Reviews – New movies opening February 7th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including ROBOCOP and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

ROBOCOP (USA/12A/118mins)
Directed by Jose Padilha. Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Samuel L. Jackson.
THE PLOT: It’s Detroit, sometime in the not-too-distant future, and not much has changed. The city is still on its knees, and the cops are in cahoots with some very nasty people. Only now, the rest of the country has followed suit. Which is why both fascist Fox-esque TV bawler Pat Novak (Jackson) and multinational weapons developer Raymond Sellars (Keaton) both believe in the latter’s hi-tech robots bringing peace and justice to the streets. Hey, it’s very nearly working with Operation Freedom Tehran, until a satellite link on Novak’s show captures noble suicide bombers sparking a Michael Bay wet dream of man versus machine. And so it’s back to the drawing board for Sellars, who is soon convinced by his marketing whiz (Baruchel) that the great American public would certainly be okay if their killing machine had a human heart. And it just so happens that very good cop Alex James Murphy (Kinnaman, looking like a cross between Peter Weller and Chris Evans; which, it turns out, is basically a buff Damon Albarn) has been blown to bits by drugs kingpin Antoine Vallon (Garrow), and, with pretty wife (Cornish) and son keen to seem him again, the papers are signed for cuddly mad professor Dr. Dennett Norton (Oldman) to produce the $2.6billion man machine…
THE VERDICT: For fans of Paul Verhoeven’s gritty and gruesome 1987 original, the idea of a 12A Robocop Recycled hardly fills the head and heart with glee, but this slick update is surprisingly solid and sexy. If not quite as subversively smart. The very concept of man vs man machine has become even more profound today, given the abundance of technology in our everyday lives, from the latest sparkly app to the latently nasty NSA. And it means that Robocop 2014 has an awful lot more toys at his cerebral cortex. All that lovely CCTV can come in handy when roaming a city.
Despite the opening presence of Samuel L. Jackson, the cast here is admirable, with the likes of Oldman, Baruchel, Ehle and Haley playing to their strengths in parts that might as well have been written for them. Not sure what the hell is going on with Michael Keaton though; after his Hick 101 panto turn in Larry David’s Clear History last year and now his half-ass Hank Scorpio here, it would appear semi-retirement was a wise move after all.
For all the hi-tech cool on display though, there’s no shock of the new here.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Jean-Marc Valée. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
THE PLOT: When he is diagnosed with HIV, Ron Woodroof works around the system to get the drugs that he needs to survive. While doing so, he realises that he is not the only one who has found himself outside the system, and he struggles to help others.
THE VERDICT: By now, we have all seen the images of a gaunt and wasted Matthew McConaughey; a testament to the lengths that he went to for his role in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. As Ron, McConaughey captures the feeling of many people when AIDS and HIV first found their way into our consciousness; fear, rage and yet more fear. As the film goes on, however, McConaughey allows Ron to evolve into a tenacious and caring man who still carries his prejudices on his sleeve, but does so as a defence mechanism. The burden of the film lies with McConaughey, and he carries it with a relatable grace.
Jared Leto also transformed himself for his role as Rayon, and like McConaughey, moves through the film with grace and ease. Leto is both flamboyant and vulnerable as he fights his corner, and battles against Ron’s prejudices. Jennifer Garner reunites with her Ghosts of Girlfriends Past co-star and gives a gentle and warm performance as a doctor who is as limited by the law as her patients are.
Based on a true story, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB deals with racism, sexism and homophobia all at the same time, and gives us a hero who is both scoundrel and carer. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s screenplay excels in the relationship between Woodroof and those around him, but stumbles in the second half of the film as our lead character changes from victim to activist. Events happen a little too fast, as the film tries to navigate the social, medical and political changes that AIDS brought with it, but the relationship between Rayon and Woodroof binds the film together.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée has had a rather varied career so far, having brought us both THE YOUNG VICTORIA and CAFE DE FLORE in recent years. The strength of the film lies with the performances he has drawn from his actors, but it seems that Vallée was so caught up with trying to make the charcters feel real, that his focus on the story and pacing fell slightly by the wayside.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a film that entirely depends on the strong, tenacious and moving performances from McConaughey, Leto and Garner. There is little doubt that McConaughey and Leto deserve all the praise being heaped upon them, as it is around them that the film revolves, but muddled pacing and a tendency to skim over aspects of the story mean that DALLAS BUYERS CLUB lacks the punch that could have made it a truly great film.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Rob Minkoff. Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Ariel Winter, Mel Brooks, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Patrick Warburton, Zach Callison, Allison Janney.
THE PLOT: Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a super intelligent scientist, musician, dancer, chef and historian – among other things – who just happens to be a talking dog. When his adoptive son Sherman (Max Charles) gets into a fight with a girl named Penny (Ariel Winter) on his first day of school, Mr Peabody tries his best to reconcile the situation with a meeting between the families. The trouble is that Sherman is determined to impress Penny, even if it means showing her Mr Peabody’s most highly guarded secret; a time travel machine.
There is a warmth at the centre of Mr Peabody and Sherman that holds the entire film together, Ty Burrell’s voice not only suits the slightly Frasier-esque character of Mr Peabody, but his genuine love for his adoptive some Sherman sets the entire film in motion. The film excels in the time travel segments, and manages to make history engaging and fun, essential for younger viewers, and funny enough that even the adults in the audience will have the odd chuckle. The time travel element of the film may be set off maybe a rather weak link, and there is perhaps one too many historical destinations for the younger audience members to keep their interest in the educational side of the film, but there are enough pratfalls and puns to keep most viewers engaged.
The film suffers slightly through a lack of familiarity with these characters, even though they have influenced everything from The Simpsons to the internet itself, and the fact that the show has been paid homage to many many times over the years, means that there are times when Mr Peabody and Sherman feels derivative of the shows that it actually inspired. That said, however, Craig Wright’s screenplay has a warm heart and plenty of comedy, and director Rob Minkoff recovers from his few directorial missteps – Stuart Little 2, anyone? – to make MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN an action packed adventure with a strong educational vein that may pique kids’ interesting in history.
MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN feels like it was deposited in our time from a bygone era, but the odd mix of unfamiliarity and familiarity aside, the film is engaging and fun, even if it jumps around, a little like the time travellers themselves. The animation is great, the jokes land and this is a far cry from some of the superficial and thin animated films we have seen lately.
Review by Brogen Hayes