CRIMSON PEAK (USA/15A/119mins)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Burn Gorman, Jim Beaver.
THE PLOT: Young author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has long since believed in ghosts, after her mother’s spectre appeared to her at a young age with a cryptic warning. Years later, Edith finds herself swept off her feet by the handsome, mysterious and charming Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After tragedy strikes, Edith desperately wants to escape the memories of home, and sets out to make a new one with Thomas and his inscrutable sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), in a crumbling mansion that is filled with holes, memories and blood coloured clay.
THE VERDICT: There has been much talk of director Guillermo del Toro returning to the horror genre with ‘Crimson Peak’, after the action filled Pacific Rim. Bad news for horror fans then, since ‘Crimson Peak’ is certainly moody, atmospheric and filled with ghosts, but it is more of a Gothic mystery, than Gothic horror.
Mia Wasikowska returns to the type of role she does so well; young and polite, but knowledgeable and slightly feisty. Wasikowska is the heart and soul of the film, and she carries the story ably, although some of the decisions her character makes are simply baffling. Tom Hiddleston, as we all know, does creepy and charming incredibly well. Hiddleston dials back the Loki levels of sinister to a more manageable level, but makes it clear that there is a lot more going on under the surface of this character. Jessica Chastain is cold and correct as Lucille. Again, it is clear there is more going on with her than meets the eye and although it is fairly obvious what this is, it is safe to say this is the fault of the screenwriting as opposed to the actress. The rest of the cast is made up of Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver and Burn Gorman.
The screenplay, written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, starts out promising a good old fashioned ghost scream fest, but after the strange warning from Edith’s mother’s ghost, the film turns its attention to the more mundane and earthly dangers of the Sharpe family. There is quite a lot of foreshadowing in the film – ‘Perhaps we only notice things when the time comes for us to see them’ opines Edith at one point – and although the film has a delightfully creepy feel, it soon becomes clear that the living are far more dangerous than the dead.
As director, it is clear that del Toro was channelling psychological thrillers from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, such as ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Rebecca’ in order to tell this tale of a young woman in a domineering house. The scares are actually few and far between throughout the film, and the ghosts lose their ability to make the audience jump once it becomes clear that they are not the ones to be feared. The film is well paced and beautifully designed and although there are times when it is easy to see where this gothic tale is headed, ‘Crimson Peak’ is still an enjoyable and visually sumptuous ride.
In all, ‘Crimson Peak’ is not the horror it is billed as; it is more a Gothic mystery inspired by ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Rebecca’. Still, the story is well told, the central trio of actors shine and although the story feels familiar and predictable at times, ‘Crimson Peak’ is for the most part, an engaging and beautiful film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE LOBSTER (UK/Ireland/15A/118mins)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Jessica Barden, Angeliki Papoulia.
THE PLOT: Set in the not-too-distant future, we meet David (Farrell), newly single and therefore destined for The Hotel, where singletons are given 45 days to find a new partner, or face being turned into an animal of their choice. Once there, his brother (now a dog) by his side, David makes friends with The Lisping Man (Reilly) and The Limping Man (Whishaw) whilst trying to fend off the advances of The Biscuit Woman (Jensen). Of greater concern is the daily shooting party, every loner in the woods shot adding an extra day to your search for true love.
Realising that true love may never actually come his way at such a place, David realises he’s got to turn rogue…
THE VERDICT: Okay, so five stars might be pushing it just a little, especially given that ‘The Lobster’ is about 20 minutes too long, and would appear to get a little headless in its second chapter, but there is so much mischief, invention and sublime black comedy afoot here, five stars might just get you off your fat, jaded asses and into a cinema to see this half-Irish film that ain’t half-bad. In fact, it’s half-perfect.
It’s ‘Battle Royale’ meets ‘The Office’, Michael Haneke does ‘Fawlty Towers’, a film where Kubrick, Kafka and Keaton get it on. Or, if you want to be a little less arty and arsey about it, The Lobster is a damn good Charlie Kaufman film.
As with much of Kaufman’s work, Greek director Lanthimos (‘Dogtooth’, ‘Alps’) has a habit of letting the head-wrecking rule over the heartbreak, as our everyday rituals, traditions and social norms are turned upside down to see what’s really underneath. And just like Kaufman, Lanthimos manages to find a rich vein of humour in the absurdity of those social norms, and it’s the artificiality of these everyday situations that any actor worth their salary is more than happy to improv the hell out of. Farrell is committed enough here to put on a major paunch for the middle-aged and rejected David, and this might just be the film that finally stamps his new career as character actor.
Review by Paul Byrne
PAN (USA | UK | Australia/PG/111mins)
Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Garret Hedlund, Amanda Seyfreid, Cara Delevigne,Kathy Burke, Adeel Akhtar.
THE PLOT: In this origins story, Peter (Levi Miller) is kidnapped from our world during World War II, and taken to Neverland where he must mine pixie dust for the fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). It’s not long before Peter gets himself into trouble and it is revealed that he is destined to become a hero; a mantle he doesn’t understand and almost certainly doesn’t want.
THE VERDICT: Before we go any further, it has to be said that I am a massive fan of JM Barrie’s original story Peter Pan, and am even a fan of Steven Spielberg’s sequel ‘Hook’. Both of these stories have a sense of fun and danger and, although the ante is definitely upped with Pan, the feeling of wonder, danger and adventure are sorely lacking.
Hugh Jackman plays Blackbeard as a pantomime circus villain, which he does well, but it doesn’t always fit the tone of the film. It’s hard to tell whether Jackman is too caricatured or the film too lacklustre at times. Garrett Hedlund channels Indiana Jones in his version of Hook, which alternates between being a good and a bad thing. Rooney Mara is consistent as Tiger Lily, and obviously has a lot of fun playing this bad ass and charming princess. Levi Miller really tries his hardest as the title character, but it is difficult to tell whether the youngster can’t act or is badly directed, so strange is the tone he creates. The rest of the cast includes Amanda Seyfried as Peter’s mother, Kathy Burke as a pantomime nun, Cara Delevigne as various mermaid and Adeel Akhtar as a charming and on point Smee.
The story, written by Jason Fuchs, doesn’t always capture the otherworldly feel of Neverland and, combined with the structure, leaves the film feeling episodic. There is tons of exposition, which feels awkward and clunky, and although all the elements are there, the film never quite comes together. As well as this, setting the film in World War II for the sake of a set piece seriously messes with JM Barrie’s story, narration comes and goes, and the pacing us uneven.
Director Joe Wright seems to have tried to make ‘Pan’ a fun romp for kids, with tons of slapstick and over the top silliness. The trouble is that chickens laying eggs in zero gravity and the circus pirates don’t seem to fit into the rest of the world created in the film. Add to this some frankly weird singing of Nirvana and Ramones songs, obvious references to ‘Moulin Rouge’ and set pieces that seem to come out of nowhere, and ‘Pan’ is a mess. Thankfully the final act finally gets the tone right and is a lot of fun, and Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is lovely as usual, even if the spinning, bouncing point of view shots are overused.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE PROGRAM (UK | France/15A/103mins)
Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace, Elaine Cassidy, Laura Donnelly
THE PLOT: Lance Armstrong was once one of the most famous and decorated athletes in the world, with seven Tour De France victories under his belt. All of this came crashing down in 2013, when he finally admitted to the doping allegations that had plagued him for years. Director Stephen Frears takes us behind the scenes of the man, the myth and the cheat.
THE VERDICT: Just over 18 months have passed since Alex Gibney’s documentary about the incredible life and lies of Lance Armstrong – ‘The Armstrong Lie’ – was released, and although he seems to be well able to laugh at himself – he tweeted an image of the Cards Against Humanity ‘Lance Armstrong’s Missing Testicle’ card in 2014 – he has largely faded form public consciousness. We have moved on to the next big thing. Kim Kardashian is pregnant again, donchano!? Why Stephen Frears’ film is necessary is unclear, but it is a clever and well-constructed piece of cinema nonetheless.
Ben Foster does a remarkable job as the manipulative, ambitious and ultimately dangerous Lance Armstrong. Not only does he look remarkably like the real man, he has got his mannerisms down pat, and makes Armstrong charming, with a layer of danger underneath the surface. Chris O’Dowd obviously has fun playing the tenacious and suspicious David Walsh and Jesse Plemons brings some sympathy to the film as Floyd Landis, a cyclist who was swept up in Armstrong’s wake. The rest of the cast includes Lee Pace, Elaine Cassidy, Laura Donnelly and Dustin Hoffman in a small role.
John Hodge’s screenplay is based on David Walsh’s book ‘The Race to Truth: Blowing the whistle on Lance Armstrong and cycling’s doping culture’, but although there is more focus given to Walsh’s investigation of Armstrong than there has perhaps been in other films, there is really nothing in The Program that we didn’t already know. The science is made accessible and Armstrong is shown to be as menacing as he was rumoured to be but those who have followed Armstrong’s case will not learn any new information.
As director, Stephen Frears has created an intriguing film with a rock and roll soundtrack, underlining Armstrong’s image as a rock and roll cyclist at the height of his fame. However, songs such as ‘Everybody Knows’ by Leonard Cohen, and Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ sum up the central problem with the film; it is well acted, well put together and cleverly uses archive footage of Armstrong himself, but we already know this story.
In all, ‘The Program’ is really nothing new. It is well acted – Foster in particular is excellent – well put together and an almost terrifying example of how a manipulative and ambitious man can make it to the top, but with the Oprah interview only three years ago, and The Armstrong Lie barely in our rearview mirror, it could be said that perhaps Frears should have allowed some time to lapse, so audiences don’t suffer Armstrong fatigue… The way we did with the constant back and forth of allegations and denials.
Review by Brogen Hayes
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (USA/PG/89mins)
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Starring Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Rob Riggle, Steve Buscemi, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman.
THE PLOT: It’s time to return to the hotel for monsters, ghouls and vampires this October, with the sequel to 2012’s ‘Hotel Transylvania’. Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) has married her human love Jonathan (Andy Samberg), and when their son Denis (Sunny Sandler) is born they have until his fifth birthday to discover whether he is human or vampire. The trouble is that if Denis is not a vampire, Mavis wants to leave the hotel and go to the human world, something that Dracula is dead set against.
THE VERDICT: ‘Hotel Transylvania’ was a decent enough idea for a film, which lost something in translation. This new sequel seems to be aimed at the smallest of the little ‘uns in the audience, which is all well and good, but there is nothing here for the adults who will invariably find themselves watching the film.
Adam Sandler returns, doing his best Steve Carell impression, and the rest of the cast pretty much pick up where they left off, and for the most part, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Rob Riggle and David Spade do fine. Newcomers Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are good in their roles, playing on the natural tones of their voices, and Keegan-Michael Key takes over the role of Murray from Cee-Lo Green.
The story is fairly straight forward, but comes across in strange ways. At times it is difficult to tell whether Dracula wants to hold on to his only daughter or protect the Dracula family line, so obsessed is he with his young grandson. The film spends a lot of time jumping in and out of the hotel, but much of the time events seem to just be a gateway to a musical montage, which quickly grows tiresome. As well as this, the idea of an over protective father holding on to his family, and the traditions that he grew up with has been seen on screen so many times, that there is little here that feels fresh or new.
Director Genndy Tartakovsky, who has also returned to ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’, seems to want to make the film as manic and madcap as possible. Colours, lights and 3D whatsits fly toward the camera throughout the film, the music is bubblegum pop on loud and the slapstick gets a little tiresome after a while. There are some nice hints to vampire flicks of the past – including Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ adaptation – and vampire lore, but there is very little going on under the surface here, and surprisingly few laughs.
In all, ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ is aimed at the tiny kids. There is no shame in this, but there is very little new, sophisticated or engaging for the older members of the audience. The voice cast do fine, the story is silly and the whole shebang feels like being thrown headfirst into a pile of glowsticks at a tween party; loud, bright and superficial.
Review by Brogen Hayes
SUFFRAGETTE (UK | France/12A/106mins)
Directed by Sarah Gavron. Starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
THE PLOT: In London of 1912, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) finds herself drawn out of her quiet life with her husband and child, and into the struggle of the women campaigning for the vote, and in the process, loses everything.
THE VERDICT: The story of women struggling for universal suffrage is one that greatly effected the world that we live in today but, although Suffragette is well acted and produced, there are times when the audience can’t help but hanker for a more fluid film that would do this campaign justice.
Carey Mulligan is on fine form as Maud, a woman who finds herself drawn into the struggle, almost against her will, and loses everything in the process. Although she becomes oddly more gentrified as the film goes on, Mulligan carries the story ably and gives an unusually feisty and engaging performance. It’s great to see Helena Bonham Carter step away from the world of fantasy, and into a role of Edith Ellyn, a strong woman with the courage of her convictions, Anne Marie Duff as Violet is a force to be reckoned with and, although her presence lingers over the entire film, Meryl Streep is not really given a chance to be anything other than a cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst. Ben Wishaw does well as Maud’s husband Sonny, and Brendan Gleeson makes Inspector Arthur Steed a fully rounded and human character who upholds the law, even though he may not agree with it.
Screenwriter Abi Morgan, who previously brought us ‘Shame’ and ‘The Iron Lady’, seems to struggle slightly with the story for ‘Suffragette’. Telling the story through the eyes of an ordinary woman drawn into the struggle, rather than the known name of Emmeline Pankhurst, is a strong move, and one that works for the film. Watching the character’s entire life – her home, her son, her husband, her job – stripped away from her hammers home the sacrifices these women made for what they believed to be right, but the film struggles as soon as it widens its scope from Maud Watts into the rest of the cast. Emmeline Pankhurst appears only once, Helena Bonham Carter’s character becomes quickly radicalised and Anne Marie Duff’s character seems to give up too easily.
As director, Sarah Gavron – whose last film, the documentary ‘Village at the End of the World’ played at the London Film Festival in 2012 – struggles to put all of these worthy pieces together in an engaging and coherent manner. Important scenes seem to be just skimmed over, while smaller – and admittedly endearing scenes – are given too much prominence. It’s as though Gavron believed we know this story, but some parts needed to be hammered home hard. As well as this, the pacing is messy, making the film seem longer than it is, and the ending point seems to have been deliberately done so the film wraps up with a whimper, rather than a bang.
In all, ‘Suffragett’e takes an interesting angle on the issue of women’s suffrage in England, and focusing on a lesser known character gave the film space to examine the impact the campaign had on the poor and uneducated women who stood up for what was right. The performances are strong, but many of the characters are not given a chance to develop. This, combined with messy pacing, turns ‘Suffragette’ from a fascinating film into a mild curiosity.
Review by Brogen Hayes
CENSORED VOICES (Israel | Germany/TBC/84mins)
Directed by Mor Loushy.
THE PLOT: In the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, novelist Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira borrowed a reel to reel tape recorder, and interviewed those coming home from the war about their experiences. The tapes severely undermined the ideal of Israeli heroism, and were censored. Now, almost 50 years later, those who recorded the tapes listen back to their words as the tapes are released for the first time.
THE VERDICT: ‘Censored Voices’ is an interesting documentary; not only does it capture the feeling of Israelis in the aftermath of the divisively successful war, but also the feeling of those who fought in the war, not always knowing what they were fighting for.
Director Mor Loushy has blended together the audio from the tapes with archive footage and newsreels from ABC. What emerges is a picture that could be painted of any war; exhausted, bewildered soldiers who have little faith in what they are doing. Loushy makes sure that the idea of soldiers wanting fulfil their ‘historic duty’ and up national morale clashes with the feeling they have in the immediate aftermath is underlined. Full of pride going in, disillusioned and feeling ‘evil’ coming home is quite the contrast, and one that comes across strongly in the film.
Having the people who recorded the tapes – Ilan Lotan, Yossi Limor, Pinchas Leevitan and Elisha and Amitai Shelem, among others – listen to their words almost 50 years later is also an interesting idea. There is the feeling of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence about it all, and the changes wrought within the men in the intervening years becomes apparent. That said, there is not enough of this, and enough discussion of the years since the war for the film to be as impactful as it could have been. This means that the film becomes a curiosity, even though the fall out from this short and violent war is still being felt.
In all, ‘Censored Voices’ is a film that would have been hard hitting at the time, but now becomes a meditation on war as a whole. The tapes are filled with honesty and unflinching statements, and contrasting this with the men’s responses now is a strong idea, but there is not enough time and focus given to this for the film to move from curiosity to a compelling film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE HIT PRODUCER (Ireland/16/107mins)
Directed by Kevin de la Isla O’Neill. Starring Michelle Doherty, Neill Fleming, Fergus Kealy, Susan Barrett, Rory Mullen, Karl Shiels, Bryan Baker, Blake Norton)
THE PLOT: Struggling to find the finances for the latest film from hotshot young Irish director Roger Mile (Norton), film producer Katelin Ballantine (Doherty) is willing to be oogled by sleazy money-man Felim Shaw (John Meany) in order to get the money needed. Only Felim is a money-man with bad connections, and Katelin is soon given a do-or-die option to shoot the battered Shaw in front of two crime bosses he’s fallen foul of. Soon, Katelin and former-buddy-turned-heavy Edmund (Fleming) are fighting for survival on the mean streets of Dublin, having to shoot their way out of a dark, deep hole of drugs, hitmen, crooked cops and jerk-happy fixers…
THE VERDICT: With the budget of your average hostage tape, Irish-Mexican filmmaker Kevin de la Isla O’Neill (who has spent the last 9 years working in just about every department of the Irish film and TV industry) has managed to make an incredibly slick Dublin-set thriller. It’s also incredibly ridiculous, for the most part, with the sort of dialogue that would make even Jeffrey Archer laugh (“He’s dirtier than a bi-sexual nymph!”).
On the plus side, Doherty does a decent Nikita, and the movie looks great, the latter feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that this crowd-funded film only had €18,000 to play with. For just about everyone involved, The Hit Producer will prove to be more of a solid calling card than any great big box-office hit for their CV. Having won a staggering eight awards at last September’s IndieFEST in California, The Hit Producer is nonetheless opening in just one cinema, Dublin’s Movies@Dundrum. The next film from O’Neill should be interesting…
Review by Paul Byrne