We review this week’s cinema releases, including BLUE JASMINE, PRISONERS and RUNNER RUNNER…
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
BLUE JASMINE (USA/15A/98mins)
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Cate Blanchett, Alex Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg.
THE PLOT: We open on Jasmine (Blanchett) as she waxes lyrical to a fellow passenger, an old lady, on a flight to San Francisco. The elegant, clearly cultured, fortysomething Jasmine is on her way to visit her sister, Ginger (Hawkins), and by the time they reach the baggage carousel, the old lady has heard just about everything. And can’t wait to escape. We quickly learn that Jasmine loves nothing more than waxing lyrical about how she met her wealthy husband, Hal (Baldwin), even when no one is around. Her sister lives with her two young sons in a small apartment, her ex-husband (Dice Clay), still not over Ha having blown their $200,000 lotto win. Back then, no one knew Hal was operating a Ponzi scheme, always trying to keep one step ahead of the justice department. For Jasmine, running away from the shame and the sudden poverty to start a new life in San Francisco isn’t quite as simple as she hoped. She’s money, she’s neurotic, she’s delusional, and she regularly has a very hard time taking a deep breath. But, just as she convinces her sister that she can do better than working class nice guy Chili (Cannavale), Jasmine knows there’s another wealthy man out there who can give her back the life that she craves…
THE VERDICT: A cheeky update of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, young Woody must be delighted that this straight-ahead drama is garnering some of his best reviews in years. Especially given that the king of comedy has long bemoaned the fact that drama is tougher for him than making people laugh. It’s telling that his own personal favourite when it comes to the, what, 327 films that he’s made is 2005’s Match Point – another laugh-free outing.
The long-absent Blanchett – over-exposure sending her off to the theatre for the last 2 years (with only voice work and some Hobbit nonsense onscreen since 2011’s disappointing Hanna) – makes for a perfect Blanche Du Bois here. She did, after all, just play that role in a Liv Ullmann-directed production of Streetcar. All that inherent elegance and those Proper Acting Skills spell a very probably Oscar here, thanks to the sort of role that even the oldest Academy member can get a hard-on for. Woody’s belief in casting being key is borne out here with the likes of Baldwin, Louis C.K., Hawkins, Cannavale and even former shock jock Dice Clay fitting their roles like a glove. As for the mildly melodramatic script, Woody also knows the importance of intriguing characters in knotted conflict – and the treat of having a reveal or two for the third act.
Review by Paul Byrne
RUNNER RUNNER (USA/15A/92mins)
Directed by Brad Furman. Starring Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Michael Esper, Oliver Cooper, John Heard, James Molina.
THE PLOT: His online gambling site ruffling more than a few feathers, finance grad student Richie Furst (Timberlake) finds himself out of favour somewhat at Princeton, and so heads to Costa Rica – where he hopes to show computer gambling kingpin Ivan Black (Affleck) a thing or two. Aces, mainly. Luckily, it’s Ivan’s annual Midnight Black Expo shindig, and it isn’t long before Richie is aboard the big boss’ yacht. Where he accuses Ivan of cheating, an accusation that earns him not only a reimbursement with interest but also the offer of a position in Black’s operation. All goes swimmingly Bay-esque until Richie finds himself in the clutches of the FBI, with agent Shavers (Mackie) determined to bring Black down…
THE VERDICT: One of those also-ran slick thrillers that’s more slick than thrilling, Runner Runner is the sort of movie you forget before you’ve even left the cinema. Which might be troubling for those investing in Affleck again, a fine director but an actor who proved none too wise when it came to picking roles. Timberlake too has yet to prove his mettle as an actor, his Richie Furst largely a variation on his Social Network role as Sean Parker – which, in turn, wasn’t a million smooth-talking, lady-charming miles away from one Justin Timberlake.
Then again, the real problem could lie with director Brad Furman, a man who previously gave us The Lincoln Lawyer and The Take. Two other movies that didn’t quite go anywhere.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis
THE PLOT: When Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands, even as Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) chases down every lead to find the girls before it’s too late.
THE VERDICT: Hugh Jackman has had an interesting and varied year, career wise, in 2013. Not only did he take on the famed role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, but he returned to the character that brought him to public attention with The Wolverine. Now he takes on a character whose world is slowly falling apart, and finds himself grasping at straws to hold it together. Jackman plays Keller as a man so tightly wound, it feels like he may shatter at any moment. Even though he is driven to extreme measures, it is difficult to see Keller as the villain of the piece, as Jackman always manages to keep Keller rooted in reality. The character’s actions may be extreme, but they leave the audience asking themselves what they would do in the same situation.Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have fallen into a rut of playing police officers recently, but the good news is that he is very good at it. Detective Loki is as tenacious as Keller and, even though he is essentially trying to do the same as Keller, the two often switch places in the audience’s sympathies. No mean feat. Viola Davis balances out the traumatised fathers as a gentle woman whose loss is palpable, Maria Bello treads the fine line between heartbreak and insanity, and Terrence Howard rounds out the parents as a man who will follow his best friend into anything, even if he does not think it is right.Paul Dano makes a brief but star turn as Alex Jones; the man at the heart of the police investigation, but one who surely was not capable of carrying out this kidnapping alone. Dano treads the line between evil and broken and shows that there is more to him than quirky rom-coms.Director Denis Villeneuve has created a solid, slow burning thriller with Prisoners. Each character is shown to be rounded and balanced, with equal capacities for good and evil, when driven to it. Suspense hangs over the entire film, with many of the twists coming completely out of left field. Villeneuve’s eye for the dramatic is masterful and, combined with Roger Deakins’s claustrophobic cinematography, leaves Prisoners feeling taut, strained, and utterly gripping. If there were to be a complaint, however, it would be that at times the slow burn is entirely too slow, with huge chunks of time taken up examining sub plots that eventually come to nothing. At 158 minutes, Prisoners is not a quick film and, even though the payoff is rewarding, the film’s running time often works against it.Prisoners is a masterful examination of the people left behind after a violent and life changing incident. Jackman easily and believably plumbs the depths that people go to for those they love, Deakins’s cinematography is superb – as always – and Villeneuve winds the cast and audience tightly, before allowing information to be drip fed onto the screen. Sadly, the running time does work against the film in places, leaving the pacing a little muddled.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Jerusha Hess. Starring Keri Russell, JJ Field, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, Jane Seymour, James Callis.
THE PLOT: For some girls, real love is no match for Jane Austen love, and for those girls, there’s Austenland, a theme park dedicated to living the life captured in such novels as Pride And Prejudiced, Emma and Sense And Sensibility. For Jane Hayes (Russell) and her older friend Elizabeth (Coolidge), that means hopping across the Atlantic and living out a fantasy or two in sunny England. And the main fantasy – of finding their Mr. Darcy – seems to be coming through right from the off, as the charming Martin (McKenzie) drives them from the airport, to meet theme park kingpin Mrs Wattlesbrook (Seymour). And that feeling is doubled when the aloof Henry Nobley (Field), another fine attraction at this promising theme park…
THE VERDICT: A movie that Bridget Jones might muster a chuckle or two for, Austenland works largely as a gentle culture-clash romantic comedy, but the presence of the always-wonderful Jennifer Coolidge pushes the fun factor that little bit above the ordinary. Not that Russell doesn’t do her job well, it’s just that, once you let Coolidge loose, no scene – or scenery – is safe.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE WICKER MAN: THE FINAL CUT (UK/16/93mins)
Directed by Robin Hardy. Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Aubrey Morris, Russell Waters.
THE PLOT: When a young girl goes missing on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle, Sergeant Neil Howie (Woodward) has his Christian beliefs shaken somewhat by what he finds there. The villagers prefer the old pagan, Celtic gods than the man in the sky, whilst sex in the open air is a popular past time. When even the mother of the missing girl insists that she never actually existed, Howie suspects there may be trouble ahead. Just how much though he could hardly have guessed…
THE VERDICT: This looks promising – 40 years after its original release, Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man is released the way, well, Robin Hardy intended, thanks to a long-lost original print being unearthed.
Back in the dark ages of the early ’70s, The Wicker Man proved a step too far into the weird and wonderful for its distributor, who bemoaned that the film was “hellishly difficult to market”. And so, they made it a supporting feature, shortening the film greatly so it could fit on a double-bill with Don’t Look Now. From such things obsessed fans doth grow, and so it has proven with The Wicker Man, its reputation for some as the Citizen Kane of horror not even dented by that laughable Nic Cage remake in 2006. Or, indeed, Hardy’s recently completed sequel, The Wicker Tree (2011), with a third and final film, The Wrath Of The Gods, on the 80-something filmmaker’s To Do list.
Review by Paul Byrne
MISTER JOHN (Ireland/Singapore/UK/15A/95mins)
Directed by Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy. Starring Aidan Gillen, Zoe Tay, Claire Keelan, Molly Rose Taylor, Michael Thomas.
THE PLOT: His brother, John, having drowned on the outskirts of Singapore, Gerry Devine (Gillen) leaves his London home – and his sleeping daughter – to identify the body. Losing his luggage, and turning down an offer by John’s widow, Kim (Tay), to stay in the family home, Gerry’s grief is compounded by having to address the hostess business his late brother ran, a coarse German womaniser who owes that business money, and flashbacks to an apparent break-up with his wife (Keelan) back home. A snake bite by the water where his brother drowned gives Gerry a 12-hour erection. It’s that kind of trip.
THE VERDICT: Akin to Only God Forgives without the Lynchian violence, Mister John is a mournful, melancholic stroll through a sun-kissed hornet’s nest. The initial whispered conversations and middle-distance stares feel like a calm before a gathering storm. Questions about the quality of life, and the value of women in an economy where they are a key commodity, soon take over. Lawlor and Molloy capture the conflicts pushing and pulling Gillen’s troubled man, the desire to investigate his brother’s passing muddied by the disintegration of his marriage, and a world where a man’s basest desires are exploited at every turn. This is his brother. And that could be his daughter. Or his cheating wife.
Review by Paul Byrne