Reviews – New movies opening October 25th 2013

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 and ENDER’S GAME

Directed by Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn. Starring Bill Hader, Will Forte, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan.

THE PLOT: In the immediate aftermath of the foodageddon at Swallow Falls, Flint Lokwood (Bill Hader) is given a chance to work with his idol Chester V (Will Forte), and jumps at the chance. Back in Swallow Falls, however, something odd is happening with Flint’s machine, and it won’t be long before Flint has to go back and investigate.
THE VERDICT: Much of the cast of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan and Neil Patrick Harris – have returned for the sequel, and are joined by the excellent Will Forte as Chester V, and the ever lovable Kristen Schaal as Barb the ape. Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn take over directing duties leaving screenwriting up to John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja, with previous directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord having input into the story. The cast are top notch as usual – even though some of them have changed a little too much from the original – and the introduction of Will Forte as the omni-present and omni-bendy Chester V is a welcome one.
The story is that Flint’s machine has allowed the food to not only become sentient – as we saw at the end of the first film – but also to imitate creatures found in nature, as well as their behaviours and habitats, which leads to some fun combo animals – including a pie-thon, shrimpanzees and mosquitoast. This also opens the film up to having a Jurassic Park feel, as much of the film is spent running away from creatures that the characters don’t understand, as well as some gorgeous, Speilberg-esque cinematography. Oh, and also foodimal dinosaurs. Hurrah!
Story wise; at the end of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Flint had saved the day by taking his unpronounceable machine out of orbit, but the town of Swallow Falls was still under siege by giant food. It’s a good job that Flint’s idol Chester V was on hand to take on the clean up job with no ulterior motive at all. Noooo… Flint has to learn valuable lessons about cherishing all life, even if it scares him, and realising who his friends truly are. And that to a strawberry named Barry, he’s an idol. All standard lessons for kids – except maybe the strawberry – but ones that are done in a fun way. The trouble is that the pacing is a little all over the place; moving the characters away from the island for six months to facilitate the growth of Yum-rassic Park (I just came up with that) feels a little messy too. The good news is that Steve the monkey is back and still has great advice (‘can’) and a fear of birthday cake candles.
After the success of the first film, it was clear that there was room for a sequel, and the idea behind the foodimals is a great one, but there is less quirkiness here than we had the first time out, and it was the quirkiness that made the first film so special. Sure, the characters use ‘finger guns’ for a lot of the film, and Flint still has a heart of gold, but many of the little touches are missing, and they are missed. Thank god for Barry the Strawberry (‘Nnwoo?’) and the screaming leeks. John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja’s script is still full of good lessons and little oddities, but the supporting cast of Steve, Barry, the runaway TV and the various foodimals steal the show.
Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn do well with their first major film, but their lack of experience in the director’s chair shows; the visuals are great but the film feels less coherent than the first one, and some of the life lessons feel a little tacked on, as though the directors got caught up with the action and forgot the morals. As well as this, Flint’s voyage through his former home feels like little more than a thin thread to tie scenes, that sometimes feel like stand alone shorts, together.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a decent follow up to a surprisingly good film. The supporting cast steal the show – the background of this film is a busy and entertaining place – but this means the audience attention is often diverted. The scale of the film is wonderful, as are the nods to Jurassic Park, but while all the ingredients are there, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is just not as tasty as its predecessor. We are bound to have a final course here, let’s just hope it’s dessert and not a cheese cart.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Starring Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Spike Jonze, Georgina Cates, Blythe Barrington-Hughes, Kamber Hejlik, Brittany Mumford.
THE PLOT: Delighted that his wife of 46 years has finally died, 83-year old Irving Zisman (Knoxville) is on a mission to have as much fun, and as many women, as possible. So, he’s not all that delighted when his jailbird daughter (Cates) leaves him stranded with 8-year old grandson Billy (Nicoll). The only thing for it is to drive the little tyke across country, and dump him with his loser father, but, along the way, horny old Irving can’t help but take little Billy for a few walks on the wild side…
THE VERDICT: This is a one-joke pony, with about six good Vine-worthy moments spread thinly over 90 minutes. The bulk of these Candid Camera gags are borderline torture. You can tell just how ineffective most of these gags are by the fact that we never sit too long on any of them. When Johnny goes flying through a shop window, or dances with his fake ball-sack dangling down to his knee, or gets his grandson drunk in the park, you get the impression that Spike and the rest of the crew behind the many hidden cameras are the only ones who are actually laughing.
The bulk of Bad Grandpa is made up of lame jokes and bad taste, with ideas and scripting that could only be funny at four o’clock in the morning. And the fact that they chose North Carolina and its surrounding discount store neighbourhoods to play out their ugly stunts feels a little exploitative. They might as well have been tasering cattle.
Truth is, if they’d tried any of this frat-boy shit in New York, Johnny and his sniggering posse would have had their asses kicked. That, I’d pay to see.
Review by Paul Byrne

ENDER’S GAME (USA/12A/114mins)
Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld.
THE PLOT: In the aftermath of an alien attack on Earth, the brightest and most promising children are recruited into an advanced military school, in the hope they can protect the world from a future attack. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is one such child. Deliberately ostracised from the other recruits by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender soon becomes the leader of a band of misfits, and perhaps the strongest weapon against the enemy.
THE VERDICT: Based on a book by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is the latest in a long line of books with a young adult at the centre of the story to be given the big screen treatment. Asa Butterfield shakes off the wide-eyed innocence of Hugo as he takes on a character who, by his own admission, must find a balance between violence and compassion. For some reason, it seems that Ender more accurately treads the line between insolence and obedience, which is a strange combination at times. Butterfield does fine with the role, and excels in the final act of the film, but even though he has grown about a foot since his outing in Scorsese’s film, it is hard to imagine him as anything other than a 12 year old boy (he’s 16!).
The rest of the cast of kids is made up of Hailee Steinfeld, who had her breakthrough in True Grit, as the love interest/inspiration for Ender, Aramis Knight, Jimmy Pinchak and Abigail Breslin as Ender’s sister Valentine. This is Ender’s story though, and the rest of the kids just fit into his world. The adults have an even stranger time of it; Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff comes off as cruel and cold, why Ender is drawn to him seems inexplicable. Viola Davis is completely underused as Major Gwen Anderson and Ben Kingsley, as Mazer Rackham, plays Ender’s idol and odd mentor. He is slightly less over the top than he was in Iron Man 3, but comes off as an impish man with odd facial tattoos.
As far as the story is concerned; Ender’s Game is based on a book written in 1985, which may go some way to explain the oddness of the plot. Everything feels like a game – a contradictory game where everything is utterly important, while remaining totally trivial – but it does not seem like any of the players are having any fun. The dialogue is often corny, and the twists and turns of the plot become so twisty turny and needlessly complicated, that at times it is hard to keep track. Oh, and the film opens with a quote from the protagonist, written across the screen. Is it just me, or is that weird?
Screenwriter and director Gavin Hood has had an odd career to date. His breakthrough film, Tsotsi currently sits at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been praised as powerful and emotionally charged. Hood then had his US breakthrough with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was quite simply, dreadful. Hood then retreated to TV for a few years, and has returned with Ender’s Game. At times it is hard to tell whether some of the wooden – yet somehow ridiculously over the top – acting is the fault of the script, the actor or the director. Surely some responsibility must fall at Hood’s feet? When the film was originally optioned, author Orson Scott Card was determined to write the script himself, pulling and pushing focus in the film so that the audience knew more than the protagonist did. It seems Card’s script was thrown out when Warner’s rights to the film expired, leaving the story to go through another re-write. This has to be part of the reason that a story that should be filled with suspense and danger, often feels flat and uninspired.
As well as this, so much focus is given to the ‘Game’, that the audience may find themselves wondering why they should care about any of this, since many of the characters are utterly unlikeable. On the positive side, the film is not in 3D (hurrah!) and the visuals are rather impressive; as they should be, since the film had a budget of $110 million.
Ender’s Game is an uninspiring film. Much of the acting is so wooden that the characters come off as cold and one note, the dialogue is often cheesy and the Game such a focus that nuance and subtext somehow get lost. Asa Butterfield does what he can – and often does well – as does the rest of the cast, but Hood’s writing and direction often leave a lot to be desired.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Greg Freddy Camalier. Starring Rick Hall, Aretha Franklin, Keith Richards, Jimmy Cliff, Roger Hawkins, Bono, Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter.
THE PLOT: It may be in the shadow of Memphis and Detroit, but the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals still managed to produce some of the finest music to come out of America during the 1960s and ’70s. It was producer Rick Hall (a lanky cross between Sam Phillips and, for temper and childhood background, Larry Flynt) who, having survived being pushed out of an earlier recording studio, and two years of hard drinking and womanising that followed the tragic death of his first wife, who set the ball rolling when he set up the FAME recording studio in 1960. It didn’t take long before his all-white rhythm section, The Swampers, became the hottest thing in soul, recording with the likes of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. When the house band were lured away by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, and set up their own Muscle Shoals recording studio, Hall was driven to even greater success…
THE VERDICT: The greatest stories are the ones that where you don’t know all the background details – just the big broad strokes. And for music fans, Muscle Shoals is one of those places that pops up as a magical place where the likes of Aretha and The Rolling Stones found something magical. That the likes of rent-a-quote Bono here wax a little too lyrical about just why it was that this little Alabama backwood acted as such a lightning rod for great music doesn’t take away from the fact that Rick Hall and the gang were a special breed of Southern man, steeping in soul and r’n’b as much as country and western. That Rick is still alive and kicking against the pricks makes this far more revealing an insight into those golden years than Muscle Shoals’ millionaire competitors and their polished PR sheen. When it comes to tapping into that soul, Hall has a deep well to draw on, losing not only his young wife tragically but also, on three separate occasions, his brother, his father and his mother.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by John Crowley. Starring Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Anne Marie Duff, Ciaran Hinds
Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) find themselves on the defence team of a man accused of a destructive act of terrorism. Their past threatens their ability to work together, but it soon becomes clear that their work is threatening their loyalty, and their lives.
THE VERDICT: Perhaps the story for CLOSED CIRCUIT seemed like a good idea on paper, but there is actually something relentlessly dull about this procedural courtroom drama. There is precious little chemistry between the leads, Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, and anything interesting that happened between the characters is set outside the realm of the film, so we never see it on screen. Instead, we are treated to Hall and Bana – who have both proven they are a lot better than this – bickering and then being drawn together by fate. Of course.
Hall is little other than pouty and rather bitchy here, and Bana keeps telling everyone that he is an ass, but is never anything but beige. We get hints of what happened between them, but never enough to keep up interested or for us to root for the characters. Jim Broadbent plays the Attorney General, and is threatening and menacing, but without any clear motivation. Ciaran Hinds is wasted in his role as Devlin, and Riz Ahmed’s character lines as so clearly drawn that it’s easy to see what’s going to happen within minutes of him turning up.
In theory, courtroom dramas are fine, and can be great in practice, if they are done well. Closed Circuit is not one of those films. Steven Knight’s screenplay is obviously trying to pick up a thread from recent tragic events in London, but ultimately feels like it is exploiting said tragedy, rather than honouring or integrating it in any way. Characters are one dimensional and thin, and many motivations are never spelled out.
Director John Crowley has made some great films in the past, including IS ANYBODY THERE? And INTERMISSION, but any subtlety, nuance or comedy that was created in his past work, is notably missing here. Crowley directs with a heavy hand, obviously trying to create suspense, but instead the film feels ham fisted and clunky.
In all, CLOSED CIRCUIT is a perfectly forgettable courtroom drama that ticks all the boxes, but has absolutely no flair or suspense. A disappointing effort from some great actors and a director who has done great things in the past.
Review by Brogen Hayes