Friday 21 October 2016

Movie reviews: Top Five, The Canal and Big Game

Top Five
Top Five

Chris Rock impresses in Top Movie, murderous hi-jinks in The Canal and Big Game hits the target

Top Five

(Comedy. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, JB Smoove, Romany Malcao, Hayley Marie Normnal, Anders Holm. Director: Chris Rock. Cert 16)

Top Five

Done right, comedy can be a truly beautiful; a monster hidden in plain view.

Amid the fart jokes and the gross-out moments, a good writer can squeeze in plenty of truth, bravery and sword-sharp observations. In this respect, Chris Rock has been vastly underrated so far.

The likes of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers have become Hollywood behemoths… yet, the equally smart and trenchant Rock is still languishing on the sidelines. Perhaps this is his breakthrough moment.

With Top Five, Rock finds himself surfing right on the zeitgeist. In it, he plays Andre Allen, a comedian who is a 'little famous' and hoping to become a serious actor.

His girlfriend is Erika Long (Gabrielle Union), a reality star in the Kardashian mould who is hell-bent on getting their glitzy wedding televised. With a woman who prefers to kiss for the cameras in the driving seat, the entire wedding threatens to veer out of control.

Andre meets beautiful journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) with the classic opening gambit 'You a real journalist or Miss Detroit?'.

Though she is doubtless beautiful and creative, he is less than enamoured with the encounter, as she panned his latest film Uprize (a film about slavery in Haiti).

As she manages to thaw him out, Chelsea holds up a mirror to his career crossroads, and the two have much more in common than first meets the eye.

There's a lot going on here, often unravelling at a breakneck pace. Rock hits so many bases - sobriety, celebrity, politics, sex, race, reality TV - that the truisms, satire and one-liners fly past the audience's faces before they can really enjoy them.

For all its sharpness, it's mouthy and salty… like Woody Allen for the Instagram generation, but with more sexual misadventure and yelling. If you're 'F' word averse, get ready to gird your loins. As a director though, Rock is seriously hitting his stride.

It's interesting to note, too, that Jay-Z and Kanye West are co-producers of this film. Their stylish, music-video stamp is all over Top Five (here's hoping the showbiz wedding irony wasn't lost on them, either).

It's a brash film with its finger on the pulse, but there's enough warmth and charm here to keep everyone happy and wryly smiling throughout.

Rating ****

The Canal

(Horror. Starring Rupert Evans, Hanna Hoekstra, Kelly Byrne, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Steve Oram. Director: Ivan Fitzpatrick. Cert: 16)

The Canal

Question: how would you feel if you knew that a grim and grisly murder had taken place many years ago in your family home? Not that hot, I should suspect.

It's the conundrum that film archivist David (Rupert Evans) finds himself in when he moves into a dream Georgian house in Dublin with his pregnant wife Alice (Hanna Hoekstra).

While working on old footage, David realises that a particularly gruesome murder took place in the very canal-side house he and his family live in.

Before long, a shadowy figure has started to show up about the house. So far, so uncomfortable… but things go from bad to worse when he finds Alice having a white-hot affair with a work associate Alex (Carl Shaaban).

Alice is normally a glacial type from the Kate Middleton school of perfectly nice wives, so to see her in the throes of passion with someone else throws David (and the audience, for that matter) for a loop.

David has a sort of mental breakdown, during which he witnesses a shadowy figure throw a woman into the canal. A few days later, the body of Alice is pulled from the canal.

"People always suspect the husband, you know why that is? It's always the husband," says detective McNamara (Steve Oram), somewhat ominously. And thus kick-starts a beautifully calibrated whodunit, where even David can't be sure he isn't the bad guy.

The Canal comes hot on the heels of another pacey and stylish horror, Conor McMahon's Into The Dark. Both use sound design, music and light and shade to impressive effect to execute the perfect marriage of tension and visceral gore. But even amid the odd heart-stopping moment, there's something magnetic and finely tuned about David's ongoing psychological undoing.

Kavanagh already tackled mental illness in 2009's The Fading Light… it's clearly a theme he's getting comfortable with.

As The Canal's leading man, Evans does a fairly game job of being an everyman in the midst of a crisis of masculinity (and a crisis of, well, real estate).

Hoekstra is one-note, but perhaps that's what the part of David's trophy wife calls for. Kelly Byrne, as the family nanny Sophie, is one to watch, and certainly doesn't hold back with the screams.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes, in a supporting role as David's smitten colleague Claire, is proving to be one of Irish cinema's true chameleons. She has the kind of face born for cinema: highly watchable, unconventional and compelling.

A man going mad in his own house is one of the cornerstones of the classic horror, but Kavanagh keeps things fresh, deft and stylish with a modest enough budget.

Though it may not seem like a typically Irish film on the surface (thanks to a myriad of accents), it's definitely one for the growing pile of Little Irish Movies That Could.

Rating: ***

Big Game

Action/Adventure. Starring Samuel L Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent. Director: Jalmari Helander. Cert: 12A

Big Game

More thrills and spills come courtesy of Samuel L Jackson, whose film Big Game wins the award for 'maddest movie plot of the week'. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when this was pitched to the Hollywood studios: Jackson plays the American president, who is travelling over Finnish airspace in Air Force One when the plan is shot down in the woods.

Surviving the crash, the president meets Oskari (Onni Tommila), an unassuming teenager camping in the remote woodland at the behest of his father. This alone should have folks rolling in the aisles. But there's more lurking behind this bewildering elevator pitch.

The teenager - who is in the woods to prove something to his dad - becomes President Moore's only hope for survival against terrorists in the remote wilds of Finland.

Meanwhile, the vice president (Victor Garber) and CIA director (Felicity Huffman) watch the action unfold from afar.

But the ever-bankable Jackson saves Big Game from becoming just another high-octane romp with a daft premise. Jackson does a fine line in wryness, and makes a crackingly funny president, and his presence is the glue that holds the entire film together.

There's nothing groundbreaking in Big Game's action sequences - unless you count skiing down a hill in a chest freezer - though they're still reliably explosive.

There are plenty of laughs involved, and the film is more fun than meets the eye. With a hefty dollop of coming-of-age charm in the mix, perhaps this is one for younger action film fans. Or at the very least, one for the young at heart.

Rating ***

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