Tag Archives: Film

John Wick

johnwick-reeves-church
John Wick

 

Clint Eastwood’s character apparently killed roughly 80 Nazis in Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Keanu Reeves as John Wick makes a hell of an attempt to beat that number in this film.

It’s fair bet to say he probably succeeds.

That might sound a bit monotonous as a plot but it turns out to be rather mesmerising.

We start knowing very little about Mr Wick. He’s obviously well-to-do, lives in an ultra-modern, superbly designed and expensively outfitted if austere mansion in rural New York. He has an expensive car collection.

We don’t know what he does. We don’t know what he did. We don’t know where his money came from.

Gradually we learn a little more. We find out that his wife has just died after a long illness. John Wick is a man in mourning, trying to come to terms with his loss. A thoughtful and foresighted woman, worried that this might be the case, his late wife has organised an intervention to draw John back into the world of life and living.

She has a puppy delivered.

John Wick and Daisy
John Wick and Daisy

And it has exactly the effect she hoped. Gradually man and dog bond. ‘Daisy’ as a final gift from his wife occupies a very special place in John Wick’s life.

The only thing that comes close to being as important is his car – a vintage Mustang.

Then one fine day John and Daisy encounter some Russian mobsters at a local service station, one of whom takes a great interest in the Mustang – so much so that he offers to buy the car, whatever the cost. He expects to get what he wants, the offer becoming ever more a demand and is flabbergasted, furious and then grievously offended when John refuses to either be intimidated or to sell at any price.

The mobster utters an insult in Russian. And John Wick responds fluently in the same language. An insight that raises far more questions than it in any way answers.

Later the same night, John wakes to unexpected sounds downstairs.

The Russian hasn’t taken ‘No’ for an answer.

In a short space of time, John’s life is turned upside-down again.

As he tries to get some semblance of balance back in the days that follow, his past life is revealed – and we realise that the Russians have picked on the worst possible target for a home invasion.

What follows is non-stop action, stylish, sustained and superbly entertaining.

 

 

 

The Drop

The Drop
The Drop – a thriller that does what it says on the tin

 

Eric Deeds doesn’t do whys.

Eric has a problem with Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy).

Bob is a bartender at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini in his last film) bar, conveniently called Cousin Marvs. He lives in the house he inherited from his parents and generally keeps himself to himself. Doesn’t say much, just gets on with things.

Until the night he finds a beaten and bleeding pup in a trash can.

Bob's life gets complicated
Bob’s life gets complicated

That night changes Bob’s life.

The trash can was in a front yard Bob was passing on his way back from a shift at the bar. It turns out the house is owned by a young woman called Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It takes Bob a while to find out her name. It takes him longer to convince her not to call the police and have him arrested.

Bob’s previously simple life rapidly becomes complicated on a number of fronts.

He promises Nadia to keep the pup, rather than giving it up to a dog shelter. Bob though doesn’t know anything about looking after a dog, so Nadia agrees to help.

And then up pops Eric Deeds (Mathias Schoenaerts). He turns up in the park as Bob and Nadia walk the dog. Then he knocks on Bob’s door and invites himself in. Compliments Bob on his dog. Or actually, his, Eric’s, dog he claims. Eric eventually leaves but it’s clear the number of bats in his belfry don’t add up to what they should.

Bob tells Marv what happened and enquires about Eric Deeds – who he is and what he’s like. Marv warns him that Deeds is seriously bad news, erratic unpredictable and given to violence. People in the neighbourhood believe he killed a man called Richie Whelan.

While Bob is mulling over these developments, more trouble drops into his world. Marv’s bar is robbed at closing time by two gun-wielding bandits who make off with $5000. Despite the name, Marv doesn’t own his bar. He used to. Back when he was a big name in the neighbourhood, a loan shark as well as bar owner, and want-to-be hoodlum and hardman.

Now though he’s been forced to hand the bar over to Chechen gangsters, and these days Marv answers to them. A loss of any kind is a black mark and the brutality that may be meted out in punishment unknowable.

Unless Marv and Bob can find the robbers and recover the money. And convince the Chechens that they had nothing to do with it. As well as the police detective (John  Ortiz) who believes they know more than they’re telling.

Happy Ending?
Happy Ending?

And all the time not forgetting that Eric Deeds still has a bone to pick with Bob. And Nadia. And possibly Marv.

The resolution of these strands is like watching speeding trains all bound for the one terminus, hurtling ever closer – something explosive almost certainly will happen, but even as the tensions build we’re not quite sure how.

Then again there may be switches to be thrown and twists to come that change the entire story as we (believe we) know it……..

Hugely enjoyable in a quiet, understated way and played out on a very human scale, with sympathy for and insight into the often unsuspected depths of lingering fears and frustrations, hopes and dreams we all accumulate as we move through life.

Interstellar

Poster for Interstellar
Stellar Interstellar

‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.’

It’s hard not to think of that line, and many other ‘science fiction’ films when coming to a movie like Interstellar.

Especially a movie like Interstellar. Humans. Machines. Space Exploration.

There however the similarities cease. Nods and oblique references, some quite funny, are made to these predecessors, but Interstellar is very much its own film. And all the better for it.

Humanity is at the core, the heart of Interstellar. It might seem strange but it’s as much and actually much more of a love story than a space epic.

Tech and adventure provide the stunning backdrop for a story of human relationships, encompassing everything from romantic,  family and friendship to the bonds that link us all.

How strong are those bonds? How far do they reach? What would we do to save those we love? Who would we sacrifice for them? Is a planet full of people worth less than one special person?

It would be unfair to unravel any more of the threads that go into to weaving this story together.

Like the science of worm holes it folds back in and through itself in complex ways that thoroughly reward the viewer.

In its best moments and there are many, it’s a heart thumping thrilling experience – made all the better by the immensely powerful soundtrack, crescendos of perfectly chosen notes lending power to scenes throughout the film.

It’s rare to say that all the parts of a movie work, but in this they do: concept, story, script, actors, music, pace, visuals – and even the message.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster transcending genres in much the same way as the scientific theories at the heart of the movie aim to short cut reality, and in the same way as black holes are, apparently, inexplicable from the out side , the only real way to understand the magic of this movie is to go see it!

Do. It’s well worth it, even for those who have no interest in science or science fiction.

You just need to have a heart – or have known one once.

 

Arthur and Mike: running away from yourself so fast it hurts

Arthur Newman, Golf Pro
Arthur and Mike: Life’s no picnic

 

Do you ever think about dropping everything and disappearing into the wild blue yonder?

A new name, a new backstory, a new personality even – a new life! Just like that…..

That’s what Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) does in ‘Arthur and Mike’. Fakes his death and disappears. Not randomly or haphazardly; he has a plan – maybe more of a quest – and a place to be. As Arthur Newman – old pent-up, buttoned-down staid Wallace doesn’t do imaginative, even with his reinvention as a new man – he’s on his way to be a golf pro in Terre Haute Indiana. Goodbye past, hello possibility. Simple.

Except he’s not the only one fleeing his demons. Staggering or collapsing into Arthur’s path comes a mysterious woman (Emily Blunt), sprawled on a sun lounger seemingly on the way out of not just her old life but out of  life entirely. An unlikely hero but an honourable man, Arthur gets her to a hospitable and saves her life. The two – the stray and the waif – forge a bond, brittle at first but gradually deepening.

Over time and a series of adventures – what road movie doesn’t have adventures and escapades – the role of saviour and consoler switches back and forth, as both Arthur and Mike acknowledge and confront their demons.

There are some uncomfortable scenes along the way, some genuinely funny, a few very sad, and not a small number of rather sweet vignettes.

It’s not a prefect film by any means, and it doesn’t set out to be a blockbuster; the tale of two imperfect people probably never could be. It is intriguing enough to stay in the memory and provoke some reflective thoughts on what’s just played before our eyes.

One question that kept distracting me from the film was why were the two lead roles in the story of two Americans in America both filled by British actors. I’m not suggesting that roles be allocated on any kind of strict passport criteria – the key skill of acting after all being able to portray someone else who is not you – but casting of this kind can cause difficulties with believability. Relatively unknown actors can sail under the radar, and both film goers and critics may see and hear what they expect to see and hear from an American character.

But Colin Firth is too big a name and far too well-known as the quintessential Englishman not to invite, even demand, closer scrutiny, and unfortunately in this film at least his accent is not always up to scratch so as to pass muster. In fact it might be the case that his usual intonation and diction are so well-known and so familiar that no matter what he tries to do, what comes to mind will always be the distinctive voice of King George, Mr Darcy or Bridget Jones’ caddish boss.

Emily Blunt on the other hand – with a burgeoning career but not one defined, yet, by a single role, much less a specifically English/British one – carries off American tones with aplomb. Her performance is the best thing about this film by a country mile. Looking like a cross between the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Chloe from 24, she makes the screen her own as the kooky, impulsive, perhaps irredeemable Mike.

While it is flawed, there’s enough here to satisfy film goers who like a film a little off centre, neither sickly saccharine nor gratuitously bitter, depicting lives stained with darkness and constrained by dread, that ultimately perhaps asks as many questions of the audience as it does of the characters. As to where the answers lie, well that’s question for all of us, isn’t it?

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The main characters of X-Men: Days of Future Past in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington

 

Albert Einstein would be shocked or ecstatic at how the principles of time, space, matter and movement are upended in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sports stadiums are wrenched from the earth and fly through the air, dimensions are crossed so quickly that the blink of an eye is like the passing of an age, and – giving the film its premise – time travel is not only possible but necessary.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the previous films in the series will be a little bit at sea initially but there is enough back story artfully included to soon get a bearing on the storyline. We begin in 2023, when the world, marshalled by Dr Bolivar Trask [Peter Drinklage], has declared war on those who are different, the mutants. Invincible, impervious machines, the Sentinels, hunt down survivors where ever they are to be found.

The only solution is for old foes, and older friends, Professor Charles Xavier [Patrick Stewart] and Eric Lehnsherr (aka Magneto) [Ian McKellen] to work together and change the past. Kitty Pryde [Ellen Page] can send the consciousness of a person back in time to occupy their earlier bodily selves – provided they can withstand the physical trauma involved. Step forward the near indestructible Logan (aka Wolverine) [Hugh Jackman].

He wakes up in an interesting not to say compromising and very funny situation in 1973, an old head on young shoulders. Acclimatising, like the viewer, to the vintage glories of seventies style and colour, the rest of the film follows his efforts to find the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and convince them of what the future holds and what they need to do about it.

If all went straightforwardly of course we wouldn’t have much of a story, suspense or spectacular scenes. Needless to say then a cosy little chat over biccies and tea won’t sort things out, and we’re soon watching an elaborate prison break to spring Magneto – a sequence that incidentally contains one of the funniest scenes in the whole film.

With the gang all assembled and briefed, the hunt is on for Raven/Mystique [Jennifer Lawrence] who is the key to all that transpires in the future.  To produce a new reality they have to find her. All the while back in 2023 the last refuge of the mutants, including Xavier, Magneto, Pryde and Wolverine, is under fierce assault by legions of Sentinels. Will Wolverine succeed in 1973? Or will the machines complete the annihilation before he can?

It’s a testament to the success of the film – and the assemblage of acting talent on show – that the audience in the cinema where I was stayed glued to their seats all the way through, and tensed ever more on the edge of those seats as the resolution of events approached.

Mixing the fun, including some great one liners, with the serious and artfully blending in real life characters – Richard Nixon turns up at a crucial stage of the plot, complete with a knowing nod to tape recorders – X-Men: Days of Future Past has an emotional depth not always or even often seen in films of this type. A spectacle with substance.

PS.

Almost all of the audience stayed in their seats when the credits started rolling, which puzzled me somewhat. Obviously I was in the presence of informed fans. That or I’m a bit dopey. Or both. Anyway, those who stay till the very end will see a fleeting glimpse of the next instalment in the series: X-Men: Apocalypse.

Sabotage – One of the Strangest Films I’ve Ever Seen

Sabotage - Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot
Sabotage – Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot

I had an hour or so to kill today within striking distance of a cinema so I took a chance on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new film, Sabotage.

Hours later I’m at a loss as to how to describe it. It’s not bad, not great, just…..strange.

First off it’s not a typical Arnie movie. Rated 16s in Ireland, it’s very graphically gory at regular intervals. Pools of blood, piles of body organs, bullets ripping through flesh. Plus a little nudity and robust language. Far from run-of-the-mill fare for Schwarzenegger.

Equally he’s joined in the cast by other big name actors – Mireille Enos, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington and Terence Howard. Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau Jr., Martin Donovan and Max Martini will be familiar faces from TV. So, not a one man band star vehicle, again unusual.

The storyline centres John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger), leading a rough and ready ultra macho ragtag band of DEA agents carrying out special operations against major drug smugglers. During one raid $10 million goes missing; Breacher and team are suspended. The rest of the film resolves what happened to the money – and who’s systematically slaughtering members of the team one by one by ever more inventively gruesome means.

Scene after scene of blood and gore should be distinctly uncomfortable to watch – for me especially since I have an unfortunate tendency to get woozy when the red stuff flows. But here lies the problem with the film: we never really get engaged enough to care much what happens. Nor do any of the characters on screen react with much shock or horror, or anything near what might be expected in the situations in which they find themselves. Resigned and fatalistic veterans they may be, but if the characters don’t care about themselves, why should we?

Which oddly is not to say the that the film is boring. Sabotage manages to hold the attention, but the viewer remains at a distance, a casual observer always conscious of being on the outside looking in. You never become involved enough to have any strong feelings, let alone engrossed enough to be fearful or anxious. Given the oceans of blood, no-holds barred violence and legions of painful deaths on display this ironically works to the film’s advantage.

For an action/crime film with a high quota of murders, it has little tension or suspense. Despite the presence of talented actors (and Arnold), we learn little about any of the characters, their past or what makes them tick. Despite numerous references to the team being ‘a family’ and loud pledges to ‘take a bullet for them’ nothing on screen convinces or explains why this might be so. The script is basic and minimalist, to the point of parody in places. Some lines exist solely to mark Arnie out from the herd. They add nothing and often seem badly out of place, as do many scenes that could well be from an entirely different version of the story. Indeed at times it seems the film was edited from a number of diverging storylines that took alternative approaches, and the finished version ultimately fails to reconcile the differences and patch the joins smoothly.

Overall, the tone varies from comedy scenes in the early section of the film to dark and dour. On a few occasions the director has thrown in some sporadic experimentation, using unusual camera angles and views – a perspective looking from the barrel of a gun as it fires, or toward it; one scene where present action and flashback are blended together so as to mislead the viewer, others where they merely feature alongside one another. No consistency in approach or application, just a few irregular and erratic moments. It’s almost like everybody involved lost interest at some point or had somewhere else they needed to be.

Mireille Enos has the strongest and most memorable performance, followed closely by Olivia Williams. Arnold plays Arnold like only Arnold can, his Austrian accent as impervious to softening as the Alps are to weather.

For the novelty value, worth a look.