Reviews – New movies opening February 3rd 2017

LOVING (UK | USA/12A/123mins)
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Nick Kroll, Will Dalton, Christopher Mann
THE PLOT: When Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) marry in secret before returning to their home in Virginia. In 1950s American however, marriage between a white man and a black woman is not accepted by local authorities, and it is not long before the newly wed Lovings are arrested and ordered to leave the State, not to return for 25 years. The Lovings accept their fate until one of their children in hurt while playing on the street; the ensuing court battle to allow the couple and their children to return home changed US law forever.
THE VERDICT: In the wake of last year’s ‘Midnight Special’, ‘Loving’ is a distinct change of pace and storytelling for Jeff Nichols. None of the eerie strangeness that has become the director’s trademark is present in this film, but this examination of a small story feels like a Nichols film, as well as the strong themes of family and home.
Joel Edgerton leads the cast as Richard Loving a man “born in the wrong place”, as he is reminded by the police officer who arrests him. Edgerton makes Richard a quiet man who cannot truly understand why the state of Virginia would have a problem with the fact that he fell in love with a black woman. Edgerton is quiet and strong in the film, and he works incredibly well with Ruth Negga. Negga makes Mildred more tenacious than her husband; someone who has struggled with discrimination all her life and has had no choice but to take it. Negga and Edgerton compliment one another well in their performances, and Loving cements Negga’s place as an Irish actress on the rise. The rest of the cast includes Martin Csokas, Alaono Miller, Nick Kroll in a rare dramatic role, and a beautifully understated cameo from Michael Shannon as a Time photographer, through whose eyes the bond between the Lovings becomes abundantly clear.
Jeff Nichols’ screenplay quietly deals with the issue of marriage equality, and is a story that can easily be applied to the same sex marriage debate, which continues to rage around the world. The story is told through the characters, and not the showy court battles, meaning Nichols makes Loving an intimate and personal story, and one that the audience can elate to.
As director, Jeff Nichols makes all the performances strong but quiet; there are no legal battles on screen and each stage of the process is dealt with with a quiet dignity from all of the characters. The pacing is languid, allowing the prospect of this battle ending up in the Supreme Court to slowly rear its head, and the injustices to be felt on the small scale; this is a story that takes place in homes around the country; not with a million man march, and protests in the streets, but it is here that the film’s strength lies, in making the people the heart of the tale. Nichols’ trademark otherworldliness is missed at times throughout the film, as this Is a change for the director, but once again, this is an examination of a small corner of Americana that is hugely affecting.
In all, Loving is a story about love in all its small cosiness, and great ability to influence change. The performances are strong, quiet and dignified, treating this true story with care, while giving it the attention that it truly deserves.
RATING: 4.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

GOLD (USA/15A/121mins)
Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Macon Blair, Corey Stoll
THE PLOT: When his mining company starts struggling due to the downturn in the economy in the 1980s, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) has a dream about finding gold in Indonesia. Teaming up with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), Wells begins to mine for gold in Indonesia, but when the two strike it lucky, Wells finds himself riding the high of his newfound fortune and never thinks to question whether Acosta’s findings are actually real.
THE VERDICT: Directed by Stephen Gaghan in his first cinematic outing since ‘Syriana’ in 2005, ‘Gold’ struggles with some of the issues with pacing and clarity that similarly plagues ‘Syriana’. Although the film boasts an impressive cast – including Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Macon Blair and Edgar Ramirez – there are times when the film feels familiar and derivative of more wham-bam films that have gone before, including The Wolf of Wall Street.
Matthew McConaughey takes on another film about a character’s search for gold – after ‘Sahara’ and ‘Fool’s Gold’ – and although ‘Gold’ is based on a true story, it is hard to shake the feeling that McConaughey is playing a character very similar to ones we have seen him play before, and weight gain, bad teeth and bad hair do not a character make. Kenny Wells feels like a combination between Ron Woodroof from ‘The Dallas Buyers Club’ and Dallas from ‘Magic Mik’e, which is a strange and not necessarily endearing combination, especially when he plays like a cheap version of Jordan Belfort from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. Bryce Dallas Howard plays little more than arm candy, Edgar Ramirez turns on the charm and the mystique as Michael Acosta, while Corey Stoll and the wonderful Macon Blair are underused in supporting roles.
Patrick Massett and John Zinman’s screenplay is inspired by the story of Canadian mining company Bre-X Minerals Ltd, which went bust in 1997, but appears to have been highly fictionalised for the sake of a dramatic telling of the story. Although it seems that the pace of the film rockets by for the first half, it is in the second hour that the story falls over its own feet, and in not telling the story in any kind of linear fashion lessens the impact of the final act. As well as this, it is hard to shake the feeling that we have seen this film before, and it is more than a little derivative of Scorsese’s tale of corruption in the form of Jordan Belfort.
As director Stephen Gaghan never manages to tidy the film up and make it compelling viewing, and although there is a great yearn at the heart of ‘Gold’, the film gets too caught up with personal relationships that are meant to round out the characters, but never truly succeed. Bryce Dallas Howard, Macon Blair and Corey Stoll are completely underused in their roles, and there is a feeling that the audience never truly gets to know any character in the film, making it difficult to empathise with anyone in this messy rags to riches tale.
In all, ‘Gold’ feels too derivative and familiar to work on its own. None of the characters are fully created on screen, with great actors underused and the rest playing a combination of roles they have played in the past. There is a great tale at the centre of ‘Gold’, but the story is never quite brought to the surface and buffed to a shine like it should have been.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER (France | Germany | Canada | Australia/15A/106mins)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali LArter, Ruby Rose, Iain Glen, Eoin Macken
THE PLOT: Immediately after the events of ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is contacted by an unexpected ally, and told there is hope for humanity, but she only has 48 hours to break into The Hive and save the world; a place where The Umbrella Corporation definitely does not want her to go.
THE VERDICT: The sixth, and allegedly final, instalment in the ‘Resident Evil’ movie franchise keeps everything relatively simple, blood drenched and full of jump scares, with a distinct feel of ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ about the entire affair.
Milla Jovovich is back as Alice, and makes the character a bad ass warrior who is hell bent on saving humanity, and not much more than that. The rest of the cast features Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Ruby Rose, Fraser James and Irish actor Eoin Macken. No-one truly gets to flesh out their character, instead only being given the chance to play one dimensional good guys or villains, who tenaciously hold on to their ideals.
As screenwriter, Paul W.S. Anderson plays up the ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ feel of ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’, with much of the film being a road movie with humans used as bait to draw an undead army toward the last holdouts of uninfected humans. The dialogue of the film is fine, and every attempt is made to play up the violence and the jump scares, and although the film succeeds in this, there is little in the story that feels original or inspiring throughout the film. There are twists and turns involving clones and the history of the film franchise as a whole, which are obviously aimed at tying everything up in a neat little bow.
As director, Paul W. S. Anderson makes sure that the film is full of energy and high octane from the very start. The story – what there is of it – fits around the set pieces that litter the film, and although the set pieces are grand and large, the entire film is shot in relative darkness, meaning it is difficult to see the action, and see just who is getting the upper hand. Anderson seems uninterested in fleshing out the characters, or allowing them to be anything but ruthless in their fight for survival, and while this works from time to time, it does mean it is hard to root for anyone for any other reason than them being the default good guys.
In all, ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’ takes more than a few cues from ‘Mad Max Fury Road’, but never manages to flesh out the characters in the film or make the set pieces visible enough to be exciting. That said, there is an energy to the film that keeps it engaging, and fans of the franchise will be happy to see everything tied up neatly. Whether this is the last ‘Resident Evil’ movie or not, remains to be seen.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

TONI ERDMANN (Germany | Austria | Romania/16/162mins)
Directed by Maren Ade. Starring Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter
THE PLOT: Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is a man who loves a practical joke; painting his face, putting in false teeth and convincing the postman that he is his own twin brother; a man named Toni Erdmann. When Winifried’s daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) returns home from Bucharest – where she lives for work – a quietly observed moment makes Winifried realise how little he knows his daughter, so he sets out to try to reconnect with her the only way he knows how; with his alter ego Toni Erdmann.
THE VERDICT: ‘Toni Erdmann’ is over 2 and a half hours long, and although the story has a powerful message and a rather silly but engaging story at its heart, this is swallowed up by the 162 minute – count ‘em! – running time.
Peter Simonischek easily carries his portion of the film as a lonely man whose family feel further away from him than they ever have. Simonischek permeates his performance with a sense of loneliness, which is palpable at times, but manages to make the character playful, meaning his transforming into his alter ego Toni Erdmann is believable if a little far fetched. Sandra Hüller makes Ines tightly wound and impatient for much of the film, although it is never truly clear why she goes along with her Dad’s pretence that he is someone else – for the sake of a quiet life, perhaps – but she is also capable of carrying the time she is given, even if she and Simonischek are let down by a meandering, bloated script. The rest of the cast features Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russel and Ingrid Bisu in smaller roles.
Writer / director Maren Ade manages to make the characters likeable in her screenplay for the film, with the dialogue often painfully honest, but she does not seem to know when less is more, since the film meanders through its first hour, and it is not until the focus of the film switches and Ines becomes the protagonist that things become interesting. Even then, the screenplay is not tight enough to maintain the action, with scenes often going on far too long, scenes and subplots that could have been cut for the sake of emphasising emotion, and the transition that Ines goes through seemingly coming from nowhere, as she changes her clothes.
As director, Maren Ade gets strong performances from her entire cast – none more so than the two leads – but badly lets them down with meandering pacing and a bloated running time. Making ‘Toni Erdmann’ a film of 100 minutes would have made for a stronger emotional engagement, more laughs – although the Cannes audience seemed to have a great time, on the whole – and a clear narrative arc throughout the film.
In all, ‘Toni Erdmann’ would have been a wonderful film if it was an hour shorter. As it stands, Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller are wonderful in their roles, but the film around them is bloated, meandering and feels rather self indulgent.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

RINGS (USA/15A/102mins)
Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Johnny Galecki, Laura Wiggins, Alex Roe, Matilda Lutz.
12 years after the events of The Ring Two, college professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) comes across a mysterious tape in a VCR he bought at a flea market. After watching the tape, Gabriel’s phone rings and he is warned he has just seven days to live. In order to protect himself, Gabriel passes the tape among his students, but when Julia (Matilda Lutz) watches the tape to save her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe), she sees images no-one has ever seen before.
‘Rings’ is the third instalment in the US ‘Ring’ franchise, and not only have all of the actors from the first two films been replaced, it seems great swathes of the ‘Ring’ movie mythology has been altered in order for this sequel to even happen.
The cast is made up of Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan and Laura Wiggins. None of the cast truly get a chance to make their characters anything but one dimensional and stereotypical. We never learn what the characters like and dislike – other than premature death, obviously – and so there is precious little to root for when Samara comes to call.
David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman have replaced Ehren Kruger as screenwriter on this new instalment in the franchise, and the lack of continuity shows throughout the film. While there are touches of ‘Scream’, ‘Final Destination’, ‘Oculus’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’ scattered throughout the film, these only serve to highlight how derivative and unoriginal ‘Rings’ is, and coupled with a dull and pedestrian story, and precious little actual dread or horror, ‘Rings’ pales in comparison with the truly scary predecessors.
As director F. Javier Gutiérrez never truly manages to get ‘Rings’ moving with any sense of urgency, and with characters that are thinly sketched and scares that are obvious a mile off, Rings’ simply becomes dull and pedestrian. Add to this the overuse of iPhone torches and darkness that make the action on screen almost impossible to see, and it is clear that the ‘Ring’ franchise has run out of steam with this final instalment that could be a reboot.
In all, ‘Rings’ is not scary, suspenseful or particularly engaging. The screenplay messes with the mythology created by the first two films, the characters are dull and the pacing meanders. There is probably a new story to be told of Samara and her curse, but this, with its feel of ‘Final Destination’, ‘Oculus’, ‘Don’t Breathe’ and ‘Scream’, is derivative and, perhaps the worst crime of all for a horror movie, boring.
Review by Brogen Hayes