Reviews – New movies opening March 7th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE STAG and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL…

THE STAG (Ireland/15A/94mins)
Directed by John Butler. Starring Peter McDonald, Andrew Scott, John O’Conor, Amy Huberman, Brian Gleeson, Michael Legge, Andrew Bennett.
THE PLOT: Raving metrosexual Fionnan (O’Conor) would rather argue over the small details with the wedding planner than spend a weekend in the Wicklow wilds without a bed, a laptop or an espresso machine, but his betrothed, Ruth (Huberman), is determined to have a traditional wedding. And a traditional last blast of freedom. In charge of getting the mild-mannered groom-to-be well out of his comfort zone and into the woods is best man Davin (Scott) – who just happens to be still in love with Ruth, even though they separated six years ago. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ruth insists that her brother, simply known as The Machine (McDonald), be included. And so it is that five hobbits and one orc go on a camping weekend together. You might just be able to guess the rest…
THE VERDICT: A film that isn’t ashamed to play it for laughs, THE STAG is one of those rare Irish comedies where you laugh in all the right places. Long-time buddies Butler and McDonald worked together on the RTE sketch show YOUR BAD SELF, and it’s plain they know their comedy. Weaving in some group therapy, as these five new males and the unreconstructed male who appoints himself leader of the pack all learn a few valuable life lessons from one another. Throw in an aul’ love triangle, with Scott’s Davin having to deliver a heartfelt acapella rendition of Raglan Road to finally express his love for the bride-to-be, and you’ve got a film that dares you to feel for its pale, wet and often miserable would-be Wild Bunch. Not quite I WENT DOWN or THE GUARD, but The Stag manages to be both funny and heartfelt. Get in.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathiew Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Jude Law.
After the somewhat unnecessary and mildly flat Russian doll of an intro, about ten minutes in, we get to the juicy meat of the matter here, as we jump back to the once-hopping eponymous spa resort. And doing quite a bit of the hopping in this fashionable spa resort in the (fictitious) Republic of Zubrowka is omnipotent and highly potent concierge Gustave H. (Fiennes), a man who knows how to charm his guests. Often, it would seem, into bed, his latest conquest, the creaking, croaking and very loaded Madame D. (Swinton). When the latter pops her clogs and leaves a rather valuable painting to her lover. Much to the chagrin of her rather crazy and highly gothic family, led by the fascist Dmitri (Brody) and his hunting dog, Jopling (Dafoe). Much mad capery ensues as Gustave and his faithful bellboy, Zero Moustafa (Revolori), grabbed the painting and scarper home…
Wes Anderson makes such Wes Andersonesque films – all Dahl-meets-Dickens dastards, brownstone, tweed, valves, paperbacks, kooks and instagram lighting – he would be almost impossible to parody. Without looking like you were just trying to make a Wes Anderson film. Not that we should complain – no one really wishes Randy Newman would do a trip-hop album or Neil Young should go dubstep. Unless the latter signs with David Geffen again, of course – then it would be delicious, whatever fusion cacophony ensues. All the usual Anderson suspects are here, both in the cast of characters and the hand-embroidered world they’re having their little period Carry On in. And if there is a mild sense of diminishing returns with Anderson’s films and a near-fatal onslaught of quirkiness in this Lubitsch-goes-Looney Tunes outing, you still find yourself smiling just about all the way through. Old horndog Fiennes has a whale of a time here, like a Wilde creation with a very wild streak. 
RATING: 4/5 
Review by Paul Byrne

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (USA/16/102mins)
Directed by Noam Murro. Starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connnell.
As King Leonidas (Butler) leads his 300 men into the Battle of Thermopylae, another fight is brewing out to sea, as headstrong soldier Themistokles (Stapleton) takes on the Persian navy. His hope of a united Greece is rejected by Spartan Queen Gorgo (Headey, who narrates much of the action here), and his dream is hampered even more by Artemisia (Green), a Greek who has nothing but revenge coursing through her veins when it comes to her birthplace, given that her own people savagely killed her family and then kept her as a sex slave. Also on Artemisia’s side is golden boy Xerxes (Santoro), out to crush the man whose arrow killed his father, Persian King Darius. And the man with the golden arrow is, of course, Themistokles. Now, any questions?
The thrill has, of course, long gone, even if the original 300 did hit like a bolt out of the blue screen. Now, a long eight years later, this sequel feels like yesterday’s news. Which is why, perhaps, Israeli commercials kingpin Murro turns everything up to 11. And a little beyond. No death occurs without its own little slo-mo opera, as blood and entrails splatter majestically across the screen, like fireworks being let off inside a sleepy cow. It’s all done in the best possible taste, of course, but it’s still just 102 minutes of bloodletting interrupted by the odd battle of wits and comically long words. Handling most of the wits stuff is Sullivan Stapleton (who seems to be channelling Michael Fassbender, one of the slain in the 2006 original) and Eva Green (who seems to be channelling Malificent and Courtney Love). Little more than 300 Goes To Sea, there are fine set-pieces here, and a neat Heat sit-down with Stapleton’s cunning commander and Green’s fuming, leering vixen, but it’s not enough to make this a movie anyone really needs to see. And that includes you, geekboy.
Review by Paul Byrne