Calvary

Written and directed by John Michael Mc Donagh, this is the second of a loosely based trilogy. The subject matter is not connected, rather locations associated with McDonagh’s background. The first installment was “The Guard” (2011). Described as a black comedy, it might be better described Dark thriller with a touch of dark humour thrown in.

Although described as “dark” this is a very entertaining movie, which from the start drags in the viewer and keeps us alongside to the very end. Brendan Gleeson’s character is that of Father James, the local parish priest in a small rural parish in Sligo. Boarding the coast, there are some fantastic backdrops (having spent two years living in the area, I can say the scenery is every bit as photographed for the film. Fr. James we learn came to the Priesthood later in life, after his wife died. As with any normal person, he has his daemons, he is open about his hard drinking ways in the past, now he controls his life and habits. As “normal” as he is, the villagers, his parish, are what can best be described as an “odd bunch”.

The film opens in confession, here we learn that one of his parishioners was abuse as a child by a priest. In the parishioner’s quest for vengeance, he has decided to kill a priest, not just any priest, but a good priest, someone people will notice. He is told he has just over a week to live, they even make an appointment for the following Sunday on the beach. We are not clear if he actually knows who his killer is. Following a discussion with his less than helpful Bishop (David McSavage), the Bishop feels that the confession was not valid, as absolution was not present and so he should report the issue.

Instead Fr. James uses the week to put his house in order and try find a way to stop what is going to happen. In to the mix comes his adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Homes, 2009), recovering from a suicide attempt. We see through her that his relationship with her has been strained over time and in deed still shows some stress marks but they know they have something to work out and so do. They treat each other as adults.

Over the coming days, we see Fr. James deal with his parishioners, the wife beaten by her lover, the lover who has no remorse and even the cuckolded husband, who is quite happy for his wife to have an affair, as it takes the pressure off him and basically they can get on with life. As part of his ministering to his flock he visits an old American writer who is living in a remote area accessible only by boat. While bringing the old writer his messages, he makes a request for a gun (Walter PPK). After some banter Fr. James says he will try and see what he can do. In the course of the next day he pays a visit to the local Police Inspector, to borrow a gun. The inspector is at home, with a male prostitute. Fr. James is not fazed by this or the prostitute’s behaviour. The prostitute is played by Owen Sharpe, I mention this because of his recent role in “’71” playing the young IRA killer, a completely different role, both done well.

As the week goes on, he has to deal with his curate, Fr. Leary (David Wilmot, Vikings 2013) who is not exactly the caring type, more concerned with image rather than substance. Fr. James is rather blunt in his opinion of him as a priest. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of Fr. James is his bluntness. When we see him with the financier on the edge of arrest (Dylan Moran, Black Books, 2000) who is trying to put things right (in his own way). Fr. Leary fawns to Moran’s character, while Fr. James just basically sees through the acts and gets down to business naming a figure and looking for the check.

As the week goes on, we start to see things taking a chilling turn, with his local church being burnt down and even his pet dog killed, we are not told who is responsible for these acts. We see the tensions mount to breaking point, while we also see moments of clam and belief, no more so that the French couple of holiday who were involved in a car crash, the husband is killed, while the wife escapes unhurt, we see in her a person of Faith and in so doing also see his Faith, it is real to him.

He has no airs and graces, when one of the village odd-balls, Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott, Love/Hate 2010-2014) sees Fr. James in church to ask for his advice regarding women; the conversation turns surreal. He basically has urges, possibly to violence , to control these urges he has decided to join the army, which he is convinced is full of psychopaths anyway and so should be a natural home for himself, Fr. James attempts to bring him back to reality by suggesting he read certain magazines, only to have milo say he has already tried them. What we see is a man casting no judgements and genuinely trying to help. His chats with the atheist (and cynical ) doctor, (Aidan Gillen, Love/Hate 2010-2013) also give us an insight to his view on life and his outlook on things in general, while at the same time not forcing a believe or rationalisation on the other person.

In dealing with his parishioners and even his daughter (and by extension himself) we do see a “good Priest”. Fr. James’s character is no Saint, he has his flaws and weaknesses like any person. He is essentially a person who is trying to help is parishioners without overstepping. However the various scenarios thrown up by the locals work at both levels, firstly allowing for a local and immediate (personal response) but also causing us to see the reaction of a kind and compassionate man, even if one who does not suffer fools to gladly.

Among all of the local community there is one who stands out, the altar boy, Mícheál (Mícheál Óg Lane, the Guard, 2011) he stands out for one reason, essentially he has reprised his role in The Guard, as a comic foil for Gleeson. This time it is a little more subtle but equally as good.

This movie shifts to an climax which can only end one of two ways, Fr. James alive or dead. A good man alive or dead. What we saw was a week in the life of a small parish, all seemingly tranquil and calm while below the surface there is violence, loneliness, suffering and pain and only one man has an idea as to what extent the people of the village are suffering in their various ways, just as he is dealing with his own daemons. This is dark in its subject matter but the cinematography and sharp lines place this movie in the first league.

It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it

9/10

John Wick

This seems to be getting great reviews , personally I have to say I was not inspired by it, in anyway. This is an old-fashioned “shoot-em-up” directed by Chad Stahelski (300, 2006) and written by Derek Kolstad (The Package, 2012). The film opens with the scene being set: John Wick (Keanu Reeves, 47 Ronin) is a man grieving for his recently departed wife. Helping him get over this grief is his puppy which was a gift from his wife. For anybody else this would be possibly enough to get back on track with life, but Wick is retired and just getting on with life.   It is in getting on with life that everything goes south. His luxury home is invaded by some Russian thugs who want to clear it out, of Wick has different ideas and defends his home, in the course of which his dog is killed. It turns out these protagonists are Russian mafia, indeed one of them is the son (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones, 2011) of the mafia head (Michael Nyqvist. The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo, 2009). Now this is where things go East (or South) very quickly. Having defended his home with more than a little noise, the local police call over after getting a report of a disturbance at the house. The Police officer at the door see inside to bodies lying on the ground, and just confirms with Wick that it is work and leaves him alone. Wick is out for vengeance now so he digs up the tools of his trade – from the floor of the basement. Kolstad tries to give us something different. Wick was no ordinary mob- enforcer he was one of the best hit-men in the business and the thug who attacked his house is the son of one of Wick’s former employers. Wick announces his intention to get revenge against his former employer, who although respecting Wick is forced to put a price on his head to defend his son. As Wick gets back in to the groove we see that there is a certain guild of assassins with Wick quickly making contact with old fellow assassins to determine the game ahead. He bases himself in a down-town hotel which is actually a “neutral ground” for people in his business. All expenses by the way are paid for by gold coins – everything from clean-up crews to hotel bills. Viggo knows what’s coming for his son and explains that Wick is not the Bogeyman, he’s the guy you call to kill the bogeyman. The supporting cast is good, with people like John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, 2001) as the garage owner who recognises Wick’s stolen car and refuses to have it in his Chop-shop and Ian Mc Shane (The Pillars of The Earth, 2010) who plays the hotel owner, keeping the peace among the underworld figures assembled. This movie involves a body count, with the usual vengeance plotline, however it is done in a fairly original manner and is not as hammed as many others of this genre. It is a night-in modern day western for the boys. The plot is wafer thin, but manages to work. It could be a lot worse. 6/10

The Guest

Directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, 2012) and written by Simon Barrett (also V/H/S), the production stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, 2012) as a soldier returned from “The war”, this one in Iraq. The film opens with a young man, David, jogging in to town with a full pack. We then see him calling to a house, it is the home of the Paterson family. He is met by the mother, Laura, (Sheila Kelly, Matchstick Men, 2003) who while initially sceptical of the stranger at her door, she allows him in and begins to relax, especially when he shows himself in a photograph the family have, he is posing for a group picture next to their dead son.

Over the course of the afternoon the mother invites David to stay with them for a few days. This of course is not greatly received by the rest of the family, most so with the father, Spencer, (Leland Orser, Taken, 2008), however once they start talking they get on well. Over the course of their talking David learns that Spencer has been passed over for a regional manager’s job. In the end they all get on and are glad to have somebody there who knew their dead son/brother. The Petersons have two other children, Anna (Maika Monroe, Labor Day, 2013) and Luke (Brendam Meyer, Mr Young, 2012). Anna is the self-assured 20 year old still living under her parents’ rule at home, balancing a waitressing job with a boyfriend, who as far as her parents know is history. Luke on the other hand is being bullied at school.

Pretty quickly, David begins to “help” the family. He sets up a situation with the boys who bullied Luke where he quickly inflicts sharp violent pain on them and subsequently advises Luke not to hold back when dealing with bullies. As the film goes on we also learn that the person who took Spencer’s job mysteriously commits suicide. Against this background Anna is suspicious and makes some phone calls only to learn that officially David was killed in a fire at a military hospital he was in. In the course of doing this David is red-flagged and a dark shadowy official is notified, he quickly pulls a team together and heads to Texas to find David.

Various bodies die in mysterious ways up to when the official, (Lance Reddick, Fringe 2008), who we learn is military police, raids the home. Once this happens the body count multiplies.

It turns out David was the subject of failed medical experiments, in short David will do anything to protect the family from danger or difficulty, this is his mission. At once both charming and polite while also a cold killer when his mission mode “kicks-in”

I’m not sure if this is one of the worst movies I ever saw or one of the smartest, I’m tending to the latter. The film overall has the feel of an eighties thriller even down to camera styles and soundtrack. Not only is the soundtrack a very eighties style the recording is also of the time with the soundrack abruptly breaking as a scene changes. As we prepare for the denouement we even get, wait for it; smoke.   In a number of places the movie tends to play to stereo-type but always manages to rescue itself from becoming a train-wreck. One of the reasons for this is Dan Stevens himself – his face is pure rubber. He has a stare which could burn through brick and a facial range which many actors would envy.

It is a subtly stylised movie which could have easily have failed but for some very tight direction and of course for Stevens’ own acting ability.

Get the DVD or stream it, you should enjoy it – 3.5/5, 7/10

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.

300: Rise of an Empire

Whereas most follow-on movies are either sequels or prequels , this movie parallels the original 300 (2006) allowing director Noam Murro (Smart People, 2008) and writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad the vehicle to run with Frank Miller’s material from the graphic novel Xerxes. What we see here is a continuation of the style first seen in 300 but a nuancing to actually make the work more watchable. The original scored through the visual effect and mythical character of the story-line while throwing vast amounts of testosterone across the screen.

What we see in this film is the story from “another angle”, Murro looks to the “back –story” of Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santaro, The Last Stand, 2013) attack in to the Greek States. His attack is one of revenge having been manipulated in to the position by one of his greatest admirals, Artimesia, (Eva Green, Casino Royale, 2006) who works her manipulations in the shadows, removing anyone who would or could be of influence to the King. Green makes a worthy adversary to Stapleton

There are a number of “sword and sandals” productions out over the last 12 months, with the majority being rather poor, Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014) and Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2014) being two examples. Noah for being too preachy and Pompeii for just being nothing great. Both had vast budgets and both failed to meet expectations, at least from my perspective. What we have with “300: Empire” is a director and writers who knew how not to ruin a work.

There is a good deal less of the mythical in this offering which is more focused on the battles. The movie works to set up the final dénouement from the very start; there is a story. The Greek states are being attacked, The Spartans are defending at Thermopylae, while General Thermistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad, 2013) has assembled what he can of a Greek navy/army to meet Artimesia and here grand fleet. In to the mix of this Thermistokles is aided by his generals Aeskylos (Hans Matheson, Sherlock Holmes, 2009) and Scyllias (Callan Mulvey, rush, 2008) with an earnest Jack O’Connell (’71, 2014) playing Scyllias’ son Calisto who is more than eager to enter the battle despite his father’s natural reluctance, what follows is the usual plot line, it does not take from the film and adds a slight distraction.

Generally the work feels less theatrical than the original. The graphics and special effects are excellent and carry the film. Indeed the digital and physical staging needed for the naval battles works well. This movie will never stand tall on a plinth when it comes to the history of cinema, but it is not bad. This movie does exactly what it sets out to do; it tells a story in a graphical manner. It should be noted that the graphical nature of the movie is not just for the special effects, there are some gruesome battle scenes which when you consider the movie is 3D offer some gore for those who like their battles bloody.

Speaking of 3D, I am generally speaking not a fan. I have nothing against 3D but for the fact that it is often done poorly. That said, it worked here; adding to the overall effect. Watch the DVD or download, there are many worse things you could do with your time. Noah was barely a ** movie, so it seems a little callous to make this offering a *** star effort. But Noah was barely a ** while 300: Empire is firmly sitting where it should.

They Came Back (Les Revenants, The Returned) 2004

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.

It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.

What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.

With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.

Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?

This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.

This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works)  rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept.   It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.

If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The first thing to notice when watching Ridley Scott’s movie (Before I go to Sleep, 2014) is that it is an interpretation for the Biblical tale, it is not a Sunday School lesson. Watching it I got the feeling that we are watching a modern telling of an old story. The first thing to note is that this film does not have the same sense of preaching that the year’s previous Biblical epic had. Indeed the not so subtle messages from Noah are missing. There is no vegetarian eating, organic good guys versus the leather wearing, meat-eating bad guys.

There is no real need to discuss the plot, it is what it is. Moses (Christian Bale, American Hustle, 2013) plays the part of a loyal general, standing next to his “brother” through adoption, Ramses (Joel Edgerton, The Great Gatsby, 2013) firstly as Prince then as Pharaoh . We see a man who was first content with his life and how it was. However as he progresses he begins to question certain acts and assumptions.

As he does this, the reigning Pharaoh, Seti, (John Tuturro, Somewhere Tonight, 2011) also sees characteristics in Moses which he values and indeed mentions to Moses at one stage that he wished Moses would inherit the Royal title rather than Ramses. John Tuturro, although an excellent actor would not have been my first choice for this role, but that said, seeing him in it; he’s perfect, giving an excellent, calm understated performance. The interaction between Ramses and Moses is one of the corner-stones of the production which we see develop from princes and generals to a self-righteous ruler who will not countenance disagreement.

It is on one such mission from the Pharaoh, to investigate conditions under Viceroy Heghep (Ben Mendelsohn, Starred-Up, 2013) in the city of Pitom that the true nature of the enslaved conditions of the Jews comes to his attention.   He meets with one of the Jewish leaders, Nun (Ben Kingsley, The Physician, 2013) who instructs him as to his past and introduces him to his actual brother, Joshua (Aaron Paul, a Long Way Down. 2014).

Through intrigues, Moses’ true birth-right in brought the the attention of Ramses, now Pharaoh. The effect of this news is to have Moses banished from Egypt. Following his banishment he eventually settles down and raises a family while receiving his message from God. The message drives him back to Egypt to release his people.

What follows is the movie act which probably had most people asking questions – the plagues of God to punish Egypt and set the Chosen people free. He we can see a difference from the Cecil B. DeMille production (1956) there is less of the Divine message than in the earlier work, more matter-of-fact. The plagues are well done and are even a vehicle for some subtle humour whether it is Ewen Bremner ( Snowpiercer, 2013) acting as the “Expert” trying to give the Pharaoh a very 21st century briefing on what is happening or through Indira Varma who play the High-Priestess who finally pays the price for not delivering answers and solutions.

The plagues were sent with the Power of God and in fairness to Scott were presented thus. Overall this was an entertaining production which did not feel quite as long as it might otherwise have. The acting was all as required, delivered with the sense of a block-buster adventure rather than preaching .   The setting and special effect were also more plausible (I cannot say if they are realistic) than with Noah.

The Film has been banned in Egypt, and that is a matter for Egyptian authorities, but it is understandable that issues of their past and the treatment of the Jewish People may be sensitive subjects. Also the appearance of God as a young boy in the form the Angel Malak (Isaac Andrews, Hercules, 2014) as the voice of God did not go unnoticed by people. The attitude portrayed also raised an eyebrow or two.

The special effects and costume departments deserve a special mention. Again I compare it to Noah with the costumes supporting the message, whereas here they were part of the production, as they should be.

From a religious aspect, some people will be unhappy but from a purely entertainment perspective, the movie works well, is engaging and gives us an excellent performance by Bale. Well worth watching, I would give it a solid ***