MY NAME IS EMILY (Ireland/12A/100mins) Directed by Simon Fitzmaurice. Starring Evanna Lynch, Michael Smiley, Martin McCann, George Webster, Barry McGovern. THE PLOT: Teenager Emily (Evanna Lynch) always had slightly off kilter parents – her father (Michael Smiley) read obsessively when she was born and did not speak for a year – but after tragedy strikes and Emily is sent to live with a foster family, she is determined to rescue her father from a psychiatric hospital and, with the help of a new friend Arden (George Webster), she sets out to do so. THE VERDICT: The story behind ‘My Name is Emily’ is an intriguing one, and one that eh audience finds hard to put aside when watching the film. Not only is this writer/director Simon Fitzmaurice’s first film, but it is also a film written and directed by a man surviving with late stage motor neuron disease.
Evanna Lynch finally returns to the big screen at this side of the Atlantic after her star making turn as Luna Lovegood in the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise – there have been some US cinematic outings, like ‘GBF’ and ‘Addiction: A 60s Love Story’ – and she takes the lead in My Name is Emily with ease. Shaking off the sometimes stilted feel of her performances in the Harry Potter films, Lynch makes Emily a rounded and believable character whose odd formative years have led to her being a fiercely independent and clever young woman. There are times where the character seems to change her mind on a whim, but Lynch almost always makes this work.
Michael Smiley plays Emily’s father Robert and, although he is a relatively small character, his influence is obvious in Emily, and Smiley makes the character warm and energetic. George Webster rounds out the central trio as Arden; a young man fascinated by Emily and who is brought along for the journey when she sets out on a road trip across Ireland.
Simon Fitzmaruice’s story starts off feeling like a teen Terrence Malick movie, filled with fleeting images, swirling pages and out of focus lights, as well as teen profundity from Emily, which is obviously influenced by her father. Once Emily and Arden hit the road however, the film turns into a road movie, showing off Ireland at its beautiful best, but slightly undermining the introspection of the first act. From here, the film gets back on track once truths are revealed to be only half true, and Emily struggles to reconcile the lies she has been told with the rest of her life.
As director, Fitzmaurice has a light touch, making ‘My Name Is Emily’ feel like a glossy, breathless adventure to reclaim the love of a parent, while developing new love at the same time. As well as this, the film is constructed in such a way that it feels as though the film is the imaginary one that Emily is the star of – the one in her own head – and it is this that gives the film a lot of its charm and warmth.
In all, ‘My Name is Emily’ is a little uneven in tone, but Evanna Lynch proves herself well able to carry a film, and the light and glossy touch given to a story with a dark undertone is charming and sweet. RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
DHEEPAN (France/15A/115mins) Directed by Jacques Audiard. Starring Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers, Faouzi Bensaïdi. THE PLOT: Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) moves from war-torn Sri Lanka to France with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and Illayaal (Claudine Winasuthamby). To all intents and purposes, they are a family trying to escape the horrors of their home country, but the three are travelling on the passports of the dead; this secret unites them, and also almost becomes their undoing THE VERDICT: ‘Dheepan’ is the first film by director Jacques Audiard since 2012’s ‘Rust and Bone’. ‘Dheepan’ tells the story of an immigrant family, held together by a secret. The film opens with Yalini running around a slum town desperately searching for a child; it seems that she and Dheepan need a child to travel with for their story to work, but far from kidnapping the 9 year old girl they end up with, she is an orphan whose aunt seems to willingly hand her over.
Kalieaswari Srinivasan, as Yalini is, in many ways, the heart of the story. She plays the character well, making her gruff and ruthless, but eventually gentle and kind. Jesuthasan Antonythasan holds the family unit together as Sheepan. It is clear this man has a secret or two of his own, but he seems to be the most compassionate toward his adopted daughter. Antonythasan also makes sure that Dheepan has a dark and dangerous side, which he uses to keep the family in check. Claudine Winasuthamby plays Illayaal as quiet and respectful, utterly bewildered by the new world she finds herself in, but not afraid to speak her mind. The rest of the cast is made up of Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga and Franck Falise.
Much like ‘Rust and Bone’, Audiard makes ‘Dheepan’ a story of trust and adjustment as this family get to know one another. Transplanted to Le Pré, Dheepan works as a caretaker in a complex home to violent gangs, although he keeps his head down and they accept his presence. Yalini finds herself getting deeper into the world of the gangs as she cares for an elderly man, and Illayaal struggles with the transition to school, and making friends. The story is slow moving, but emotionally engaging for much of the film, but everything comes together once war breaks out between rival gang members. This allows the audience to see the true colours of the characters we have been watching, and the decisions they make in order to survive.
As director, Audiard makes ‘Dheepan’ a family drama set against the backdrop of secrets, lies and an encroaching sense of danger. Although much of the film is slow moving, the human story being told is engaging enough to keep the audience rooting for this newly formed family. The final act of the film is an utter change in pace, and is jarring at first, but the emotional groundwork has been laid carefully enough for the audience to accept this sudden change in circumstance and energy.
In all, ‘Dheepan’ is the story of a family coming together and falling apart. The performances are strong and engaging, and although the final act is a sudden change in tempo, we learn enough about the characters in the first two acts for this to be accepted. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (USA/12A/112mins) Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard. THE PLOT: Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a special kid; endowed with otherworldly powers, it seems that everyone is looking for him, including a cult with a mysterious leader and the government. To protect his son from those who seek to take advantage of him, Roy (Michael Shannon) takes Alton on the road, seeking coordinates that Alton received from an unknown source. THE VERDICT: Director Jeff Nichols returns with another small film with a big heart, that celebrates the magical eerie feeling of the Southern US, as well as the feeling that dusk is a time where anything could happen.
Michael Shannon leads the cast as the tenacious and gentle Roy; there is a wonderful kindness in the way he looks after his young son, and it is clear that this is a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures, but he never loses sight of what he has to do. As always, Shannon is engaging and slightly odd on screen, but brings Roy to life with warmth and care. Joel Edgerton plays Lucas, a friend helping Roy to save his son, Kirsten Dunst plays Alton’s mother Sarah and Adam Driver plays FBI Agent Paul Sevier. Jaeden Lieberher makes Alton quiet but engaging; there is an air of something magnetic about the character, and Sam Shepard turns up as the cult leader Calvin Meyer.
Jeff Nichols’ screenplay plays with the idea of the otherworldly feeling of dusk, and this is a time of day that recurs throughout the film, as well as this, Nichols once again takes a small, odd slice of Americana and blows it up to full size on the big screen, ready to be examined. This time it is the strange phenomenon of small, localised religions, and what happens to the people that find themselves at the centre of them. There is the feeling that Nichols enjoys the journey more than the destination here though, with the finale of the film feeling out of step with the two acts that go before it.
As director, Nichols has fun with the film, allowing the audience to be kept entirely out of the loop as to just what, if any, special powers Alton has, until these are slowly revealed throughout the film. ‘Midnight Special’ is a road movie crossed with ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, but it is a fun journey to go on with these characters. The strange abounds and, although the finale of the film, as mentioned, is not necessarily completely satisfying, it is a thrill chase, but one that leaves more questions than answers.
In all, ‘Midnight Special’ is a film carried by wonderful performances from Shannon, Dunst, Edgerton, Driver and the young Lieberher, but the story feels a little convoluted and the final moments of the film raise more questions than give satisfying answers. Still, ‘Midnight Special’ celebrates Americana is an engaging way, and dusk is shown to be the magical time that we all believed it was as kids. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (UK/12A/108mins) Directed by Matt Brown. Starring Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry. THE PLOT: During World War I, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) travels from Madras in India to Trinity College Cambridge to publish a paper on his findings in mathematics, under the supervision of G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). While there, Ramanujan soon realises that he is going to be put through his paces and made to prove his findings before anything is published. At the same time, Ramunujan deals with discrimination and racism, all while trying to keep his spirits and health up, and his relationship with his wife in India alive. THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a charming and touching film with strong performances at its heart, but is also a film that struggles with feeling disjointed and unfocused. Dev Patel carries the film as Ramanujan, and does well with making the character earnest and enthusiastic. It is with Patel that the story lives and dies, so his enthusiasm in the early part of the film makes us root for him, and when this enthusiasm is stripped away the audience begins to root for this underdog, who also happens to be a fish out of water. Jeremy Irons is strong as the unfriendly but caring G.H. Hardy, and it is mostly in the clash between Patel and Irons that the drama of the film is created. The rest of the cast features Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry and Devika Bhise.
Matt Brown’s screenplay, based on the biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel, tries its best to marry the events of the world, the events of Trinity College Cambridge and the culture shock and borderline rejection that Ramanujan feels throughout the film, with varying degrees of success. The film is at its strongest in the conversations between Hardy and Ramanujan, but it is when the screenplay tries to bring in the concerns of Ramanujan’s family back in India, and show the passage of time that it begins to feel episodic and disjointed as it jumps through time seemingly at will. A stronger focus would have meant the film was either about the clash of cultures or the struggle of mathematics at the time, but as it stands, the screenplay tries to combine both and ends up with something that is not quite either.
As director, Matt Brown takes to his first project since ‘Ropewalk’ in 2000 with gusto, but amps up the emotional saccharine sweetness a little too high, meaning that the actual struggle that Ramanujan would have gone through is lost in a sweet fog. As well as this, the film is oddly paced, with the focus shifting from person to person and issue to issue so often that the core heart of the film gets overshadowed from time to time, and the audience forgets that this is a film that is, above all, about a man trying to make his voice heard.
In all, Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel and Toby Jones shine in ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’, but this earnest and heart warming story becomes muddled with too many storylines, odd pacing and not enough focus on the mathematics. Never thought I would get to write that in a review… Or ever. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (USA/12A/114mins) Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Starring Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith. THE PLOT: Before the events of ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) tried to coax the magic from her kinder sister Freya (Emily Blunt), without any luck. When the love of Freya’s life betrays her, her magical powers are revealed, and she sets out to make her own kingdom, training an army of child soldiers – or Huntsmen – two of whom are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and his secret love Sara (Jessica Chastain). When things take a turn for the dark, Eric and Sara set out to stop Freya from gaining the ultimate evil power. THE VERDICT: So there have been rumours of a sequel to’ Snow White and the Huntsman’ for many a moon, with Kristen Stewart first confirmed then unconfirmed to reprise her role – spoiler; Stewart is not among the cast of this film – and Frank Darabont signing on to direct the film, before passing the torch to first time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Although The Huntsman: Winter’s War is billed as being a sequel, magic and mystery intervene to make sure we get the sequel that we were promised.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Eric the Huntsman, and does OK with the role to a point, but a tonal shift halfway through the film seriously undermines the character. Charlize Theron also returns, and eschews her shouty performance from the first film, opting instead to whisper all of her lines in a sexy ‘evil’ way that is fine, but does nothing to develop any sense of character. Emily Blunt takes on the role of Freya the Evil Ice Queen and channels her inner Elsa in setting herself up in an ice palace, but follows Theron’s lead in the whispering stakes, and the script takes her character on a journey that is muddled and unsatisfying. Jessica Chastain struggles with a Scottish accent throughout the film, playing a warrior with a heart, and elsewhere, Nick Frost turns up as comic relief, joined by Sheridan Smith, Rob Brydon and Alexandra Roach; none of whom really get a chance to do anything of note.
Screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin try to carry on the film from the end of Snow White and the Huntsman, but they are in new territory here, and trying to introduce the ice queen into the story feels clunky and doesn’t always marry with the tone of the film. As well as this, adding in the elements of the original story means that the film is full of odd tonal shifts, and none of the characters are fleshed out enough to have us root for them.
In terms of direction, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan seems to equate evil with sexy whispering, meaning that two of Hollywood’s strongest actresses – Blunt and Theron – are reduced to playing characters that feel as though they have fallen out of a commercial for soft porn. As well as this, the accents in the film are a mess, the comedy poorly timed and, although the action is fast paced, it doesn’t get the audience’s heart rate up as we have no-one to root for. On the positive side, the costumes are simply glorious – particularly those of Blunt and Theron – but then this leaves Theron feeling as though she is back in her Dior ad campaign and Blunt sometimes struggles to act through the layers of jewellery she is saddled with.
In all, ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ struggles with many things; the film tries to be a prequel and a sequel, tries to be a drama fused with a comedy, tries to be an action film fused with a love story, and fails on all counts. The script is littered with terrible dialogue and this, combined with some dodgy accents, does the actors a disservice, leaving ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ a bloated, boring mess. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes