Reviews – New movies opening October 24th 2014

We review this week’s cinema releases, including THE BABADOOK, LOVE, ROSIE and THE BOOK OF LIFE…

THE BABADOOK (Australia/15A/94mins)
Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Lyndal-Knight, Tim Purcell, Adam Morgan, Craig Behenna, Benjamin Winspear, Cathy Adamek.
THE PLOT: Former writer-turned-old folks home assistant Amelia (Davis) is having a little trouble with her little tyke, Oskar (Wiseman). The light of her life is a little black cloud to everyone else, his twisted imagination earning him a reputation as an oddball amongst the other kids, and their parents. Chief among those doubting parents is Claire (McElhinney), Amelia’s sister. Perhaps it’s all just down to the death of Amelia’s husband, on the way to the hospital for Oskar’s arrival. Or maybe there really is a boogie man in the house, there to suck the very souls out of the increasingly isolated Amelia and Oskar…?
THE VERDICT: One of those low-budget frightfests that comes with high intentions – writer/director Kent aiming to explore inner demons through the time-honoured cinematic portal of schlock horror – THE BABDOOK does not stalk the stalk. At all.
From the opening, this plays like a mildly pretentious student film, from the muddy cinematography to the Amateur Hour acting. Leading lady Davis has the ill-at-ease swagger of a producer’s middle-aged manic pixie girlfriend, whilst little Noah Wiseman never, ever convinces as the could-be demon child. Even if he does like Jack White’s Mini Me.
Lesser critics have been getting their silks in a twist over THE BABADOOK, but that’s more down to the ingredients (strident female writer/director delivering a mourning-as-monster thesis disguised as a cheap horror flick) than the cake. Welcome to Dullraiser. 
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Sidney Fullmer, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullally, Mekai Curtis, Dick Van Dyke.
THE PLOT: Tired of being everyone’s punchbag whilst all around have wonderful, glorious, clap-happy lives, Alexander Cooper (Oxenbould) makes a little latenight wish that the rest of his family just spend one day in his rain-soaked, pebble-filled shoes. And from their missed alarm onwards, that’s just what Alexander’s family suffer. Mum (Garner) is late for her big children’s book presentation, Dad (Carell) suddenly has to take their baby to his first job interview in years, teenager Anthony (Minnette) has both his driving test and his junior prom with testy girlfriend Celia (Thorne), whilst Emily (Dorsey) has woken up with a cold on the night she debuts as Peter Pan in the school play. And the day just keeps getting worse for everyone in the Cooper family, except Alexander. Who begins feeling worse and worse for having cursed them.
THE VERDICT: Don’t laugh, but I had pretty high expectations for this particular family movie. The title is silly enough to be verging on brave, it has Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as the parents – both actors who know where the funny bone is located – and down in the undergrowth of mid-budget family films (A CHRISTMAS STORY, HOME ALONE, DUNSTON CHECKS IN, ELF), sometimes – just sometimes – gold is struck. Here, unfortunately, we get Alexander and the not terribly good if not very bad family film.
We’re deep in John Hughes territory here (or just a pale cash-in on the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID franchise; take your pic), but the high concept here – of everything going horribly wrong for everyone in luckless boy’s family – is more tragedy than comedy. Which makes much of the bad luck offered up hard to like, love or laugh at. Largely because getting a cold or a zit before your big night, having a horrible boss who’s about to fire you, or feeling deeply unemployable all add up to one feelbad comedy.
Carell never truly sparks, despite delivering his trademark everyday doofus, whilst the sparkling Garner also fails to lift the material she’s given. Only the freaky-deaky Jennifer Coolidge manages to deliver some real comic spark here as a driving test nazi. 
Review by Paul Byrne

FURY (UK | USA | China/15A/135mins)
Directed by David Ayer. Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena.
Over the space of 24 hours, the crew of the WWII Allied tank ‘Fury’ take on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Along with a Germany that is vicious in the throes of its death rattle, the crew have to deal with old resentments, and a new member of their team; inexperienced soldier Norman (Logan Lerman).
FURY is a strange sort of a film; David Ayer is a director who has tackled a similar story about people surviving in a confined space before, in END OF WATCH, and since Samuel Moaz released his film LEBANON, Fury doesn’t feel that it should have anything new or interesting to say, and in a way, it doesn’t.
Each of the characters struggles to make a mark in the film; Brad Pitt plays a watered down and considerably less memorable version of Lt Aldo Raine, which leaves the audience waiting for him to tell Shia LaBeouf to bring him ‘One hunnert Nazi scalps’ and doesn’t give Wardaddy a chance to be a fully formed character. Logan Lerman plays the newbie, the inexperienced soldier thrust into the centre of war, and while he manages to balance out the callousness of his tank mates to a degree, he is really given little else to do. Shia LaBeouf plays a Bible thumper whose character swings from kindness to selfishness, often within the space of a sentence, and has very little consistency. Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal make up the rest of the tank’s crew.
The story takes place in the space of 24 hours, and shows the extraordinary odds that the Allies faced at the end of WWII. Initially, the tanks roll out on a dangerous mission, but we never see them truly reach their destination. Instead, the platoon is ambushed again and again, with the outcome of this – other than to hammer home the fact that the Nazis used child soldiers and that war is unpleasant and unpredictable – being that the crew of the ‘Fury’ never reach their true destination. Many of the scenes are given too much or too little focus, with a sequence in a house with two German women going on much longer than it needs to.
It’s fairly common knowledge that director David Ayer pushed his actors to inhabit their roles; making them fight one another and spend many hours cooped up inside the tank. While this is admirable, and the banter between the crew shows this and the characters seem to know one another well, the audience is never really allowed to get to know them. The fight sequences are gory and violent, and incredibly well shot, but the choice to make gunshots looks like lasers makes Fury feel a little like a space epic, rather than a historical film.
In all, FURY is a film that tries to tell a new story, but ends up feeling familiar and watered down. Brad Pitt never truly shakes off INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and those who have seen Samuel Moaz’s LEBANON will tire of the tank sequences rather quickly. The film is well shot, but the work that went on behind the scenes never truly shows through, so while FURY looks good, it is filled with thin characters, unnecessary scenes and ultimately feels a little pointless.
Review by Brogen Hayes

SERENA (USA|France/15A/110mins)
Directed by Susanne Bier. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans
THE PLOT: George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is the head of a timber empire in Carolina in the 1920s. Love has eluded Pemberton, but that all changes when he meets the beautiful and passionate Serena (Jennifer Lawrence). The two set about making Pemberton’s business even more successful, by any means necessary, but it is not long before their choices come back to haunt them.
THE VERDICT: Based on Ron Rash’s novel of the same name, SERENA is an examination of love, lust, loyalty and corruption… Or it would be, with a stricter edit and some different choices.
It is fair to say that Jennifer Lawrence is passionate about SERENA, for it was she who convinced her SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK co-star, Bradley Cooper, to join the cast. Lawrence gives her typical strong performance, but she is thwarted by some strange directorial choices and sloppy editing. Bradley Cooper’s character runs a smoother course and, as always, Cooper is engaging and powerful on screen. The rest of the cast is made up of Rhys Ifans sporting an odd accent, Toby Jones and Ana Ularu.
Christopher Kyle’s screenplay is incredibly muddled, and is never really sure what it is. First it is the story of a strong woman who can make a dent in a man’s world – and train eagles! GASP! This slowly gives way to a story of corruption and murder, before becoming almost a parody of itself in the final act when Serena loses the run of herself after a tragic accident. Kyle’s story starts well enough but completely dissolves Serena into a caricature of a strong woman, or a woman at all, and has a panther-ex-machina moment when things get too messed up. Also, the Pembertons have enough on screen sex to put the upcoming 50 SHADES OF GREY to shame, sex that feels gratuitous since it has little bearing on the story at all.
Susanne Bier’s direction is competent, but she quickly loses her way when trying to incorporate too many plot points into the story. The film is incredibly badly paced; it seems that some stricter editing would have cleared up the story and the speed of the tale in one fell swoop. Morten Søborg’s cinematography, however, is absolutely beautiful.
In all, SERENA tries to be all things to all viewers, but ends up being a mess. Tighter editing and a more coherent script could have cleared the whole thing up, but as it stands, the film tries to make a comment on America of the 1920s, but just ends up reminding us that all women are mental. At least I think that’s what the payoff was, I stopped paying attention and just watched the cinematography.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Shawn Levy. Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Kathryn Hahn, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Jane Fonda.
THE PLOT: When their father dies, four adult siblings are forced to shit Shiva in their childhood home for a week, in accordance with their dad’s wishes. While there, they encounter people from their past, various partners and the ones that got away.
THE VERDICT: The idea of returning home is always one that is filled with nostalgia, as last week’s THE JUDGE showed us, but as the Robert Downey Jr film also told us, returning home is often fraught with tension and filled with secrets.
The cast for THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is filled with familiar and beloved faces, with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Jane Fonda, Kathryn Hahn and Corey Stoll all turning up on screen. While each gives a strong enough performance to make their characters work – Bateman returning to his wheelhouse of the put upon everyman – there are so gosh darn many of them, and so much going on, that they are often drowned out by the sheer amount of story going on.
Jonathan Tropper adapted the screenplay from his own novel, so it is safe to say that he was familiar with the story and the characters; the trouble with this is that Tropper may have been too attached to his characters to allow some of them to take a back seat, so the film is filled with squabbling, overlapping storylines and entirely uncomfortable jokes about Jane Fonda’s boobs. A more ruthless cut could have allowed Fey and Bateman to step to the fore – which is obviously what was attempted here – but instead we have a film filled with unhappy people, shouting at one another in pretty rooms.
Shawn Levy’s last big screen outing was the utterly painful THE INTERNSHIP, so it is good to see that This is Where I Leave You is a distinct improvement on that waste of time, but THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU struggles to step out from the shadow of DEATH AT A FUNERAL, and almost does so, until all the other storylines come crashing in. That said, each of the characters carries their roles well, with Fey and Bateman just about managing to stand out before Adam Driver swoops in and steals the show.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is a vast improvement on The Internship but never quite manages to live up to its promise. Fey, Bateman and Driver shine, but there is far too much going on in one house – never mind the film – for the film to be anything other than messy. Resolution arrives, but takes its sweet time, leaving THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU feeling drawn out and sprawling.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by: Jorge R. Gutierrez. Starring Ron Perlman, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Kate del Castillo, Diego Luna.
THE PLOT: La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) are the traditional rulers of the Mexican worlds of the dead; the world of the Remembered and conversely, The Forgotten. Far from being enemies though, the two enjoy a friendly rivalry, and place a wager on the fates of two young boys who are in love with the same girl. Knowing nothing of the wager, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) vie for the love of Maria (Zoe Saldana), as the fate of the underworld is in their hands.
THE VERDICT: The Mexican beliefs around The Day of the Dead have long held fascination for audiences; the idea that for one day of the year, beloved family members walk the earth to be with the ones they have left behind. Of course, this is something that is celebrated in cultures all around the world – including on our own dear isle, with the feast of Samhain – but the beautiful, bright and festive feel of Dia de los Muertos lends itself to a kids’ 3D adventure movie, so here we are.
The voice cast do a great job with their roles, and the banter between Perlman and del Castillo; as well as Tatum, Luna and Saldana is a lot of fun. The actors inject warmth into their characters, which keeps the audience on their side, since the story often moves at lickety speed.
Although the film is set around a wager between the guardians of the underworld, it never becomes ghoulish or macabre, instead focusing on celebrating the lives of those who have left us, rather than mourning the fact that they are gone. This is a valuable lesson for audience members of all ages, and one that is often referred to, but never hammered home. The film strives for comedy, mainly by throwing all of the dialogue at plot at the screen at an incredibly fast pace, and while many of the laughs land, many of them whizz past the audience too quickly to be laughed at. The change of setting halfway through the film, to the Underworld, helps matters, but once the story gets there, it feels as though the film was waiting to get there all along.
Director Jorge R. Gutierrez makes the characters in the film warm and engaging, and the style choices that were made not only reinforce that much of the action is a story within a story, but allows the story to move between our world and the underworld without making the characters look or feel different. In fact, the addition of Mexican Dia de los Muertos style imagery to those in the underworld just adds another layer to the film.
THE BOOK OF LIFE is a beautiful film with some gorgeous animation and worthy life lessons for kids. The characters are warm and engaging and the ghouls, while otherworldly, are never frightening. The film suffers, however, through incredibly speedy dialogue, which means that some of the jokes don’t land. Overall though, this is a fun and engaging film that’s a feast for the eyes and ears… Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ sung mariachi style is definitely a winner.
Review by Brogen Hayes

LOVE, ROSIE (UK|Germany/15A/102mins)
Directed by: Christian Ditter. Starring Lily Collins, Sam Claflin, Art Parkinson, Tamsin Edgerton, Suki Waterhouse, Jaime Winstone.
THE PLOT: Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Clafin) have been best friends since they were small children, and despite having grown up together, they never realised their growing romantic feelings for one another until the night of Rosie’s 18th birthday, when they shared a drunken kiss. 12 years, several broken relationships and one surprise baby later, the two finally confront their feelings, and decide where their future lies.
THE VERDICT: LOVE, ROSIE is based on the Cecelia Ahern novel WHERE RAINBOWS END and although the film is set in Boston and some random English town, the film was almost entirely shot in Dublin, which is good news for all of us who have been saying Dublin is pretty for all these years, but bad news for those of us who live in the city, since the film is adamant it is set in England, but is so obviously filmed in Dublin.
Lily Collins does a fine job with Rosie, the character at the centre of the film. The trouble with Rose – as with most of the characters in the film – is that she fells more like a character from a Taylor Swift music video than a fully rounded human being. Sam Clafin plays the guy with the cheekbones number one, the one that Rosie really loves and wants to be with and Christian Coke plays the other guy with cheekbones, the one that Rosie does not really want to be with. Suki Waterhouse plays clingy blonde number one, and Tamsin Edgerton is clingy blonde number two. Rounding out this gang of ill-defined characters is Jaime Winstone as Rosie’s punky but less attractive gal pal Ruby.
The story is littered with inconsistencies, convenient twists and silly but well placed ideas; in fact the whole thing feels as though it was put together in an ‘if that, then this’ kind of framework, which leads to some silly plot points and some incredibly schmaltzy moments. Nothing is really done to give any of the characters personality beyond their hair, faces and the way they dress, so again, this feels like a Taylor Swift music video than a 102 minute film. As well as this, deciding to span 12 years in the course of a relatively short film is a disaster, as we are only treated to a couple of moments from each year and this stretches the plot and characters even further.
As director, Christian Ditter seems to be aware that LOVE, ROSIE has little more to do than slightly funny, romantic without any real cause and to contain more than one intentionally painfully awkward moment. This leads to a lot of Lily Allen songs on the soundtrack – admittedly, her wonderful hate anthem F**k You is well used – a shouty mobile phone conversation about a condom going missing and characters constantly declaring their love for one another without any evidence or chemistry to back it up.
LOVE, ROSIE is a rom-com that even die hard fans of madly romantic films will find nothing in. Lily Collins does fine with what she is given, but the rest of the cast is reduced to clichés and are defined by one physical characteristic. The story is ridiculous and hinges on many ridiculous ideas and even then is stretched paper-thin. Still, Dublin looks better than it has done in years, and that one song by Lily Allen is sort of fun.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

JIMI: ALL BY MY SIDE (UK/Ireland/USA/Club/118mins)
Directed by John Ridley. Starring Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Potts, Andrew Buckley, Ruth Negga, Tom Dunlea, Oliver Bennett, Danny McColgan.
Charting Jimi Hendrix’s almost famous years, we first meet Johnny Allen Hendrix (Benjamin) playing rhythm & blues for band leader Curtis King on America’s Chitlin circuit, getting noticed only by a very select few. As luck would have it, one of the few, rich English society girl Linda Keith (Potts), is Keith Richards’ girlfriend, and this day tripper clearly knows a good thing when she sees it. Determined to get Jimi proper management, Linda lucks out when she bumps into Animals’ bass player Chas Chandler (Buckley), who just happens to be looking for a change of job. Soon, Jimi’s on his way to London, to be a big fish in a small pond, and it isn’t long before he has the likes of Eric Clapton (McColgan) in a headspin. “Is he for real?,” the shellshocked Cream frontman – suddenly realising he’s not God, he’s Solieri – asks old buddy Chandler after Hendrix takes a guest spot onstage and promptly blows Clapton off the stage. Literally.
Hendrix’ ascent is far from smooth though, his troubled relationship with hairdresser Kathy Etchingham (Atwell) suffering from both jealousy of the abusive kind and the odd snake in the marijuana (such as Negga’s professional groupie, Ida)…
THE VERDICT: The writer of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, John Ridley, makes his second feature film here (after 1997’s cheesy crime thriller COLD AROUND THE HEART), and it’s a notable achievement. Largely because it manages to be true to its time and its subject without, thanks to a block by the Hendrix estate, ever using any of Jimi’s recordings. Which is akin to trying to tell the story of your man Jesus without being able to quote the Bible. Instead, we get a blast of such contemporaries as Dylan, and lots of sex’n’drugs’n’talking about rock’n’roll. Oh, and some fancy fretwork that Hendrix just might have been happy to call his own.
Whatever about the truth of the actual events (and certainly girlfriend Etchingham has dismissed the portrayal here of domestic abuse), the blend of a smart script, the cheeky use of evocative period footage (in place of cheesy CGI recreations) and a startLingly good portrayal by Andre Benjamin of Hendrix (the blurred line between one cool cat and another adding to the spirit here) makes JIMI: ALL BY MY SIDE surprisingly good.
Now, go blast some Hendrix through your soul.
Review by Paul Byrne