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The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Movies With Michael Doherty

Friday, 16 January 2009

Michael will be reviewing:

  • Seven Pounds (Will Smith)
  • The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke)
  • Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Jamie Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia)
  • A Christmas Tale (Catherine Deneuve)

Also Michael Doherty interviews Kate Winslet.

Seven Pounds
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 118 mins
Rating: **
Classification: 15A
Courtesy: Sony

Michael's verdict: Will Smith parks his comic side for this emotional drama about a man who seeks redemption for an accident he has caused by helping seven strangers. Doesn't quite work and it's all a bit Dr Phil, but Will is always good value.

Other Verdict:
Will Smith does 'sombre' again, as he reteams with his Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino for this heavy-handed drama that boasts fine performances but forceful direction. Smith is ambiguous do-gooder Ben, an IRS Agent who's investigating several clients, when he begins to possess an empathetic streak that's out-of-character for his occupation. Soon, his motivation for these random acts of kindness becomes clear when he meets Rosario Dawson's heart transplant patient Emily, and promptly falls for her. He's then led to question the path he has chosen, as their meeting throws his previously set-in-stone plans completely out of synch. Often nowhere near as thoughtful or spiritual as it thinks it is, Seven Pounds is packed to the brim with sentiment, overly ponderous visuals and poorly-articulated metaphors. On occasion, though, it does manage to involve the viewer; the scenes with Smith and Dawson, in particular, are very nicely played by both stars, with Dawson feeling him out for motivations and Smith trying desperately not to fall for her.

This is predominantly where the film's strengths lie, and all of Ben's other issues take a back seat - which can make the film feel uneven, at points. Subtly is also rarely on show, with Emily pointing out that her Great Dane has a dodgy ticker too - almost provoking a dry heaving of epic proportions. Hey, who'd take care of the dog if she bought the farm, and vice-versa!? And if she's so damned lovely, where are all of her friends? Also, Barry Pepper turns up sporadically to cry, and Woody Harrleson to be a nice blind man - both without any real explanation until the square pegs finally fit into the round holes, after much hammering. Proceedings take a predictable twist as the film hurtles towards it inevitable 'cry-or-die' conclusion, which is a fine showcase for Smith's ability as a genuinely talented leading man - but not Muccino's as a helmer. Let's just saying running and rain are involved. In spite of all of this, however, you'd have to be the type of cynic who finds recently-crippled puppies unfortunate (rather than sad) not to be taken in by the whole thing. A deeply flawed film, but one that packs just enough of the right kind of emotional punch to warrant a gander.

Review by Mike Sheridan

The Wrestler
Directors: Darren Aronofsky.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Even Rachel Wood.
Running Time: 109 mins
Rating: ****
Classification: 16
Courtesy: Twentieth Century Fox

Michael's verdict: Comeback King Mickey Rourke triumphs as a washed-up wrestler hoping for one last hurrah in the ring. The Champ meets Raging Bull meets Rocky meets WWF.

Other verdict:
The Wrestler opens with a montage of tacky posters of pro wrestler Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Rourke) in his heyday but that's the only glory he's allowed. Once this title sequence finishes its back to earth with a bang: Twenty years later and The Ram is on the D circuit, sitting in a kindergarten classroom nursing himself after an exhibition fight he's paid pittance to take part in. He sits with back to us, as if he's ashamed of what he's become or what he's thrown away and can't look us in the eye. Randy now works part time in a grocery store, is living in a trailer park where he struggles to meet the rent, is addicted to prescription pills, and hangs out at the local bar where he flirts with stripper Cassidy (Tomei). When he suffers a heart attack after one violent match, Randy decides to make good with his estranged daughter (Wood) and earn some serious cash from a final contest with his one-time in-ring nemesis, the Ayatollah, before calling it quits. If those broad strokes sound like a conventional Rocky story, The Wrestler's charms are in the details with the biggest detail being Rourke's performance. Rourke's battered physique might look tough but, like Randy's former occupation, it's all show; Randy's heart is as big and hopeful as a child's, which is why Aronofsky has him sitting in a child's chair in his first scene. It's hard to nail down what makes Rourke so special here - but believing that an actor is the character they're playing during the film's duration is probably the greatest compliment you can give to their performance. After all the crap Rourke has gone through since the '80s (just like The Ram) it's surprising he can still deliver a performance so delicate and understated. Tomei is the other surprise. Her Cassidy, like The Ram, is over the hill and is doing everything in her power to stave off middle age and it's this unspoken common ground that's the catalyst for their relationship. It's a tough, grim and sometimes heartless film - Randy finds that the real world is often crueller than anything that happens in the ring - but in that Aronofsky and his writer Robert D. Siegel find warmth, tenderness and hilarity (the wrestlers planning out their moves for their upcoming matches are a real giggle) in all the right places. One of those rare films where everything that happens on screen is believable.

Review by Gavin Burke

Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Raja Gosnell
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Jamie Lee Curtis
Running Time: 91mins
Rating: ***
Classification: G
Courtesy: Disney

Michael's verdict: Feelgood Disney movie with talking dogs. What's not to like?

Other verdict:
This works better than you'd expect, but then what could you reasonably expect?

A snobbish Beverly Hills Chihuahua dish named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is taken on a Mexican holiday by owner Aunt Viv's (Jamie Lee Curtis) niece Rachel (Piper Perabo), after spurning the affections of the cute gardener's pup Papi (George Lopez). Karma comes down; Chloe gets lost in Mexico, and has to find her way home through unimaginable dangers, with the help of the disgraced but stalwart police dog Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia) and operatic Chihuahua Monte (Placido Domingo) and despite the hindrance of some very bad humans and animals, notably Edward James Olmos as Amores Perros-style fight-dog Diablo and Cheech Marin as greedy little rat Manuel.
The movie gets going when it hits Mexico, and an incredible amount of production and animation expertise is lavished on this story, which should amuse ten-years-and-under kids and shopaholics whose idea of heaven is Rodeo Drive in the morning. But, at bottom, it's a lapdog of a script, all gussied up. And the Beverly Hills scenes made me want to arf.

A Christmas Tale
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Jean-Paul Roussillon.
Running Time: 150 mins
Rating: ****
Classification: 15A
Courtesy: IFC Films

Michael's Verdict:
Powerful, multi-layered drama about a family who gather at Christmas only to discovers that the mother needs a bone marrow transplant. Heady stuff, with the imperious Deneuve in flying form.

Other verdict:
It might be an odd time to release a Christmas movie but A Christmas Tale isn't filled with the joys of the season. As the Vuillard family get ready for the holidays, they are hit with the news that matriarch Junon (Deneuve) has contracted bone cancer and needs a donor fast. The rest of her family - husband Abel (Roussillon), perpetually blue daughter Elizabeth (Consigny) and lively Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) - can't help with a bone marrow transfusion that may kill her anyway; the only match is Elizabeth's troubled son, Paull (Emile Berling), but he's too mentally unstable to cope with that kind of pressure. Returning home after being banished by his family is black sheep Henri (Amalric), who might be the only one who can help Junon. Over the course of a few days, the family find themselves under one roof for the first time in years and past indiscretions and secrets threaten to derail the reunion. After a lengthy intro depicting a back-story that could be a movie in its own right, this multi character story is knitted together by mini-flashbacks that keep the pace ticking over despite the overlong running time. The dialogue, not hip or cool, is natural and played out by believable characters that give the whole venture a realistic vibe. There are a couple of annoying facets, however: there is an awful amount of pretentiousness and that it warrants 2 ½ hours to tell this story is open to debate. If Desplechin fleshed out the introductory back-story, he'd have an epic mini-series on his hands and considering the episodic nature of his film, that might have been the best road to go down.

Review by Gavin Burke