We review this week’s new cinema releases, including TAKEN 3, FOXCATCHER and INTO THE WOODS…
TAKEN 3 (France/12A/109mins)
Directed by Olivier Megaton. Starring Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Famke Janssen, Jonny Weston, Jon Gries.
THE PLOT: Opening with a little quality family time for the extraordinary, decent CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson), as he surprises his secretly pregnant twentysomething daughter Kim (Grace) with an early, unwanted birthday present (a dirty big stuffed panda, just to prove that he’s a big softy) and his superhot ex-wife Lenore (Janssen), reveals that her marriage to Stuart (franchise newcomer Scott) is in trouble – mainly because, it seems, she’s got the superhots for our boy. When Lenore turns up dead in Bryan’s apartment though, he immediately turns fugitive, determined to find out who really killed her before cuddlesome detective Franck Dotzler (Whitaker) finally manages to catch up with his newfound idol…
THE VERDICT: After the box-office failure of last year’s A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, and the general groan that has greeted this latest Luc Besson-created franchise outing, it would appear that Liam Neeson’s Rainier Wolfcastle days might be coming to an end. There’s only so many roaring rampages of revenge an actor can go on before they become Chuck Norris. Or, if audiences really turn against you, Steven Seagal.
Co-written once again by Besson, the former arthouse favourite’s latest shiny B-movie offering is full of daytime soap plotting, car commercial photography, and OTT action sequences. For quite some time now, the man who brought us THE BIG BLUE and LA FEMME NIKITA seems to work by the old Chandler idiom of when in doubt, have a speeding car walk into the room. Which can all be happily forgivable if the guilty pleasures come hard and fast, and funny, but TAKEN 3 never goes beyond the call of duty. That you’re presented early on with a murder and a sweaty-palmed stepfather leaves little to the sleuthing challenge.
Neeson should go back to acting before it slips beyond his reach.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave.
THE PLOT: Olympic wrestling gold medallist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is surprised with an offer from a wealthy heir John E. DuPont (Steve Carell) to support and train him for the 1987 World Championships and the 1988 Olympic Games. Schultz leaves his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and his family behind, as he moves across the country to be part of Team Foxcatcher. It is not long, however, before this new upswing in his lifestyle begins to affect Schultz’s sport.
THE VERDICT: There has been a lot of talk about FOXCATCHER since it screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, not least because of Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose. Channing Tatum takes everything down a notch for his performance as Mark Schultz; there is very little bravado here, just a quiet man who is confident in his abilities. That said, Tatum also manages to make Schultz’s bratty, petty and jealous nature shine through in a way that still makes him relatable, but more human than he could have been. Steve Carell works through the extensive prosthetics to give one of the finest performances of his career. Carell’s posture, gait and speaking rhythms have all but disappeared in his transformation into John E. DuPont, and he makes the character feel like an idle heir simply playing with ‘toys’ until his interest runs out.
Mark Ruffalo has a talent for playing the everyman – part of the reason his performance as Bruce Banner is so strong – and the same goes here. Like Carell, Ruffalo changes his posture, gait and mannerisms to accurately portray an Olympic wrestler, and he is the emotional heart, and voice of reason of the film. Vanessa Redgrave turns up in a handful of scenes as DuPont’s mother, but her presence dominates every scene she is in.
The story is based on the real life history of Team Foxcatcher and the Schultz brothers’ experiences at Foxcatcher farm. The film was delayed for over a year to allow it to be completed, and it seems that these issues could well have arisen from E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s screenplay which actually does rather little to give us an insight into the characters, although the actors performances go some way to filling in the blanks. There is a lot to be told about John E. DuPont, but precious little of the man’s erratic behaviour makes its way into the film. Everything is toned down to such an extent that he feels like a petulant child throwing his toys away for displeasing him, rather than a man with a deep-seated mental illness, an illness that would end in tragedy.
Director Bennett Miller has created wonderful performances in the lead cast, many of whom have not attempted a film of this emotional depth and scope, perhaps ever. Miller carefully weaves the personalities at the centre of the film together, and allows the little information given to be released slowly. It is credit to his acting team that they make this drip feed of story, emotional change and relationships shifting work to the benefit of the film.
In all, FOXCATCHER is a film that lives and dies with the performances from the central trio. Ruffalo, Carell and Tatum are at the top of their game here, and are an absolute joy to watch, but they are let down by a script that omits too much of actual events from the film, leaving some aspects of the story feeling undertold and underexamined.
Review by Brogen Hayes
NATIONAL GALLERY (France/USA/UK/Club/181mins)
Directed by Frederick Wiseman.
THE PLOT: Allowing the art – and, more significantly, those whose job it is to put the art up on the walls of the 181-year-old London art gallery – to speak for itself, National Gallery works best when going deep down into the basement, where great works are restored to their former glories, revealing not only much of the original beauty but also the techniques involved in the original painting. Other stretches fail to charm quite so much, as we go through admin meetings about the forthcoming seasons, with impeccably-mannered roundtable debates about what people want versus what people need (one woman, in particular, may even still be talking on this subject, given her relentlessly monotonous delivery). Joining the occasional tour guide, as they wax lyrical about an individual painting, offers up a few sparks too…
THE VERDICT: Veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (who justed 85 on Jan 1st) takes another walk on the mild side after the recent At Berkeley, with yet another slow, ambling and very, very long fly-on-the-wall look at another renowned institutions. Wiseman likes to let his subjects do all the talking, leaving the audience to bring their own perceptions to the everyday, often seemingly throwaway moments. It makes for a brazenly slow burn, and one that demands patience and concentration on the part of the viewer. For those who need their kicks a little more immediate, National Gallery will be very much akin to watching paint dry. It’s an old master though, so, you know, make the effort.
Review by Paul Byrne
INTO THE WOODS (USA/PG/125mins)
Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, James Corden, Meryl Streep, Joohnny Depp.
THE PLOT: Rob Marshall’s musical ties together famous fairytales into one story; the story of a childless Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who must gather together magical items so a witch (Meryl Streep) can reverse a curse put on their family tree.
THE VERDICT: INTO THE WOODS is based on a Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, which uses characters from Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel to tell a single story of characters who are drawn to magical and mysterious woods on at the same time.
The cast is made up of Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, newcomer Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, who was most recently seen on screen in LES MISERABLES. The good news is that the entire cast can sing, and do so well. The chemistry between Blunt and Corden is a joy to behold, Johnny Depp obviously relishes his small but memorable role and Anna Kendrick brings the sweet and innocent as Cinderella. Chris Pine is surprisingly funny and over the top as Cinderella’s Prince and Meryl Streep moves away from the matriarchal roles she has done of late, and is on fantastic, mysterious form as the witch.
The story, as mentioned, ties together several fairy tales in which the woods are a common theme. The tie that binds is the Baker and his wife’s search for magical items – each from a different fairy tale – and it is a clever way to bring the stories together. The trouble arises after 90 minutes when, although it seems that all is wrapped up, the cast are dragged into the woods once more, and the whole thing begins again. It is obvious this film is an attempt to stay true to the darkness of many original fairy tales, but there are times when all the death and destruction feel out of place with the rest of the film, and characters disappear far too quickly.
As director, Rob Marshall has already proven that he can direct musicals for the screen – successfully in the case of Chicago, and less so in the case of Nine – and it is clear he understands how to make a musical work on screen, and carefully weaves the ensemble together. There are times when the film expects a certain amount of knowledge, since it is a combination of fairy tales, but this means that some of the stories are a little unsatisfying, and others unnecessarily drawn out. Marshall has teased wonderful performances from his cast, which are just the right amount of heightened, but the pacing distracts from the lovely cinematography and the strong cast performances.
In all, INTO THE WOODS could well have been a better movie with better pacing and a clearer focus. As it stands, it is a decent adaptation of a lesser known musical, which looks good and sounds good. Streep, Corden, Blunt and Kendrick shine in this quirky little tale and although the film does not always work, it’s a joy to see some familiar faces try something different.
Review by Brogen Hayes