We review this week’s new cinema releases, including A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and WISH I WAS HERE…
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (USA/16/113mins)
Directed by Scott Frank. Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Astro.
THE PLOT: Retired police officer Matt (Liam Neeson) has found a second career as a private investigator, and is drafted in by a drug trafficker, when his wife is kidnapped and killed. As Matt investigates the men behind the attack, he uncovers a series of murders, and finds an unlikely ally.
THE VERDICT: Liam Neeson takes his action hero status down a notch as Matt Scudder, instead opting to play a man who walked away from the job he loved, and one who is unwilling to try new technology or take on any new friends. Neeson excels at playing the outcast loner, so is firmly in his comfort zone here. Dan Stevens plays the trafficker whose wife was kidnapped, and is perhaps the most gentrified drug dealer ever seen on screen. This is not to say that Stevens is not good in the role, the character is just slightly unbelievable. Astro – recently seen in EARTH TO ECHO – plays Matt’s self appointed sidekick TJ, and while he is perfectly fine in the role, it just feels as though we have seen this story before.
Perhaps it is because the book was released in 1992, or perhaps because the film is made out to be something other than what it is, but A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES feels incredibly familiar and unoriginal. Scott Frank’s screenplay tries to tie together several different plots and subplots, but this results in an unappealing and hard to follow mess. There is also undue focus given to the world’s paranoia in the lead up to Y2K, with absolutely no pay off, or none that makes sense anyway.
As director, Scott Frank does not seem to challenge his actors, meaning that Neeson, Stevens and the rest of the cast give performances that are just about convincing enough to get by. The film does not feel as though it has a steady or distinctive voice, and the final set piece is dragged out to the point of boredom. In fact, the entire film would be rather forgettable, if it were not for the odd story choices and inconsistent characters.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is not the Liam Neeson action film we have been waiting for. What it is, however, is a fairly decent thriller that will be forgotten by the time you reach the doors of the cinema. Neeson is fine, as is Stevens and Astro, but this is not a film that is going to spark discussion or do anything more than provide a distraction for a couple of hours.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WISH I WAS HERE (USA/15A/106mins)
Directed by Zach Braff. Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad.
THE PLOT: Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor with no prospect of a job on the horizon, and a young family. When his father (Mandy Patinkin) announces he is dying – and can therefore no longer financially support him – Aidan must find a way to connect with his family and the life he has built around himself.
THE VERDICT: Braff plays Aidan with a lovely blend of tenderness and frustration, both of which ebb and flow as the film progresses. Braff also manages to capture the feeling of a man who is amazed at how his life has turned out, and the seeming lack of control that he has over his destiny. Kate Hudson takes a welcome step away from her recent roles in rom-coms, and makes Sarah a warm and patient woman. Joey King and Pierce Gagnon play the Bloom kids, and each bring their own insecurities and strengths to the role. Braff and Hudson interact well with the kids, making this chaotic family dynamic believable. Mandy Patinkin channels previous roles as the gruff father figure, but there are flashes of genuine warmth and emotion that make the process worthwhile, and Josh Gad plays the man-child incredibly well.
The story, written by Braff and his brother Adam, may feel chaotic at times, and as though too much is being thrown at Aidan, the central character. The truth behind this chaos, however, is that life is not ordered or tidy, and often when one thing goes wrong, others quickly follow suit. Braff and Braff capture the family dynamic incredibly well, and there are moments of genuine warmth and fun throughout. The sci-fi sequences fit less well with the story; it is clear what the Braffs were trying to do in making Aidan the hero of his own life, but these sequences happen too infrequently to work properly.
As director, Zach Braff directs with the same careful hand that was evident in GARDEN STATE; the emotional scenes are treated with tact and care, the performances are strong and, while some of the montages and scenes set to music feel a little more like music videos than movie scenes, this is what we have come to expect from a ZB big screen outing. The songs are great too, which helps. Braff himself is not afraid to play a grown up character with flaws and traits that make him less than perfect, which help him to shake off the remnants of SCRUBS’ man-child JD.
At times, WISH I WAS HERE is slightly more self conscious than GARDEN STATE, but in the end, it is a film filled with warmth and heart. The family scenes are a joy, and it is clear that this cast and crew bonded through the unconventional manner in which the film came together. There are elements to the film that don’t always work – Josh Gad’s character could easily have been cut entirely – but WISH I WAS HERE is a decent follow up to GARDEN STATE, and as warm and engaging as Braff fans could hope.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (USA/PG/97mins)
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Catherine McCormack, Simon McBurney, Hamis Linklater.
THE PLOT: A man with no patience for the spirit world, renowned magician Stanley (Firth) knows that there are always hidden strings attached. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have become one of the world’s leading magicians. When his old friend and fellow magician Howard (McBurney) comes to him with news of yet another spiritualist going down a treat with a wealthy family, Stanley is only too happy to put off his planned holiday with his very sensible fiance (McCormack) in order to do a little debunking in the South of France. Only trouble is, the spiritualist in question, Sophie (Stone), quickly proves herself to possess inexplicable powers. Such as knowing intimate details about Stanley’s background and family history. Could this self-confessed misanthrope be wrong after all? Could there really be magic in this world…?
THE VERDICT: The critics have been pretty rough on Woody Allen’s latest – his 4,327th feature, in the last ten years – but, truth be told, even a low-watt outing from everyone’s favourite messed-up little New Yorker has more than enough charms to seduce.
And here, with another period piece seemingly lit entirely by old radio valves, the charms are plenty. Stone is stunning, whilst the rest are pretty much perfectly cast. And if some have found Firth wanting, I thought his wounded misanthrope schtick worked for me. And, more importantly, it worked for the film.
Dealing with all the usual Allen obsessions – the warm glow of the past, the mistrust of modernity, the eternal pull of the younger woman, the seething hatred for mankind – Magic In The Moonlight is, like so many of Allen’s later films, akin to a New Yorker short story with a sting in its finale. It’s also a film that will be loved in years to come.
Review by Paul Byrne
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (UK/15A/98mins)
Directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard. Starring Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis.
THE PLOT: Writer and musician Nick Cave takes particular note of his 20,000th day alive and, during the course of the day, meets old friends, sorts through his past and comes a little more to terms with the person he is.
THE VERDICT: Cave is one of these artists who surrounds himself in mystery and cultivates this to some degree as it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to his music, writing and performances. What the, is the point of 20,000 Days on Earth? Is it to finally strip away a layer of the unknown about Nick Cave the person, or to find out more about his inspirations and life? Turns out, it’s really both.
Although 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is billed as a documentary, it is a film that was, to some degree, scripted to create a somewhat fictionalised version of Cave and his life. In a way, this was to be expected, as Cave is a celebrated scriptwriter, having worked on THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD and LAWLESS. What this does is allow Cave to reveal and conceal different elements of his life, so we get a picture of a man in his 50s who has insecurities and fears, who has learned and grown from the life he has led and is curious about what the future holds for him. All of this is hashed out through conversations with his band mates, footage of recording sessions for Push the Sky Away and an admittedly staged conversation with a therapist. It is clear that 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is not a documentary, but it is an examination of life through a distinctly Cave-y lens.
Cave, and his fellow performers in the film, come across as frank and honest, and discuss the issues of past, present and future; the issues that make us fully rounded human beings. Some sequences work better than others, and there are times where the pacing fizzles out. As well as this, some of the scenes shot as Cave and colleagues drive around Brighton feel like a reality show about a taxi driver, but then, since Cave carefully reinvents himself over and over, perhaps this is a hint at a career move to come, or perhaps it is simply a playful way to tie Cave’s fictional day together.
The film is beautifully shot and edited, making the colours and scenery bright and vibrant – even the rainy shots of Brighton – meaning that the film feels a little like a combination of a Nick cave music video, a photo essay and a snapshot of the inside of Cave’s head. Far from revealing too much about Cave, however – never meet your heroes is a phrase that comes to mind – it feels as though 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH deepens the mystery about the central subject of the film.
At times indulgent, often funny but almost always engaging, 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is a look at the myth that surrounds Nick cave, as well as being a meditation of childhood, adulthood, life and love. Cave admits he has a tendency to be ostentatious, and there are times when this comes through in the film, but for all of its messy pacing, 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is a curious and engaging film that is a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts.
Review by Brogen Hayes
NOBLE (UK | Vietnam/15A/100mins)
Directed by Stephen Bradley. Starring Deirdre O’Kane, Sarah Greene, Liam Cunningham
THE PLOT: The true story of Irish woman Christina Noble (Deirdre O’Kane), who overcame her harsh early life to become an aid worker for the children of Saigon.
THE VERDICT: NOBLE is an incredibly personal project for lead actress Deirdre O’Kane, not only did her husband write and direct the film, but they sold their home in Ireland to buy the rights to Noble’s books. O’Kane channels the persona of Noble onto the screen – as do Sarah Greene and Gloria Cramer Curtis, who play the titular character at various stages of her life – to give us an insight into the woman behind the charity. The three actresses performances weave together to make Christina Noble a feisty, courageous and tenacious woman. Cramer Curtis is a revelation as young Christina; as bright and feisty as Dublin kids often are, with tons of personality and a talent for nuance. Sarah Greene continues her streak of choosing diverse roles as she takes on arguably the time in Noble’s life that was most difficult, but allows both the woman’s courage and vulnerability to show through. O’Kane carries on Greene’s performance and, although perhaps some of her dialogue could have been slowed down, rounds out the trio admirably. Liam Cunningham and Ruth Negga round out the cast as Christina’s father and best friend.
The story weaves together a familiar, but heartbreaking tale; after her mother dies, Christina is given into the care of a religious run Institution, only to find herself back there as an adult after experiencing a violent sexual assault. This is a story told in Irish cinema time and again – to varying degrees of success – but this time, we are allowed to see that this traumatic upbringing did not break all those who went though the system, in fact, many came out stronger and more determined to succeed.
As screenwriter, Stephen Bradley weaves together Christina’s story to give the audience a greater understanding of the woman herself, but a stronger focus on Noble’s work in Saigon could well have made the movie slightly more relevant, and not just a celebration and examination of the tough roads that Christina Noble walked. As well as this, although the film depicts the struggles that Noble went through, there are times when things seem to come a little too easily. It is true that Noble has the Irish charm, but not everyone is willing to be charmed.
As director, Bradley gives each incarnation of Noble a chance, and ties the three performances together to give the audience a strong idea of Christina Noble herself. The woman’s tenacity and determination shine through, and there are beautiful scenes that show her vulnerability, including one with the young Christina, who does not know whether to laugh or cry when her mother has died. That said, however, the film’s focus is a little messy, as it switches from the woman’s story to the work that Christina Noble has done, and back again, seemingly arbitrarily.
In all, NOBLE is a portrait of a woman who has lived up to her name. Cramer Curtis, Greene and O’Kane give great performances as Christina Noble, but the film is slightly unfocused and messy, leaving the audience wondering whether this is an examination of a woman’s strength in the face of adversity, or perhaps a celebration of the great work done by Christina Noble. That said, there is little doubt that Christina Noble has done great work for the kids of Saigon, and for that – and the standout performance of Gloria Cramer Curtis – the film is worth seeing.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE RIOT CLUB (UK/16/108mins)
Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Max Irons, Freddie Fox, Holliday Grainger, Natalie Dormer.
THE PLOT: Named after the revered, and tragically murdered in a brawl over a woman – Lord Riot, The Riot Club was established at Oxford University to keep the dead man’s name going. Miles (Max Irons) finds himself drawn into The Riot Club, but one dinner changes his perception of the club – and his life – forever.
THE VERDICT: Based on Laura Wade’s stage play Posh, THE RIOT CLUB paints a very unpretty picture of the upper class, and those who find themselves living in the bubble of Oxford University.
Max Irons plays Miles, the centre of the story, and the young man who finds himself with a foot in both camps; young and privileged, but wanting to stand out from the shadow of his parents. Irons does an adequate job of playing the character and manages to make Miles likeable for the first half of the film. When the script turns against him, however, Irons struggles to help the audience remember why they liked his character in the first place. Holliday Grainger plays Miles’ love interest Lauren, and she tries to be the voice of reason when Miles becomes involved with the Riot Club. Grainger does fine in the role but, like the rest of them, hers is totally underwritten, and only gives us a glimpse into the character. The rest of the cast is made up of Douglas Booth, Freddie Fox, Sam Reid and Olly Alexander. Most of these young men do an adequate job of showing an ugly side of a prestigious university, but none of them really get to create a character of their own.
The story is actually a rather powerful one; the young, rich and privileged feel hatred for those poorer than them, and presumably for being born into their parents’ shadows. Instead of talking to a counsellor or dealing with their emotions in a civilised manner, on a night out, THE RIOT CLUB lives up to its name; pulling a quiet pub asunder and setting on those who will not them behave as they want. There is a definite parallel being drawn between these lads and less privileged youths who are drawn to destruction in the same manner, and there are moments of greatness in the film. That said, however, the film is so drawn out to be tedious, with the point – ‘the rich are bastards too!’ – being hammered home so often and so forcefully that the film becomes a chore, rather than entertaining.
Director Lone Scherfig has produced some interesting works in the past – WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF and AN EDUCATION – and some that didn’t live up to their promise (ONE DAY). Sadly for a film with so much potential, THE RIOT CLUB falls into the latter category. Scherfig does not give any of the actors to create a fully rounded character, instead hoping that enough will be given away through singular character traits and repeated behaviours. Everything feels so laboured and drawn out that by the time the gut punch of the story happens, the audience has lost interest in the tale of these destructive and demanding men.
THE RIOT CLUB has the kernel of a strong point hidden in a tale of entitled and spoiled Upper Class Twits of the Year. With no strong moral voice to root for, THE RIOT CLUB sadly lives up to its name and as unruly and lacking in focus as the young men at the centre of the story.
Review by Brogen Hayes