Reviews – New movies opening January 31st 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including LONE SURVIVOR and THE ARMSTRONG LIE…

Directed by Tom Gormican. Starring Zac Effron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin.
THE PLOT: When one of their number is dumped, three best friends make a pact to stay single; the trouble is that the bachelors find their flings are turning serious. Suddenly the awkward moment changes from breaking up to staying together.
THE VERDICT: THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is essentially a buddy comedy that has a spanner thrown in the works with the introduction of what could be true love. Michael B. Jordan, as Mikey, is the nice guy of the three friends. Jordan allows Mikey to be one of the guys, but keeps him in touch with romance as he persues the woman he believes to be the love of his life. Jordan is sweet and warm, but also plays with the dynamic between the three friends.
Zac Efron shines as Jason, the player with the heart of gold. Efron makes Jason a likeable rogue; a guy who doesn’t want to hurt his one night stands, but doesn’t want to be with them either. Miles Teller rounds out the trio as Daniel; the crudest and messiest of the three. Teller was perhaps the best thing about last year’s 21 and Over, and in That Awkward Moment it is clear to see that he has developed and grown as an actor. The girls are made up of Imogen Poots as Ellie, and Mackenzie Davis as Chelsea. Both girls are as well rounded as the guys; displaying that women need not be just girly objects of affection when it comes to bromantic comedies.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is writer/director Tom Gormican’s debut and he manages well. There is a level of competence in his direction that implies experience in other media, and That Awkward Moment was on the Black List of the best unproduced scripts in 2010. However, while this is a perfectly fine piece of writing and directing, it feels awfully familiar. Other than some petty larceny and some rather beautiful locations, That Awkward Moment feels like a film we have seen 100 times or more. There is very little wrong with that – the film is very entertaining – but this familiarity can lead to parts of the film struggling to hold audience attention.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT has a great cast whose chemistry sparkles, reminding us of Efron’s roots, and that Teller has more to him than idiotic party boy. That said, it does feel that we have seen Tom Gormican’s film before in another incarnation. That awkward Moment is fun, but nothing incredibly new.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

LONE SURVIVOR (USA/16/121mins)
Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch. 
THE PLOT: Based on a true story, LONE SURVIVOR follows the fate of four US Marines sent to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader near a small Afghani village. The team find themselves fighting for their lives in a desperate effort to survive.
THE VERDICT: The story is based on a true one, but with the film clocking in at 121 minutes, most of the running time is spent in a fire fight in the Afghani hills. This is tensely and harrowingly realised, with some cruel camera angles adding to the savagery inflicted on both sides. Director and screenwriter Peter Berg keeps a strong feeling of camaraderie going throughout, but while this is not a political film – as such – it is a film that political arguments will be thrust upon. The story ends up becoming one of flag waving for the USA and one of the most interesting aspects of the tale – an Afghani man who helps an injured Marine – is pretty much ignored for the sake of another shootout.
A fellow reviewer remarked, on the way out of the film, that Lone Survivor would have been a much more interesting film if it were a documentary, and it is hard to argue with such a truth. Dramatising the story created a flag waving collection of characters and a film that feels as though it is asking the audience to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A documentary, however, would have given Lone Survivor a chance to be anything other than a well shot fire fight with some cheesy emotion thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of great war films – Platoon and Apocalypse Now spring to mind – and Lone Survivor may be an inspiring story, but it is just not a very good film, and is certainly not a good war film.
LONE SURVIVOR feels like a combination of video game and war film. The characters are never developed past the superficial, leaving us wondering why we should care about these men who set out to kill in a foreign land. There is little doubt that at the heart of Lone Survivor there is a story of strength, fraternity and courage but it is lost in an admittedly beautifully shot fire fight, of which we already know the outcome. Hint; the clue is in the title.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Alex Gibney. Starring Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsey Andreu, Frankie Andreu, Daniel Coyle, Michele Ferrari, Steve Madden.
THE PLOT: Sparked by Lance Armstrong’s TV interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he admitted to doping throughout his spectacular cycling career, filmmaker Alex Gibney returns to an aborted documentary charting the Tour de France champion’s 2009 comeback tour. Unaware at that time that Armstrong was using performance-enhancing drugs, Gibney gets the fallen bike champ before the camera again, and sets about investigating how deep the culture of doping ran in the cycling world by talking with the cyclist’s contemporaries. Turns out it was damn rampant, but what made Armstrong stick out from the steroid-pumped crowd – besides the record-breaking consecutive Tour de France wins – was his arrogance and anger at those who, well, suggested he was steroid-pumped. It’s an arrogance the man plainly doesn’t need drugs to unleash.
THE VERDICT: He may be one of the finest documentary filmmakers out there when it comes to revealing our ugly truths, but Alex Gibney (ENRON: THE SMARTEST MEN IN THE ROOM, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, MEA MAXIMA CULPA, WE STEAL SECRETS) finds himself grasping at straws with THE ARMSTRONG LIE. Mainly because his protagonist has already openly admitted to his crimes, and isn’t about to give Gibney – or us – any revelations. Which just leaves a little excavation work, as Gibney digs deeper into the culture of doping in the cycling world. And there are few surprises there. No one imagined that Armstrong was a lone gunman here. It’s still a shocking story, and Armstrong is certainly a fascinating case. It’s just that, well, with a prickly subject and no big reveal, THE ARMSTRONG LIE isn’t really all that fascinating a documentary.
Review by Paul Byrne 

JOURNAL DE FRANCE (France/TBC/100mins)
Directed by and starring Raymond Depardon, Claudine Nougaret.
Photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon takes on an ambitious project; after spending years away from home, capturing other people’s stories, he returns home to France to learn more about his native land. As he travels the country in a camper van, Depardon’s long time collaborator Claudine Nougaret goes through his lengthy documentary footage, carefully stored in the basement.
As well as the mix of personal and global history in JOURNAL DE FRANCE, there is also a wonderful combination of past and present; Depardon travels the country taking pictures on a now outmoded camera; a large format camera that can only take one picture at a time. While doing this, Depardon also carries a smart phone on his travels; a curious juxtaposition. The past comes to the fore with the use of the archive footage from the Venezuelan coup d’état in 1958, Nelson Mandela giving the camera a minute’s silence in 1993, Biafra, Chad and the Prague Uprising, to name but a few.
As the documentary goes on, it becomes clear that the film is a chance for Depardon to not only clear the skeletons from his cupboard, but to reflect back on the life he has led. What emerges is a portrait of a man who doggedly kept filming even when he shouldn’t, and now values the silence he has earned in his later life.
JOURNAL DE FRANCE is a journal of present day France, world history from the 1960s and of the photographer who captured striking and controversial images. We learn little about Depardon himself – even through the voice over supplied by Claudine Nougaret – but we do learn the tenacity needed to keep filming, even when one probably should not. It all turns a bit Koyaanisquatsi in the end, but this works because of the striking images presented on screen. It’s just a shame we don’t learn more about the man behind the camera.
Review by Brogen Hayes

FREE FALL (Germany/TBC/100mins)
Directed by Stephen Lacant. Starring Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt.
THE PLOT: Police cadet Marc seems to have the perfect life; happy relationship and a baby on the way. However, when fellow cadet Kay makes no secret of his desire for him, Marc finds himself engaged in an illicit affair with another man, and living a secret life.
THE VERDICT: Billed as the German BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Free Fall is an interesting look at a relationship between two men. Kay first engages with Marc as they train together, Kay reminds his colleague to ‘breathe evenly’ instead of panting and gasping for air as he runs this becomes a central theme of the film; Kay smoothly and easily moves through the world, whereas Marc struggles and fights against what he feels.
Koffler plays Marc as a man in the midst of fear; fear for the change in his life as he moves house and he moves closer to becoming a father, and fear for the feelings he has for another man. Riemelt is as comfortable as Koffler is fearful, and the chemistry between the two actors is warm and strong.
Screenwriters Stephen Lacant and Karsten Dahlem have created a story of control, loss and acceptance; Free Fall is an engaging gay drama, even though it hangs on some slightly strange story hooks, including the first proper physical encounter between the men feeling a little less romantic and more like rape than is strictly comfortable. As well as this, there is the feeling that Marc and Kay only enjoy such a close relationship because Marc is afraid of change, rather than there being an actually discovery and acknowledgement to be made. That said, however, the film also shines a light on the acceptance of homosexuality in Germany and, in particular, the German police force.
As director, Lacant frames his film beautifully and creates some incredibly tender moments between the lovers. Sten Mende’s cinematography creates two contrasting worlds in the lives that Marc lives, and shows Germany at both it’s best and it’s worst.
FREE FALL is an interesting and engaging gay drama that questions the acceptance of homosexuality in oneself and in culture as a whole. Koffler and Riemelt have wonderful chemistry and hold the film together, even as it suffers from some ironically safe choices and a slightly drawn out running time.
Review by Brogen Hayes