Must See: Run All Night

Thanks to Justin Chang at Variety for this early review of Run All Night, Liam Neeson’s new bad-ass thriller which has been on my radar for some time:

Someday the mobsters, petty thugs and crooked cops of the world will finally get it through their thick skulls that you should never, ever mess with Liam Neeson’s family — not that audiences have reason to complain in the meantime, so long as they keep getting action pictures as straightforward and robustly satisfying as “Run All Night.” In his third and arguably most effective partnership with director Jaume Collet-Serra (after “Unknown” and “Non-Stop”), the 62-year-old Neeson puts his world-weary killer instincts to good use as an aging Brooklyn hit man trying to protect his estranged son — a twist that pushes this tense, elegantly assembled chase thriller into full-on male-weepie territory, so heavy with sins-of-the-fathers anguish that it almost plays out like a latter-day “Road to Perdition.” Yet Collet-Serra keeps things moving so nimbly that the emotions never turn leaden, suggesting that this Warner Bros. programmer could display some much-needed commercial stamina in a season of box office disappointments.

Read the full review here.

Chang’s appreciation for the film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Neeson, Joel Kinnaman and Ed Harris, lines up with my hopeful expectations that are usually unrealistically high; especially for a genre that sacrifices its character development and story line for a good chase scene.  Still, I love the cast, especially Kinnaman of The Killing, and Neeson does family shoot-em-ups better than anyone.

So far my only concern is writer Brad Ingelsby who penned Into the Furnace, another eagerly anticipated film that majorly disappointed, but Chang seems to enjoy the script and the film despite its faults, which is always a good sign.

Fingers crossed it lives up to the hype.

: Early rating 7.8 IMDb

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Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris

Every once in awhile a movie comes along that reminds you to believe in possibility.  3D film was developed so that visionary filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón could make movies like Gravity.  Quite simply, it is a groundbreaking, jaw-dropping experience of visual beauty and vicarious terror that leaves you breathless.

What I liked:  This is not the transcendent wonder of Kubrick’s 2001.  This is a physical and visual encounter with cinema.  For the record, I love 3D movies but not for the sake of it.  I enjoy new ideas being translated through a relatively new facet of technology.  Gravity left me feeling as though I knew what it would be like in space and that is no small feat.    Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have given us a visual story that previously was beyond my imaginative scope.  Just brilliant.

What I didn’t like:  As with most ground breaking films, what Cuarón was trying to accomplish cinematically overshadowed character and dialogue.  This is a rare exception where it’s okay with me.  The movie is not about Bullocks’ back story.  The movie is entirely in the moment and succeeds as such.  Bullock and Clooney are commendable and convincing but their familiar faces within this magical moment of experiencing something new in film, for me, was almost distracting – or a disappointing reminder that it was just a movie.

My rating:  Truly magical.

My IMDb Rating:  9/10        tomato: 97%

Rush (2013)

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Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara

It’s my firm belief that if you have to start a movie in medias res and go back to the beginning, then your original beginning isn’t strong enough.  This holds true in Ron Howard’s latest film about F1 racing legends, the Maverick Brit James Hunt and his prickly Austrian rival Niki Lauda, where the movie opens at a critical moment only to immediately go back in time to recap.   Ron Howard knows how to create drama, pace and suspense perfectly but there seemed to lack a cohesive narrative thread that would have made Rush outstanding.

What I liked: The movie is as slick as a race car and the racing scenes are wonderfully executed, especially when there is poor weather conditions.  The movie is certainly entertaining. The characters and relationships however are underdeveloped and, frankly, a little wasted; except for Daniel Bruehl who plays Niki Lauda and adds all the heart and soul to this film.   He is brilliant and seemingly reaches beyond the written character, if I am to compare him to Chris Hemsworth’s less dynamic portrayal.  Somehow, while Hemsworth is convincing his character, ironically, lacks the charm to carry the emotion of each short scene, whereas Bruehl’s Lauda grows on us and stays with us.  The best moments of the film come late when we come to respect the rivalry as they do.  I enjoyed that there is no definitive hero and both characters make for a series of well captured scenes but…

What I didn’t like: The film unfolds like a feast of tasty appetizers that never settles into a meal. The story is interesting and there are well-executed moments of real connection and emotion but they never last long enough or fit properly to create a fluid whole.  The camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle was electric and worked very well in some seems but, again, seemed to piece together different moods or ideas that contributed my overall sense of disharmony.

My rating:  Wishing for an Oscar nod for Daniel Brühl.

My IMDb  rating:  7.5/10     tomato : 88%

Captain Phillips (2013)

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Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense.  His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception.  The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time.  Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.

What I liked:  Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding.  The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day.  Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue.  Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful.  They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail.  They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.

What I didn’t like:  Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over.  I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything.  I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.

My rating:  Requires big screen viewing.

My IMDb rating: 7/10      tomato:  94%

5. Game of Thrones

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This is another one of my favourite shows and was happy to include it on the list.  What started as a big budget fantasy drama, largely supported by fans instead of critics has developed into everyone’s favourite water cooler conversation.   Season three ended with such a devastating blow (or at least one episode before the finale) that fans are still discussing it months after it went on hiatus.  This medieval fantasy world about seven families vying for the Iron Throne has everything: character, wit, performance, treachery, betrayal, violence, nudity, unpredictability and impeccable editing and design.  I envy those who have yet to watch, because waiting until 2014 for the next episode is torture.  May Season 4 live up to the hype!

Rating:  It seems, it took a minute for critics to get on board.  Season 1 provided the floor plan for where we are today and the show’s Metacritic score has soared from 79% in its first season to 90% after it’s third.

IMDb: 9.4       metacritic: Season 1, 79%

6. Walking Dead

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I have no idea how I missed this show.  I heard about it for the first time after Season 3 came to a close in March.  Granted, despite great casting, a fantasy drama about a small group of people clinging to life in a world of zombies is not really my bag, but the ratings are high and everyone I’ve talked to  loves it.  Quite honestly, I’m disappointed with myself.  Look for a Can You Tell A Story review before season 4 gets underway in October.

Rating: This is the second AMC show to reach my top ten.  Metacritic rates season 1 at 82%.  Not bad.

IMDb:  87%      metacritic:  Season 3, 82%

The Heat (2013)

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Directed by:  Paul Feig
Written by:  Katie Dippold
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Taran Killam and Bill Burr.

I love Melissa McCarthy.  From her turn in Bridesmaids, to her two hilarious gigs hosting SNL, McCarthy had me in stitches.  Admittedly, I shied away from Identity Thief certain I would be disappointed (even though I love the cast) by the excessive slapstick shtick that I assumed would substitute for storytelling (the reviews lead me to believe I was right to avoid it).  With The Heat, I was unsure.  I give credit to the preview for not spoiling the movie’s funniest moments, but at the same time I felt it protected its jokes by solely promoting its cast; so much so that I had little desire to see another buddy cop flick about two mismatched cops forced to work together and take down a drug lord, in what looked like a carbon copy of everything that came before.   I’m happy to report, I was not disappointed.

What I liked:  McCarthy is hilarious, and arguably carries the movie, as the foul-mouthed, salt-of-the-earth cop who enjoys the misfortunes of others.  Bullock is perfect as the FBI agent and McCarthy’s uptight foil.  I commend her for downplaying her role enough to give McCarthy the spotlight, in fact, I found it made her funnier.  The two have great on-screen chemistry and it’s no wonder a second movie is already in the works.

What I didn’t like:  There is nothing new here other than unique performances.  As I expected, the movie is a carbon copy of everything that came before.  What makes it funny is that this time around the two mismatched cops are women, which offers a spectrum of reinvented jokes about the same tired scenarios.   The story takes a back seat to the slap stick humour but Bullock, a seasoned vet at this type of comedy, and McCarthy deftly endear  us to their characters.  I was also disappointed by the limited screen time for the supporting cast which could have been very funny.

Not to be missed: McCarthy’s scene with Buster Bluth (Tony Hale). Priceless.

My rating:  Women cops are funny.

IMDb: 7.1    tomato: 63%

Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk)
Written by: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt (screenplay and story)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

I’ve learned to distrust trailers, as much as I enjoy them.  More times than not, a movie doesn’t live up to the hype presented in a 2min clip (Warm Bodies being the current exception).  In this case, the how’d-they-do-that thriller had me from the trailer and I rushed out to see it.  The movie, about four magicians who conduct a series of heists and the cop who is trying to capture them, has a great premise but it flounders as it tries to focus too much on a story that isn’t deftly constructed.

What I liked:  The movie is, quite simply, entertaining – if you ignore the holes.  It moves forward fluidly with a chuckle here and there and the characters are engaging if underdeveloped, to the movie’s great misfortune.  The Four Horsemen: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco have characters that suit their strengths as actors, which would be great fun if they were ever onscreen as more than a plot point.  Their grand spectacles are funny and baffling but fail to generate any tension.  Mark Ruffalo carries the film as the frustrated cop trying to catch up to their trail of larceny.  Riding his wave of frustration is the best part of the movie.

What I didn’t like:  Again, the premise is what engages but the follow-through is lacking.  For a movie that claims it is smarter than we are, I was overtly aware that it wasn’t, on most counts. That said, I did enjoy the trick reveals and the magicians’ great spectacles.  However, the movie never delves any deeper than the heist itself.  As David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, “It seems that the director, who also made “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans,” will do anything to distract us from the emptiness to which he has devoted himself.’  That said, we don’t all need depth to be entertained and I would recommend the movie as a fun summer flick.

My rating: Enjoy it for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

IMDb 7.5     rotten 47%