Reviews – New movies opening October 4th 2013

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including HOW I LIVE NOW and FILTH

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Harley Bird.
THE PLOT: Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent from America to live with her cousins in England. Daisy is closed off and angry, but it is not long before she starts to relax in the presence of Edmond (George MacKay), Isaac (Tom Holland) and Piper (Harley Bird). No sooner does Daisy begin to warm to her family, when nuclear war strikes England and she finds herself fighting for survival, and love.
THE VERDICT: Saoirse Ronan has proven, many many times, that she is a fantastic actress, and she does it yet again in How I Live Now, based on the young adult novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff. Ronan shakes off a little of her ethereal reputation here, and goes for the role of angry teenager. Moods and emotions change rather too quickly for the good of the film, but Ronan weathers the changes and always makes Daisy feel real, even if the audience does not know very much about her. MacKay does well in his role, and his gaze on Ronan borders on electric. It is easy to see why the two are drawn to one another, and why they suddenly feel the need to take comfort in one another.
Tom Holland, fresh from the tearjerker THE IMPOSSIBLE, and Harley Bird round out the family, and the interactions between these actors is as real as possible. They are allowed to run wild, as their mother is secluded in her office, trying to save the world, and the relationship between the kids feels authentic and warm. This is a critical part of the film; if this was not believable, then Daisy’s quest to get home would not work.
The story feels like so many apocalyptic movies we have seen before; the fight to survive and find a place where we belong. There are also touches of NEVER LET ME GO in there, as well as NOW IS GOOD. For the most part though, this strange melting pot of references works; Ronan’s performance is as good as you hope it would be, and the decision to focus on this coming of age story and the quest to find love and a place to call home is an interesting twist on the apocalypse movie. We never learn just what is happening in the major cities, or who is to blame for the bombings across the world, and this, combined with Daisy’s seeming ability to focus and carry on, and the choice to focus on the more fortunate pair – rather than the boys who were presumably sent to war – makes the film relatable. That said, this omission of information also makes the film feel slightly thin, and even though Piper longs for her mother, she doesn’t seem too bothered about being in the wilderness with her cousin whom she hardly knows.
Kevin Macdonald has created some wonderful films through his career, including a documentary about Bob Marley and THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, but HOW I LIVE NOW feels like a change of pace for the director. This is an apocalypse movie that skims over the devastation and focuses on the microcosm of five kids. Perhaps Macdonald struggled with this new direction in his career; the movie feels real enough, but slightly superficial. I can’t argue with the choice to use an Amanda Palmer song – Do It With a Rockstar – in the opening credits though.
It would be easy for HOW I LIVE NOW to turn into a film as vapid as TWILIGHT but, even though the film feels thin, rushed and underdeveloped at times –  and although the ending is a little insipid and the mystery is sometimes a little too mysterious for the film’s good – the relationships between the kids are what saves it. Ronan shines as always, the cinematography is beautiful and it’s always good to hear an Amanda Palmer song when you least expect it.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE IRISH PUB (Ireland/PG/75mins)
Directed by Alex Fegan. Starring Paul Gartlan, Annie McGinn, James Curran, Billy Keane, Adrienne McCarthy, Patricia & Nan Brennan, Eugene Kavanagh, Michael Smyth, Dano.
Heading out with no budget, one camera and just a list of curious old Irish pubs, Alex Fegan lets his landlords and their guests do all the talking in this charming, inevitably wry documentary. Dedicated Cavan man Paul Gartlan likes to tell it like it feckin’ is, whilst the 84-year old Michael Smyth, the proprietor of Smyth’s Pub in Newtown, likes to entertain his patrons with a few golden oldies on his grand piano. Billy Keane – son of the late playwright John B. – reckons the pub is a safety valve, a confession box, and much else besides, whilst the Brennan sisters explain how the snug was really just a way to keep the ladies from hanging out at the bar. All present wax lyrical, as though talking about a much-loved relative who’s on his death bed…
Inspired by the surprise success of Ken Wardrop’s similarly sweet and simple 2009 talking heads documentary His & Hers, it would be just as easy to dismiss Alex Fegan’s charming outing as complete and unadulterated twee, but that would be missing the point. And the pint. There’s a world of joy and pain hidden in the dark corners here, even if the first impression is Creature Comforts voiced by Pat Shortt. The fact that just about everyone here looks like they could be related to Shane MacGowan makes you suspicious about Fegan’s modus operandi, but, hey, it’s just too hard not to love this film. It’s a lot like being in the sweetest snug ever.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Stuart Blumberg. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Pink, Carol Kane.
It’s New York, and sex addict Adam (Ruffalo) is celebrating five years of abstinence – meaning, no bonking outside of a committed relationship, and no masturbating. Adam’s sponsor is former alcoholic Mike (Robbins), whilst fellow addict Neil (Gad) still has a problem with rubbing up against women in the subway. When Adam starts dating Phoebe (Paltrow), her determination not to end up with another addict like her -ex causes him to keep his own addiction a secret, whilst Neil befriends a new support group member, Dede (Pink), who reckons he should stand up to his domineering mother. Oh, and Mike’s son, Danny (Fugit), returns home, having beaten his battle with drugs.
 The Oscar-nominated Blumberg is known for more for his writing – The Kids Are All Right, The Girl Next Door, Keeping The Faith – making the move here into feature directing with, yep, a script he co-wrote (with actor Matt Winston). But the comedy and the tragedy drag each other down here, as Blumberg only touches upon the misery and tries to exaggerate the inherent comedy of being a sex addict. All the funny moments land at the feet of roly-poly comic actor Josh Gad. Ruffalo’s always watchable, but it’s hard to take the squeaky Paltrow seriously.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE TO-DO LIST (USA/16/104mins)
Directed by Maggie Carey. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Clark Gregg, Scott Porter, Chritopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader.
THE PLOT: After a drunken night where she accidentally kisses Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), the hottest guy in town, goodie two shoes valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) sets about getting as much experience with guys as she can, before setting her sights back on Rusty. All as a plan to lose her virginity before she goes to college.
THE VERDICT: The cast list for THE TO-DO LIST reads like a who’s who of today’s TV talent. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Donald Glover (Community) and Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live) star with a cast that also includes Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Johnny Simmons, Connie Britton and Scott Porter – the last two coming off the back of Friday Night Lights. It’s just a shame that the cast, who have done so much good in previous outings, don’t really get the chance to shine here.
Aubrey Plaza is best known for her role as the caustic, but ultimately sweet, April in Parks and Recreation. In The To-Do List, she tries to shake off her most famous character, and takes on the role of a do-gooder trying to shake her image. In short, Brandy wants to be more like April, even as Plaza tries to show her diversity. This works to an extent, but the actress continually slips backward into bitchiness, meaning that Brandy sometimes comes off as bratty and unlikeable.
Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, as Brandy’s friends Fiona and Wendy, do not have an awful lot to do, but they do get some of the raunchier lines in the film. Scott Porter does well as the slightly dim Rusty, Johnny Simmons continues his streak for playing the nice guy with Cameron, and Rachel Bilson returns to our screens as the typical older sister; at once brash and caring. Donald Glover, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader have little more than extended cameos and it seems that Britton and Gregg had fun playing Brandy’s parents, even though it appears that a lot of their dialogue was cut as scenes pass with unexplained plot points.
Writer/director Maggie Carey seems to have had a great idea for the premise of THE TO-DO LIST, and it does start strong, but it quickly becomes a series of scenes strung together with surprisingly little. Plaza does her best to keep the boat afloat, but doesn’t always succeed. Some of the scenes are endearing, and others are slightly infuriating, leaving the whole film feeling a little like The Way Way Back’s raunchier sibling, that lacks the heart and warmth that made THE WAY WAY BACK so darn good. THE TO-DO LIST smacks of female empowerment on the surface, but does not always deliver on it’s promise, with Brandy acting more like a woman who has to impress men, than a woman who feels equal to those around her.
THE TO-DO LIST is a sweet enough romantic comedy about the pressures surrounding young women and the quest to be the most sexually experienced – even though the film only brushes past the issues that this can create. Plaza and the rest of the cast do what they can, with some of them coming off better than others, but the problem is that the film is neither as funny or as smart as it wants to be. The To-Do List could have been great, if it had addressed the issues it raised, and tried to mix comedy with a story, rather than try and string amusing scenes together with the thinnest of plots. If you want to see a great coming of age film set in a water park, THE WAY WAY BACKis the superior film. That said, if you want to see Aubrey Plaza being awkwardly promiscuous, then this is the film for you.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

FILTH (UK/18/97mins)
Directed by Jon S. Baird. Starring James McAvoy, Shirley Henderson, Eddie Marsan, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent
Police officer Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) finds himself in line for promotion within the ranks, but must battle his own demons – accentuated by the impending Christmas season – in order to face down his rivals, and get the post he feels he deserves.
THE VERDICT: McAvoy goes hell for leather with Robertson. The character is misogynistic, racist, violent and drug addled, but McAvoy manages to play the role in such a manner that when his trauma is revealed, the audience finds a way to empathise with the troubled character. As well as this, Robertson’s character is heightened to such a degree that his manic exploits become entertaining, and it is so clear that he is not a ‘right thinking member of society’ that his drug infused ranting and hate become funny, rather than offensive. It’s a careful balance, but McAvoy manages it.
Although this is definitely McAvoy’s show, the film has a strong supporting cast; Imogen Poots has rather little to do as Amanda Drummond, but she looks good in lingerie, Jim Broadbent carries on his penchant for playing larger than life characters as Dr Rossi, Eddie Marsan plays Bladesey, a mouse of a man who cannot see his ‘best friend’ is abusing him, Jamie Bell is an impressionable young cop who finds himself swept along in Robertson’s wake and Shirley Henderson takes on the role of Bunty, a housewife who is the focus of Robertson’s ire.
FILTH being based on an Irvine Welsh novel, it was always going to explore the underbelly of society, and Robertson is the epitome of street angel/house devil. So much focus is given to this character, however, and so much time is spent sending him into more and more ugly situations, that the rest of the film suffers a little. The pacing and structure of the film are rather messy, although after a while, this does begin to feel intentional, as it mirrors the messiness of the central character. The underdeveloped supporting characters can be justified, as this is Robertson’s world, and we are seeing things as he does. The story slips from time to time – yes, there is a motivating story for Robertson, although at times, it is hard to keep hold of – and sometimes it feels as though there is simply too much going on in the film.
FILTH is director Jon S. Baird’s most high profile work to date. The director has coaxed fantastic performances from all of his actors – both the central and supporting cast – but his screenplay and choices obviously made during the edit process sometimes leave a little to be desired.
In all, FILTH is a messy and erratic look at a man who seems to be holding everything together, but whose life is quickly crumbling. James McAvoy does spectacularly well as the hateable cop; his cheeky winks to camera and the heightened visual style only adding to the film. A little too much attention is paid to Robertson, however, and the supporting cast suffers from pacing that is as unfocused and shattered as the central character. Robertson, however, benefits from a story and pacing as all over the place as he is.
Review by Brogen Hayes