Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak.
THE PLOT: Rudd plays rising young corporate hotshot Tim, about to join the big boys upstairs – once he attends one of the boss’ secret dinners. A secret because each of the invited has to bring along the biggest idiot he can find. Think of the IFTAs. Only with better-looking, and more talented, people.
As luck would have it, Tim almost runs down Barry (Carell) as the latter scoops up some roadkill to add to his vast stuffed mouse collection. Despite the growing protests from his long-term girlfriend (Szostak), Tim decides to invite Barry as his big night, a twisted affair which turns out to be not so much Eyes Wide Shut as Mouths Wide Open. Especially when Barry’s arch rival, the cape-wearing, Barry’s-wife-shagging Therman (Galifianakis) turns up.
THE VERDICT: Remaking the 1998 French hit Le diner de cons, Jay Roach (Meet The Parents, the Austin Powers outings) does a fine job here of relocating the laughs to the US. Of course, it helps when you’ve got the likes of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell on your team, but there’s a lightness of touch here that even the French might envy. And Zach Galifianakis is in full cosmic mode. Sweet. RATING: 4/5
Directed by Shimmy Marcus. Starring Martin Compston, Felicity Jones, Alfie Allen, Nicola Burley, Pat Shortt, Craig Parkinson.
THE PLOT: On his way to becoming the new James McAvoy, Martin Compston (Sweet Sixteen, The Disappearance Of Alice Creed) is Stoke-On-Trent wideboy Joe, happy to jive to Mud’s Tiger Feet in The Purple Onion when he’s not delivering spuds with his Tom Jones-loving boss, Brendan (Shortt, doing the tender oaf shuffle once again). But then he spots hairdresser Jane (Burley), looking like she’s just waltzed off a Roxy Music sleeve. And he follows her to The Wigan Casino, where kids from all around dip, dive and spin to vintage soul on 45.
Naturally, it takes some time for Joe to find his feet, and to realise that the true love of his life is the sweet girl helping him through his moves, Mandy (Jones, something of a pin-up for ’70s-set coming-of-age tales, having played close to the same muse role in Flashbacks Of A Fool and Cemetery Junction).
THE VERDICT: Try to imagine Saturday Night Fever mixed with a little Billy Elliot, but set in the UK’s Northern Soul boom of the 1970s in mighty Wigan, and you might just have Shimmy Marcus’ sweet-natured, thumping little film. Having previously given us the Aidan Walsh documentary, Master Of The Universe, and the crime caper Headrush, Marcus handles Jeff Williams’ script with just the right mix of Bill Forsyth and Shane Meadows here, giving us something akin to North Is North. The soundtrack’s pretty darn pumpin’ too…RATING: 4/5
Directed by Daniel Stamm. Starring Patrick Fabian, Nell Sweetzer, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones.
THE PLOT: A film all about belief, the charismatic Reverent Cotton Marcus (Fabian) is happy to let documentary maker Iris (Bahr) know that, after the death of his young son, he no longer believes in the man above, his evangelical glee now merely a lucrative act. So much so, he’s bringing Iris along to his next exorcism, deep in New Orleans’ bible belt, where he will reveal all the tricks – hidden speakers, electric shocks, effervescent powder in the water – of his shyster trade.
And that’s when the belief of the tormented – and now defiled – young girl’s father comes into play, his wide-eyed determination to rid his daughter of the devil inside soon giving Cotton and Iris plenty of pause for thought. And good reason to run for the hills. Especially when young Nell (Bell, delivering Linda Blair’s Regan via Amy Adams’ childlike Ashley in Junebug) goes feral.
THE VERDICT: Breathing some new life into a well-worn genre, The Last Exorcism may not exactly reinvent the wheel, but it does deliver when it comes to thoughtfully, methodically and mercilessly scaring the bejasus out of its audience. Somewhere betweenRosemary’s Baby and The Blair Witch Project, director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth prove that you can have both smarts and scares in a modern horror flick.
By the end, you don’t know who to believe, the father or the Father, and you’re left just as dazed and confused as, well, most God-fearing Americans today. RATING: 3/5
Directed by Nanette Bernstein. Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan.
THE PLOT: Erin (Barrymore) lives in San Francisco. Garrett (Long) lives in New York. Nonetheless, they decide to give it a go. Being the hip young, wacky couple that they are. But it ain’t easy, when her sister-in-law (Applegate) is anal, and his best friends are, well, typical sidekick assholes.
THE VERDICT:There wouldn’t have been much research needed for former couple Barrymore and Long here, and there’s definitely an attempt here to do deeper and darker than your average romcom. So much so that, by the end, this feels like (500) Days Of Bummer. Overkooked, and undernourished. RATING: 3/5
Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Jeff Goldblum.
THE PLOT: Aniston is the desperate mum-to-be who decides to go the turkey baster route, only to discover seven years later that her best friend (Bateman) thought it would be a good idea to switch the sperm sample with his own. And then they all die in a horrible Scrabble accident.
THE VERDICT: Aniston really should get her head out of the lonely hearts column and start reading these scripts – they’re beginning to feel like the sort of join-the-dots monsters that McConaughey and Hudson usually sign up for. There may even be a chance that they passed on this one – it’s that dull. Still, at least the great unwashed in the US stayed away in their millions; hopefully, everyone involved will be a little wiser – and funnier – next time. RATING:1/5
JONAH HEX (USA/15A/81mins)
Directed by Jimmy Hayward. Starring Megan Fox, Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Aidan Quinn.
THE PLOT: Based on the DC Comics character first introduced in the early 1970s, Jonah Hex (Brolin) is the wild west shooter given the power to communicate with the dead by the Native Americans who nurse him after a vengeful attack by his former Confederate commanding officer (Malkovich). Setting himself up as bounty hunter, Hex soon realises that there’s a bounty on his head. And that his commanding officer is actually live and well, and still up to no good.
THE VERDICT: Having looked pretty darn good on paper – literally – this unholy mess has become this summer’s Wild Wild West – and I can think of no darker fate than that for a movie. Former movie star Megan Fox puts another nail in her career coffin (maybe those Native Americans can help her remove her box-office curse?), dragging the otherwise reliable Josh Brolin down with her in this misfiring comic book adaptation. RATING: 1/5
Directed by Scott Sanders. Starring Michael Jai White, Obba Babatunde, Kevin Chapman, Tommy Davidson, Arsenio Hall.
THE PLOT:When his only brother is killed, Black Dynamite (White) sets out for revenge. As luck would have it, his brother was killed by The Man – a shady individual who has also been pumping heroin into the local orphanage. And is setting out to emasculate African American men with some malt liquor. Being reinstated into the CIA helps, but our boy knows that this is one fight where he will eventually have to go it alone. Given that everyone in government is corrupt. And intent on keeping the black man down.
THE VERDICT:A deeply affectionate, and pretty hilarious, tribute to the blaxploitation genre, writer/star Michael Jai White gets the tone just right, never slipping into mere farce or trying to offer up a pale imitation. How can you not love a movie where the hero ends up battling Dr. Wu on Kung Fu Island? White was inspired here whilst listening to James Brown’s Super Bad. Hopefully, he’ll be inspired to write a sequel too.RATING: 4/5
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Starring Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carriere, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti.
THE PLOT: The story centres on a brief encounter between Binoche’s French antique shop owner Ellie and Shimell’s British author, James. The latter is giving a reading; the former invites him around to her cellar shop before he catches his evening train home. As the day unfolds, the two play house, pretending to be in a relationship. Until they are. All just before sunset too.
THE VERDICT: The great Juliette Binoche leads the way in this romantic drama set under the Tuscan sun, marking the first film by writer/director Abbas Kiarostami outside his native Iran.
It’s all very slight, and surprisingly ordinary, but then, Kiarostami here seems to be pushing against pushing the envelope. In the end, the only truly notable aspect of Certified Copy is the fact that it is the acting debut of opera singer Shimell. RATING: 2/5
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Starring Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Tom Kane, Jumayn Hunter, Ashley Chin, Sonny Muslim.
THE PLOT: Shades of Haneke’s Funny Games abound as a bored married couple, Christine (Blake) and Mike (Butcher), have another dull evening muttering at each other interrupted by the arrival of three rather threatening young men come looking for their teenage son, Sebastian (Kane). It doesn’t take long before the duct tape is out, as Rian (Hunter), Asad (Chin) and their lackey Teddy (Muslim) settle in to play the waiting game.
THE VERDICT: The critical response, both in the national papers and on the festival circuit, has been poor-to-confused, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams still struggling to live up to his powerful 2006 breakthrough feature London To Brighton. If the Portsmouth lad’s 2008 follow-up, The Cottage, seemed a little smarter than your average Brit schlock horror, his latest attempts to tap into latter-day Lukas Moodyson. Or good old Haneke. Unfortunately, Cherry Tree Lane never comes close to either of those masters of mild-mannered – and mind-bending – mayhem. Williams’ intentions – and talents – are all in check, but this just doesn’t quite hurt where and when it should…RATING: 2/5
TURN ON YOUR DARKLIGHT
Fans of Darklight will be delighted to know that not only have they just put their Early Bird tickets on sale (€60 for a season pass), but they’ve also announced their Darklight 2010: Heroes Edition Guest Programmers, with previous guests of the festival given the opportunity to invite along their personal heroes (think Chain Reaction, in the flesh), Darklight’s big cheese Nicky Gogan inviting along Lance Weiler as the keynote speaker. They’ve also (deep breath) changed their address, which is really no business of yours.