We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE JUDGE, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and THE BEST OF ME…
THE JUDGE (USA/14A/142mins)
Directed by David Dobkin. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thorton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester.
THE PLOT: When his mother dies, Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reluctantly returns to his hometown for her funeral. While there, he catches up with his old flame Sam (Vera Farmiga) and tries his best not to get involved with his father; the town’s judge. Just as he tries to leave, however, Hank discovers that his father (Robert Duvall) is suspected of murder and is drawn back into family life.
THE VERDICT: Downey Jr is on great form in THE JUDGE, and obviously has a whale of a time playing a confrontational and aggressive lawyer. Robert Duvall also seems to have a great time playing an elderly man with troubles and Vera Farmiga does well as Sam, Hank’s childhood sweetheart. Jeremy Strong brings some charm to the screen as Hank’s younger brother Dale, a man who seems to have a learning disability, which leads to a lot of the film’s comedy and many of its touching moments. The rest of the cast is made up of Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio and Dax Shepard.
The screenplay, written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque errs on the side of the familiar and the slightly schmaltzy. As well as being pretty much GARDEN STATE with a murder trial, the entire affair feels incredibly familiar. Add to this the 141-minute running time, and there is a whole lot of something, and a large amount of nothing going on here. All that said though, there is something warm and endearing about THE JUDGE; perhaps simply the fact that Downey Jr is such a charismatic actor, or the fact that for all its familiarity, this is a story with a warm heart… Even if some of the story choices are more than a little bit questionable.
David Dobkin has a tendency to make a certain type of comedy, so it is good to see the director stretch himself with this tale of familial strife. That said though, he really does allow Downey Jr to dominate proceedings, leaving many of the other characters out in the cold. For all the film’s stupidly long running time though, things do keep moving at a decent pace, and although Downey Jr overpowers many of the other characters, he makes Hank a well rounded character that the audience can’t help but root for.
THE JUDGE feels like we have seen this story told a million times before, and suffers through association with films like GARDEN STATE and, in a strange way, GROSSE POINTE BLANK. Downey Jr is on top form and the rest of the cast do well enough what little they have to do. The running time is ridiculous, and the film struggles through the first act, but underneath the messy elements, there is a warm but slightly strange heart at the centre of THE JUDGE.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE BEST OF ME (USA/12A/117mins)
Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald McRaney, Caroline Goodall, Clarke Peters, Sebastian Arcelus, Jon Tenney.
THE PLOT: Having been high school sweethearts, when Dawson (Marsden) and Amanda (Monaghan) meet up once again back in their old hometown twenty years later, the spark is clearly still there. Only trouble is, a spark isn’t the only thing Amanda has with her – she also has a husband and a kid. Having been lured home by the wishes of Dawson’s surrogate father, having left instructions for both to help carry out his funeral, the duo realise that they’re being together now is unpopular to some of the townsfolk as it was back then. Most of the murmurings is once again coming from Amanda’s mother, none too happy at the idea of her society daughter roughing it with a jailbird. Will their love find a way through? Or will Dawson’s crazy cousin, handily called Crazy Ted, get to put a little death in their way? I really wish I was making this crap up.
THE VERDICT: There are lots of reasons to like this movie. The highly underrated James Marsden for one (for Enchanted alone, he deserves our lifelong love and affection). The equally underrated Michelle Monaghan ain’t too shabby either, being far more Rachel McAdams than Kate Hudson when it came to her glittering comedienne roles. Also, this is based on the book by Nicolas Sparks, the man behind The notebook, and who actually seems to be a frank and honest, and self-deprecating, writer. Which is rarely the case when it comes to romance novels.
All this love hits something of a brick wall though when confronted with the finished product. Mainly because THE BEST OF ME is a piece of crap. A big piece of crap, at that.
Review by Paul Byrne
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (USA/12A/104mins)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Danny Woodburn, Abby Elliott, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Pioszek, Alan Ritchson, Tohoru Masamune.
THE PLOT: When ace reporter April O’Neill (Fox) begins to notice notorious criminal gang the Foot Clan keep getting their wrists slaps by some mysterious assailants, she finally manages to track down these crime-fighting crusaders on a rooftop. Where she discovers that New York City’s latest heroes are Raphael (Ritchson), Michelangelo (Fisher), Leonardo (Ploszek, Knoxville) and Donatello (Howard) – aka The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Swearing O’Neill to secrecy, the reporter soon realises that the foursome must be the same four turtles her late father had experimented on 15 years ago. Letting her dad’s old lab partner, Eric Sacks (Fichtner), know about her find isn’t the smartest move by April; Sacks is the adoptive son of Foot Clan boss Shredder (Masamune)…
THE VERDICT: Cowadunga! Something of a spectacular missed opportunity, everyone’s favourite kung-fu-fighting, pizza-loving, radio-active marine reptiles getting a woefully half-assed reboot after seven years away. And it may be another seven years before we hear from our little green crime fighters again, once the word spreads on this dud. Steve Barron’s 1990 original may have been a cheap-ass production, but, what it lack in slickness it more than made up for in smarts, and satire, and the undiluted silliness. Barron also had the shock of the new advantage, the tongue-in-cheek creations a genuine slap-in-the-mainstream back in 1990.
Now, it’s a Michael Bay-produced reboot. With his old buddy, former movie star Megan Fox, taking the nice-pizza-ass human lead, and still managing to get acted off the screen by 6ft reptiles. Even though one of them is voiced by Johnny Knoxville. Whoopi Goldberg is in there too. Just in case you were wondering if Michael Bay might have upped his game for the relaunch of a possible multi-billion-dollar franchise.
Review by Paul Byrne
SHOWRUNNERS: THE ART OF RUNNING A TV SHOW (Ireland/USA/12A/90mins)
Directed by Des Doyle. Starring JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon, Terrence Winter, Damon Lindelof, Steven S. DeKnight, Hart Hanson.
THE PLOT: A documentary looking at the showrunner, the name given to those responsible overseeing a TV series, Irish filmmaker Des Doyle talks to such Hollywood heavyweights as JJ Abrams (aka Spielberg’s Mini-Me), Joss Whedon (the Buffy, Angel and Firefly creator who still seems like a gatecrashing fanboy), Terrence Winter (the droll showrunner for Boardwalk Empire, and part of The Sopranos clan) and little Damon Lindelof (who helped spearhead the showrunner-as-superstar shift in Hollywood after he and Lost co-creator Carlton Cuse stepped forward to try and explain their mysterious – and ultimately deeply unsatisfying – TV smash). It’s the smaller fries who give the most away, and who have the easy humour about their high-flying, low-survival-rate profession…
THE VERDICT: A self-confessed TV nerd, Irish filmmaker Des Doyle got pretty used to people laughing at his idea of talking to some of Hollywood’s biggest TV showrunners for his little ol’ documentary. But, his persistence, and fandom, eventually paid off, and Doyle got to sit down with some of those blessed individuals who have sucked up many of your TV hours over the last decade. Getting to see the wizards behind such shows as The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Star Trek, Buffy and so many other huggable hits, well, it’s TV nerd heaven.
Or, at least, it should be. There’s only so much to reveal here, as each hardy soul wavers between self-deprecation of the no-one-really-knows-what-they’re-doing variety or humbly accepts that what they do is incredibly difficult, and highly skilled. It’s the anecdotes and asides that make Showrunners interesting, those revealing quips that reflect this particular life in this particular bubble. Unfortunately, no one goes full Larry Sanders breakdown here; we never really get to hear anything that we don’t already know.
Review by Paul Byrne
NORTHERN SOUL (UK/16/102mins)
Directed by Elaine Constantine. Starring Elliot James Langridge, Josh Whitehouse, Steve Coogan.
THE PLOT: John (Elliot James Langridge) is considered by his family and those in his Lancashire neighbourhood to be a bit of a reclusive oddball. When his mother convinces him to go to a youth club to try and make some friends, John becomes fascinated with Matt (Josh Whitehouse), his music taste and his dance moves. The pair become fast friends, and dream of going to America to procure records that no-one in England has ever heard.
THE VERDICT: Remember that fantastic video for Moloko’s Familiar Feeling? The one where Paddy Considine donned his flares and showed the world he could throw some Northern Soul moves like the best of them? Well that was directed by Northern Soul’s helmer Elaine Constantine and, it could be argued, is a more succinct and clearer version of whatever the heck is going on in this film.
The film starts well enough, with John struggling to find friends and interests in the world on 1974 Lancashire; who can blame him? Once he actually gets into the Northern Soul scene, however, everything goes to hell. Montages show an unspecified amount of time passing, characters change personality and conviction all too rapidly, and an overdose of drugs leads to a quick nap on the bathroom floor before moar dancing.
There is little doubt that Northern Soul was a cultural phenomenon, and influenced many people, and there is definitely a story to be told about the drug scene at the time, as well as the fascination with certain fashions, music styles and friendships at the time. Elaine Constantine’s film tries to envelop all of this, and just ends up chaotic. Characters are given no time to develop – other than Langridge’s John, who simply turns into a ball of rage – and the drug storyline introduced in muffled dialogue. This changes the course of the film entirely, but the audience is left wondering what happened because much of the dialogue is unintelligible… As someone from North Yorkshire who still has an ear for the accent, even I struggled to understand what was being said at times.
Constantine’s script is a mess, as is her direction; she focuses too much on the dance scene, never truly explains the drug sub-plot and never gives her characters a chance to grow or change, until a car crash-ex-machina seems to do her job for her.
In all, NOTHERN SOUL is a mess. There is a story to be told about the scene, but this is not it. Audiences are likely to come out knowing even less than they did going in. Not even Steve Coogan can save this debacle, try though he might. Perhaps its best to watch that Moloko video again or, at a push, Duffy’s Mercy video.
Review by Brogen Hayes
PALO ALTO (USA/TBC/100mins)
Directed by Gia Coppola. Starring James Franco, Val Kilmer, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff
THE PLOT: April (Emma Roberts) is a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, who is struggling with her flirty relationship with a teacher, and the feelings she has for her friend Teddy (Jack Kilmer). Teddy is constantly overshadowed by his friend Fred (Nat Wolff), and goes along with his ideas for the sake of acceptance. These three people have to figure out where they belong in the world, and how their lives align together.
THE VERDICT: PALO ALTO is based on a book of short stories by James Franco – who also stars in the film – specifically, a series titled April. While it seems that this story is about the choices we make as teenagers, and the relationship we form at a relatively young age, the film drifts and meanders through the tale, meaning that the story is lost is a sea of style.
The cast does well with what they are given, but none is ever really given a chance to flesh out their character beyond stereotypes. Emma Roberts makes April slightly awkward and naïve, the type of teenager who would easily fall for the affections of someone in power. James Franco never allows Mr B to be anything other than creepy; his attention on Roberts is entirely inappropriate, and the dialogue he spouts feels as though it should have been written for a 14 year old boy. Jack Kilmer does slightly better as Teddy, in fact he is the only character who seems to go through any progression at all, even if it is just deciding he doesn’t want to put up with his friend’s shenanigans any more.
The story meanders and winds, making the film a series of scenes in search of a movie, as opposed to a cohesive whole. There are interesting moments, but not enough to hold the audience’s attention, and certainly not enough to justify this being made into a film. We all know, having been there, that teenagers go through some weird stuff, but making Teddy and Fred cut down a tree doesn’t make them unusual, it just makes them jerks.
Gia Coppola seems completely bewildered in her feature debut as director, and never pulls the film into a cohesive whole, and never allows her characters to be anything other than paper-thin stereotypes. The film looks good, but this does not make it interesting or engaging in any way. As well as this, by being – and casting – those from acting dynasties (Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, James Franco), Gia Coppola manages to make Palo Alto a watered down curiosity, but not much else.
PALO ALTO is a film that tries to encapsulate the teenage experience of girls looking for love, and boys just being jerks, but manages to be almost nothing at all. There are hints that things could develop into a coherent story, but this never happens, leaving Palo Alto to meander on screen with no real purpose.
Review by Brogen Hayes