Reviews – New movies opening March 21st 2014

We review this week’s new releases, including STARRED UP, THE UNKNOWN KNOWN and ABOUT LAST NIGHT…

STARRED UP (UK/16/106mins)
Directed by David Mackenzie. Starring Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendlesohn, Sam Spruell, David Ajala, Sian Breckin, Peter Ferdinando, Anthony Welsh, Matt Faris, David Avery.
THE PLOT: Having been deemed a little too violent for juvenile prison, teenager Eric (O’Connell) is ‘starred up’ to an adult prison, where he’s saved from some serious solitary confinement when he’s taken into the anger therapy group being run by Oliver (Friend). The more Eric cautiously explores the layers behind his anger, the more his would-be mentor Neville (Mendlesohn) – who pushed him into the therapy group as a literally face-saving move – becomes agitated by the touchy-feely results. The very idea of those with letters after their name helping those with numbers after theirs just doesn’t interest him, but Eric realises there are some ugly truths to be uprooted here. Not that it doesn’t stop him from busting some heads too, though…
THE VERDICT: STARRED UP somehow manages to take a well-worn path and make it interesting one more time. After the likes of SCUM, BRONSON and A PROPHET- and so many others – cinema seemed to have the coming-of-age prison drama well and truly covered. Thanks to a kicking script, and a towering central performance from Jack O’Connell (currently hamming it up in that new 300 remix), Starred Up feels fresh and new. And truly exciting.
Written by Jonathan Asser, who spent many years in the education unit of Wandsworth Prison (Friend’s character here being loosely autobiographical), STARRED UP went through many hands in the script stage, having been first developed during Asser’s time learning his new career at the charitable, residential writing retreat Avron Foundation. It wasn’t until author A.L. Kennedy got it into the hands of filmmaker David Mackenzie (HALLAM FOE, YOUNG ADAM) that STARRED UP really became the fine film we have here though. O’Connell is a true find, but the young Derby-born actor has admitted he owes a great deal here to co-star Ben Mendlesohn, the Australia actor so incredible in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM and KILLING THEM SOFTLY. The two work wonderfully together here.
Review by Paul Byrne

LABOR DAY (USA/12A/110mins)
Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, JK Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Tobery Maguire.
THE PLOT: Single mum Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), a dangerous convict who has escaped from prison, while they are doing their weekly grocery shopping. Frank demands they take him to their home, and as he holds them over a long weekend, they discover that the wanted man may not be as dangerous as they thought.
THE VERDICT: Kate Winslet does what she can with the anxious and heartbroken Adele, but in the end, she is playing a character who is so desperate for love and acceptance that she falls in love with the first person to show her a tiny bit of attention, and is willing to give up everything she has for this. Winslet is fine, but the character arc is too fast for the audience to believe in her and, even though we learn a lot about the character’s background, it is difficult to empathise with her at times. Josh Brolin plays Frank as a good man done wrong, and makes the character sweet and warm, but again the character suffers from a speeded up arc and development.
Gattlin Griffith has surprisingly little to do as Henry, other than be the eyes that the story is told through. There are some tense moments as Henry fears that he is suddenly losing Frank’s affection, but these never really lead anywhere in particular. JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg and James Van Der Beek turn up in the supporting cast.
The story, based on Joyce Maynard’s novel really does a disservice to women; Adele falls in love with Frank so fast that surely the story of their falling out of love while on the run would have been the more interesting story. The love story also serves to make the characters feel weak, and never really allows the audience to identify with them, even though their background is told in almost meticulous detail. Another curious facet of the film is the fact that the story seems to be told through Henry’s eyes, yet the audience is given flashbacks through the adult’s eyes, leaving the narrative and throughlines of the film feeling garbled and jumbled. The sentimentality piled on top of this young boy searching for a father figure so he can be a the child that he is dulls any impact or message that the film may have had.
LABOR DAY is an over sentimentalised, saccharine sweet predictable film that shows women in a surprisingly poor light. None of the cast really shines through in this mediocre story and Jason Reitman’s trademark subtlety and astute observational skills are nowhere to be seen here, leaving LABOR DAY feeling laboured and drawn out.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

A LONG WAY DOWN (UK | Germany/15A/96mins)
Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. Starring Imogen Poots, Toni Colette, Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan.
THE PLOT: On New Year’s Eve, disgraced former TV presenter Martin (Pierce Brosnan) climbs to a spot in London, favoured by suicides with the intent of jumping from the roof and joining their number. As he contemplates his last few moments on earth, three strangers, all of whom had the same idea, join him on the roof. As the four flippantly reveal their reasons for ending their lives, a tenuous bond is formed between them.
THE VERDICT: Based on a Nick Hornby novel, A LONG WAY DOWN is the story of four people who decide not to kill themselves… Well, not for the time being anyway. The cast of characters includes Brosnan Martin, Imogen Poots as Jess, Toni Collette as Maureen and Aaron Paul as JJ. Each character is given fully formed reasons for wanting to end their own lives – each of which is simple but relatable – and each actor is given the chance to develop their character, allowing the audience to empathise with them. Imogen Poots gives an engaging, unbalanced but believable character, Collette is always great, although she is given the least amount of room to grow, Brosnan embraces the opportunity to play a selfish dolt with little knowledge of the world outside fame, and Aaron Paul brings nuance to a character whose reasons may be less clear than others.
Instead of turning the story into one of counselling and shoulder-crying screenwriter Jack Thorne has drawn out the human aspect of the tale, reminding the audience that while these characters may be at the end of their tether, they are still open to the idea of hope. Yes, this is a rather twee and an easy solution for four people who were literally on the verge of throwing it all away, but this is a rather sweet tale of finding comfort in other people. Some of the comedic aspects work better than others, and the script is at it’s best when it is not trying that little bit too hard.
Director Pascal Chaumeil coaxed great performances from all of his actors, and it is on their warm interactions that the film rests. Decisions made may feel a little contrived at times, but there is a warm heart at the centre of the film. Issues sometimes feel a little too easily solved – or not solved at all – especially through some temporal jumping, but this is a sweet and warm little film that focuses on a subject that is often the focus of melodrama, rather than comedy.
A LONG WAY DOWN is a film about finding friends where you least expect them. There are some incredibly succinct and well observed lines of dialogue about the nature of pain and suicide that remind the audience that this is not just a comedy about wanting to fall but forgetting to jump. Poots and Paul shine and, although issues are often a little too easily resolved at times, leaving the film feeling convenient and a little contrived, this is a warm and engaging watch.
Review by Brogen Hayes

SALVO (Italy | France/TBC/110mins)
Directed by: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza. Starring Saleh Bakri, Luigi Lo Cascio, Sara Serraiocco.
THE PLOT: Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is a Sicilian hit man who, when a hit goes wrong, finds himself hiding out in his enemy’s home, waiting for a chance to take his revenge. However, Salvo’s target has a blind sister (Sara Serraiocco), a complication that the seemingly steely hit man cannot bring himself to take care of.
THE VERDICT: As the title character, Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri ably carries the film, bringing an air of menace, mystery and a touch of curiosity to the film. Bakri shows Salvo as a man with more going on underneath the surface than the stereotypical mob lackey, it is just a shame that we never really learn much about the character who the film is named after. In his interactions with Serraiocco, Bakri balances rage, fear and fascination and in turn, Serraiocco brings a tenderness and strength to her role.
Writer/directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza previously collaborated on a short film called Rita, which focuses on a blind girl who shelters a boy on the run; it does not seem a coincidence that Salvo works as a companion piece and expansion of this concept. Grassadonia and Piazza ramp up the tension in their film; the opening sequence where Salvo trails Rita around her home is a rather special 10 minute tracking shot, beautifully done, which ramps up the tension and fear, although there are times when this begins to feel like a horror film, instead of a thriller. There are many plot holes in the film, not least the divine intervention, which means that instead of a suspenseful masterpiece, SALVO feels like a film that is based on an image and not expanded much further than this.
The cinematography of the film is claustrophobic and dark, reinforcing the notion that both of these characters find themselves hiding and hidden. When light finally does stream in, it is to make the Sicilian countryside feel like a Western, complete with dust blowing in the air and disused spaces, which feels like a nod to the John Huston films of old.
SALVO is an interesting concept for a film that doesn’t always pay off. The two halves of the film, and the two roles the characters each slip into, don’t always marry together as they should. That said, the cinematography and performances of the film are stand out, it’s just a shame these are let down by an interesting story told in a dull and plotholey manner.
Review by Brogen Hayes

YVES SAINT LAURENT (France/15A/106mins)
Directed by Jalil Lespert. Starring Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet.
THE PLOT: A look at the life and career of designer Yves Saint-Laurent, a man seemingly consumed with doubt, as well as his passions.
THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that Yves Saint Laurent had an interesting life; this is the first of two movies to be made about the designer’s life. It is no mean feat for a 21 year old to take over one of the biggest fashion houses in the world – Christian Dior – but the tragedy that Saint-Laurent suffered was to ultimately be his downfall.
The film is told like a story, like Saint Laurent’s long-term business partner Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne) is talking to Yves, the love of his life, in the aftermath of his death. Bergé is selling the art that he and Saint-Lauent accumulated over their lives together, and is trying to explain why he is selling it off. That is all fine and good, but when the voiceover kicks in sporadically, it is often hard to remember who Bergé is talking to when he refers to someone as ‘You’.
The performances from Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Luarent and Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre Bergé are strong, and it is on their interactions that the film rests. The two actors balance one another out; one is gentle, troubled and almost neurotic, and the other is grounded and steady. Charlotte LeBon gives a steady performance as Victoire, Yves’s muse and Laura Smet is strong as Loulou, the cause of Yves’s eventual downfall.
Based on Laurence Benaïm’s book, the main trouble with the film is Jacques Fieschi, Marie-Pierre Huster and Jalil Lespert’s screenplay. Nothing is ever fully explained, such as the catalyst for Saint Laurent’s descent into drink and drugs, which leaves the audience bewildered and disengaged. Characters come and go, and locations change in the blink of an eye and the voiceover – which, presumably was designed to explain the film – only serves to confuse. Relationships begin and end too quickly, and ones that are long since dead are never given the chance to die.
As director Jalil Lespert has made a film that looks gorgeous and contains strong performances from the actors, but without context and understanding, the film turns from an engaging cautionary story about an influential designer destroyed by love and drugs, to the story of a man who started off with a nervous disposition before turning to drugs to numb the pain.
YVES SAINT LAURENT is the story of an influential designer whose career began at an incredibly early age. The film could easily have been an examination of the life of a high profile gay man in the 1950s, a cautionary tale of drugs and dangerous relationships, but instead, through some odd narrational choices and the fact that many things are never explained, the film ends up being a good looking orgy from which we never really get a feel for the man it is about.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Errol Morris. Starring Donald Rumsfeld.
THE PLOT: Donald Rumsfeld resigned from the Bush Administration – where he had worked as Secretary of Defence – in 2006. Having been crucial in the planning of the response to the 9/11 attacks on New York and the war on Terror, Donald Rumsfeld has been one of the many people in the Bush Administration who fingers were pointed at. In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld sits down with documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to look back on his career.
THE VERDICT: Director Errol Morris is arguably best known for his 2003 film THE FOG OF WAR, and his distinctive style of documentary making is both gripping and involving. It helps, in the case of The Unknown Known, that his subject is both fascinating and – to some – repugnant – as well as being charismatic and an immensely quotable speaker.
Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld’s most famous quote has passed into common parlance and popular culture; ‘there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know’. The quote led to Rumsfeld being the subject of derision, but Morris cleverly uses the quote to frame the entire film, questioning Rumsfeld to find out whether there was something he knew but refused to admit to himself.
Morris’s film spans Rumsfeld’s entire career, and focuses on the fact that the former Secretary of Defence was well known for sending memos throughout his career; so much so that they became known as ‘snowflakes’ and when he left office, Rumsfeld sent one last one to his staff thanking them and telling them that the blizzard was over. Rumsfeld’s career is interesting, and as we learn more about the man that Rumsfeld is, the clearer it becomes that he worked incredibly hard to get where h got.
The trouble with the film, as gripping and engaging as it is, is that it seems that Morris foes rather easy on Rumsfeld and, while he asks the hard questions, he seems content to allow his subject to stick to the lines that he drew while in office. Of course it’s unclear whether this is the truth, a lie, or what Rumsfeld believes is the truth. Whatever the caase, Rumsfeld never appears to be out of his comfort zone and, while the story he tells sometimes cast him in an unfavourable light, there is little here that we didn’t already know. Morris does eventually challenge Rumsfeld, but it is through graphics and newspaper clippings put on screen and it is unclear whether this information was ever put to Rumsfeld himself.
THE UNKNOWN KNOWN is a fascinating look behind the scenes at a man whose policies shaped world events for many years and Morris’s documentary is incredibly compelling and well put together. The film suffers, however, by Morris seemingly never truly challenging his subject.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Steve Pink. Starring Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Paula Patton, Joy Bryant.
After a night out, Bernie (Kevin Hart) regales his best friend Danny (Michael Ealy) with tales of the wonderful woman he met. As the girls make their way to the bar, Joan (Regina Hall) tells her version of the story to her best friend Debbie (Joy Bryant). Almost inevitably, Debbie and Danny hit it off and we follow the couple through the first year of their relationship together.
The director of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE brings us a remake of the 80s classic ABOUT LAST NIGHT, and somehow manages to make it one of the most clichéd and uninspiring films of the year so far. Each of the actors fits within their stereotypical role perfectly, and are given no room to grow or develop their characters; the heartbroken guy who has been off the market for a long time, his loudmouthed and crass best friend, the loud mouthed and crass woman and her quiet yet nagging best friend.
Kevin Hart continues his run of playing irritating characters with Bernie, and there is very little that he says that is not offensive, vulgar or cruel. Michael Ealy plays a man as vanilla as they come – although he has a lovely apartment. Regina Hall could not be more of the stereotypical African American loud mouth if she tried and Joy Bryant is almost as vanilla as Ealy, although with a dash of nagging harpy thrown in for good measure. That said, almost none of this is the fault of the actors, as Leslye Headland’s screenplay is clichéd and predictable, with wooden dialogue and stereotypical characters.
Director Steve Pink never allows the characters to develop further than what we see when we first encounter them, and seems content in making an uninspired and uninspiring film. Remakes are surely meant to say something the original didn’t? If this is the case, then the remake of ABOUT LAST NIGHT is designed to remind audiences that people suck and will always let you down.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT is dull and bland. The characters grate after just a few minutes and their motivations are almost never explained. The jokes don’t land and the romance is anything but romantic. There is nothing about this film that redeems it from being simply one of the worst remakes to ever grace our screens.
Review by Brogen Hayes