THE D TRAIN (UK | USA/15A/101mins)
Directed by Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel. Starring Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White
THE PLOT: Dan (Jack Black) is a man who has been settled in his suburban life since he left college. Married with two lovely children, but saddled with a job that seems to be stuck in a bygone era, Dan throws all his energy into making his 20 year high school reunion the best it can be. The trouble is that almost all of his former classmates are determined not to attend, so when Dan spots Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a TV commercial, he sets out to get him to attend the reunion – and convince everyone else to go – no matter the cost.
THE VERDICT: Although it is billed as a comedy, ‘The D Train’ feels rather more like a mid life crisis drama, with some awkwardness and chuckles thrown in. Jack Black is on fine form as the mild mannered and rather lost Dan; it seems that he does not quite know how he found himself so deep in suburbia, and hankers for everything in his life to be perfect. Although Dan makes some pretty questionable choices throughout the film, Black always manages to keep audience sympathy with the character as his life spirals out of control. Black also manages to make the rather twee ending almost work, and showcases his ability to mix comedy and drama throughout ‘The D Train’.
James Marsden, as the handsome and seemingly successful Oliver Lawless brings charm and a desperation to the role. Lawless seems to have his life together in a way that Dan does not, but it soon becomes clear that Dan is simply raising Oliver onto a pedestal. Marsden keeps the character grounded and allows the audience to see the pain and struggles that Dan cannot. Jeffrey Tambor has a small but perfectly timed performance as Dan’s boss Bill, and Kathryn Hahn plays Dan’s wife Stacey.
Screenwriters Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel have tried to create a dark comedy about a mid life crisis in’ The D Train’, but leave the comedy to fall by the wayside in this examination of love and expectations. The script is carried by the performances from the cast and, although there are some twists and turns throughout the film, it seems that the writers had a strong idea for the film, but no real idea how to end their story.
As directors Mogel and Paul are competent for the most part, but the film struggles through some uneven pacing, and has a rather odd tone from time to time. The actors are well directed, so the issues in the film seem to stem from an uncertain script, rather than weak direction. Elsewhere however, Andrew Dost of Fun.’s soundtrack is infectious and catchy.
In all,’ The D Train’ could well be a strong examination of the crises we find ourselves facing in life, and the nature of love. Due to a muddled script and some messy pacing however, the film is less than the sum of its parts. Black, Marsden, Tambor and Hahn are on fantastic from however, and a stronger script and a stronger ending could have made ‘The D Train’ a great film instead of a good one.
Review by Brogen Hayes
EVEREST (USA | UK | Iceland/12A/121mins)
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Starring Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin
THE PLOT: With its peak standing 29,029 feet above sea level, Mount Everest in the Himalayas is the ultimate adventure. Many brave souls have climbed its peak and conquered it. But the deadly mountain has also claimed the lives of over 250 people who have now become part of the fabric of mountaineering history. New film Everest charts the 1996 expedition led by two international teams.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is an Australian who climbed the mountain some five times. He sets up a company called Adventure Consultants, to guide amateur mountaineers to the peak and bring them safely down. His devoted wife Jan (Keira Knightley) is about to give birth back home, but is aware of the dangers involved. Joining the international group are Beck (Josh Brolin), Doug (John Hawkes) and Jon (Michael Kelly). Rival mountaineer Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins his own ascent with his team, Mountain Madness. As Hall tells his team early on, the peak is at the cruising altitude of a 747, so their bodies will be quite literally dying. They will have to acclimatise to the thin air and extreme cold temperatures. As they arrive at each base camp, they edge nearer to the peak. Getting to the top is one thing, but getting back down to civilisation and safety is a whole different ballgame. Particularly with a vicious snowstorm on the way…
THE VERDICT: ‘Everest’ is quite an achievement. Filmed as much as possible on actual locations on Everest and other mountains, this is a film that literally puts you right there, on the mountain. Hold onto your seat. Particularly if you opt for IMAX 3D, where all that’s missing is a chilly breeze to complete the cinematic experience. The attention to detail and level of commitment from the cast is superb, really selling their characters and their motivations. These people are not foolhardy souls going on an ego trip on the most dangerous place on Earth. This is what makes us human – the will to achieve seemingly impossible things and push ourselves further no matter what the environment.
Nobody in the excellent ensemble cast drops the ball. Even Knightley, sporting an Aussie accent, manages to wring some proper emotion out of her satellite phone calls to Clarke. Icelandic Director Baltasar Kormakur made a film in 2012 called ‘The Deep’. It was a remarkable true story about a man surviving in freezing cold waters after his fishing boat capsizes. He brings that same gut-level of realism to ‘Everest’, making it a very moving, human story. It’s beautifully shot by Salvatore Totino and powerfully scored by Dario Marinelli. But none of that would matter if you didn’t care about the characters. Kormakur celebrates the sheer spectacle of Mount Everest, but also wisely pays tribute to the brave men and women who risked their lives to find themselves at the very top of the world. There’s no other way to put it – ‘Everest’ is simply a must-see film.
Review by Gareth O’Connor
A WALK IN THE WOODS (USA/15A/104mins)
Directed by Ken Kwapis. Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman
THE PLOT: Travel author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), goaded by a TV anchor who berates him for not travelling around America, decides to set out on the Appalachian Trail; a walk that takes 5 months, and 5 million steps. Bryson’s wife Catherine (Emma Thomspon) forbids him from doing the hike alone, so an old friend – Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) –is drafted in for the walk.
THE VERDICT: Despite the fact that Bryson and his friend Katz were 44 when they set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, both Redford and Nolte are in their 70s in the film. Originally punted as a film to reunite Redford with his Butch Cassidy co-star Paul Newman, the film is finally released in Irish cinemas this week.
Redford is likeable as Bryson; wry and funny, with a sense of adventure. The trouble is, we never get to know much more about the character than this, meaning this famous travel writer comes off slight in the film. The same goes for Nick Nolte as Katz, a womanising man with outstanding warrant and some misogynistic views, Nolte is never really given a chance to make the character anything more than an old-fashioned goof. The rest of the cast is made up of Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, and Kristen Schaal as a self involved hiker who thinks she knows everything.
Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman’s screenplay tries to make this an odd-couple story about two old friends getting to know one another again on the trail. With recent films about enduring hikes in mind, such as Wild and The Way, this lighter approach would have been welcome if we actually got to know these characters beneath the superficial. Even when they are seemingly stranded the conversation rarely turns to anything deeper than the fact that Bryson loves his wife. Also, some sympathy for the characters is lost after they have several conversations that both body shame and degrade women.
Director Ken Kwapis makes the film slight and likeable for the first half, but once the men venture into the woods, and the audience craves something deeper from the men, the tone does not change. The film is well shot however, with the 800 mile walk from Georgia that the two complete looking wonderful and lush.
In all, ‘A Walk in the Wood’s is slight and unrewarding. Misogynistic dialogue does not help matters, nor does the fact that we never truly get to know these characters, and they don’t ever seem to learn anything, except maybe that they should have stayed in touch more.
Review by Brogen Hayes
A GIRL AT MY DOOR (South Korea/TBC/119mins)
Directed by July Jung. Starring Doona Bae, Sae-ron Kim, Sae-byeok Song, Hie-jin Jang
THE PLOT: When Police Chief Young-nam (Doona Bae) is transferred to a small Korean seaside town, she almost immediately meets two of the town’s most notorious residents; Park Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok) and his mother Park Jeom-soon (Kim Jin-gu). Soon afterwards, Young-nam meets the emotionally troubled, bullied and beaten Seon Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron) and finds herself getting involed in the young girl’s life.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Girl at My Door’ is a slow moving but engrossing film, that has touches of Lolita about it, in all the most disturbing ways. Doona Bae is the emotional heart and soul of the film, and carries the story ably. Bae’s performance is subtle and understated, with the audience learning more about her as her past catches up with her. Kim Sae-ron is wonderfully innocent and disturbing as the young girl who Young-nam takes under her wing, and is as inscrutable as she is manipulative.
July Jung’s story is slow moving yet engrossing, with the relationship between the two women being given centre stage in the film. Camaraderie and friendship give way to anger and suspicion, before Do-hee finally reveals just how manipulative she can be. As director, Jung allows the story to unfold on screen, without the need for clunky exposition or rousing speeches. The audience is allowed to feel Young-nam’s depression and despair before finding out the cause of it, and we are taken on a journey with the two women at the heart of the film as their relationship grows and changes. The denouement of the film is shocking as it is troubling, but audience sympathy is firmly with Young-nam and her young charge; such is the power of their performances.
In all, ‘A Girl at My Door’ is a tale of friendship, dependency, violence and manipulation, brilliantly told by July Jung. There are times when the film loses steam – mostly when the focus shifts from Young-nam and Do-hee – but the final 20 minutes of the film is gripping, heartbreaking but oddly uplifting.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Paul Mercier. Starring Liam Cunningham, Brendan Gleeson, Ruth Bradley, Barry Ward, Don Wycherley.
THE PLOT: Based on the Irish folk tale of Diarmuid and Gráinne, Pursuit is the story of Gráinne (Ruth Bradley), who is betrothed to the much older Fionn (Liam Cunningham) with the hope that this will create peace between two rival gangs. As the happy day approaches, however, Gráinne leaves her husband-to-be, kidnaps his henchman Diarmuid (Barry Ward) – confessing she always loved him – and the pair go on the run for their lives.
THE VERDICT: The idea of taking an Irish folk tale and throwing it into an urban Irish setting is a fantastic idea for a movie, but one that doesn’t always work that well in ‘Pursuit’.
The transition from the mythological tale to the urban on the big screen makes a lot of sense and is done well, for the most part. However, there are times when names could have been changed without damaging the story, especially naming Gráinne’s father – the leader of one of the gangs – Mr King – after King Conor of the legend – feels a little precious and shoehorned in.
The cast do well with the story and certainly seem to be having fun with this Bonnie and Clyde-esque story, but it is also glaringly obvious that there are many varying levels of acting experience on the screen. Liam Cunningham excels as the dangerous and violent Fionn, Ruth Bradley makes Gráinne unpredictable but ultimately relatable, but some of the other actors come off rather stiff and wooden from time to time, making the film feel uneven.
The story is cleverly adapted for the screen by director Paul Mercier, and the action and romance work well together, but there are times when the pacing of the film struggles, and there are far too many strands, names and customs dragged from mythology into the present day.
Review by Brogen Hayes