We review this week’s new releases, including PARKLAND, THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE and THE SUMMIT…
Directed by Peter Landesman. Starring Zac Effron, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, James Badge Dale, Jimmy Strong.
THE PLOT: Centred around the Parkland Memorial Hospital, where President John F. Kennedy died in on November 22nd, 1963, followed two days later by the man accused of his assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald (who also died from gunshot wounds), we open on that familiar motorcade through Dallas. We see Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) capture the most famous footage ever committed to Super 8; we see Oswald (Strong), his shocked brother, Robert (Dale), shocked security staff, and panicked hospital staff, all running around, well, like head-of-state-less chickens. We see a whole bunch of worlds in a state of shock…
THE VERDICT: A moment in history that has inspired a multitude of books, films, documentaries and conspiracy theories – with a fresh batch currently clogging up the TV schedules, given the anniversary that’s in it – stepping into Parkland may not seem like the most inviting of multiplex options right now. Especially given that Billy Bob Thornton and Marcia Gay Harden – the world’s second-favourite double-Oscar-winning loser (after Hilary Swank) – are in the line-up of usual and unusual suspects here. But writer/director Peter Landesman has delivered an emotional film here by largely concentrating on, well, the emotions on the ground that day. Playing key moments in real time means that we’re drawn into the ball of confusion that immediately followed those three shots that rang out around the world. The attention to detail as we follow 12 specific people trying to make sense of it all brings this historic event into sharp, shocking focus. You can tell that Landesman used to be a journalist.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (USA/12A/146 mins)
Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam hemsworth, Woody harrelson, Elizabeth Bacnks, Donald Sutherland, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
THE PLOT: After their seemingly selfless act at the end of The Hunger Games, an act that made them victors, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Jush Hutcherson) find the eye of the Capitol upon them. Their act of love has sparked a fuse in the Districts of Panem, a spark that sees Katniss and Peeta thrown back into the spotlight, and back into the Games.
THE VERDICT:Jennifer Lawrence is luminous as Katniss Everdeen, and her newfound terror at the world that she lives in is evident in everything that she does. Lawrence is graceful, fierce but fearful, a winning combination, and she provides the emotional heart of the film as she fights for what is right, and everything she holds dear.
Josh Hutcherson has less to do, but he provides conflict for Katniss, and something for her to fight for in the Capitol. Liam Hemsworth does similar, but is the person that Katniss fights for back home. Jena Malone turns up as an angry but powerful young woman; it is great to see her back on screen and playing a role fit for an adult. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an imposing presence as new Games Maker Plutarch, Donald Sutherland reprises his creepy and looming role as President Snow and Elizabeth Banks is both loving and a little silly, bringing new depth to the once-superficial Effie.
The story is one of rebellion and strength, one that is shown well in both the Victory Tour sequence and the Games themselves, and one that Lawrence embodies in her performance as Katniss. Although it is a full hour and a half before Katniss finds herself back in the arena, the film is filled with emotion and heart, as well as intimidation and fear; often in the simplest of gestures. That said, there are times when the film becomes a little too involved in setting up the story, that telling the tale almost falls to the wayside. At 146 minutes, this is not a brief film, but the story told is actually rather simple, this leaves the film feeling sluggish as we go through many of the same motions as we did in the first film.
Jo Willems’s cinematography underlines the contrast between rich and poor in the film; the Capitol sequences burst with colour, while those in Katniss’s home District, are washed out and grey, but no less beautiful. Director Francis Lawrence shows he has skill with both the emotional and action sequences, often marrying both together on screen, but with such a long running time, it is almost inevitable that the film drag its heels from time to time.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a film that balances emotion and action, and Jennifer Lawrence is commanding and charming, often making up for the messy pacing and extended running time. Fans of the books will rejoice at this faithful adaptation, whereas casual viewers may find themselves checking their watches from time to time.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FLU (South Korea/15/121mins)
Directed by Sung-su Kim. Starring Nishijima Hidetoshi, Kim Hyo-jin, Hamada Manabu, Maki Yoko, Nakamura Yuri, Ibu Masatoh, Lee Kyeong-young, Hyuk Jang, Soo Ae, Andrew William Brand.
THE PLOT: It’s 2014, it’s Hong Kong, and a container-load of illegal immigrants are making their way to Bundang, just outside Seoul. When it lands, all but one of the occupants are dead. And the one survivor is carrying a mutation of the avian flu – a mutation that spreads rapidly, killing rapidly Byeong-woo (Lee Sang-yeob), one of two brothers unfortunate enough to have opened the container. It doesn’t take long for the town’s 472,000 residents to find themselves in shutdown. Now, it’s a fight for survival…
THE VERDICT: Having mixed sci-fi with thriller and, eh, romantic drama in the more recent Genome Hazard, it’s clear that South Korean filmmaker Kim Sung-su likes to cocktail his genres. And so it is with The Flu, the goofy buddy cop genre and a little think-of-the-children drama getting thrown into the pot alongside the traditional end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thrills and petri-dish spills.
It’s just that title which bothers me. Surely, for a little gravitas and true scares, young Kim should have gone with The Man-Flu?
Such a title would have provided the viewer with a much better idea of the mayhem and madness that ensues here. There are no scary monsters or super nuclear-mutated freaks here – just a lot of running around with mouths agape and hearts aflutter, as loved ones try to save loved ones, and the good-looking nice guy tries to get together with the good-looking nice single mum.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE FAMILY (USA, France/15A/111mins)
Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, Tommy Lee Jones
THE PLOT: The Manzoni family is moved, under the witness relocation programme, from Brooklyn to Normandy after the patriarch Gio (Robert DeNiro) snitches on his friends. Fitting in soon becomes problematic, however, as old family habits seem to die hard.
THE VERDICT: DeNiro doesn’t do anything new or exciting here; although he is fun to watch as he plays a former criminal with a heart, and a large ego. Michelle Pfeiffer looks old, and her accent wanders all around the world, but there is something interesting in her manic eyes and her interactions with DeNiro. Dianna Agron has some interesting moments as Belle, even though she quickly fades from farcial to annoying and John D’Leo is simply forgettable. The double act of DeNiro and Lee Jones is an interesting one, and they are well matched.
The trouble with the film is simple; Luc Besson went big, but not big enough. Early in the film, each character over reacts to a small slight – giving us a great scene where Agron serves up justice with a tennis racquet – but they soon begin to tone down their actions, leaving the film feeling deflated and uninteresting. The film swings from sentimentality to violence and back again, but it is only when it is over the top and farcical that it actually works.
As well as this, with a 112 minute running time, THE FAMILY is simply too long. Perhaps a more savage edit could have saved some of the darker, funnier elements of the film. As it is, they are quickly forgotten. The running time also means that the pacing is a mess.
Besson’s script is a little embarrassing at times, leaving us to wonder why we should care about such blundering fools, and a moment where DeNiro as Gio suddenly has to discuss a Robert DeNiro performance in a Martin Scorsese film feels a little too contrived and convenient; even as Besson winks at the audience, we shy away and wish we were somewhere else.
In all, THE FAMILY should have been a dark farce about a group of people who cannot change, no matter how many times they change their names, but instead it is an uneven, badly paced mess that feels a little too self indulgent. Pfeiffer gives a good performance, however, and Dianna Agron keeping her schoolgirl persona going a little while longer is good for a giggle or two. DeNiro and Lee Jones are a rapid-fire pleasure to watch, but this is not enough to save THE FAMILY from imploding.
THE VERDICT: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (France/18/179mins)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos. Salim Kechiouche, Aurelien Recoing, Catherine Salee, Benjamin Siksou, Alma Jodorowsky.
THE PLOT: It would seem like the perfect teen hook-up, as the shy, smart school student Adele (Exarchopoulos), after the boy her teasing friends have insisted has a crush on her finally works up the nerve. But Thomas (Laheurte) soon finds himself no match for the blue-haired Emma (Seydoux, last seen flirting with Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris), the two lovebirds soon falling truly, madly, deeply in lust. And love, it would seem, but, as they say in bedrooms all over the world, there’s the rub. It’s clear from the extended and deliciously raw lovemaking scenes here that these two girls find it easy to become one. But is this true love? And can it survive an affair? And three years apart…?
THE VERDICT: For some, blue will be the operative word here, this Palme D’Or winner coming across, on paper, as the classic erotic French arthouse movie. Two teenage girls, exploring their sexuality, for nearly three hours. Of course, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is more than just fruity young French female frolicking, Kechiche – working, in the second part of this two-chapter film, from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel – aiming instead for deeper, darker and more daring nether regions. What could have so easily slipped into being a Larry Clark wet dream is a far more intriguing beast. Intriguing enough to have Steven Spielberg wax lyrical, and to garner the sort of reviews normally reserved for… Well, arthouse films about two teenage girls finding themselves. In bed. Together. Ah, you can’t beat a little non-simulated female copulation, to be sure, to be sure. Still, Kechiche (returning to the territory of 2003’s Games Of Love And Chance) has had to defend his male perspective on a lesbian affair. Plus, is it okay to say this fine film is more than a tad too long?
Review by Paul Byrne
THE SUMMIT (Ireland, UK, Switzerland, USA/12A/102mins)
Directed by Nick Ryan.
THE PLOT: In 2008, 11 climbers were killed as they attempted to reach the summit of K2; the world’s second tallest mountain. The Summit attempts to shed light on the mysteries surrounding the worst single accident in K2 mountaineering history.
THE VERDICT: Director Nick Ryan has pieced together a confusing and sometimes contradictory story about a tragedy that should never have happened. The climbers spent months preparing for their ascent, but pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The story is told through eyewitness interviews from the surviving climbers, actual footage of the climb and hair raising reconstructions that are so well done that, at times, it is hard to tell which is which. Ryan also includes an interview with one of the Italian climbers who was in the first successful expedition to the summit of K2 in 1954.
THE SUMMIT does not lay out events in chronological order; instead the film jumps back and forth through time between the climbers preparing for their ascent and the actual climb. This works both for and against the film; at times it is difficult to pick up the narrative of the accident and, as there were so many climbers and so many fatalities, it is easy to lose track of who is who, and where they were on the mountain.
The tale that emerges is one of misfortune and tragedy; the lead climber fell ill, leaving the remaining mountaineers to share out the responsibilities of ropes and safety between them. This, as well as bad timing, ice falls and avalanches led to many people needlessly losing their lives. The reconstructions are key to adding tension into the film, as the audience finds themselves right there with the climbers as they helplessly watch their companions fall and die.
Nick Ryan has pulled the story of Irish climber Ger McDonnell to the fore. At 37, McDonnell was an experienced climber who had bested Everest and had attempted K2 before. Through interview with his family and video taken during the K2 expedition, a picture emerges of a man who was the life and soul of the group, and a caring man who appears to have died while trying to help others.
While this story is fascinating and heartbreaking, it is somewhat dulled, as is the entire film, through a muddled and messy narrative structure. Nick Ryan took a chance when he decided to tell the story non-chronologically, but it is a chance that does not always pay off. The accident itself was mysterious and confusing as the climbers got separated and their stories are often conflicting, but in the film, timelines get mixed up and the players in the story become confused.
THE SUMMIT is an engaging documentary about the single biggest accident in K2 mountaineering history. The film suffers, however, from a lack of directorial clarity that could have cleared up some of the confusion surrounding these events. As it stands, however, The Summit is a gripping film that appears to add more mystery to the story, rather than solving it.
Review by Brogen Hayes