Reviews – New movies opening September 26th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE EQUALIZER, MAPS TO THE STARS and I ORIGINS…

THE EQUALIZER (USA/16/131mins)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis.
THE PLOT: “You gotta be who are, no matter what,” says Washington’s stoic, strong, largely silent Robert McCall to Chloe Grace Moretz’s bedraggled teen prostitute Teri at his regular latenight diner. When Teri ends up battered and hospitalized by her Russian pimp, Robert tracks down the Russian Nights escort service HQ in order to negotiate Teri’s freedom. Only things get a little out of hand. Which tends to happen when you’re dealing with a retired government killer like Robert McCall. And the good deeds don’t stop there. Soon, other damsels in distress find their problems have been solved – sometimes with a sledgehammer, sometimes with just a well-aimed ninja jab – without so much as a Tarzan cry. Brick by brick, body by body, our boy is going to methodically reek revenge on behalf of the helpless victim…
THE VERDICT: Having taken that Liam Neeson turn 13 years ago from Serious Actor to Serious Ass-Kicker with TRAINING DAY (this 2001 debut collaboration with director Fuqua earning Washington his second Oscar), and hitting it hard with Tony Scott’s gleefully violent MAN ON FIRE and Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER, Denzel Washington is a pretty dab hand at this cool, calm and collected killer stuff. And as Neeson’s action man splurge has begun to wobble and wane (A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES bombing in the US last week), Washington looks poised to become Hollywood’s favourite fatherly knight in shining armour. It helps too that the man has basically become a Morgan Freeman every man, woman and child wants to shag. Based on a popular American TV series that ran for four seasons back in the late eighties, THE EQUALIZER embraces rather than tries to hide its cliches, resulting in the sort of guilty pleasure that makes you giggle under your breath. Still, you got to feel for Jason Statham, what with all these Oscar-winning heavyweights muscling in on his B-movie revenge porn territory.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

MAPS TO THE STARS (Canada | USA | Germany | France/18/112mins)
Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cuasack, Olivia Williams.
THE PLOT: Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in LA to meet Carrie Fisher, her Twitter friend. On the way to her lodgings, she asks to stop at the home of teen star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). It’s not long before Agatha becomes the PA to fallen actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), and both women realise they are haunted by the ghosts of the past.
THE VERDICT: Julianne Moore channels the like of Liza Minelli and Lindsay Lohan, as she struggles to step out of the shadow cast by her famous mother – and struggles with addiction and mental illness. Moore makes Havana utterly unlikeable, but there is a trace of something within the character that makes the audience root for her, ever so slightly. Mia Wasikowska has proven time and again that she is an actress capable of great depths, and this is true for her performance as Agatha; Wasikowska makes Agatha shy and reserved, yet constantly hints at something darker going on under the surface.
Thank god John Cusack has stepped away from the terrible film choices he made in the last few years, and actually seems to have fun playing the egotistical and dangerous Stafford. Olivia Williams dials up the manic fragility as Hollywood super mom Christina and Robert Pattinson parodies the typical Hollywood chauffeur as Jerome. While all of these performances are strong, it is with the young Evan Bird that things start to fall apart, with his performance feeling wooden and forced.
The story, written by Bruce Wagner, is part ghost story, part mental illness tale and part Hollywood horror tale – so it feels a lot like Clive Barker’s COLDHEART CANOYON. While everything comes together in the end, there are times when the film seems to meander through its own timeline, unsure of where it is trying to end up. That said, the repeated use of Paul Eluard’s poem LIBERTY adds some romanticism and mystery to the film, and brings in the idea that each of these tragic people is searching for something or someone that is just out of their reach.
David Cronenberg directs with his typical off-kilter style, allowing Maps to the Stars to exist in a heightened world – perhaps even more heightened than Hollywood itself – which in turn, allows ghosts and death and shadows to fall across the film. While most of the performances are strong, the pacing of the film does leave a lot to be desired, since inconsequential events are drawn out, and the ones that matter whiz across the screen at lightning speed.
MAPS TO THE STARS exists in an unreal world filled with ghosts, madness and death. Initially messy and often badly paced, the film comes together in its final act to paint a tragic portrait of Hollywood Dreams gone very very wrong.
Review by Brogen Hayes

I ORIGINS (USA/15A/105mins)
Directed by Mike Cahill. Starring: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey 
Ian (Michael Pitt) is a research scientist who has always had a fascination with the eye, so when he meets – and loses – Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) at a costume party, he tracks her down using the photos he took of her eyes. After a tragic accident, Ian and his lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling) start tracking down iris scans from people around the world, and uncover something that defies scientific explanation.
Michael Pitt plays Ian as a romantic man whose experience of the world around him is deeply rooted in what can be seen and proved. Pitt makes Ian a gentle but passionate character, whose life view is completely at odds with Sofi’s. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey plays Sofi at the manic pixie dream girl end of the spectrum, which is completely fine, and she does a great job with the character. The good news is that the film has the common sense to realise that characters like Ian and Sofi would not be together forever and ever; their views are simply too different. Brit Marling rounds out the central trio as Karen; a woman who falls somewhere between Ian and Sofi on the science vs god argument, and Marling plays the role with her usual sense of weight and charm.
The story, written by Cahill, has a central idea similar to ones we have seen before, the difference here is that Ian, as the film’s sceptic, is the voice of reason for the audience, but is is in fact the last to be convinced of the evidence of his eyes. Cahill observes both the romantic and academic passion well, and the chemistry between Pitt and his female co-stars is sparkling and bright.
As director Cahill fares slightly less well; leaving it far too late in proceedings for the miraculous element to be introduced, which means that the second act of the film feels sluggish after the energetic feel of the first. The film picks itself up again in the final act, and the end scene is one that is both moving and startling. Cahill has coaxed strong performances from his cast however, and they are a joy to watch on screen.
I ORIGINS is a smart and engaging sci-fi romance. The title gives the idea that this is another featureless dystopian tween film, but in truth, I Origins is a film filled with curiosities and, like Cahill’s previous work, does not talk down to the audience by giving them all the answers. Pitt, Marling and Bergès-Frisbey shine and, although the film’s pacing leaves a lot to be desired, I ORIGINS is an engaging and rewarding watch.
Rating: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

HUMAN CAPITAL (Italy | France/TBC/111mins)
Directed by Paolo Virzì. Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, Guglielmo Pinelli, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fabrizio Gifuni and Giovanni Anzaldo
THE PLOT: Based on Stephen Amidon’s novel of the same name, HUMAN CAPITAL takes a look at the events that lead up to a road traffic accident, and how the choices of three people, from two different families, bring them all to a heartbreaking conclusion.
THE VERDICT: The cast, as a whole, give fantastic performances; Valeria Bruni Tedeschi plays the weary and bored actress-turned-housewife Carla, Fabrizio Bentivoglio plays Dino, a man more obsessed with appearances and statues than the value of his own – and other peoples’ – lives and Matilde Gioli rounds out the central trio as Serena, Dino’s daughter who is living a double life for the sake of appearances. The rest of the cast is made up of Guglielmo Pinelli, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fabrizio Gifuni and Giovanni Anzaldo.
Although it seems usual for great foreign language books to be made into English language movies, it seems unusual that HUMAN CAPITAL has gone on the opposite journey, Stephen Amidon’s novel is set in Conneticut, but the movie version has been transplanted to Italy. This actually turns out to be a great idea, as no-one does borderline melodrama, and ostentatious wealth quite like the Italians, so the movie suddenly has a layer of depth that was – presumably – absent from the book. The story is actually a rather simple one, but in telling three peoples’ stories individually before weaving them together, screenwriters Paolo Virzì, Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo have created a slow burning thriller that, while predictable in parts, keeps the mystery on the boil for much of the film. Splitting the narrative into the tales of the characters gives the audience a chance to get to know the people at the heart of the film, and keeps the thriller element of the film a live.
As director, Paolo Virzì allows the audience to deduce details about the story, but very much keeps us guessing until the last moment, about the true outcome of events. That said, there are times where the film runs out of steam a little, and the mystery goes a little off the boil as the story becomes engaged with subplots, rather than the vein that keeps the film together. There are also times when it seems that one character’s story is completely unnecessary, but this is swiftly resolved in the finale.
HUMAN CAPITAL casts an eye on the value of human life through the eyes of the rich, the wannabes and those who see people, not profit. The film is a great slow burn with fantastic performances, that siffers a little though a lack of focus and some strange pacing. When it all pulls together however, HUMAN CAPITAL is a great thriller filled with mystery and intrigue, that makes fantastic use of splitting the narrative; it’s pretty clear that this film would have been found lacking if it had used a linear format.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. Starring: Billy Connolly, David Tennant, Rosamund Pike
THE PLOT: Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) take their three kids on a holiday to Scotland, to visit Doug’s father Gordy (Billy Connolly), to celebrate Gordy’s 75th birthday. During the course of the trip the kids struggle with the idea of lying to their grandfather about their parents’ impending divorce, and old tensions flare up when the kids take matters into their own hands.
THE VERDICT: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY may have a terrible title, but it is actually a rather sweet – if totally over the top – look at the twisted nets that families weave around themselves. Davis Tennant and Rosamund Pike both do a great job of playing parents whose marriage is on the rocks, but have decided to put on a front for the sake of an elderly and unwell man’s feelings. Both manage to capture the feel of a couple who can do nothing but argue when they are together, even though they adore their kids and are truly not bad people when they are apart. Billy Connolly brings some perspective to life as the ailing Gordy, and his scenes with the kids are a delight to watch.
The three kids, played by Harriet Turnbull, Bobby Smallbridge and Emilia Jones completely steal the show; it is obvious that they were given a lot of room to ad lib their lines, but this only serves to make the film warm and sweet. The fact that one has pet rocks, one is obsessed with the Norse god Odin and one is deeply paranoid and worried about every detail of life rounds the characters out nicely.
The story, written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – the people behind the BBC show OUTNUMBERED – is a little on the silly side, with the kids taking matters into their own hands when life takes an unexpected turn. That said, although there is more than one moment where things err on the side of the mawkish and the silly, tragedy leads to the characters finally seeing the error of their ways.
As directors, Hamilton and Jenkin allow the kids to take centre stage, with back up from Connolly, and their scenes together are a joy to behold. The rest of the cast come off weaker – Pike and Tennant the best of the lot – with the rest of the ‘grown ups’ little more than stereotypes brought to life.
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY is a sweet if surreal and over the top film that makes stars out of the three young leads. Connolly shows a surprising level of tenderness, and Pike and Tennant do well with what they’re given. The message of the film may be over simplified and a little saccharine, there is a warm heart beating at the centre of WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY that makes up for some slightly clichéd choices.
Review by Brogen Hayes

IDA (Poland | Denmark/TBC/82mins)
Directed by: Paweł Pawlikowski. Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza.
THE PLOT: Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novitiate nun is on the verge of taking her vows, when she is sent out of the convent to meet her aunt; her only living relative. Wanda (Agata Kulesza) tells her niece that she is actually Jewish, and her parents were killed in the war. Wanting to see where her parents are buried, Ida takes Wanda on a journey across Poland that uncovers dark secrets about the family she never knew.
THE VERDICT: Agata Trzebuchowska is mesmerising in the titular role; her stillness and seeming desire to be unseen by the world only increases our – and the camera’s – desire to observe her. Agata Kulesza plays Wanda as a woman hardened by her experiences, seeks love in the wrong places but who still has a caring heart, and Dawid Ogrodnik plays Lis, a gentle and sensitive soul.
The story, as mentioned, is one that we have heard tell of before; a young woman forced to accept that everything she thought was true has actually got a shadow across it, and the fallout from this revelation. The difference with Ida, however, is the stillness that comes from having a deeply pious protagonist. There are very few arguments, and although emotions run high, they are quickly stilled. The dialogue is minimal, so much of the communication in the film is non-verbal, adding to the silence and stillness of the film, and adding weight to the seriousness of the central character.
Paweł Pawlikowski directs with a steady and confident hand, allowing silnce to happen, allowing the camera to be static much of the time, and allowing many of the shots to almost looks like still images. Beautifully and crisply shot in black and white, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is often deliberately off kilter; showing characters in the corner of the frame, or having them swamped in their surroundings. This serves to highlight the fact that something is not right in Ida’s world, as well as reinforce the fact that Trzebuchowska is a young woman with presence, as the audience – and the camera – is consistently drawn back to her.
In all, IDA is a familiar tale told in a beautiful and engaging new manner. Trzebuchowska is magnetic in the lead role, but an equally strong supporting cast surrounds her. The cinematography is beautiful and, while there are times when the film lacks surprises, this also serves to make a comment about Ida and the world she inhabits.
Review by Brogen Hayes