Reviews – New movies opening August 19th 2016

VIVA (Ireland/Cuba/15A/99mins)
Directed by Paddy Breathnach. Starring Hector Medina, Jorge Perugorria, Luis Alberto Garcia, Laura Aleman, Luis Manuel Alvarez, Mark O’Halloran.
Almost making a living by cutting old ladies hair and looking after the wigs down at the local drag queen bar, when one of the performers at the latter does a smash-and-grab in the night, Jesus (Medina) is more than tempted to try and fill their high-heels. Mama (Garcia) is not so sure that his favourite backstage worker is ready for the limelight, but nonetheless allows the skinny, young enthusiast to step out to his late mother’s old vinyl collection of torch songs. Jesus doesn’t quite stand tall, or straight, in those high-heels, but there’s plenty of promise there. Promise that is suddenly stopped in its tracks when his wayward father, Angel (Perugorria), turns up at the bar after years inside. The evening ends with Jesus bloodied on the floor.
Moving back in to the family home, the gruff, brutish, drunken Angel claims that he’s ready to become the good father at last – and for him, that means no more drag for his son. A once famous boxer, Angel can’t quite accept the idea of his own son in a dress, but, without that drag club income, Jesus is forced to make money on the streets…
THE VERDICT: From the Bible to Bracken and Billy Elliot, tales of fathers banging heads with sons have long fascinated storytellers, and for Irish filmmaker Paddy Breathnach (‘I Went Down’, ‘Man About Dog’), a 1996 trip to Havana sparked his latest offering. It was one Cuban family’s home-built venue for their drag queen son that really stuck with Paddy, and he soon had an outline for a story winging its way to Mark O’Halloran (‘Adam & Paul’, ‘Garage’, etc), who weaved the idea into a working script. And if the plot isn’t exactly original, Viva is still an effecting and beautifully-crafted affair.
Much credit – beyond Breathnach’s light-touch direction – must go to both the cast (Medina, in particular, is perfect as the steely and effeminate Jesus) and to cinematographer Cathal Watters (making the move into fiction features after Aoife Kelleher’s ‘One Million Dubliners’ and upcoming ‘Strange Occurences In A Small Irish Village’). Managing to avoid going full Havana Tourism, Watters captures the shadows and sun-kissed poverty of Jesus’ world beautifully, whilst Medina shines even stronger when surrounded by such subtle play from the likes of Perugorria and Garcia. It would have been easy for the cast here to go full Mexican novellas.
Comparisons to Almodovar will jump out initially for most people, but, once you step into Viva, you’ll find Breathnach has created his own particular twisted love story. Undoubtedly one of the more seductive and satisfying Irish films in recent years, ‘Viva’ captures the same heady mix of the sensual and the grit of everyday people trying to make it in the big bad world as achieved with Sheridan’s sublime ‘In America’.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Ricky Gervais. Starring Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden, Andrew Brooke, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon.
THE PLOT: “That was then, this is now,” states former reality TV star and now sanitary salesman David Brent (Gervais), but, in truth, it’s the same as it ever was for this not-exactly-beautiful loser. He may have moved on from being Slough’s no.1 paper merchant manager, but The Thick White Duke is more determined than ever to fulfil his teenage dream of becoming a rock star, throwing a few more mortgages at a wide-eyed backing band and an upcoming young rapper (Smith), using the latter’s blatant promise as an alibi to go on the road. And dominate the mic.
As the tour progresses, the divide between Brent and the rest of the band – and reality – begins to widen, with the distinct lack of screaming fans ringing ever louder in their ears…
THE VERDICT: Once again exploring that fine line between dreamer and deluded eejit, Ricky Gervais’ most famous comic creation returns 15 years after ‘The Office’ first broke through – and he’s possibly even more of a sad-sack these days. The comic device of a no-hope band going on tour has become something of a cliche in itself, although the results here are probably more ‘Anvil: The Story Of Anvil’ than the original of the species, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, with the empty rock posturing in front of tiny and indifferent pub audiences offset by the gradual painting of Brent as someone who just needs to be loved. Or even just liked.
Brent is the sort of nervous under-achieving braggard who’s been having a mid-life crisis from about the age of 15, so, as those crippling 50s approach, a real dry-mouth desperation has kicked in. Like so many, many would-be stars out there, David Brent is a Bob Parr who never had his Mr Incredible years, and is beginning to feel ever so slightly lost and desperate. The man is drowning, and he knows that, for many people, it’s very tempting not to throw him a lifebuoy. Even if it’s right beside you.
To offset all that cringe-inducing comedy, Gervais ultimately aims for a little tenderness – as, not long before the closing credits, the band gradually grow to like him, and that sweetheart back in the office finally breaks through his slapstick bravado. Such a happy ending doesn’t quite ring true though.
At its best, ‘David Brent: Life On The Road’ is still very much another Slough day at the office, with the biggest laughs coming from that huge, gaping black hole between the dream and the reality. It’s a gap best personified here by Brent finally getting two women to come back to his hotel room, only for this particular San and Tray to ravish his mini-bar rather than his body.
We’ve all been there…
Review by Paul Byrne

LIGHTS OUT (USA/15A/81mins)
Directed by David F. Sandberg. Starring Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia.
THE PLOT: After her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) reports experiencing the same terrifying events that pushed her to leave home, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) returns to deal with the mysterious entity, which seems to have an attachment to her mother.
THE VERDICT: ‘Lights Out’ is based on a short film that director David F. Sandberg published online in 2013. A rather simple horror flick, Lights Out is surprisingly accomplished, and has plenty of scares, although it struggles with expository dialogue and plotholes that take too long to be filled in.
Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke and Maria Bello make up the cast of the film, and they fit into the standard stereotypical roles in a horror movie; the victim, the terrified child, the brave one, the boyfriend and the one who dies too quickly. Each of them do fine with their character, never managing to make them anything spectacular, but showing they are capable of carrying the jumps and scares in the film.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapted the screenplay from David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, and makes sure that the fear and the jumps begin right at the start of the film. There are enough lulls in the action to make sure the audience can catch their breath before the tension ramps up again. There are problems with the dialogue from time to time however, as much of the exposition happens through awkward conversation. As well as this, there are times when the film feels as though it is riddled with plotholes, and when these are eventually filled in, it is too little too late.
As director, David F. Sandberg keeps the action going throughout, but seems more interested in the scares than the story, which leads to some very talky scenes that kill the atmosphere. The jumps and scares are good, and the monster is well created and carefully wrapped into the actions of the characters, but the story could have been told in a more interesting and engaging manner.
In all, ‘Lights Out’ is a decent enough horror with plenty of scares, the premise feels novel and is well created, but the dialogue is often clunky and issues with the plot are skimmed over. Still, there are jumps and starts throughout, and the sequel is bound to sort out the issues with this film.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (UK | France | Hungary/TBC/115mins)
Directed by Brady Corbet. Starring Liam Cunningham, Berenice Bejo, Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Yolande Moreau.
THE PLOT: In 1918, young Prescott (Tom Sweet) and his parents move to France. Struggling to fit in with the country they now call their home, Prescott begins acting out and, in the course of his three violent and increasingly out of control tantrums, shows how innocence can be tainted.
THE VERDICT: There is no doubt that ‘The Childhood of a Leader’ – directorial debut of actor Brady Corbet – is an ambitious project, and one that belies his love of cinema, as well as his intelligence and eye for an image, but it is also rather inaccessible and heavy handed at times, with all the drama coming at the end of an almost 2 hours slow burn.
Tom Sweet leads the cast as the bratty Prescott – whose name we don’t find out until close to the end of the film – and he does well in making this child manipulative and controlling. That said, he seems no more manipulative than any other child under the age of 10, and although he seems to revel in provoking those around him, the moment that turns him into the fascist leader the title proclaims him to be is sadly absent. Liam Cunningham carries on his stern turns of late as Prescott’s father, and Berenice Bejo plays his disinterested mother. The rest of the cast features Robert Pattinson in a small role, Stacy Martin and Yolande Moreau.
The screenplay, written by Corbet and his partner Mona Fastvold, breaks the action up into three tantrums; seemingly three moments in which the boy’s true personality comes through, but other than a startling moment toward the end of the film, these seem to be just the actions of a petulant child, rather than a person capable of true evil. There is an comparison to be made with the boy and Europe in the aftermath of World War I, but this is a weak one at best, and is rather tiresome and obvious.
As director, Brady Corbet shows off his eye for an image, and the opening moments of the film feel more like a play than a slice of cinema. The pacing of the film is often torturous, with almost nothing seeming to happen for much of the running time, other than the boy acting like a brat. This in itself is tiresome on screen, as is the constant pandering to his whims, and the hint of rape between his parents, which rears its ugly head then disappears again.
In all, ‘The Childhood of a Leader’ is an ambitious project, but one that does not work on screen. The performances are fine and Scott Walker’s urgent score adds a layer of madness to the film, but there doesn’t seem to be a story holding this film together, and all the shocking endings in the world cannot make up for a lack of something to say.
Review by Brogen Hayes

BLINKY BILL: THE MOVIE (Australia | USA/G/84mins)
Directed by Deane Taylor and Noel Cleary. Starring Toni Collette, Rufus Sewell, Ryan Kwanten, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh.
THE PLOT: A year after Blinky Bill’s (Ryan Kwanten) father left the family home in Green Patch and set out on an adventure, he still has not returned. With goanna Cranklepot (Barry Otto) determined to take over the village, Blinky sets out on an adventure to find his dad and bring him back home.
THE VERDICT: First appearing in book form in 1933, koala Blinky Bill has been a staple of kids’ literature for almost 100 years, but even though the books are not well known at this side of the world, they have never been out of print in their native Australia, and Blinky has been incarnated in TV and movies before. This new outing for the character and his friends was co-produced by Telegael, but struggles when pit against recent outings from more assured animation studios.
The cast of the film is an impressive one, and boasts appearances from True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, Baz Luhrmann favourites David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh and Barry Otto, as well as voice work from Rufus Sewell, Toni Collette and Deborah Mailman. While the cast do fine with what they are given, the trouble arises with the clunky dialogue they are given, and a story that feels rather outdated.
Screenwriter Fin Edquist has made the story for the film not make a huge amount of sense – why is a koala going off to rescue other animals in the first place!? – and populated it with problematic characters such as a misogynistic lizard and a power hungry goanna that seems like he is spouting lines from a Brexit campaign. As well as this, the dialogue for the film is uninspired, the main villain seems like a rip off of Scar from ‘The Lion King’, and a koala mourning her place in a zoo seems rather uncomfortable. There is an attempt to inject a moral to the whole tale, but the message of animals threatening to “smash” one another if things go wrong doesn’t seem like a very wholesome one.
As directors, Deane Taylor and Noel Cleary try to make the film a well paced adventure, but with a dodgy script and some even dodgier animation, this is a losing battle. The animation for the film often feels unfinished and, when placed against recent output from more established and well known studios, ‘Blinky Bill: The Movie’ begins to feel very shoddy indeed, and as though it was made for TV but somehow found its way onto the big screen.
In all, ‘Blinky Bill: The Movie’ is a twee, badly animated and badly scripted film that tries its very best to be fresh and engaging, but struggles to overcome its own issues.
Review by Brogen Hayes

TICKLED (New Zealand/15A/92mins)
Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve.
THE PLOT: When journalist David Farrier stumbles across the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling online, he is understandably intrigued and tries to set up an interview with the company behind the video; Jane O’Brien Media. What Farrier didn’t expect however, was a personally abusive email in response to his request, followed by threats of legal action. Intrigued, Farrier decides to ignore the warnings and travel to the US from his home in new Zealand to try and find out more about the sport of ticking, and just why Jane O’Brien Media is so determined to shut his query down.
THE VERDICT: The starting point for ‘Tickled’ is a curious and strange one, but as the film goes on, and directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve uncover much more than they thought was going on, the information gets jumbled and the giggle worthy reality – that this is a documentary about competitive tickling – somehow gets lost.
Throughout ‘Tickled’ it seems as though something more is going on than we are being told. Many people involved in the “Tickling Cells” that Farrier uncovers do not want to be interviewed on camera for fear of reprisals – which included internet blackouts, spam attacks on the White House in their name and generally threatening to ruin their careers and release their personal information online – and although this turn in the film is an incredibly serious one, there is also the reality that gets ignored; these videos are being made for tickle fetishists, and as torture porn goes, this is fairly mild, and rather odd.
Throughout the film, as the story runs deeper and deeper, Farrier talks to people who work for Jane O’Brien Media, but have never met her, and this somehow leads to Farrier finding out about a woman who operated online in the early 2000s, with a similar modus operandi, and this just brings the story deeper. The trouble is that while the pieces of the film fit together, they do so rather loosely, without ever giving a satisfactory ending to this loose and rambling documentary, which somehow turns from something light and fun to something dark and sinister in the blink of an eye.
In all, ‘Tickled’ is an intriguing premise for a documentary, but since most of the film is spent doorstepping angry people, talking to subjects superficially about tickle fetishes, and a central story that simply peters out, ‘Tickled’ is a film with a great idea but an unsatisfying result. It is interesting to spend time with Farrier as he goes under the surface of tickling, but a stronger edit and a clearer ending would have made for a much more satisfying and less drawn out film.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Phillippa Lowthorpe. Starring Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield, Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott.
THE PLOT: In the summer of 1935, the Walker children – John (Dane Hughes), Susan (Orla Hill), Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and Roger (Bobby McCulloch) – travel from Portsmouth to the Lake District with their mother for their summer holidays. Fascinated by an island in the middle of the lake, the kids decide to sail out there and make camp, but it is not long before the Walker kids find their claim to the island threatened, and at the same time, find themselves caught up with a very grown up mystery happening on the mainland.
THE VERDICT: ‘Swallows & Amazon’s is a curious film. Reminiscent of the Enid Blyton books, ‘The Railway Children’ and ‘Five Children and It’, this adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s book is beautifully shot, badly acted and never really sure what it is trying to be, or who it is aimed at.
The cast of the film is made up of Rafe Spall as the mysterious Captain Flint – as the kids name him – Andrew Scott, Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Stevenson and Harry Enfield. These are just the adults, and while they do well enough with their generally horrible characters, they are not the main focus of the film. That honour goes to the Walker children, played by Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen and Bobby McCollough. It seems that either the kids were under directed or we have become incredibly accustomed to outstanding performances from young actors, whatever the case, the kids are wooden and rather unlikeable in their roles as they constantly berate, insult and are rude to one another.
Andrea Gibb’s screenplay reimagines the character of Captain Flint from the novels, and this is where the problems with the film arise. Changing the character from a man writing his memoirs, to a spy hiding from Russia in the Lake District is directly inspired by Arthur Ransome’s life, and may have seemed like a good way to inject some action into the film, but there is a distinct lack of balance between the plot and the subplot throughout the film, and the story ends up feeling more like one of Enid Blyton’s than one of Ransome’s. As well as this, the dialogue is nasty, the characters constantly sarcastic and rude and the pacing is such a mess that the film feels drawn out and dull.
As director, Philippa Lowthorpe has delivered a beautifully shot film that is populated with whining and under-directed child actors and adults who are seemingly angry at life, while pacing the film terribly, and never managing to make the film sure of who it is aimed at. Nostalgic adults or kids bored of playing on iPads? It’s never clear, and this is an issue.
In all, ‘Swallows & Amazons’ is not quite sure what it is trying to be, or who it is aimed at. The film is beautifully shot, but populated with irritating and unlikeable characters, and has a sub plot that drifts in and out of the film seemingly at will.
Review by Brogen Hayes