Reviews – New movies opening September 5th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including SEX TAPE, THE GUEST and BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP…

SEX TAPE (USA/16/94mins)
Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Nat Faxon, Giselle Eisenberg, Harrison Holzer, Sebastian Hedges Thomas.
THE PLOT: Their passionate, non-stop loving-making now a distant memory – thanks to the arrival of their kids – Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) have begun to wonder where all the good bedtimes have gone. Taking their inspiration from the self-help guru Kim Kardashian, the couple decide a sex tape could be the answer to all their bedroom woes – especially if they work their way through the unabridged version of The Joy of Sex, and it’s smorgasbord of sexual positions. Naturally, instead of deleting this successful sexual stimulant, Jay hits the wrong button and sends it into ‘the cloud’. Where it will be available for all to see. Including the boss (Lowe) of a toy company that’s considering putting Annie’s mothering blog on the payroll…
THE VERDICT: Okay, it’s time for Cameron Diaz to pull her s**t back together. And put it all back in her drawers.
There was a time – right around that moment when she was dancing deliriously, bedeviled by her own wiggling tush, in CHARLIE’S ANGELS – when Ms. Diaz seemed like the beautiful bastard child of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. These days, she’s more like Sharon Stone with a funny bone.
Of course, as mutton goes, Cameron Diaz is one of the finest, but the likes of BAD TEACHER and this equally below-the-belt career wet patch leaves this once shiny, happy comedienne coming across desperate rather than devilish.
It doesn’t help, having the wooden third banana Jason Segel as your co-star, this painfully unfunny lowbrow/high-concept comedy making Kevin Smith’s ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO look positively pucker. Like so many sex tapes, this is one limp flick.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE GUEST (USA/15A/99mins)
Directed by Adam Wingard. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry, Jason David Moore.
THE PLOT: When a soldier turns up at the Petersen’s house, claiming to have served with their son – who died in Iraq – the family welcome him with varying degrees of warmth. It is not long, however, before David (Dan Stevens) has won the family over, but when a series of deaths occur – seemingly connected to the mysterious soldier – Anna Petersen (Maika Monroe) begins to get suspicious about David, charming though he is.
THE VERDICT: When reading the synopsis for The Guest, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a by the numbers horror flick, with little new to offer. The truth, however, is that THE GUEST lovingly sends up the great 80s mystery/horror flicks, while being a surprisingly funny and engaging thriller.
Dan Stevens steps away from his most famous role in DOWNTON ABBEY, to play a soldier with secrets that he wants to keep. Playing rather like a Ken doll with a taste for blood and a strong sense of loyalty, David becomes a comedically creepy character, but never one that you would feel safe laughing at. Maika Monroe takes on much of the rest of the film, playing the slightly wild, but rightly suspicious daughter of the family. Monroe plays the disaffected teenager well, and is a great foil for the seemingly perfect David. The rest of the cast is made up of Joel David Moore, Candice Patton, Sheila Kelley and Ethan Embry.
The story is designed to unsettle the audience from the start; why would a soldier turn up on the door of a friend’s family unannounced? From there, the film begins to feel a little like Season Four of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER – the one with the super soldiers and the government plot – with a sprinkling of DRIVE thrown in – through Stevens’ performance and some great 80s tunes – for good measure. This may not be a completely original idea for a film, but the script feels natural, there are some great one-liners and the final action sequence is so ’80s and over the top that it is hard not to love the film.
Director Adam Wingard plays up the intentionally campy elements of the film, making THE GUEST a hilariously sinister experience. Dan Stevens embodies the super soldier who feels and acts more like a robot than a human being, and is surrounded by people we know from our own lives; the burn out, the girl with the bad boyfriend, the girl with loose morals. Of course, the cloches are played up, but there is an air of mystery and menace that pervades the entire film, turning what could easily have been a caricature of a bad ’80s movie into an homage of the great horror thrillers that have gone before. There are times where the tone of the film gets a little garbled, but this quickly gives way to a fantastic campy flick.
THE GUEST is a silly and over the top experience, filled with mystery, menace and dark comedy. The film gives nods to the great campy horror/thrillers of the past, while blending together some of the greatest elements of BUFFY and DRIVE. There are times where the film feels a little jumbled, but soon sorts itself out, blows away the dry ice, and gets on with the camp bloodfest.
Review by Brogen Hayes

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (USA | UK | France | Sweden/15A/92mins)
Directed by Rowan Joffe. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Anne Marie Duff, Colin Firth
THE PLOT: Christine (Nicole Kidman) awakes every morning with no memory of her life before she was in her 20s. Now in her 40s, Christine was the victim of a violent incident 10 years previously that caused her anterograde amnesia, and, with the help of Dr Nasch (Mark Strong) she is trying to recover her memory and get to the bottom of what happened to her. When memories start to return, Christine is plagued with doubt and new fears about who she can trust.
THE VERDICT: Based on the best selling novel by S. J. Watson, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP feels a little like 50 FIRST DATES meets MEMENTO, with a little less of the Nolan thriller and a little more of the Adam Sandler movie thrown in to balance it out.
Nicole Kidman manages to leave most of her usual kinks and quirks at the door for her performance as Christine, and it is through her eyes that we see the film. Kidman has not quite regained her glory days in terms of acting prowess, but she is believable, and gets the audience on her side. Mark Strong treads his usual line between good and bad, and it is in part his performance that keeps the audience guessing. Strong is far less manic and obviously evil than we have seen in a long time, and he manages the role of Dr Nasch with grace and ease. Colin Firth rounds out the central trio as Christine’s husband Ben. Firsth’s performance is careful; allowing Ben to be a caring and gentle man, with just touches of a man who is only just holding on to his temper and violent tendencies.
The script, adapted from the novel, by Rowan Joffe, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a carefully rendered and tightly wound thriller. The dialogue is, at times, a little hokey, and the deus ex machina ending is more than a little twee, but Christine’s days are carefully woven together, allowing the audience a glimpse into the character’s terrifying world. As director, Joffe keeps the pace of the movie galloping along, meaning that the audience is given time to make their own theories about the person who attacked Christine, but the twists come fast enough to keep us guessing. That said, everything falls apart in the final act of the film, where the line between friend and foe becomes horrifically blurred and cliché rattles in to save the day. Still, there are some nice Shining-esque touches to the cinematography, and Anne-Marie Duff’s performance as Claire is a vice of reason in a disordered world.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is two thirds of a great thriller, the twists and turns come fast, keeping the audience on their toes, but the final act is sloppy and breathlessly trite. Kidman is the weak link in the central trio – and still gives her best performance in years. Firth and Strong tread the line between calm and rage with grace.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (India | United Arab Emirates | USA/PG/122mins)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon
THE PLOT: When the Kadam family loses everything in a fire, they leave their native Mumbai behind. Finding themselves in a small French village, they decide to do what they are best at; run a restaurant. The trouble is that 100 feet across the road is Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) Michelin Star restaurant, and she is not too pleased about having competition
THE VERDICT: Those in the audience who have seen any of Lasse Hallstrom’s films will have an idea of what’s in store with THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, those who were expecting something new and exciting, or innovative from the director may as well give up now.
The story is one that Hallstrom has told a million times before; a fish out of water has to find a way to survive in an unfamiliar world. The Kadam family are earnest enough in their desire to open a restaurant, but between Papa Kardam (Om Puri) being completely unwilling to adapt to the world he finds himself in, Mansur (Amit Shah) trying to bully his father and his whole family to be anything but the people they are and Madame Mallory (Hellen Mirren) being the stereotypical stubborn French woman, the film never really stood a chance.
The performances are fine – taking out Helen Mirren’s disastrous and borderline insulting French accent – and the town that the film is set in looks pretty. There is also a germ of a good idea in the story – the clash of culture between east and west – but this has been done before, and in much more endearing ways. As well as this, the film is a food film, a romance, a rivalry film, a culture clash story and a story of racism… So much is going on that the film never really has a chance to form an identity, and as such, The Hundred-Foot Journey never truly becomes anything at all. As soon as the audience has an understanding of what’s going on, the film twists out of our grasp.
As director, Hallstrom makes THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY so familiar and laden with sweetness, that it soon becomes trite and twee. Emotion is sucked out of scenes due to people behaving in a way we assume the character would not, and there is literally fireworks between two people at one point. No really, literally. Still, the cinematography is nice, and foodies will appreciate the attention to detail.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a film that has no idea what it’s trying to be, and so ends up a tonally confused mess. The story is overly sweet, the characters act totally erratically and have no respect for one another, and the plot has more twists and turns than it knows what to do with. Another typical Hallstrom affair, but without any of the emotion that (almost) made the others work.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Daniel Schnecter. Starring Yasiin Bey, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Ansiton, Isla Fisher, John Hawkes.
THE PLOT: Criminals Ordell (Yasiin Bey – AKA Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) come up with a plan to make some quick money; kidnap Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a rich man who has made some questionable investments, then retire on the ransom money. Their plan goes awry however, when it is discovered that Frank (Tim Robbins) plans to divorce Mickey, and may not pay the ransom money.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, LIFE OF CRIME feels a little like AMERICAN HUSTLE Lite. The film centres around an elaborate crime, with those involved constantly switching sides and loyalties. The cast is a strong one, but they are let down by a script that feels at once too thin and too convoluted.
Jennifer Aniston takes a welcome step away from the toothless comedies she has been involved in of late to play Mickey, a woman in a loveless marriage who finds herself kidnapped. Aniston leaves all her quirks to one side, and allows Mickey to be a rather thin, but engaging character. Yasiin Bey plays a rather clichéd character, but one who has his own moral compass, John Hawkes is a gentler soul and brings some sympathy to this kidnap dramedy. Will Forte has a small role as a man besotted with Mickey, Tim Robbins taps into his cruel and angry side as Frank and Isla Fisher plays a scheming character – not unlike her role in THE GREAT GATSBY – and does well with what she is given.
The cast of the film do well, but they are let down by a muddled script. We are tossed between three different points of view, and loyalties switch so often and so fast that it is hard to keep up at times. There is a feel of American Hustle about the entire affair – perhaps this is because of the temporal setting – but a thinner and less engaging version of the same. That said, the film firmly has its tongue in cheek – with one of the kidnappers being a Nazi fanatic, how could it not? – and has fun with the scattered and messy story it tells.
Director Daniel Schechter appears to rely on sets and costumes for the film’s style, and it is really only in the final moments of the movie that it comes into its own. That said, the chemistry between the couples in the film – Aniston and Hawkes, Robbins and Fisher – is engaging, and it is always fun to watch criminals turn on one another when things go wrong, even if their motivations are not always clear.
LIFE OF CRIME is a fun but slight imitation of American Hustle. The central cast struggle with how little they are given to do, but manage to keep the film moving. Aniston reminds us of her talent for drama, Hawkes shines through gently, and Robbins and Fisher make an entertaining double act. It’s just a shame that this fantastic cast is let down by an uninspiring script and lacklustre direction.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

WATERMARK (Canada/IFI/92mins)
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky.
THE PLOT: After a long, long blacked out silence, suddenly, there’s water, water everywhere, as wave after wave gushes forth in slow motion. But will we soon get to the point where there isn’t a drop to drink? That’s the main argument of this beautifully-shot documentary, as we visit spots such as Mexico’s Colorado River delta, the Ganges, ‘step wells’ in Rajasthan and gargantuan dams in China. Photographer Burtynsky is on a mission to find out where water has gone, and where it’s going, basking the beauty and exposing the horror…
THE VERDICT: Reuniting after 2006’s Manufactured Landscapes – with art photographer Burynsky this time sharing directing duties – our eco-conscious duo here deliver a coffee table book with a sting in its tale. Only the sting isn’t all that noticeable amidst all the stunning images.
Unsurprising perhaps, given that Buirtynsky’s travels here are largely centred around his recently published art book, Water, which, like the film itself, has been criticised for being all style and very little content.
And the look of Watermark is certainly striking, a major leap forward from Manufactured Landscapes into an area sprearheaded by the likes of Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Samsara (2011). It’s the arguments that get a little lost in the National Georgraphic love-in, although our suspicions that we’re all going to hell in a dust-covered handcart for messing with Mother Nature hardly needs to be said, right?
Review by Paul Byrne