Friday 24 January 2020

Misfired jokes, and Irish eyes are crying

* Keeping up with the Joneses (12A, 105mins), 2 Stars
* Lo and Behold (No Cert, 98mins), 4 Stars
* Train to Busan (No Cert, 118mins), 4 Stars
* Wild Goose Lodge (12A, 160mins), 2 Stars

Nosey neighbours: Isla Fisher and Zak Galifianakas star in 'Keeping up with the Joneses'
Nosey neighbours: Isla Fisher and Zak Galifianakas star in 'Keeping up with the Joneses'
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Equally daft though not so po-faced, Keeping Up with the Joneses reminded me more than a little of 'Mr and Mrs Smith', the 2005 film that launched the brand of Brangelina (and look how that turned out). This entirely silly comedy is also set in the suburbs, and stars John Hamm and Gal Gadot as neighbours who aren't what they seem. Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen (Isla Fisher) are intrigued when Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) Jones move in next door. He's a travel writer, she's a food blogger, and their blithe accomplishments and blinding good looks earn them the admiration and envy of the entire neighbourhood.

But Karen soon becomes convinced that they're spies. Tim is very interested in the tech company where Jeff works, Natalie's too nice to be true, and when Karen begins spying on them, trouble ensues. Despite the odd moment, Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn't really work, and it's all down to the writing. Mr Hamm and Ms Gadot are perfectly fine as the impossibly handsome Joneses, Zach Galifianakis is less annoying than he can be and Isla Fisher is underused, but all are left high and dry by a very ordinary screenplay.

It was a good day when Werner Herzog decided to focus on documentaries, because over the last decade or so he's given us some real gems, from 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' to the sublime and unforgettable 'Grizzly Man'. In his latest intellectual adventure, Mr Herzog tackles a very recent invention that we all take for granted. Dreamt up in the 1960s as a means of digitally connecting the computers of American university dons, the internet only became widely available in the mid-1990s, but has since taken over the world.

In Lo and Behold, Mr Herzog considers the implications of this technological leap by talking to some of the internet's pioneers, to scientists who are using the web to make astonishing advances, and to victims of its dark underbelly. Mr Herzog thinks big, and some of his grandly philosophical musings - "can the internet dream?" - outstrip even the grasp of his expert interviewees. But his film is enjoyable, informative, humorous and eccentric.

If there's one thing cinema has taught us about zombies, it's that there's just no reasoning with them. In Yeon Sang-ho's horror film Train to Busan, an indifferent father is bonding with his daughter on a train journey when a plague of undead flesh-eaters engulfs the Korean peninsula.

As they pull out of Seoul station, the little girl gasps in horror as passengers on the platform are overwhelmed by a tide of zombies: the virus that creates them is exceedingly contagious, and someone carrying it has boarded their train.

How zombies are portrayed is a constantly evolving science: these ones, as is the fashion of late, move fast but are incredibly dumb, don't see too well and can be distracted by loud noises.

What Train to Busan does well is establish its rules and stick to them, and the director displays great ingenuity in turning the potentially confining setting of a speeding train to his constant advantage.

And finally, a brief word about Wild Goose Lodge, a period drama based on a true story, doggedly made over six long years by Paul MacArdle and William P Martin. It's set in County Louth in 1816, where a dispute between the IRA's precursors the Ribbonmen and a stubborn farmer led to a terrible atrocity.

TV stalwarts Dave Duffy and Joe Rooney beef up a partly amateur cast, and the story the film tells is an interesting one. But it should have been told more concisely, period dramas suffer on small budgets, and the whole thing feels a bit stagey.

Irish Independent

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