This weeks movie reviews by Paul Byrne, including The American and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest…
Directed by Tony Scott. Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee.
THE PLOT: Big wheels just keep on turning in this runaway train actioner, based on a true story, Washington playing the seasoned vet, Frank, who’s about to be retired and Chris Pine playing Will, the connected young rookie being shown the rails. Both are having trouble with their women – Will’s jealousy resulting in a barring order from his young wife and son; widow Frank’s forgetting of a birthday upsetting his hot, Hooters-working but college-bound teenage daughters. So, that covers the human element, but this is really all about the hurtling train loaded with lethal chemicals – this “missile the size of the Chrysler Building”, as Dawson’s yardmaster puts it – leaving a series of Tony ‘Bring Da Noise’ Scott set-pieces in its wake.
THE VERDICT: It’s all here. The working class veteran who’s been ignored all these years; mavericks who aren’t afraid to ignore their boss’ orders; great cleavage; assholes in suits; solid hillbillies; good men with a hunch, an unconventional idea, that might just work – and, dammit, they’re cutting it close. At times, this plays like a Will Ferrell sketch, only without the punchline, or the knowing wink. Taking the true-life 2001 Crazy Eights unmanned runaway train as inspiration, Scott, naturally, doubles the original 47mph speed, and treats any shiny, fast or dangerous hardware as a fetish. This is a filmmaker who can make the fluffing of a pillow seem earth-shattering and danger-filled. It’s taser filmmaking, and, if it’s a rollercoaster ride you’re looking for, Unstoppable pretty much delivers. RATING: ***
Directed by Anton Corbijn. Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, Thekla Reuten.
THE PLOT: The opening is sweet – George and a hot chick post-coital by an open fire in a remote, snow-covered Swedish log cabin, their morning walk interrupted by, first, some lone footprints and then, by gunshot. Our boy quickly disperses with the assassin, then the hot chick (she’s a witness, dammit), and then the former’s waiting accomplice. What follows though is not so much James Bond as James Galway, with the jitters, as Clooney’s Jack heads to a remote village in Italy (boasting an abundance of Escher-esque alleyways), where he’s got to watch his every single move whilst completing his very last job (of course) – building a weapon of individual destruction for a fellow assassin (Reuten).
THE VERDICT: Following up his fine Ian Curtis biopic Control, Anton Corbijn describes The American as being “built on the framework of a western in the body of a suspense thriller”. He’s also warned that his existential gangster flick has a “tiny bit of action, but the rest is like a lingering paranoia”. Which is another way of saying, hey, despite the fact that we’ve got guns, naked girls, car chases and an assassin on the run, The American is an incredibly quiet, thoughtful, slow, largely-action-free thriller. This is art-house to the core, more Antonioni than Sergio Leone, as Clooney – in full Neil McCauley mode, ready to walk away from anyone or anything in 30 seconds flat – once again fucks with the mainstream (even if it does often result in flops like The Good German and Leatherheads). It’s a sheep in wolves clothing – The Assassination Of Jesse James, only not quite as dreamlike. Or good. RATING: ***
Directed by William Monahan. Starring Keira Knightley, Colin Farrell, Jamie Campbell Bower, David Thwelis, Stephen Graham, Ray Winstone, Anna Friel.
THE PLOT: Knightley plays the reclusive film star, hiding out in her Holland Park mansion, and Farrell is the ex-con who ends up as her bodyguard and handyman. And before you can belt out ‘I, I, I will always love you…’, the two fall in love…
THE VERDICT: Colin Farrell continues on his road to career rehabilitation – after the double-whammy of Alexander and Miami Vice knocked him off Hollywood’s A-list – with yet another mid-budget, mildly interesting offering. Based on the 2001 novel by Galway resident Ken Bruen, this is the directorial debut of William Monahan, the scriptwriter behind the likes ofThe Departed and Body Of Lies. And it doesn’t look all that promising, to be honest. There was no Irish press screening – so, will cover it for next week. It might just be the sort of film that only Empire can supposedly love though. They need these B-listers for their awards shindigs, after all. RATING: n/a
Directed by Daniel Alfredson. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Georgi Staykov.
THE PLOT: Everyone’s favourite tattooed, muscled, bisexual, computer-hacking tomboy Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) spends most of her time here laid up in a hospital bed, in intensive care, and under police guard, recovering from some unfortunate gunshot wounds. Both she and her erstwhile partner-in-fighting-crime, acclaimed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist), are seeking out the clues that link Lisbeth’s father Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) with the Swedish secret service – in particular, the secret black-ops government department known as The Section. Mikael is also setting out to prove Lisbeth is innocent of the murder and assault charges brought against her. And then, well, it gets complicated.
THE VERDICT: Truth be told, only the first of Larsson’s three books – and the first of the film adaptations – have proven to be something special. After that, it’s all gone a little Da Vinci Code-shaped. Larsson’s long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson, claims she has a fourth novel that was almost completed before his death, and there’s even talk of the author having outlined ten books in total for the series. Which, given the money involved here (27 million books sold; Hollywood currently remaking Dragon), may just see the light of day, in all their Frankenstein glory. RATING: ***
Directed by Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez. Starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal.
THE PLOT: Three years after a double-cross that left his wife and young child dead, former federal officer Machete (Trejo) relocates to Texas, taking on the job of assassinating right-wing senator John McLaughlin (De Niro) only to find he’s been double-crossed again. And his failed assassination attempt is being used to boost McLaughlin’s campaign for stricter border controls with Machete’s native Mexico.
THE VERDICT: Rodriguez proves himself very much a grindhouse filmmaker at heart, taking one of the wildly ridiculous fake trailers from his 2007 Tarantino collaboration flop and turning it into, hey, a wildly ridiculous film. There’s some border politics thrown into the mix, but it’s hard to care in this splatterfest with the constant flow of knowing winks to the blood-speckled camera. RATING: **
Directed by Jean Becker. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Gisele Casadesus, Maurane, Patrick Bouchitey, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Sophie Guillemin.
THE PLOT: Shades of Seller’s Chancey Gardener abound in Depardieu’s uneducated gardener, Germain, who befriends an elderly lady in the park, sharing first a love of pigeons and then of books. With a bulk well-suited to handyman dungarees, Germain is both loved and teased at his local cafe, where we glimpse other patrons’ struggles with love and loss. Germain himself happens to be blessed with a sweet, loving girlfriend (Guillemin), but is lumbered with an elderly mother who has, he feels, shown him nothing but disdain since the day he was born. But appearances can be deceiving, and you always suspect that there’s a happy ending afoot…
THE VERDICT: A sweet, featherlight outing that could have been called Reading Ms. Daisy, this sugary French confection is saved somewhat by its two leads, the performances of Depardieu and 96-year old Casadesus never slipping too far into treacly sentimentality. It’s particularly heartening to see Depardieu – somewhere between De Niro and Brando in his native France – delivering not only this fine turn late in the day but the soon-come Mammuth is reportedly one of his most freewheeling and beguiling performances yet. RATING: ****
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
Directed by Michael Rowe. Starring Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Armando Hernandez, Diego Chas, Ernesto Gonzalez.
THE PLOT: Living a lonely – though not always alone – existence in Mexico City, Laura (del Carmen) spends most of her time in her apartment, working as a political journalist from home when she’s not having stilted phne conversation with mum back home, masturbating over the happy, loving couple cross the way, cleaning out the fridge, or having one-night stands. The 29th of February is the 4th anniversary of her father’s death, and Laura seems to have a plan, marking down the days of the month as she enters into a darkly S&M relationship with would-be actor Arturo (Parra). The sex becomes increasingly kamikaze, much to Laura’s apparent delight…
THE VERDICT: What could have been dismissed as 41/2 Wks becomes something far more intriguing here, as we follow Laura down the rabbithole, first-time writer/director Michael Rowe deservedly picked up the Camera d’Or award for first features at Cannes. The very idea of fucking the pain away is brought to the fore here, and thanks to a very raw performance from newcomer Monica del Carmen, we feel her pain. Not the best film to bring someone to on a first date. If, on the other hand, the relationship is beginning to lose its spark… RATING: ****