Reviews – New movies opening July 25th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY, EARTH TO ECHO and HERCULES…

Directed by Dave Green. Starring Teo Halm, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford, Alga Smith, Cassisu Willis.
THE PLOT: With their Nevada neighbourhood about to be ripped apart by a highway construction project, best friends Tuck (Bradley), Munch (Hartwig) and Alex (Halm) are getting ready to move on out when they start getting strange signals on their mobile phones. Bringing along their standard issue pretty blonde friend Emma (Wahlestedt), the gang decide to try and source the signal – and they’re soon face-to-face with a bargain basement toy from outer space…
THE VERDICT: Hey, welcome to Not-So-Super 8! Although, to be fair, director Dave Green (making his feature debut) isn’t shy about revealing his influences here, Earth To Echo being largely a homage to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial right from its storyline and look to its poster and hook. It’s just not a very good homage.
Not that EARTH TO ECHO is a total write-off; there are moments, and the young cast have their charms, whilst Green keeps the overly-familiar plot bouncing along nicely. For those with parents cruel enough not to have shown them E.T., or The Goonies, or any other 1980s kids cult classic, Earth To Echo may even prove a delight. Still, you can see why Disney eventually passed this on to Relativity Media – it’s fine, but galaxies away from being magical.
Review by Paul Byrne

JOE (USA/16/117mins)
Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Adriene Mishler, Sue Rock, Heather Kafka.
THE PLOT: There is a darkness to Joe Ransom (Cage), a man who has trouble controlling his temper. Working for lumber companies poisoning trees, Joe takes on alcoholic Wade (Poulter, who actually passed shortly after filming here) and his 15-year-old son Gary (Sheridan, who played a somewhat similar role in Jeff Nichols’ Mud). It’s a rough world these guys live in – something that becomes quickly apparent when Willie (Blevins) shoots Joe in retaliation for a bar-room slap, Gary later witnessing the former dumping the gun, their subsequent confrontation leading to a beat-down. From there, life gets a little meaner for everyone involved…
THE VERDICT: Having long ago chewed his way beyond caricature into something approaching Son Of Chuck Norris, there’s really very little Nicolas Cage can do these days to make us forget that we’re watching Nicolas Cage. We expect the maniacal eye-rolling and those comically OTT Al Pacino shout-outs, and pretty much every film, we get them. Often more, and sometimes, as here, a little less.
Cage is pretty well cast in the title role here, this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel also proving a good fit for David Gordon Green (GEROGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS). That both are somewhat flailing around in the dark and menacing for a shot of career credibility merely lends Joe another layer of twisted bleakness.
Review by Paul Byrne

NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (Philippines/IFI/250mins)
Directed by Lav Diaz. Starring Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Archie Alemania, Soiman Cruz, Mailes Kanapi, Hazel Orencio.
THE PLOT: When the brutish, boorish law student Fabian (Lucero) brutally murders moneylender Magda (Mae Paner) and her teenage daughter, the crime – and the punishment – ends up on the shoulders of smalltown nobody Joaquin (Alemania), who was unlucky enough to have dealings with the deceased. Leaving behind his saintly wife (Bayani) and their two young children, Joaquin gets life in a maximum security prison, driving his missus to near-suicide and filicide. As this devastated family’s struggle to survive unfolds, we also follow the fate of the narcissistic Fabian, as he becomes ever more psychotic…
THE VERDICT: Once again, Dostoyevsk’s Crime And Punishment gets transplanted to another time and place, this time 21st century Philippines – and it would appear to be a smart move, given that Lav Diaz saw his 12th feature film receive ecstatic reviews at Cannes last year. So, why the hell is it so laborious to watch?
Well, the four-hour running time hardly helps, NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY feeling more like a TV box set than a feature film. Diaz is a leading light of slow cinema, having achieved his international breakthrough in 2001 with BATANG WEST SIDE – which ran for a buttock-numbing 315minutes. Still, that’s nothing compared to 2004’s 643-minute EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO FAMILY and last year’s six-hour FLORENTINA HUBDALO, CTE. 
In the age of ADD filmmaking (take a bow, Michael Bay), it’s clearly wonderful to have cinema that takes its sweet time, and I’m sure there are those who will luxuriate in NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY as though they’re taking a long, candle-quenching bath. For others – including myself – the last two hours here will feel like sitting in cold water. Trying to get heat from a candle. Still, 95% critical approval on, so, I’m clearly missing something here. Like action. And a pulse.
Review by Paul Byrne

HERCULES (USA/12A/98mins)
Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Ian McShane.
THE PLOT: Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is rumoured to be the son of Zeus, and a mortal woman. Famed for his great feats in battle, Hercules faces a new challenge when the King of Thrace (John Hurt) seeks his services as a mercenary for hire, to defeat a dangerous and spreading threat.
THE VERDICT: Dwayne Johnson seems to have been cast for his sheer size, and while there is nothing truly wrong with his performance – he is fine – there is nothing truly right with it either. Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell bring some unnecessary comedy to the proceedings and John Hurt gives the same shouty John Hurt performance we have seen from him before. He’s better than this; he knows it and so do we.
The screenplay spends much of its time undermining what we know from Greek legend and the films of Hercules that have gone before. Any trace of magic, godly interference or mystery are stripped away, leaving Hercules simply a man who is good with a club, and the audience wondering why we are watching this particular story, instead of the far more interesting tale of Hercules’ 12 Labours.
Hercules is a film based around set pieces, and while these are intense and action packed, they are also supremely silly and – for the most part – unexplained. Why did the villain set a trap if he was not going to be there to see the fun? Why did the King of Thrace go into battle anyway, if the army was going to have to spend most of their time protecting him? What is everyone’s end game anyway? The Rock gets some nice shouty motivational speeches, but these actually turn into comedy, since they try to sincerely rip of speeches that have since been parodied.
As well as this, the film – perhaps predictably – is in 3D and, also perhaps predictably, is far too dark. Removing your 3D glasses will give an idea of how the film was supposed to look, but with the glasses on, HERCULES becomes a sea of shadows with a shouty muscly guy in the middle.
Director Brett Ratner seems to have tweeted his directions to his actors – run away #scared – leaving the film feeling generic and pointless. Also, why is the hero called Hercules? The film is set in ancient Greece, and the Greek name for this demigod is Heracles. Sigh.
HERCULES is a dark, 3D, loud mess. The son of Zeus is reduced to a guy with a lion cape, and the rest of the film is uninteresting and ultimately, pointless.
Review by Brogen Hayes