Death of a Superhero

Comic Book Guy – ★★½

A young adult dying from cancer doesn’t seem like a laugh a minute but with Death of a Superhero it’s the humour that makes the piece worthwhile. Donald Clarke (not the Irish Times film critic) is played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and finds it harder to carry on with the illness feeling devoid of any control in his life. With what looks like attempted suicide, Donald’s parents call in the services of Dr. Adrian King (Gollum, sorry Andy Serkis) in an effort to get Donald to cope with his inevitable end.

One of Donald’s coping mechanisms is drawing his own comic book character; a nameless hooded figure and his nemesis The Glove, a representation of the cancer eating away at Donald. These are interesting segues into the film, making it more palatable to the audience and easily conveying the workings of Donald’s brain. Enter Shelly (Aishling Loftus) as the brilliantly smart and sexy new girl in school and we have the love interest. A concern of Donald’s is his virginity and the fact he still has it. This results in one of the funnier sides to the film when his friends embark on a quest to find a women to satisfy their friend. So when the first female to show an interest in him and not be scared off by his disease agrees to go out with him, things are starting to look up.

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Seven Psychopaths

Peace, love and understanding – ★★★

Everyone’s a psychopath or so Martin McDonagh would have you believe in his latest offering to the silver screen; Seven Psychopaths. Colin Farrell is Marty, the successful screenwriter with writer’s block and his only friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is hell-bent on inspiring him no matter what it takes. 

Billy is in the dog kidnapping business with his good friend Hans (Christopher Walken) but when they kidnap Charlie’s dog (Woody Harrelson, the dog isn’t played by Woody, the film isn’t that odd) it unleashes (geddit!?) a scenario that just so happens to make for an enjoyable two hours. With Marty unable to pin down the bones (I’ll stop now) of his latest script the events unfolding in front of his eyes means the story writes itself.

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Great Expectations

Some larks but no depth – ★★½

Into the West Director Mike Newell has turned his hand to Dickens and although he’s got the look and feel right, he seems to have forgotten the heart. Style over substance leaves you wanting more after an already long running time.

What follows is a two line summation of Great Expectations; Pip (Jeremy Irvine or Toby Irvine as Pip the younger and also Jeremy’s little brother) is taken in by Lady Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter) to play with Estella (Holliday Grainger or Helena Barlow as Estella the younger). Having sampled wealth Pip is distraught at having to return back to work with Joe (Jason Flemyng) as a blacksmith’s apprentice. When Pip discovers he is to become a gentleman due to an inheritance he is delighted and under the guidance of Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) embarks for London.

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Celeste and Jesse Forever

Trying for the best of both worlds – ★★★

Celeste and Jesse Forever is built on an impossible dream. A break-up where the two participants remain the best of friends and go about all the usual social functions of a relationship except for the really coupley stuff like sleeping together and arguing.

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Silver Linings Playbook

Crazy Love – ★★★★½

David O’Russell’s latest film is a story of two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year, running over the same old ground. Hold on now… No… that’s a Pink Floyd song… Eh

Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solatano, a man who lost everything after attacking the schmuck who was having an affair with his wife. He escaped prison with a plea bargain that saw him spend eight months in a mental institution. His mother and father (Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver and Little Fockers’ Bobby de Niro) take him in as he fixates on reuniting with his wife, despite her holding a restraining order against him. That is until the arrival of Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, a recently widowed young woman with issues of her own…

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End of Watch

Camcorder cops – ★★★

End of Watch director David Ayer first came to prominence with his script for Training Day,  which gave us Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance as the corrupt and captivating Detective Alonzo Harris. Ayer has also directed the under-appreciated Keanu Reeves vehicle Street Kings and been involved with a range of other films that feature the Los Angeles Police Department and life in the darker corners of the City of Angels including S.W.A.T., Dark Blue and Harsh Times. It’s safe to say he really digs the complexities of the LAPD and knows how it can and should be presented on screen.

In End of Watch (Ayers’ first screen-writing credit in seven years) we get Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two bubbly young cops (Officers Taylor and Zavala respectively) with ambitions beyond their regular beat who run into trouble when they unwittingly uncover a drug gang’s collection of guns and money leaving them firmly in the criminal’s crosshairs.

The film’s opening voice-over, its title (a term used by police officers to describe a colleague killed in the line of duty) and the work done at establishing the relationships that drive these officers hints to us early on that things may not end up quite so happily ever after. This sense of foreboding tension is heightened by the fact both men have found love in their personal lives with Zavala marrying his high-school sweetheart and Taylor eventually finding a woman who combines brains with beauty in the shape of a cutesy Anna Kendrick. While their women are important to them, it’s the bromance and their strong mutual bond of camaraderie and loyalty that underpins the entire film.

| o | – This would look great in 3-D

2012 saw “found footage” continuing its slow take-over of the horror genre (V/H/S, The Devil Inside and the Paranormal Activity and [REC] sequels all fared OK at the box office). But away from the scares and screams it is also being used much more in traditional narrative features with Chronicle continuing in the post-Cloverfield big action-movie mould, the upcoming indie King Kelly and now Ayer’s End of Watch.

It’s unfortunate then that it’s this found footage element which is undoubtedly the film’s biggest problem. Gyllenhaal is making a documentary for some sort of school credit which is never really explained and is really just a contrived way of explaining why the officers have cameras on their lapels and all around their car. Ayer’s rules are broken repeatedly in the opening twenty minutes as we’re shown shot after shot that is much better quality than a crappy clip-on camera and clearly didn’t originate from either of the officer’s cameras. It is a big enough problem to slow down your enjoyment of the film as you are left puzzled as to where the shots came from and why the film has suddenly started looking like an PS3 first-person-shooter.

As well as crap cinematography, the found footage element is also an excuse to dispense with normal plot development as we just jump from set-piece to set-piece. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but when the characters are this good and enjoyable to be around, you kind of want to see some of the pivotal moments in their lives. The bests scenes in the film are when Taylor and Zavala are in their car just shooting the breeze, which is a credit to the writing.

All in all End of Watch feels like a missed opportunity. Ayer may well be getting bored of making LAPD films and can only get into it if he latches onto a gimmick like he has here. If you can put all that stuff aside it becomes clear that he has created two great characters very much in the “good cop” mode and aside from a few clichéd villainous gang members, the film gives a solid picture of life on the wrong side of the tracks where law enforcement officers are just considered an inconvenience and a minor part of the food chain.

USA  /  Directed By: David Ayer  /  Written By: David Ayer  /  Starring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick  /  109min  /   Crime, Drama   /  Release: 23 November 2012 (UK/Ireland), 21 September 2012 (US/Canada)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

The many faces of Isabella Swan – ★★★

Dylan Moran said that a woman’s life is like a constant opera with masks falling to the floor throughout your life whereas men have one finger up their nose, the other hand on their dick and they get taller. This pretty much sums up the Twilight Saga.

We pick up two days after the end of Breaking Dawn Part 1, so newcomers beware there isn’t any recapping. Bella (Kristen Stewart) has survived the ordeal of child birth and being turned into a vampire by her one true love Edward (Robert Pattison). Her first hurdle is coming to terms with how Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted (a process where a werewolf commits to one person for the rest of their life) himself on her newborn daughter. This isn’t as creepy as it sounds and doesn’t cause much consternation. Where the tension comes from is the Volturi coven, lead by Aro (Micheal Sheen) who see Bella and Edward’s daughter Renesmee as a threat to all vampires.

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The Master

The Devil in Disguise – ★★★★★

To say Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film The Master is merely about Scientology would be doing it a disservice. It is an expertly crafted examination of the human condition and our need to belong, find identity and create a path in life.

The war is over and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is back in society trying to find his place. Too dependant on home made hooch and his fists to settle a problem, he finds himself adrift only to be brought back to land by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is the master of a “cause” which believes we have all lived for many thousands of years and our present day bodies are only the vessels we inhabit at the moment. The two are drawn in some hope of finding truth and the limitations of man, but whether they can do this together is the real unknown.

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Amour (Love)

Amour screened as the opening film of the 2012 Irish Film Institute’s French Film Festival. Read our preview of the festival here and visit the official site at ifi.ie/FrenchFest for screening and ticketing info.

Dying with dignity – ★★★★★

Austrian director Michael Haneke’s latest film Amour tells the story of Anne and Georges (character name staples in his work being used in Caché and Funny Games amongst others), a couple of retired music teachers living comfortably in their Paris apartment. Their married life change irrevocably when she suffers a stroke and he takes on the role of carer.

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Alps (Alpeis)

Mirror Image – ★★

Dogtooth’s director Giorgos Lanthimos has ventured once more into the realm of disbelief with Alps, the tale of a troop of people pretending to be your dead relative to aid in the grieving process. 

I’ll hold up my hand and say I didn’t like Dogtooth, it was an interesting concept with some novel ideas but in the end was too disjointed with an infuriating ending. One of the positive things about Dogtooth is that it intrigued me and caused a response even if it was negative. Alps doesn’t even manage this, again we have an intriguing notion but is incredibly bland and monotonous in its execution.

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Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

Whales and fighting and other weird things – ★★★½

Rust and Bone is the latest offering from A Prophet director Jacques Audiard and deals with amongst other things – performing killer whales, bare-knuckle street fighting, worker surveillance practices, France’s custody and welfare policies and the emotional and physical issues encountered when you lose both legs. Crikey.

Everyone’s favourite mumbling soft-spoken Frenchie Marion Cotillard plays Stéphanie, an Antibes-based whale trainer who loses both legs in a tragic accident. She encounters Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) a drifting 25-year-old boxer who arrives in town to get his sister to help look after his young son while he searches for work. Their union is an unlikely one, but thanks to terrific performances from both leads we buy into the idea quite quickly with each of them giving the other what he or she needs most in life – Stéphanie to feel wanted and not treated like a cripple, with Ali looking for stability and structure.

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Sister (L’enfant d’en haut)

He ain’t heavy… – ★★★★

A tale of a young boy stealing from the rich and privileged at a ski resort to support himself and his sister has much more to offer than the usual art house film. 

Kacey Mottet Klein plays Simon a modern day Oliver who will certainly pick a pocket or two to get along. Skis are the currency and Simon can make good money re-selling them second hand in town. He lives with his sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) in a dingy tower block below the Alps. Simon is the chief bread stealer with his sister drifting through life unable to find any stability. With both being independent they must try and learn how to cope within the confines of their relationship.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

When the Levee Breaks – ★★

Not since Oliver! have we seen such a rose tinted view of poverty and the struggles of the dispossessed. Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film is a hodge-podge of scenes and half finished ideas depending on saccharine emotions to tug at your heart strings.

Hushpuppy is an only child living with her ill father Wink in the Bathtub, a community on a Louisiana bayou made up of waifs, drifters and raconteurs. They eke out an existence living on chicken and shellfish. Hushpuppy’s mother is nowhere to be seen and when her father wonders off for days at a time she must fend for herself by any means possible. Melting ice caps and rising waters threaten to drown the Bathtub community and they must decide whether to hold up or flee to safety. To add to the drama mythical creatures called Aurochs (think scary versions of Pumbaa from The Lion King) are thundering towards Hushpuppy.

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Argo

The Great Escape – ★★★★★

Argo is Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort after the under-appreciated Gone Baby Gone and the Boston crime drama The Town. Both those films had their problems but it was clear to all that Affleck really had a knack for this directing game and should be placed on a nice fat retainer by Warner Brothers to reward his solid “American” movies.

The plot for Argo is downright daft and every reviewer under the sun has mentioned how we’d be ripping it apart for plausibility if it weren’t based on true events from 1979. They are all correct.

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Stitches

You’ll die laughing….doubt it – ★½

Ross Noble, Ross Noble, Ross Noble , Ross Noble that famous “oddball” comedian stars in Conor McMahon’s new feature Stitches. So anyway Ross Noble plays the clown Stitches who comes back from the grave to kill those pesky kids who kinda, sorta, but not really, killed him 6 years ago. Got it? Good, oh and Ross Noble is in it.

The film is pretty terrible from the get go, you can’t help but feel that you’re watching a strange cheese strings commercial. Stitches (Ross Noble) turns up late, tut, to Tom’s 10th birthday party and after being suitably harassed by the bunch of terrors a series of events combine to leave poor Stitches (Ross Noble) face down in a dishwasher with a knife through his head. After Tom witnesses a Wicker Man style clown ritual he becomes traumatised and flash forward 6 years into the future and he still hasn’t come to terms with Stitches’ (Ross Noble) demise.

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Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Afro Circus – ★★½

Ben Stiller and the gang are back in the third instalment of the money-spinning Madagascar series. Devoid of structure, plot or real life lessons it still packs enough jokes and bright colours to keep the tots entertained.

Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still stuck in Africa for about two minutes before arriving at Monte Carlo. How did they get from Africa to Monte Carlo? Don’t know and who cares it’s a kids film. This is the over-riding sentiment of the film, massive plot holes along with no explanation of many elements. Once in Monte Carlo they meet up with the penguins who are trying to accumulate enough funds to fix their plane in order to get back to the familiar surroundings of New York.

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Skyfall

Bond on the run – ★★★★

Believe it or not, it’s actually been four years since we last spent a few hours in the company of Jimmy Bond. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s been less than that due to the pre-release coverage that MGM and Columbia have been shamelessly pushing over the last two years. The tools and medium may be changing but the promotional cycle seems to have been the same for every new Bond since Pierce Brosnan relaunched the franchise with 1995′s Goldeneye…

  • Confirmation of Bond actor and discussion of his big fat salary
  • Bond girl speculation and hiring. She’s an unknown. But kinda hot. Fair enough.
  • Director brought on board (usually a cost-effective action-specialist who knows his place)
  • Slew of on-set photos published as tabloid newspapers go to town on sexy shirtless Bond
  • Analysis of all the sponsorship and product placement deals that will pepper the film
  • Complete Bond brand bombing. 2012 Summary – you need to be wearing James Bond aftershave while watching Sky Movies 007.

It’s a well-trodden path that means absolutely everyone on the planet knows when there is a new film in the series. If you’re sad obsessives like us Spoooolers then it means your consumption of regular AND film media is dominated by the character and makes it almost impossible to approach release day without fatigue and with fresh eyes.

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Room 237

room 237 What is truth - ★★★½

What is truth – ★★★½

With one seemingly unbelievable theory after another, Room 237 presents the numerous interpretations people have compiled over the thirty plus years since The Shining’s release. While some are certainly coincidence or bad continuity you can’t help but wonder, given the genius of Stanley Kubrick, if there isn’t more to this than first appears.

Rodney Ascher has painstakingly compiled a conspirator’s handbook for The Shining ranging from the credible to the down right insane. We look at the symbolism of the holocaust, the genocide of the native American population, Greek mythology and even have time for the 1969 moon landing. What sets Ascher’s documentary apart from most is the total lack of talking heads. He uses scenes from the film inter-cut with other Kubrick classics to tell the story, enabling him to pause, highlight and contrast the points the voice-overs are making. Some might see this as a dangerous move but it’s quite clever as without the talking heads we can focus on the core issue of the film, without having to constantly cut back and forth to whoever is setting out their argument. Many of the reasons for talking heads is to grandstand about who you were able to get for your documentary. With this work the contributors are largely unknown and by not seeing them we are unable to dismiss them as mere cranks or crazies.

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Ginger & Rosa

Ginger and Rosa Elle Fanning

Girls just wanna have fun – ★★★½

British film-maker Sally Porter’s seventh feature in a 43 year career sees her telling the story of two young teens inhabiting a time of personal and political turmoil in 1960s London.

Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert, daughter of Jane Campion) play the inseparable duo who were born just as nuclear weapons ended one war in 1945 and were coming of age just as another nuclear wave of worry spread across the developed world in 1963. Both come from dysfunctional families but it is Ginger’s on which we focus. Christina Hendricks plays her mother and Alessandro Nivola plays her father, a free-thinking writer named Roland. Annette Bening’s May and Ginger’s dual godfathers Mark and Mark II (a delightful Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) provide emotional support away from the pressures of a collapsing marriage.

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Frankenweenie

Burton brings old story back to life – ★★★★★

Has Tim Burton turned away from remakes and come up with an original idea? Not quite. However he has managed to create a beautiful love letter to classic horror movies and for that he must be commended.

Back in 1984 Tim Burton made a live action short of Frankenweenie starring Shelley Duvall, Sofia Coppola and Barret Oliver (The Never Ending Story) which concerned the story of a young boy who brings his dead dog back to life. 28 years later he’s returned to it, only this time it’s in the form of stop-motion animation. Thankfully he has kept it black and white making it the first grayscale film to be released in IMAX 3D. The first thing that strikes you while watching is the sheer beauty of the piece. The elegant subtle shades stand out so crisp and clean, making you sit back in awe of the film’s design.

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