Wednesday 13 December 2017

Beautifully made but less said about Kevin the better


Padraig McKiernan and Hilary A White

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Cert 16

THE nature versus nurture debate is brought to the next level courtesy of We Need to Talk About Kevin, director Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel. Is it possible to be the apple of your parent's eyes and still be rotten to the core? On the evidence presented by Kevin, the title character in this dark and disturbing tale the answer is very much in the affirmative.

That said, the use of the plural with regard to "parents" might be unfair to this troubled teen. Played with convincing malevolence by Ezra Miller, Kevin can do no wrong in the eyes of his affable father (John C Reilly) but his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) is less indulgent.

The movie's startling opening sequence is mostly set in the present after a Columbine-style slaughter somehow has rendered Eva a hate-figure among her small-town American neighbours. It turns out they have their reasons, as flashbacks reveal.

We eventually learn this atrocity was committed by Kevin and the main body of the film centres on the various family milestones that occur in the lead-up to this heinous crime. Think Beelzebub as a member of The Brady Bunch for a fair appraisal of what transpires. Family pets dispatched in the waste disposal? Pranks that result in his sister losing her eye? You don't need to be familiar with the work of parenting expert Dr Spock to know that this wasn't going to end well.

So do we really need to talk about Kevin? Well, not for very long, I'm afraid. Ramsay is an accomplished director and the film is beautifully made but there's a cartoonish quality to Kevin's characterisation that left me wondering whether "So I Mothered an Axe Murderer" might have been a more appropriate title. It seems only fair to say that this film has been critically acclaimed but despite the compelling nature of the subject matter the overall sense is of an unimportant movie masquerading as an important one.


Opens on Friday

Real Steel

Cert: 12A

According to an explanation by lead character Charlie (Hugh Jackman), society got fed up with all the safety concerns of human pugilism and turned to robot boxing as a way to accrue maximum violence in the ring without anyone getting hurt.

It's a plausible premise given the fervour of the gaming fraternity as well as man's insatiable need to watch gladiatorial bust-ups, but this new Disney/DreamWorks release succeeds by exposing a soft-centre under the metallic exoskeleton.

Charlie is a former boxing champ whose career was ended by the advent of robot boxing. Now a travelling showman, he competes in rodeos and fairs with a fighting robot and dodges debtors in what is understandably an expensive occupation.

When the mother of his estranged 11-year-old son dies, Charlie spots an opportunity to capitalise off the wealthy in-laws who want him to legally release the boy into their care. A cash deal is shaken upon and Max's (Dakota Goyo) new guardians agree to begin his adoption on their return from a trip, leaving Charlie forced to mind the son he never particularly wanted. Max inevitably finds a clapped-out bot and a bond slowly forms as they equip the not-so-mean fighting machine for a shot at glory.

The CGI and set-pieces are first class, but Real Steel never relies on them because its priority is to tell a charming father-and-son anecdote. Jackman is natural and rounded as the opportunist locating his human side after too much time spent with machines and Goyo's precocious pup makes for an energetic foil. All the sports/family drama essentials are covered, but it's never nearly as corny as the packaging suggests.

A pleasant surprise.


Now showing

Dolphin Tale

Cert G

IN keeping with the spirit engendered by its intentionally punny title, it's worth mentioning at the outset that director Charles Martin Smith's Dolphin Tale is not a tall tale. Starring Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr and Kris Kristofferson, this family-friendly feature is a cheesy tale. It's a cliched tale. But there's a redemptive sequence of real-life footage at the conclusion that succeeds in dragging the experience out of the realm of the borderline drippy and into the realm of the surefire inspirational.

Dolphin Tale focuses on the story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin washed up on a Florida beach after her tail becomes tangled in a crab trap. She's found by Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a cute but lonely 11-year-old who's got his own problems. Abandoned by his father at an early age, he's just said goodbye to his cousin and hero Kyle (Austen Stowell), a US private being posted to Afghanistan.

Sawyer forgets his troubles long enough to have Winter saved and brought to a marine rescue centre run by Connick Jr. The good news is that under their care, Winter is nursed back from the brink. Alas, her tail has to be amputated and while the operation is a success, complications surrounding the application of a prosthetic tail mean that Winter is destined for the dolphin equivalent of the glue factory unless prosthetic guru Dr Cameron McCarthy (Freeman) can devise a more dolphin-friendly prototype.

This is the cue for a move to a Flipper-type scenario that sees Winter and her new friends involved in a race against time to ensure a feel-good finale can be snatched from the jaws of a deflating one. Naturally, dare I say it, there is a sting in this... eh... tale.

Described as a "splash hit" in the States, Dolphin Tale is worthy of a similar reception here. Winning performances together with the uplifting storyline combine to create an experience that succeeds in its objective of leaving no heartstring left untugged.


Now showing


Cert: 15A

Fred Daly (Colm Meaney) is home after years in the UK, but he's found nothing back in Dublin except unemployment and social welfare obstacles. Seeing him revisit his nice suburban childhood home is an indicator of his fall down the social ladder; Fred has now become what is known in the US as "mobile homeless", meaning he lives out of his car. He is organised and methodical about his new situation, unlike his car-park neighbour Cathal (The Adventures of Merlin star Colin Morgan), a 21-year-old drug addict who has opted out of life.

Fred befriends Cathal and the two rub off on each other. Meanwhile, he meets music teacher Juliana (Finnish actress Milka Ahlroth), who is a way out of this life. The question is: will he be able to overcome his crippling shame about his living arrangements and come clean with her?

Fred's struggle to maintain his dignity amid destitution is the real talking point of Parked, this award-winning Irish/Finnish production from debutant Darragh Byrne that tries not to wallow in the gloom by accentuating any available shafts of light for the two principal protagonists.

Meaney can do "put upon" in his sleep while Morgan is commendable as the snaggle-toothed Northsider. Our director is never too cynical of this modern Ireland either, preferring to reimagine the capital with gospel choirs and Scandinavian water-aerobics classes rather than depict an economic dystopia.

Taken as a mood piece, it is aurally vibrant, and the woozy, hand-held or slightly over-exposed shots make for engaging viewing. Parked, however, is perhaps 30 minutes too long, and has little else to say beyond the aforementioned dignity moral. It slumps into melodrama too often, and the dialogue can sound forced and threadbare.


Now showing

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