THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK (2017)

August 8, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. When a movie borrows its title from a great Simon and Garfunkel song, and then utilizes the song to emphasize a point during the story, we can’t help but have high expectations. This is often true even if it appears we are likely to be subjected to yet another movie featuring the all too familiar ground of New York intellectuals brewing and stewing their own problems. Director Marc Webb (500 DAYS OF SUMMER, GIFTED) delivers the type of film that critics tend to rip, and audiences like to watch.

Much of the story seems familiar, but the excellent cast prevents the clichés from being overly distracting. Callum Turner stars as Thomas, an aimless writer-wannabe and recent college graduate with daddy issues. Thomas spends his time dreaming about what he might be and pining for the beautiful, intelligent girl with whom he hangs out. It’s understandable why Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) has friend-zoned him, since she has ambitions and goals, while he mostly just talks and drifts through each day. One evening while enjoying their conversation over drinks, Thomas spots his dad getting beyond “friendly” with a beautiful young woman in a corner booth. This is upsetting because Thomas’ parents are still married, and his mother is at home working through clinical depression.

Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) is a well-known publisher and Judith (Cynthia Nixon) is an artist in a fragile state. As with most self-centered twenty-somethings, Thomas has just assumed the marriage was fine and their family fell into the “normal” range of dysfunction. It’s about this time when the movie assumes the tone of a Woody Allen movie. Thomas turns detective and begins following the mysterious beauty from the booth, and their first encounter is a bit awkward. He finds himself mesmerized by Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). She’s the stuff that dreams (and fantasies) are made of … for both fathers and sons.

Johanna is really the second spell that Thomas has fallen under. His neighbor W.F. has been providing sage advice on love and writing. It’s yet another terrific performance from Jeff Bridges, who plays the alcoholic mentor with secrets of his own. See, every character here carries the weight and burden of their own secrets and plays games in every relationship. In fact, much of the movie plays like group therapy – two characters at a time.

No superheroes exist in this world. There are no car chases or guns, and the only knife is used to slice strawberries in the kitchen. The movie could be described as a coming-of-age story; however, it’s not just Thomas that has growing up to do. A deeper message is on display for those who take notice. Every person and every family has secrets, and many people find an inability to be honest and open to be a much simpler way to go through life. We know that people aren’t always good – even when we really want them to be.

Of course, we do get the obligatory dinner party with a table full of New York intellectuals (including Wallace Shawn) reminiscing about what a great city it used to be. Actually, nostalgia is an underlying theme throughout. The dinner party does provide Thomas the opportunity to drop the best ‘Philadelphia’ line since W.C. Fields. The script provides some other quality lines, and though it’s certainly not at the level of Whit Stillman or Noah Baumbach, it marks a step up for writer Allan Loeb, who is renowned for such lackluster efforts as COLLATERAL BEAUTY, THE SPACE BETWEEN US and JUST GO WITH IT. He likely owes director Webb and cast a debt of gratitude.

watch the trailer:

 


NO ESCAPE (2015)

August 25, 2015

no escape Greetings again from the darkness. An effective thriller must either put real people smack dab in the middle of believable peril or facilitate the suspension of disbelief. This latest from writer/director John Erick Dowdle (co-written with his brother Drew Dowdle) takes bits of each of those approaches and provides a pretty intense ride … despite the mostly nonsensical happenings.

We pick up Owen Wilson and his family while on an a transatlantic flight to his new job in some unnamed Asian country that we later learn is just a couple miles down river from the Vietnam border. Not long after their arrival, the generic Prime Minister of this unnamed country is assassinated. The rebel forces responsible for the coup were evidently motivated by the political ploy of Owen’s company, and they aim to kill him.

Lake Bell plays Owen’s wife, and the two of them spend most of the movie on the run together while protecting their two young daughters. Ahh yes, the daughters. While watching this, it made me think that the writers must not be parents, as the kids’ reactions to this extraordinarily dangerous situation involves excessive whimpering combined with whining for food. Anyone without kids will certainly not want any after watching this.

One of the family’s earliest escape sequences involves leaping from one rooftop to another, and all I could think of was how fortunate that this was not a typical American family who, shall we say, struggles with the effects of a fast food diet. In addition to the long jump, Owen Wilson takes over the record for best on screen child toss … an underappreciated cinematic category.

The writers do deserve credit for understanding that Owen and his little family were insufficient to hold our attention for the full run, so they threw in a bizarre super agent played by Pierce Brosnan … or Liam Neeson, or Bruce Willis, or maybe Chuck Norris. No, no – it really was Pierce Brosnan. Action sequences appear spontaneously with Brosnan’s character, as do the funniest lines … and the Kenny Rogers taxi company.

There do seem to be some conflicting story lines. On one hand the big Western corporation is cast as the villain who cares only to capitalize on the local citizens, yet on the other hand, we as viewers are supposed to root for the cute white family as they run from the rebels. Perhaps this is over-thinking … something the filmmakers won’t be accused of.

Most movie lovers enjoy a thriller that creates tension, and there is no shortage of intensity here. Just don’t expect to buy into everything you see.

watch the trailer:

 


THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

September 1, 2014

november man Greetings again from the darkness. Somewhere there must exist a checklist of the main plot lines for all the spy thrillers and action films ever made. Should you wonder what’s on the checklist, then this is the movie for you. Ambition it does not lack. Striving to be an edgy Bond flick, an action-packed Bourne thriller, and a complex Le Carre mind-twister, the film, unfortunately, excels at none of these … though does manage to be entertaining enough for the pre-fall dead zone (timing is everything).

Pierce Brosnan stars as a retired CIA operative Devereaux, called back into duty 5 years after a mission gone bad (seen courtesy of flashback). His boss Hanley is played by the always interesting character actor Bill Smitrovich, but we are supposed to buy in fully to the mentor vs protégé story line of Brosnan and Luke Bracey (the next in a long line of hunky Aussies).

Geopolitics, inner-office power plays, and mistaken identity all come into play, as do the innocent neighbor, an imperiled young daughter and backroom deals between the CIA and a Russian President-elect (Lazar Ristovski). All of this plus a quietly creepy assassin played by extremely limber gymnast Amila Terzimehic, a revenge-seeking (former Bond girl) Olga Kurylenko playing dress up, the rarely seen/scene-stealing Will Patton, car chases and crashes, gun fights, fist fights, knife fights, computer tracking and sneaky drones. Of course, all of these are on the aforementioned checklist.

Director Roger Donaldson has a varied career with such films as No Way Out, Cocktail, The World’s Fastest Indian (highly recommended), and The Bank Job. This film is based on Bill Granger’s Devereaux novel “There Are No Spies”, and Donaldson’s eye for action sequences are a plus. However, the saving grace here is Mr. Brosnan. He brings an edge that his James Bond never could … he even yells a few times! However, as with most movies, the script makes or breaks, and in this case the plausibility test is flunked, despite the numerous checked boxes.

***NOTE: I can’t help but notice the trend of aging actors (60 plus years old) trying to prove their high testosterone levels in uber-serious action-thrillers – Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, and Denzel Washington (turns 60 this year) come to mind, and of course the most obvious is Sylvester Stallone, who at least plants his tongue firmly in cheek for The Expendables franchise.

***NOTE: If you would like to see Mr. Brosnan give an edgy, offbeat performance in a better film, I recommend The Matador (2005)

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have wondered how Pierce Brosnan would have fared in the Daniel Craig “Bond” films

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are hoping for a clever spy thriller in the mold of Le Carre’.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE WORLD’S END (2013)

September 7, 2013

worlds end Greetings again from the darkness. This is the third in the unofficial Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, and my guess is if you know that, you have already seen this one. Director Edgar Wright has previously delivered is parody of Zombies (Shaun of the Dead), his parody of buddy-cop-action films (Hot Fuzz), and now takes on Sci-Fi in this latest … a worthy conclusion with the trademark quick cuts and rapid fire witty/silly dialogue.

I love the premise of this one. 5 buddies reluctantly reunite after 20 years to try and finish what they failed to in their youth: 12 pubs/12 pints … an epic pub crawl. It touches on the male transition to middle-age and also reinforces the old saying ‘you can’t go home again’. Simon Pegg (also co-writer with Wright) stars as Gary King, a recovering addict who is quite simply struggling with adulthood. His manic energy reunites the boys and carries the early movie. Nick Frost really shines here and takes on a different persona from the previous two movies.

worlds end2 As I have stated many times, comedies are the most difficult genre to review as everyone’s sense of humor varies. What I can report is that I laughed quite a bit at the dialogue, but didn’t have much love for the sci-fi portions, despite some similarities to Westworld and The Stepford Wives. Oh, and Rosamund Pike reminded me again why I am no fan of hers (yes, I realize I’m in the minority).

Hardcore Wright fans will enjoy the steady stream of regular faces, and yes, we do get the expected failed fence jump. This one won’t stick with me for long, but I appreciated the laughs.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Simon Pegg – Nick Frost – Edgar Wright offbeat British parody films. It’s one of their best

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your comedy tastes lean toward the conventional … a territory Edgar Wright avoids at all costs

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n__1Y-N5tQk

 


THE GHOST WRITER (2010)

February 26, 2010

(2-26-10)

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not very often we get new releases from Martin Scorcese (Shutter Island) and Roman Polanski within a week of each other. And both are thrillers. And both stories are immersed in water. And both have lead characters who might not be what they seem. Heck both films have PLENTY of characters who might not be what they seem!

Say what you will about Mr. Polanski as a human being, but he is a craftsmen when it comes to film. Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Chinatown are all classics. Here he works with the source material from Robert Harris’ novel. The story is centered around the process of an ex-British Prime Minister writing his memoirs through the use of a ghost writer. Oh yeah, this ex-Prime Minister is accused of being overly friendly with the U.S. and may have even committed war crimes? Sound familiar? Yes, Adam Lang, played convincingly by Pierce Brosnan, has numerous similarities to Tony Blair.

Ewan McGregor plays the nameless ghost, actually a replacement for the original ghost, who died under suspicious circumstances. Polanski channels Hitchcock by making every character either a suspect or, at a minimum, suspicious. The use of water, rain, stark surroundings, cozy double-edged dialogue, and even a note passed in a key moment all evoke the master of suspense and thrills.

Olivia Williams is Brosnan’s tormented wife who remains oddly loyal and involved despite full acknowledgment of his mistress-assistant (another horrible performance from Kim Cattrall). Timothy Hutton is solid in his role as Brosnan’s attorney, and James Belushi does much with the small role of publisher. Ninety-something year old Eli Wallach is very cool and spirited in his short scene, and Tom Wilkinson adds another powerful turn to his sterling resume.

All of these people could be the “who” in who-dunnit; however, we aren’t even sure what the crime is. Or how many crimes have been committed. The only thing that keeps this one from being an instant classic is the lack of a truly complex web of intrigue. Don’t get me wrong, it will keep you glued for the entire time, but I would have enjoyed a few more clues and dead-ends and real investigative work, rather than the stumbling curiosity of a ghost writer. Still, the story is strong enough and the acting is fine enough to make this one worth seeing. Need to also mention the score … a fabulous score is a necessity in a thriller, and this one is top notch.