Reviews – New movies opening December 2nd 2016

MOANA (USA/PG/103mins)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger
THE PLOT: Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has always been drawn to the ocean, but has been discouraged from answering the call of the sea as her father Is trying to make her ready to take on the role of future leader of the small island tribe she is part of. When crops begin to fail and fish move away from the island, Moana’s grandmother (Rachel House) reminds her of an island myth; that demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of a goddess, and until it is returned, the struggles facing the islanders will only get worse. Defying her father’s wishes, Moana takes a boat to sea in search of Maui, in the hopes of making him return the goddess’ heart.
THE VERDICT: ‘Moana’ is based on an original idea by Ron Clements and John Musker, and blends together myth and reality in an intriguing and magical manner, which is not unusual, since Clements and Musker are the directors who brought us ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Princess and the Frog’.
The voice cast of ‘Moan’a are strong, bringing their characters to life in a warm and relatable way. Auli’i Cravalho makes Moana a tenacious and charming character, and Dwayne Johnson bring humour and heart as the demi-god Maui. The rest of the cast features Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger and Rachel House. All of the cast – Johnson included – sing with heart and passion, keeping the soaring feel of Disney films such as ‘Frozen’ and ‘Aladdin’ alive.
Ron Clements and John Musker’s story was developed into a screenplay by Jared Bush, who blends together myth, music, magic and the struggles of expectation to make a fun adventure on the high seas. Maui brings the humour to the screen, while Jemaine Clement makes a giant singing crab obsessed with treasure an entertaining menace. There are fantastical elements of the film that work incredibly well; making Moana aware that there is a lot more to the world than her island home, in realms of beasts, magical creatures and mythical islands. The dialogue works well, there is plenty of humour and the songs in the film are as soaring and singable as audiences could hope for.
As directors Ron Clements and John Musker keep the film well paced and fast moving, with enough time given to establish Moana’s home and the tribe’s beliefs before she heads out on her adventure across the seas. The animation for the film is beautiful, with the islands looking otherworldly and gorgeous, and the ocean becoming a character of its own as it aids Moana on her journey. There are segments animated to look like traditional drawing, and these fit the tone and look of the film well.
In all, ‘Moana’ is a beautiful film inspired by myth and legend. There are times when the film does not feel as magical as recent Disney offerings, but ‘Moana’ is funny, engaging and has wonderful songs. The animation is lovely and makes the film feel otherworldly and fully realised, and while this might not be this year’s ‘Frozen’, there is a lot to love in ‘Moana’.
Review by Brogen Hayes

SULLY (USA/12A/96mins)
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn
THE PLOT: Pilot Chelsey ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) makes an emergency landing on the Hudson Rover in New York after US Airways Flight 1549 suffers a catastrophic engine failure after a bird strike. Sully is praised as a hero by the public, but behind closed doors, an investigation implies that Sully made the wrong call in making an emergency landing in water, and Sully begins to struggle under the strain.
THE VERDICT: ‘Sully’ is based on a true story, and one that is still very fresh in the collective memories of the public. There is a lot more to the story than what was reported at the time of Sullenberger’s quick thinking, and Clint Eastwood’s film tries to tell the story in an unshowy and engaging way.
It should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks is the life and soul of ‘Sully’, and his understated and engaging performance carries the emotion and heart of the film. Hanks makes the character humble and sweet, but infuses Sullenberger with a layer of strength and determination, as well as a feeling of dignity that makes the audience root for him. Hanks is backed up by Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles, and while Eckhart allows Hanks to take the lead, he is also strong in his role, and supports Hanks incredibly well. The rest of the cast features Anna Gunn, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley and Valerie Mahaffey.
Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay is based on Chelsey Sullenberger’s book “Highest Duty”, and tells the story of the crash on the Hudson through Sullenberger’s eyes. The screenplay is cleverly woven together, and does not follow the story thread that the audience might suspect; ‘Sully’ starts in the middle of the tale, and tells the story of the emergency landing only when it is needed and makes sense in terms of the story.
As director Clint Eastwood makes sure that the film is understated but engaging; there is nothing overly sweet or saccharine about the film, as it tries to tell Sully’s story in a realistic and subtle way. Eastwood gets strong performances from the cast, and is economical in telling the story; Eastwood keeps the story as brief as it needs to be, and doesn’t over dramatise the events and reactions in the film.
In all, ‘Sully’ is an economical and understated tale of bravery, while never trying to over dramatise the story or go over the top. Eastwood is strong as director, and makes Hanks the emotional heart and soul of the film. Things simply get a little drawn out toward the end of the film, which was always going to be problematic, but ends up feeling a little anti-climactic.
Review by Brogen Hayes

BLEED FOR THIS (USA/15A/117mins)
Directed by Ben Younger. Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine
THE PLOT: In 1991, after being told to retire by his manager, boxer Vinny Paz (Miles Teller) won the WBA World Light Middleweight Title against highly rated fighter Gilbert Dele. Not long afterwards, Paz was involved in a terrible car accident, where his neck was broken. Although doctors told Paz he would never fight again, he disobeyed their orders to make what is considered to be the greatest comeback in boxing history.
THE VERDICT: Boxing films are having something of a renaissance at the moment, with the newest instalment in the Rocky franchise – ‘Creed’ – released earlier this year, and the Robert DeNiro vehicle Hands of Stone still to come. Vinny Paz’s comeback is a sensational true story, but there are times when the character feels underdeveloped on screen.
Miles Teller easily carries the film on his shoulders, he makes Vinny Paz a tenacious and stubborn character, but he struggles to make the character anything other than a boxer who will do anything it takes to succeed. The audience learns very little about Vinny Paz, other than the superficial and his love for his sport, and that’s where the film begins to struggle. Aaron Eckhart plays Vinny’s trainer and sometime voice of reason Kevin Rooney and Ciarán Hinds rounds out the central cast as Vinny’s father Angelo Pazienza. The rest of the cast features Katey Sagal, Christine Evangelista, Ted Levine and Amanda Clayton.
Ben Younger’s screenplay is based on the true story of Vinny Paz and his incredible comeback as a boxer, but without the full development of Vinny as a character outside the ring, the audience may struggle to root for a character that is admittedly charming, but seems mostly stubborn and a little suicidal. The screenplay is remarkably free from cliché however, and tries to avoid the usual boxing movie familiarity that we have seen on screen in the past.
As director, Ben Younger tries his best to keep the film moving and to give the audience a chance to root for the central character, but since it seems as though there are two comeback stories squashed into the film’s running time, it is surprising that there are segments of the film that feel slow and drawn out. Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds are strong in their roles, but while Miles Teller carries the film with what he is given, it would have made for a stronger film to know more about Vinny Paz as a person, not a boxer.
In all, ‘Bleed for This’ is a decent boxing movie, based on an incredible true story. The performances are strong, although some of the characters are drawn a little thin, and the film struggles with some sluggish pacing from time to time.
Review by Brogen Hayes

CHI-RAQ (USA/TBC/127mins)
Directed by Spike Lee. Starring Teyonah Parris, Angela Basset, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon
THE PLOT: Based on the play ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes, ‘Chi-Raq’ takes the events from Ancient Greece and sets them in the south side of present day Chicago. When gun violence gets worse and a young girl is killed, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) takes it upon herself to bring the wife’s and girlfriend of rival gangs the Trojans and the Spartans together, and institute a sex strike until peace reigns and violence comes to an end.
THE VERDICT: There have been many attempts to bring the story of ‘Lysistrata’ to the big screen in new and inventive ways, but the idea of setting the story in a gun-riddled American neighbourhood – especially in the wake of the recent US Presidential Election – is an interesting one, but although Parris is strong in her role and she is backed up by some great actors, the muddled tone of ‘Chi-Raq’ ultimately undermines its message.
Teyonah Parris leads the show as the beautiful and tenacious Lysistrata. Parris does a good job with the role, and it is easy to see why the other characters in the film would listen to her. Parris seems to have taken inspiration from the stage presence of Beyoncé, however, and there are times when her performance strays into music video territory. Angela Bassett plays the quieter but strong and educated Miss Helen with grace and charm, Nick Cannon plays Chi-Raq; Lysistrata’s boyfriend and the one who kicked off all the trouble in the first place, and Samuel L. Jackson plays Dolmedes, a one-man Greek chorus, popping up every now and again to try and keep the narrative on track. Also appearing in the film are Jennifer Hudson, Wesley Snipes, and John Cusack, who has a powerful and inspirational speech.
Screenwriters Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, as mentioned, move an ancient Greek story into the modern day, and for the most part, this is a very good idea. Women coming together and staging a sex strike for peace works for the context of the film and its strong female characters, but there are times when the story begins to get too convoluted, and even Dolmedes turning up to explain things doesn’t clear it all up. As well as this, the tone of ‘Chi-Raq’ is often spotty; Jennifer Hudson as a grieving woman whose daughter was gunned down by accident, and John Cusack’s preacher Father Mike Corridan work well in the first half of the film, but the second half takes a turn for the musical and the comedic, meaning these two characters and their subplot feels as though it belongs in another film.
As director, Spike Lee obviously has fun with the format – substituting rap for the rhyming verse of the original play by Aristophanes – and there is little doubt that there is a message for peace and unity throughout the film, but the overly complicated story takes away the impact of the simple and powerful idea at the heart of the film. As well as this, though the performances are strong, the first half of the film feels dramatic and powerful, while the second feels more like a musical comedy, and the two never truly sit well together. The performances are strong, however, and it is this that saves ‘Chi-Raq’ from being a victim of its own ambition. The trouble is that the people who really should see this film, are not its target demographic.
In all, Spike Lee makes interesting choices in moving ‘Lysistrata’ from ancient Greece to modern day Chicago, and there are times when the film is powerful and moving, and others when it is charming and funny. The trouble is that these two tones do not sit well together, so even though the performances in the film are strong, the impact of the film is betrayed by its ambitious script.
Review by Brogen Hayes

CRASH AND BURN (Ireland/15A/86mins)
Directed by Seán Ó Cualáin.
THE PLOT: “If you don’t make it, no-one gives a s**t”, so says Drogheda man Tommy Byrne who, for a fleeting moment in the 1980s, was the fastest and greatest racing driver in the world, and even made legend Ayrton Senna nervous. The reason why few remember Byrne’s name, however, is down to the fact that even though he went from nothing to driving Formula 1 in just under 4 years, he never manages to break through to the big time.
THE VERDICT: Tommy Byrne, the subject of ‘Crash and Burn’ is an interesting man; blessed with a natural talent for racing driving, his star rose quickly, but his volatile personality, humble background and perceived arrogance meant that none of he big sponsors could stand to work with him for long. It is obvious, as Byrne is interviewed about his truncated career, that this is a man who always had a chip on his shoulder, and this has turned to bitterness as he has got older, a bitterness that Byrne has never truly been able to let go of.
Through interviews with Byrne, Mark Hughes from Motor Sport Magazine, former drivers Calvin Fish and John Watson, Eddie Jordan and childhood friend Maurice Roddy, ‘Crash and Burn’ tells the story of a kid who came from nothing and never managed to play the game and fit into the world he wanted so desperately to be a part of. The story that unfolds is a frustrating one, to be honest, as it is blindingly obvious, when the facts are presented, that Byrne was sabotaged by his inner saboteur, and although it is easy to root for this likeable chancer, he was his own worst enemy.
Director Seán O’Cualáin pieces together a tale of rags to almost riches and back to rags again through archive footage and new interviews, these work well enough, although it seems that Byrne is never truly pushed to reveal what he thought of his own behaviour, and what he could have done differently. As well as this, there are sporadic moments of animation that feel jarring and out of place in the odd moments that they appear. That said, the film is well paced and interesting, although it never truly digs as deep as it could.
In all, ‘Crash and Burn’ is an interesting if superficial look at the story of a man who was sabotaged by himself. Byrne is a charismatic if frustrating subject, but this story has lessons for sports fans and lay people alike. There are problems with ‘Crash and Burn’, but there is an interesting tale at the heart of the film.
Review by Brogen Hayes