Taken 3

Yeah, some of the editing is a bit rough and yeah our action hero does not seem to like running much and let’s face it the plot is rubbish, seeming to grow as the movie went along. One almost gets the feeling that the words “Let’s try this here” were used a lot in the scripting. Now that’s the negative out of the way, let’s look at the facts.

This is a EuropaCorp movie, Luc Besson (Lucy 2014) is one of the co-writers so we know what to expect. The movie itself is directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, 2008) and opens on familiar territory. Once again based around ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, A Walk among The Tombstones, 2014) and family. Almost in the opening shot we learn daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lockout, 2012) is pregnant and not long after we see how Bryan and Lenore are on the best of terms. Indeed we soon see how she is having difficulties in her marriage to her current husband, Stuart, (Dougray Scott, Hitman, 2007) and pretty soon after that Lenore is found dead in Bryan’s apartment. What does this have to do with Russian mafia? No sooner than our hero gets home to the site of his ex-wife’s dead body do the police show up. He quickly escapes from them and so the hunt begins.

Our Hero is helped by the fact that the Detective in charge( Forest Whitaker, The Butler, 2013) is actually “smart”. I say helped, you’ll see why as the movie progresses. So now the fun begins. Whereas in the previous offerings the chase was a private affair almost, here we almost have a mix of two movies – The Fugitive (1963, 1993) and Taken (1 or 2). It helps that being ex-CIA and still having friends in the business means he is not alone. On the run, being chased by would-be killers and trying to find answers (sound familiar?), Mr Mills begins his traditional search and destroy. Of course no Taken would be the same without a variation of “I will find you” which I’m glad to say we have here.

This is a typical EuropaCorp vehicle, light on the brain, set piece moves and just enough of a plot and general action to keep the watcher happy. If I have to make one negative comment it is that I felt the plot was being developed as the team went along with the filming, but that said it still worked. Sam Spruell, (Good People, 2014) works well as the Russian ex-special forces bad-guy.

Without ruining the plot, the movie ends with the by-now traditional scene of family bonding on the pier. Watch it, enjoy it and remember it is only meant to be fun.

*** It does what it says on the label.

A Most Wanted Man

Based on a John le Carré novel this movie director by Anton Corbijn (Control, 2007) is a good old fashioned spy movie, indeed it sits well along-side another Le Carré work – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Staring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann in one of his last starring roles where he play the head of a specialist counter terrorism unit currently based in Hamburg. Bachmann has a history and many think his posting to Hamburg is a punishment for a mission which went wrong in Beirut, however there is the suggestion that the power-that-be are okay with this rumour as it gives him and his team cover to track down the subject of their efforts.

While Corbijn plays with the various inter-interdepartmental rivalries ( as well as political manoeuvres both within Germany and internationally with the Americans) within which Buchmann must operate he at least has the loyalty of his own team. This helps because a lessor director might have tried to add a level of intrigue, and that would have been bad. Buchmann’s second in command is Irna Lenz (Nina Hoss, Barbara 2012) and works the part well. She is calm and professional against Buchmann’s self-neglect, but the two are different sides of the same coin. It is never clear just how deep the relationship between them goes. One cannot but suspect that there is a deep friendship but their combined professionalism means nothing will happen. Other team members include Maximilian (Daniel Brühl, Rush 2012) who despite almost no script to himself, still manages to make his presence knows.

During his investigations Buchmann and team track an illegal immigrant from Chechnya (Grigoriy Dobrygin, How I Ended This Summer, 2010)who may or may not be a risk. Other departments want to arrest him, but Buchmann uses his connections to keep him free and followed. While this is happening his team are getting close to the money man (Homayoun Ershadi, The Kite Runner, 2007) they are following. On the surface everything looks squeaky clean, but something does not ring true with him.

Then a stroke of luck, it turns out that the Chechen has an interesting past, indeed so does his (now dead) father which brings him into contact with a private banker in Hamburg (Willem Defoe, The Fault In Our Stars, 2014). All of this is arranged through a human rights lawyer, Martha (Robin Wright, The Princess Bride, 1987) working with immigrants The excellence of Hofmann’s Buchmann is exemplified through his polite but yet condescending attitude to the banker, always calling him “Tommy” rather than “Herr Brue”.

As with any spy story there are twists and I don’t want to destroy any of them. Suffice it to say that the story brings you along fully and the acting, not least by Hoffman, Dobrygin, Defoe and Wright carries you along in an understated manner. This movie has a very European feel to it, not just because of cast and location but the lack of gun-play. The tension is psychological rather than purely violent. This works to the extent that when violence comes, it is short and sharp.

**** an excellent piece which will keep anybody over the age of 21 (mature enough not to need all of the cast murdered by half way through) happily engaged and entertained.

Two Night Stand

I’ll start of by saying I enjoyed this movie and only saw it on the recommendations of a friend. I say this because one or two others have not been too kind to the work. Directed by Max Nichols, this is directorial debut, and a good one at that. The premise is quite simple. Out of work and out of love Megan (Analeigh Tipton, Warm Bodies, 2013) is cajoled by her flat mate in to going out to a party, only to find she has no ID and cannot attend so back home. At home she decides to take the advice offered by everybody; get on line and find a guy.

After some time dithering about, she eventually cobbles together an on-line profile and enters the fray. Following a few minutes of the usual jokes she comes across “Alec” (Miles Teller, whiplash, 2014) who seems like a genuine guy; he does live on the other side of the city though, however she goes for it and heads over to Alec’s. after what is presumed to be a satisfying night Megan decides to slip out.

There are two issues with slipping out, firstly the front door is alarmed and causes here to jump back to bed before the siren sounds. This gets fixed only to have the morning after discussion with Alec rr as she mistakenly calls him; Alex. Many of the jokes/scenarios here are not new, but they are not hammed either. Indeed is their very recognisable nature which contributes to the scene, as we inevitably identify with various parts of the discussions. Finally leaving the apartment Megan has one last major obstacle to overcome; the New York snow, unfortunately the snow won as she is trapped inside , with no further option Megan returns with Alec to the apartment. What follows is the traditional awkward silence following the discussion they had earlier when they thought they would never see each other again. This is of course an ages-old gag; people insult each other only to be forced in to a situation together. What makes this work is the ability of both cast members to work well together and have a snappy script supplied to them by the screen writer (Mark Hammer, Skins episode 2011).

Having checked the weather , it looks like they are trapped together for at least another night, remember this is early morning. Eventually they settle done to a delicate “truce”, a truce which is put in jeopardy by Megan when she is in the bathroom and reads an article on the type of women who use dating sites for one night stands, she identifies as #2 – Damaged. Clearly still hurting she rips out the page and flushes it down the toilet. The only problem is the flood that follows. From here the disaster mounts. Alex has no plunger, but his neighbours have. The neighbours are away and Alex does not have a key, so the two of them gear-up and via the fire-escape go round to their neighbours’ apartment. The windows are frozen solid, normally a problem with the building’s windows would have meant they were open. Megan does what she needs to do and they get in, much to Alec’s shock and amazement.

Once the piece is recovered from the toilet, they have a discussion and the issue quickly passes, or does it? Following a smoke of a certain herb, they relax and after making a “blanket tent” relax for the evening. While talking they decide that their situation might allow for some Science – namely feedback on where they went wrong the night before. Queue night two. In the best traditions of love’s labours being lost, Megan leaves for home the next day, but under a cloud.

While Megan has been open about her relationships, Alec has been less so. What seemed like a budding friendship might just have failed at its second hurdle. Back at her apartment Megan’s flat mate, Faiza (10 Cent Pistol, 2014) and her boyfriend, Cedric (Scott Mescudi, Need For Speed, 2014) have news for her – she has 4 days to find a new place. Alex now has a similar predicament owing to items left in his apartment (see for yourself). So nothing else to do, it is time for the New Year’s eve party, which needless to say, is a bit of a damp squib for her, or at least it is until the police come looking for her. The consequences of her entry to Alec’ neighbour flat come back to haunt her. It seems as if this is Alec’s doing, she is in a holding cell and he’s trying to bail her out, unsuccessfully. The last few minutes of the movie you can check out for yourself.

This could very easy have been a painful saccharine affair (no pun) but with snappy script and delivery it turned the movie in to something well worth watching regardless of whether or not you are trapped behind a wall of snow.

A very solid ***

Frank


This film by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012), is loosely based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson who had been keyboard player to the original Frank. And that was my problem.
You see being Irish, I remember the original Frank (the late Chris Sievey) who was a comedian and musician, the head was an on-stage persona and I have to say he kind of freaked me as a kid. Thankfully Abrahamson did not go with the original instead, he used the memoirs as an inspiration for what he went on to make. So with that in mind what did he do?
Abrahamson took the idea of Frank (Michael Fassbender, Hunger 2008) and his band and turned it in to a highly entertaining, witty and original piece. It is essentially a one-trick donkey but the trick carries throughout the film. The trick is about Jon Ronson , or more particularly his character Jon Burroughs (Donal Gleeson, About Time, 2012) who is a frustrated song writer who meets a rather eccentric group just as they lose their key-board player.
Whiling away his life trying to write songs from the life around him Jon is a study on mediocrity, even his twitter account is only more than a dozen people, but on lunch one day he comes across the band and is invited to gig with them that night (replacing the current keyboard player who has just tried to drown himself). Jon heads to the gig, which turns out to be a case-study in chaos. The gig ends , they drive off and Jon is left disillusioned and more-than-ever dreaming of musical success. Then out of the blue one day, they ring him and ask him to join them for something they are doing in Ireland, Jon gladly says yes and heads off for what he thinks in a weekend in Dublin.
Pretty soon is becomes clear to Jon that the band member s are all quite eccentric and not just Frank. Indeed there is a certain hostility to him from some quarters. He quickly befriends the band’s “manager” and former keyboard player, Don (Scott McNairy) from whom he learns that Frank and Don met in a mental hospital. The rest of the band is made up of the Theremin playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart, 2009) who resents Jon’s presence as much out of jealousy as any other reason and who give an intense performance such as to the extent that Jon at one stage asks her what she was in hospital for; to which she clarified that she was not mentally ill, his dead-pan response was that he had presumed she was mentally ill, it was a matter-of-fact reply with no malicious intent, nicely delivered.
Frank never takes off the head, and also has a medical cert to prove that he has a psychological condition, this of course intrigues Jon. As he begins to experience Frank and the band Jon jumps in with all the vigour of one new to the experience, only to learn very quickly not to expect his contributions to be noted or used. His fascination with Frank and the Band actually grows and Jon is swept along with the experience, even if he is capable of realising just how unique an experience it is. He wants to find out what is it that makes somebody a great song writer, he is convinced it is the experience of live, for the other it was situations like mental hospitals or prisons, this would be his mental hospital.
Jon ends up financing their year- long stay in a cabin in Ireland . It took a year due to Frank’s exactness and refusal to record anything until he is happy with the sound. This is an excellent piece of cinema, original, challenging and ever so much slight “off-track”, however it always stays on the right side of the joke, never tipping into obscurity. Much happens in the year long journey which eventually sees them making their way to a gig in Texas, but before they do they, must deal with the loss of Don whose daemons finally over-came him. The gig in Texas came about from Jon putting clips on the band on Youtube and tweeting about them, it becomes clear that he is getting a following. Frank is amazed and agrees to Texan while Clara is against it – she is only in it for the music and might even prefer if they had no fans.
While in Texas things become intense resulting in Frank going missing and Jon setting off to find him and bring him back, some months later he tracks him down to his parent home. The music to the film is original and performed by the cast. In some places it is highly experimental, while in others it resembles a Sigur Rós album (which is a good thing). At one point watching Maggie Gyllenhaal perform on stage I was reminded of the Midnight cabaret from Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 1999) indeed much of the story line is similar, people leaving all they have to chase a dream, a dream that does not always come true, but they keep chasing. That said, another Irish based movie also springs to mind; Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place, 2011. A musician looking for his place in the world, a not very conventional place, but one none-the-less
And why not, a person may not find their dreams but maybe they will find something else along the way, perhaps something ,more valuable.
****stars, Original and smart, it will keep you entertained.

Short Term 12

At first glance one might be tempted to write off the movie as potentially just another case of teen hardship and angst as they are confined to a place the y do not want to be in and watched over by social workers who are little more than prison guards, but if you did you would be wrong. Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this is only his second directorial feature (the first being I Am Not a Hipster, 2012), but it certainly benefits from being previously a short story which he filmed in 2008.

What we have are a number of carers or social workers including one new to the short-term facility, who to be brutally honest are not much older that the teens in their care. The stars of the show are Grace (Brie Larson, Don Jon, 2013) and her fellow carer/boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr. Jonah Hex, 2010). Her introduction to the kids comes in the shape of Sammy on one of his many attempts to run away (Alex Calloway, 50 Kisses, 2014). This is an example of the stress children and adults are under, however there is one kid, Marcus (Keith Stanfield, Selma, 2014) who is now coming to an age where he will need to leave the system he has been in for so long, he has anger issues and you can’t really blame him. There are also a number of other kids with their various issues which challenge the staff physically and emotionally. The relationship is supportive and caring from the adults, it is a refuge not a prison.

Even with this we see how the work influences the counsellors, the older members of the team have come to terms with many of the pressures of the job, while the newer, younger counsellors come to terms with their charges and how to deal with them. This is not a TV movie where the kids’ lives are transformed in to a world of happiness. No, there are issues, some cannot mix, some won’t; some are leaving but are not ready, others might be. This story is told through the kids in the facility but it is as much about the carers and how they grow into the role; how it shapes them. Although the centre is essentially the centre of all their lives, we do get glimpses of the Grace’s and Mason’s lives at home, they live together. We learn their own histories and see the motivators that brought them to where they are today and which will drive them to make the decisions they need to make, especially after Grace’s unplanned pregnancy

The ground covered by Short Term 12 is well travelled and could have been a lot less effective except for the sharp script, snappy edits and Cretton’s ability no know just…well actually his ability to do his job well. He gives us characters we can engage with, who we want good things for. This is an engaging and entertaining offering well worth the time. Each of the stories, whether of the carers, the kids under care or even all of them, has some sort of a climax, maybe not a clean ending but a climax.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I had to stop and think about this one; not so much as to the quality of the film; it is excellent, but rather its nature. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a movie for its own sake. BSW (for obvious reasons) is the story of life in the Bathtub as told through the experiences of a six your old girl called Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, Annie 2014). Drawing its inspiration from her play “Juicy and Delicious”, Lucy Alibar co-wrote the movie with director Benh Zeitlin. This is Benh’s first feature length movie, and it does not show.

On one level BSW allows us to experience life through Hushpuppy’s eyes but on another level it also show the complex relationship between her and her hard drinking, independent father. By extension we also get to witness the lives, interactions and even society of those who live in the Bathtub. The Bathtub is an area of forgotten and neglected swampy, bayou, or at least it was. The locals are under orders to remove themselves. There are no big houses or estates here, this is the land of the dispossessed, what homes are here are those cobbled together by their inhabitants.

The people are proudly independent of the city. Indeed the sense of independence and social isolation is reflected in the child’s own living arrangements. She lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, 12 Years A Slave) however they live in two separate “buildings” she in the shack on stilts and he in the wreck of a bus. The whole community is somewhat similar, even down to her education. The community here are essentially Cajun hippies, but that does not do them justice.

The background and cinematography is excellent and indeed just as the characters endear us to them, so too does the camerawork to the place and time, we get to experience some of what it is like to live there and experience some of the hardships. Life is not perfect for them. Pressure is on to remove them from the area and this looms large in the background. There is drama in the relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink and the others living there.

When we see the storm strike there is a very tangible sense of dread and foreboding, this continues to dread and nervousness during the storm to be followed by a certain sense of relief. The people of the bathtub are still alive. Wink in his makeshift boat/raft visits round his neighbours as he does they slowly come round or meet him. There is no “woe am I” from the community, this is life. This is what these people signed-up for.

One cannot help but wonder if the real message of the film is that we can be happy with nothing except our friends and neighbours around us and the most basic of shelter and food. Indeed the feeding regime differs little between human and alligator, chicken carcass or fresh fish.

Not overly burdened by script but beautifully shaped and presented. This is certainly worth a couple of hours of your time, time you will not miss. The plot is simply life and how we deal with what we have in life.

In To The Woods

What a pleasant surprise! I usually cannot stand musicals, with the exception of “The Producers” and strangely enough both of either production (Mel Brooks 1967 or Susan Stroman, 2005). Usually it is a mediocre story further ruined by senseless prattling and dancing about while attempting to give voice to song that should be instantly forgotten. So you can imagine the kind of thoughts going through my head as I sat down to watch this movie; they were the types of thought normally reserved for the dentist’s chair.

Bob Marchall’s (Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011) work here gives us a mash-up of Grimm fairy tales based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. While some interpretations of Grimm can be dark and serious, while other try to stay “realistic”, this version is both light & humorous while at the same time keeping a shadow of darkness. There is just the hint of the darker nature of the original Grimm works, while firmly also taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the stories

Having been given an introduction to jack struggles with a cow that will not milk and a mother that needs income, Little Red Riding Hood’s visit to her granny, the childless baker and his wife and even Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Rapture Palooza, 2013)with an appearance from Rapunzil with of course the necessary Princes, Charming etc. We see our heroes going through their dark lives wishing for things to be better.

The film opens with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Misérables, 2012) ) being told by his mother (Tracey Ullman, The Corpse Bride, 2005) to sell their cow, who jack regards as his best friend, while at the same time Little Red Riding Hood(Lilla Crawford) is stocking up at the baker’s (James Corden, Gavin & Stacey, 2007+)) getting bread for her granny living in the woods. Life is not too good for the baker and his wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, 1014) either, they have no children despite their best efforts. While a little away Cinderella is having her usual step-sister/ball issues which need to be sorted. All of this is put in to context how they all have a wish for something better. And this being a fairy tale , the old witch (Meryl Streep, The Hours, 2006)has to turn up, she lives next door to the Baker and his wife.

Now it turns out that some years ago the witch put a curse on his father and the family in general – no further off-spring; something which goes a long way to explain the couple’s child-baring difficulties. However there is some hope. The spell can be reversed , but only on the blue moon in three days’ time.

Sounds easy enough, but there is a catch the spell needs some items like a blood red cloak, a milk-white cow and hair as golden as a corn husk, oh and a golden slipper. As you see a wish-list such as this can seriously impact on a number of fairy tales. The fact that jack has some giant troubles does not help either. Against this The baker and his wife (despite her heading home a number of times) trek in to the woods to find the items in question, with absolutely no idea how they might find them. Through a series of misadventures they eventually bring together what is needed, only of course to find out that things don’t work as well as they need, so a quick fix is needed.

Throughout the search we are introduced to the various fairy tales as part s of the story. Johnny Depp (Dark shadows, 2012) plays a smoothly menacing Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, while Chris Pine (Star Trek, 2009) plays Cinderella’ s Prince to a lightly comic effect. As if one prince was not enough, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper, 2013) also has her prince (Billy Magnussen, The East, 2013).

James Corden is “stand-out” in the role, really adding to the part, while Meryl Streep’s witch is worth the price of admission just for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an animated Streep in any role. You will note that I’m not mentioning much on the plot, well you can guess what happens Jack when he sells the cow and gets the beans from the baker, or Cinderella’s social challenges. We all know the stories, but what we don’t know so much about is the world these people live in and how.  Overall the casting works extremely well. Every effort has gone into giving us characters which match the years of imagination that have gone in to them, not least of all Jack’s mother through Tracey Ullman.   In a world of coincidences we see the great Frances de la Tour (The History Boys, 2006) playing the Giant, it was in the The History Boys that the world took note of Corden and his work.

This is the perfect movie for a grey winter’s day when you just want to pass an hour or two and enjoy it. The pace is continuous and reasonably quick. The story moves along at a nice pace and stays original all things considered.

Over the years there have been many dramatizations of Grimms’ work, some have worked while other have been painfully bad. This one certainly work. It reminds me of some of the Disney cartoons in places while as a movie it falls firmly alongside The Princes Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987). This is a good thing. Any movie whish stands up to comparison with TPB, can hold its head up high.

Go have some fun and watch this movie, or see the musical J and like all good fairy tales there is a message to it – be careful what you wish for , you might just get it, oh and fairy tales do come through and people can live happily ever after.