Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars

Gravity (2013)

GravityDirected by: Alfonso Cuarón. Released: October 4, 2013. Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice). Runtime: 91 min.

As far as survival movies go, I usually like them. It takes a lot for me to hate them, but it also takes a lot for me to love them. It also seems that they’re usually either slow or thrilling. “Gravity” makes me conflicted. It is a good human drama with substantial symbolism, but it has such little substance in other major areas. Let’s say if the story substance is a wire in space; Bullock’s character would not want to hang onto that wire, because it would break within seconds.

The film follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, under the guide of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), in command of his final mission before retirement. On a seemingly normal space walk, they are caught in the way of falling satellite debris. Their shuttle is destroyed and contact with Houston, and Earth in general, is severed. They are left adrift in space with only each other, and one hell of a view.

This is a terrifying situation. If this happened to me, I’d probably be that first astronaut who gets hit by debris and gets a nice hole in his head. You could throw a baseball through it. (It’s some seriously awesome CGI effects. I don’t think it’s a major spoiler because I don’t even remember the guys’ name.) It’s terrifying to even imagine oneself stepping into Stone’s space boots and having this happen to them. That makes Bullock’s character more admirable, because she keeps kicking and repeatedly escapes death; but her repeatedly escaping death makes the character slightly unrealistic, as well.

Stone is the main character, and she is somewhat interesting because she contributes to the film’s human drama aspect. She finds it tough to hang onto her hope because of something that happened in her past, that has also made her a reserved person. One of her motivations to go up into space is because of the peace. She struggles to forget about her past and try to find happiness… Experiencing a trauma is never easy. Rebirth is one theme of the movie. Stone floating in space is a literal and metaphorical journey for her to find her way again. I won’t go into further detail about that – it is better to watch the aspect for yourself. Hope is an occuring theme, too, because that’s a good motivation to survive. It feels like Stone has one layer, so she isn’t as compelling as the actress portraying her. Bullock performs mainly with varied types of breathing; an impressive way to convey emotions in cinema. One could tell what she is feeling throughout. This acting job seems difficult, and she does well.

As for George Clooney, the guy is good at being charming, but he is average here. He isn’t forgettable enough for people to ask “Which Batman starred alongside Sandra Bullock in Gravity? Val Kilmer?,” but he isn’t anything to praise. His character has many decent stories and he is good comic relief for such a situation, but he’s generic.

Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) knows how to portray Stone’s pain well, but his story needs a lot of work. “Gravity” is good for Sandra Bullock and it is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen, in just about ever. If you’re just there for the effects, you’ll be satisfied. Some of the 3-D effects are pop-out scary, which is edge-of-your-seat intense. In one scene when a character cries, the teardrop is really cool. This experimental film works in a few areas, but it relies on effects too heavily to enhance its weak narrative.

The film’s first half is thrilling. But the good thrills are too repetitive, and when they’re repeated in the second half, it’s much less interesting. The screenplay’s main event is “escape inevitable death; from debris, fire, and lack of oxygen, and try to think of a way home,” and it happens over and over. It makes the second half have moments well worth a yawn or two. A more diverse screenplay would be welcome, and the character development leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it is strange to expect more from a minimalistic filmmaker; but alas, this is one highly anticipated film of 2013 that doesn’t make me feel any sort of passion for it.

Score: 63/100

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100

The Human Stain (2003)

The Human StainThe Human Stain

Release Date: October 31, 2003

,Director: Robert Benton

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: How far would you go to escape the past?
Did you know? To prepare for her role, Nicole Kidman visited women’s shelters and talked to former victims of abuse for inspiration.

When a disgraced former college professor has a romance with a mysterious younger woman haunted by her dark twisted past, he is forced to confront a shocking secret about his own life that he has kept secret for 50 years.

Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman are really great in this. As is Ed Harris in a petite, but creepy and effective role. Gary Sinise’s chemistry with Hopkins is stellar. Sinise is also good as a reclusive authour who is holed up in his cabin in the woods, but there aren’t any zombies or ‘oh my god’ moments in this flick.

The Human Stain‘s biggest fault is that it’s just a little dull and not very interesting. The best scene in the feature is a charismatic dance shared between Sinise and Hopkins to “Cheek to Cheek”. Or maybe Kidman laying nude on her bed, even though they didn’t do a close-up. Dammit. When the film could have been amazing, it falters. For example, part of the ending is revealed in the beginning, and when that said scene actually happens, it isn’t emotionally hard-hitting in the least.

This film is an absolute mess. It’s all over the place, and some stuff is pretty mind-numbing. However, it is admittedly a well-made mess. It has great performances all around from the cast, but that’s all that’s good about this. And by the time Coleman Silk’s secret gets revealed, it’s like… That’s it? That’s the big secret? Well that’s not as shocking as I was hoping. It’s a little silly.

Here’s one blurb from a review that sums up my thoughts on the film very nicely: “One of those films that makes you say, ‘That was powerful. Now what the hell was it about?'” David Edelstein of Slate.

45/100

 

The Truman Show (1998) Review

The Truman Show

Release Date: June 5, 1998

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris

                                             Runtime: 103 min

Tagline: On the air. Unaware.

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a friendly and charismatic simpleton. He’s also the star of a reality show that he was born into. The show he’s on is the most popular show in the world, The Truman Show. It’s a 24-hour drama that chronicles his every move. Everyone that he thinks are his friends is really just actors put there for the show; and Truman is the only genuine person in the fictional town of Sea Haven that he calls home.

Once Truman starts to wonder if there’s something going around this town, he really just wants to get out and explore the world. Though, Truman has never been that exploratory after an incident that caused a phobia of water; a childhood experience when he and his father went out to sea and they were attacked by a thunderstorm and his dad fell off the boat and supposedly drowned.

The Truman Show is actually such an original and intriguing plot. The character that is Truman Burbank is so simple too, that you can’t help but sympathize with the guy. He is probably one of the most intriguing characters since Forrest Gump. The film uses the aspects of drama, comedy and fantasy which make such a wonderful blend.

The Truman Show is an interesting and entertaining ride that cannot be missed. It also has great performances from a lot of the cast. The only thing that I did not like about the movie was the fact that Truman’s wife was quite annoying and fake. Granted, in a way it was good that she was extremely fake. I guess the film’s only flaw was that it was a little slow in some areas.

The film is directed wonderfully by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society), written by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), stars Laura Linney as Truman’s wife, Noah Emmerich as Marlon, Natasha McElhone as Truman’s lost love, Lauren; Holland Taylor as Truman’s mother, Ed Harris as the show’s creator, Christof; and Paul Giamatti as a Control Room Director.

This film is an absolute treat, with a magnificent performance by funny man Jim Carrey in a great dramatic role.

As Truman would say, “Good morning, and if I don’t see you; good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.”

90/100

(August 21) Happy birthday Hayden Panettiere (23), Peter Weir (68) and Carrie-Anne Moss (45)

                                           Hayden Panettiere

The sexy New York native just turned 23 today. Hayden has a pretty impressive résumé. She was on the soap opera One Life to Live at the age of four and a half; and later appeared for four years starting at the age of seven on the soap opera The Guiding Light. She was the voice of Dot in A Bug’s Life, and the voice of Kate in the poorly acclaimed animated film Alpha and Omega. She’s appeared beside great screen presences like Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, and Tim Allen in Joe Somebody. She is also well known for being in Racing Stripes, and being the star on the TV show Heroes as the invincible Claire Bennet. And just last year, horror fans may know her for her role as Kirby Reed in Scream 4 (also called Scre4m, but I don’t like spelling it that way). She is pretty talented and also very attractive, and I just love watching her act.

Peter Weir

 This Australian director and sometimes writer just turned 68 today. He’s well known for taking great comedy actors and turning them into awesome dramatic actors, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. His latest project in 2010 was the star-studded (Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan) adventure drama The Way Back, which he wrote the screenplay for and directed. He has been nominated for six Oscars: one for Best Writing for Green Card; one for Best Picture for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and four for Best Director for the films Master and CommanderThe Truman ShowDead Poets Society, and Witness. Pretty impressive career.

Carrie-Anne Moss

This Canadian (born in Vancouver, B.C.) turned 45 today. She is best known for her role as Trinity in The Matrix trilogy, and also well-known for her roles in MementoChocolat alongside Johnny Depp, and in Disturbia.

   Happy birthday guys.