Reviews – New movies opening March 20th 2015

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including HOME, THE GUNMAN and INSURGENT…

HOME (USA/G/94mins)
Directed by . Starring Jim Parsons, Steve Martin, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez.
THE PLOT: The Boov – a brightly coloured and so-ugly-they’re-cute race of aliens – have been on the run from their mortal enemy for a long time. Running from planet to planet, they find themselves at Earth and relocate the humans to custom-built towns so they can settle into the cities. When Oh (Jim Parsons) accidentally lets the galaxy know where The Boov are, he finds himself on the run from his own people. Tip (Rihanna) is the last human left in the city, desperately trying to find her Mum, who was taken to one of the new cities. It’s not long before Oh and Tip find each other, and realise they need one another to survive.
THE VERDICT: Based on the book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, HOME is a beautifully animated film, featuring adorable creatures, and a strong message about what’s important in life. Oh, and there’s tons of adventure and silliness to keep the young ‘uns going, and the adults giggling.
Jim Parsons as Oh and Rihanna as Tip are the emotional heart and soul of the film, and they do well with their roles. Parsons’ character talks a little like a LOLCat, so if you find this annoying, best to bow out now. Parsons makes this work for the character though, making Oh charming and curious and just enough of a misfit to be loveable. Rihanna perhaps gives the best performance of her short acting career as Tip, and fills the character with emotion and feistiness. Steve Martin brings the silly as Captain Smeck and Jennifer Lopez rounds out the cast as Lucy.
Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember’s screenplay mixes action and adventure with a decent amount of humour and emotion, with great results. The film is smart and funny, with plenty of slapstick and LOLCat dialogue to keep the audience entertained. Tim Johnson’s direction keeps the laughs coming and the adventure bright, but allows the film to pack an emotional punch when needed. The Boov are ugly cute creatures who change colour with their emotions, travel in bubbles and are clueless about human interaction. This sounds cute – and it is – but the film very cleverly points out that there is a lot about life that The Boov are missing. That said, the film suffers from using music – usually Rihanna songs – to underscore emotional moments, this is fine in the light hearted moments of the film, but when the emotion kicks in, the music feels manipulative and wholly unnecessary.
The look and feel of the film are superb; the design of the creatures is beautiful and unlike any cute little aliens we have seen before. The design touches, such as the use of circles and colour adds to the cartoon cute feel of the film, which works surprisingly well.
In all, HOME is a beautifully animated film with a lovely message about acceptance, fear and belonging. Parsons, Martin and Rihanna do well with their roles, giving the film warmth and humour, but the overuse of Rihanna songs that labour the emotion drags the film down from superb to very good. No mean feat, but a shame.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

THE GUNMAN (Spain/UK/France/16/115mins)
Directed by Pierre Morel. Starring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba, Mark Rylance, Jasmine Trinca, Melina Matthews, Peter Franzen.
THE PLOT: “I recorded virtually everything,” says Sean Penn’s fugitive hitman, “and I’m going to throw it out where the world can see it.” That’s pretty much all you need to know about the plight of Jim Terrier (Penn), forced to go on the run when his past – assassinating a minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo some years earlier – comes looking for revenge. Having committed the assassination on the orders of his associate Felix (Bardem), Terrier soon realises that he has no one to turn to. Going underground, he turns to old mercenary days partners-in-crime (Rylance’s Cox, Winstone’s typically cor-blimey Stanley), before heading to Barcelona, where Felix is now living with Jim’s old flame, Annie (Trinca)…
THE VERDICT: If not quite at the Robert De Niro stage of his career – having yet to cash in his credibility chips for some panto payola – nonetheless, these days, Sean Penn inhabits that strange world where he’s rightly admired for the intensity and integrity he usually brings to his craft and yet, on a fairly regular basis, he squeezes out some very so-so movies (FAIR GAME, WHAT JUST HAPPENED, THE INTERPRETER, etc). The Gunman is one of those latter so-so movies, the stark title’s promise of a nod to Leone or the gangster movies of the 1970s falling at the first hurdle – then again, it does share a director with TAKEN. Having co-written the script and produced here, Penn is taking a deliberate step into the revenge thriller schlock of box-office gold that Liam Neeson found at the end of the rainbow. Unfortunately, THE GUNMAN is never quite gritty and grimy enough to qualify as truly thrilling, nor is it silly enough to be Taken 4.
One of those Euro-pudding, globe-trotting actioners that tries to beat Hollywood at its own game, THE GUNMAN falls considerably short on just about every front. Someone like Jason Statham can make this kind of bonkers Bond Bonzai work, but, being far too serious an actor for any fun and games, Sean Penn could never quite channel Chuck Norris the way Neeson does.
Review by Paul Byrne

INSURGENT (USA/12A/119mins)
Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Theo James, Ansel Engort.
THE PLOT: Having evaded Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her hostile takeover of the factions, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run, and take shelter in Amity; the most gentle and forgiving of the factions that make up their world. When Jeanine’s forces arrive at their door, however, a member of their shaky alliance turns on them, and Tris finds herself teaming with fellow outcasts to bring the system down from the inside.
THE VERDICT: DIVERGENT, the first film in the series on films based on Veronica Roth’s books, was a fun and light fantasy adventure. However, with the departure of director Neil Burger, and the story getting more and more involved, it seems a lot of the fun has been removed from INSURGENT.
Shailene Woodley carries on her strong work from the first film, but seems a little less comfortable in the role of Tris than she was the first time out; perhaps this is because there seems to be a desperate attempt to make the character sexy, which doesn’t sit well with the rest of the film. The rest of the cast pick up where they left off; Theo James as ‘scary boyfriend’ Four, Miles Teller as the fickle Peter and Kate Winslet as the cold and overbearing Jeanine. Naomi Watts joins the fun as Evelyn, the leader of the Factionless, and is joined by Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim.
Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback’s screenplay takes a very different path than the book, although both end up at roughly the same place in the end. This is where the trouble arises with the film; in trying to wrap up the loose ends from the first film, and set up the final instalment in the trilogy, INSURGENTt is stricken with ‘middle film’ syndrome. Instead of telling its own story, INSURGENT gets too caught up in the setting up the finale, meaning the film drags its heels and, when the epic set piece finally does come, it’s too little too late.
Robert Schwentke does what he can with INSURGENT, but never manages to drag the pacing out of the doldrums. There are plenty of stylish moments in the film, but making the film a 3D creation seems to have been to benefit the final set piece, which looks good, but this doesn’t justify the choice, when the 3D is forgotten about during the rest of the film. As well as this, with so much focus given to the simulations that Tris finds herself in, INSURGENT begins to feel more like a video game than a movie.
In all, INSURGENT is a film made for the fans, and designed to wrap up Divergent before moving on to ALLIEGANT, the final film(s) in the franchise. There are worse ways to spend 2 hours – the film is stylish and thrilling at times – but INSURGENT is definitely one for the fans.
Review by Brogen Hayes

MOMMY (Canada/IFI/139mins)
Directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Patrick Huard
THE PLOT: Widow Diana ‘Die’ (Anne Dorval) is trying her best to make it on her own, but when her violent and unpredictable son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is thrown out of a care facility, Die struggles to bring him up on her own.
THE VERDICT: MOMMY is a compelling but frightening film, which underlines the strength and bravery it takes to become a parent. Anne Dorval is strong in the role of the titular ‘Mommy’, Die. Dorval is not afraid to make Die less than perfect, and seemingly takes pleasure in showing the various sides of the character, and highlighting the fact that Die may well have had an influence on Steve’s behaviour. Antoine-Olivier Pilon is fearless as Steve, making the character violent, horrible, unpredictable and seemingly irredeemable. As well as this, Pilon manages to show that the character has a kind heart, but this is buried so far down that it is often hard to locate. Suzanne Clément is quietly wonderful as Die and Steve’s neighbour Kyla; afflicted with emotional issues that have taken a physical toll, Clément keeps Kyla understated but strong, with some incredibly powerful breakout scenes. Kyla often provides balance between Die and Steve, but never loses herself in doing so.
Xavier Dolan’s screenplay tells the story of a struggle between two imperfect characters, and does so impressively. The emotion between the characters feels real and genuine and, although there are times where scenes and situations feel drawn out, and others rushed, there is a feeling of coherence to the film, especially with a fictional law hanging over the characters’ heads. There are hints given to round out the characters back stories, but these are often left for the audience to put together themselves, which gives the film an inclusive feel.
As director, Dolan has coaxed moving and engaging performances from his actors; none of them are afraid to be ugly or unlikeable on screen, and all of them have the power to carry their roles. The trouble arises in the film’s running time – 139 minutes – as there are times where the film feels drawn out, and too long for characters to change so little. There are a couple of misdirects, and storylines left hanging, which leaves the film feeling unfinished.
Dolan takes risks with MOMMY, and tells an unpleasant story on screen. Shooting the film in 1:1 aspect ratio adds to the claustrophobic feel of the film, although the audience becomes accustomed to this early on, and is only aware of the enforced aspect ratio when it briefly disappears. This is a strong moment, however, and plays a powerful part in the emotion of the screen. Dolan uses some of the most popular songs of the 90s on his soundtrack – Wonderwall, White Flag – but this is often to the film’s detriment as it feels as though the audience is being given too much information through song lyrics.
In all however, MOMMY is a powerful and unsettling piece of work, which showcases the acting talents of the central cast. Not a lot changes in the lives of the protagonists, but for once it is a lack of change that keeps the film moving.
Rating: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes 

THE VOICES (USA | Germany /16/103mins)
Directed by Marjane Satrapi. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton
THE PLOT: Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) seems like a normal, but quiet and socially awkward guy, who is just trying to get through his workday at the candy coloured factory where he works, to get home to his pets. The truth is, that Jerry’s pets talk to him – one evil, and one rather sweet – but this is not a problem until Fiona (Gemma Arterton) stands him up on their first date…
THE VERDICT: Ryan Reynolds reminds us that he is a strong actor with his role as Jerry in THE VOICES; combining sweetness and naivety with the desire not to make people unhappy means that Jerry has all the emotional tools to be an accidental killer and, combined with a history of mental illness in his family and an angry Scottish cat, Jerry takes a step over the edge. Reynolds keeps the audience on Jerry’s side throughout the film, and even when he realises the depths of his illness, his contrition and fear is so strong that the audience stays with him throughout. Reynolds also does a great job with the voices of the various animals who talk with Jerry throughout the film; his Scottish accent is surprisingly passable. Gemma Arterton does a great job of playing the wholly unlikeable Fiona, making her just rude and fake enough for the people around her to believe she is a good person. Anna Kendrick is wonderful and Lisa, a character who is all sweetness and light.
Michael R. Perry’s screenplay – which appeared on the Hollywood Blacklist in 2009 – treads lightly around the issue of mental illness, never judging Jerry for his actions and keeping audience sympathy with the lead character. Having the dog and cat as the angel and devil on Jerry’s shoulders is a touch of brilliance, and leads to a lot of foul mouthed language from the cat – hilariously named Mr. Whiskers. Setting the film in a small US town allows the characters to be sweet and warm, and although the film falls apart slightly in the final act, it is the contrast between this and the blood soaked world that Jerry finds himself in that makes the film work.
Marjane Satrapi approaches the gory and violent subject matter with apparent glee, and creates a wonderful balance between the candy coloured public life and the dark personal life that Jerry leads. There is something of The Coen Brothers about Satrapi’s direction, but she makes the film as darkly funny as possible, allowing the violence and comedy to keep the audience guessing throughout the film. The film does collapse in on itself slightly in the final act, but Satrapi has created a twisted and funny film that is reminiscent of The Coen Brothers and the dark comedies directed by Danny DeVito. As well as this, the use of colour throughout the film is a work of brilliance, making THE VOICES feel like a cross between CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and CHEAP THRILLS.
In all, THE VOICES is violent, gory, twisted and messed up, but it is also a sweet and funny film that allows Kendrick, Reynolds and Arterton to shine. The final act is a bit of a mess, but the tone prevails, making THE VOICES the most stylish and violent comedy of the year.
Review by Brogen Hayes

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (France | USA /16/91mins)
Directed by Gregg Araki. Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato
THE PLOT: Kat (Shailene Woodley) is 17 when her mother disappears without a word and without a trace. Kat, however, seems hardly phased by this, since she and her mother have had a troubled relationship since she became a teenager. As Kat tries to continue with her life, with her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and with her friends, the absence of her mother hovers over her like a cloud. As time goes on Kat begins to wonder whether she will ever find out where her mother has really gone.
THE VERDICT: WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD is based on Laura Kasischke’s book of the same name and, while it is an entertaining coming of age, sexual awakening tale, it also does nothing to dispel the idea that Shailene Woodley is either deliberately following in Jennifer Lawrence’s footsteps, or there are no new ideas for young women in Hollywood.
Woodley is in her element here as Kat. Since first she caught our attention as Alexandra in THE DESCENDANTS, it has been clear that this type of awkward teen role is where the actress is most comfortable, and it shows. Woodley has no trouble playing the hormonal teen or the Lolita, and moves comfortably between both, reminding audiences as to why she is so captivating as an actress. Eva Green, as Kat’s mother Eve, struggles slightly with the American accent, but embodies a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with a manic gleam in her eye. Shiloh Fernandez plays the dim boyfriend well, Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato do fine as Kat’s friends, and Angela Basset is wasted in a small role as a therapist.
The screenplay seems to differ quite substantially from Kasischke’s book, and most certainly does not conjure up the same feelings of suspense and intrigue that are so praised in the book; Kat does not seem to care where her mother has gone, so why should the audience.
Gregg Araki, as director, allows Kat and her exploits to take centre stage, which means that the true heart of the book – the disappearance – falls by the wayside. Kat’s sexual awakening, and growth as a person seems to be the focus of the film, so by the time everything cycles around, the mystery is solved and Kat gets her resolution, it seems strange that she would react so strongly to something she didn’t seem to care about.
In all, Shailene Woodley carries WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD with ease, but she is consistently hampered by an unfocused script. As a sexual awakening movie, WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD is fine, but as a thriller it fails spectacularly, and never manages to adequately tie the two threads together. That said, Woodley is always a joy to watch on screen, and this low key indie is the perfect antidote to her high octane action flick, also released this week.
Review by Brogen Hayes

A SECOND CHANCE (Denmark/15A/102mins)
Directed by Susanne Bier. Starring Maria Bonnevie, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ulrich Thomsen, May Andersen
THE PLOT: After tragedy strikes his family in the middle of the night, police officer Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sees a solution to his problem. The trouble is that this is a highly illegal and unethical solution, and the fallout from it may be great.
THE VERDICT: After last year’s disastrous SERENA, it is heartening to see director Susanne Bier return to her native land and native language for an original story. The trouble is that while A SECOND CHANCE is engaging, it is also slightly predictable, to a point.
The story is here is of Andreas, a loving husband and father, whose world falls apart when his baby son dies in the middle of the night, seemingly of cot death. When his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) declares her intent on suicide if Andreas calls an ambulance for their child, he makes a decision with far reaching consequences. Coster-Waldau is fantastic in the leading role, and easily conveys the emotion of a man whose world has been torn in two. Maria Bonnevie treads a delicate line between mental breakdown and clarity as Andreas’ wife Anna, and Nikolaj Lie Kaas excels in the role of the abusive and violent junkie Tristan. The rest of the cast is made up of Ulrich Thomsen and May Andersen.
Anders Thomas Jensen’s screenplay places the audience in the same ethical quandary as the central character, but allows us to make up our own minds about his actions. While this is cleverly and carefully done, there are times where the story feels not only familiar, but predictable, and the audience is merely waiting for the characters to do what is so painfully obvious they will do. The road to the ending is twisty, however, with some decisions being truly surprising.
Susanne Bier directs carefully and slowly. There are times where the pacing feels almost torturous, as the audience seems to be waiting to see decisions already made, but the cast carry the film through these moments, with strong performances from all. Bier never casts judgement on Andreas, and allows the audience to empathise with a snap and foolish decision, while allowing us the moral high ground of believing we would behave differently in the same situation.
In all, A SECOND CHANCE is a gripping and engaging drama, which often feels predictable and familiar. The final act of the film finally shrugs off this feeling, however, and the cast carry the film through some painful pacing.
Review by Brogen Hayes