AMERICAN HONEY (UK|USA/16/162mins)
Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Sasha Lane, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Veronica Ezell
THE PLOT: When first we meet Star (Sasha Lane) she is dumpster diving for food, and hitching lifts with children that are obviously not her own. After she meets Jake (Shia La Boeuf) at a K Mart and he offers her a job selling magazines door to door, she leaves the kids with their parents, and sets off on a road trip across America with Jake and other disaffected and lost teens, led by the mysterious Krystal (Riley Keough).
THE VERDICT: Taking its title from the song by Lady Antebellum, ‘American Honey’ is both a cautionary the and wildly aspirational; even though this is perhaps not the message the film wants to convey.
In the lead role, Sasha Lane makes Star a charming enough character, and makes sure that her morals shine through as she questions the methods people use for selling magazines, and spends time in the film rescuing animals from uncomfortable situations. Lane is well able enough to carry the film, and works well with the other members of the cast. Shia La Boeuf plays Jake, the salesperson most favoured by Krystal, and who develops an infatuation with Star. La Boeuf’s performance as the morally bereft Jake is strong, and a good contrast to the well meaning and kind Star. Riley Keough makes Krystal ruthless and unlikeable, delivering many of her lines with a dripping malice. The rest of the cast features McCaul Lombardi and Arielle Holmes many of whom director Andrea Arnold found in shopping malls and the like; often holding auditions for the film in parking lots.
The screenplay, written by Andrea Arnold, follows these disaffected youths – many of whom will not be missed by anyone – as they journey through the American Mid West. Much of the film is spent with the characters as they drink, get high and sing along with rap in the back of cars, and although Star is the heart of the film and we are with her on this journey, we don’t learn much about her or any of the characters since the film seems more interested in capturing the cult-like life of these kids on the road, with a tumultuous romance thrown in for good measure.
As director, Andrea Arnold makes the kids likeable for the most part; it is clear they are having the time of their lives crossing the country with little responsibility, staying in motels and partying every night, but this means that the 2 hour 42 minute running time of the film feels drawn out, and the eventual ending unsatisfactory. There is a feel of Spring Breakers about the film; filled as it is with neon clothing, a charismatic leader and a drifting storyline, and this leaves the film feeling familiar and derivative, rather than a fresh statement on the state of youth in America today. The film could easily have been a companion piece to Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’, as the characters in both films find themselves falling through the cracks and on the fringes of society, but’ American Honey’ feels thin by comparison to the emotion of Ken Loach’s film, and the characters are too carefree to understand the economic tragedy they are in. The cinematography of the film is beautiful, with the Academy aspect ratio making much of the film look like an instagram video – the handheld feel of the camera only adds to this – and this beauty in desolation is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the film.
In all, ‘American Honey’ feels too familiar to be truly original, and with another film In Competition at Cannes about economic challenges, it pales in comparison. The characters are charming, however, and if you are looking for a two and a half hour instagram video on how beautiful the US can be, during which the characters change very little, then this is the film for you. The rest of us, however, may struggle to stay engaged.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Nicolas Stoller, Doug Sweetland. Starring the voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman.
THE PLOT: Their baby-delivering days a thing of the past, Stork Mountain is now a feathered drone courier service, where Junior (Samberg) is all set for the big promotion. Once, that is, he finally delivers that old package that’s been gathering dust in the corner. The package called Tulip (Crown), a somewhat accident-prone orphan who has yet to be dropped on the doorstep of his loving family. Couple that with a letter from a hopeful only boy to Stork Mountain, seeking a baby ninja brother, and, once a few wires have been crossed, and Junior teams up with Tulip, you’ve got yourself a buddy-buddy, on-the-road, on-a-mission-from-god kinda comedy thingymajig.
THE VERDICT: As more and more animation studios realise the crass, bang, wallop approach of DreamWorks leads to a short, sharp shock at the box-office, we’re living in a time when every new cartoon at the multiplex feels like a child of Pixar and Looney Tunes. And sometimes, as can occasionally happen with kids, the offspring is every bit as good if not better than the parent.
There’s a sense that the teenagers have taken over in computer animation, a young breed keen to break out and have some subversive fun taking their cues as much from ‘South Park’ as Disney. Even Disney are at it.
Having the likes of Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston and Kelsey Grammar as your voice talent helps, but the smarts in Storks really belong to the people behind the scenes. Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller gave us 2014’s sublime ‘Lego Movie’, whilst writer and co-director Nicolas Stoller hails from Apatowland and his co-helmer Doug Sweetland is a Pixar veteran.
Fittingly enough, ‘Storks’ is a little bundle of hilarious.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Mat Whitecross. Starring Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Paul Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, Peggy Gallagher
THE PLOT: Filmmaker Mat Whitecross takes a look back over the early years of Oasis, from their start, through their very public and well documented rows, to the culmination of their success two and a half years into their career; playing the famous Knebworth arena.
THE VERDICT: Robbie Williams very famously partied with Oasis at Glastonbury mere weeks before he left Take That in 1995, and the idea that Supersonic director Mat Whitecross also directed Take That’s music video for The Flood – when Williams had rejoined the boyband – is an interesting circle to come in. But then, Supersonic is nothing to do with Robbie Williams, and everything to do with the generation defining three years that made Oasis the biggest band in Britpop… No matter which side you come down on the Blur Vs Oasis debate.
‘Supersonic’ starts and finishes with the famed Knebworth concert in 1996, before going back to analyse the short road from the band getting signed to playing such a monumental concert. Through new interviews with Liam and Noel Gallagher, as well as label head Alan McGee, and the Gallaghers’ mother Peggie, the audience has the chance to live the Oasis mania over again, through the eyes of the band themselves. Noel and Liam show off their wit throughout the interviews, making sure that the audience knows their respect for one another – even though they seemingly have not spoken in years – as well as just how drug addled they were at the time. As well as the interviews, the film is made up of archive footage of Oasis at their height, as well as never before seen footage of recording sessions. The film is curated like a scrapbook, with animations underlying the feel of a nostalgic walk through the past.
What becomes clear throughout the film is the raw talent and skill that was present in Oasis, and it was this that was not only the thing that made them great, but also what pulled them apart. The volatility of the Gallaghers’ relationship is all too evident, as is the love and respect they have for the fans that listened to their music and gave them the fame that they enjoyed. This last idea is an interesting one when juxtaposed with the feeling that the band – in their own words – “didn’t give a fuck”, and it is this contrast that made the band work, and makes the film work so well.
‘Supersonic’ is filled with the Oasis songs that we know and love, as well as concert footage from their famous gig at Maine Road in their home town of Manchester, and Irish fans will get a particular thrill at the footage of the band’s gigs at the Point in March 1996 featuring in the film, reminding us all of how crap The Point used to be, and that being the reason why we absolutely loved it.
In all, ‘Supersonic’ is obviously a film for the fans of Oasis, but it is also a nostalgic walk down memory lane to the Britpop glory days of the 1990s, and the idea that a band from a council estate in Manchester could capture the feeling of a generation so completely. The decision to end the film at Knebworth in 1996 makes the film feel contained, and although the band soldiered on for many years after this, there is enough told in the chemistry of the band to know just why it all had to come to an end.
Review by Brogen Hayes
INFERNO (USA | Japan | Turkey | Hungary/15A/121mins)
Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen
THE PLOT: When Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there, he probably thinks his day could not get any worse… Then someone starts shooting at him. Enlisting the help of ER doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), Langdon sets out on an adventure across Italy and beyond to find out what happened on the days he can’t remember, and why everyone seems to be out to kill him.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel of the same name by Dan Brown, ‘Inferno’ is Robert Langdon’s third outing on the big screen; reuniting Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard for this new adventure. With a feel of Indiana Jones and James Bond rolled into one, ‘Inferno’ promises to be a thrill ride, but it just ends up feeling a little silly.
It is hard not to love Tom Hanks – his turn in Carly Rae Jepsen’s video for ‘I Really Like You’ was a particular high point – but Inferno wastes Hanks’ considerable talents. Hanks manages to make Langdon likeable – even though we learn little about the character other than he lost his Mickey Mouse watch and he likes puzzles – and his knowledge of Florentine anterooms seems a little unlikely. Felicity Jones does fine as Sienna Brooke; it feels as though the actress is getting her action movie on in preparation for Rogue One later this year, but she does well with the little she has. The rest of the cast features Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Sidse Babett Knudsen round out the cast.
David Koepp adapted Dan Brown’s novel for the big screen, and although each of Robert Langdon’s other cinematic outings were rather silly, they had a grounding in religion and art for the most part. ‘Inferno’ struggles with an even sillier plot than the films that have gone before, and a feel that the entire film was inspired by telenovellas, James Bond and Indiana Jones, while being a watered down version of each. There is enough mystery to keep the audience going, for the most part, but the twists and turns are obvious and the sense of gleeful joy that made Indiana Jones – a very similar character to Robert Langdon – so much fun, is missing here. As well as this, Brown’s novels were at there most popular over a decade ago, and it is obvious that this wane in popularity has led to a lacklustre story.
Ron Howard does fine as director, but he never manages to make ‘Inferno’ properly exciting, or give us any character development at all. The pacing is a struggle for much of the movie, as is the tangled storyline of crosses and double crosses that Howard never manages to clear up fully.
In all, ‘Inferno’ is, for want of a better term, a hot mess. Robert Langdon has gone from professor to super spy, and everything in the film either feels convenient or too convoluted for it to be fully satisfying. Add to this a patronising tone and a waste of Tom Hanks, and ‘Inferno’ burns out before it begins.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FLAG (Ireland/12A/85mins)
Directed by Declan Recks. Starring Pat Shortt, Moe Dunford, Simone Kirby, Ruth Bradley, Brian Gleeson.
THE PLOT: Harry (Pat Shortt) is having a run of bad luck; first he gets fired, then his hamster dies, then his father follows suit. Returning home for the funeral, Harry strikes up with his old friend Mouse (Moe Dunford), and discovers a statement from his grandfather claiming to have hung the flag at the top of the GPO at Easter 1916. To earn back some respect for his family, Harry decides to break into the Army barracks where the flag was last seen, and steal it back for the people of Ireland. If only things were so simple.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Flag’ is a comedy crime caper that relies heavily on the caper side of proceedings, and even though it is fairly clear that there is very little in the film that is ill-intentioned, some of the stereotypes of both English and Irish people feel very outdated.
Pat Shortt leads the cast as the luckless Harry, and is warm and charming in the role. The performance from Shortt feels natural and real, and he interacts well with the rest of the cast; Mouse the hamster included. Moe Dunford makes Mouse – the person that, presumably, the hamster was named after – charming and talkative, and although he spouts faux-Taoist spirituality, he is quite funny and warm. The rest of the cast features Simone Kirby, Peter Campion, Brian Gleeson, Sorcha Cusack and Ruth Bradley, whose Yorkshire accent is rather questionable at times.
The screenplay, written by Eugene O’Brien, seems harmless on first glance; a silly caper that ties into the national commemorations of the 1916 Rising earlier this year, but although the movie is over the top, sometimes funny and faintly ridiculous, the stereotypes that the film enforces are somewhat troubling. English people, for the most part, are portrayed as liars and thieves, and the Irish characters play up the paddywhackery to get away with their theft. There are some lines of dialogue at the end of the film that try to make up for these old-fashioned ways of portraying the two neighbouring nations. The comedy mainly comes from Pat Shortt, and he does a rather good job of keeping the film light, but capers aside, there is little to enjoy in the script.
As director, Declan Recks – fresh from his drama ‘The Truth Commissioner’ earlier this year – keeps the pace of the film moving, and plays up the physical, outlandish comedy in the film. The film moves along nicely, and the love story feels only slightly shoe-horned in, but there is little in the film that shows the English or the Irish in a favourable light.
In all, The Flag’ seems to be a well-meaning caper comedy, and there are moments of greatness from Pat Shortt, both in terms of his comedy and the light touch he portrays Harry with, but there are some troubling stereotypes in the film, dodgy accents and, when it comes down to it, not that many actual laughs.
Review by Brogen Hayes
KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE (USA/TBC/112mins)
Directed by Robert Greene. Starring Kate Lyn Shiel, Marty Stonerock, Christine Chubbuck, Stephanie Coatney, Holland Hayes
THE PLOT: In 1974, local news reporter on a Florida TV station, Christine Chubbuck, committed suicide live on air. As actress Kate Lyn Shiel prepares to play Chubbuck for a film, a camera crew follows her and her attempts to understand Christine, her motivations, and just how she can get into such a dark and solitary character.
THE VERDICT: Christine Chubbuck was the first person to commit suicide on live TV – by shooting herself in the head – but until recently, it seemed that this 29 year old woman had faded into urban legend and a grisly story on the internet. Now, there are two films about Chubbuck on the way; ‘Kate Plays Christine’, and ‘Christine’, starring Rebecca Hall and Michael C. Hall, both of which premiered at Sundance earlier this year.
Rather than focusing on Christine Chubbuck herself – as details about the real woman, and people who knew her seem thin on the ground – Robert Greene’s film instead focuses on actress Kate Lyn Shiel trying to learn more about, and understand who Christine was, and what drove her to such desperate action. ‘Kate Plays Christine’ is as much an examination of acting, research and mental health as it is an examination of one woman’s life apart from her glorified and sensational suicide.
Kate Lyn Shiel does well as the centre point of the film. There are times when she looks a little odd while wearing her “Christine” wig and contact lenses, but as a person she comes off as thoughtful and warm, and as the film goes on, it is all too easy to see the impact that the role of Christine is having on her. As well as Shiel, Marty Stonerock, Holland Hayes and Stephanie Coatney play various characters in Christine’s life, and they all talk about how they are managing to relate to Christine through their own life experiences. As well as this, Shiel interviews people who may have encountered Christine, as well as gun shop staff, a historian and a mental health professional; all of whom try to help Kate understand her character more.
Robert Greene has made a fascinating, yet slightly baggy film. There is an interesting look at the craft of acting and what it takes for an actor to transform themselves into a character, as well as the level of research and time it takes to understand a character based on a real person. It is easy to see the impact this research has on Kate as she tries to understand the nature of suicide and suicidal people, and as she admits that she feels a sense of responsibility to Christine, her memory and what she was trying to achieve. The problems with the film arise as interviewees speculate as to why Christine Chubbuck took her own life in such a violent and public manner. The story that keeps coming up is one of a lonely woman desperate for love, but since Chubbuck didn’t leave a note behind or talk publicly about the nature of her depression, this is simply speculation. As well as this, the film is never sure whether it is the story of Kate or Christine, and the final moments of the film seem oddly scripted for a documentary, leaving it feeling muddled and messy.
In all, ‘Kate Plays Christine’ is more a film about the dedication of one actress as she tries to get into a role, than a film about a woman who many believe to be urban legend. Kate Lyn Shiel is infinitely watchable, but the message of the film, and what it is trying to achieve is muddled. Although there is a powerful heart in ‘Kate Plays Christine’, is gets lost as the film tries to be a recreation of suicide, as well as understanding what drives a young woman to take her own life.
Review by Brogen Hayes