Reviews – New movies opening March 6th 2015

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including KILL THE MESSENGER, CHAPPIE and APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR…

Directed by Michael Cuesta. Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt.
THE PLOT: Investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) becomes the centre of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic of LA in the 1980s.
THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, Kill the Messenger feels a little like an episode of House of Cards, at times. Jeremy Renner is on fantastic form as the tenacious and thorough Gary Webb. Renner makes the character believable and relatable and, although he struggles against a flabby script at times, Renner forms the heart and soul of the film. The rest of the cast is made up of Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Andy Garcia. Each do fine in their roles, but since this is the story of Webb and his exposé, they are rarely anything other than supporting characters, who flit in and out as the story requires.
The film is based the book KILL THE MESSENGER by Nick Schou and DARK ALLIANCE by Gary Webb. The story is a look at the relationships between a journalist, the public and the government, as a journalist at a local newspaper uncovers a massive scandal that implicates the US government in trafficking drugs into the country. The screenplay starts off well, making Webb’s investigation tight and speedy. The trouble arises after the story is published, at which point the film becomes flabby and overwrought, as it tries to shine a light on the effect that being discredited had on both Webb and his family. As well as this, characters wander in and out of the story, making it feel messy.
Michael Cuesta’s direction is strong to begin with, but soon descends into messy pacing and seemingly ridiculous plot points, The cast give strong performances, and Renner valiantly tries to carry the film all by himself, but Kill the Messenger could have done with a stronger hand, and some clearer direction other, it seems, than outrage at the treatment of its protagonist.
In all, KILL THE MESSENGER has all the right ingredients to be fantastic and strong thriller. Instead, due to some weak storytelling choices, the second half of the film descends into chaos and, although there is a true and tragic story here, Webb’s legacy deserves more than this.
Review by Brogen Hayes

CHAPPIE (Mexico/USA/15A/120mins)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp. Starring Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Contillo.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, and Johannesburg’s rampant crime rate has been tampered down considerably by the Travaal Corporation’s SCOUT program of robotic cops. Which makes their designer, Deon Wilson (Patel), something of the golden boy in CEO Michelle Bradley’s eyes. The high success rate of the SCOUT robots has also kept the alternative robot cops designed by fellow Travaal designer Vincent Moore (Jackman) firmly on hold, his MOOSE creation sitting in storage as his development budget is cut even further. Wilson soon has his own troubles though. Firstly, his breakthrough on Artificial Intelligence is shut down by Bradley, and so he decides to smuggle a junk model home for a little Frankenstein fun. On the way though, he’s kidnapped by budding gangster supremos Ninja (Ninja) Yo-Landi (Visser) and America (Contillo), the resulting caring sharing, childlike killer robot – nicknamed Chappie – quickly a pawn in a very bloody war…
Based on Blomkamp’s 2004 short TETRA VAAL, and co-written by the DISTRICT 9 director with his regular working partner (and missus) Terri Tatchell, on paper, CHAPPIE has the smell of scrap metal. Pretty much ROBOCOP in the hot, dizzying, disorientating South African sun, CHAPPIE’s tone is all over the place. One minute, social satire, the next, slapstick comedy. Which, come to think of it, sounds a bit like the original ROBOCOP.
The bulk of the humour here though is of the dark variety, the childlike Chappie quickly finding himself used and abused, and mutilated, torched, amputated and manipulated into committing brutal crimes. Think BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. With guns. Lots of guns. The black comedy would be forgiveable too if CHAPPIE kept its plot together, but so much of the twists and turns here ring false. Even for sci-fi.
Also, what’s with all the ridiculously bad haircuts? I know that, as Die Antwoord (basically South Africa’s answer to The Rubberbandits), Ninja and Yo-Landi have been touting the DELIVERANCE look for years, but did Jackman have to sign up too?
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by Desiree Akhavan. Starring Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Scott Adsit, Halley Feiffer, Ryan Fitzsimmons, Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, Arian Moayed, Justine Cotsonas.
THE PLOT: It’s Brooklyn, it’s the break-up, and Shirin (Akhavan) is practically being thrown out by Maxine (Henderson). As the Iranian-American Shirin struggles even now to reveal her bisexuality to her parents and her brother, moving on proves difficult. Flashbacks to the fine romance at the beginning of Shirin and Maxine’s relationship contrast to her bad experiences now on the dating scene, whether with online date Brooklyn Boy or with broody couple Ted and Marie. Shirin’s straight friend Crystal (Feiffer) encourages her to tell the truth to her parents, but, for now, she’s happier to concentrate on a new job, teaching five-year-olds how to make films. Shirin feels ever more hopeless when a fellow class produce a broody black’n’white, minimalist drama, whereas her class have produced the crass and slapstick comedy about The Tale Of The Lost Fart. Which, of course, gets a rapturous reception. Maybe there’s a life lesson there…?
THE VERDICT: I know if I had the choice between another New York bisexual hipsters story and farting ninja zombies, well, give me the stinky over the stinker every time. Written, directed and led by twentysomething New York Iranian Desiree Akhavan (soon to be seen in Lena Dunham’s GIRLS), APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR is achingly self-conscious. Hal Hartley in a dress, or a mildly exotic Miranda July, it’s another fine example of a self-loving artist playing a self-hating artist. Maybe it’s just a New York thing?
This is FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS without the laughs. And the smarts.
Review by Paul Byrne

STILL ALICE (USA | France/12A/101mins)
Directed by Richarsd Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish.
THE PLOT: When she begins to forget random words and gets lost in her hometown, Alice (Julianne Moore) seeks help from a neurologist. Diagnosed with familial early onset Alzheimer’s, Alice and her family try to keep going as normal, for as long as possible, while Alice is painfully aware of everything she is losing.
THE PLOT: There is bound to be a lot of interest in STILL ALICE since Moore’s Oscar win for her leading role, and even though the film was not nominated for awards in other Oscar categories – a move that can often spell disaster – Still Alice is a powerful and touching film.
Julianne Moore is the heart and soul of STILL ALICE; she does not play the title character as a perfect woman, but instead makes her rounded and believable, with a touch of arrogance. As the film goes on, and Alice’s disease progresses, Julianne Moore makes Alice vulnerable and, at turns, vicious as she struggles to come to terms with a disease that is outside of her control. Moore is quiet and understated, and it is precisely this that makes her performance so mesmerising and powerful. The rest of the cast – Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart – back Moore up admirably, with Baldwin and Stewart as standouts.
The story, written by directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland – and based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name – focuses on Alice and the struggle she goes through is trying to hold onto herself in the face of a degenerative disease. Glatzer and Westmoreland never make the film spill into the realm of melodrama, but they don’t pull any punches either – lines such as ‘I wish I had cancer’ since this is a visible disease, are particularly honest – and they do not force Moore to remain in a glamorous role as her character changes. This is not a woman who goes gracefully into that good night, lying in a hospital bed looking tired but beautiful, instead Moore, as Alice, becomes incontinent, angry, impatient and eventually, slips away, so that almost none of the character’s spark is left.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland direct competently, coaxing a moving and heartwrenching performance from Moore, but allowing the supporting cast to be hones too – selfish, emotionally neglectful, resentful and kind – so as to also show the manner in which people deal with tragedy.
In all, STILL ALICE is anchored by a quiet but unselfconscious and powerful performance from Julianne Moore. The story is strong and the supporting cast ably back Moore, making STILL ALICE a gut-punch, honest emotional film that will leave audiences feeling a little fearful, a little grateful and a little frazzled.
Review by Brogen Hayes

DREAMCATCHER (USA/Light House/104mins)
Directed by Kim Longinotto. Starring Brenda Myers-Powell, Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, Homer King, Marie, Melody, Jeremy, Keith.
THE PLOT: Chicago, and, along with her friend, Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, Brenda Myers-Powell runs the eponymous foundation which aims to help prostitutes and women at risk. We first meet the hugely charismatic Brenda and her buddy Stephanie as they cruise Chicago’s West Side in their minivan, shouting out to the working girls, to see if they need condoms or just some comfort. Also helping Brenda fight the good fight is former pimp Homer King, bringing his dark past to bear as he tries to warn young girls of men like him. For her part, Brenda just wants the girls to exorcise the trouble that brought them to this point, and realise that there is always a way out of these desperate lives that many of them are leading…
THE VERDICT: Noted English documentary maker Kim Longinotto (who debuted in 1976 with PRIDE OF PLACE, going on to make the likes of GAEA GIRLS (2000), THE DAY I WILL NEVER FORGET (2002) and SISTERS IN LAW (2005) is lured to America (by the films producers) for this moving, hard-hitting documentary may reach for the positive, but it never loses sight of the tragic in the stories being revealed here. One particularly stunning scene has Brenda convince a room full of teenage girls in high school to reveal their dark tales of child abuse, each doing so without any gnashing or wailing. It’s chilling, and yet, somehow, life-affirming, the strength on display. And it’s a testament to Myers-Powell that she can coax such hidden stories out of such vulnerable people.
A stunning piece of work…
Review by Paul Byrne

DIFRET (Ethiopia | USA/IFI/99mins)
Directed by Zeresenay Mehari. Starring Tizita Hagere, Meron Getnet.
THE PLOT: Fourteen year old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is abducted on her way home from school; in keeping with the tradition of her Ethiopian village, this is the customary way for men to find their wives. Young Hirut has other ideas, however, and upon escaping, fatally shoots the man who would be her husband. Hirut’s case opens up archaic traditions to scrutiny, but puts her, and her family’s life in danger.
THE VERDICT: DIFRET is based on a true case that changed Ethiopian law in the 1990s, and is powerfully compelling drama, that shows audiences a different side of this African nation.
The performances from the central cast are quiet but compelling. Tizita Hagere as Hirut and Meron Getnet as Hirut’s lawyer Meaza form the emotional heart of the film as they not only struggle against the laws of the country, but also the ancient laws of individual villages and the oppression of women. The two characters are the perfect foils for one another one screen as neither really understands the other – although they come from similar backgrounds – but there is a strong bond of trust between them.
The story, based on the true events of the case, is carefully crafted by writer/director Zeresenay Mehari, keeping the legalese of the case to a minimum, and delicately balancing the lives of people in the city of Addis Ababa and the people who live in the communities in the countryside. There is careful consideration given to the courts created by the village elders, but this in turn, is contrasted with the modern laws of Ethiopia, where women struggled to gain the same rights as men.
Zeresenay Mehari directs with care, allowing the human story and that of the defining legal case to merge together. As well as this, Mehari keeps the pacing of the film going, never allowing the quieter scenes to drag down the energy of the film. There are times, however, where action takes place off screen and is barely explained, while focus is given to petty debates and squabbles between the legal team and the police, which does mean the focus of the story is somewhat skewed.
In all, DIFRET is a fascinating film about archaic traditions and the struggle against them. The central performances are strong, the story compelling and the direction – for the most part – evenly paced.
Review by Brogen Hayes