Reviews – New movies opening July 17th 2015

ANT-MAN (USA/12A/117mins)
Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Forston, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, T.I., Wood Harris, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery.
THE PLOT: Just out after three years in San Quentin, Scott Lang (Rudd) is determined to go straight. Besides, as top-of-the-range cat burglars go, Scott is one of the good guys. An Ocean’s 11 kind of smooth criminal, only in it for the fun, and to help rebuild orphanages. Or, in this case, get access again to his beloved young daughter, Cassie (Fortson) – something the cute little tyke’s mum (Greer) isn’t too crazy about. The fact that mum’s new boyfriend (Cannavale) is a cop doesn’t exactly add to the happy families potential.
Still, going straight proves to be a bust for Scott, as his police record nobbles job after job. And so it is that he decides to do just one more job, on the recommendation of his buddy Luis (Pena), hitting a safe that just happens to belong to DNA wizard Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas). Pym has got troubles of his own, having recognised years ago that his breakthrough in shrinking live subjects to the size of an ant might actually be dangerous in the wrong hands. And so the good doctor retired, feigning failure, only to discover that his protege Darren Cross (Stoll) saw lots and lots of dollar signs in those wrong hands.
With Pym’s daughter, Hope (Lilly), going undercover as the increasingly unstable Cross’ righthand babe, the doc has set out to find just the right kind of burglar to steal the data of mass destruction and, hey, help stop the madness. Which is why he made it so easy for Scott to break into his safe. The sly dog.
THE VERDICT: The influence of ousted director Edgar Wright is all over ANT-MAN, the latest in the Marvel monster blockbuster rally to come crashing through our screens. It’s there, naturally enough, in the original screenplay Wright co-wrote with fellow English fanboy Joe Cornish, but, more significantly, it’s there in the inspired comic tone throughout this surprisingly rib-tickling movie.
It’s there when Ant-Man is battling a fellow miniscule superhero inside a plummeting, carouselling briefcase, the inclusion of the world ‘disintegrate’ in their impassioned dialogue triggering a phone’s voice command to reply, ‘Playing The Cure: Disintegration’, with Robert Smith and co. suddenly joining in on the action.
Ant-Man is full of those Royale-with-cheese moments, winks to the camera that lift the curtain slightly for the audience, and lets them see behind the machinations and thus, feel in on the joke. That replacement director Peyton Reed is known largely for comedy – THE BREAK-UP (2006), YES MAN (2008), eh, DOWN WITH LOVE (2003) – is significant. This ain’t no Michael Bay chest-thumper; ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Superhero’ sets out to mix the iconic with the ironic from the very start.
And having the huggable Paul Rudd as Spider-Man’s really little brother helps get that balance just right. I’ve said it before, but, is there anyone in the world who doesn’t like Paul Rudd? Michael Douglas brings his cocked-eyebrow A-game to the table too, whilst standard-issue intellectual hottie Evangeline Lilly is no doubt chuffed to be in a real blockbuster sci-fi contender after 2011’s rusty REAL STEEL.
Whatever about the ugly scenes that may or may not have occurred behind closed doors here – as Wright was told by Marvel that he wasn’t the right stuff after all – the end result is pretty darn wonderful. Which is some achievement when you consider the fact that you’re dealing with a superhero who could be killed with a rolled-up newspaper.
Review by Paul Byrne

TRUE STORY (USA/15A/99mins)
Directed by Rupert Goold. Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Maria Dizzia, Ethan Suplee.
THE PLOT: When it is discovered that new York Times journalist Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) made a composite character of five men he interviewed, for the sake of a better story, he is fired in disgrace. Not long afterwards, he gets a call from a local Oregon journalist telling him of Christian Longo (James Franco), a man who is accused of murdering his wife and family before going on the run using Finkel’s name. Intrigued, and hoping to find the story that will resurrect his career, Finkel contacts Longo in prison, and the two begin talking.
THE VERDICT: TRUE STORY is, as the title would have you believe, based on the true story of the strange relationship that sprung up between a man accused of murder and a disgraced journalist. It is interesting to see Jonah Hill and James Franco, comedy partners from This Is The End, team up on this project and manage to make the film an engaging enough drama.
Jonah Hill does fine as Michael Finkel; although he doesn’t always bring a huge level of depth to the character, it is his curiosity that drives the film, and he is able to carry the project on his shoulders. James Franco also does fine as Christian Longo; he has a great dead eyed stare, and is convincing enough to draw Finkel into his web of lies. Felicity Jones is criminally underused as Finkel’s partner Jill, although she has one great scene filled with fear and dread, and another one that is overly melodramatic and unnecessary. The rest of the cast is made up of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s Maria Dizzia and MY NAME IS EARL’s Ethan Suplee.
The story, adapted from Finkel’s book True Story; Murder, Memoir and Mea Culpa was brought to the screen by David Kajganich and Rupert Goold. The film plays rather like a cinematic version of Serial – or at least something Sarah Koenig would have investigated incredibly well – with the audience drawn in through some well placed tension and the ebb and flow of belief between the two men. There are times where it seems that each is manipulating the other, and this is where the tension for the film comes from, but the trouble is, it is obvious that one of the men is a master at this game, and the other is just learning the ropes.
As director, Rupert Goold makes his debut feature engrossing and interesting. We are never told more than what Finkel sees, but it is obvious that Finkel actually believes the lies so obviously being spun; this, combined with the obvious similarities between the men – and the obvious differences – is where the drama and thrill of the film comes from, although with some stronger central performances the cat and mouse game would have been a lot stronger and more thrilling. It’s not that Franco and Hill are weak per se, they just seem disengaged for a lot of the film.
In all, TRUE STORY has a thrilling tale at its heart; director Rupert Goold proves that he is one to watch out for. Lacklustre performances from Jonah Hill and James Franco, however, push TRUE STORY down from a thrilling game of cat and mouse to an often engaging tale of rat and mouse.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE WONDERS (Italy/Switzerland/Germany/Club/110mins)
Directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Starring Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani, Monica Bellucci, Andre Hennicke, Eva Lea Pace Morrow, Maris Stella Morris, Luis Huilca.
THE PLOT: Like so much traditional Tuscan living, the family of teenager Gelsomina (Lungu) are struggling to keep food on the table. Their main source of income is the family apiary, run by the man of the house, Wolfgang (Louwyck), with his faithful assistant, Gelsomina, always by his side. The two have a special bond, but their relationship becomes strained when Gelsomina secretly enters the family business into a TV talent show, Countryside Wonders – hosted by the beautiful Milly (Belucci). Could fame somehow save the family home…?
THE VERDICT: There’s much to ponder in Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher’s deceptively footloose and fancy free feature, from country living to family affairs, from barely living off the land to the faux philanthopy of the TV camera. That Rohrwacher (who made her debut with 2011’s CORPO CELESTE/HEAVENLY BODY) makes it all seem haphazard and incidental makes The Wonders all the more wonderful. There’s nothing laboured here, nothing burdened by pop video exclamation marks. You can take it all as fly-on-the-wall, or you can dig deeper, and see the world’s state-of-play.
The cast are wonderful, and the script a delight, but it’s Helene Louvart’s stunning cinematography that truly seduces here.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE GALLOWS (USA/15A/81mins)
Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing. Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Gifford.
THE PLOT: 20 years ago, a student died during the high school production of a high school play, ‘The Gallows’. To honour the anniversary, and to finally see the play performed in its entirety, the students stage a production of the same play, unwittingly setting a tragic and violent series of events into motion.
THE VERDICT: There are certain things that make a good horror movie; tension, scares and truly engaging psychological or paranormal stories. The Gallows has none of these, instead relying on loud noises and things happening off camera to keep the audience on their toes.
The cast, made up of Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Gifford, are never given a chance to make their characters anything more than vessels for the story (such as it is), and strongly adhere to the high school stereotypes we have seen on screen before; the jock, the bully, the nerd and so on. None of the characters are remotely fleshed out, and more than one of them are incredibly unpleasant, leaving the audience wondering why we should root for them in the first place.
The story, written by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, appears to take every horror movie cliché that ever there was and lob them at this film. There are so many daft decisions made by the central characters that the audience cannot help but wonder if they have any sort of common sense at all. The reason for the haunting and the murders is thin at best and the jock getting his comeuppance, while his pretty girlfriend is left to scream is something we have seen a million times before.
As directors, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing spread the action throughout the film well enough, but the decision to use found footage, then have two cameras telling the story – which, we are told, is taken from police files, so how is it edited?! – means that the pacing and the intrigue of the story suffer. As well as this, there are some truly terrible performances here, with a lot of ‘hands in the hair’ acting going on. There are some creepy and well done shots, but these are too few and far between to make up for this uninspired and un-scary flick.
In all, THE GALLOWS is as clichéd and unoriginal as a horror movie could ever be. Surely the found footage style of filmmaking fell out of favour years ago, leaving THE GALLOWS feeling unoriginal, uninspired and definitely not scary. Bangs and crashes are not the fabric of a good horror movie, and that is about all that is on display here. Not smart, and definitely not scary.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE PRESIDENT (UK | France | Germany | Georgia/IFI/105mins)
Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
THE PLOT: In an unknown country, a despot President – who insists on being referred to as Royalty – plays with his young grandson and showing off his power by turning the lights of the city off and on at his whim. As he does so, revolution breaks out in the country, leaving the President stripped of his power, his home and his family, and having to disguise himself as one of those he oppressed, in order to survive.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by recent uprisings in the Arab world, director Mohsen Makhmalbaf attempts to make an allegorical film about the power to corrupt, and the idea that those who topple the despots from power can often be tainted by the power they wield.
The film focuses on the President and his young grandson as they quickly go from being the most powerful people in this unnamed country, to two of the most abhorred and wanted. Writers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Marziyeh Meshkiny attempt to show how quickly dictatorships can come to an end, and while they succeed at this, they never really decide where audience sympathy should lie. It is difficult for the audience to empathise with a fallen dictator and his bratty, spoiled grandson. The same goes, however, for the people they encounter on their journey to the border; the oppressed have risen up with a vengeance and are quickly proving themselves as liable to be corrupted as those they have replaced.
Tonally, THE PRESIDENT is pretty much a mess; it tries to be light and engaging, but is too heavy to be a comedy and never plumbs the depths enough to be a true drama. There are times when the film is let down by lingering shots that should have been trimmed during the editing process, and overall the pacing is drawn out and slow, meaning the film drags its heels from one episodic scene to the next.
As director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf coaxes a surprisingly wonderful performance from the young boy playing the President’s grandson, but he is often too bratty for the audience to sympathise with him. Elsewhere, the rest of the cast never truly embrace their characters or are given a chance to make them anything but one dimensional, and although there are lessons to be learned here, they are hammered home too heavily and too slowly for the film to succeed.
In all, THE PRESIDENT tries to make a statement about the corrupting influence of power, and while there are a couple of interesting moments, the film is too long, drawn out, badly edited and poorly paced for it to work.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE SALT OF THE EARTH (France | Brazil | Italy/IFI/110mins)
Directed by Wim Wenders and Ribeiro Salgado. Starring Sebastião Salgado.
THE PLOT: Wim Wenders teams with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado to take a look back over the life and career of photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has travelled the world for over 40 years, documenting humanity.
THE VERDICT: Wenders first came into contact with Sebastião Salgado’s work many years ago, and teamed up with the photographer’s son to make a film about the man’s life and legacy. The film is framed as a look back over Salgado’s work, with the photographer talking through his experiences and thoughts while shooting stunning images.
Wenders and Salgado shoot the film as carefully as Sebastião Salgado shot his famous photographs, and allow the photographer to tell the stories of his experiences in remote, dangerous and beautiful parts of the world. As Sebastião Salgado talks, the images he discusses are projected over his face, giving the audience a feel of the emotion behind the images. Much of the film is shot in crisp black and white, to keep a through line going between Salgado’s photographs and the film itself.
Sebastião Salgado embedded himself in the communities he photographed, becoming part of the story himself, so it makes sense that his stories are as important to the film as the images. Salgado himself then becomes the story, as he recounts the emotional impact of his time in Rwanda during the genocide, and his decision to change paths in his chosen line of work. Replanting a decimated forest inspired him to move into nature photography, and these images are as powerful as those he took of humans.
Wenders and Salgado choose the photographs to be shown, and there are times when these are incredibly disturbing, but they always feel honest and, combined with the tales told, have a strong emotional impact. The film falls down with Wenders’ own narration of Salgado’s work and its impact on him. Not only does this change the film from the audience’s experience to Wenders’ own, but the voiceover is often dry, and Wenders; intonation does nothing to make the film more lively. As well as this, once the film turns into a discussion of the forest that Salgado built – while it is necessary to understand the photographer’s move into shooting nature – it goes on a little long and changes the tone of the film.
In all, THE SALT OF THE EARTH is filled with beautiful and impactful images from Salgado’s career, but Wenders’ narration is a little disengaging, and the pacing is a little drawn out at times.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes