ALLIED (USA/15A/124mins) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, August Diehl THE PLOT: Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne (Marion Cotillard) meet is Casablanca in 1942, when they are tasked with presenting as a couple as cover for a plot to assassinate the German Ambassador. Later, when Max returns to London to help with the war effort from behind a desk, he brings Marianne with him and the two marry. After the two have a child together, Max is given some devastating news; there is evidence to suggest that Marianne is a German spy. THE VERDICT: Brad Pitt leads the cast as Max, a fighter pilot turned spy in ‘Allied’, and although he is rather stiff in the role, it feels as though this was a choice made for the character, rather than a lack of ability or commitment from the actor. Marion Cotillard makes Marianne a ray of light throughout the whole film, and her performance as a diligent spy turned mother and housewife is strong, always keeping the audience guessing as to the character’s true allegiances. The rest of the cast features Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Sally Messham and Lizzy Caplan, who is sadly underused.
Steven Knight’s screenplay is based on a story he was told while travelling the US in his twenties, and it has taken many years to get to the big screen. The story is an engaging one, although there are times when the dialogue, in trying to create mystery, simply creates questions that the film cannot answer, or gives too much away. The film begins to fall apart in the final act, when the story begins to feel drawn out and slightly ridiculous, as Max’s suspicions begin to get the better of him, and make him act rashly. There is also a hint of a lesbian relationship in the film, which people turn a blind eye to since war is all around them, and this feels as though it would have made for a more curious and engaging film.
As director, Robert Zemeckis obviously has fun with the period setting of the film, and the time spent in Casablanca is the strongest part of ‘Allied’. It is when the story moves to London that the pacing suddenly drops, and although Marion Cotillard is still lovely as Marian, her luminosity in the role cannot keep the film moving forward. The final half hour begins to border on the ridiculous, and makes the film feel as though it is grinding to a halt. Robert Zemeckis is prolific at the moment, and there are times when ‘Allied’ works incredibly well, but the energy of the film drops, and Zemeckis’ skill at pacing his previous films is not evident here.
In all, ‘Allied’ is an interesting story that is let down by its final act, which is over the top, and undermines the emotion and tension built up through the rest of the film. Brad Pitt is fine as Max, but it is Marion Cotillard who steals the show in this oddly paced and slightly ridiculous story. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
PATERSON (USA/15A/113mins) Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, William Jackson Harper, Kara Hayward, Frank Harts, Barry Shabaka Henley, Method Man THE PLOT: Paterson (Adam Driver) still lives in the town he grew up in, a town he was named after. Driving buses for a living, and living a seemingly charmed life with a girlfriend who loves him, a dog who doesn’t and a nightly routine of going for a drink in the same bar, while out walking the dog. So why can’t this aspiring poet write? THE VERDICT: The first of Jim Jarmusch’s films screening at Cannes – the second being the Stooges flick ‘Gimme Danger’ – ‘Paterson’ is a quiet, loving and engaging examination of life in a small New Jersey town, as well as creativity and ambition in this beautifully shot film.
Adam Driver seems to relish the chance to play a quieter character on screen than we have seen from him of late; Paterson is a man quite content with his life, who enjoys listening to the conversations between people on the bus he drives, and sitting by the waterfall on his lunch break, while trying to write poetry like his hero William Carlos Williams. Driver makes Paterson sweet and gentle, with a charm and charisma that draws people to him; he is unobtrusive and slow to anger, but quick to defend others in situations where he can. Driver makes Paterson magnetic with a wonderfully understated and quiet performance.
Golshifteh Farahani plays Paterson’s girlfriend Laura, a veritable whirlwind of energy and creativity when compared to her more pensive boyfriend. Always painting, baking or expressing a new lifelong dream that Paterson has seemingly never heard before, Farahani has no qualms about making Laura seem superficial and flighty as she flits from one idea to another, often in the same sentence, and over the course of a week, paints almost everything in the house black and white, including the curtains and her dress. The rest of the cast features William Jackson Harper, Kara Hayward, Frank Harts, Barry Shabaka Henley and Method Man.
Jim Jarmusch’s screenplay follows Paterson over the course of a week; showcasing the routine of his work day life – work, lunch, dinner, walk the dog, drink – but also the sweetness that comes in these moments; of waking up in the morning and hearing your partner tell you their dreams, listening to conversations about the history of the town and sitting by the waterfall while eating lunch and writing. Jarmusch also showcases the calmness of the title character, while throwing adversity at him that he takes in his stride, and only ever struggling to come up with engaging poerty.
As director, Jarmusch allows ‘Paterson’ to be a slow film that is content with observing the title character’s day to day life. While slow, the pacing of the film works in showing the repetitive nature of daily life, and is almost lyrical in the manner the days flow through the film. The performances are all strong, even the smallest ones are engaging and contribute to the overall feel of the film. As well as this, Paterson is beautifully shot, showing off the beauty of this small New Jersey town and the pleasures to be found in the everyday.
In all, ‘Paterson’ is a beautiful observation of life, of love and the desire to create not always translating into actual creativity. Adam Driver leads a strong and engaging cast, and carries the quietness of the film easily. Paterson is a beautiful contrast to Adam’s previous films, and a film that may make audiences appreciate the beauty found every day. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
BAD SANTA 2 (USA/16/92mins) Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen THE PLOT: “Happy endings are bullsh*t” says Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), while quickly recapping the audience about what happened between the first Bad Santa film and this new instalment. The relationship that Willie struck up at the start of the first film is long over, and Willie is drunk and suicidal most of the time, so when his old frenemy Marcus (Tony Cox) reappears in his life with a plan to rip off a charity to the tune of $2 million, Willie packs his bags and heads to Chicago. The trouble is that Marcus has another accomplice, someone that Willie never thought he would see again. THE VERDICT: The first ‘Bad Santa’ film was a surprise hit, and a sequel has been in development for some time, but although Thornton and Cox are joined by a great cast, including Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks and Ryan Hansen, ‘Bad Santa 2’ is the victim of its own profanity, finally living up to its title.
Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox reprise their roles as Willie and Marcus, and both characters feel familiar, and as though they have learned nothing since the first film, this may be the premise for a good comedy, but they are let down by a messy script. Brett Kelly also returns to his role as The Kid – also known as Thurman Merman – from the first film, and although he tries hard, he brings precious little to the film. Kathy Bates is on strong form, and tries her best to show the rest of the cast what comic timing really is, while Christina Hendricks and Ryan Hansen are completely underused and never really given a chance.
Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross’s screenplay tries to make Willie and his cohorts wilder and worse than they were in the first film, but filling the 92 minute running time with profanity and sex does not make for an engaging film. There is precious little story to ‘Bad Santa 2’, which leaves the cast and their characters out in the cold, trying to make toilet humour engaging over the course of an hour and a half.
As director Mark Waters never manages to get the ‘Bad Santa 2’ moving fast enough for it to feel anything but drawn out, with the gaps filled with profanity. There is no doubt that profanity can be funny, but less is certainly more; a lesson that ‘Bad Santa 2’ does not seem to have heard of. The cast are let down by a weak script, and their comic timing is most decidedly off, with the exception of Kathy Bates.
In all, ‘Bad Santa 2’ is an unfunny, profane and drawn out film that lacks a story and pace. Bad Santa may have been so wrong it was right, but ‘Bad Santa 2’ is just wrong. Rating: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
A UNITED KINGDOM (USA | UK | Czech Republic/12A/111mins)
Directed by Amma Asante. Starring Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Jessica Oyelowo, Tom Felton, Jack Davenport
THE PLOT: In 1940s London, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) fall in love and plan to marry. The trouble is that this marriage between an English woman and an African man, heir to the throne of Bechuana Land, is not only scandalous due to the couple’s races and ethnicities, but threatens the political system both at home and in Africa. THE VERDICT: ‘A United Kingdom’ is based on a true story, and brought to the screen by Amma Asante; ‘Grange Hil’l actress turned director, in her third feature length project as director after ‘A Way of Life’ in 2004 and ‘Belle’ in 2013.
Rosamund Pike leads the cast as the headstrong but graceful Ruth Williams, and she does the character justice as she struggles to find a place where she belongs when the fact of who she has fallen in love with leads to her being ostracised. David Oyelowo is charming and sweet as Seretse Khama, making the character graceful and strong, but softer and gentler than his headstrong wife. The two work well together, and the chemistry between them is clear on screen. The rest of the cast features Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael and Jessica Oyelowo.
Guy Hibbert’s screenplay addresses an important story in the struggle for equality between black and white people, in both the UK and Africa, but even though the love story at the centre of the film is strong, it is not long before ‘A United Kingdom’ gets caught up in politics; the squabbling between family members, the introduction of apartheid in South Africa and the hunt for precious minerals are all touched on in the film, which goes some way toward diminishing the facts at the heart of the tale. There is so much going on here that it is hard for the audience to know what to hang on to, and while the love story is ever present, it is not brought to the fore enough for the film to be hung upon it.
As director Amma Asante gets strong performances from Pike and Oyelowo, and their chemistry on screen is natural and warm, but it is in the minutiae that Asante struggles to keep the film moving, and make the issues as clear as they should be. As well as this, there are times when emotion borders on saccharine sweetness, so while the story is worthwhile, it gets somewhat cloying and overly sweet at times.
In all, ‘A United Kingdom’ could be a powerful story about love and equality, but it gets bogged down in exploring the political choices that led to governments getting involved in a romance. Pike and Oyelowo are strong, but both the actors and their subjects deserved a stronger script and direction that what they got. RATING:3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
SOUTH (Ireland/15A/78mins) Directed by Gerard Walsh. Starring Darragh O’Toole, Emily Lamey, Joe Rooney, Andie McCaffrey Byrne THE PLOT: Tom (Darragh O’Toole) is a young, aspiring Galway musician whose father Tom Senior (Joe Rooney) has died as a result of a heart attack. His father was his whole world, teaching him about life and what is right and wrong. Unknown to his late father, Tom found and kept a photo of his mother Jane (Andie McCaffrey Byrne). On the back of the photo are details on where Jane is now. Tom heads south to Dublin to find the mother who apparently left him when he was just a toddler. For 15 years, there has been no contact between them. Along the way, he meets some unfriendly sorts who try to exploit him. Then there is Jess (Emily Lamey), a free-spirited girl who genuinely wants to help him… THE VERDICT: Shot in just 9 days, the second feature of Gerard Walsh is a simple but perfectly-formed little gem. A recent winner of best feature at the Fingal Film Festival, it is a road movie that is small in scale but grand in emotions. Opening with Tom reflecting on how important his father was to him, we learn more about our main character over the coming scenes. He is suffering from not only the loss of his father, but crippling stage fright which prevents him from becoming the talented musician that he really is. This journey will be a transformative one as he learns more about his parents, their former relationship and what happened to cause such a rift in the family that left him growing up without a female influence.
Thankfully, ‘South’ is free of manipulative sentimentality. If anything, it ends on a hopeful note that takes a less typical direction than, say, your average Hollywood road movie. Writer/director Walsh has created some lovely, well-written characters here too. Tom is essentially any 17-year-old boy who is making the transition to adulthood, while trying to understand the confusing behaviour of adults. At the same time, he strikes up a tender romance with Jess, a sparky girl who is braver and more forthright than Tom is. Well acted by O’Toole and Lamey, their scenes have a touch of Once about them – particularly in the busking scene. Naturalistic and unforced, they have the kind of chemistry that feels real, rather than manufactured in a rehearsal studio. If, as Tom Senior tells his son, music is the key to a woman’s heart then Tom has got all the right tunes.
At a slim 78 minutes, ‘South’ has far more to say about people and where they have come from than the recent ‘Wild Goose Lodge’ managed in twice the running time. The occasional usage of direct-to-camera pieces almost breaks the fourth wall, but in a sense it adds a personal touch to this story of longing and belonging. There are no false notes here in South. It may feel slight and the type of film to handle with care, but it also demonstrates a talent that is worth supporting and nurturing. Like Gerard Barrett (‘Pilgrim Hill’, ‘Glassland’), Walsh is an up-and-coming Irish director who knows how to get the most out of his actors and his story while maintaining quality throughout. ‘South’ is certainly a journey worth taking. RATING: 4/5 Review by Gareth O’Connor
ALMOST CHRISTMAS (USA/12A/111mins) Directed by David E. Talbert. Starring Danny Glover, Omar Epps, Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, Mo’Nique THE PLOT: After the matriarch of the family died earlier in the year, the Meyers family gathers together for Christmas together, but of course it is not long before old resentments and new problems begin to arise in the family. THE VERDICT: ‘Almost Christmas’ follows a familiar course; a dysfunctional family coming together to shout out their resentments and bring up old arguments once again. Danny Glover plays Walter, the head of the family, a man grieving the loss of his wife, and plays the character in a sad and nostalgic manner, which does not always fit with the rest of the film. Mo’Nique takes on the role of Aunt May, the stereotypical sassy black woman who threatens to whoop everyone’s asses if they do not stay in line. Elsewhere in the film Gabrielle Union plays Rachel, one of the daughters of the family who has a long standing feud with her sister Cheryl (Kimberly Elise). J.B. Smoove makes Uncle Lonnie annoying and self involved, and Jessie T. Usher does similar with the youngest son of the Meyers family, Evan. The rest of the cast features Romany Malco, Nicole Ari Parker and Omar Epps, who is completely underused.
The screenplay, written by David E. Talbert, who previously brought us the lacklustre ‘Baggage Claim’, follows familiar and obvious story points. Talbert does very little to make the film feel any different to any other Christmas family movie you care to mention. Old resentments and new arguments are the name of the game, and most of the cast spend the film shouting at one another over something or other, with the youngest members of the family filming everything on their phones. The dialogue feels familiar and derivative, and nothing other than the predictable ever happens in the film. Having Walter fixate on a recipe of his wife’s and his determination to make a pie the way she used to is a nice touch, but it gets lost in all the yelling and the random dance breaks.
As director, David E. Talbert spaces ‘Almost Christmas’ out over the five days leading up to Christmas, but the pacing of the 118 minute running time is uneven and leaves the film feeling drawn out and slow. The actors are never given a chance to make the characters feel real, rounded or relatable in any way.
In all, ‘Almost Christmas’ is familiar and derivative, with many of the actors being underused in creating thin and unlikeable characters. The film is badly paced and many of the supposed jokes are drawn out and more awkward than funny. There are plenty of great Christmas movies out there, but ‘Almost Christmas’ is nigh on intolerable, and certainly not one of them. RATING:1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MUM’S LIST (UK/12A/101mins) Directed by Niall Johnson. Starring Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy, William Stagg, Matthew Stagg THE PLOT: Dying mother Kate (Emilia Fox) creates a wishlist of things for her husband Singe (Rafe Spall) to do with their two young sons after she is gone. As Singe struggles to come to terms with the inevitable and the heart breaking, he makes a vow to do everything his wife asked.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Mum’s List: A Mother’s Life Lessons to the Husband and Sons She Left Behind’ by St John Greene, ‘Mum’s List’ tries to be a weepy tearjerker about a woman taken from her family too soon, but thanks to some muddled story choices and a lack of characterisation, ‘Mum’s List’ is not the affecting tale the filmmakers hoped for.
Rafe Spall leads the cast as the newly widowed Singe – short for St John – and while he has a knack for playing sadness, there is very little to define the character, other than being a husband and father. Emilia Clarke plays the dying Kate in flashback, and she tries her best to make Kate a warm character, but there is very little to her, other than the fact that she is sick. The rest of the cast features Elaine Cassidy, Matthew Stagg, William Stagg, Ross McCormack and Sophie Simnet.
The screenplay, adapted from St John Greene’s book by director Niall Johnson lacks structure, and this is the main problem with the film. The story begins at the end, and while this is fine in theory, there is no middle and proper ending to back this beginning up. As well as this, for a film called ‘Mum’s List’, there is surprisingly little focus given to the actual list or accomplishing the wishes that Kate had for her family. While Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox do their best with their roles, the characters are drawn so thin that their only defining characteristics seem to be the illness that afflicts Kate and once affected their young son.
As director, Niall Johnson struggles to pace the film as the structure of the story is against him from the start. Flashbacks and the present day blend together until it is difficult for the audience to tell what is going on, and without the structure of the list to carry the film, the entire film turns into a surprisingly emotionally vapid mess.
In all, ‘Mum’s List’ should have been a tribute to the real life Kate Greene, who tried to leave structure for her family after she passed away. A flabby script that lacks structure destroys the film, however, and it is hard to root for or empathise with characters that are little more than names on a page. Stories like this have been done before, and to much greater effect. RATING: 1/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
MAGNUS (Norway/G/78mins) Directed by Benjamin Ree. Starring Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand THE PLOT: In 2004, Magnus Carlsen became a chess Grandmaster, making him the third youngest person in history to achieve this. In 2013, Carlsen competed at the World Championships against five-time winner Viswanathan Anand. For the first time, Magnus and his father Henrik Carlsen reveal just how Carlsen’s career in chess got started, when his father realised that his son could be a chess prodigy, and the work that went into getting Carlsen to the World Championships.
THE VERDICT: Chess is on something of an upswing lately; ‘Magnus’ follows in the cinematic footsteps of the recent ‘Queen of Katwe’, and the game is constantly cropping up in mainstream media, including in an episode of ‘Doctor Who’ written by Neil Gaiman. Audiences curious about the game and how one becomes the best of the best will find Magnus engaging and tense, but those of us with less of an affinity with the game will still find plenty to enjoy in this charming documentary.
Director Benjamin Ree makes his feature length debut with ‘Magnus’, and does well with the telling of the story. Using Magnus’ father Henrik as the narrator of the story is an interesting choice, as it allows the audience to see how the talent for chess was discovered in Magnus. Blending this with home videos of Magnus as a child and his first forays into the game make the first half of the film engaging and charming. Of course, Magnus has to build to something, and the 2013 World Championships of Chess are firmly in Ree’s sights as he pulls the film together.
In the interviews that intersperse the footage of Carlsen playing chess, this young master seems utterly aware of not only his social awkwardness, but also the fact that he struggled to make friends at school because of his passion; “It’s hard to be cool when I play chess”, Carlsen honestly tells the audience, but in the world of chess, Carlsen is the ultimate cool kid as he takes down older and more experienced players than him. The trouble with the film arises with the focus of the film being almost too far away from Carlsen; archive interviews with him as a child go some way to giving the audience insight into his character and passion for chess, but we do not get to meet the older Magnus until the film is well into its second half. As well as this, there is only so much tension that can be created with the focus on the World Championships, as there is obviously a reason that this story is being told.
In all, however, ‘Magnus’ is a charming and endearing documentary, but a stronger focus on Magnus in the present day would have made for a stronger film, as would a less familiar structure to the film. As it stands, ‘Magnus’ is an engaging story that works whether audiences are familiar with chess or not, but there are times when the film feels a little superficial and conventional. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes