Reviews – New movies Opening Feb 24th 2012

This weeks movie review by Paul Byrne – Including Safe House, Rampart & The best exotic marigold hotel.

Directed by John Madden. Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup.
THE PLOT: Dench’s freshly minted widow Evelyn joins a bunch of fellow old fogeys – Nighy and Wilton’s unhappily-married couple; Imrie’s serial bride; Smith’s wheelchair-bound racist; Pickup’s horny old pick-up artist; Wilkinson’s gay judge – in a new retirement retreat in India. Only said retreat isn’t quite finished. The phones don’t work. And there are pigeons nesting in the bedrooms. But the first batch of residents clearly have more pressing matters on their mind. Such as, is there life just before death?
THE VERDICT: Written by Ol Parker (Thandie Newton’s hubby) and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, The Debt), this might as well have been called Last Of The Summer Curry. Or maybe Slumdog Pensioner, given that this co-production with India plays with, and straight into, all the popular South Asian stereotypes – old salt of the earth philosophers mixing with panhandlers, and kids playing makeshift cricket on the streets. As Wilkinson’s returning judge says of India, “I love the light, the colours, the smiles – it teaches me something”. Only, The Best Exotice Marigold Hotel doesn’t really teach us much. Certainly not as much as a good episode of Dench’s early 1990s sitcom As Time Goes By might teach us. And only slightly less than the 1970s ITV atrocity Don’t Drink The Water. Goodness gracious me, indeed. RATING: 2/5

SAFE HOUSE (USA/15A/115mins)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Liam Cunningham, Robert Patrick.
THE PLOT: A rogue CIA agent who has been trading intel for the last ten years, the legendary Tobin Frost (Washington) is in Cape Town, coming into possession of a top-secret file that instantly has heavy-armed goons on his tail. And so, he turns himself in at the US Embassy, locking rival CIA heavyweights David Barlow (Gleeson) and Catherine Linklater (Farmiga) into a race to wheel him in. Shipped to a safe house, where untested CIA agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) has been sitting pretty, and bored, for 12 months, Frost is just enjoying his first round of waterboarding when 12 gun-toting, grenade-throwing grunts come knocking. Soon, Weston and Frost are on the run…
THE VERDICT: Pretty much Tony Scott’s Midnight Run, with the pedal to the metal, Safe House is surprisingly effective. Not that you would expect anything less than watchable from its leading man, Washington here as sublime as ever. Reynolds too does a fine job, going some ways to making up for last year’s disastrous, career-wobbling double-bill of The Green Lantern and The Change-Up. As spy vs spy thrillers go, Safe House doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the interrogation table, but it does deliver its spills and thrills with admirable style and speed. The action never lets up here, and there’s enough smart dialogue amidst all the flashy crash, bang, wallop to keep you merrily hooked throughout. Just the sort of film you need to clean the palette after all that festival arse. RATING: 4/5

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Jean Reno, Sarah Steele, Matthew Broderick, J. Smith-Cameron, John Gallagher Jr., Allison Janney.
THE PLOT: New York, and bohemian Brownstone brat – and self-confessed “over-privileged liberal Jew” – Lisa is the sort of carefree, kooky girl who could really do with a punch of reality. And Lisa gets it when, trying to flag down a bus driver (Ruffalo) because she wants to know where he bought his cowboy hat. A middle-aged woman (Janney) is run over, dying, babbling about her daughter, in Lisa’s arms. What follows is a not-so-sweet hereafter, as the teenager grapples with her guilty conscience, having lied about the driver going through a red light. Finally getting in touch with the deceased’s closest friend, Emily (Berlin, delivering a ridiculously bad performance), Lisa gets lawyered up. With a little help from Emily. And her lawyer friend. And his lawyer friend. Meanwhile, home life is suffering, as Lisa becomes more estranged from both her insecure though successful theatre actor mother (Smith-Cameron) and her struggling California-based dad (played by writer/director Lonergan), decides to become a woman with the druggie Paul (Culkin) rather than her lovelorn best friend (Gallagher Jr.), and finds herself donning her best greyhound, Basic Instinct skirt for increasingly hot-and-bothered teacher Mr. Aaron (Damon).
THE VERDICT: There’s something deliberately uncertain and unresolved about Kenneth Lonergan’s Altman-esque, multi-layered story here. Then again, the secret life of the American teenager is a complex system of underground tunnels, all leading to glorious, blissful, stay-up-all-night, drink-as-much-as-you-like adulthood. Once you sort out your sexual identity, your personality, your politics, your ideals, your goals, your career, your look, your hair, your spots, your partner, your quietly irritating little brother, and that ongoing power struggle with your separated parents. Lonergan ambitiously touches on many subjects here, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America’s terrorist problem, the crippling insecurity of actors, and the devastating power of opera, but all these strangds never really add up to one whole. And part of the problem lays with leading lady Paquin, an actress who still comes across as the producer’s daughter. Or a former child star. To be fair, Paquin does self-conscious awkwardness extremely well; she’s a natural. The title comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1880 poem Spring And Fall, about the loss of childhood innocence, and Lonergan comes close to capturing that freshness of emotion being trampled. He just shouldn’t have taken 150 minutes to get there. Originally shot in 2005, reports of a nightmare battle with the studio suggest this might not be the film that Lonergan (following up 2000’s You Can Count On Me) actually intended. Here’s hoping. RATING: 2/5

RAMPART (USA/16/108mins)
Directed by Oren Moverman. Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon.
THE PLOT: Harrelson plays LAPD Officer Dave Brown, his already shaky life hitting something of a tailspin when he’s caught on camera beating a fleeing driver who has just ploughed into his cop car. The force are facing a major investigation and Brown – regarded by even his own extended family (having a child each by two co-habiting sisters, Heche and Nixon; naturally, the kids are not all right) as “a dirty cop with a dirty mind” – soon reaches boiling point, convinced that he has been set up as a distraction. So, he refuses to go quietly, reckoning “I’ve nowhere else to go”. Having followed in his father’s footsteps for the last 24 years, Brown knows the law, and when the police brass circle, he spits out that, fighting it through the courts, “I’ll have my own show on Fox News within one week”. The self-righteous Brown reckons he’s “the one cop that gets it”, but his paranoia is soon out of control…

THE VERDICT: Somewhere between Bad Lieutenant and Training Day, Moverman and Harrelson’s second outing together (after The Messenger, for which both were Oscar-nominated) is a peach. As with Fassbender and Gosling, Woody (who does self-repressed rage beautifully, despite being a self-confessed Hawaiian hippie) really should have gotten an Oscar nomination here. Perhaps the Academy just don’t feel comfortable watching disturbed loners battling their inner-demons as they spiral into a self-created hellhole? Could be too close to the bone.
Director Moverman co-wrote with celebrated noir crime novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia), and the resulting script crackles and pops. As with much of Ellroy’s work, the devil is in the detail. Lucky for Moverman then, he has an incredible supporting cast, the likes of Wright, Foster, Beatty, Heche and Buscemi putting plenty of meat on what would traditionally be bare-bone characters. RATING: 4/5

THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH (France/Poland/UK/15A/85mins)
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Starring Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon.
THE PLOT: Returning to Paris, American novelist Tom Ricks (Hawke) finds little love from his estranged French wife (Chuillot), despite the fact that the two have a young daughter, Chloe (Papillon). Tom always finds little luck either, holed up in a sleazy hotel and spending his nights working for its dodgy owner Sezer (Guesmi). When he hooks up with a glamourous widow, Margit (Scott Thomas), life begins to go a little pear-shaped. As Tom begins to question his own sanity, we begin to question what’s true and what is imagined…
THE VERDICT: Ethan Hawke has a habit of running to Paris for his quirky, festival-worthy films about life, love and louche women. Here, he’s aided and abetted by that fine Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, who broke through in 2000 with Last Resort, and scored a hit with 2004’s My Summer Of Love, and, of course, the patron saint of arty French films, Kristen Scott Thomas. What lost young poet can resist Kristen’s siren call? Based on Douglas Kennedy’s 2007 novel, Pawlikowski never quite lives up to the intriguing interweaving stories and characters offered up here, and you’re left with a thriller that’s never quite thrilling, and a whodunit that falls short and lands somewhere closer to a whocares?. RATING: 2/5

Reviews by Paul Byrne