Movie reviews

Pitched as a romantic comedy about a couple with commitment issues, The Five-Year Engagement (15A) is in fact a drama about how Tom (Jason Segel) copes — or fails to — when he’s asked to put his career as a chef on hold in order to further that of his fiance, Violet (Emily Blunt).

Movie reviews

Written by Segel and Nicholas Stoller, and directed by Stoller, the movie reverses the age-old convention, that a woman should sacrifice her career in order to make her marriage work. Tom, a gentle bear of a man, is initially more than happy to make sacrifices on behalf of Violet, one of which is the postponement of their wedding. It’s an intriguing set-up, particularly as Violet’s career involves running social experiments on unsuspecting subjects, but the writing is far from subtle. Despite the apparent equality in a relationship between two caring and smart people, Tom quickly emerges as a man-child who sulks when his own prospects are first limited, and then grows a beard and stalks deer in the forest with a crossbow. If the message wasn’t clear enough, Tom’s friends queue up to remind him that however civilised and sophisticated their contemporary incarnation may appear, men always have and always will ‘run on caveman software’. Apart from the crudeness of the story-telling, the film itself suffers from a self-indulgent reluctance to self-edit, which results in a 124 minute film, that’s at least half-an-hour too long. Segel and Blunt make for a likeable couple, and Blunt steals the show with a winsome performance, but the awkward pacing of the ending means you may stumble out into the light afterwards feeling like you’ve sat through a five-hour movie.

Based on a memoir by Beth Raymer, Lay the Favourite (15A) is a story of high-stakes gambling that moves from Las Vegas to New York and on to the Caribbean as the perky Beth (Rebecca Hall) trades a career in stripping for a marginally less risky game of fleecing punters. A mid-20s gal, Beth seems a little old to be the centre of a coming-of-age tale, but perhaps it’s her naivety that makes her appear younger than her age. Beth gradually learns from a pair of grizzled gamblers — Dink (Bruce Willis) and Rosie (Vince Vaughn) — that she shouldn’t think the best of everyone she meets, and that includes Dink and Rosie. For all the double-dealing going on, it’s a curiously guileless story, in which Beth stumbles from one crisis to the next, relying on her toothy grin and long legs (virtually every shot features Hall in hot pants) to bail her out of trouble. Directed by Stephen Frears, the film is lazily conceived, and at times it’s painful to remember that Frears also directed the small, dark masterpiece of con artists and gamblers, The Grifters (1990). Willis, Vaughn and Catherine-Zeta Jones are given very little character to work with in support, which leaves Hall high and dry.

History fans may want to wait for Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis, but those less fussy about historical veracity are in for a treat with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (15A). Benjamin Walker stars as the US president who discovers that the bloodsucking undead are planning to take over America, and doesn’t hesitate to break out the garlic and wooden stakes. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, this shows little of the director’s previously inventive horror touches. The concept is funny, but it’s a one-note joke as played on a rusty tuba.

The latest in a long line of movies featuring American tourists in peril, Chernobyl Diaries (16s) is inventive in its setting: the abandoned city of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, uninhabited since the nuclear meltdown of 1986. Illicitly brought into the city by their ex-special forces guide, the sextet of tourists thrill to the sight of urban wilderness — they even encounter a wild bear in one of the deserted buildings — and then their jeep transport refuses to start as night comes on. Bradley Parker’s movie makes occasional observations about the paranoia of Americans abroad, and touches on the damage caused to the environment by man’s unnatural abuse of resources, but its chief appeal is as a solid chase-’n’-scream horror flick.

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