Reviews – New movies opening April 10th 2015

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, JOHN WICK and THE DUFF…

Directed by Brett Morgen. Starring Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic.
THE PLOT: Director Brett Morgen brings audiences the first documentary about Kurt Cobain that has the approval of his family. Through the use of home movies, Cobain’s journals, artwork, photography and songbooks, Morgen pieces together the life of man who was billed as the spokesman for a generation, but in the end, was all too human.
THE VERDICT: COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is not the first documentary to be made about the late frontman of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, but it is the first film made about the artist’s life with the full co-operation of his family To that end, the film is made up of new interviews with Cobain’s parents, sisters, wife and band members, as well as home videos and excerpts from Cobain’s recordings and journals. What emerges is a picture of the idolised singer that does not try to hide the darker side of the man’s life, but carefully contrasts this with the public image that we know all too well.
Director Brett Morgen asks the necessary questions of his interview subjects, and spends a lot of the film dwelling on Cobain’s childhood, where he bounced from family member to family member, got involved with drugs and became fascinated with music. It is this focus on Cobain’s early life that is the most revealing; the fact that he dealt with rejection and heartache from an early age paints a powerful picture, and together with the animated sections of the film – put to Cobain’s recordings – and the excerpts from his journals, this is not only emotionally impacting but visually strong.
The story thins slightly when the film gets to the Nirvana side of the story, and this is where the tale begins to feel drawn out and slightly indulgent. Sure, the home movies with Courtney Love are interesting to begin with, and Cobain’s obvious adoration of his newborn daughter is sweet, but the film loses focus in trying to show both this side, and the darker aspect of his life that began to emerge around the same time. That said, the contrast between the public persona of Cobain and the idea that he was the spokesman for a generation of disaffected youths becomes apparent at this stage of the film, and the struggle that Cobain went through to reconcile these aspects of his life is all too apparent.
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is not easily dismissed as a film for the fans, it is a powerful film that shows a more rounded picture of the man than we have seen on screen before. The omissions of Frances Bean Cobain and Dave Grohl from the interviews is glaring, however, and there are times when the film feels drawn out for the sake of using unseen footage for the first time. In all, however, COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is a carefully constructed film that shows a fuller picture of Kurt Cobain than we have seen on screen before, warts and all.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

JOHN WICK (USA/16/101mins)
Directed by Chad Stahelski, David Leitch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Bridget Regan, John Leguizamo, Adrianne Policki.
THE PLOT: We open on Johnny (Reeves) rolling his jeep to a halt before stumbling out, bloodied and dazed, switching on his phone to view a happier time, with a pretty, smiling girl, on a sunny beach, before collapsing. Cut to the morning alarm, Johnny strolling through his open-plan penthouse home, grabbing a coffee as the flashbacks of the pretty girl mount, right up to her sudden collapse in his arms, and the kiss on the forehead as the machine is being turned off. All that sadness soon takes a back seat when the loudmouth son (Allen) of a local crime boss (Nyqvist) not only steals his beloved Mustang but kills his dog into the bargain. And that’s when the slow, steady march of revenge begins, the father instantly aware of the danger his son has put himself in. No one steals a car from John Wick. No one. They have awoken a beast.
THE VERDICT: Man, how long has it been since Keanu Reeves made a good movie? The guy is worse than Bruce Willis when it comes to the all-important hits-to-duds. After 47 RONIN, it’s very possible the guy might actually be banned from entering China. Jaysus, the money lost on that one. With all the gleeful punch of OLDBOY in its set-up, and its playful iconography giving JOHN WICK all the calm killer cool of Bruce Lee, Walker, Leon, The Man With No Name, Chili Palmer, eh, Taffin, and all the rest. Shit, this is very nearly as good as last year’s IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE.
The casting works too. Alfie Allen already has some experience in the ineffectual warlord’s son, Nyqvist (GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, TOGETHER) is his usual brilliant self, and Reeves’ one trick – looking like a dog who’s just been shown a card trick – fits the role just right. Best of all, JOHN WICK doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just gets on with being cool, and killing lots and lots of bad guys.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE DUFF (USA/15A/101mins)
Directed by Ari Sandel. Starring Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne.
THE PLOT:After she discovers the concept of the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – Bianca (Mae Whitman) believes that she is the DUFF of her social circle. Out to change people’s perception of her, Bianca joins forces with Wesley (Robbie Amell), her popular next-door neighbour to learn how she can shake off the label.
THE VERDICT: THE DUFF sets out to join the ranks of great teen comedies – even going so far as to reference THE BREAKFAST CLUB in the opening minutes – but following in the footsteps of EASY A, MEAN GIRLS and 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU leaves The DUFF at a slight disadvantage, even though it is a charming film.
Mae Whitman, with her performance in THE DUFF, proves that she is leading lady material, making Bianca not only likeable, but relatable and funny. Whitman has great comedic timing and happily throws herself into the character. Robbie Amell has nice chemistry with Whitman, and although he is playing a familiar character, he does it well. Bella Throne takes on the mean girl role of Madison, but doesn’t quite make her mean enough for the film to work, in actual fact, most of the dirty work is done by Madison’s weaker friend. The rest of the cast is made up of Ken Jeong, Romany Malco and Allison Janney.
The story is loosely based on Kody Keplinger’s novel of the same name, but deviates from the book after the opening act. Instead, the film follows a similar story arc to EASY A, but never reaches the highs and lows of Will Gluck’s film. Following such a familiar and beloved film’s arc takes some of the shine off The DUFF, as does pairing Bianca with Wesley; the two are teen enemies, but were friends as children, so it is easy to see that the enmity will drop, and where the film will end up. That said, the dialogue is amusing, and there is enough charm in the film to keep it engaging.
Ari Sandel directs well, drawing a strong performance from Mae Whitman, but none of the other cast members seem to be up to her level; perhaps they are underwritten, but the mean girl is never that mean, the quirky mom is only given one schtick and the jock friend is never really that much of a jock. The film is well paced, however, and even though the central concept falls away somewhere in the middle of the film, Sandel wisely focuses on Whitman to keep the film moving.
In all, THE DUFF is not quite up there with the classic teen comedies, but there are plenty of giggles to be had, some nice references to John Hughes and BLACKADDER, and Mae Whitman proves that she is more than capable of carrying a film as a lead actress. It’s just a shame that THE DUFF so closely follows the arc of EASY A, which makes it hard to shake off the feeling that we have seen this before.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Steve Pink. Starring Rob Corddry, Adam Scott, Craig Robertson, Clark Duke, Gillian Jacobs.
After he is shot in the crotch, Lou (Corddry)’s friends jump into the hot tub time machine to go back to the past, and stop the shooting ever happening. Trouble is, the time machine is not predictable and the gang end up 10 years in the future and make friends with Adam’s son, Adam Jr (Scott). The gang must find the shooter and get back in time to save Lou’s life before they mess up the future too badly.
The first HOT TUB TIME MACHINE movie was unexpectedly fun, but since the sequel was not press screened in Ireland, it’s fair to say my hopes were lowered going in. There are times when the film works on it’s own level, and some of the ad-libbed lines are genuinely funny, but when added to seemingly endless dick and anti-gay jokes, the shine of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 soon wears off.
The cast do fine with what they are given, and there are some genuine moments of connection between the characters, but this does not last, and its back to misogyny, testicle jokes and murderous cars faster than you can say ‘Great Scott!’.
There seems to be some audience fatigue at films filled with tasteless and low-brow jokes that rely on misogyny and anti-gay sentiments to get laughs, but this does not stop HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 from rolling out as many vulgar jokes as possible in the name of comedy, but these are jokes that truly do not land. The cast are better than this, and they seem to know it, although Corddry is high energy enough to power a small city.
In all, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 sets out to offend as many people as possible with its cheap, tacky and tasteless brand of humour. Few precious moments of genuine emotion or comedy are quickly overshadowed by seemingly endless dick jokes, misogyny and homophobic sentiment. A shame, the first film was a little gem, but this one would be better off erased from existence.
Review by Brogen Hayes

FORCE MAJEURE (Sweden | France | Denmark | Norway/15A/120mins)
Directed by Ruben Ostlund. Starring Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Cristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Karin Myrenberg, Brady Corbet.
THE PLOT: Not long into their skiing holiday, a family find themselves staring at potential disaster in the shape of an avalanche. Although physical disaster is avoided, it is not long before the family’s patriarch Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) finds his reaction to potential danger is under scrutiny, and the family dynamic is shaken to its core.
THE VERDICT: FORCE MAJEURE is an interesting film, which throws human instinct under the microscope, and leaves a man struggling to make up for and explain his actions during disaster. Johannes Bah Kuhnke does well in the leading role and, although his actions may sometimes he reprehensible, Kuhnke always manages to make Tomas’s actions feel honest. Lisa Loven Kongsli makes Ebba feel like a real person, whose actions, albeit not as dramatic as her husband’s, are no less questionable, and it is this dynamic and the feel of passive aggression that hangs over the film. The rest of the cast is made up of Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myrenberg.
Ruben Östlund’s story is an interesting one, but it is certainly not the tale of a man who’d rather save his iPhone than his family, as it has been touted. Instead, FORCE MAJEURE is the story of how the fallout of one simple event can change the dynamic of an entire group of people, before spilling over into the lives of those around them. By placing the family at a ski resort – a resort they are staying at for several more days – this gives the feeling of the family being trapped and, instead of talking about their issues together, allow them to boil over into passive aggression and resentment.
As director, Ruben Östlund makes Force Majeure a drama about a family, but also allows the characters’ resentments with one another to bubble up. As well as this, there is the feel that all this is the lead up to midlife crises for the heads of the family, but that’s another film for another time. The film is beautifully shot, but suffers through some drawn out pacing and seemingly endless arguments that are never resolved. This detracts from the energy of the film, as does continuous screaming from the child actors, which grates after a while.
In all, FORCE MAJEURE has an interesting central concept that gets a little lost through endless arguments, drawn out pacing and some unnecessary scenes. That said, the film is beautifully shot and, for the most part, feels honest in its portrayal of a family on the brink of imploding.
Review by Brogen Hayes

GOOD KILL (USA/15A/102mins)
Directed by Andrew Niccol. Starring Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood.
THE PLOT: Experienced wartime pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) begins to question his reasons for doing his job, when his job evolves into that of a drone pilot.
THE VERDICT: GOOD KILL sees Ethan Hawke reunite with director Andrew Niccol for the third time – after GATTACA and LORD OF WAR – in a tale about a pilot who finds himself grounded behind he controls of a drone flying over Afghanistan.
Hawke does well with what he is given, but his hands are tied with Andrew Niccol’s script, which supposedly planned to have Hawke’s character slowly descend into boredom and loneliness, but just ended up making him a secretive man who is unkind to his fickle wife. Zoe Kravitz takes on the role of drone rookie Vera Suarez and again, has precious little to do. The rest of the cast is made up of January Jones, Jake Abel and Bruce Greenwood.
Andrew Niccol’s script has an interesting idea at it’s heart; pilot placed behind the controls of a drone is bored due to the nature of his safe job, but in creating a film about a character who is bored, Niccol has only succeeded in making a boring film. Much of the screen time is either spent watching Hawke drink or watching him watch people on a video monitor. There is a mildly distracting subplot that sees the CIA step into take control of proceedings, but instead of this galvanising the team, it just leads to some sassy backchat from the soldiers.
As director, Niccol completely fails to make the film engaging after the first 15 minutes, and allows the film to devolve into watching people watching people. There is more than enough of this to prove the point about boredom, and it is not long before this becomes as boring for the audience as it is for the characters. The film’s pacing is a mess, and the final salvation for Hawke’s character is hardly a flag waving moment, meaning that GOOD KILL goes out with a whimper.
In all, GOOD KILL is a boring film about people being bored. There is very little to engage here, with badly written characters and a plot that feels almost non-existent.
Review by Brogen Hayes