Thursday 18 January 2018

Film reviews

world war z cert 15a

padraic mckiernan, aine o'connor, hilary a white

Towards the end of World War Z, our hero Gerry (Brad Pitt) is sneaking past a zombie that's rhythmically thumping its head against a wall. After two dull hours broken only by sparse moments of inspiration, this monster and I began to form a bond of sorts.

On the face of it, Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Quantum Of Solace) adapts Max Brooks' horror novel with a broad scope, letting the viral zombie terror reverberate on a global level. After a title sequence of grainy news reports and shots of packed commuter trains, we're zapped straight into the happy home of ex-UN agent Gerry, his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters. Five seconds later, they're stuck in a city traffic jam that fast becomes apocalyptic bedlam as walking dead swarm, bite and multiply.

Gerry manages to get everyone to safety while liaising with his former UN top dogs. As society collapses around them, they escape a series of scrapes before being airlifted to an aircraft carrier. There, the retired Gerry is reluctantly drafted up for one last job, namely to investigating the source of the outbreak, save humanity and be home in time to tuck the kids in. Off he goes, first to South Korea, then Israel and finally Wales, picking up clues and dodging spectacular CGI waves of scrambling undead.

It should be a romp, but World War Z is quite uninvolving. Dogged with last-minute reshoots, it has a tacked-together quality. And then there's Pitt, whose mute expressions say more about his acting limitations than about his character's experiences in war-torn settings. Dust off that copy of 28 Days Later instead.

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You may not have followed the story of Gallic Celine (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) over their two-film romance, but it won't matter a jot should you decide to take in this chatty but top-drawer romantic drama from Richard Link-later. The events told in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) are touched on here and, while this film serves to complete a triptych, there is much to be enjoyed as a stand-alone work.

Novelist Jesse and wife Celine have been whiling away the summer on the Peloponnese in Greece. Jesse is charmingly flustered as he puts his son on a plane back to be with his mother in the US at the start of the film, before rejoining Celine and the couple's twins. They all troop out to the home of an elderly writer friend for dinner.

When they're gifted a night away from the kids by their friends, they're initially sceptical. They decide to give it a go, chatting continuously on the way. Romance, however, gets put on hold for the night as this first bit of freedom from parenthood is used to table the complexities and outlook of their relationship. They go too far and all hell breaks loose amid the soft Mediterranean hues.

Hardly a gripping plot, then, but the chemistry of the leads (who share co-writing credits), the natural tone of their dialogue and choreography, and the sheer likeability of their characters make for sumptuous cinema. Link-later keeps things handsome and gentle during long takes, very much wanting these to be real people; humorous, familiar and loving, but also irrational and prone to frissons of tension.

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America's mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers come under the spotlight in director Ric Roman Waugh's issue-orientated thriller, Snitch. If by the end of this less-than-gripping affair starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Susan Sarandon you haven't come to see these measures as a negative influence on American society, then this agenda-driven misfire will have failed in, arguably, its primary purpose.

Just look, the subtext is telling us – if it wasn't for these pesky laws, good folk like the character played by Johnson wouldn't have to do bad things so that good things could happen again. And if that synopsis sounds a tad on the simplistic side, it's only because I'm drawing off the tone established in this patronising piece.

Johnson takes the central role of John Matthews, a successful trucking magnate whose world is rocked when his adored son is busted by the Drugs Enforcement Agency after being caught in possession of a batch of ecstasy tablets. It soon transpires that his son had been set up by a friend but, unless he's willing to snitch on accomplices, a lengthy sentence in the state penitentiary awaits.

Enter a cartoonish Susan Sarandon ("liberals hate her") as a ruthless "dragon lady" DA running for Congress who makes Matthews an offer he's not willing to refuse. If he can deliver some high-profile drug kingpin and thus the publicity coup that can boost her election profile, she's willing to talk about releasing his son.

Unfortunately for him, this involves Matthews having to get down and dirty with some African American homies in the hood as well as Mexican boys in the barrio.

You don't have to be ideologically illiterate or indifferent to properly enjoy this piece, but it will certainly help. There are enough thrills and big explosions towards the conclusion to keep excitable types on board, but music video production values and a couple of unconvincing peripheral performances play havoc with engagement levels.

By the time the credits rolled, the lack of suspense was killing me.

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Fittingly, in the year of their reunion tour, the Stone Roses are making two cinematic outings as well. First came Shane Meadows' documentary about the band, Made of Stone, now Spike Island, a fictionalised version of what it was like to be one of their devoted fans.

A movement had been building in English music, centred around Manchester at the end of the miserable 1980s. Thatcher's reign was coming to an end and the poorest parts of a tough enough city were feeling a lift. The wave was cresting on May 27, 1990, when the Stone Roses were to play a gig in Spike Island near Liverpool.

This film is set in the 72 hours coming up to the concert when the five 16-year-old members of Roses wannabe band Shadowcaster (Elliott Tittensor from Shameless, Nico Mirallegro, Jordan Murphy, Adam Long, Oliver Heald) try to get tickets to a show no one can miss. Money is short, but hope springs eternal.

Chris Coghill's (who also plays Uncle Hairy) script contains a lot of coming-of-age/troubled-youth cliches in the back stories riddled with poverty, illness, violence and addiction and the drama centred around friendship, love, loyalty and idols. But this weakness also adds strength because it highlights that this movement, like any such movement, is not so much about the music but about how strongly it can make people feel.

Mat Whitecross's direction is very Nineties, slow-mo for off-your-face enjoyment, gimmicky graphics to show the hours count down plus all the horrible clothes and hair favoured by the Baggies. It's affectionate but unromanticised, drug use is rampant and indiscriminate, people are ugly and smelly looking. It's atmospheric and there's a passion to it. Plus the overwrought, overdone and slightly sad pride born of the success of bands like the Stone Roses in the downtrodden communities from which they came feels particularly resonant for Irish audiences.

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When he was 18, Ciaran Foy was attacked by a gang in hoodies armed with a hammer and a syringe in the Dublin suburb where he lived.

He says the scariest thing was that they had no motive. It left Foy with agoraphobia so acute he couldn't even look at his front door, and it was only when he got a place in the National Film School that he began to overcome the condition. He also turned it into his debut feature film.

Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) watches helplessly as his heavily pregnant wife is attacked by hoodied horrors. His wife dies, his daughter lives to survive with her acutely agoraphobic father. Befriended by a nurse called Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), he slowly ventures outside. But outside is horrible, a shabby council estate waiting for demolition. Marie suggests the hoodies are merely misunderstood, but a local priest (James Cosmo) sees it very differently and, as has been pointed out before, the liberal agenda has no place in horror. When his daughter is kidnapped, Tommy has to face his fears.

Filmed in Glasgow, the physical and emotional desolation of the people and landscape in Citadel are almost post-apocalyptic and it feels like a schlock 28 Days Later.

The pace is good and even, there's a strong sense of menace and a stronger one of isolation. There are plenty of squirmy bits, the social context alone is pretty terrifying, the child-under-threat idea can be pretty raw, too, but there are some good manufactured frights as well.

All in all, Citadel delivers and Foy has done a good job of projecting his personal horror on to a big screen.

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The immigrant experience is rarely told with as much beauty and heart as it is by debutante feature filmmaker/writer Andrea Segre.

In Shun Li And The Poet, the Italian takes two sides of a coin and forms one of the year's more unlikely and touching on-screen friendships.

Young poetry-loving mother Shun Li (Zhao Tao) works day and night to pay off the traffickers who helped smuggle her into Italy from China. Part of the condition is that her young son will be allowed to join her if she does as she's told. This entails being relocated from Rome to the Veneto lagoon island town of Chioggia to work as a bartender.

There, her clientele are made up of local card-playing fishermen and boorish ne'er-do-wells. Among the former group is lonely widower Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia) who himself fled to Italy more than 30 years ago from former Yugoslavia. A bond forms between the pair through a mutual love of poetry and long family histories of harvesting the seas for a living. Of course, problems arise when nosy associates from both sides get the wrong idea about Shun Li and Bepi's relationship.

In an age where it is fashionable to have ill befall central characters, Segre's story is a breath of fresh air. Using natural light, a delicate Francois Couturier piano score and two quietly mesmeric central performances, his story sees good deeds returned to two good people. It loses shape slightly in the third quarter when the film's horizon-gazing wistfulness subsides, but Segre ties up the loose ends in sweet-natured style, leaving a feeling that things could be so much better if we all took care of each other a little bit more.

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Irish Independent

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