LES MISERABLES (UK/12A/157mins) Directed by Tom Hooper. Starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit. THE PLOT: It’s 1815, France, and convict Jean Valjean (Jackman) is given parole by prison guard Javert (Crowe), but is soon up to his old thieving ways when given shelter by the Bishop of Digne (Wilkinson). Jean is stunned when the bishop helps him escape another conviction, and vows to start a new life under a new identity, becoming, eight years later, not only a factory owner but mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Down amongst his workers, Fantine (Hathaway) runs into financial troubles and turns to prostitution, a fight with an abusive customer bringing her into contact with the severe Javert, now a police inspector, before Jean comes to her rescue. And that’s just the first act… THE VERDICT: It’s unlikely that Victor Hugo could have imagined back in 1862 that his French historical novel would one day, after many visits to the stage, be turned into an international hit musical (launched globally by a critically-panned 1985 English-language adaptation), and now, inevitably, a star-studded, Oscar-chasing, big-screen extravaganza. Not that Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) gets too carried away, this being a relatively modest UK production with a budget of $61million. Jackman and Hathaway do a fine job, as do most of the supporting cast, a well-cast, unloved Crowe (having fallen just about as hard as the equally unlikeable Spacey) now reduced to sweaty, spotty panto villain roles. The whole thing is too long, of course, and, it has to be said, the largely unvarnished singing of the actors may help add authenticity but quite a few of them are still a tad on the musically-ungifted side.
RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
GANGSTER SQUAD (USA/15A/113mins) Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi. THE PLOT: Based on a true story, LA in 1949 is being taken over by one man, Mickey Cohen (Penn), with just about everyone who’s anyone either on his payroll or feeling the brunt of his inhumanity. In amidst all the crime and corruption though is a good cop or two, the most obvious of whom is Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin), a thorn in both Cohen’s and his own crooked superior’s sides. Luckily, there is one superior with the cajones to stand up to Cohen, grizzly old Chief Parker (Nolte, looking ever more like everyone’s favourite St. Bernard, Beethoven) giving O’Mara the nod to form an off-the-books Magnificent Misfits to hit O’Mara where it hurts – right in the supply line. It doesn’t take long before LA is ablaze in gunfire and arson, whilst reformed lush Sgt Jerry Wooters (Gosling) might just be jeopardising more than these dark knight’s safety when he starts dating Cohen’s moll, Grace (Stone, sporting The Jessica Rabbit Summer Range)… THE VERDICT: It may be based on a true story, but director Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes Or Less) treats this mafia bloodbath like a cartoon. Not quite the full Dick Tracy (1990), thankfully, but you do half-expect the machine guns here to start spitting custard pies. In amongst this Old Avengers ensemble, Brolin is well cast, both Gosling and Stone deliver the necessary sparks, cute and youth, whilst Michael Pena most probably arrives at auditions these days with his own LAPD uniform. The one who’ll stick in the memory though is Penn, who’s far more panto than Pesci here. Seemingly borrowing De Niro’s joke shop nose from The Untouchables and Gary Oldman’s day-release eye-rolls from Leon, Penn doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as simply swallow it whole. Leaving a great big gaping hole where the menace and terror should be. The official line for this film’s delayed release from last year was reshoots following the Dark Knight cinema shootings (reportedly echoing an original scene in Gangster Squad), but there’s every chance that a salvage job was simply being put into place. An unsuccessful salvage job. Go watch a Boardwalk Empire box set instead.
RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH! JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (USA/IFI/81mins) Directed by David Gelb. Starring Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Takashi Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto. THE PLOT: Hidden away on the back streets of Tokyo, and situated in a modest 10-seater basement space, the world-renowned restaurant of 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono boasts three Michelin stars and a waiting list that stretches on for months. And that’s largely because Jiro has spent all of his adult life, and quite a bit of his childhood, chasing sushi perfection. That chase is, he claims, the reason he feels ecstatic every day, and the reason he doesn’t like holidays. Although it’s hard to tell from Jiro’s largely expressionless face what he’s feeling. Like a Miyazaki creation, Jiro is an enigma, an old man who started out with little love or encouragement from his parents, having been left to fend for himself from the age of seven. It’s the reason why he’s so tough with his own two grown-up sons, the elder, 50-year old Yoshikazu, being Jiro’s apprentice and heir apparent, whilst Takashi was given the start-up for his own restaurant with the strict instruction that he no longer had a home to come back to… THE VERDICT: Just as Jiro shows incredible patience in his search for the perfect sushi, so young filmmaker David Gelb largely keeps his distance from these masters at work. The decades-long search for perfection is both intoxicating and inspiring, the slow whittling down by Jiro of his craft to such a sublime simplicity that not only the result but the process itself becomes pure art. Adding another layer of intrigue is the role of the two sons, aware of the shadow that their quiet giant of a father casts, and both humbly dedicated to living up to his name. The late reveal that the highly-coveted Michelin stars were earned whilst Yoshikazu was preparing the sushi leaves a particularly sweet taste in the mouth.
RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MAN ON THE TRAIN (Canada/Ireland/IFI/101mins) Directed by Mary McGuckian. Starring Donald Sutherland, Larry Mullen Jr., Kate O’Toole, Graham Greene, Greg Bryk, Paula Boudreau. THE PLOT: Rolling into a small, sleepy one-bank town, the man with no name (Mullen) has a problem. He’s a man without a migraine tablet. Or a hotel room. Luckily, there’s a retired literature professor (Sutherland) who can offer this broody stranger both, inviting him along to the big empty house his mother left him for the former, and later merrily agreeing to offer him a bed for a few nights. Which is lucky for the new kid in town, given that he’s planning on knocking over the bank – even if he’s not too sure about some new heist members. As the old man faces some harrowing medical tests, he gets wind of and a taste for his lodger’s dangerous plans, and he wants in… THE VERDICT: A remake of Patrice Leconte’s 2002 film – which starred legendary French rocker Johnny Hallyday as The Thief and Jean Rochefort as the old codger – McGuckian (a master at taking good stories and solid actors and producing absolute muck) begins her film with all the style, pacing and panache of bad porn. Unfortunately, it’s an approach that Mary maintains right to the sorry end here. A film that’s positively constipated, Mullen’s near-muteness taking his sullen character to uncertain depths, and leaving Sutherland trying desperately to act enough for the both of them. Mullen is, thankfully, no Elvis Presley here, but he’s not quite Johnny Hallyday either. You can never quite remove yourself from the fact that, hey, there’s Larry Mullen talking to Donald Sutherland about the wonder of slippers. Given McGuckian’s track record – this is the filmmaker who got DeNiro and Keitel to reunite in 2004 for an adaptation of the classic Thornton Wilder novel The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, and still ended up with, in this country and others, a straight-to-DVD dud) – it’s surprising that fellow Irish artist Mullen signed on the dotted line here. Both Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, Mullen not only stars but co-produces too, and you can’t help feeling the whole thing was born out of one too many bottles of fine wine over dinner. And that’s where this should have stayed, McGuckian and co adding nothing to the original, but taking quite a bit away.