Monday 21 May 2018

Film review: Mike and Dave - not half as daring as it thinks

Cert: 16. Now showing

A child comes face-to-face with the titular character Pete's Dragon
A child comes face-to-face with the titular character Pete's Dragon

Aine O'Connor

The full title is Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, so there's a clue in the title. Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are brothers who have disgraced their family once too often.

For their sister's wedding they are ordered to find dates, the logic being that women will be steadying influences. The women they choose, however, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), turn out to be even more prone to wildness than the lads are, and are just looking for a free trip to Hawaii. An unashamed Wedding Crashers homage, as a comedy it has mixed fortunes - but is not entirely without appeal.

The writing team (Andrew Cohen and Brendan O'Brien) are Judd Apatow alumni who brought us Bad Neighbours, so there is a clue in the comedy style there. But while Bad Neighbours was funny in lots of places, Mike and Dave does not deliver the same laughs. First-time feature director Jake Szymanski allows his stars to improvise - but improv really can lead to some weird places when poorly managed.

It needs a strong hand to say when something doesn't work and, although there are laughs in this, most of the attempts fall somewhere between a bit and very flat. There's loads of bad language and a fair few sex gags, but that stuff is not inherently funny once you're over the age of 12 and it needs to be good to work. Much of this just isn't, and the film is really not half as daring as it thinks.

That said, the appealing cast save it from being too tedious - all four leads have comedic talent and there is a certain sweetness underlying the plot and relationships that improves the tone a lot. It does succeed in offering a twist on gender stereotypes and raises the issue of expecting sex in return for a ticket. The main message that comes across, however, is the sheer idiocy of spending so much money on a wedding, although the film does look oddly low-budget. How funny you find it is very much a question of taste.

2 Stars

Pete's Dragon

Cert: PG. Now showing

Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book update, Spielberg’s The BFG, and even the current Netflix frenzy over Stranger Things are all indicators that, no matter what age we reach in life, we will still go all gooey on the inside when we see a vulnerable young protagonist being empowered by a fantastical secret friend.

Like all those recent nostalgic offerings, David Lowery’s update of the 1977 Disney musical darkens the narrative fringes, because that is the fashion of these times. So, while the Pete of 40 years ago ran away from horrible foster parents into the arms of the giant cuddly fire-breather, this time around a tragic road accident kills his parents and abandons the toddler into the vast roadside woods. Not the cheeriest intro to a PG-rated film, you’d have to say.

We check back six years later to find the now feral Pete (Oakes Fegley) living an arboreal idyll with Elliot (the superbly rendered CGI dragon). The furry, flying creature is imbued with a charming canine loyalty that every dog owner will appreciate — but then along come big, dumb adults to ruin everything. These include Bryce Dallas Howard’s well-meaning ranger, who finds Pete and takes him in. Meanwhile, Karl Urban’s gung-ho logger and hunter happens upon Elliot and sets out to capture the beast and make a King Kong-style exhibition out of him.

Pete’s Dragon won’t be winning any awards for originality, but who cares when it does the simple things so effectively? Elliot doesn’t feel like a lump of green coding superimposed in, while the cast (with Robert Redford lending his stately tones to the wise grandpa figure) feel firmly committed to the cause. Location shots in New Zealand only add extra beauty to an already handsome adventure. 

4 Stars

Hilary A White

Valley of Love 

Cert: 15A. Selected cinemas

Nicolas Roeg's 1973 chiller Don't Look Now was a masterclass in melding profound adult grief - in that instance, the death of a child - with a woozy supernatural menace. It is unclear whether French writer and filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux actively sought out similar energies to that Venetian nightmare, but vague hints crop up here and there in this Death Valley psychodrama.

Whether it will be enough to secure a similar cinematic immortality remains to be seen - it did nab a Palme d'Or nomination and won a Cesar for cinematography - but Nicloux's film does have its arresting moments. Chief among these are those scenes when its two iconic Gallic leads (Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu) are floundering over a backdrop that is quintessentially American. It's quite the ambient device.

They play actors Gerard and Isabelle - two meta-fictional versions of themselves and a formerly married couple. Letters from their son, who has recently taken his own life, have instructed them to meet in the scorching California dustbowl and to follow a precise timetable at locations such as 'Badwater Basin' and 'Furnace Creek'. If they do these things, the son says, they will meet again.

Of course, the mysterious note is a veil through which to explore the pair coming to terms with both their own failed marriage and the messed-up relationship each had with the son. To this end, Valley of Love is a rather effective mood-piece, albeit with some overcooked attempts to pad out the dramatic space (largely gratuitous interactions with fellow resort goers, tantrums etc). Huppert and Depardieu (the latter wheezing and barely able to fit the screen ratio) play it straight in their first screen reunion since Loulou (1980).

3 Stars

Hilary A White


Cert 12A; Now Showing

I know a gaggle of teenagers eager to see this film, not least because there are relatively few movies pitched at that market. Although it's rather contrived, the characters clichéd and the message - a kind of Anonymous does Pokémon Go and Hunger Games - is somewhat mixed, it looks great, doesn't drag and should please the target audience well.

Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts) is a 17-year-old who dreams of escape from Staten Island but can neither afford it nor bear to tell her mother (Juliette Lewis). Best friends with local bad girl Sydney (Emily Meade), Vee decides to break with everyone's vision of her and play the new online game of dares, Nerve. There she meets Ian (Dave Franco) and a new version of herself, but it turns out to be a game that is not easy to leave.

Therein lies the contradiction - the game is portrayed as glamorous but the people who make and play it as dubious. So, message-wise, it is a little confused. However it captures some things well, like the notion of escaping the bonds of expectation. It's fun, fast and a great movie for teens.

3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Ingrid Bergman 

Cert: Club. Now showing in IFI 

There is a moment in this affectionate but mature study where we're played a 1938 test-reel taken by David O. Selznick. Ingrid Bergman had just arrived in the US and the great US producer wanted to examine the 23-year-old's screen essence. If ever you wanted to get a feel for why Hollywood fell helplessly in love with the Swedish starlet, you need only witness the short clip.

Perched on a couch, Bergman sparkles at the lens with an aura as natural as it is entrancing. Of course, there was more to the Casablanca icon than screen magnetism alone, and Stig Bjorkman's doc doesn't shy away from the headstrong Bergman, both on set (Hitchcock said she "took film more seriously than life") and off ("She went where the wind took her," recalls Pia, her daughter by her first marriage).

A strong supporting case is made for the three-time Oscar winner's complex profile through her own admissions, made in letters to family and friends (here used as narration via the similarly husky Swedish tones of Alicia Vikander).

It seems her personal life was something to be recalibrated in order to suit work demands, resulting in a string of infidelities (including director Victor Fleming and war photographer Robert Capa) while dentist husband Petter and Pia waited in the wings. Her scandalous affair with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini dented her public profile, especially in the US.

Pia and the three children she had with Rossellini (including actress Isabella) recall her fondly, despite her unapologetic refusal to stay rooted near them during childhood. Such sources and archive footage (much taken by Bergman on her trusty 16mm) lend this portrait valuable authenticity.

4 Stars

Hilary A White

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