Reviews – New movies opening December 26th 2013

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY…

Directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn.
THE PLOT: Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a day-dreamer; he often floats away on flights of fancy about his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). When a negative belonging to photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) goes missing, Mitty finds himself on an adventure that takes him across the world, and out of his dreams.
THE VERDICT: As Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller leaves behind the manic characters we have seen him play of late, and drifts closer to the melancholy of Chas in The Royal Tenenbaums. Stiller captures the essence of a normal man who has always dreamed of something more, but a tragic event in his teenage years meant his dreams for his actual life had to be shelved, so he created a dream life for himself instead. Stiller is sweet and warm as Mitty, and as the heart of the film, immediately gets the audience on his side; who hasn’t dreamed of being a superhero, or growing old with their crush?
Kristen Wiig also leaves her more caricatured performances behind, and plays the role of a single mother. She is warm and gentle, but does not have a whole lot to do, other than provide motivation for Mitty, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sean Penn plays as enigmatic a character as we are used to seeing, and hits the nail on the head in terms of mystery and charm. Katherine Hahn brings the kooky as Mitty’s sister, Adam Scott plays a horrible, condescending manager, shaking off his nice guy image from Parks and Recreation, and Patton Oswalt has a lovely cameo as a call centre worker. Shirley MacLaine has a lovely, warm role as Mitty’s mother, a woman who has accepted her son’s day-dreaming, but does not always like it.
Steve Conrad’s screenplay is filled with relatable people, and just a touch of magic, as Mitty finds himself in situations he never dreamed possible. The mystery wraps around the mundanity of Mitty’s life, and drags him on the adventure of a lifetime. There are plenty of comedic moments, played perfectly against Stiller’s direction. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is nothing short of stunning. Throughout the film, he juxtaposes the big with the small, the micro mission that Mitty goes on against the might of the entire planet, and our world has rarely looked so beautiful on screen. This underlines the voyage of discovery throughout the film, and reminds us that we really should travel more.
Stiller directs with a light touch, as we have seen from him before, making the film feel personal and intimate, while set against the backdrop of an entire planet. That said, there are also some fantasy moments that feel more like music videos than actual realisations, leaving the audience to imagine what is going on in Mitty’s mind. These sequences look great, but feel slightly emotionally manipulative – there are few things that impact the emotions in the same way as music – and look more like shots from a trailer than part of the actual movie. They’re great songs though!
In all, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is a beautifully shot re-imagining of James Thurber’s story, that features some wonderful, understated performances from the cast. Mystery, romance and adventure abound here, playing into the idea of our lives that we had as children. The message is a strong one; remember your dreams. The day-dream sequences are not the only secret life that Mitty leads, and although there are touches of music video or musical about some of the scenes, it is hard to come away from the film feeling anything other than content, and more curious about the world outside our windows.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Robert Redford.
THE PLOT: When a shipping container hits his small boat, a man (Robert Redford) finds himself putted against the elements, the sea and fate as he battles to survive, alone at sea.
THE VERDICT: J.C. Chandor’s first film – Margin Call – boasted a huge all star cast, now the director turns his attention from the ensemble to the individual with All is Lost. The move from telling a story with a wide and varied cast, in a film filled with dialogue and deception, to a film that centres on one man, and has very little spoken word, is a challenge that Chandor rises to.
This year, we have seen Captain Phillips survive an ordeal of other people’s making, but in the film that Chandor has created, the events that set our man’s vessel adrift are sheer chance, with no one truly to blame. Chandor allows Redford to command the screen and, although some of his actions may be frustrating, the lack of speech through the film means that the audience is left wondering and curious about what the man will do next. It would have been very easy to include voice over or a device that allows Redford’s character to speak, explain his motivations and vocalise his fears, but by making the film virtually silent, Chandor draws us further into our man’s struggle.
That said, however, it is this silence and lack of speech that also works against the film; there are moments that feel as though they are stretched thin, and the repetition of events feels particularly cruel. A little more dialogue may have been nice for the sake of getting to know this man better, but the motivation not to include chatter – to allow the isolation to take over the entire film – is understandable. The film is a little frustrating, as it seems that the fates have turned against our man and every hope he has is cruelly dashed, but the juxtaposition of man and machine is interesting and, as the man never truly gives up hope, neither does the audience, meaning the film turns from an examination of courage into a study of instinct, hope and humanity.
Redford is on fine form; the lack of dialogue and interaction means that the entire film, audience empathy and interest lie with the actor, and he utterly commands the screen. Redford is understated yet strong as he battles both nature and machine in a bid to save himself. This study of Redford turns into an examination of the craft of acting, and the skill of filmmaking, as well as allowing Redford to be the anchor that holds this film together.
All is Lost is a challenging, frustrating and engaging examination of hope and survival. Redford is commanding and Chandor’s film is both cruel and uplifting. There are times when the film feels thin, and our man’s actions can be a little frustrating but the strength of the film is that our empathy always lies with him.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

47 RONIN (USA/12A/119mins)
Directed by Carl Rinsch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kô Shibasaki.
A band of disgraced samurai, led by the mysterious Kai (Keanu Reeves) set out to avenge the death of their Lord at the hands of a ruthless Shogun, and a covetous landlord. 
THE VERDICT: Keanu Reeves, like much of the cast, does not have a whole lot to do here, other then be a focal point in the beautiful graphics and images shown on screen. Reeves does not seem to have evolved as an actor in the past number of years, and is as wooden and one note as he ever was. Somehow though, this seems to work for the character; a half breed who is withdrawn and cautious, yet skilled as a warrior.
Kô Shibasaki takes on the role of love interest Mika, and while she looks fantastic in the elaborate costumes created for her, she borders on the annoying for much of the film given, as her character is, to wailing and crying about everything in her life. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi gives us a stronger female role as the Witch, even if she is as one note as her more simpering counterpart. The rest of the cast is made up of Tadanobu Asano as Lord Kira, Min Tanaka as Lord Asano and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shogun Tsunayoshi, who do little more than play stereotypical characters with the sole motivations of greed or honour.
Screenwriters Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini have attempted to flesh out the legendary story of the 47 Ronin, but it seems that they have had little inspiration, other than from other Hollywood films about Japanese legend. The film feels extremely derivative, and draws from films such as Seven Samurai, The Last Samurai and strangely, John Carter. The familiarity of the story, and the terrible, wooden dialogue and overly drawn out pacing leave 47 Ronin looking fantastic, but feeling thin.
Director Carl Rinsch takes a leaf out of Zack Snyder’s book with 47 Ronin, focusing almost all of his efforts on the spectacular. This means that 47 Ronin is opulent and beautiful, but with little substance or emotion to back the beauty up. While Rinsch may have been aiming for an intriguing and engaging story along the lines of The Matrix, the end result is more like Sucker Punch, albeit much more entertaining.
47 Ronin is based on one of Japan’s most enduring and engaging legends, but lacks the emotional strength to carry this off. However, if one looks past the wooden dialogue and one dimensional performances, it is possible to have a great deal of fun with 47 Ronin, just don’t expect it to linger in the mind long after you leave the cinema. Oh and, as always, the 3D is a waste of time.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

MOON MAN (France, Germany, Ireland/G/95mins)
Directed by Stephan Schesch, Sarah Clara Weber. Starring Tomi Ungerer, Ulrich Tukur, Corinna Harfouch.
THE PLOT: The man in the moon is bored, so he hitches a lift from a passing comet and comes to earth. Once here, he soon discovers that friendship can exist in the strangest of places, and the President of Earth is after his home.
THE VERDICT: Based on the Tomi Ungerer book of the same name, Moon Man is a German-Irish-French co-production, with the work on our own shores done by the wonderful Cartoon Saloon. The film is beautifully animated with hand drawn imagery that pays homage to Ungerer’s distinctive visual style. The film is set mostly at night, but far from being a bumble through shadowy landscapes, the artists use the light of the moon to illuminate the world around the central character.
Ungerer’s story is a gentle fable of friendship, acceptance and finding where we belong, but it is also a cautionary tale about the consequences of greed and the urge to posess; as the President gathers more and more possessions, his satisfaction diminishes, whereas the Moon Man is more than happy to have finally found a friend.
The characters are wonderfully voiced with Katharina Thalbach taking the lead as the Moon Man himself. Thalbach allows Moon Man to be curious and gentle, and obviously had a lot of fun as she was creating his voice, and his ability to speak. Ulrich Tukur brings the villainous President to life, and Thomas Kästner injects the genius inventor Bunsen van der Dunkel with kindness and wonder. The real crowning glory though is writer Tomi Ungerer as the narrator. Not only did Ungerer create the world we are seeing on screen, but he has a wonderful voice that brings mystery and intrigue into this quirky little film.
Stephan Schesch and Sarah Clara Weber direct well, bringing the world and it’s characters to life, and allowing the story to resonate on a level that both parents and children will enjoy, but in revelling in the beauty of the film, the pacing slips slightly, leaving the film feeling sluggish at times, and losing the urgency of the story. It is a small complaint though, since Moon Man is charming and mysterious from the very beginning.
MOON MAN is a testament to Tomi Ungerer’s storytelling talent, as well as a showcase for the animation teams that worked on the film. The world is beautiful, the characters magical and the message simple but moving. The pacing may slip from time to time, but Moon Man is a wonderful departure from photo realistic 3D films, and a reminder that beauty often lies in the simplest of things.
Review by Brogen Hayes