TRAINWRECK (USA/16/125mins) Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton Brie Larson, LeBron James, Ezra Miller. THE PLOT: Amy (Amy Schumer) is a woman in her 30s with a successful career as a magazine writer. Although her professional life may be on point, her personal life is less so, with her having a string of one night stands – without the knowledge of her boyfriend – and her father being moved to a care home. When Amy meets the charming and sweet Aaron (Bill Hader), and the two start dating, she has to overcome her fear of commitment, and fast. THE VERDICT: Although American audiences have been aware of the brilliant Amy Schumer for some time, at this side of the world, her success and arrival into the spotlight feels sudden, and delightfully welcome. Not only is Schumer wonderfully funny, but with her script for TRAINWRECK, she proves that she is a talent to keep an eye on.
Schumer plays a character who audiences who know her TV show – ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ – will find slightly familiar. Self assured yet insecure, successful professionally but a mess personally, Schumer makes the character feel like a woman we either are, or we know, and her trademark frankness is on full display here. Bill Hader is sweet and charming – yes ever so slightly misogynistic – as Aaron Connor, and his scenes with LeBron James are hilarious and light. Brie Larson is a great foil for Schumer; her character Kim has her life together in a way that feels alien to Amy and each throw the other into stark relief. Tilda Swinton is perhaps the most surprising in the film; almost unrecognisable under long blonde hair and false tan, Swinton is brash, loud and crass, and utterly brilliant in her laugh out loud turn as Amy’s editor Dianna. The rest of the cast is made up of Ezra Miller, Dave Atell, Inside Amy Schumer regulars Jon Glaser and Bridget Everett. The film also features cameos from Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick and several sports stars.
Schumer’s screenplay feels honest in its comedy, and there are several heartfelt emotional scenes that bring balance and a sense of reality to the film. There are some brilliant lines throughout, Swinton’s line ‘I’m sick of your ginger nonsense’ is a particular standout, but there is plenty to laugh at in this precisely observed and timed film. As well as this, the storyline concerning Kim and Amy’s father is not only inspired by Schumer’s real life, but it is carefully played, adding a layer of depth to each of the characters. The final resolution, however, feels slightly formulaic – even though it is still damn funny – and there is the feeling that Amy has to change everything about herself to make a relationship work, although it could be argued that it was implied throughout the film that this was a choice that the character wanted to make.
Director Judd Apatow somehow manages to make the film with a light touch, with little of the tropes and obvious humour that we have come to expect from him. As always though, the film is far too long, with the final act not only dragging its heels, but feeling slightly disconnected from the rest of the film.
In all, TRAINWRECK is a precisely observed comedy with well-placed moments of honest and subtle drama. Schumer and Hader are great together, with Schumer easily carrying the film on her smart and witty shoulders. Swinton is a comedic revelation and, although the film ends up in a familiar place, the journey there is a funny, sweet and worthwhile one. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (USA/12A/116mins) Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris. THE PLOT: In 1963, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to work together to take down a mysterious criminal organisation, with the help of Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a German mechanic whose rocket scientist father has gone missing. THE VERDICT: The film version of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E has been in the works for a long time, and arrives on cinema screens at a time when spy movies seem to be all the rage again. However, with ultra-contemporary films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION, SPY, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and SPECTRE all released this year, it seems THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E suffers from not trying to be pastiche of the TV show it is based on, and being far too proud of itself.
There really is no denying that Henry Cavill is a ridiculously good looking actor, and he looks great in a tailored, James Bond-esque suit. Cavill makes Napoleon Solo rather cold, but a decent spy, who seems to be constantly tripped up by his hatred for his KGB colleague. We never truly get to know the character all that well, other than the fact that he is a bit of a womaniser, and what is revealed through exposition, which leaves the audience unengaged. The same goes for Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin who, other than having a strong sense of Russian pride and a love for his father’s watch, seems rather vanilla. Alicia Vikander fares slightly better as Gaby, but although she starts off as tough and capable, by the end of the film she is reduced to a damsel in distress. The rest of the cast includes Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki and Jared Harris.
The story, written for the screen by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, covers the origins story for the TV show. Most of the film’s action and attempted humour comes from pitting Hammer and Cavill against one another in a Cold War pissing contest, and this soon grows tiresome. Although the film tries to be fresh and classic at the same time, there is very little to engage with, since the story is neither pastiche nor parody of the original TV show – despite what the trailer would have you believe – so it soon becomes style and sexist quips over substance. At least the love story that is shoehorned in is not a love triangle though.
As director, Guy Ritchie tries to strike a balance between the action and the rivalry between the two agents but, although some of the set pieces are engaging, the film’s tone is never quite right. As well as this, the pacing is messy which means that the film feels unnecessarily slow in places. Although the style and look of The Man From U.N.C.L.E feel accurate as a period piece, there is a feeling of smugness about the whole affair that sucks out any charm the film might have had to begin with. At least the villain is a woman though, eh!?
In all, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E is an origins story we didn’t necessarily need. There are some entertaining moments throughout the film, but the characters are thinly drawn, the pacing messy and the whole thing feels far too pleased with itself to actually be much fun. It feels as though the film missed a chance at pastiche by playing it straight, and suffers because of this. Superman and The Lone Ranger may set out to save the world, but it doesn’t seem like they are going to save this franchise. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
PIXELS (USA/12A/105mins) Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Matt Lintz, Sean Bean, Brian Cox, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd, Affio Crockett, Tom McCarthy. THE PLOT: In the summer of 1982, Brenner (Adam Sandler) and his friends compete in a video game championship, only to be beaten to the title by Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage). Footage of the event is put into a capsule and sent into space, for aliens to see what life on Earth is life, and promptly forgotten about. Over 30 years later, Brenner is installs tech for a living and his best friend Cooper (Kevin Jams) is the US President. When aliens attack in the form of classic arcade game characters, Cooper turns to his best friend for help and, with the help of some old friends, band together to stop the aliens the only way they know how; by playing to win. THE VERDICT: Based on a short film by Patrick Jean, PIXELS sounds like a wonderful idea for a film, but by adding a romantic storyline and familiar characters, this slice of wonderful quickly becomes familiar and safe.
Adam Sandler is in the lead here, and if you have ever seen a film with Adam Sandler you will know that he generally plays brash, misogynistic, unappealing men who generally get the girl. The same is true for Brenner in Pixels. Kevin James is slightly more endearing as Cooper and Josh Gad does the best from the central three as he plays a video game playing conspiracy nut, but manages to make him just about likeable. Peter Dinklage camps it up as Eddie Plant and seems to be the only one who is aware of the silliness of the film he is in. The rest of the cast is made up of Michelle Monaghan, Fiona Shaw, Jane Krakowski, Brian Cox and Sean Bean.
The story is reminiscent of the FUTURAMA story ‘Raiders of the Lost Arcade’, which formed part of the ‘Anthology of Interest’ in Season 3 of the show. Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling’s screenplay sees aliens attack Earth in the form of video game characters, and it is up to those who dedicated their childhoods to classic arcade games – and not much else – to save the world. The trouble is that while the idea for the film is a great one, some of the dialogue in the film is so bad, the characters underdeveloped and so many plotholes abound – why didn’t they ever think of just talking with the aliens!? – that the greatness of the idea is lost in the general melee of the usual Adam Sandler movie formula.
Director Chris Columbus does not do anything particularly out of the ordinary here; the childhood scenes feel like they had a considerable focus from the director, but as soon as we go into the present day, PIXELS feels as though it could have been directed by just about anyone. That said, the action sequences in the film are a lot of silly fun – who doesn’t want to see Peter Dinklage chasing Pac-Man in a Mini? – but the film is let down when the characters actually have to talk to one another.
In all, PIXELS is a wonderful idea for a film, but is let down by a typical Adam Sandler movie plot being shoehorned into the action, complete with misogynistic dialogue and clichéd storylines. Still the music, which includes Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears, is pretty darn good, and the action sequences are a lot of fun. Shame about the rest. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MISTRESS AMERICA (USA/15A/84mins) Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Dean Wareham, Joel Marsh Garland, Matthew Shear THE PLOT: Tracy (Lola Kirke) has moved to New York to go to college but, as she tells her Mum on the phone, she is finding is a lonely experience; she feels like she is at a party where she doesn’t know anyone, all the time. Enter Brooke (Greta Gerwig), an older woman who is as adventurous as Tracy is quiet. The two women’s parents are soon to be married, and this gives them a chance to spend time together. Tracy finds Brooke fascinating, and soon makes her the subject of her new short story, but without her knowledge. THE VERDICT: MISTRESS AMERICA, written by Gerwig and Noah Baunmbach, and directed by the latter, feels like a look into the life of a very specific person at a very specific time in their lives. Kirke, as Tracy, is lonely and impressionable, but somehow manages to have a beautiful grasp of the English language at such a young age; the writings of hers we hear read aloud are surprisingly honest and well written. Kirke – sister of Jemima, star of Lena Dunham’s Girls – makes the character almost a blank for Brooke to print herself onto, but still manages to make the audience root for this lost soul that she portrays.
Greta Gerwig plays the ‘Mistress America’ of the title, Brooke. Gerwig seems unafraid to make Brooke a pretentious and overwhelming character – exactly the type that Tracy is looking for in her life – and one who is happy to speak in hyperbolic and flowery quotes about her life, and seemingly never listen to anyone else around her. The rest of the cast is made up of Dean Wareham, Joel Marsh Garland and Matthew Shear.
Baumbach and Gerwig’s screenplay is littered with selfish and hilarious situations and statements, such as Brooke not listening to a word Tracy says, only chiming into a conversation about a frozen yogurt machine to tell Tracy that she watched her own mother die. This means that the film fits into not only the world of Baumbach films, but also the stories that are coming out of young women in New York at the moment; ones that are self involved and ultimately quite horrible people, but the ones who draw people to them in their droves. There is something of early Woody Allen to the delusional characters at the centre of the film, as well as the rhythms of the dialogue, and the slightly silly but hugely entertaining climactic scene.
As director, Noah Baumbach takes the audience on a journey of discovery with Tracy, and reminds us of the unpleasant but magnetic, yet shortsighted people we used to be. Baumbach makes sure that Brooke treads the line between stunted woman child and fully functioning adult, so that the audience and Tracy don’t quite realise the truth about this seemingly engaging woman until it is almost too late. The rhythms of dialogue are beautiful, and Baumbach seems to take pleasure in playing with these. There is nothing really new in Mistress America that we haven’t seen in Baumbach’s earlier films, but the film still feels fresh and engaging, and the director still has a skill for capturing selfish lives that are almost always embroiled in their own problems.
In all, MISTRESS AMERICA is a film about a woman lost in a heap of problems of her own making, but cannot see the truth for the lies she has built up around her. Both Gerwig and Kirke work well together, making the audience fall in and out of love with their characters throughout the film, and Baumbach reminds us that it is in lo-fi, self created drama that his talent for directing lies. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
PRECINCT SEVEN FIVE (USA/Club/104mins) Directed by Tiller Russell. Starring Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell. THE PLOT: It’s New York, 1982, broken glass, everywhere, people pissing on the stairs, and it would seem that quite a few New York cops just don’t care. Especially those working the five-mile square that was the Seven Five precinct. Where most see poverty, depravation and despair, those with an eye for a killing – both literally and metaphorically – see dollar signs. None moreso than NYPD officer Michael Dowd, a cop just about as corrupt as they come.
We first see Michael Dowd as he testifies before a commission investigating police corruption, shortly after he was busted in 1992. Down casually reveals the grisly details behind his ten years of living off the fat of drug-dealing, embezzlement, burglaries, extortion, and anything else that might bring in an extra few hundred dollars here and there. Having begun serving in East Brooklyn’s 75th precinct in 1982, Dowd quickly singled himself out as fearless when it came to abusing his power as a New York cop, his crooked ways helped by the fact that crime in New York at that time was rampant. It all began with a €200 traffic violation bribe, and it didn’t take long before Dowd and his initially reluctant partner-in-crime-promotion Kenny Eurell were working directly for drug lord Adam Diaz, offering the latter not only protection but helping him squeeze out the competition too.
As we work our way through that decade of crime and the inevitable drug-fuelled downfall, both Dowd and Eurell look back on their incredible rise and their inevitable fall… THE VERDICT: Try to imagine GOODFELLAS’ Henry Hill having spent his life working for the New York Police Department, and you’ll get some idea of what The Seven Five is all about.
Michael Dowd was dubbed “the most corrupt cop ever”, and just like Hill, today, the guy sports a wry smile, being pretty damn proud of his dark and dirty past. You can see why the camera loves the guy though, Hollywood having long fed us great stories of power and corruption amongst the criminal fraternity. And Dowd’s story is pure Hollywood, the kind of wacks-and-all true-life tale that could win any half-decent actor an Oscar.
Director Tiller Russell keeps it simple, interviewing many of the key players as this remarkable story unfolds, much of the latter-half of Dowd’s crime spree playing like Henry Hill’s last day as a free man – the seemingly mundane details of these increasingly dirty deeds slowly giving way to that wave of paranoia and encroaching judgement. Thrilling and chilling, PRECINCT SEVEN FIVE would give Martin Scorsese a major hard-on. RATING: 5/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MAX (USA/TBC/111mins) Directed by Boaz Yakin. Starring Robbie Amell, Josh Wiggins, Thomas Hayden Church, Lauren Graham Mia Xitlali. THE PLOT: After his handler Kyle (Robbie Amell) is killed in an attack in Afghanistan, military dog Max seems doomed to be put down, until he meets Kyle’s younger brother, the surly teenager Justin (Josh Wiggins). The two form a bond, with Justin the only one able to get past Max’s PTSD, and Max bringing Justin out of his shell. THE VERDICT: It seems almost amazing that Max has got a cinema release at this side of the water, since it is so obviously created for the US market, and a certain US market at that. The story is reminiscent of KES, but before you get too excited, remember that this is not a gritty Ken Loach movie, but one written by Boaz Yakin; the same guy who penned the script for NOW YOU SEE ME.
The cast, made up of Robbie Amell, Thomas Hayden Church, Luke Kleintank, Lauren Graham, Mia Xitlali and Dejon LaQuake seem to be just present in the film to recite lines and react to things the dog does. The acting is wooden and obvious, leaving Carlos the dog to take centre stage as the best performer in the film.
Boaz Yakin and Sheldon Lettich’s screenplay is so filled with cliché, flag waving and clunky narrative devices that it is often difficult to watch; the girl comes in to help the surly teen, surly teen is brought out of his shell, dog judges character better than people do… You have seen it all before, and there is nothing here to make the film anything more than a twee and obvious slice of flag waving Americana.
As director, Yakin seems to have no sense for pacing or the length of scenes; with some cut far too soon and others allowed to linger. The pacing of the film is a mess and, although there are some sweet scenes between boy and dog, this attempt to make a family film feels patronising and formulaic. As well as this, danger sequence, thrown in to give the film something to do, as well as closure, feels clunky, forced and goes on for far too long.
In all, MAX tries to be a family film about heroism and seeing the good in another creature. This is admirable, but the film is badly written, relies on cliché and well worn plot devices, meaning this redemption story between boy and dog becomes overblown, overly long and lacking in emotional engagement. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes