue is what keeps the film moving. There are times, however, when it feels as though there is almost too much crammed in to one day, but this is obviously done for the sake of storytelling, and for the characters to evolve on screen, and can be forgiven.
As director, Rock seems to have taken a leaf out of Richard Linklater’s book, giving TOP FIVE a BEFORE SUNRISE sort of vibe. This is a welcome change to many of the romantic comedies of late. It also gives the film a chance to celebrate New York City for all it’s idiosyncrasies. There are times when the pacing struggles, but the film recovers from these just in time for TOP FIVE to have a rather convenient but heart warming ending.
In all, TOP FIVE is a surprisingly honest and sweet film about two people getting to know one another. Some of the plot is a little familiar, the pacing suffers from time to time, and the film is not quite as funny as it thinks it is, but TOP FIVE is a delightful surprise and return to form for Chris Rock.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Starring Kit Harington, Jennifer Ehle, Tuppence Middleton, Elyes Gabel, Lara Pulver, Peter Firth, Tim McInnerny.
THE PLOT: After a terrorist escapes custody in London, former MI-5 agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington) is drawn back into the intelligence world, and teams up with the former Head of Intelligence for MI-5 to track down the terrorist, before he has the chance to stage an attack on London.
THE VERDICT: BBC TV show SPOOKS ran for 10 seasons and is syndicated around the world, SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD picks up where the TV show left off, and draws everyone back in for one last mission. Although this would make it seem that this is a movie for fans of the TV show, there is enough exposition and back-story given that newcomers to the franchise have enough to care about, and can root for the characters.
Kit Harington joins the crew as a former MI-5 agent who was given the boot for not being good enough. Of course, when things go bad, he is brought back into the fold. Harington does fine in the role – he is not actually given a lot of emotion to work with – and ably carries the action scenes. Peter Firth reprises his role as Harry Pearce, and brings a sense of familiarity to the proceedings. Firth forms a rather endearing mentor relationship with Harington, and although there is double cross after double cross, the two have strong energy together on screen. Tuppence Middleton rounds out the central trio and, although she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, at least there isn’t a love story thrown in for the sake of it, and her character is given room to grow. The rest of the cast is made up of Alyes Gabriel, Jennifer Ehle, Lara Pulver and Tim McInnerny.
The story, written by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, does not seem to have an awful lot to do with the TV show, and this is both to the film’s strength and detriment. Fans are sure to want to see characters they love on screen, and not killed off in the opening act, but this does allow for new fans to be brought on board. The film is filled with exposition, but it is done as subtly as possible, in order to catch the audience up, and keep the story moving. The film struggles, however, in making itself anything other than a generic spy film, even though it has so much of the TV show to draw from.
Director Bharat Nalluri keeps the film well paced, and the set pieces are well constructed and thrilling, but once the film has to stand on its own two feet, it has difficulty distinguishing itself from a drawn out episode of 24, or the preamble to a Bond film.
In all, SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD carefully caters to both fans and newcomers, but has difficulty in making itself anything other than a decent enough spy thriller, with yer man from Game of Thrones in it. Fans are sure to be disappointed, and newcomers may not be fully inspired to check out the TV show that started it all.
Review by Brogen Hayes

STILL (UK/TBC/97mins)
Directed by Simon Blake. Starring Aidan Gillen, Amanda Mealing, Elodie Young, Sonny Green, Joseph Duffy.
THE PLOT: When Tom (Aidan Gillen) brushes past a London teenager on the street, it sets off a chain of ugly and violent events, shattering the calm of Tom’s life, and brining back painful memories of his past.
THE VERDICT: STILL, directed by Simon Blake in his feature debut, is the examination of grief and the after effects of death a year on. The film also examines the choices made my characters when they are seemingly unaware of the consequences of their actions.
Aidan Gillen does well in the lead role, swinging from warm and sympathetic, to frazzled, to sociopath throughout the film. There are times when the character’s choices are infuriating, but this is the same for the rest of the cast, and comes down to the writing, rather than the performances. Jonathan Slinger plays Tom’s best friend Ed, and the two have comfortable and funny chemistry on screen. Amanda Mealing brings strength and grace to the film as Tom’s former wife Rachel, and Elodie Young has a smaller role as Tom’s current girlfriend who gets caught in the crossfire between Tom and a gang of London teenagers. The kids, played by Sonny Green and Joseph Duffy, do well in their very different roles; Duffy has strong chemistry with Gillen, and Green plays a bravado filled kid well.
The story, written by Simon Blake, begins through a chance encounter, which leads to increasing acts of violence and retaliation through the film. It is difficult to believe that a simple moment would lead to such extreme behaviour, but Blake almost always makes the actions of both the youths and the adults believable. The trouble is that the two stories of grief and violence never quite stitch together properly, so while the film is beautifully shot, giving Still a noir-esque feel, the whole doesn’t feel as though it is a sum of all of its parts.
The film rambles through grief, betrayal and old wounds opening to cause friction and pain, while adding in the elements of cruelty and violence from the gang of teenagers. Things seem to escalate too quickly and too violently to be believable, and the climax of the film only manages to destroy any empathy the audience has for Tom, while being incredibly and overly dramatic.
In all, STILL is a beautifully shot film that tries to do too much in its 97 minute running time. The subplots never quite stitch together, and the actions of the characters are often frustrating, although there is strong chemistry between Gillen and his co-stars, this is not enough to carry the film, which turns from drama to melodrama in the blink of an eye.
Review by Brogen Hayes

ROSEWATER (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Jon Stewart. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Golshifteh Farahani
THE PLOT: Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) returns to Tehran to cover the election of 2009. When the people rise up, believing the election was fixed, Bahari finds himself accused of being an American spy and imprisoned on trumped up charges.
THE VERDICT: ROSEWATER is an interesting film, not least for its backstory; after Bahari appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the two became friends, prompting Stewart to make his directorial debut with Rosewater, adapted from Bahari’s book And ‘Then They Came For Me’.
Gael Garcia Bernal is making a habit of choosing roles in films that are not only about important political events, but also have a strong message, and this is true for Rosewater. Bernal gives a strong but understated performance as Bahari, truly coming into his own when Bahari is imprisoned. Although this is Bernal’s film, he is ably supported by Shoreh Aghdashloo, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani who bring both compassion and fear to the film.
Jon Stewart’s screenplay, adapted from Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy’s book, starts as a film about the power and necessity of journalism, but evolves into s tale of how one man survives being locked away for crimes that he did not commit. This is when Bernal, and the film come into their own, mixing an oddly sweet humour with the tragedy that Bahari suffered.
As director, Stewart odes make some slightly odd style choices at the start of the film – betraying, perhaps, his background on TV – but these soon subside, and allow the story to come to the fore. Stewart coaxes strong performances from his actors, without ever seeming to pander to them, and although the pacing of the film is a bit of a mess, enough affection is built for the central character that we want to see him succeed.
In all, ROSEWATER is an admirable first feature from veteran TV host Jon Stewart, and one that tells a tragic story in a seemingly honest way. Bernal carries the film ably on his shoulders, but there are times when the film struggles through issues with pacing and some odd stylistic choices. It comes together in the end though, making ROSEWATER a moving tale, well told.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Nickloas Dylan Rossi. Starring Rossie Harris, Jon Brion, Elliot Smith, Chris Douridas, Kevin Moyer, Autumn DeWilde, Mark Flanagan.
THE PLOT: Charing the short life and, for a while, glittering career of sensitive singer/songwriter Elliot Smith, Heaven Adores You charts the early Texas years, the move to Portland, Oregon, the Oscar nomination breakthrough (for Miss Misery, from Good Will Hunting), and then, somewhat predictably, the slow, steady, drug-assisted decline. Along the way, we get to hear from friends, bandmates, producers and admirers, each of them without a bad word to say about their late, lamented buddy. Except for when the drugs kicked in, of course. And Smith became something of an arsehole. Which is one of the main side effects of drug addiction.
THE VERDICT: As with so many artists who die young, troubled troubadour Elliot Smith’s life was an unfinished song. His mysterious death, aged 34, on October 21st 2003 (who stabs themselves two times in the chest?) came at a time in Smith’s career when the world just might have been his. Or just a little after. By 2003, Smith was battling a nasty drug habit. And his crippling shyness was getting worse. This is the man who, when he played Dublin’s SFX at the height of his commercial rise, didn’t say one word to the audience.
A documentary that clearly sets out to praise rather than prise apart, Rossi’ Kickstarter-funded film admirably takes an acne-scars-and-all approach to Smith, exploring his darker days as much as his generally happy childhood (grumpy disapproving father excepted), and steely determination to make it as a musician, despite the crippling shyness. Was that Oscar nomination the making or breaking of Elliot Smith, the artist himself both loving and loathing the publicity trail that such a newsworthy nod will bring? As Smith’s fame rose, as with so many artists suddenly grappling with being a celebrity, his life began to sink.
Nick Drake reborn as an American grunge poet, Elliot Smith fans will find much to cherish here. Such as the fact that all his old Portland, Oregon buddies look like Lena Dunham. All of them. For the uninitiated, this is more curiosity than crucial.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE CANAL (Ireland/UK/16/93mins)
Directed by Ivan Kavanagh. Starring Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra, Kelly Byrne, Steve Oram, Calum Heath.
THE PLOT: Film archivist David (Evans) is moving into a new house with his pregnant partner, Alice (Hoekstra), and isn’t entirely comfortable, it seems, with the new abode. Five years later, and their little kid, Billy (Heath), is talking about monsters hiding in the dark.
Back at The National Archive, and co-worker Claire (Campbell-Hughes) has some old police footage to check out. David sees their new home, in 1902, when a man murdered his wife. Add to that a growing suspicion that his hot wife is a major object of desire amongst her co-workers, and perhaps David’s growing paranoia is somewhat justified. But is it truly ancient?
THE VERDICT: Kavanagh’s baby has been getting the Dublin filmmaker all the right kind of attention, with rave reviews in the US leading to some decent box-office, and now some real, top-of-the-range Hollywood work. Not that the quiet workaholic is about to let Tinseltown blind him from his mission to make good work, having already proven himself a cut above the rest with The Tin Can Man (2007) and The Fading Light (2009).
Here, there’s no doubting Kavanagh’s skills, both as a writer and a director, The Canal swaggering with an air of majesty and menace that is such a rare treat in horror. If The Canal ultimately falls a little short of the Polanski, Kubrick and Lynch comparisons, it’s still a superior slice of psychological horror. And Kavanagh has a lot of fun tripping through the genre’s rich, red fields.
Review by Paul Byrne

GIRLHOOD (France/15A/112mins)
Directed by Celine Sciamma. Starring Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure, Idrissa Diabate, Simina Soumare, Cyril Mendy.
THE PLOT: One of the good 16-year-olds in her Parisian suburban neighbourhood, 16-year-old Marieme (Toure) is good to her little sisters, and slightly wary of their older brother, Djibril (Mendy) – the latter highly unlikely to approve of his sister’s growing flirtation with local boy Ismael (Diabate). Mum is generally busy with her night shift, so, Djibril brusquely rules the roost at home, Marieme finally tiring of the situation after she flunks high school. And that’s when she starts hanging out with a trio of girls keen to be seen as a gang. Led by Lady (Assa Sylla), Marieme finding acceptance, and excitement, as she becomes a certifiable, gang-approved bad girl…
THE VERDICT: Having played at the French Film Festival at the IFI earlier in the year, having been granted the honour of opening gala screening, GIRLHOOD is one of those teenage wildlife films that inspire column inches amongst the left-wing media and quite a lot of hyperbole on the festival circuit. Which, on paper, makes sense – acclaimed, rising young director (Sciamma previously gave us 2007’s WATER LILIES and 2011’s TOMBOY) taking a sensitive look at society’s underbelly; boom! There’s a Sight & Sound three-pager just waiting to happen. The fact that it’s a young black girl’s story, as she tries to fit in on the mean streets of a Paris suburb, gives GIRLHOOD an edge over your average teen opera.
All of which just makes me feel more than a little guilty for finding this a tad dull. And a tad boring. And a tad predictable.
Review by Paul Byrne