Reviews – New movies opening February 22nd 2013

We review this week’s cinema releases, including Cloud Atlas, The Hardy Bucks Movie, Lore and To the Wonder

CLOUD ATLAS (Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore/15A/172mins)
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy.
THE PLOT: Based on David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas is an exploration of how individual lives effect our world in the past, the present and the future.
Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski have taken on a bold and ambitious project with Cloud Atlas. The story encompasses the past, the present and the future, and many different races, genders and experiences.
The writers and directors of the film have made some strange and interesting choices throughout; including having Hugo Weaving play a woman, Susan Sarandon play a man, and each actor labour – at times – through layer of prosthetics and make up. The strange and wonderful thing about all of this is, it works, in an odd way. Yes, there are times when it is hard to figure out who is who, but this is a film about the story. And what a story…
The film is about the human experience; love, life, death, control, slavery and the connections that we make with one another along the way. The idea is that the soul is immortal, reincarnation happens, and the characters spend each of their ‘lives’ searching for the person they have loved before and will again. There is tons of scope for reading religious and spiritual themes in the film, but my guess is that each of these readings would be personal and subjective, so I am not going to espouse them here. 
THE VERDICT: The cast is made up of Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, James D’Arcy, Doona Bae and Keith David. Each actor has the storyline where they step to the fore, and each makes up the background of the stories as well. The performances are fantastic, be it in action sequences, love scenes, jungle mountaineering, journalism or anything else that you would care to name. Standouts though, have to be Ben Whishaw as Robert, a young composer and Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish, a man who longs for freedom. As well as this, Tom Hanks gets more than one moment in which he holds the audience, Doona Bae’s expressive face is put to great use, Hugh Grant is magnetic as an evil future dweller, Hugo Weaving obviously has great fun as a demon and Jim Sturgess’s performances are heartbreaking… All of them.
The cinematography of the film gives weight to the epic scale of the project. Each time period is beautifully filmed and gives the sense that this is an entire civilisation, not just a snapshot of it. Directing wise, the trio split the sequences between them, but managed to keep the tone and style smooth. There are comedic, upsetting, enraging, joyful and heart breaking stories in the mix, but they are so skilfully put together that they always feel as though they are part of a whole. The film is so well paced and edited that the three hour running time is not a problem, the only complaint could be that some of the stories work better than others.
Cloud Atlas is storytelling on an epic scale. It is ambitious, beautiful and slightly crazy, but all of this works in the film’s favour. The performances are strong, the cinematography is gorgeous, the stories are intricately woven and cleverly told. Some of the stories work better than others, butCloud Atlas is a film that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Review by Brogen Hayes

TO THE WONDER (USA/12A/112mins)
Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Charles Baker, Romina Mondello, Tatiana Chiline.
THE PLOT: We first meet happy, loving couple Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) as they have a splendid train trip together, splashing about in the low tide at Mont Saint-Michel whilst recording their happy, loving time together on digital camera. Moving from her native France – and taking her 10-year old daughter (Chiline) with her – Marina heads to live with Neil in the US. Where life soon feels not so happy and loving, Neil unable to commit, and Marina’s daughter feeling homesick. When the two girls return to France, Neil finds himself drawn to an old flame, Jane (McAdams)…
THE VERDICT: Okay, is there any way we can get Terrence Malick to slow down? He needs to take a little more time, maybe think some of his ideas through for a while. Say, 10 or 15 years? As it is, the suddenly coffee-ed up little bugger has got three more films in post-production. The man’s gone from Howard Hughes to John Hughes seemingly overnight.
Greeted with both boos and cheers at its premiere in Venice, To The Wonder offers up much to ponder – as one would expect from the Buddha of Ottawa. It also throws up some unwitting laughs, with even old reliables such as Javier Bardem incapable of cutting through the pretty pomposity without seeming to be a sly comic creation.
As with The Tree Of Life, there will be those who will find nothing but joy and wonder amidst all the long, long pregnant pauses here, as Malick shines his light down into the cracks of life. Others will feel as Sean Penn did about his character in The Tree Of Life and wonder what the hell is all that aimless wandering around supposed to make you feel? Naturally, you also feel there is something here that will reward repeat viewings handsomely.
Review by Paul Byrne

LORE (Germany/Australia/15A/109 mins)
Directed by: Cate Shortland. Starring
 Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina 
When her parents disappear at the end of World War II, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) must find a way to get her four younger siblings to their grandmother’s home near Hamburg. As they walk the deserted countryside of Germany, a chance encounter with a mysterious man changes the course of their journey.
Lore is an interesting twist on the Nazi-Jewish relations story. Lore’s parents were prominent Nazi’s so as the world rejoiced at the end of World War II, they mourned the death of their Fuhrer. As the Nazis were rounded up and taken away, however, Lore and her siblings find themselves in an oddly similar boat to many Jewish people who managed to survive the Holocaust. The question that arises from this then, is whether these people are really that different, now that they are suffering together.
THE VERDICT: Saskia Rosendahl is magnetic as Lore. Choices made with regard to cinematography mean that a lot of the camera’s gaze on the face of this teenage girl as she finds herself in a situation where she must grow up exceedingly quickly. With typical teenage sullenness, she takes her siblings and begins the trek in search of a train. She is short tempered, but cautious, but when she finally discovers Thomas as Jewish, the vitriol she unleashes on him is astounding. Rosendahl allows Lore to be the product of her upbringing, and does not shy away from the more challenging moments in the film.
Kai Malina takes on the role of Thomas, the man who decides to follow the young family on their journey and eventually saves them from danger. Like Lore, he is quiet, but unlike her he is gentle and caring, which means that the younger children take to him straight away. It is obvious that there is attraction between Thomas and Lore, and both actors allow the tension to ebb and flow as their situation becomes ever more heightened.
Director Cate Shortland has created a film about death and despair that is surprisingly beautiful. Shortland coaxes strong performances from her young cast, and through their eyes, we are given a rare glimpse into the experiences of a family in the aftermath of World War II. The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw has an ethereal and focuses on the details; the scenery, Lore’s face, hands, feet. As well as lending beauty to the film, this serves to remove some of the horror of the world around the family. There are shots of horrific violence, but their impact is both removed and heightened through only showing glimpses.
Lore is ostensibly a quiet film, and one that is about the emotional and psychological journey, rather than the physical one. Rosendahl and Malina shine as their onscreen chemistry smoulders and while fates are left open, this is a film that is patient and engaging.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE HARDY BUCKS MOVIE (Ireland/16/89mins)
Directed by Mike Cockayne. Starring Martin Maloney, Chris Tordoff, Owen Colgan, Peter Cassidy, Tom Kilgallon, Michael Salmon.
THE PLOT: Thanks to Robbie Keane, Ireland has qualified for the Euro 2012 in Poland – and Eddie Durkin (Maloney) and his motley crew of Castletown cowboys are determined to go and catch all the footie action. And, you know, have the craic. Even though they have no money. Or plan. Or hope.
Grabbing a battered van from his slick uncle Mick – who’s admired mainly for looking like the bastard child of Samuel Beckett and Liam Neeson – and convincing the sweetly naïve Salmon (Salmon) to throw his recent inheritance into the kitty, Eddie and the boys hit the road. Just ahead of them is their arch enemy, The Viper (Tordoff), travelling in his father’s RV but quickly abandoned by his long-suffering henchmen…
THE VERDICT: The sort of movie that only a fan of the mundane could love, The Hardy Bucks Movie is a mess. All the goodwill in the world towards these likely lads – these unlikely stars – can’t compensate for the very simple fact that, over 89 painful minutes, there are very few laugh-out-loud moments on offer here. In truth, there ain’t all that many chuckles either.
Having broken through on the interweb, it was even a struggle some weeks for Eddie Durkin and the boys to sustain 27 minutes of madcap, smalltown Paddy-go-backwards japes when they were promoted to TV sitcom status in October 2010. Their attempt at an hour and a half is just about as successful as Kevin & Perry Go Large. Or Ali G Inda House. Or Lesbian Vampire Killers.
Not that many hit TV shows have made for hit movies. For every box-office monster cross-over such as The Inbetweeners, there’s a hundred other leaps that fall miserably short. In Irish terms, this limp movie makes Spin The Bottle – the deadening big-screen adaptation of the towering moc-doc TV series Paths To Freedom – look golden.
A directionless, listless, mirthless misadventure that should only be watched drunk, The Hardy Bucks Movie feels, fittingly enough, like all the Irish football squad’s world cup performances crammed into 90 minutes. It’s that disappointing. 
Review by Paul Byrne 

SONG FOR MARION (UK/Germany/PG/93mins)
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston

THE PLOT: Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is terminally ill, but insists that she still be a part of her local choir, much to the annoyance of her husband Arthur (Terence Stamp).
In the recent swathe of films to focus on the struggles of older people as their health deteriorates and their lives change, there has been a distinct lack of heart, but Song for Marion is a surprisingly warm and touching film, written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams.
We all know that Vanessa Redgrave is a firecracker, and she channels all of this energy into her character. Refusing to give up, Marion is the kind of person that inspires others, simply through her tenacity. Terence Stamp is a surprise casting choice, but a welcome one. As Arthur, he is the perfect foil to his joyful wife, and seems permanently displeased by what is going on around him. However, there is warmth to this character, which is slowly revealed.
One of the many things that Arthur must face is his relationship with his son James. Christopher Eccleston is surprisingly understated in the role of James and mirrors back the resentment he believes is coming back from his father. Eccleston is warm and gentle with his mum and daughter, but brittle and frosty with his father. It is a combination that works incredibly well, and allows Stamp to play with the scenes. Gemma Arterton plays choir mistress Elizabeth and, like the rest of the cast, is warm and subtle in the role. A couple of her scenes are cringe-worthy, but for once this is not the fault of the actress; she is engaging and rather sweet.
These four are backed up by a surprisingly funny but overused choir whose antics soon get old. As well as this, the song choices are obviously supposed to underline the fact that this film has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with celebrating life, but when a group of octogenarians is singing Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt n’ Pepa, the result is less progressive and more embarrassing. Stamp and Redgrave’s solos, however, hit the perfect notes and, while they may not be opera singers in disguise, these scenes are engaging without being overly sentimental.
THE VERDICT: Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams has managed to take the best attributes of mumblecore and apply them to the film. The story is utterly predictable, but the warmth and strength from the actors on screen are what makes the film work. The dialogue is strong, for the most part, but its often what is unsaid that conveys a scene more than oceans of dialogue. The journey that the characters go on is a gratifying one and, even though the story arc is small, it is relatable as Arthur tries to change the habit of a lifetime and open up to the people around him. Williams sometimes stumbles as a director; there are a few scenes that feel forced and shoehorned into the film, but for the most part Song for Marion is simple but well executed.
Song for Marion is a story that we have probably seen before but the performances are strong, Stamp is engaging and relatable, and this is a film with a big and warm heart.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

FIRE IN THE BLOOD (India/TBC/84 mins)
Directed by Dylan Mohan Grey. Starring Zackie Achmat, Bill Clindon, Desmond Tutu
THE PLOT: Dylan Mohan Grey’s documentary examines the dark side of big pharmaceutical companies, while focusing on the AIDS treatments that so many in Africa and the developing world are denied.
Part legal documentary, part cautionary tale, Fire in the Blood tells the story of how people from around the world – doctors, drug manufacturers, patients – joined together to fight the prohibitive cost of AIDS drugs, and allow poor countries to get the medicine the people so desperately need, at a price that they can afford.
This is not a film that examines the origins of AIDS or the spread of the pandemic. There is no preaching about how the spread of the virus could have been avoided. Instead, the film focuses on a fight taken on by the ‘little people’ to help those who needed help. As well as the patients and activists, the film interviews Desmond Tutu and Bill Clinton who have joined the campaign to help AIDS sufferers.
THE VERDICT: The focus of Fire in the Blood is the patents held by the big pharmaceutical companies, which mean that the AIDS drugs – sold for $15,000 a year – cannot be reproduced by other companies willing to sell them at a cheaper rate, or be imported into the African countries where they are needed. The exception – and the source of potential imports – is India, which has changed its patent laws, and a company named Cipla, and its chairman Dr. Yusuf Hamied.
The film documents activist and AIDS sufferers whose lives have been changed by their ablity to afford the drugs they need, as well as activist and AIDS sufferer Zackie Achmat who refused to take the medicine until it was available to all. The film also takes great interest in Dr. Yusuf Hamied’s offer to make the drugs available for a dollar a day and the resistance to his offer by governments. The film is designed to infuriate; the drugs are controlled by companies who are desperate to make a profit with little regard for what Dr. Yusuf Hamied describes as ‘genocide’ for those who cannot afford them.
Where the film falls down, however, is with the projection to the future. So much is made of the efforts of the past that when we are told that the situation has changed, we are given little time to see how it has changed. As well as this, with the recession in the Western world, the stage was set for the documentary to examine how Westerners are now suffering a similar fate to those in developing nations, and how ‘big pharma’ is poised to deal with this. These opportunities are missed.
Fire in the Blood is a film that is designed to infuriate, and for the most part, it does this exceedingly well. However, with the global economic situation changing, there is little time given to the impact of recession on the Western countries that propped up the prices as they could afford the cost of the drugs. Without this, and a look to the future, Dylan Mohan Grey’s documentary becomes a powerful history piece.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Alex Gibney. Starring Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Keuhn, Arthur Budzinski, and the voices of Jeremy Sheridan, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, John Slattery.
THE PLOT: Tracing the current child abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church back to St. John’s School For The Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the brave, defiant act by grown-up former pupils who, having failed to get a satisfactory reply from the Vatican, begin distributing fliers warning that the school’s director, Father Lawrence Murphy, is a paedophile. Having suffered at his hands, the four ex-pupils – Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Keuhn and Arthur Budzinski – recount their time at the school, their years of abuse at the hands of Murphy, and the decades of struggle with the church and the Vatican to have something done about him. As similar cases start emerging across the US, with a 2002 expose by The Boston Globe lighting the spark, the rest of the world soon follows, with Ireland being one of the most notable. All the evidence points to a crisis within the Church that goes far, far beyond the last six decades though, something the outgoing Pope would no doubt be very aware of, having handled all sexual abuse claims for the Church during his time as Cardinal at the Vatican…
THE VERDICT: Just in case you needed any more fuel for your hatred of the Catholic Church, along comes the ever-reliable Alex Gibney (2005’s Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, 2007’s Taxi To The Dark Side) to hold God’s men in black up to the light – and he finds them somewhat lacking when it comes to compassion. And honesty. And good old-fashioned deceny.
As the evidence mounts, we realise that the Vatican is far more interested in the silent treatment than any other kind of rehabilitation for those of their army who have strayed, the perversion of power on display here enough to make you want to hug and kiss Richard Dawkins. It would appear, as far as the Vatican is concerned, church is the Latin for harem, with Ratzinger far more concerned about the stress these poor vilified paedophile priests might be suffering than that of the victims whose lives they shattered. Again and again. And once again during confession. Because it’s God’s will.
It should come as no surprise to anyone in this country that the Catholic Church is full of devils in disguise, but Mea Maxima Culpa still manages to shock when it comes to the sheer arrogance of not only the priests involved but those sitting in judgement amidst all the gold and splendour in Rome. May God have no mercy on their souls.
Review by Paul Byrne