*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

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THE DROP REVIEW

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Tom Hardy’s performance certainly got the drop on me.

He proves yet again why he is one of the most versatile actors going.

So what’s it all about? Bob Saginowski (Hardy) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living. No matter the cost.

Penned and adapted from a short by Dennis Lehane, I knew I was in for a treat. Lehane has been responsible for some of the better crime dramas and thrillers of the last few years; Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island.

It was also a fantastic and fitting endnote for the career of another talented actor who left us too soon. I’m looking at you, Big T. Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

BUT despite the fantastic casting, the pace leaves a little to be desired and the story? Considering the hype about killer twists. I found it all a little too simple and predictable.

Lehane’s work us very much in touch with my favourite genre, the film noir. The characters and seedy underworld were certainly captured perfectly by director Michael R. Roskam. Complimented by the grainy cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

BUT the convoluted, multi-layered story line? Not so much.

It did leave me wanting a little afterwards. All that promise and a twist that I saw coming a mile off. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say it isn’t worth checking out. Hardy is a charismatic lead, who has great chemistry with the equally talented Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

Rapace played the anxious and hesitant Nadia perfectly. Her role and motive questionable throughout.

The pair worked well together and I didn’t mind following them as their relationship inevitably blossomed.

Their bonding was helped by the discovery of an abused puppy that Bob finds in a trash can.

Rocco the puppy was adorable (What? He was. Losing man points like crazy). It lightened up the dark, gritty undertones bubbling beneath the surface which killed the atmosphere a little bit.

BUT if the little pup didn’t appear, there wasn’t much else going on to begin with.

It also allowed for Bob to break his shy demeanour and pry into his background a little.

Oh! James Gandolfini was superb. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of him. I couldn’t help but feel that his character Cousin Marv was nothing more than a “What If . . . Tony Soprano went in Witness Protection and became a bar owner”.

His presence and delivery stole every frame. No, not like that. His one liners just made me want to go back and watch The Sopranos all over again. Marv’s fractious relationship with Bob was an interesting one to watch.

The tension slowly building as tempers rose. The pressure mounting from their business interests under the vague title of “The Armenian Mob”.

However, as the mayhem ensued, I felt Gandolfini’s character took a back seat. Understandably to an extent, without spoiling any content BUT still a little disappointing.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) was also fantastic. A nasty piece of work. Chewing up every bit of suspense. A ticking time bomb. His predatory stalking was a masterclass in suspense.

First toying with Bob by asking for an umbrella and gradually making his presence known more and more. The kitchen scene with Rapace was nail biting stuff.

Morgan Spector and Michael Aronov played the roles of the Armenians quite well. BUT at the same time, despite putting pressure on our sparring bartenders, I felt they were a little wooden and by the end, nothing more than stereotypical foreign mafia guys. Shame.

The closing 20 minutes HOWEVER were tense, suspenseful and brilliant. Double crossing and backstabbing galore. I just wish there was more of this throughout.

I won’t divulge too much information but perceptions are changed. The slow burning tension did meander and sizzle a little too much for the 106 minute running time.

I felt John Ortiz’s (Silver Linings Playbook) role was completely unnecessary. Nothing more than a suspense catalyst. And a poor one at that.

Re-appearing when the film seemed to lull or asking rather mundane questions after a nasty bit of business had gone down. Even his covert dark alleyway rendezvouses with fellow officers led nowhere.

Merely relaying information we already knew from Big T but with a much flatter and duller delivery.

I kept hoping his character would go somewhere (Preferably out of this movie). BUT nope! Not even the final exchanges in the closing minutes were revelatory or needed. Weak.

Suspenseful, tense and brutal (in parts) but also a little predictable and long at the tooth. However, Hardy has certainly established himself in the big leagues and with performances like these, he will continue to do so.

And farewell Big T. One final – CUT TO BLACK.

3/5

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES REVIEW

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Or Taken To The Grave? Liam Neeson uses his particular set of skills. No, wait! His acting skills (Remember them?) and his gravelly gravitas for the hardened private eye thrown into the seedy underworld of a 90s New York City.

A return to form for the reformed action hero in a suspenseful, if drawn out, gritty neo-noir. If you’re expecting another Taken, then you may be left disappointed.

Now I loved Taken (the first one) and it was great to see Neeson back in the limelight. But I was afraid that he was going to be typecast in the action role indefinitely. Non-Stop (Taken on a Plane) proves my point. BUT I’ll always commend Neeson for Schindler’s List and Rob Roy.

However, Neeson plays the part to perfection. A grisly Philip Marlowe. To be honest, the 90s setting didn’t really provide anything additional to the film. Other than the fact he uses old computers in libraries and payphones. I don’t really believe in the whole “Based on True Events” spiel. Not since Fargo and every horror film for the last decade.

So what’s it about? Private investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin (Dan Stevens) to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is really starting to make a name for himself and plays the part well. But to be honest, his character was a little weak and didn’t really do much until the closing moments.

Astro (Earth to Echo) played Neeson’s homeless sidekick well and the pair worked well together. Some will find his character incredibly irritating and their “bonding” conversations completely unnecessary and unsuited to Scudder’s loner.

At least we won’t be as annoyed as Ruth Wilson (Luther) whose part was completely removed from the film to make Scudder more of a loner. All she has attached to her name is a credit. And yet Astro made the cut? Strange.

However, the real scene stealer and adversary to Neeson’s Marlowe was David Harbour (End of Watch) as the maniacal killer. He was brilliant and sinister as hell. His creepy voice delivery was memorable enough. Olafur Darri Olafsson (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) also made a memorable role as the strange but morally torn middle man.

My main quip with A Walk Among The Tombstones was the length. A zippy opening with Neeson doing what he does best was soon put on a slow boil. The story tries its best to keep you hooked but there isn’t enough to justify the running time.

The story barely scrapes the surface of the sordid underbelly that these dark antagonists lurk from. There are creepy and suspenseful moments and Neeson certainly carries the film but despite all its promise; Mihai Malaimare Jr’s grainy noir-esque cinematography, Neeson’s snappy one liners and Harbour’s menace, it falls short of your expectations.

The story line meanders along with the surprise abduction and punch-em-up from Neeson but it’s all a little by the book. Endless red herrings with leads that go nowhere slowing down and killing what mystery and suspense was brewing.

The finale was certainly tense and made up for the meandering middle act but it was all so predictable. I was little disappointed that it had to go for a big fist fight and shoot em up to keep in and bank on Neeson’s resurged action hero fame.

The first hour was engaging, tense and slow burning but we got to see Neeson do what he does best . . . Act. Don’t get me wrong, there were some decent punch em up moments that Sam Spade would be proud of but it seemed to run out of ideas, go on a bit too long and then end with a big action number to stop bums fidgeting in seats.

If you want Taken, watch . . . Taken. But if you want to see a return (of sorts) for a talented actor and have a taste for noir, then it’s worth a gander.

3/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* TWO FACES OF JANUARY

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Two stars for Two Faces, more like. A real shame. A beautifully shot and well acted reboot of a regurgitated plot line that has been done so many times before and so much better by its supposedly “dated” predecessors.

The film revolves around a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who try to flee to a 1960s Greece after one of them is caught up in the murder of a police officer. At its core, it’s a film noir. A genre that I am an avid fan of. The only problem is that just because it has the story of one, does not make it so. Or make it any good for that matter.

Two Faces opens with Rydal (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis), a Greek speaking American tour guide that impresses and cons the rich tourists that come across his path. He only takes what he needs and we soon get an insight into the way he works. A slow burning but watchable opening as Rydal scouts the picturesque Acropolis waiting for his next target.

However, the next couple to be caught in his cross hair are the MacFarlands (No, not of the Family Guy variety but the powerhouse that is Viggo Mortensen and the lovely Kirsten Dunst).

Rydal soon becomes intrigued, obsessed, with Chester (Mortensen) and he weasels his way into the couple’s vacation. The opening does feel like you’re watching the actors on holiday (but in costume, obviously). With the beautiful Greek landscape caught by the talented cinematographer Marcel Zyskind, I was happy to let it carry on chugging along (Enviously wanting to go on holiday as each minute ticked on).

Mortensen’s presence and performance is the major highlight in this film. He has proven countless times before in Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence that he can deliver the goods. Even the little things; his looks and grimaces flesh out a character that should be stocky.

His paranoia and curiousity as to why Rydal is watching him creates a little suspenseful encounter. Rydal undercutting him with every sale between the market traders makes a good little running joke. BUT it’s all rather tame. Even the playful sexual tension brewing between Dunst and Isaac under Mortensen’s menacing, watchful eye feels like it won’t go anywhere.

David Warshofsky’s (Captain Phillips/The Mentalist) creepy detective soon bursts the bubble of bliss and drops the bombshell that (surprise, surprise) the MacFarlands are not who they seem. A predictable, if violent, altercation with Chester leads to them becoming fugitives on the run.

The first act of this piece was actually quite watchable and suspenseful. It’s just a shame that the film goes downhill after that. The flailing pace dips in and out, reprieved only by moments of frenzy from Mortensen and tense but predictable encounters with border patrols.

There are a couple of twists along the way, but if anything it could kills the little tension that was keeping this film going and to be frank, just disappoints. Dunst’s character was hardly memorable. Anyone could have played her. It seemed more a game of wits between Chester and Rydal, with Dunst’s Colette being a really poor bargaining chip.

I mean an exchange between her and Rydal left things a little cryptic; did they get together? Did they do . . . anything? But it all doesn’t surmount to anything. If not for Mortensen’s decline into depravity and his paranoia turning him into a volatile drunk, the film would have been a complete write off.

The films soon comes to an inevitable chase around the cobbled streets of a Turkish village which picks up a meandering movie and makes for a predictable but engaging finale.

My main issue is it had the cast, the look, but no heart or real story. Zyskind’s cinematography is impeccable. He’s even able to make the rubbly ruined Greek outback a sight to see. It seemed that director Hossein Amini had just painted the little drawings by numbers, hoping no one will notice. Looks good but something was missing.

I would invest in a “dated” classic noir. Because although the music and acting may be a little OTT, they are still better than poor affairs like these.

2/5 for me.

BLUE RUIN REVIEW

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It’s always the films that you expect to do nothing that surprise you. I went in fearing the worst (my usual stance these days) and was rewarded. This time it’s with a hard boiled, gritty Deep Southern revenge flick. That being said, it’s not without its flaws but worth a watch. Just has enough to stay afloat among the swamp of bottomless flops that have flooded our local cinemas.

At its best, it mixes the darkly comical moments of No Country of Old Men with a splash of Dead Man’s Shoes. At its worst, you can’t help but feel I could be watching either of those two films instead.

Here we follow Macon Blair as a mysterious hobo wandering the desolate harbour, salvaging scraps from bins and seeking shelter in a battered up blue car. It makes for an intriguing, if slow, opening as all the usual questions pop up; why is he in this state? What happened? The general point of a film.

However, his strange and sheltered existence is soon turned upside down as he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family. I won’t divulge too much and spoil the story as I have tended to do when I rant. This is hardly a film to rant about. Praise, more like. But basically by trying to do what’s right, our hero inevitably puts himself in even more trouble by upsetting a nasty family deep South.

His transition from a hapless hobo to a calculated killer is very well done and well acted. Blair is a likeable lead, even if his character is a little strange. A stumbling nervous individual. His initial first kill came as a shock because you honestly thought he wasn’t going to do it or balls it up, which he nearly did. At times, it does make for infuriating viewing because at times his character makes so many stupid decisions that you are practically (well literally in my case) yelling at the screen; “Don’t do that!”, “Pick the weapon up”, “Don’t go in that room”. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Unfortunately, at times the film is left to Blair a little too much and his character doesn’t have enough charisma to carry it in parts. The supporting cast are limited and bar a few exceptions are hardly memorable. When Blair is on the run or staking out his hunters, the suspense is executed perfectly. A brilliant scene in which Blair hides out in his sister’s home for his supposed captors is fantastic and nail-bitingly tense. It almost became a a dark take on Home Alone. An opportunity involving Blair and a garden tool was horribly wasted.

When Blair finally gets to deal with his estranged sister (Amy Hargreaves – Homeland) does make for good viewing as we get to see a little more into his past. The pair work well together and to be honest, I would have been happy to see more on that side of the story. The actual villains in this piece are very stocky and generic, bar Kevin Kolack who was delightfully snidey and creepy. A nasty addition that was heavily wasted as his counterparts were very weak, stereotypical and . . . weak, mainly. The other stand out performance was Blair’s gun-toting old high school chum Ben (Devin Ratray). Devin Ratray. Ring a bell? No? It’s only Buzz from Home Alone. I kid you not. Couldn’t believe it. A good performance with a darkly comical encounter that broke up the slackening pace.

It’s stuttering pace is relieved by solid, suspenseful moments but I have seen this sort of story line done a lot better before. However, it’s not all bad and definitely worth an investment. Blair’s transition is very good and the final moments make for brutal if predictable viewing as one man’s search for redemption leads him into more chaos that will require even more redemption.  3/5

Currently ranks #78 out of 177!