Reviews – New movies opening February 20th 2015

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including BLACKHAT, THE WEDDING RINGER and CAKE…

BLACKHAT (USA/15A/132mins)
Directed by Michael Mann. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Leehom Wang, Wei Tang
THE PLOT: When cyber terrorists attack power plants in both the US and China, the two governments join forces to get to the root of the problem and find the hacker. To do this, however, they need the help of convicted cyber criminal Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth).
THE VERDICT: It is truly difficult to make a film about people tapping on computers interesting, even if the activity they are engaged in is catching a cyber criminal mastermind before he strikes again, and this is one of the main problems with Blackhat, one that not even the TRON/HACKERS inspired opening could help.
Each of the cast – Viola Davis, Chris Hemsworth, Leehom Wang, Wei Tang – do fine with their roles, but Morgan Davis Foehl’s script does not allow them to be fleshed out or to do anything that will not move the story along. That said, many events in the film seem to happen simply because the script said they had to, would it have been so detrimental to the film if the guy and girl didn’t hook up!?
Speaking of story, the one at the centre of BLACKHAT is relatively simple, but as son as we start getting into detail and intricacies, silliness begins to creep in. Characters are given one-line back-stories in the hope they will be more relatable, the dialogue is often filled with exposition and cheesy lines, technology works in ways that no-one has ever even thought of before and the noble band of international investigators travel around the world for seemingly no reason. Let’s not even mention the ridiculous final set piece in which people get stabbed in the head in public, with no-one so much as batting an eyelid. As well as this, as is to be expected from a film about computer hacking, the entire affair is rather dull and uninteresting, despite the efforts to the contrary.
As director, Michael Mann seems to have abandoned his trademark skill in making tightly paced, slick thrillers, making BLACKHAT bloated and often nonsensical. The film is badly shot, with key elements often out of focus, badly edited so as to be overly long and make little sense and there are even times when lines spoken in Mandarin seem to be badly dubbed over the actors’ lip movements.
In all, BLACKHAT is a dull and uninteresting film about computer hacking. Attempts are made to make the characters more human and the progression more exciting, but BLACKHAT lacks style, coherence or even a sense of fun – this ain’t no HACKERS – and is filled with bad dialogue and often nauseating camera movements.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Jeremy Garelick. Starring Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Affion Crockett, Jorge Garcia, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis, Mimi Rogers.
THE PLOT: Doug Harris (Gad) is about as cool and popular as you would expect a tax barrister to be, and so, when he manages to bag himself a foxy fiance, he naturally fakes a whole bunch of wacky out-of-town buddies to impress her. When it comes to the big wedding day though, Doug will have to invite those imaginary best buds – which is where professional fake friend Jimmy Callahan (Hart) comes in, given that he specialises in being the very best best man a groom could hope for. Doug needs more than just a best man though – he needs the full Golden Tux service, which means coming up with a limo-load of cool dudes who have known, loved and partied hard with the groom. And so the big deception begins, as this Malignant 7 – this Bottom-of-the-Ocean’s 11 – set about faking a lifetime of friendship, photos and farting in harmony…
THE VERDICT: A script that has been bouncing around Hollywood since 2001, after years of retooling for various leading men double-acts, finally, on June 10th, 2013, writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender (THE BREAK UP) got the green light, with the former landing in the director’s chair for the very first time. So, given all that time, and all those rewrites, how come THE WEDDING RINGER hasn’t been firmly kicked into fine shape?
As it is, it’s one of those ridiculous comic set-ups that rarely delivers the kind of glorious silly expected. Gad and Hart work like a charm together, and the supporting cast of misfits they gather around them – who look, as Gad quips, like “the entire cast of GOONIES grew up and became rapists” – ooze comic potential, but The Wedding Ringer falls foul again and again of The Obvious Gag. You’re rarely surprised here, rarely lifted beyond the predictable. There are moments, sure, but nowhere near enough for the amount of talent here, or the amount of time it took for this film to reach the screen.
Review by Paul Byrne

CAKE (USA/15A/101mins)
Directed by Daniel Barnz. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Felicity Huffman, William H, Macy, Anna Kendrick
THE PLOT: Claire (Jennifer Aniston) lives with chronic pain, and becomes fascinated with the suicide of a young woman in her support group. As Claire focuses on Nina’s (Anna Kendrick) death and family, she is still grappling with her own tragic past, which led her to the painful place she has found herself.
THE VERDICT: It seems like a long time since Jennifer Aniston has played a dramatic role, but it was only last year that she took on a role in the crime drama LIFE OF CRIME. Aniston is known for her impeccable comic timing, but with CAKE, she reminds us that she is a versatile and talented actress.
As Claire, Jennifer Aniston takes on the unglamorous role of an angry, heartbroken woman who lives with pain every minute of her life. Aniston never labours the point, or allows her character to wallow in self pity, instead allowing her character’s past to matter less than the moment she is living in. The story is revealed – and it is nothing too shocking – but Aniston makes Claire a gripping character, one it is difficult to hate even through her layers of anger and unpleasantness. Although she suffers, it is clear from Aniston’s performance that Claire is a strong woman and although she doesn’t always get it right, she is trying her best to carry on.
Anna Kendrick plays Nina, but instead of making her a blithe and forgiving spirit, Kendrick allows Nina to feel real – even if she isn’t – with real responses and emotions. The rest of the cast is made up of Felicity Huffman, William H Macy and Adriana Barraza, who are all on magnificent form.
The story, written by Patrick Tobin, is a study of a character dealing with grief, guilt, anger, pain and addiction. There is little doubt that Claire is the centre of the story, but never are exposition or cutesy revelations allowed to rule the day. It would have been easy for the film to devolve into predictable saccharine sweetness, but it easily steers clear of such things, although there are some sequences that the film could have done without.
Director Daniel Barnz has coaxed powerful performances from all of his actors, particularly Aniston, whose nuanced performance as a woman who desperately needs people but can’t help but drive them away feels authentic and sincere. There are times, however, when the pacing of the film suffers from trying to bring in too many strings, but since Cake does not concern itself with tying everything into a neat little bow, this is swiftly resolved.
In all, CAKE is anchored by a powerful performance from Jennifer Aniston, who is backed up by a wonderful supporting cast. The story is simple, but the characters so believable that some bad storytelling decisions and messy pacing almost don’t matter. Almost. Still, this is the best Aniston has been in a long time, and for her to be ignored at the Oscars is a travesty.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Dean Israelite. Starring Johnny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner
THE PLOT: David Raskin (Johnny Weston) is a gifted kid who gets a scholarship to MIT, the trouble is that without a scholarship, his family can’t afford the fees, so David goes back to the drawing board to find a more exciting project to pitch. While going through his late fathers things, David and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) find video footage that appears to show a 17-year-old David at his own 7th birthday party. Further research leads David and his friends to construct a time machine, but controlling past events proves more difficult than expected.
THE VERDICT: The cast do fine in their roles – although many of them feel a little underdeveloped – and their enthusiasm for the project comes through on screen. Without knowing these people a little better, however, it is hard to root for them when they make selfish and misguided decisions.
Writers Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan seem to have been inspired by Primer and the often-referenced Looper while making the film. The trouble is that while they have the hero, the technology and the tragic past events to keep the film moving, it seems as though they don’t understand the intricacies of the time travel element they have created. Paradoxes happen, not in a way ever shown in time travel films before, but instead of giving explanation and reason for a violent reaction when past events are tampered with, the audience is left to winder what is happening, and why. In order for a time travel movie to work, the filmmakers have to understand their own logic, but it seems as though understanding got lost somewhere along the way.
Director Dean Israelite made the dubious decision to make Project Almanac a found footage style movie; not only does it feel as though this style of filmmaking is played out and jaded, but the spinning and jerking camera movements detract from any enjoyment found in the film. The film starts off well, but as soon as the gang start playing with past events and changing the past, the emotional through line is lost and the paradoxes seem wildly implausible – David goes back in time to kiss the girl and causes a plane crash in the present?! WHAT!??
In all, PROJECT ALMANAC is an ambitious film with tons of potential that collapses under the weight of its own aspirations. Plot holes and paradoxes abound and, through a series of inconsequential events, the emotional heart of the film is allowed to die. As well as this, it seems that the filmmakers didn’t understand their own theories, so fail to communicate these to the audience, or tell a story that is in any way new or unusual.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by David Zellner. Starring Rinko Kikuchi, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Vengard, Brad Pranther.
THE PLOT: Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a solitary office worker, under pressure from her mother to be married, and her boss to make room for younger workers, finds a VHS copy of the Coen Brothers’ FARGO in a sea cave. Believing the claim in the opening titles that Fargo is a true story, Kumiko becomes obsessed with the money buried at the side of a road by Steve Buschemi’s character, and makes her way to the American Midwest to find her fortune.
THE VERDICT: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is not so much based on a true story, but based on an urban legend that grew up around the death of a young Japanese woman found dead in a field outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Due to some fancy story telling, fiction merged with fact, until many people believed that Japanese office worker Takako Konishi had died searching for a fortune, and this is the basis of David Zellner’s film.
The success of KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER relies on lead actress Rinko Kikuchi, who treads a careful line in her portrayal of Kumiko. Kikuchi makes her character a solitary one, who seems to choose the company of her pet rabbit over spending time with people. This solitude, however, never feels lonely, and in fact Kumiko often pushes the humans in her life away. As the character discovers Fargo, however, a quiet determination steals over her and, no matter how many times she is told that the film is fiction, she tenaciously holds onto her dream. The rest of the cast is made up of writers David and Nathan Zellner as a police officer and a tour guide, respectively, Shirley Vengard and Brad Pranther.
The story, written by the brothers Zellner, is an eccentric tale that takes more than a couple of cues from the dark absurdity of Fargo itself. The notion of whether Kumiko is mentally ill, naïve or has genuinely never seen a movie before is not one that the filmmakers address, but it is certainly one that crosses the audiences’ minds. The Zellners never truly question Kumiko’s motives, instead leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the character, and the film’s ending.
As director, David Zellner allows Kumiko’s solitary world to take over the screen, and for this to be reflected in the landscape of the American Midwest. Zellner allows Kikuchi to carry the film, and for the people around her to be kind, but perplexed.
In all, KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER relies on audiences accepting the twisted fairytale on screen, and is a loving homage to an urban legend, to one of the Coen Brothers’ greatest films, and to the ideas of innocence and determination.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Peter Strickland. Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna, Monica Swinn, Fatma Mohamed, Eugenia Caruso, Eszter Tompa, Kata Bartsch, Zita Kraszko.
THE PLOT: Arriving at the country home of entomologist Cynthia (Knudsen), housemaid Evelyn (D’Anna) does everything her surly boss demands – scrubbing the sitting room carpet, polishing her boots, hand-washing her underwear. When the growing tension between the two progresses to the point of punishment – Evelyn instructed to lie down on the bathroom floor with her mouth open as Cynthia straddles overhead – the roles of master and slave have been firmly established. In a world that appears to feature only women, the two attend entomologist conferences, the talk of insects never fully distracts from the fetishistic longings in the room. Entomologists like their thigh-length leather boots, it would seem. As Cynthia becomes more and more demanding, Evelyn begins to falter, uncertainty creeping in – the kiss of death for any disrespecting dominatrix…
THE VERDICT: Tinto Brass with class, the latest offering from British director Peter Strickland (BERBERIAN SHOUND STUDIO, KATALIN VARGA) is a majestic and deliciously kooky slice of erotica. We’re in the world of SECRETARY, of NIGHT PORTER, with this ‘Fifty Shades of Sapphire’ set in an insular world akin to Performance, or ‘Grey Gardens: The Early Years’. We’re also in an unspecified time and place, most likely the 1970s, somewhere in autumnal, regal Europe. The shifting dynamics of the lesbian S&M on offer is handled sensitively and sensually, Strickland asking us to read as much into the painterly imagery as the studied silences, even as the games commence. The shift in power between the two women provides the real drama, as the master grows weary of her slave’s increasing demands. Isn’t it always the way? Knudsen (Borgen) and D’Anna are wonderful, as their characters fall deeper into the wonderland they’re creating together whilst simultaneously finding the role-playing increasingly hollow. Gradually, the master would rather have her aching back rubbed than pee into the mouth of her slave once more. And it’s a nice touch to have grumpy, disapproving neighbour Lorna – who never responds to the women’s cheery greetings – playing by Monica Swinn, a major presence in such classic demi-mondish, oddly arty psychedelic sex-horror melodramas as LES DEMONIAQUES (1974), PHATASMES (1975) and FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973). A film steeped in the continental exploitation films of the 1970s, playing both like a homage and a sly parody, THE SUKE OF BURGUNDY is the sort of film that would have Quentin Tarantino reaching for his bath salts. A ravishing film. In every way.
Review by Paul Byrne