Reviewed this week are Cold in July, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, Earth to Echo, The Golden Dream.
Oh dear. It turns out that meek middle-American suburbanites can become gun-toting, steel-eyed angels of death if the mood takes them. This is the fate of Richard (a be-mulleted Michael C Hall) in Jim Mickle’s vaguely preposterous adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s crime novel.
Downing a burglar one night when he hears footsteps in the sitting room, Richard is soon being intimidated by the dead intruder’s tough-as-old-boot-leather father (a show-stealing Sam Shepard). Between police procedural jigs and conspiratorial reels, it emerges that the pair have been duped and the man shot by Richard is not actually who police say he is. Lo and behold, Southern caricature and private investigator Don Jonson turns up to help them get to the bottom of things and go baddie-hunting.
On paper, Cold In July looks like a nicely atmospheric mix of Prisoners-like dark moralising and Bronson-y hard justice. The cast also looks formidable – Hall is hot property following Dexter and Six Feet Under, while Jonson’s powers of self-parody have struck gold before. So why, after a fine opening half, does the whole thing deflate so steadily? It must be something to do with the characters, who, apart from Shepard’s grunting old-timer, are not given enough reasons to prance so readily into the bloody finale. Also, writers Mickle and Nick Damici have an annoying habit of killing the noir with comedic one-liners. Genre hopping is all well and good, provided the thread running between is unshakeable.
With a staggering global box-office take north of €495 million, it was only ever a matter of when the original How to Train Your Dragon would deliver a sequel.
An opening voiceover from hero-waiting-to-happen Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) will fill in all the important blanks for those who missed the original.
Vikings and dragons still live harmoniously side-by-side on the “wet piece of rock” that is Berk but trouble brews beyond the watery horizon. Uber-baddie Drago (Djimon Hounsou) wants to harness the power of dragons and use it as a force for eventual global domination, an attitude that puts him on a collision course with unapologetic peacenik Hiccup.
With his faithful Night Fury dragon Toothless by his side and buoyed by a reunion with the mother he never knew, dragon whisperer-type Valka (Cate Blanchett), Hiccup is drawn inexorably towards the mother of all smackdowns between the fire-breathing forces of good and evil. Will Hiccup get to give peace or is it better to fight fire with fire? Observers of contemporary geo-politics are officially put on touchy-preachy alert.
Written and directed with admirable verve by Dean DeBlois, How to Train Your Dragon ticks all the important boxes required of top quality family-friendly animation.
With one or two exceptions, TV show migrations to the big screen tend to be vanity projects rather than dignified creative augmentations. Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is no different really, its remit to deliver a cinema-sized slice of the sitcom for its bafflingly vast legions of fans.
You certainly cannot begrudge creator/writer/star Brendan O’Carroll the success the show has had in the UK after his many years of slog but it remains unlikely that this typically crass-humoured, panto-ish outing will make many new converts.
O’Carroll and director Ben Kellett step out from the studio into Dublin’s inner city itself, dressing the capital in primary colours and a sunny sheen while peopling her with charmingly gruff fishwives and merry Moore Street stallholders. There’s a bit of a song-and-dance number before plot drama is installed by way of greedy southside developers (“boo”) and Russian gangsters (“hiss”) who are out to disrupt the proud street trader tradition.
As everyone runs around flapping their arms to try and thwart them, the fourth wall is lowered here and there in bemusing style. O’Carroll winks knowingly at the camera and outtakes are left in the screenplay, leaving glimpses of the fun had on set and providing respite from the hair-dryer strength mullarkey. Joe Duffy, Frank Kelly, ex-Ireland hooker Shane Byrne and (of course) June Rodgers join the usual cast members made up of Carroll’s real-life family and friends.
It’s tempting to dismiss Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie as a €4million odd inflation of O’Carroll’s award-winning ego but the truth is that it is very much fit for purpose, romping with potty-mouthed abandon and doing what it says on the tin. That said, if you are not yet inured to his Mrs Bleedin’ Doubtfire shtick, then steer clear.
Just in time for the primary school holidays lands the first of the big films aimed at tweens. This relatively low budget film was developed by Disney but, apparently unsure how to pitch it, they sold it to Relativity Media who are fairly clearly pitching it as an homage to ET, some of the posters even feature a pointing finger. ET, I hate to tell you, is 32 years old.
Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley), Munch (Reese Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Halm) are three young teenagers whose lives and friendship are facing upheaval. Under the auspices of building a highway, the Nevada authorities have requisitioned the land on which their homes are built. On their last night they trick their parents and head off on an adventure. Alex’s phone has been acting up for a few days, soon all of their phones are “barfing up” strange images. They work out the images are a map and cycle into the desert where they come across the rather cute little beeping alien they christen Echo.
Echo takes them, on their pushbikes, naturally, on a mission to recover his remaining lost parts, all the while dodging the attentions of a construction worker whose interest in their mission is not always friendly.
It is largely filmed in found-footage style. Tuck is determined to document their adventure through camera, spy glasses and phone so there’s plenty of shaky cam.
First time feature director Dave Green creates something like a mix between ET, Super 8 and the Goonies, and whilst it is simple and pretty much does what it promises, it lacks the richness of the films it references. The kids give great performances, although the clunky attempt to bring in a female character doesn’t really work, and it feels modern with all the tech stuff. There could have been more of the cute creature.
Films are generally aimed at audiences a little younger than the protagonists so this should please kids aged between 8 and 12 and with no violence, swearing or sex, it should please parents too.
Now showing nationwide
Working on film sets with the likes of Ken Loach, Oliver Stone and Alejandro Inarritu clearly taught Spaniard Diego Quemada-Diez a thing or two. His feature debut The Golden Dream (also called The Golden Cage) is a confident and unflinching look at a difficult issue.
The Golden Cage is a Mexican ballad about what life is like for those illegal immigrants who do manage to run the gauntlet of gangs and criminals and US immigration to make it into the US.
Teenage Sara (Karen Martinez) disguises herself as a boy and leaves her Guatemalan home with boyfriend Juan (Brandon López) and friend Samuel (Ramon Medina). Juan’s bluster sometimes just shows his fear and it is he who is unkindest to Indian Chauk (Rodolfo Dominguez) who attempts to join their group.
Travelling on top of trains from Guatemala into the vastness that is Mexico, where they are also illegal immigrants, the teens face an extraordinary selection of humanity, from the random kindnesses of food and shelter to the evil of gangs who prey on the rootless and rightless travellers.
The Golden Dream won the Jury Prize at JDIFF and the Un Certain Talent ensemble cast award at Cannes for the actors, almost all of whom were first timers.
Honest, interesting and well done it is not an uplifting film.