We review this week’s new cinema releases, including GONE GIRL and DRACULA UNTOLD
GONE GIRL (USA/16/149mins)
Directed by David Fincher. Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit. Missy Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski.
THE PLOT: It’s June 5th 2005, and Nick Dunne isn’t looking forward to his 5th wedding anniversary. So much so that, early that morning, he’d rather be down in the hometown pub, The Bar, that he owns, and that his sister, Margo (Coon), runs. His wife, Amy (Pike), likes to present her husband with cryptic clues to a treasure hunt every anniversary, and the novelty has worn off for Nick. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and Nick has found himself increasingly unable to work out Amy’s clues. Which may have something to do with the fact that he’s grown to hate her. Despite their crazy, sexy, cool early years, from their meet-cute first kiss in a back alley blizzard from a sugar factory to the conspiratorial dislike of her parents, hugely successful, and wealthy, through the Amazing Amy books, which told a much happier, sweeter, far more successful version of their daughter’s life. Those were the reasons, that was New York, but now, having moved to the suburbs when Nick’s mum fell ill, the couple have grown desperately apart. So, when Nick returns from his morning bourbon to find his wife gone and the house showing signs of a struggle, he’s both shocked, and a little happy. Something Detective Rhonda Boney (Dickens) and her deputy, Officer Jim Gilpin (Fugit), pick up. And then, so do the neighbours. And the media. The man had everything to gain from his wife’s disappearance. Soon, even Margo begins to have her doubts as the evidence starts mounting up against her brother…
THE VERDICT: Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestseller, Gone Girl is perfect David Fincher material. On the surface, this is traditional thriller material, but proceedings take more than one Hitchcockian turn early on, and the twists then just keep on coming. Gillian Flynn has a lot of fun exploring just how relationships work, the pretence involved in seduction, the slow decay of that pretence and the resentment that comes with the realisation that not only is your partner not the person you fell in love with, but, worse, neither are you.
Along the way, there’s much to enjoy here, a surprising amount of laughs and some bullseyes on the bullshit – Missy Pyle’s Nancy Grace-esque TV shit-stirrer being one of the most blatant. At heart though, this is a sweet whodunnit. Just don’t bring your loved one along if they’re not really all that loved anymore.
Review by Paul Byrne
DRACULA UNTOLD (USA/15A/92mins)
Directed by Gary Shore. Starring Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper.
THE PLOT: Having spent many years in the Turkish army against his will, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) has returned home to rule Transylvania in peace. When Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), commander of the Turks and former friend of Vlad demands 1,000 Transylvanian boys – including Vlad’s son – to boost his army, Vlad goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his kingdom and his family.
THE VERDICT: There are so many different vampire movies and myths now that it is hard to keep track of them all. Universal. However, has decided to go back to the beginning, and tell the tale of the historical figure that allegedly inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Vlad the Impaler.
Luke Evans takes on the role of Vlad/Dracula in his first leading role in a movie, and does a fine job. Evans’ Dracula is tortured and scared, as well as formidable and more than a little scary. Evans certainly looks vampiric in the role, and brings enough presence to the screen to make the character work. Sarah Gadon takes a step away from her Cronenbergian roles, and takes on the character of Mirena, Vlad’s wife. She doesn’t have an awful lot to do, but she looks good doing it. Dominic Cooper camps up the role of Mehmed; one so similar to those we have seen him play before that it is hard to distinguish this from any of his other roles. Charles Dance has a lot of fun as the Master, and even though he chews through every piece of scenery available, his scenes are menacing and entertaining.
The screenplay, written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, and based on Stoker’s characters blends historical fact and fiction together to give us an understanding of Vlad before he became the tortured romantic he has been recently portrayed as. The film plays with the notions put forward in Stoker’s work, and stretches these out so that Vlad can turn into bats at will, and so a sequel is nicely set up. There are characters that feel entirely surplus to requirement, however, and the vampire myth is never fully explained.
As director, Gary Shore puts all of his weight behind the action sequences, and plays with the physicality of the central character. The trouble arises in the pacing of the film, which seems to rattle along almost too quickly, so that developments feel as though they happen too quickly, and characters are never fully developed. As well as this, there are times when the film feels like a long form music video in its over the top set pieces which, while spectacular, feel as though they were edited for the trailer and not the movie as a whole.
DRACULA UNTOLD is a fun and entertaining origins story of the character we know as Dracula. Luke Evans does well in the leading role, but the rest of the cast struggle to step out from his shadow. First time director Gary Shore directs capably, but there are times when the pacing stumbles, characters feel superfluous and the set pieces threaten to engulf the movie. Still, a Dracula who wins a swordfight by turning into bats? What’s not to love?!
Review by Brogen Hayes
LIFE AFTER BETH (USA/15A/89mins)
Directed by Jeff Baena. Starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Anna Kendrick.
THE PLOT: What would you do if your recently deceased girlfriend reappeared, seemingly alive, with no recollection of her ‘death’? This is the problem faced by Zach (Dane DeHaan) in Life After Beth, when Beth (Aubrey Plaza) returns and is hidden away by her delighted but seemingly clueless parents. It is not long before Zach realises something is terribly wrong, but trying to negotiate and reason with the recently deceased – and grotesquely horny – Beth proves harder than he would like.
THE PLOT: Zombies, man. Like vampires a few years ago, zombies are absolutely everywhere at the moment. TV, film, books… Not real life though – I don’t think – ‘cos that would be horrific. Anyway, Life After Beth is another twist on the zombie story, another play with zombie lore, and another attempt that almost works.
The cast here is stupendous; John C. Reilly, Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Cheryl Hines and Anna Kendrick prove that they have a knack for making great choices when it comes to scripts. Plaza plays up the confused and horny zombie to brilliant effect, Reilly grabs onto the idea of father in denial and runs with it, and DeHaan carries the movie – and provides the voice of reason – as a young man delighted his girlfriend is not really dead, but unsure what this actually means. Kendrick has fun with the giggly, vapid post-teenager Erica; Jim O’Heir and Adam Pally – last seen on TV and um… Iron Man 3 – turn up in small roles.
The story, written by Jeff Baena is yet another twist on the zombie story; what if the dead came back seemingly as themselves, and the zombie plague required a gestation period of sorts, before striking in full force. The idea plays with the notion that people in walking dead type production have no trouble in shooting their zombie loved ones in the head. The trouble is that once all of this is established, the story really relies on the way it ends, and the ending is one that fizzles out, leaving the film with tons of unanswered questions – why do the zombies like attics? – and an unfinished feel.
As director, Jeff Baena never quite gets the balance between comedy and melodrama right, leaving the audiences feeling as though they are laughing at the wrong things. The performances are strong, but the world of the film never feels fully fleshed out enough (sorry!) to support them. There are tons of great moments, but these never gel together enough to make Life After Beth live up to its potential.
LIFE AFTER BETH is a film with a clever central idea, and a wonderful cast that do a heck of a job, but without a proper ending, and massive unresolved questions, LIFE AFTER BETH is two thirds a good movie, and one third an unholy mess. Shame, I have such a soft spot for Aubrey Plaza.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DOLPHIN TALE 2 (USA/G/107mins)
Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Starring Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr.
THE PLOT: Although she was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and fitted with a prosthetic tail to help her swim, Winter the dolphin’s life takes a turn for the complicated when her companion dolphin dies. It’s against US law to have a dolphin without company in an aquarium, so the staff of the aquarium must find a new friend for Winter before she is moved to a new home.
THE VERDICT: DOLPHIN TALE was not really a great movie, what it was though, was a little overly sweet but somehow engaging story of a dolphin who overcame the odds to survive after she lost her tail. Dolphin Tale 2 is a film along similar lines, but this time the story is less about the animal, and more about the people around her.
Most of the cast of the first film have returned; Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Harry Connick Jr all reprise their roles in a story about learning to find where we belong in life, and learning to take risks.
The story, based on true events, and written by director Charles Martin Smith does err on the side of the super sweet, but there is something endearing underneath all the schmaltz, even if the danger the characters find themselves in never truly feels as though it is going to threaten the humans that much. Add to that a protective pelican and an undecided teen who may or may not be in love with another teen and the stage is set for a thin but surprisingly engaging story.
As director, Charles Martin Smith manages to blend together the stories of the dolphins and the humans quite well and, although the pacing never truly gets going, the film is warm and sweet.
DOLPHIN TALE 2 is exactly the film you would expect if you have seen DOLPHIN TALE 2. If you haven’t, be prepared for some slightly angsty teens, endearing dolphins and some truly terrible CG balloons. DOLPHIN TALE 2 is completely inoffensive, and so sweet you may leave the cinema with a toothache. Kids will probably love it though.
Review by Brogen Hayes
VIOLETTE (France | Belgium/TBC/139mins)
Directed by Martin Provost. Starring Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Oliver Gourmet, Catherine Heigel and Oliver Py
THE PLOT: The true story of the relationship between Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos) and Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) as they struggle to be honest writers, and gain recognition for women.
THE VERDICT: The idea behind ViIOLETTE is an interesting one; Violette Leduc seems to have been a woman who struggled throughout her life; for love, for recognition as a writer and for friendship. To juxtapose her with Simone de Beauvoir then, is potentially fascinating, as it seems that de Beauvoir didn’t struggle for any of the above. The trouble is though, that Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnour and René de Ceccatty’s screenplay makes Leduc an incredibly familiar character; we have seen this struggle before in the life of Sylvia Plath and any number of other great women whose life was not plain sailing, so the challenge here is to make the story engaging and the central character relatable…
Emmanuelle Devos and Sandrine Kiberlain both give powerful performances in the film, and do immensely well with the material they are given. Their performances compliment one another, as Devos is wild and unmanageable at times, whereas Kiberlain is almost always restrained and calm. The rest of the cast is made up of Oliver Gourmet, Catherine Heigel and Oliver Py.
The fault of the film does not lie with the performances, instead, it the story is let down by a drawn out and familiar script; seemingly small moments in Leduc’s life are drawn out to fill the screen, and the big ones, the important ones, almost always take place behind closed doors. As well as this, the film suffers from feeling incredibly similar to the life of Sylvia Plath; a story that has been told many times over.
Martin Provost has coaxed fantastic performances from his actors, but allows the film to meander and drift without any sense of direction, meaning that Leduc’s story feels like that of an irrational and hysterical liar, rather than that of a woman who struggled to change the landscape for women in France.
In all, VIOLETTE is a film populated with great performances, and the potential of a great idea, that is let down by a messy script, meandering direction and too long a running time.
Review by Brogen Hayes
UNBREAKABLE: THE MARK POLLOCK STORY (Ireland/PG/87mins)
Directed by Ross Whitaker. Starring Mark Pollock, Simone George, Emma Pollock, Professor Reggie Edgerton.
THE PLOT: Friends since their years together studying at Trinity College, Dublin, when Mark Pollock finally became blind at the age of 22 -having suffered from detached retina from childhood – filmmaker Ross Whitaker decided to make a documentary about it. Especially given that Pollock is something of a force of nature, taking part in six marathons since losing his sight, becoming the first blind person to walk to the South Pole along the way. It was one month after the June 2010 release of Blind Man Walking that Mark had a tragic accident, a fall out of an upstairs window leaving him paralysed. About to get married to his fiancee Simone George, instead, Pollock spent the next six months in hospital, the celebrated motivational speaker, author and adventurer admitting here that he spent three months crying every day, and then three months crying every second day. After which Pollock decided that he was going to walk again, despite what the doctors told him. And that’s where we follow Mark, over the course of four years, from visiting specialist clinics in the US to preparing for yet another snowbound marathon, the loving Simone by his side, and old friend Ross just over his shoulder…
THE VERDICT: By his own admission, in the immediate aftermath of his remarkable friend’s tragic fall and his subsequent struggle to walk again, filmmaker Ross Whitaker wasn’t really sure if he should keep filming. But, luckily, he did. Only short, sharp postcards at first, but then, as Mark Pollock once again found the determination to beat the odds, the camera became a constant. It is a remarkable story, and one that doesn’t feed you any promise of a group hug ending. Pollock’s journey is a long and often frustrating one, but his belief in finding a way to walk again – largely through combining medicine with robotics and muscular sense memory training – is where the spark lies here. A stubborn kind of fella, Pollock is also an infectiously positive guy, using his celebrity to fight the good fight for others in his position.
Review by Paul Byrne