Reviews – New movies opening November 1st 2013

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including PHILOMENA and THOR: THE DARK WORLD

PHILOMENA (UK/Ireland/12A/97mins)
Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Anna Maxwell Martin, Mare Winningham, Charlie Murphy, Michelle Fairley, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Anna Maxwell Martin, Wunmi Mosaku, Charles Edwards, Ruth McCabe.
THE PLOT: “He’ll be 50 today,” sighs the sad, forlorn Philomena Lee (Dench), her daughter (Martin) convinced that there’s a story to be told about the baby that was taken away from her mother all those years ago. Recently sacked Labour government adviser Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) isn’t so sure. About anything, as it turns out, trying to convince himself that writing a book about Russian history will help him save face. After meeting up with Philomena though, Martin reckons he might just have a decent human interest story. What starts out as a magazine article grows and grows through as the details of just what happened at the Roscrea convent where Philomena was sent as a teenager begin to emerge. Not that the Sisters Of The Sacred Heart want to reveal what really happened to her little baby boy all those years ago…
THE VERDICT: Yet another fine drama that makes you want to go out and kick a nun, Philomena could have been a maudlin mess. In the safe hands of Steve Coogan (who not only stars and co-produces but also co-wrote the screenplay – based on Sixsmith’s book – alongside TV writer Jeff Pope) and Stephen Frears, instead, this tearjerking, bile-rising tale of woe and Catholic Church wickedness has plenty of true-life grit to balance out any soap opera soppiness. Unsurprisingly, Dench does a fine job of playing a wizened old Limerick hen, whilst Coogan is well-cast, perfect as the mildly sleazy, sweaty-palmed bully that you would expect an fallen spin doctor to be.
That the Catholic Church have been a dark force against nature in this country hardly needs to be said again. Still, until the Church is willing to go to confession, films like Philomena will have to do.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Idris Elba, Rene Russo.
THE PLOT: Taking place a year after that big Manhattan-levelling showdown between Loki (Hiddleston) and the Avengers gang that wrapped up last year’s box-office-battering ensemble piece, The Dark World sees golden boy Thor (Hemsworth) battle to save the Nine Realms from the permanently pissed-off Malekith (played, fittingly enough, by the permanently pissed-off Christopher Eccleston), the latter having been banished 5,000 years ago to what looks suspiciously like Kilcoole by Thor’s grandfather, Bor. As chance would have it, some black hole snooping by Thor’s earth-dwelling girlfriend, science geek Jane Foster (Portman) triggers Malekith’s return, forcing Thor to unite with dodgy half-brother Loki to save the universe from eternal darkness. But can the little scene-stealing bastard be trusted…?
THE VERDICT: There’s just a tint of disappointment with this Thor sequel, but then again, after a fine Kenneth Branagh-directed 2011 debut and, more significantly, two box-office-busting Avengers outings – last year’s Assemble and this year’s Iron Man 3, both taking over $1billion at the box-office – it was always going to be difficult here to live up to expectations. It’s all a little Tolkien-meets-Enya for the first hour, as everyone ponces purposefully around Asgard without doing very much at all. By the time the second hour comes marching over the hill though, that all-important nudge-nudge, wink-wink humour kicks in, and The Dark World finally gets around to being entertaining. Just not quite as entertaining as Iron Man 3. Or Avengers Assemble. Or the first Thor outing, for that matter.
Review by Paul Byrne

SHORT TERM 12 (USA/15A/97mins)
Directed by Destin Cretton. Starring Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, Lydia Du Veaux, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner.
THE PLOT: Anywhere, America, and it’s just another day of angry, bewildered teens at the foster-care facility where Grace (Larson) and Mason (Gallagher Jr.) work. The twosome are also a couple, although they haven’t told the rest of the staff, including new boy Nate (Malek), who’s surprised to see the casual acceptance from his co-workers of another young runner making a sprint for freedom. As we get to witness the troubled adolescents – including the rapping Marcus (Stanfield), who’s due for release, and new girl, Jayden (Dever), who self-harms and really doesn’t want to make new friends – Grace reveals to Mason that she’s pregnant. And she’s not sure if this time she wants to keep the baby. Not after how she got pregnant the first time…
THE VERDICT: A film that seems to be made largely for, about and by emos, Short Term 12 was originally a 2008 short, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton deciding their was a longer story to be told here. I’m not sure that he was right, given just how predictable his at-risk teens and his bleeding heart hipster twentysomething protagonists are here. Manic pixie girl Brie Larson (handy to have around in case Zooey Deschanel ever goes missing) is all broody stares out the window and coy smiles under her fringe, whilst John Gallagher Jr. could very easily be the bass player from Fleet Foxes. His character is called Mason. That’s all you really need to know.
RATING: 2/5 
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Zachary Heinzerling. Starring Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara.
THE PLOT: Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary examines the relationship between artist Ushio Shinohara, and his wife Noriko. Ushio gained fame in his youth for ‘painting’ by punching paint onto canvas with boxing gloves. Noriko has always supported her husband, but is also an artist; she draws pictures that tell a story. However, Noriko has always struggled to emerge from the shadow of her more famous husband.
THE VERDICT: Heinzerling’s documentary is a commentary on the nature of sacrifice, success and aging. `it seems that everything is thrown into stark relief when Ushio realises that he has turned 80, and there is something tragic about a couple living in a cramped apartment in new York in what should be their ‘golden years’. Is this what it means to be an artist? Their dedication to their work is admirable, but it also comes across as rather self-involved. A little like Ushio himself. The contrasts between Ushio and Noriko as people, and in their work is astonishing; his work is colourful and violent, and hers is gentle and slow. It may be easy to compare their work styles to their personalities, but the description fits almost too well.
Cutie and the Boxer is a story of selfishness and sacrifice. The tables turn again and again throughout the film, as both Noriko and Ushio fight for their own survival. The art created by the couple may not be to everyone’s taste, but this look at a microcosm of love and relationships is a fascinating, and often repulsive one.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Joe Swanberg. Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livinston, Ti West, Jason Sudeikis, Mike Brune.
Best buds Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) both work at a small brewery in Chicago, taking lunch together most days, and generally getting on like two twentysomethings destined to be together. Only Kate is with music producer Chris (Livingston). And Luke is engaged to art historian Jill (Kendrick). When Mike invites the latter couple down to his family’s cabin in Michigan for the weekend, he ends up kissing Jill as they talk a walk in the woods. When Kate soon after announces that she’s single again, Luke is more than a little delighted. Until Kate goes out on a date with another co-worked, Dave (West)…
Well, you can’t say that mumblecore kid Joe Swanberg is a slacker. The guy has managed to deliver 16 features since making his debut in 2005 (with Kissing On The Mouth), along with various shorts, some TV work, and the odd acting gig. As Swanberg himself has suggested recently, maybe he hasn’t really dedicated enough time to actually changing his approach over those years, given just how busy he’s been at getting on with the job. Without taking a step back, how can you hope to recognise what you might be doing wrong? Such as introducing a bunch of quirky characters with screwball problems again and again. And, in the case of Drinking Buddies, again.
Perhaps it’s all down to the people you work with, given that the mumblecore approach is all about letting the actors just improvise to their hearts content, but then, it is kinda Swanberg’s job to point them in the right direction. And spark them when they’re damp. And this bigger, better, stronger, more famous cast seem to be just too daunting for Swanberg to take control of here, and what you’re left with is yet another overkooked mumblecore mess.
RATING: 2/5 
Review by Paul Byrne