A DATE FOR MAD MARY (Ireland/15A/82mins)
Directed by Darren Thornton. Starring Séana Kerslake, Charleigh Bailey, Tara Lee, Denise McCormack, Barbara Brennan.
THE PLOT: After being released from prison, “Mad” Mary (Seána Kerslake) returns to her hometown of Drogheda, expecting to just fit back into her old life. Her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) is getting married and wants Mary as her maid of honour, but seemingly wants nothing else to do with her. Seeking friendship, Mary begins spending time with Jess (Tara Lee), but without facing her issues, Mary seems doomed to repeat her past mistakes.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Date for Mad Mary’, based on the play ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’ is a small story with a huge heart. Populated with characters the audience knows, the film is funny and endearing, and although the title character is not always very likeable, she is understandable and easy to root for.
Seána Kerslake leads the show here as the titular Mary, and makes the character both angry at the world, and angry at herself for her disgust with life. Kerslake makes the character warm and endearing underneath her protective shell of anger and disgust, and once Mary begins to warm to the newest person in her life, Kerslake really gets to shine, and show the character in all of her flawed glory. Charleigh Bailey makes Charlene the passive aggressive girlie girl we all love to hate, but again, makes the character recognisable if not always kind, and Tara Lee as Jess is a breath of fresh air with these angry and bitter characters at the centre of the film. The rest of the cast features Denise McCormack, Barbara Brennan and Siobhan Shanahan, whose role rests of expressive and often inspired facial expressions, that speak volumes.
Darren Thornton and Colin Thornton’s screenplay allows Seána Kerslake to take centre stage, but is economical in both dialogue and exposition, making great use of the old movie making adage; show, don’t tell. The dialogue feels real, natural and is often peppered with swear words, and although this dramedy is not filled with laughs, the few there are land well. The film is well paced and, as mentioned, tells a small story with a huge heart, there are times when plot points are obvious from a mile away, but this story of love, dating and leaving the past behind is carefully and subtly wrapped up, without clichéd monologues or familiar tropes.
As director, Darren Thornton is never afraid to make Mary a hateful character, but it is in her reactions to confronting both her past and her future that we truly learn about who this person is, and the issues she is struggling to overcome. ‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is well paced and features strong performances, but it really is in the smaller moments that the film excels.
In all, ‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is a film about a small story that manages to be big, all encompassing and familiar in just the right way, Seána Kerslake shines and easily leads the cast in their relatable performances, and although this is not a side of Ireland that international audiences may be familiar with, it is one that will resonate with its humanity, humour and heart.
Review by Brogen Hayes
SAUSAGE PARTY (USA/18/89mins)
Directed by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Starring the voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, Danny McBride.
THE PLOT: It’s another fine morning at Shopwell’s supermarket, and all the shelves are heaving with joy and expectation as they sing their daily happy song about getting to the promised land. Which is, basically, out that door, to happiness, home and heaven. For hot dog Frank (Rogen) it means finally being able to consummate his love for his beloved bap, Brenda (Wiig), the two having stayed firm and untainted in their shared packagings, hoping and praying that they will one day be finally free to frolic in some satisfied customer’s kitchen.
Only, life on the other side of those sliding doors isn’t all sweetness and virgin oil, as one terrified jar of honey mustard (McBride) is keen to reveal when he’s returned for regular mustard. That all the food stuffs are being fed a load of baloney to keep them from the darkness that awaits soon becomes apparent to Frank – now, how to start a food revolution…?
THE VERDICT: What is it about extreme bad taste when placed in a traditionally good taste medium, especially cartoons? The great ‘South Park’ tapped into this particular depraved stream beautifully, but whenever outrageous comedy hits the mainstream – from Derek & Clive to Bronx Bunny & Teddy T, Jerry Sadowitz and Frankie Boyle – there is something so deliciously wrong about jerkers in the pack that it makes for mildly guilty but incredibly satisfying laughs.
With Sausage Factory, Seth Rogen, fittingly enough, pulls together all his weiner friends for a foul-mouthed fable that somehow crosses ‘Toy Story 3’’s nightmare kindergarten with Kubrickian kick of ‘The Matrix’. Even though it’s about a bunch of supermarket shelf dwellers dreaming of the after-sale. From an original story by Rogen and his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg, plus buddy Jonah Hill (and adapted for the screen along with two more writers), ‘Sausage Party’ plays like a movie concocted, and riffed into shape, at about four in the morning. At half-past bong o’clock, to be precise.
Like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore just taking a sick idea and twisting it until it goes very blue, ‘Sausage Party’ never lets up, either on its shameless puns nor its clever use of world cuisine as geopolitical stereotypes – just so Rogen and co can put the F into those tense UN border negotiations. And alongside all the slapstick and satire, there’s a hero’s arc in there too, along with a touching lust story.
Review by Paul Byrne
CAFÉ SOCIETY (USA/12A/96mins)
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott.
THE PLOT: In Hollywood of the 1930s, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) arrives in Hollywood with big dreams of working with his uncle Phil, who just so happens to be an agent to the stars. Although the dream of riches and fortune don’t come quickly, Bobby soon finds love – albeit unrequited – with his uncle’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is in a relationship with a man who is already married.
THE VERDICT: As usual, Woody Allen has lined up an impressive cast, including Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Ken Stott, Parker Posey, Anna Camp and Jeannie Berlin in small roles, led by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Jesse Eisenberg does his best to make Bobby likeable and sweet, but after an encounter with an inexperienced call girl (Anna Camp), the trademark manic arrogance that the actor brings to much of his work begins to show. Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, manages to leave behind all of the tics and crutches that she developed through the ‘Twilight’ films, and makes Vonnie engaging and likeable. Stewart lights up the screen each time she appears, and it is when she disappears for a time that the film begins to run out of energy.
Allen’s screenplay for the film has a sweet story at its heart, but it is told in a complicated and tangled way. With Allen himself narrating proceedings, characters and stories jump through time seemingly at will, leaving Allen’s narration to fill in the blanks, and there are so many subplots going on, which could well be stories of their own, it is not long before the characters change so much as to be unrecognisable, and the story becomes bloated. The dialogue for the film is fine – there are plenty of laughs brought by Jeannie Berlin as the overbearing Jewish mother – although there are times when this feels stilted and forced.
As director, Allen once again creates familiar characters on the screen, but there is a dire lack of emotion throughout the film, which means that although characters may state their emotion, it is difficult for the audience to feel this, or engage with it. This means that the film – shot by Vittorio Storaro in his first collaboration with Woody Allen – is visually an Art Deco dream of nostalgia, but ends up feeling rather dull and superficial. ‘Café Society’ marks the first time that Woody Allen has shot a film on the digital format, which leads to a strange disconnect between the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, and the new technologies emerging today. As well as this, there is an attempt to have the camera gaze on Kristen Stewart the way cameras did on starlets in the 1930s, but this is done in a clunky and obvious way that does not sit well with the rest of the film.
In all, it is great to have Woody Allen back at Cannes but perhaps the prolific director – this is his 47th film at the helm – needs to focus less on quantity and more on quality. The story at the heart of ‘Café Society’ is a sweet one, but it is never fully explored, and while Kristen Stewart is luminous on screen, the rest of the cast fall into old patterns or, like Blake Lively and Corey Stoll, are criminally underused.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX (UK | Canada | USA/15A/108mins)
Directed by Alexandre Aja. Starring Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Molly Parker
THE PLOT: Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is accident-prone. He believes his first accident was being born via caesarean section, but when an accident on his ninth birthday leaves him in a coma and his father missing, Dr Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan) decides to try a new way of communicating with the boy, to find out just what caused his accident and how much he knows.
THE VERDICT: ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ is based on the novel of the same name by Liz Jensen, and is a strangely muddled film. The tone and pace of the film are never quite right, so while there is a lot to admire, ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ never seems to land properly.
Aiden Longworth leads the cast as young Louis Drax, and is as charming, deceitful, angry and fun as a nine-year-old boy should be. His voiceover brings the film together, and it is clear that he is a young actor to keep an eye out for. Sarah Gadon plays Louis’ mother Natalie, and makes the character quiet but with a darkness lingering just underneath the surface. Aaron Paul plays Louis’ father Peter, and has a strong rapport with his young co-star in this smaller role, Jamie Dornan breaks out the charm and curiosity as a young doctor who believes that there is more going on with Louis than meets the eye.
Max Minghella’s screenplay for ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ is a tonal mess. The introduction to the film leads the audience to believe that the film will be a charming, whimsical romp along the lines of ‘Amelie’ or ‘Hugo’, but there is a darkness to the film that is only hinted at for most of the 108 minute running time, before coming to the fore too late for it to save the meandering film that is not quite mysterious enough.
As director, Alexandre Aja gets strong performances from the cast, but never truly manages to settle on a tone for the film – whimsy and reality continually clash, and never sit well together in ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’. As well as this, the idea that there is a mystery to be solved is evident from the beginning, but there is so much misdirection in the film it is hard to know which mystery the audience should care about. The pacing of the film is also a mess, with most of the film meandering in and out of dreams, and through the life of Louis through flashback, so when the finale finally does hit, it seems to come from nowhere.
In all, ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ is never sure what it is going for. The whimsical, childlike side of the story never sits well with the dramatic, real world tale, and although there is plenty to like in the film this mish-mash never gels, and the finale feels rushed and rather out of place.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Meera Menon. Starring Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Craig Bierko
THE PLOT: Investment banker Naomi (Anna Gunn) is tenacious, smart and incredibly good at her job. When scandal threatens her newest investment however, Naomi must get to the bottom of the rumours, and uncovers a web of corruption that begins right at her own front door.
THE VERDICT: ‘Equity’ is the first female driven film about Wall Street, but although it has some smart commentary about women struggling in a world dominated by men, it does feel startlingly regressive at times.
Anna Gunn leads the cast here, and she is no stranger to playing powerful women, who refuse to be shut out because of their gender, and this is just who Naomi is. Although she operates fully legally, she has made some wrong choices in her life; choices that would be completely different if they were made by a man, Gunn makes Naomi strong and wilful, and someone who does not suffer fools gladly. Alysia Reiner plays Samantha, a prosecutor with something to prove, and as much as her character Figueroa was a force to be reckoned with on Orange is the New Black, the same is true here, as Samantha is tenacious and as strong willed as the people she is investigating. Sarah Megan Thomas rounds out the central trio as Erin, a young woman desperate to get ahead, no matter the cost. The rest of the cast features Craig Bierko, Nate Corddry, Carrie Preston and Lee Tergesen.
Amy Fox’s screenplay, based on a story by herself, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner attempts to show up the differing ways that women and men are treated in the world of high finance, and to an extent succeeds, but there are times when this entire message is undermined by the behaviour of the characters. Women try to break out of their traditional roles while slipping deeper into them, and this is the first hurdle that the film encounters.
The second hurdle comes at the hands of director Meera Menon, who gives the audience all the information we need to root for the characters, but gives us very little emotional reason to support these women, other than the fact that they are women, and they are the centre of the story. Although the performances are good, the action does not kick in until late in the film, and even though the reveal of corruption and the desire that people have to get ahead is interesting, it comes too late in the film to truly be effective.
In all, there is a great concept behind ‘Equity’, but for all that the film tries to be progressive, there are times when it is distinctly backward looking. The performances are great though, and although the message gets somewhat lost through some winding story and on the nose metaphor, ‘Equity’ is definitely watchable, if not particularly exciting.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Luke Scott. Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie
THE PLOT: Corporate fixer Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to a remote location to balance the risk vs profit of an artificially created humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) after she stabs her handler Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in an unprovoked attack.
THE VERDICT: ‘Morgan’ is the first feature length film from Luke Scott – son of Ridley – and although it boasts an impressive cast, it is hard to shake the feeling that we have seen this story before.
Kate Mara leads the cast as the cold, calculating and logical Lee Weathers. Mara does well in the role, and makes Weathers the voice of reason throughout the film, while allowing the audience’s suspicions about the character to grow. Anya Taylor-Joy obviously has fun with her character, beloved and feared in equal measure, as she fights the instincts created within her. The rest of the cast features Jennifer Jason Leigh, Toby Jones, Brian Cox, Rose Leslie, Michelle Yeoh and Paul Giamatti in smaller roles.
Seth W. Owen’s screenplay, while inventive, struggles with familiarity almost from the offset. While exposition is carefully handled, and the dialogue feels natural, the story is very reminiscent of Hanna meets Ex Machina, and the film struggles to shake this off. The twist, such as it is, is obvious from very early on, and the characters never rounded out enough for us to know who they are bar a one-line synopsis.
As director, Luke Scott does fine with ‘Morgan’, the tension is ramped up throughout the running time, but the secrets that the film holds are clear from the start. The performances are strong and the pacing is steady, and although the final set piece is a lot of fun, the film offers more questions than answers, and does not leave the audience feeling smart for figuring it out ahead of time, but rather daft for believing that there were answers to be had.
In all, there is fun to be had with ‘Morgan’, but the feeling of familiarity lingers throughout the film. Luke Scott has assembled a phenomenal cast, and cemented his place as a director to watch out for, but a more original screenplay would have helped the film, as would actors who were properly used to show off just how darn good they are. Still, ‘Morgan’ is worth a watch, but never quite grips the way it should.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THINGS TO COME (France | Germany/12A/102mins)
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. Starring Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard
THE PLOT: Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) seems quite comfortable in her life as wife, mother, daughter and teacher. When all of this begins to fall apart with the announcement that her husband of 25 years is leaving her, Nathalie begins to taste freedom for the first time in years… Or perhaps ever.
THE VERDICT: Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s previous film – ‘Eden’ – was inspired by her brother’s experiences in the dance music scene of Paris, and this new film mines her mother’s life for the big screen. It is immediately obvious that this is a very personal story for the writer/director, but in telling the tale of a woman whose life has gone stagnant, the film seems to offer little in the way of movement.
It is no great surprise that Isabelle Huppert confidently and ably carries the story of Nathalie in ‘Things to Come’. Calm in the face of so much change, Nathalie clings onto the smallest of things – her mother’s cat, in fact – and her relationship with this pesky feline becomes a metaphor for how her life is going at this crisis point in her life. Huppert is elegant and infinitely watchable, and it is her story that the audience engages in. The rest of the cast features André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob and Sarah Le Picard.
Hansen-Løve’s screenplay observes Nathalie as she deals with a tumultuous period in her life, and even though the calm and grace with which she faces the challenges heaped upon her may seem alien, it is clear that there is a storm brewing beneath the surface. There are times when the film is frustrating in its lack of movement, however, although there are some laughs throughout the film, it really is one based on observation than action.
As director, Mia Hansen-Løve gets great performances from her cast, and although she never ups the ante in terms of pacing, emotion or action, it is all there underneath the surface, if you know where to look. The film does feel a little drawn out at times, however, and a stronger thread tying it all together could have made for a more engaging film.
In all, Isabelle Huppert once again shows why she is the queen of European cinema in this carefully observed and beautifully acted film. The languid pace is troublesome from time to time however, but emotion is wonderfully understated throughout the film.
Review by Brogen Hayes