Directed by Woody Allen.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Susan Pourfar, Ben Rosenfield.
THE PLOT: A self-confessed “extremist”, nihilistic – or is it just misanthropic? – philosophy professor Abe (Phoenix) waddles into Braylin College, long past any lust for life, despite his whisphered reputation for being something of a ladies man. It’s a whisper that gets fellow professor Rita (Posey) all hot and calling late at night with a bottle of Abe’s favourite single malt. But Abe has been impotent for over a year, and not even the besotted advances of practically-betrothed student Jill (Stone) can wake him from his sad slumber. It’s only when Abe and Jill overhear a bawling mother on the losing end of a fixed custody battle complain about a cruel judge that Abe suddenly finds a good reason to live. As he plots his own dose of justice, Abe’s lust for life, and for women, is firmly rekindled…
THE VERDICT: Playing like a mute Match Point, Woody is delves deeper into straight drama here, his lust for crimes and misdemeanours having produced some of his finest latter-day films. Then again, it’s hard to define what constitutes a latter-day film when it comes to Woody Allen, given that the little bugger is so darn prolific. One a year. Bejiggers, he makes Neil Young seem positively lackadaisical.
Some of the long-running obsessions remain, such as that old Pygmailion, tragi-comedy magic, with yet another jaded-verging-on-jaundiced professor turning one of his bright young mini-skirted things into a nymphomaniac with every swish of his corduroy hair. Here, at least, the older professor is played by someone under 95, with Allen surrogate Joacquin Phoenix no doubt still capable of lighting a few nerd chick fires, even with such a proud paunch. Stone fits the Allen muse role well, being another cute-as-a-button actress clearly keen to make smart-as-a-whip career choices. Posey is well-cast too. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Brian Helgeland.
Starring Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, David Thwelis, Christopher Eccleston, Colin Morgan, Chazz Palminteri, John Sessions, Tara Fitzgerald, Duffy, Shane Attwooll, Sam Spruell.
THE PLOT: London, the 1960s, and twins Ron and Reggie Kray (both Hardy) are make their mark. Generally on people’s foreheads, or through the heart, as the gangsters stake their claim to be kind of the pills, and the thrills, wiping out such famous rivals to the throne as George Cornell (Attwooll) and Jack The Hat McVitie (Spruell), along with any other gun-toting upstart stupid enough to live a life of crime free from the brothers’ grasp. Back at home, Reggie has fallen in love with Frances (Browning), whilst “odd man out” Ron is having a secret affair with Lord Boothby (Sessions), but the loving, and the pills, clearly aren’t working. Meanwhile, the inevitable American mafia connection comes through Angelo Bruno (Palminteri), who might just be able to show the brothers how to get being very wrong so right. Or then again, maybe not.
THE VERDICT : There is little doubt that the Kray twins are fascinating, if horrifying, people and even now, many years after their deaths, there are still mysteries that surround the two men and their actions in the London underworld. The story has been told on screen before, but this time out, it seems that the Kray twins have been undermined by two stellar performances from Tom Hardy.
Hardy is wonderful in the leading roles; charming, magnanimous and quietly frightening as Reggie, and tightly wound, volatile and violent as Ronnie. Hardy makes sure that the audience can always tell the difference between the characters and, while making Reggie reasonable but impatient, makes Ronnie unhinged and unpredictable. Emily Browning does not really have a lot to do – other than narrate the film in a slightly twee manner – but she is fine in the role of Reggie’s love interest Frankie. Christopher Eccleston has an even smaller role as Nipper Read, the police officer who pursued the Krays, and David Thewlis, Paul Bettany and Taron Edgerton turn up at various points in the film.
Brian Helgeland’s screenplay is based on the book ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins’ by John Pearson, but manages to fudge some of the details of the twins’ lives, or perhaps take liberties with the truth for the sake of drama. The dialogue is mostly fine, with Hardy as Reggie bringing much of the warmth to the film, but it is in trying to cover such a large chunk of the twins lives, through the eyes of only one of them, that the film stumbles and begins to feel episodic.
As director, Helgeland has coaxed a stunning performance from Hardy as both twins, but allows the other characters in the film to fall by the wayside. The film tries to focus on the strength of the relationship between Reggie and Ronnie, and the dissolution of the same, but in doing this through the eyes of an outsider – Frankie – the film loses coherence. Stylishly shot and a true period piece, there are times when the music choices in Legend feel a little too on the nose and this, coupled with the film’s scattered feeling, Legend becomes a film that could have been a great yarn, but instead becomes one based on strong performances.
In all, Legend is filled with strong performances – none moreso than Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie Kray – but seems more interested in creating a feel for the times than telling the story of the twins. This means the film ends up feeling scattered, muddled and, oddly, a little like a caricature of itself. Worth seeing for Hardy’s performances, but don’t expect legend to answer any burning questions about the Krays.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (USA/12/131mins)
Directed by Wes Ball. Starring Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Katherine McNamara, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Nathalie Emmanuel.
THE PLOT: It’s still the end of the world, or thereabouts, and lead Glader Thomas (O’Brien) and his fellow teen maze survivors have been taken to an industrial underground lair, the suave Janson (Gillen) promising them all they’re about to be brought to the promised land. They just have to sit tight, and each will eventually be called. Thomas has his suspicions about this particular paradise confirmed when another maze survivor, Aris (Lofland), shows him where the daily chosen ten actually end up – hanging on hooks as they’re harvested for their old friends WCKD (aka World Catastrophe Killzone Department). Naturally, Thomas leads a dramatic escape, and these fiesty teens are soon battling demons and reflecting on life, love and the promised land as they trek across a post-apocalyptic America…
THE VERDICT: It’s a franchise that might as well be redubbed The Meh Runner, given just how pedestrian, and largely aimless, these mid-budget adaptations of James Dashner teen novels have been so far. Plainly hoping to get a little of that Twilight and Hunger Games box-office lovin’, The Maze Runner franchise will no doubt give everyone involved a wage, but it’s far from being the worldwide franchise hit Fox would have hoped for. And on the strenght of The Scorch Trials, its audience is likely to get smaller rather than bigger.
The plotting is pure videogame, as out small team of teen survivors face dangerous set after dangerous set, fighting off zombies, the military and, most frightening of all, sidewinder Aidan Gillen. The Irish actor is the king of playing snakes in the grass – so much so, you pretty know from the start that this good Samaritan is the devil in chic clothing. “I’m tired of running,” states leading man Dylan O’Brien at one point, and by the end of this achingly so-so movie, so too will you. RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Paul Byrne
M. Night Shyamalan has had a hat trick of disappointments in recent years. The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth all suffered from being too ambitious and not having enough of the originality for which the playful director has become known for. There’s a sense that he lost his mojo amid the excesses of Hollywood filmmaking. So, it’s a pleasure to report that his independently-produced and studio-released new film, The Visit, is a clear return to form.
The set-up is deceptively simple, but nothing is simple in Shyamalan’s world. Mother (Kathryn Hahn) comes into contact with her parents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) for the first time in 15 years. While she takes a holiday, she thinks it’s time for her two teenage children to meet their grandparents. Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, while her precocious brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) wants to be a rapper. They decide to document their time at Nana and Pop-Pop’s house, as the family comes together again. Settling into a week with their grandparents, Rebecca and Tyler soon notice some very odd and disturbing behaviour by both Nana and Pop-Pop. Nana runs around the house at night scratching at the walls and Pop-Pop hides something in the shed and likes to put a shotgun in his mouth… Just what is going on?
The story came to Shyamalan gradually while recovering from an operation after a knee injury. It’s a clever concept, turning the oft-used theory of scary children on its head. How about scary old people this time? Their behaviour could just be eccentric… or is there something more sinister going on? The presence of Blumhouse’s logo at the start of the film would suggest a supernatural aspect and there are hints… but Shyamalan likes to play with audience expectations.
He has that Spielbergian quality to him about film being a communal experience in a darkened room with other strangers. He is the audience as much as the director. He creates some genuinely creepy, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, well-choreographed and lit by Maryse Alberti. It’s not a found footage film (we’ve had too many of those), but an unsettling documentary of sorts. The two kids in it are excellent, driving the story while remaining funny and terrified at the same time. It’s great to see Shyamalan return to unpredictable filmmaking where nothing seems certain. A dark fairytale of sorts, The Visit is by turns wryly humourous, scary, disturbing and brimming with the director’s mischievous imagination. Welcome back, Mr Shyamalan. We missed you.