The Commuter (2018). Film review of the action thriller starring Liam Neeson and Vera Farmiga.

image still commuter neeson farmiga
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Film review by Jason Day of The Commuter, an action-packed thriller about a train commuter selected to assassinate another passenger. Starring Liam Neeson and Vera Farmiga. 

Thriller/Suspense/Film Noir

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

 

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New films out in the UK this weekend

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A list of the new films being released across the UK, from Friday 13 November 2015. Use the Find Any Film website for details of which cinema nearest you will show these films.

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Angels vs BulliesAngels Bullies poster

Essex-based British drama about a graffiti artist who starts communing with the ghost of a girl who had previously been victimised by bullies. Check out Find Any Film for where you can see this. The official website has all of the details, including the trailer.

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Love Actually (2003)

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Director: Richard Curtis. Universal/Studio Canal/Working Title/DNA Films. (15).

COMEDY


 


Producers:
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy.
Writer: Richard Curtis.
Camera: Michael Coulter.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Sets: Jim Clay.

Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Gregor Fisher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Kris Marshall, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Rodrigo Santoro, Edward Hardwicke, Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards.

SYNOPSIS

The love lives of eight very different couples in London are chronicled in the run up to Christmas.

REVIEW

Largely successful, Brit-portmanteau picture that could have been titled Luvvies Actually given how much of Equity’s register has been emptied to fatten up the cast list.

Right at the top of the bill (and that has never been an indication of quality in such star-studded pictures) is Grant as a love-lorn and single Prime Minister chasing clumsy new tea-girl McCutcheon. This is a gormless and charmless pairing, Grant’s aggravating, stuttering bluster by now a cliche, a cinematic short-cut of performance. McCutcheon is a chirpy ‘cockernee’ sparra’. Well, what else would she be? Her post- Eastenders debut was never going to push expectations.

Such ego-heavy productions groan at the seams with performers ecstatically trying to out act each other. Oddly though, the turns that stick in the memory here are those that don’t try too hard. Neeson trying it on with thinly veiled supermodel Schiffer (ignore the awful child crowing them on), Rickman contemplates a mid-life affair encouraged by nice friend Thompson and there is a heartbreaking threesome in Knightley, Ejiofor and Lincoln. The denouement to this particular thread of the story is literally a wrench, brilliantly and shockingly delivered by these actors.

There are still more powerful turns. In terms of comedy, Nighy and Fisher score most strongly in the entire film. They feature as a washed up eighties pop star and his long-suffering manager, trapped forever in a sexually unfulfilling bromance. Nighy is given one last shot at music immortality with a fairly ropey Christmas single. There can be no greater satisfaction for a cynical British audience, in this part of the story at least, to hear him refer (to Fisher’s horror) to Ant and Dec as “Ant or Dec” and note to their audience of largely under 15 year olds: “Kids, don’t buy drugs. Become a rock star and people will buy them for you”. This has to be the best line that Curtis has ever dropped into a motion picture screenplay. Thank you Richard!

For drama though, take a bow Ms Linney. One of the handful of visiting foreigners in this film, she can hold her head up high that, on celluloid at least, she juggles a difficult storyline perfectly as a woman trying to placate a mentally unbalanced brother and maintain the interest of horny Brazilian colleague Santoro. She deserves an Oscar for managing to keep her hands off him. This is the most impressive straight performance in the whole film.

Atkinson, who shares Curtis’ love of the extended similie and that certain Oxbridge humour (they both worked together on the Blackadder TV series) ties elements of the movie together as an obsequious Department Store sales clerk in some ill advised pantomime, but the film still scores because the humour and feel-good factor are nicely balanced with believable festive angst.

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

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Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Warner/Legendary/Thunder Road.

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Polly Johnsen. Writer:David Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Javier Navarrete. Sets: Charles Wood.

Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, John Bell, Lily James, Sinead Cusack.

SYNOPSIS

Now living the quiet life as a fisherman with his 10 year old son, half mortal/half God Perseus (Worthington) is called upon one last time to save irreligious humanity when his father, the great God Zeus (Neeson) is captured by his other son, the jealously enraged God of War Armes (Ramirez). Perseus has to rescue Zeus, with the help of warrior Queen Andromeda (Pike) and comic foil Agenor (Kebbell).

REVIEW

Clearly out to best Clash of the Titans in terms of audacious spectacle and popcorn munching fun, director Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles and, in the near future, the remake of teenage mutant Ninja Turtles) is clearly in his element with this sand and sandals daftness.

Topping the original was always going to be a foregone conclusion, given that Clash was such a wooden, serious and dull affair, itself eclipsed by the equally leaden but splendidly crafted 1981 film, the one with the memorable stop-motion special effects from Ray Harryhausen.

Liebesman, thankfully, is a man with a good sense of humour and Wrath ticks along nicely with just the right sort of ripe, juicy, Hollywood dialogue that befits a film raiding classical antiquity with scant regard for accuracy or respect.

Casting Nighy, for starters, was an audience pleasing stroke of genius. Nighy, who looks as though he has tottered onto the set still pissed from the wrap party of another film (an update of The Tempest perhaps, set on a council estate in Bury and in which he plays a genial, amnesiac Prospero) plays the God Hephaestus as a sprightly Northerner with poor short term memory but plenty of long term recall for a misspent youth (“Zeus showed me how to seduce Mermaids…handy that!”). It’s a performance that shouldn’t work, it should stand out like a sore thumb unbalancing the rest of the film and scream at the critic to scream at him for doing this…but it actually works splendidly thanks to his pitch-perfect comic timing and the fact that the other performers also belong on another film set (Pike from the hockey fields at an indeterminate but frightfully expensive private school in a generic British period drama; Kebbell from an episode of Eastenders etc).

The jokes continue in the unintentionally, joyously funny dialogue; when Worthington has to square up with his half-brother, amidst dozens of Titans killing hundreds of fellow soldiers, he says to Pike with the utmost solemnity: “Keep them off me”. Neeson and his estranged brother Hades (Fiennes) prepare to confront their all-powerful father by saying “Lets have some fun…like in the old days” (the old, old days presumably). The immortal bros later combine their powers in a Ghostbusters “Cross Streams!” finale.

Worthington’s gruff, whispering monotony contributed in no small part to the snooze fest that Clash became and he seems more tiresome here, so hats off again to the top drawer supporting cast for helping prick the audience’s attention.

Filmed in 3D, the technology is magically realised in a key number of arresting scenes: a roller-coaster ride through the mantle of the Earth with boulders flying straight toward you and a dizzyingly designed labyrinth to Tartarus, the underground prison. Thankfully, the audience is given plenty of time away from these moments to right themselves and avoid the nausea that 3D can create.

(P.S. many thanks to my good friend and classics master Katie Taylor for some helpful comments along the way)!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

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Director: Andrew Adamson. Disney/Walden Media

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

Producer: Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer. Writers: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Camera: Donald McAlpine. Music: Harry Gregson-Williams. Sets: Roger Ford.

Georgia Henley, Skander Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Kiran Shah, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn Fench, Rupert Everett.

SYNOPSIS

Evacuated to the countryside during World War II, the Pevensie siblings (Henley, Keynes, Moseley and Popplewell) soon find themselves bored kicking about the Professor’s (Broadbent) stuffy mansion. During a game of hide and seek, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that acts as a portal to the fantasy world of Narnia. Narnia is a land of snow and ice, lorded over by the White Witch (Swinton). But the coming of the human children sparks a rebellion from the creatures who dwell here, led by the wise and powerful lion Aslan (Neeson).

REVIEW

Wittily summarised by Empire magazine as ‘Lord of the Rings in fuzzy felt’, as brief and accurate a description as any critic could dream up, Chronicles may not live up to Peter Jackson’s mighty trilogy but this first part has a certain, chilly kick to it.

For those who still fondly remember the entrancing childrens TV version made in the eighties will know that this Disney version doesn’t hold a candle to it. One improvement, however, is with the casting and styling of Swinton, in what turned out to be the film that ‘made her’, aged 45 and after years on the art-house film circuit. She is a frostily enigmatic megalomaniac, seductively whispering sweet nothings to an underage Skandar, offering him neverending sweety rewards before trying to spear him with an icicle. She’s dressed in a shimmering, post-box style bodice, with alabaster white make-up and long, blond dreadlocks. It is a striking display of lip-smacking, movie-psycho villainy, shaded with a greatly talented performer’s control and determination.

The children are annoyingly middle-class, but Henley is an adorable find as Lucy, the youngest of the group and McAvoy is a sweetie as Mr Tumnus. A raft of British stars voice some of the animals; there are more parts here than on Noah’s Ark. Notably, Everett is a heroic fox and Winstone and French are the bolshy beavers.

The effects are workmanlike and effective. Lion tries hard to emulate the Tolkein adaptations in terms of scale and thrills but it merely fizzes when the action starts rather than presents eye-popping spectacle. Its amusing to see how on this level the two films are so similar but also vastly different at the same time.

Disney and Walden Media furnish a slap-up production and this first installment proved a hit, but despite the razzmatazz publicity drive, the other additions to the series (Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – in 3D) have failed to capture similar audience attention.