DOPE (USA/16/103mins) Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. Starring Shameik Moore, Rakim Mayers, Blake Anderson, Chanel Iman, Zoe Kravitz. THE PLOT: Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are the uncool high school seniors. Obsessed with 90s hip hop, the kids are consistently bullied by their peers until they get invited to a party thrown by dope dealer Dom (Rakim Mayers). When the party is raided by a rival gang, and Malcolm discovers he has a backpack full of drugs and guns, the kids find themselves drawn into a world they knew existed, but had never truly encountered before. THE VERDICT: Executive produced by Pharrell Williams, and screened at Sundance before making it to Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, DOPE is a typical coming of age story with tons of heart and soul, and a killer soundtrack.
The three young actors who play the close friends in the film, Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori have great chemistry together and their timing works well. Moore stands out as the protanagist, and takes his characters through a believable emotional arc by the end of the film. Zoe Kravitz plays Nakia, the pretty girl trying to better herself and Chanel Iman has fun with her over the top character Lily. The rest of the cast is made up of Blake Anderson, Kieth Stanfield, Rick Fox, Quincy Brown and Roger Guenveur Smith, with Forrest Whittaker taking on narrating duty.
Rick Famuyiwa’s screenplay feels a little like GIMME THE LOOT – which screened at Cannes in 2012 – mixed with any film about drug dealing you care to name… PINEAPPLE EXPRESS?! Yeah, lets go with that. This means that the film does feel familiar and a little derivative at times, but the central three characters are well fleshed out, and get the audience on their side from the start, which keeps us engaged and curious. The film twists and turns – eventually becoming a heist movie – and almost wriggles out of Famuyiwa’s grasp, but he manages to hold on to it, just about.
As director, Famuyiwa puts the kids at the centre of the film and weaves the story around them. There is plenty of heart in the film, with the kids consistently trying to keep their heads above water. Their chemistry and charisma is what carries the film for the most part, but toward the end, the entire affair begins to run out of steam. The pacing sags as the kids bounce from one situation to another and, although this is eventually clawed back, it feels more contrived than the rest of the film’s silliness combined.
In all, DOPE is a great coming of age story with tons of heart but some serious flaws. Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori are wonderful together, and it’s great to hear koRn turn up on the soundtrack, but the film would have benefitted from some tighter editing and less repetition. Rating: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (USA/12A/105mins) Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Starring Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann,Connie Britton,RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon. THE PLOT: Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high school senior who, after years of struggling to find the right balance, is just the right amount of invisible at school. Greg’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos when his mother (Connie Britton) insists that he spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl from his school who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. THE VERDICT: It doesn’t seem like it has been that long since THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was released in Irish cinemas, but here we are again with another teen cancer movie in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Unlike Although this big screen teen cancer flick may be filled with quirky characters and teens with affectations, it somehow feels more honest than the John Green film from only last year.
Thomas Mann is strong in the leading role as Greg; he captures the affected youth feel in the character, and his voice over, although flowery in places, is wry, funny and ultimately, honest. Mann is charming enough for this self involved character to work, and he makes Greg likeable and warm. RJ Cyler plays Earl, Greg’s best friend since childhood, who he makes spoof silly movie remakes with, and who Greg mostly refers to as a ‘co-worker’ rather than a friend. Cyler makes a small character memorable and, although he may hide under a layer of bravado, Earl is actually and observant and kind character. Olivia Cooke rounds out the central trio, and makes Rachel less of a manic pixie dream girl, but one who certainly hides her pain and suffering for the sake of her friend. Rachel is self aware and observant, and Cooke works well with her co-stars. The rest of the cast is made up of Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal, Molly Shannon and Catherine C. Hughes.
The story, based on a novel by Jesse Andrews, was adapted for the screen by the author, and has a feel of a Wes Anderson film to it at times. Motion stop animation is used to illustrate points made in the voice over, and although the spoof movie idea may be a little too pleased with itself – titles include ‘Death in Tennis’, ‘Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs’ and ‘My Dinner with Andre the Giant’ – this does feel the affected nature of the characters. The cancer issue is dealt with in a clever and sweet manner, and is never really allowed to overwhelm the story, which focuses on the ‘doomed friendship’ instead.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who most recently worked on TV’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY, makes the film light and bright, with darkness creeping in around the edges. The performances from the entire cast are strong, although some are given more of a focus than others, but there is a cohesive feel to the film and, although Greg feels a little like a manic pixie dream boy at times, he is soon brought down a peg or two by the people who really know him. The pacing is strong, for the most part; it is a joy to spend time in this quirky world, but there are times when too much focus is given to a gag, which then slows the movie down to a crawl. The film is also beautifully shot, with some unexpected shots and off kilter framing.
In all, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is filled with affectations and self involved youths, but that feels honest for a film about 18 year olds. The performances are strong, the film beautifully shot and, although the pacing loses it from time to time, these affected youths are honest and moving. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
NO ESCAPE (USA/15A/103mins) Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Lake Bell, Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Claire Geare, Sterling Jerins THE PLOT: Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his family move to an unnamed Asian country to start a new life, 17 hours before a bloody coup over the country’s water facilities breaks out. Jack, his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two children must fight their way through the city to safety, while knowing that if caught, they will be executed. THE VERDICT: is a strange little movie in some ways; it is Owen Wilson’s first dramatic role since BEHIND ENEMY LINES – released in Ireland in 2002 – and although there are times when slo-mo is overused, the film is a decent and competent thriller.
Owen Wilson and Lake Bell really don’t have a huge amount to do here, except run away and look scared, but the scenes with their two young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) are rather delightful, giving a feel of natural and gentle camaraderie, and family love. Bell in particular is great with the young actresses, and her protective instinct as a mother, and heartbreak over having to tell her daughter to wet herself as they hide feel natural and real. Pierce Brosnan turns up as a mysterious man whose seeming drunkenness is a cover for something larger, and he makes the character funny, endearing and just a little bit badass. Sahajak Boonthanakit rounds out the cast as a taxi driver who goes by the name of Kenny Rogers.
The story, written for the screen by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle – who previously brought us horror movies QUARANTINE and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW – seems to follow the formula of an over the top 80s action movie for the first half, but then settles into the story being told and dials down the action movie tropes. The film ramps up the tension and, although there are perhaps one too many fight scenes, the action serves to develop the characters a little further, rather than being just action for action’s sake. We never learn exactly which Asian country the film is set in – although the country shares a border with Vietnam so a logical guess could be China, Laos, or Cambodia – but this doesn’t matter after the first moments of the film, and since most of the Asian players here are portrayed as bloodthirsty and violent, perhaps its a good job.
As director John Erick Dowdle seems a little uncomfortable with taking on the action mantle at first, and plays up the emotion between the family, as well as the aforementioned slow-mo, but becomes more comfortable as the film goes on. The violence is surprisingly bloody and visceral, and the tension mounts throughout the film – dissipating slightly as the film lumbers to a drawn out and seemingly pointed close.
In all, NO ESCAPE is a surprisingly engaging thriller. It’s refreshing to see Bell and Wilson in non-comedic roles, an their chemistry together, as well as with the young actresses who play their daughters – is sweet and warm. The film starts off like a conventional action thriller, before becoming tense and dark, bloody and highly violent scenes, but runs out of steam in the final act. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
RICKI AND THE FLASH (USA/12A/101mins) Directed by Jonathan Demme. Starring Meryl Streep, Mamie Gimmer, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield THE PLOT: Ricki (Meryl Streep) is a musician who gave up her marriage and her relationship with her children for the sake of her career. Reduced to playing in a dive bar in the San Fernando Valley, Ricki reunites with her family after her daughter Julie’s (Mamie Gummer) husband leaves her. Ricki’s former husband Pete (Kevin Kline) may be grateful to see her, but her kids are most certainly not… THE VERDICT: It doesn’t feel that long since writer Diablo Cody brought us into the world of Mavis Gary in YOUNG ADULT, and she has returned to the territory of a disenfranchised woman returning home to the scene of her greatest disasters with RICKI AND THE FLASH.
It is not really surprising that Meryl Streep is electric as the lead character, Ricki. Streep embodies the character well, making her charming and endearing, if ever so slightly misinformed and erring on the side of right wing. Mamie Gummer is strong as Ricki’s manic, depressed and angry daughter, who seems to blame her mother for all of her problems. The idea of casting Streep’s daughter as her on screen daughter could be seen as stunt casting, but she does well with the role. Kevin Kline does well with that he is given as Ricki’s ex-husband Pete and Rick Springfield is warm and kind as Ricki’s band mate and sometime lover Greg.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay, as mentioned, seems very familiar in the light of her previous work YOUNG ADULT; Ricki is another delusional woman who returns home and is given some life lessons she didn’t necessarily want. The character is also another woman who is emotionally closed off and seems to be in some kind of arrested development as she denies wrongdoing in any part of her life. it is not that these are not powerful messages, it is more that we have seen this before, from the same writer, not that long ago. The final resolution of the film is more than a little convenient too, which undermines the role of Ricki as the outsider that the audience should root for.
As director, Jonathan Demme allows Meryl Streep to be vibrant and bright at the centre of the film, but once she returns home from visiting her family, the film stumbles and seems to run out of steam. It seems that this was to be compensated for by throwing in a load of songs by Meryl Streep as Ricki – and her band The Flash – and while Streep is a helluva performer, the songs do nothing to move the story along, instead stifling and stilting it.
In all, if you have seen YOUNG ADULT, then you have seen RICKI AND THE FLASH. That said, Streep makes this film watchable and her performance is great, but she is hampered by some muddled directing, overuse of songs and the feeling that we have seen all of this before. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (France | China/15A/96mins) Directed by Camille Delamarre. Starring Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic THE PLOT: On the French Riviera, Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) is drawn into a dangerous world when his job as a ‘transporter’ puts him in contact with Maria (Tatiana Pajkovic) and her friends, who are intent on ripping off a notorious crime boss, to they can escape from their lives of servitude to him. THE VERDICT: Although it may have lost Jason Statham, the TRANSPORTER franchise seems determined to continue, with Ill Manors actor Ed Skrein in the leading role this time. The trouble is that while the film looks good – well, like a car ad – there is precious little plot, acting skill or subtlety to the entire affair.
It seems foolish to try and analyse the performances in THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED, since every single one of them is one note unsubtle and slightly wooden. The cast is made up of Ed Skrein, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic, Wenxia Yu, Radivoje Bukvic and Ray Stevenson who, frankly, should have known better with films such as THOR, BIG GAME and the PUNISHER and DIVERGENT franchises behind him.
Screenwriters Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Luc Besson did not seem to care very much for story when putting The Transporter Refueled together, since the dialogue is wooden and crawling with exposition, the fights frighteningly bloodless and the entire film filled with paper thin characters who the audience struggles to root for.
Director Camille Delamarre seems to have no interest in making any of the characters in the film rounded or likeable in any way, they instead manipulate one another while looking flawless and plastic, then do it all again to someone else. The pacing of the film is a mess, the fight scenes seem like the actors simply can’t be bothered to put any effort into them at all, and the final resolution comes so late in the film that any sympathy for these foolish, shiny and thin characters has long since disappeared.
In all, THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is a misguided attempt to keep the franchise going now that Jason Statham has moved on. None of the cast are particularly memorable, none of the characters are particularly likeable and, since it never really feels that anything is at risk, the film falls flat very quickly. Still, it was filmed on the French Riviera, and that looks pretty on screen. RATING: 0.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
BUTTERCUP BILL (UK/USA/IFI/96mins) Directed by Remy Bennett, Emilie Richard-Froozan. Starring Remy Bennett, Evan Louison, Pauly Lingerfelt, Mallory June, Monroe Robertson, Becca Gerroll, James Concannon. THE PLOT: Louisiana, and having formed a special bond early on, especially when their childhood friend, Flora (Katie Belle), committed suicide, Pernilla (Bennett) and Patrick (Louison) are instantly drawn to one another when they meet again years later. Quickly moving in together, and despite the near-mute Patrick’s newfound devotion to God, the two create a strange and strained sexual relationship, often inviting a third party into their kinky funtimes. Just why slowly becomes apparent… THE VERDICT: Co-written and co-directed (with Emilie Richard-Froozan) by leading lady Remy Bennett (granddaughter of the legendary Tony, fact fans), Buttercup Bill refers to a children’s game that takes on a sinister twist in the closing scenes here. Before the beast of the southern wild reveals himself though, there’s a lot of beautifully-staged shots and not-so-beautifully staged soul mining.
On the plus side, this is a tale told largely from the woman’s perspective, and never moreso than during the sex scenes. So, you know, kudos for that. RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
CARTEL LAND (Mexico/USA/Club/98mins)
Directed by Matthew Heneman. Starring Dr. José Mireles, Papa Smurf, Alfredo Castillo.
THE PLOT: We open in a remote Mexican country shack, middle of the night, and a bunch of masked men boasting that they are the no.1 meth cooks in Michoacán – having been taught well by two American chemists. “As long as He allows it,” says one, “we will make drugs.” Cut to Altar Valley, Arizona, an hour and a half out of Tuscon, and Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley leads a bunch of vigilante border patrols, determined to maintain that high fence between these two cultures. Tim’s guys are ‘The Magnificent Seven’. It’s a feeling most likely shared by Dr. José Mireles, founder and leader of Las Defensas, a Mexican vigilante group setting out to rid Michoacán of drug cartels, and are more than willing to take the law into their own hands, given that they believe the police, and federal government, are corrupt. Corruption seems to infiltrate everyone south of the border here, and even as Las Defensas move from town to town, fighting the good fight with growing success, there are divisions and dissidents, and dickheads, emerging within the group. Some clearly enjoy the act of killing just a little too much.
Before long, having survived what appears to be an assassination attempt, the good doc is on the run, from the government, from his divided party and from a justifiably jealous wife… THE VERDICT: As much Bruckheimer as Broomfield, Matthew Heneman’s look at the fight against Mexico’s drug cartels from both sides of the border is one stylish documentary. This is an examination of people who have stumbled into a bad world and, in this case, some really dramatic lighting. Even the lightning seems to work on cue here.
Concentrating largely on the almost-immediately successful and crowd-pleasing vigilante group The Autodefensas (who started up in February 2013) and its charismatic leader, smalltown doc José Mireles, as they set out to rid Michoacán town-by-town of the Templar Knight drug cartel, we also get to see a vigilante group just over the US/Mexico border, in Altar Valley, Arizona, this one determined to keep the cartels, and illegal Mexicans in general, the hell out of America. The leader here is former alcoholic Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley, who, along with pretty much everyone surrounding him, including his girlfriend, looks like Tim Blake Nelson on steroids.
It’s an incredible tale, almost too well told, Heneman employing so many Hollywood-esque techniques in shooting his documentary that you half-expect during a smalltown funeral scene to have Denzel Washington stride into view, gun cocked at a fleeing helicopter. Heneman doesn’t go full Tony Scott here, thankfully, as the story that unfolds has enough twists and turns, secrets and lies, and cops and robbers cruising that “imaginary line” to ensure that the reality on display is spectacular enough without any slo-mo shootouts. There are shades of THE GODFATHER, or THE SEVEN SAMURAI, albeit with a touch, on occasion, of a traveller feud with a budget.
There are many fascinating moments – such as when Templar Knights Chanque and Caballo are caught by the vigilante law group and are roundly slapped about the head and face and, every now and then, kicked hard in the balls – and if Heneman’s slick production sometimes takes you out of the reality on show, there’s still no denying the powerful truths being revealed here as the lines between heroes and villains becomes increasingly blurred. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne