Reviews – New movies opening September 12th 2014

We review this week’s new releases, including PRIDE, THE BOXTROLLS and A MOST WANTED MAN…

PRIDE (UK/15A/120mins)
Directed by Matthew Warchus. Starring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Andrew Scott, Paddy Considine
THE PLOT: During the miner’s strike of the 1980s, a group of gay and lesbian activists decide to support the miners and their families, by raising money. When it seems that no-one will accept the money they have raised, they go direct to the people that need it; the residents of a small mining town in Wales. Their presence shakes up some old prejudices, but ultimately creates some unlikely bonds.
THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, PRIDE is a surprisingly touching story of people putting themselves in one another’s shoes, and finding a way to work together. The film boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Andrew Scott, Joseph Gilgun and Paddy Considine.
PRIDE does not focus on one person’s story, instead, Stephen Beresford’s script allows each character to have their moment to shine, weaving their tale into the greater story as a whole. Joe (Freddie Fox) is a young man who hides his identity from his parents, Mark (Ben Schnetzer), an activist who sees that miners and gay people have a surprising amount in common, Gethin (Andrew Scott), a man who has run away from confronting his mother, Cliff (Bill Nighy), a man who has been denying himself for many years. Each actor gives a great performance, and allows the others to shine through. In this way, PRIDE is truly an ensemble film.
Stephen Beresford’s script does not focus on the politics of England in the 1980s, other than to make the point that this era was a difficult one for minorities around the country. Instead, the script focuses on the relationships with people, and the true idea of the Labour movement; you support me and I will support you. The dialogue is touching, witty and rather sweet, and while there are moments where the ensemble nature of the film means that some subtleties are left to fall by the wayside, the whole of the film is engaging, funny and warm.
Director Matthew Warchus skilfully combines the stories of the miners and gay activists, while allowing the underlying themes and fears to filter through. The celebratory scenes are a joy, and the emotional ones incredibly touching. That said, however, the film does suffer from some messy pacing; meaning that smaller moments are drawn out, and ones with far reaching and disturbing consequences are almost abandoned.
In all, PRIDE is a touching, engaging and funny film about an unlikely alliance between two groups of people who would not normally come together. The film is a snapshot of Thatcher’s Britain, and the human reaction to her austere measures. The pacing is a little messy, and some of the subtleties almost too subtle, but Ben Schnetzer, Andrew Scott, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning and Jonathan West shine through in this huge and delightful ensemble cast.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Hans Petter Moland. Starring Stellan Skarsgard,
As model citizen Nils Dickman (Skarsgard) is picking up his Citizen of the Year award, his airport luggage carrier son is being bundled at gun-point in the back of a car, his co-worker escaping just before the lethal drug overdose is injected. Turns out that co-worker messed with the wrong guy, taking a bag of coke from the regular shipments he let pass through, and it’s revenge time. Convinced his clean-living son couldn’t have died from a drug overdose, Nils is soon on his own quiet rampage of revenge, as he goes full Liam Neeson, tracking down those responsible. As the body count mounts, we get title cards listing the dead, in order of disappearance. All roads lead to an ineffectual young crime boss known as The Count, a crime boss whose crumbling confidence isn’t helped by a hard-nosed Danish ex-wife threatening to take his young son away from him. Dickman is a practical guy, and it doesn’t take him long to go Blue Peter on his son’s killers, convincing the Count that the Serbs are trying to muscle in on his patch…
Goddang, this is good. FARGO, far, far away, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is another snow-covered noir treat, where all the usual thrills of a vigilante and robbers drama are counterbalanced with the sweet melancholia of everyday life. Out in the icy cold desert, life can turn blackly tragic or comic in a heartbeat. There are no shadows, but plenty of places to hide – or bury a body – in this blinding white Wild West. Something direcotr Hans Petter Moland understands perfectly.
There’s so much to love here. The stoic, stealthy Stellan Skarsgard, the eerie, ambient, frozen landscape, the sweet comic bliss of seeing a criminal kingpin slowly unravelling… This is The Killing with a much swifter kick, Headhunters with a father and son heartbeat, OLDBOYon Ice. This film is bewitching, beguiling, Bruce Lee bastard cool, and then, just to top it all, the mighty Bruno Ganz turns up. Beautiful. Meticulously crafted revenge porn doesn’t come much better than this.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. Starring Simon Pegg, Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Nick Frost, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris.
THE PLOT: At night, the Boxtrolls come out of their home underneath the town of Cheesebridge and forage through the town’s rubbish for things they can use. When a young boy is taken by the Boxtrolls, the town is thrown into a state of fear, and Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is tasked by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) to rid the town of the Boxtrolls once and for all. It is up to Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) to convince the townsfolk that the Boxtrolls are not evil, but kind and gentle, before it is too late.
THE VERDICT: Laika – the animation house that brought us CORALINE and PARANORMAN – have created a reputation of making beautifully realised, warm and engaging stop motion animated films, and The Boxtrolls is no exception. The world of the film looks like a steampunkian dream, with wonderful clanking machinery, gaslights and tons of atmospheric fog. The Boxtrolls themselves are like Coraline or Norman; completely misunderstood by the world around them, while being fun, complex and warm.
The voice cast of the film reads like a who’s who of great actors; Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Futurama’s Maurice LaMarche all have roles in the film, with the voices of the Boxtrolls provided by voice acting legends Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Nika Futterman and Pat Fraley. Each gives a great performance; Kingsley oozes evil and sleaze, Ayoade captures the concerns of a henchman, and Pegg makes Herbert Trubshaw a funny and complicated character. Elle Fanning and Isaac Hempstead Wright provide the voices of the kids at the heart of the film, and they have wonderful chemistry.
The story, based on Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters! is one of misunderstanding and delusions of grandeur, of fear of the stranger and questions never asked, of fear and kindness, all of which blend together to create a warm and engaging tale with a huge heart and tons of not too scary scares. Kids and adults alike will be able to relate to the outcasts of the film – the Boxtrolls themselves – as they struggle to survive and as Eggs tries find a place where he truly belongs.
Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi have created a world that feels as though it truly exists; that if we stretched our hands out far enough we could reach out and touch the world of The Boxtrolls. The actors are carefully directed, giving the world a well rounded feel, and much of the comedy comes from flipping expectations on their heads, and some well timed words from the more mono-syllabic characters. Emotion and fear run hand in hand in The Boxtrolls, as do love and bravery, all of which come together to make a beautiful and heartfelt film.
THE BOXTROLLS is a gorgeous stop motion animated film that carefully balances the technology of 3D, beautiful sets and characters, and brilliant voice performances to make a steampunk dream come true. While it would have been nice to spend a little more time in the Boxtrolls’ world, this is place most audience members would be happy to revisit time and time again.
Review by Brogen Hayes

A MOST WANTED MAN (UK | USA | Germany/15A/122mins) 
THE PLOT: Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen Muslim, enters Germany illegally, and immediately arouses the suspicion of a German counter terrorism espionage team, led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As Issa tries to track down his father’s money, he becomes involved with immigration lawyer Anabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who the team soon use to their advantage in tracking down those who fund terrorism around the world.
THE VERDICT: Although A MOST WANTED MAN is not to be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final film, it is his last performance in a leading role, and for that, A MOST WANTED MAN is a film to be remembered. Not only is this the last time Hoffman will take centre stage in a film, but it is one of his best performances in recent years. Hoffman plays Gunther as a man with a certain weight to him; world weariness combined with a passion and skill for his job is what defines the character, and it is one that Hoffman throws himself into. Although he plays a German character, his accent is not over the top – the same goes for McAdams – and he captures the essence of a man who is willing to play the waiting game to get what he wants.
Rachel McAdams also has an air of stillness about her – although not as much as Hoffman – and she manages the German accent well. She brings weight and conviction to the role, without ever overplaying her hand. Robin Wright does the same in her role as a CIA agent but Willem Dafoe slightly overdoes it as a bank manager with secrets.
The story is based on a John le Carré novel of the same name, and is as much a slow burn as le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Lives of Others or any of the great espionage movies; James Bond this ain’t, and the film goes a long way to remove the glamour and glitz from the story. In this way, A Most Wanted Man reminds the audiences that espionage is often a drawn out affair, while allowing the tension to build.
Anton Corbijn directs with a steady hand, never allowing any one actor to dominate the screen – although Hoffman steals the show – while allowing suspicions, anger and fear to bubble under the surface. A Most Wanted Man is utterly gripping, for the most part; if there were to be a complaint, it would be that perhaps the story is allowed to burn too slowly, with some of the pieces remaining out of play for a lot of the film. This sometimes leads to confusion on the part of the audience, even if you have been paying attention.
In all, A MOST WANTED MAN is a fitting final film for Phillip Seymour Hoffman; his performance reminds us why he is such a loss to fans of great acting, and why he was such a powerful force to be reckoned with. The film is engrossing, but at times, can be slightly too slow on the burn.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

A NIGHTINGALE FALLING (Ireland/12A/110mins)
Directed by Martina McGlynn, Garret Daly. Starring Tara Breathnach, Muireann Bird, Gerard McCarthy, Brian Fortune, Elliot Moriarty, Rosemary Henderson, Andy Kellegher.
THE PLOT: 1920, and as the Irish Republican Army and the British Black and Tans are battling it out, sisters May (Breathnach, our narrator) and Tilly (Bird) are trying to keep the family farm together after the sudden death of their parents. The strong-willed May – the sort of woman who can rip an entire bedsheet into bandages in 5 seconds flat – is the brains of the operation, making sure that foreman Tom (Fortune) has all he needs to keep the farm from failing. Their struggles take a strange and strained twist though when an injured, unconscious British soldier ends up in one of their sheds, the two sisters deciding to nurse him back to health. Despite the fact that the Black and Tans are soon on the rampage, determined to find their fallen comrade. These Protestant sisters’ brave act may just be a foolish one, especially given that Tilly has been making eyes at Tom’s “wild and heady buck” of a son, Jackie (Moriarty)…
THE VERDICT: Winner of the Best Film gong at the Sky Road Festival in Clifden, A Nightingale Falling is adapted from PJ Curtis’ eponymous novel by his friends, husband and wife filmmaking team Martina McGlynn and Garret Daly. Done in the best possible taste, Nightingale is a good-looking movie – outside of the aesthetics though, there’s trouble in these Troubles. The sisters seem to be trapped inside a TV ad for an expensive jam, their home seemingly fitted out by Avoca Handweavers. Everything’s just a little too pretty, and subsequently, a little too Acorn Antiques. The melodrama verges on farce, and the amateur dramatics don’t help either. At times, it plays like The Wind That Shakes The Barley with all the bite taken out. Or Misery without the laughs.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Fred Wiseman. Starring Robert J. Birgeneau, Robert Reich, and, well, loads of students.
THE PLOT: Starting out in the autumn of 2010, we follow lectures and classroom discussions as well as administrative meetings at the University of California, Berkeley. With a decline in state investment (or “progressive disinvestment”, as it’s dubbed here), the university’s chancellor, Robert J. Birgeneau, is keen to find ways to cut costs at Berkeley, something the students are soon organising a protest against. In the meantime, life goes on, and on, in the university…
THE VERDICT: Something of an icon when it comes to documentary, the 84-year-old Fred Wiseman has now made 39 films, starting with 1967’s Titicut Follies (inspired by his time teaching a course in legal medicine at Boston University School of Law in the early 1960s), his most recent being 2011’s Crazy Horse, about the Champs-Elysees cabaret. So, you know, the guy knows what he’s doing. And how he likes to do it.
Which is, little or no information is given, just the subjects themselves going about their daily lives. The edit is a voice in itself, but Wiseman leaves much to our imagination and prejudice. And if four hours feels a little too much like detention, such a audacious running time basically forces us to think long and hard about what we’re watching. Smart.
Review by Paul Byrne