We review this week’s new releases, including CARRIE and SAVING MR BANKS…
Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoe Belkin, Ansel Elgort, Samantha Weinstein.
THE PLOT: Painfully shy, Carrie (Moretz) is very much at a loss when her first period arrives whilst in the showers at her high school. And she hasn’t got a friend she can call on to help her escape the laughter of her classmates. Or a mum who might understand, Margaret (Moore) being a Bible-basher of the highest order.
When a smartphone video of the incident makes it online, sparking Carrie to flex her kinetic powers. When the good-hearted Sue (Wilde) attempts to make amends by persuading her quarterback boyfriend Tommy (Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom, there may actually be light at the end of the tunnel. As a cruel hoax is unleashed on Carrie though, that light quickly turns to, well, lightning…
THE VERDICT: She may be the closest thing we have to a young Jodie Foster for this generation, but Chloe Grace Moretz is in danger of becoming The Remake Scream Queen, if she’s not careful. Not that her take on Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In and now Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic are bad films. And Ms Moretz is certainly mighty fine in both. It’s just that, well, sequels are rarely equals, and so it has proven once again here. Young Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) keeps proceedings admirably restrained here, returning to Stephen King’s original novel for inspiration, and, unsurprisingly, Julianne Moore makes for a terrifying religious nutjob mum. It’s just that you never quite get the chills here. Not even when Carrie unleashes hell.
Review by Paul Byrne
SAVING MR. BANKS (USA/PG/125mins)
Directed by John Hancock. Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths.
THE PLOT: It might as well be The Ice Queen visiting The Magic Kingdom when author P.L. Travers (Thompson) finally agrees to meet – after many years of badgering – to fly from London to LA and meet with Walt Disney (Hanks). The latter is obsessed, he says, with adapting the former’s Mary Poppins books to the big screen. Ms Travers is determined to sabotage any such attempt though, having finally flown over for a production meeting largely because she desperately needs the money. As she goes into battle with the film’s production crew (including music-composer brothers the Shermans, played by Schwartzman and Novak), Disney himself tries again and again to win over the increasingly resistant old goat. When a supersized truckload of joy doesn’t do the trick, Walt decides to go looking for all the misery at the root of this complete and utter conundrum…
THE VERDICT: A film that might as well come with the title Finding Never-Ever-Over-My-Dead-Bodyland, this bittersweet saunter through the difficult birth of the Disney classic Mary Poppins works for many obvious reasons.
It’s the story that’s king here, the delightful stereotypes of a cantankerous twin-set-and-pearls English toff facing off against a neatly-pressed, firm-handshaking and always-smiling American salesman supreme providing plenty of odd-couple comedy here. It’s forced misery vs forced joy, and therefore fertile ground for comedy. Handling much of the drama is our own Colin Farrell, playing the young Travers’ alcoholic dreamer of a father, a constantly failing bank clerk who will directly inspire Mr. Banks, the head of the household – and a failing bank clerk – in the Mary Poppins books.
It’s a fascinating story, softly and safely told. It’s a Disney film about Walt Disney, so there’s spoonfuls of sugar at every turn.
Review by Paul Byrne
FREE BIRDS (USA/G/91mins)
Directed by Jimmy Hayward. Starring the voices of Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney.
THE PLOT: Reggie (Owen Wilson) is the only turkey in his rafter who knows the awful truth about Thanksgiving, and that the slaughter shed is not ‘Turkey Paradise’. When the President pardons him – as is tradition – Reggie finds himself teamed up with oddball Jake (Woody Harrelson), as they travel back through time to the first Thanksgiving, to take turkey off the menu for good.
THE VERDICT: Owen Wilson proved with Cars and Cars 2 that he has a great talent for voicing animated characters, and Reggie is no exception. Wilson infuses the character with warmth and curiosity. Woody Harrelson does fine as the slightly screwy Jake, and Amy Poehler brings the charm and the laughs as Jenny. Poehler’s comedic timing is wonderful, as usual, but it is George Takei as the voice of the time machine – S.T.E.V.E – who stands out. Takei plays on his trademark voice for the character and has some of the best lines in the film.
Screenwriters Jimmy Hayward and Scott Mosier – Yes, that Scott Mosier, the one known for collaborating with Kevin Smith – have created a fun adventure movie with plenty of laughs for the kids, even though the humans are a little reminiscent of the CDA in Monsters Inc. That said, the film does lag in the middle and, while the animation is generally quite beautiful, the over simplified historical aspect of the film may leave children wondering what the point of Thanksgiving is, and adults wondering at the gap in the film’s exposition.
Director Jimmy Hayward makes great use of his casts strengths, and allows them to play on comedy, sentiment and action; all of which work in the film’s favour. The running time goes against the story, however, as the lag in pacing is all too evident in the film.
In all, Free Birds is a film with some great performances from the cast. The story is lacking in parts and the pacing messy. The story may captivate US audiences, but since we do not celebrate Thanksgiving at this side of the Atlantic, it could leave some audiences scratching their heads. Still, George Takei is wonderful, and Poehler is always a delight.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (USA/15A/123mins)
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Starring Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Monica Calhoun, Regina Hall
THE PLOT: In this sequel to The Best Man, friends are reunited after 15 years, just in time for Christmas. However, they soon discover that all that is in the past has not stayed in the past, and it is not long before old rivalries and romances are re-ignited.
THE VERDICT: Malcolm D. Lee’s screenplay sees friends re-united and old arguments begin again. Lance is so openly hostile and passive aggressive with Harper from the moment they see one another that it is hard to imagine anyone would stay for more of that treatment. As well as this, it is quite easy to see how the story of crossed wires, deception and scheming will pan out, so there is hardly a surprise throughout the whole film. Add to this the always winning emotionally blackmailing cocktail of Christmas and cancer, and you have a thinly sketched, predictable manipulative film that pretty much tells the audience when they should be crying.
Lee directs with a heavy hand, overplaying scenes from emotional impact so that the audience may feel as though they are being manipulated into feeling something for these characters, and each character reacts oddly to every situation; hugging a friend may lead to a couple not speaking, but a baby being born on the day of a funeral has everyone jumping for joy. Really? As well as this, the characters have all seemingly fought to get to the top of their chosen careers, and act with grace until they are threatened, then suddenly catfights break out in the halls and the N word is flying around with abandon. Odd.
The Best Man Holiday is an emotionally manipulative, meandering mess of a film. Christmas and cancer may lead to cinema crying, but for all the manic shenanigans happening in the film, there is actually very little else going on. Friendships may be mended by tragedy, but The Best Man Holiday feels as though it is beating the audience over the head with its ‘happy’ ending.
Review by Brogen Hayes