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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Roundup of New Cinema Releases for the Weekends of 31/05/2013 and 07/05/2013

It's catch up time once again, this time with a number of films of interest and only one or two that are, shall we say, not.

Lets start off with the biggest and worst film from the last couple of weeks about which I haven't given a full review. No, not a Haunted House- I missed its press screening and there's no way in hell I'm actually going to pay money to see another presumably terrible Wayans brothers film. No, I am, of course, talking about The Hangover Part III.

I was considering writing a full review for Todd Phillip's latest cash-in but when you consider just how little effort was put into the film itself, I really couldn't be bothered. I suppose I should be grateful that the third film doesn't follow its predecessor by being isn't just another rehash of the first film but somehow Hangover 3 is even lazier than the second film. At least part two put some effort into being offensive; its sequel couldn't even be arsed to do that much.

First, clearly Phillips is as sick of the franchise as I am as he basically uses the no doubt generous funding to make a crime caper comedy. It's just too bad that this is less Oceans 11 and more Oceans 12 but with much less laughs (indeed, just about no laughs) and more annoying characters.

The actors too mostly look like they would rather be anywhere else. Ed Helms spends the whole film as someone desperate to get back to The Office and Bradley Cooper looks like he'd much, much rather be hanging out with Jennifer Lawrence than this bunch of goons. Only Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeung - who I generally like as good, dependable comic actors- put any effort into their roles but their characters are so irredeemably annoying at this point, it's hard not to wish they were as bored as their co-stars. John Goodman is good as always but he clearly doesn't know what he'd doing here either and frankly John, neither do we. (2/10)

Fortunately, last week did at least see the release of two genuinely worthwhile films. Shadow Dancer is a tough, unflinching look at a young woman torn between her allegiances to her Irish terrorist group and her duties as a mother as she is forced to become an informant for the Irish government after an abortive terrorist attack. It features a spectacularly humane performance by the always excellent Andrea Riseborough and it's a complex and visceral piece of work but should only be seen if you're up for a slow, difficult watch, almost entirely unconcerned with being entertaining. Still, it's an impressive piece of cinema either way. (8/10)

Much more flawed, but far more watchable is Side Effects, a thriller/ drama by the absurdly versatile, Steven Soderbergh. I'm not going to give any details here but it really is best to see the film knowing nothing about what it is so let me just say that it is a very well made film by a great director with some excellent performances and a truly mesmerizing story but may well land up pissing you off anyway. If you've seen it or want to know a bit more, read on. Otherwise, it may be best to skip the next paragraph.

Spoiler warning or no, I'm not going to give away any major plot points but lets just say that Side Effects is the story of a depressed woman whose life is complicated immeasurably by the anti-depressants that are prescribed her and it is a film very much of two halves. Separating the two halves is a twist so brilliant that not only did it take me by surprise but had me questioning exactly what kind of movie I was watching. It does come with such an abrupt change of pace that in the hands of a less talented director, the whole film would have come apart at the seams. With Soderbergh at the helm though, I'm, well, still not sure what I think of it after watching it twice, as I remain undecided on whether the twist makes the film or breaks it. It's probably worth a look either way, though. (?/10)

Moving on to this past weekend, we have Stand Up Guys, a comedy drama that stars Al Pacino as an old ex-con who reunites with his best friend (Christopher Walken) after completing a lengthy stay in jail but a hit has been placed on his head by a man he unintentionally wronged a quarter century before. Despite its weak Metacritic score and even its lackluster IMDB rating, I found Stand Up Guys to be a surprisingly good little film that doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel - hell, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that it revels in its cliches - but it's both solidly funny and genuinely moving without being mawkish.

Christopher Walken is wonderful as always and, though his character here is basically just a continuation of his Seven Psychopath's character, he's funny and enduring throughout. More surprisingly, Al Pacino has turned in what is easily his most restrained, warmest and flat out best  performance in many a year and the chemistry between Pacino and Walken is electrifying. There are also some terrific supporting turns from Lucy Punch, Juliana Margulies, Vanessa Ferlito and Addison Timlin who add much needed feminine charm to the proceedings and Alan Arkin is at his curmudgeonly best as the guys' old, emphysema-riddled colleague.  

To a large extent, it is an actor's piece but its mix of warmth, laughs and moments of shocking violence with its immensely appealing characters makes for a very enjoyable 90 minutes that is far, far better than most reviews would suggest. (8/10)  

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