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Cinema review: The Stag stays the course

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Peter McDonald and his co-stars in The Stag.

Peter McDonald and his co-stars in The Stag.

Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

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Peter McDonald and his co-stars in The Stag.

Welcome to the Ireland of John Butler's The Stag, where a gang of urbane sissies are sitting about drinking merlot and planning the dream wedding.

Getting hitched are Fionnan (Hugh O'Conor) and Ruth (Amy Huberman). Foppish Fionnan has no intention of going on something as crude as a stag weekend, and is more interested in overseeing the flower-arranging at his upcoming nuptials. Ruth, however, wants him out from under her feet and instructs best pal Davin (Sherlock's Andrew Scott) to organise for Fionnan and his yuppy pals to experience the "wilds" of Co Wicklow.

Fionnan comes around to the idea but is then struck cold by the prospect that he must also invite brother-in-law The Machine (Peter McDonald), a kind of D4 Tyler Durden (a character from the novel Fight Club). They set forth with designer outdoors gear and The Machine is the cat amongst the pigeons, opening their eyes and teaching them a few lessons, all the while inducing groans with his spontaneity and love of chaos. Nakedness, close calls and confessions ensue.

John Butler's 2011 novel The Tenderloin was a pitch-perfect coming of age tale that marked him as a writer of real potency. With The Stag, he both writes and directs for the first time; the results are highly commendable.

Character-driven via a great ensemble cast, the humour is nuanced and unforced, while Butler's dialogue bobs and weaves deftly. What The Stag also succeeds in doing is not merely dishing up an Irish version of The Hangover and instead stays a course that balances its own brand of hearty silliness with some cuddly life morals. Light farce, then, but not of the throwaway variety.

Cert 15A

HAW

Now showing

Editor's pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Cert 15A

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HISTORICALLY incorrect, geographically dubious and factually...er.. fictitious, Wes Anderson's latest comic caper, The Grand Budapest Hotel does little to diminish its director's credentials as celluloid's foremost sultan of surrealism. It could be that Anderson will in the future make a film that can be properly reviewed without recourse to the description "quirky", but this enjoyable romp most definitely is not it.

Featuring a stellar ensemble cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and a host of Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, the story unfolds through the recollections of Mr Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham) the owner of the magnificent Budapest Hotel. Located in Central Europe in a place that was "once the seat of an empire," the hotel has seen better days, but still retains a certain stately allure.

An extended flashback narrated by Moustafa brings us back to the mid-1930s when he was a lowly "lobby boy" and the hotel was an exclusive Mecca for Europe's elite. Enter Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) as the legendary concierge famed as much for his attention to detail as his attention to the erotic desires of the many rich dowagers.

When one of the latter croaks, leaving Gustave a priceless Renaissance painting in her will, Gustave, together with the young Zero (Tony Revolori) find themselves swept into a dramatic ripping yarn involving "homicidal psychopath" Willem Dafoe, murderous family member (Adrien Brody) and Jeff Goldblum as a cat-loving lawyer. There's a nice comic cameo from our own Saoirse Ronan.

Anderson's customary lavish production values render the spectacle a visual treat while a quality script maintains decent momentum. Exceptional performances abound but Fiennes steals the show. Though a little light in mainstream appeal, and unlikely to dispel the oft quoted criticism that Anderson is a director who favours style over substance, The Grand Budapest Hotel merits consideration amongst his best work. When the style is this scintillating, only the tedious will check for substance.

PMcK

Now showing

Under the Skin

Cert 15A

UNDER the Skin opens with an eye, humanoid but not human. Next we see a motorcyclist speeding through what will later emerge is rural Scotland. He retrieves an inert woman from the roadside and delivers her to a white space where the owner of the humanoid eye (Scarlett Johansson in a dark wig) undresses the body, puts on her clothes and assumes her identity. As Scarlett walks away a tear slides from the body's eye.

In the book on which the film is loosely based the creature was called Isserley and she hunted handsome human males for her own delectation. Here, the creature, who has no name, drives around Glasgow, in the areas possibly not chosen by the Scottish tourist board. She asks directions of men, but her real objective is to ascertain if there is anyone waiting for these men so that she can lure them away.

Those who decide to go home with her end up suspended in blackness and goo. A scene on a beach reveals she has no feelings or empathy towards her human targets, but some kind of feeling steals in and the creature is lost in the forest in the snow in what we can only assume is an alien existential crisis.

Although Under the Skin screams allegory, it's hard to see for what. Every time that tedium threatens to take over there is enough action or interest to pull the film out of a navel-gazing abyss. However, unusually for director Jonathan Glazer whose music video history is obvious in his usual visual strength (he made Sexy Beast and Birth) the film becomes visually dull, and this adds to an overall feeling of drabness. It has appealed to quite a few reviewers, but not me.

AOC

Showing from Friday

300: Rise of an Empire

Cert 16

SPEARS, sandals and CGI six-packs were the oft-parodied ingredients that put 300 in the public consciousness in 2007. Zack Snyder's hulking, super-imposed adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel took almost half-a-billion dollars at the box office, but the snarling, ultra-violent waltz through the Battle of Thermopylae was celebrated and derided in equal measure.

With King Leonidas and his 299 Spartan chums having died gloriously, Rise Of An Empire switches over to what was happening out on the open water during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480BC. Athenian hero and general, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), is trying to unite Greece to fend off big bad Persian king Xerxes and his vast hordes. Helping Xerxes is the wily, lethal Artemisia (Eva Green, kohl-eyed as ever) who has it in for the country of her birth. With introductions, flashbacks and rousing speeches out of the way, the two sides meet out on the Aegean and go at it spectacularly.

It's very much a comic-book take on the Graeco-Persian wars, amped up in terms of fantasy value, mass destruction and plausibility. Rise Of An Empire, however, is the better film as it involves a more eventful and expansive passage of that saga. It doesn't need to strut about waiting for a climax as 300 did, and punctuates its set pieces with stage-setting intrigues that keep it motoring.

Of course, gory flamboyance is the order of the day and much is slowed down to near bullet-speed for extra breadth. Castwise, no one is stretched that hard – Green does lascivious and cunning in her sleep as Stapleton chews broken glass. But fans of epic fantasy action with a side order of Game Of Thrones menace will have lots of fun.

HAW

Now showing

Zero Theorem

Cert 15A

At this stage of Terry Gilliam's career perhaps he should consider the broader ramifications of having to shoot films on a very low budget. Apart from practical issues like the inevitable low spend on effects and costumes, the speed of shoot and lack of location, he might need simply to ask why it's so difficult to muster more generous funding.

In the not-so-distant future, in a shabby metropolis that feels like London (but was in fact a stage in Bucharest) Qohen (Christoph Waltz) is an unwilling company man. Instead of crunching numbers he crunches entities for Mancom, run by Management (Matt Damon), but although he likes the work, Qohan really just wants to be at home in his deconsecrated church waiting for The Call.

The Call, he believes, would offer meaning to his whole existence, an existence haunted by the possibility of nothingness. He is finally allowed work from home on the Zero Theorem, some kind of proof that everything is nothing.

However, interaction with his manager Joby (David Thewlis), a cyber sex worker Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) and the boss's whizz kid son Bob (Lucas Hedges) alters Qohen's vision.

With wafts of 1984 and looking like the future Gilliam created in Brazil, the film feels like a dysfunctional hybrid. I found it difficult to get invested in – even with the usually engaging Waltz in every scene. Hardcore Gilliam fans might find some pleasure, however.

AOC

From Friday

Reviews by Hilary A White, Padraic McKiernan and Aine O’Connor


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