Friday Film Reviews: Gone Girl, Dolphin Tale 2, Dracula Untold, Draft Day

A husband is suspected of foul play after his wife disappears in Gone Girl; Harry Connick Jr and Morgan Freeman star in the family-friendly sequel Dolphin Tale 2; a legendary vampire rises from the grave in the blood-sucking fantasy Dracula Untold, and Kevin Costner stars in American football yarn Draft Day.

Friday Film Reviews: Gone Girl, Dolphin Tale 2, Dracula Untold, Draft Day

A husband is suspected of foul play after his wife disappears in Gone Girl; Harry Connick Jr and Morgan Freeman star in the family-friendly sequel Dolphin Tale 2; a legendary vampire rises from the grave in the blood-sucking fantasy Dracula Untold, and Kevin Costner stars in American football yarn Draft Day.

Gone Girl

If you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s 2012 psychological thriller and you know nothing of the serpentine twists that propelled the novel to the top of the bestsellers list, then jealously guard your cluelessness.

There’s an undeniable delight watching Flynn wrong-foot us with this spiky satire on media manipulation and the glossy facade of celebrity marriages.

When the central characters promise to love, honour and obey, till death do them part, one of them takes that vow very seriously.

Admittedly, you have to dig deep beneath the surface of David Fincher’s polished film to find the jet-black humour but it’s there, walking hand-in-hand with sadism and torture that propel the narrative towards its unconventional denouement.

The film version of Gone Girl is distinguished by a career-best performance from Rosamund Pike as the pretty wife, who vanishes without trace on her fifth wedding anniversary and is presumed dead at the hands of her handsome husband (Ben Affleck).

Pike has to plumb the depths of human emotion in a demanding and complex role, almost certain to earn her first Oscar nomination.

In stark contrast, Affleck is solid but little more as the spouse who pleads his ignorance but hides secrets from the people he adores.

Gone Girl holds our attention for the majority of the bloated 149-minute running time, with a couple of lulls and a disjointed final act.

Pike’s mesmerising theatrics light up the screen and there is strong support from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy old flame.

Fincher’s direction is lean, complemented by snappy editing and a discordant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won the Oscar for their music to The Social Network.

Once you regain your balance from Flynn pulling the rug from under your feet, this is a slick yet slightly underwhelming whodunit that doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of shock and suspense previously achieved by Jagged Edge, The Usual Suspects or indeed, Fincher’s 2005 film, Se7en.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 87%

Dolphin Tale 2

Released in 2011, Dolphin Tale fictionalised the incredible true story of a bottlenose called Winter, who was snared in a crab trap in Florida and lost her tail.

The plucky mammal was rushed to nearby Clearwater Marine Hospital where dedicated staff rehabilitated Winter by fitting her with a silicon and plastic tail similar to prosthetics worn by human amputees.

The dolphin’s remarkable recovery and her subsequent celebrity have ensured a steady stream of visitors to Clearwater, where Winter now shares a tank with another bottlenose called Hope.

Filmmaker Charles Martin Smith, who captained the original film, clearly fell in love with Winter because he writes and directs this uplifting yet wholly unnecessary sequel.

Young audiences will happily wade through pools of sugary sentiment in order to enjoy heart-warming scenes with the dolphins and a stranded sea turtle christened Mavis.

Parents, however, won’t find a great deal to buoy their interest besides footage during the end credits of two real-life rescues that inspired Smith’s flimsy script.

Dolphin Tale 2 serves no dramatic purpose other than to reignite interest in CMA and its real-life star attraction.

Nathan Gamble is a likeable if somewhat bland protagonist and the nascent romance with Cozi Zuehlsdorff remains chaste.

Harry Connick Jr flashes his dazzling pearly whites to distract our attention from the hoary dialogue while Morgan Freeman makes fleeting appearances as the crotchety prosthetics wizard, who tells one pre-pubescent member of CMA staff, “I’ve got jars of peanut butter older than you.”

Given the product’s short shelf life, his character may not survive for a third splash in the dolphin pool.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 70%

Draft Day

In late spring, millions of Americans are glued to prime-time television for the year’s biggest lottery result.

The prizes aren’t money but college football players and the gamblers are the 32 National Football League (NFL) teams, who compete in two conferences each season for the ultimate prize: the Super Bowl.

Comprising seven nail-biting rounds, the NFL draft is the selection process for these teams to identify and anoint the rising stars of the future.

The order of selection is based on the previous season’s results: the lowest ranked teams choose first and the runner-up and winner of Super Bowl choose last to ensure parity.

Before and during the draft, owners and coaches can secretly bargain with rival teams for a better position in the pecking order to ensure they get the player(s) they want.

Ivan Reitman’s lightweight sports drama unfolds on the day of the 2014 NFL draft and uses this high-stakes game of barter, bluff and tactical one-upmanship as a backdrop to one man’s rise from the ashes.

Draft Day is solid and undemanding entertainment, entwining soap opera plot strands around a fictionalised running of the highpoint of every college football player’s season.

Kevin Costner doesn’t break sweat while co-stars scream and shout, not least Frank Langella as the publicity-hungry head honcho, who expects to get his way.

The romantic subplot with Jennifer Garner lightly simmers but never comes close to the boil.

Scriptwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman keep the tone light and don’t saturate the screen with sporting terminology so Irish audiences, who prefer their football played without helmets, can digest various twists and turns without excessive head-scratching.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 61%

Dracula Untold

Hoary horror hokum sinks its fangs into 15th century east European history in a dark and brooding resurrection of the bloodsucking monster from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.

Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless follow Stoker’s lead and draw a direct correlation between the vampire and Vlad II from the Romanian house of Dracula, posthumously named Vlad The Impaler.

Consequently, the notorious warrior, who skewered his victims, is reborn as the eponymous creature of the night, replete with an aversion to sunlight and silver.

Dracula Untold doesn’t greatly enrich the vampire mythology, which has been embellished for more than 100 years, and the script can’t resist the occasional camp nod and wink, like a snivelling servant called Shkelgim (Zach McGowan), who promises to do Dracula’s bidding and hisses, “Yesss massster,” as he slinks into the shadows.

Humour is drained almost entirely from the film’s arteries. Aside from one off-the-cuff quip from Vlad, reacting with surprise to his newly acquired ability to self-heal (“That’s useful!”), the script keeps a straight face throughout the carnage.

Shot in a gloomy palette of earthy browns and metallic greys, Dracula Untold cobbles together a new back story for one of literature’s great creations.

Luke Evans has clearly been working hard in the gym to cope with the physical demands of the role but the script doesn’t afford him many emotional scenes.

The central romance with Sarah Gadon feels undernourished and Dominic Cooper doesn’t have sufficient screen time to put meat on the bones of his villain, lessening the impact of a chaotic final showdown amidst swirls of computer-generated bats.

“Sometimes, the world no longer needs a hero, it needs a monster,” remarks Vlad.

Maybe so, does the world needs this Dracula?

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 14%

In selected cinemas…

Luna

A weekend retreat offers two couples a chance to heal in Dave McKean’s drama, which melds live action and animation.

Dean (Michael Maloney) and his younger girlfriend Freya (Stephanie Leonidas) live in a remote house on the coast.

They welcome Dean’s art school friends, Grant (Ben Daniels) and Christina (Dervla Kirwan), who have been scarred by grief and elected to retreat from the world.

In these picturesque surroundings, Grant and Christina are persuaded to exorcise their demons and lift the shroud of grief.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A

Violette

Martin Provost’s biographical drama, set predominantly in the aftermath of the Second World War, charts the strong emotional bond between two women, who changed the course of French literature.

Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos) is born out of wedlock in 1907 and grows up impoverished and unloved.

She lives with Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py), who nurtures Violette’s passion for writing.

In post-war Saint-Germain des-Pres, Violette meets Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) and develops a crush on the intellectual, lavishing the object of her affections with flowers and – trustingly – a copy of her debut book.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 82%

Le Jour se Leve

A rerelease of Marcel Carne’s poetic 1939 thriller about a murderer, who is besieged by armed police in his apartment, with no apparent way out.

Foundry worker Francois (Jean Gabin) shoots and kills Valentin (Jules Berry) then hides in his room at a guest house.

In no time at all, police have surrounded the building but Francois’ barricades hold firm, keeping the authorities at bay.

As he puffs nervously on cigarettes, trying to think of a way out of his predicament, Francois thinks back to his relationships with two women – florist Francoise (Jacqueline Laurent) and Clara (Arletty) – who were both romantically entangled with Valentin in the past.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 89%

Tony Benn: Will and Testament

Skip Kite’s documentary offers a candid glimpse into the life of the UK’s longest serving Labour MP in history Tony Benn through interviews with the man himself, augmented with excerpts from his personal, photographic and film archive.

These clips illustrate the issues that affected Benn during his cabinet tenure under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, and in more recent times when he became an outspoken and passionate president of the Stop The War Coalition.

On October 5, there will be a special screening of Kite’s film, followed by a panel discussion and audience Q&A streamed live to selected cinemas across the UK and Ireland.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up