MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH! I, DANIEL BLAKE (UK | France | Belgium/15A/100mins) Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Hayley Squires, Dave Johns, Sharon Percy, Brianna Shann, Dylan McKiernan THE PLOT: Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has worked all his life as a carpenter. After a heart attack puts him out of work he tries to claim benefits until his doctor deems him fit to go back to work. Excluded from claiming benefits since a “health care professional” considers him fit to work, Daniel finds his efforts to appeal frustrated. When he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a young woman with two children who is also being denied benefits, the two strike up a sweet friendship borne out of adversity. THE VERDICT: Ken Loach returns to the Cannes Film Festival with a a powerful film about those who find themselves ignored by the institutions put in place to help them. The characters at the heart of the film are engaging and warm, but this is a film filled with tragedy and heartbreak.
Dave Johns and Hayley Squires lead the cast here as ordinary people who don’t want to be in the situation they are in, but find it nigh on impossible to get out. Johns makes Dan a gentle man whose constant source of frustration throughout the film is the feeling that he is being treated as a statistic rather than a person. It is this that leads to all of the character’s justified anger, as well as a fierce desire to protect those he sees as victims of injustice. Haley Squires plays Katie – a woman from London who takes a house in Newcastle for the sake of putting a roof over her kids’ heads – and makes the character strong in her convictions, but overwhelmed by the system that seems determined to ignore her. Both actors’ performances feel honest and raw, and the chemistry between them is sweet and warm. The rest of the cast features Dylan McKiernan and Briana Shann as Katie’s young children, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy and Kema Sikazwe.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty shines a light on the benefits system in the UK, and those who want nothing more than to be self sufficient, but their cries for help are ignored by the State. The dialogue feels warm and comfortable – although the Newcastle accent was subtitled in both French and English for the Cannes audience – and the story plays out in a simple but engaging manner. Tragedies are relatively small in ‘I, Daniel Blake’, as characters find their dignity eroded by a system that ignores them, but this is why these tragedies are so heartbreaking.
Director Ken Loach – whose statement that he has made his last film seems to have been premature – makes ‘I, Daniel Blake’ feel like a look into the lives of ordinary people. The highs of the film are emotion based, as are the lows, and it is this that makes the film so powerful. A feeling of hope in the face of helplessness permeates the film, making the audience root for these likeable characters that could well be any one of us if our luck were to change. There are a couple of issues with pacing here and there however, and some jumps in the timeline toward the end of the film are a little jarring.
In all, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a powerful and damning look at what happens to people when the system ignores them. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are phenomenal in their roles, making ‘I, Daniel Blake’ an emotional gut punch that is heartbreaking in its sincerity. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
QUEEN OF KATWE (USA/PG/124mins) Directed by Mira Nair. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze THE PLOT: Living in a Ugandan slum and selling vegetables to support her mother, Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) doesn’t see how her young life could possibly change, until she is introduced to the game of chess. It is not long before Phiona shows true skill and logical thinking when playing the game; two things that take her far. THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, ‘Queen of Katwe’ is an uplifting story of skill and redemption, filled with likeable characters, but there are times when the film drags its heels slightly, as it tries to cover an extended time period and multiple characters.
Madina Nalwanga leads the cast as Phiona, and she makes the character stubborn, confident and charming. Nalwanga shows great range in the role, although there are times she struggles with the character’s more arrogant traits. Lupita Nyong’o takes on the role of Harriet, Phiona’s mother, and infuses the character with grace and guts.Nyong’o is always a joy to watch on screen, and her performance in ‘Queen of Katwe’ is formidable. David Oyeolwo plays Robert, the missionary who introduces Phiona and otherkids in the area to the game of chess. Oyelowo makes Robert caring and kind, and his relationship with the younger actors in the film is lovely. The rest of the cast features Taryn Kyaze, Ivan Jacobo, Ronald Ssemaganda Ethan Nazario Lubega and Nikita Waligwa.
William Wheeler’s screenplay for ‘Queen of Katwe’ is based on Tim Crothers’ ESPN article and book of the same name. The dialogue and characters in the film are well fleshed out, rounded and feel real, but in trying to cover the time period from 2007 to 2011, there are times when the film feels drawn out. As well as this, there are characters – such as Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kyaze) – who have obviously been put in the film to make a point about life for Phiona and people like her, but they drift in and out of the story sporadically, and feel as though they detract from the story as a whole.
As director Mira Nair has created characters that feel real and utterly relatable, and the chemistry on screen between the cast is delightful, but the pacing of the film lets it down, and it struggles to recover. That said, there is a feel good, joyful quality to the film that feels organic, and as a whole, the film feels honest and authentic.
In all, ‘Queen of Katwe’ is an uplifting tale of stength and skill, and even though the film itself drags its heels and often feels a little messy, the performances are great and ‘Queen of Katwe’ is a film with a lot of heart and tons of soul. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
TROLLS (USA/G/92mins) Directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn. Starring Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor THE PLOT: 20 years after King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) led the Trolls to safety from the miserable Bergens – who can only feel happiness when they eat a Troll – his daughter Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) throws a huge party to celebrate the milestone. The trouble is that the party is too loud and too crazy, and the Bergens finally get wind of where the Trolls have been hiding. When several Trolls are taken, Princess Poppy and the grumpy Troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) set out to save their friends, danger or no danger. THE VERDICT: ‘Trolls’ is inspired by the dolls first created in 1958 by Thomas Dam, which have had crazes of popularity around the world ever since. Although the dolls themselves verge on ugly cute, the Trolls in this new film are definitely closer to cute, while the Bergens have a kind of ugly charm about them.
Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake lead the cast of ‘Trolls’, and do well with what they are given. Kendrick makes Poppy almost painfully happy, and Timberlake’s more cynical, sarcastic troll is the perfect way to balance her out. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski takes on the role of the evil Bergen chef and does well with the character, bringing her own sense of character to the role, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse makes Bergen King Gristle a rounded but somehow likeable character. The rest of the cast features Zooey Deschanel, Gwen Stefani, Jeffrey Tambor, Hames Corden, John Cleese, Quvenzhané Wallis and Russell Brand.
Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger’s screenplay pits happiness against misery in thisbrightly coloured adventure tale, and somehow gives off the message that Trolls are anti-depressants for Bergens… Which is slightly strange for the adults in the audience. As well as this, the constant search for happiness in the film is a little troublesome since life is not just about the good times, but the bad times too, but this is just about resolved with some clever dialogue in the final act. There are times when the story wanders off on tangents, with the Trolls working with a Bergen in her quest for love, which definitely feels as though it is more of a distraction than integral to the plot.
As directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn make ‘Trolls’ brightly coloured and slightly manic for the first half, but the chirpy likeable characters, strong voice work and beautiful animation – which makes everything look as though it is felted or slightly fuzzy – keep the audience intrigued. It is when the Trolls get to Bergen Town that the pacing of the film falters, going off on a tangent that eventually ties into the main plot, but feels like a distraction. The songs are well placed though, and as well as old favourites like Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz, True Colours by Cyndi Lauper and D.A.N.C.E by Justice, there are original songs by Kendrick and Timberlake that add to the peppy tone of the film. There are some laughs to be had in the film, although these mainly come from peripheral characters, but the adventure side of the film – apart from a lag in the middle – certainly delivers.
In all, ‘Trolls’ has a slightly troubling message as the characters search for constant happiness but the look and feel of the film are lovely, the characters well drawn out and the music is a lot of fun. It’s just a shame that the slump in the middle of the film makes it very much feel like a film of two disparate halves. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (USA/12A/101mins) Directed by Greg Mottola. Starring Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Zach Galiafinakis, Matt Walsh THE PLOT: Karen (Isla Fisher) and Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galiafinakis) live a quiet life in the suburbs of Atlanta, but all of this changes when the accomplished, beautiful and charming Joneses move in to the neighbourhood. Suspicious that people like Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) would move into such a sleepy area, she begins to spy on them and eventually discovers the truth; Tim and Natalie are not who they appear to be. THE VERDICT: 2016 has already given us two spy comedies; ‘Central Intelligence’ and ‘Grimsby’, and with Melissa McCarthy’s ‘Spy’ just in our rearview mirrors, it seems like overkill to have another one hit Irish cinemas so soon… Yet here we are.
Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm play the beautiful, charming and overly accomplished Joneses, and they do OK with the roles, which just require them to look pretty, be affectionate with one another and occasionally up the action ante. It’s a shame to see Jon Hamm’s comedic timing wasted here though, as he is trying to read the fine line between comedy and drama without ever settling on either. Zach Galiafinakis and Isla Fisher play the comedic couple to Hamm and Gadot’s straight couple, and are fine in the roles that require them to be bumbling and freaked out all the time. The rest of the cast features Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe and Patton Oswalt.
The biggest movie credit to writer Michael LeSieur’s name so far is the 2006 comedy ‘You, Me and Dupree’, but he has been working on TV in the intervening years. The main trouble with ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ is that it is simply not funny… Although not for the want of trying. It is this forced feel that sucks most of the fun out of the film, so while the film has three actors who have proved their skills at comedy time and again – Jon Hamm, Zach Galiafinakis and Isla Fisher – the wit and sparkle the film needed is sorely missing.
Director Greg Mottola has also been quiet after his run of comedies in the Noughties – ‘Superbad’, ‘Adventureland’ and ‘Paul’ – and this is the first film from him since 2011. Trouble arises for Mottola with the pacing of the film; it is almost an hour in before the story truly gets moving, and although there are some high octane set pieces throughout the film, they do nothing to speed up the pacing. As well as this, seeing the same actors play familiar roles time and time again becomes dull; switching the roles of the Joneses and the Gaffneys could have lent more fun to the film, although anyone who would believe that Gal Gadot is a stay at home mom may have their priorities skewed.
In all, ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ is a familiar spy comedy in a year seemingly filled with spy comedies. It’s a shame to see Galiafinakis and Fisher play familiar roles, and see Jon Hamm’s comedic talents so sorely wasted, although there is a certain charm to Gal Gadot trying to step out of the Wonder Woman box. The jokes don’t land, however, and the pacing is too slow for the film to ever feel like there is anything truly at risk. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (China | USA/12A/118mins) Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Robert Knepper, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge THE PLOT: Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) works as a vigilante on his own terms, seeking out the bad guys and taking them down, often with the help of Majrot Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). When Reacher returns to Washington DC in the hopes of finally meeting Turner, he discovers that she has been relieved of her command and arrested for selling secrets. While trying to get to the bottom of this elaborate story, Reacher discovers he has a 15-year-old daughter who finds herself drawn into trouble when the bad guys come after him. THE VERDICT: Four years after the first ‘Jack Reacher’ film brought us the sinister genius of Werner Herzog as The Zec, Tom Cruise brings another one of his action movie characters back to the screen. Without Herzog and a clear script, however, this sequel feels unnecessary and rather boring.
Tom Cruise leads the cast as Jack Reacher, a man who believes in what is “right” – seemingly only in his own eyes – and someone who the audience learns nothing more about. This makes Reacher a character who is very hard to root for, engage with and spend time with. The same goes for Cobie Smulders playing a slightly altered version of her Marvel character Maria Hill, and Danika Yarosh, who plays Samantha, the girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter. The rest of the cast features Robert Knepper, Aldis Hodge and Holt McCallany.
The screenplay, written by Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz, is based on the 18th of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. The story is rather uninteresting, and often leaves the audience wondering why Reacher inserts himself into situations that don’t concern him. As well as this, the attempt to make the story a conspiracy at high levels of government and the army does not work as it is far too complicated and messy, and the characters are never fleshed out enough for the audience to care about what they are doing and why.
As director Edward Zwick never manages to sort out the pacing of ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’, which means it feels flabby and drawn out in the middle, and not even a decent set piece or two can make up for this. In fact, the set pieces themselves even feel drawn out and rambling, and almost everything that happens has been foreshadowed to some extent earlier film.
In all, there is nothing original or special about ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’, and the garbled story is not gripping enough for the audience to care about characters that we know very little about. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (USA/16/99mins) Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Doug Jones, Elizabeth Reaser, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso THE PLOT: Fifty years before the events of ‘Ouija’, fortune teller Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) buys a Ouija board to spice up her show, which also happens to be a scam. When her young daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) starts playing with the board, she gets in touch with a spirit she believes to be that of her dead father, but when things take a turn for the sinister, it is up to Alice, her eldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso) and priest Father Tom (Henry Thomas) to find out just what or who Doris has been in contact with.
THE VERDICT: This sequel to the 2014 film ‘Ouija’ tries to make up for the first film being critically panned, but while the first hour of the film is an intriguing slow burn, everything goes to hell in the final act… And not in a good way.
Elizabeth Reaser leads the cast as Alice, a single mother and widow trying to come to terms with her husband’s death and the financial pressures that has brought on the family. Reaser does not have a whole lot to do in terms of showing range, but she does fine in the role. Annalise Basso plays teenager Paulina, and she is the voice of dissent in the house when the spirits start talking to Doris. Basso, again, is fine in the role, but does best in the stupendously absurd final act of the film. Lulu Wilson plays nine-year-old Doris, who fans will remember is the main antagonist of the first film, and although it is more than a little cliché that it is a young child that is – again – the creepy one, she does fine in the creepy part of the story. Sadly, everywhere else in the film Wilson shows that she is a young actress who does not have a lot of range, as she seems wooden and silted in the role. Henry Thomas is fine in the role of Father Tom, and brings a gentlenesss and understanding to the film, and a house filled with characters who seem to be always at odds with one another.
Since this is a prequel, screenwriters Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard had the unenviable task of reverse engineering a story for ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ from the events of the 2014 film. The first hour of the film is solid and builds up the feeling of dread and creepy mystery that the film needs, but it is in the revelation of just what – or who – Doris is communing with that the film takes a turn for the ridiculous and begins to fall apart. There is the feeling that Flanagan and Howard carefully constructed the establishing hour of the film, even including a reference to The Exorcist, but ran out of ideas when it came to the final set piece, which undermines the entire story and often feels obvious and unintentionally funny.
As director, Mike Flanagan paces the film well enough, and adds touches from the 1960s to lend an air of authenticity to ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’, including an old Universal Pictures jingle at the start of the film. The actors struggle to make their characters rounded, and even though we are given a lot of back story, they never truly feel fleshed out or real. Add to this a truly one note and cringe-worthy performance from young Wilson, and ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ begins to flounder.
In all, ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ starts off well in terms of story and building a feeling of anticipatory dread, but it seems as though the screenwriting team ran out of ideas, so silly, preposterous and unlikely is the final set piece. It is also hard for the film to shake the feeling that it is completely unnecessary, and ruins what little mystery there was about the first film. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes