Friday 13 December 2019

Movie reviews - cuddly Dublin rom-com lacks chemistry

Brian Gleeson and Jessica Pare in Standby
Brian Gleeson and Jessica Pare in Standby
Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in Third person

Hilary A White, Padraic McKiernan and Aine O’Connor

Reviewed this week: Standby, Set Fire to the Stars, Third Person, The Drop, Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey

Standby Cert 15A 

Richard Curtis has plundered hearts and tear ducts for years by telling tales of waspish boys-next-door being swept off their feet by US Disney princesses. For every Hugh Grant or Domhnall Gleeson, there's a Julia Roberts or Rachel McAdams there to parachute in and save them from themselves.

Brothers Rob and Ronan Burke are therefore entitled to try something similar in cozy Dublin. After all, have we not an over-abundance of awkward, overly polite mammy's boys and patient US students with perfect teeth?

Fitting the mould are Brian Gleeson (of the Gleeson acting dynasty) and "Mrs Don Draper" herself, Jessica Pare. Gleeson shrugs and sighs as Alan, an airport tourist desk clerk and rockabilly singer. One typically humdrum day at work, he runs into first love Alice (Pare) and the Burke brothers make us squirm as a fist-bitingly awkward catch-up ensues. It seems the pair had a romance back when Alan was over on the J1, but for some reason he fled to return to Dublin. God intervenes, Alice is stranded and Alan obeys his gut and brings her on a cutesy-wutesy nocturnal odyssey of our capital.

Standby may not do for this Gleeson what Curtis' About Time did for his brother but it is still very fit-for-purpose as cuddly carry-on. There are goofy sidekicks (take a bow Francesca Cherruault and John Lynn), serendipitous plot turns and a melt-in-the-mouth finale. Yet for all Pare's toothy charms and Gleeson's good-natured bumbling, a tangible chemistry between them feels absent. More's the pity.


Now showing


Editor's Pick: Set Fire To the stars Cert Club

The academic and poet John Malcolm Brinnin brought Dylan Thomas to America in 1950 for a speaking tour of theatres and campuses, the event having a marked effect on both men. For the iconic Welsh poet and hell-raiser, it was easy money, a break from his combustible marriage, and a fine place to exercise his love of wine, women and song. For Brinnin, however, it was a nightmare trying to herd the portly, booze-sozzled and provocative bard on whom he risked his reputation.

Like some finger-clicking hybrid of My Week With Marilyn and Withnail & I, Set Fire... is a semi-biographical depiction of this odd couple's first week together, when the exasperated Brinnin bundled Thomas into a remote log cabin to get him ready for the stuffy fellows of Yale. Mind games are played out, libations brought in and two very different men meet over a common love of poetry.

The result is this week's surprise jewel of the listings. Shot in jazzy black and white by cinematographer Chris Seager, and thundering with taste and tempo, Andy Goddard's film just sings. As a tribute to Thomas, whose centenary is this year, Swansea is filmed as both Manhattan and Yale, allowing his ghost a seat in proceedings.

Co-writer and star Celyn Jones is custom-fitted to essay the great wordsmith. A Brian Blessed in the making, yet with a finely tuned radar where delicate steps are required, awards nods should come knocking. Firmly holding his own corner is Elijah Wood, who continues to distance himself from Frodo with interesting roles, never more so than in the stiff but vulnerable Brinnin. Watch out too for a game Shirley Henderson and Gruff Rhys' soundtrack.


In selected cinemas


Third Person Cert 15A

You must feel a little sorry for Moran Atias. The beautiful Israeli actress apparently brought the idea of a multi-stranded relationship story to director Paul Haggis between takes on The Next Three Days (2010). She probably figured such a narrative concept would be in safe hands with the Oscar-winning Crash director.

Five or so years later, having lived a monastic life in Italy - where she apparently deprived herself of running water and electricity - for four months in order to get into her role as an Albanian gypsy, she is now irrevocably aligned to Haggis's mess of a film. You can kind of see what he was trying to do - three different scenarios taking place on different parts of the globe (or so it appears), two aligning metaphysically under the umbrella of the third in order to make sense of the trials and tribulations of love and relationships. Or something.

He manages to round up an enviable ensemble cast to do his bidding, which, unfortunately makes Third Person seem even more like a waste of valuable resources. We get Liam Neeson as the Pulitzer-winning writer in a Parisian hotel tryst with a fellow authoress, played by Olivia Wilde. Down in Rome, meanwhile, an obnoxious US business jerk played by Adrien Brody gets involved with Atias's femme fatale and winds up getting in over his head. And then there's the carry-on over in New York City, where Mila Kunis plays the failed actress forced to clean hotel rooms while being kept away from her son by a miffed ex portrayed by James Franco (whose character is, of course, an artist). There's even something for Maria Bello and Kim Basinger to do in Haggis's rudderless, badly weighted screenplay.

What's that noise? It's the Metafiction Police coming to arrest this over-ambitious, pompous jiggery-pokery. Where Haggis squanders the choice ingredients to hand is in the clutter all about the place in Third Person, where ideas and ruminations on love are packaged as some brand of city-hopping existential thriller. Unfortunately, thrills are decidedly absent, as is any sense of a story being told or the many frayed ends being tied up efficiently. All that's been achieved is a lot of famous names appearing on the promotional poster.

We just hope Atias bounces back from this.


Now showing


The Drop Cert 15A

On occasion in real life, you meet people who are what they appear to be, but that never happens in a Dennis Lehane story. The Drop opens with Bob (Tom Hardy) an apparently easygoing not-too-bright Brooklyn bartender being berated by his apparent boss Marv (James Gandolfini). It's the anniversary of a local man's disappearance, his friends are toasting and Bob is paying. In two apparently unrelated events the bar is held up at closing time and Bob's discovery of an abandoned pitbull leads to a new friend called Nadia (Noomi Rapace). 

The robbery reveals that Cousin Marv is not, in fact, the owner of the bar that bears his name - he was, but now rides on the fumes of his former glory whilst really just operating a front for Chechen criminals who use the bar as a drop point for illegal earnings. To top it all, it turns out that Bob's new puppy's former owner was the local psychopath, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), amongst whose violent boasts are that he killed Bob's missing friend. And he wants his dog back. And his girlfriend.

The Drop is in many respects about the nature of menace. Director Michael Roskam creates a real sense of oppression and the performances are all great. Hardy is fabulous and Gandolfini, in his last film, offers another reminder of what a loss he is, The film has loose ends and doesn't quite catch fire but the ending is excellent and lifts it over the line.


Now showing


Nativity 3, Dude Where's My Donkey?! Cert G

Kids, don't you just love 'em? You'll need to if this kiddie-friendly  song-and-dance extravaganza isn't going to double as a visual contraceptive.

Directed by Debbie Isitts, this third instalment of the popular franchise takes us back to St Bernadette's where change is afoot. A new headmistress (Celia Imrie) has wrung the changes, and her new broom has dispensed with the employment of franchise favourite, the hugely irritating Mr Poppy (Marc Wootten).

Or so she thinks. Mr Poppy is a big hit with the kids and refuses to go quietly. His attempt to pass himself off as a child tests the patience of new teacher Mr Shepherd (Martin Clunes).

Mr Shepherd's patience is limited anyway as he's heading to New York to marry Sophie (Catherine Tate) so that his daughter Lauren (Lauren Hobbs) can have a new mum. But a hoof to the head from Archie the donkey results in a case of temporary amnesia for Mr Shepherd.

The less written about what follows the better ,as if you've a mental age in the double digits you won't want to know, and if you belong to this lame affair's intended audience you probably won't be able to read. Let's just say there's a lot of singing and dancing from grown-ups who can't sing or dance and all roads lead to the top of the Empire State Building, where a rendezvous with happy-ever-after awaits the central protagonists.

Not that it shouldn't be a smash hit. Despite all the dodgy dancing and donkey droppings, it's a feature that's got its heart in the right place and it's easy to see it scoring a direct hit with the little 'uns.

For adults, however, it's much more likely to be a case of Dude, Where's My Will to Live?


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