*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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CHILD 44 REVIEW

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Tipped to be the biggest flop of 2015. An unjustified tag line may be undeserved but this clunky affair still leaves a lot to be desired.

A disgraced member of the military police (Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Tom Hardy was superb. A powerhouse performance. He carried the film and was the only actor to deliver a convincing accent and keep in character.

The opening 30 minutes zipped along. If anything a little too quickly. We watch Hardy’s Leo Demidov climbing through the ranks from an orphan on the run to a decorated war veteran.

I expected more of a relationship between Hardy and Mark Lewis Jones’ Tortoise (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) but it didn’t really surmount to anything. He takes Leo in as a surrogate son but as soon as we are caught up to date, his character is pushed into the background. A shame.

Joel Kinnaman was actually quite impressive. He played the green eyed Vasili very well. A coward forever lurking in Leo’s shadow. A nutter hell bent on taking his anger on those beneath him.

His punishment on a family of farmers for hiding a suspected fugitive was relentless. However, there was a highly comical and OTT cornfield punch up between Hardy and Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of The Apes) that killed the tension and suspense.

BUT an interesting development soon put things on the right track as Leo’s wife (Noomi Rapace) is accused of giving secrets to the British embassy.

For the first hour, I kept thinking to myself; “Where does the child killer story come into this?” It felt like a different film. Two story lines meshed into one and neither really came off.

I was more interested in Leo’s exile after refusing to give up his wife. Noomi Rapace and Hardy reunite yet again after their pairing in The Drop. They had good chemistry and certainly kept things watchable.

The exile sequence was compelling. I was happy to see more of that factory town situation. Leo reduced to the equivalent of a PCSO. While Rapace’s Raisa, a fully qualified teacher, is purposely made a cleaner at the school.

I was intrigued with the Stalin ideology that was enforced in the 50s. “There is no murder in paradise”. The deluded belief that no one kills in Soviet Russia was baffling. Those who opposed any ideals were removed either temporarily to these slum towns or permanently.

The child killer subplot finally arrives and it was interesting (To begin with). The killer sneaking around the tracks like Jack the Ripper. A cloak and cane being the only things we see as each child is picked off one by one. BUT it soon became a mindless walk through with terrible red herrings. It was sloppily put together and didn’t fit in.

The spluttering pace did test me. At a whopping 137 minutes, the film dragged. It seemed to be a case of all or nothing. In one scene we have an exhilarating escape attempt on a train as the couple evade capture. The next; mindless exposition. Boring forensic information delivered with no conviction or interest.

The killer is revealed to the audience too early on which kills any tension. And when we finally get the answers, I was left wanting. The film suggested that there was a bigger conspiracy at play with Leo being stopped at every possible opportunity. Was the killer within their own ranks? Oh no.

The conspiracy was that Vasili wanted Leo’s position and was jealous that his wife was not with him instead. That’s it. Leo had so many opportunities to dispose of Vasili and he refused. By the end, you were yelling, “Get rid!”. Foolish.

Gary Oldman didn’t make much of an impression at all. A talented actor reduced to an unmemorable role. He also seemed to forget he was Russian. His accent dipping in and out. It didn’t help that his character was built up to be a crucial figure in the case. But he was non-existent. Merely threatening Leo to stay out of his way and then allowing to do as he pleased.

While Leo was pursuing the killer, Oldman’s General Nesterov was just consoling the grieving families. And then he disappeared. Only popping back up in the closing credits to explain what he did after this daunting case. Not a lot afterwards, either. A waste of an actor.

I had to agree with someone that said the cast were doing their best Borat impressions. It was incredibly off-putting. But that’s Hollywood for you. Fares Fares (Zero Dark Thirty) was the biggest culprit. Terrible. Paddy Considine did as well as he could with the role but he didn’t really get to shine until the closing act.

After a lumbering middle act, the last 20 minutes was suspenseful, intense and ridiculously violent. Hardy goes through more soldiers than Rambo. His mud wrestling battle with a foe was unbelievably hilarious.

And as the film came to its abrupt close, there were plot points that just left me scratching my head. People being bumped off left, right and centre and without any real explanation or reason.

A wasted opportunity. When I last checked the box office records, Child 44 had taken $600,000 a $35 million budget.

A little harsh. It wasn’t all bad. But they took a gamble with a huge ensemble that didn’t deliver with a premise that was half baked. And penciling it in during the Avengers release was a big mistake.

Clunky, overlong, hammy. This may have been adapted from a best selling novel but I’m not certainly venturing out to my local book shop to purchase a copy.

The cons outweighed the suspenseful action sequences and charisma of the talented Mr Hardy.

2.5/5

SUITE FRANCAISE REVIEW

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Zuts alors! I’ve seen more drama and heartbreak in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Two stars for two charismatic leads.

During the early years of German occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between French villager Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) and German soldier Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Such a shame. I really wanted to like this. It’s not all bad. Just a little disappointing.

For all the hype, I expected something more hard hitting.

The opening 15 minutes were slow burning BUT engaging. The archive footage showing German bombers descending upon Paris. Evacuees fleeing to the countryside in fear and desperation.

Williams’ shy protagonist and her uptight mother in law (Kristin Scott Thomas) trying to stick to their daily routine of collecting rent from their tenants. The tenants including several rather talented actors. Shame they weren’t used to their full potential.

Thomas (The English Patient) was good as the snobby sour faced mother-in-law. Stuck with a daughter who wasn’t fit to marry her valiant son and despised by the tenants for her ever-inflating rates.

However, there is also a little respect for her refusal to accept that the advancing Nazis are encroaching upon their village.

Williams (My Week With Marilyn) was excellent. She played the naive Lucile perfectly. Desperate to have a friend. Reduced to playing for a few minutes on the piano for leisure.

A harrowing bombing sequence in the countryside was unexpected and heart in mouth stuff. Villagers running for their lives. The Nazis showing no mercy. The silence through the aftermath was unsettling.

However, it seemed to take some time for the Nazi regiment to turn up. Despite the radio broadcast declaring France’s surrender. We are left with mindless chatter with the villagers about what the Germans might do.

The sound of the tanks and footsteps from the soldiers was brilliantly juxtaposed against the church singing as the regiment finally arrive.

Schonaerts (The Drop) made an instant impression. A well mannered officer who only wants a room to sleep and the key to the piano.

I expected the inevitable relationship between Williams and Schoenarts to take some time. BUT there wasn’t much else going on in the hour while this innocent encounter blossomed.

The leads had great chemistry and certainly kept me watching.

That’s not to say there wasn’t things going on BUT I couldn’t help question a few of them.

I felt the mish mesh of accents a little off putting. Considering Thomas is fluent in French, I expected her to see to speak a little of it. The only actor who did speak another language other than the Nazis was Lambert Wilson’s (The Matrix Reloaded) Viscount.

Ruth Wilson’s (Luther) broad English and Margot Robbie’s Aussie-Brit accent were a little annoying but alas, that’s Hollywood for you.

Speaking of which, Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street). I couldn’t help but question her relevance by the end of the film. Other than modelling a fetching set of silk stockings that every villager commented on and scowling, she doesn’t actually do anything or contribute to the story in any capacity.

There were a couple of interesting turns. The bureaucracy jibes being one particular highlight. Wilson’s snobby Viscount desperately bribing the Nazi commander just so his wife doesn’t have to keep an officer at their home.

The letters of gossip that were sent to the Nazis to settle old scores among the villagers was an eye opener. Accusing neighbours of being homosexuals, Jews and thieves. Shocking.

Tom Schilling’s introduction as Lieutenant Kurt Bonnet certainly picked things up. His presence soon becomes a problem for Wilson and Sam Riley’s (Control) family. Riley was quite good as Benoit Labarie.

The inevitable tension between him and Bonnet brewing up to a riveting if highly predictable finale.

But for the 107 minute running length, I felt myself wanting more.

Lucile and Bruno’s relationship was dealt with tactfully. Their brewing romance bubbling over music. Lucille’s loyalties soon torn as she finds herself in a position of power to help the community by using Bruno’s feelings for her.

That dynamic was quite interesting BUT not a lot was made of it. Some of the villagers respecting her for the help. Others disgusted for her affiliation with the enemy.

It certainly captures the humanity behind a brutal war and their relationship certainly carried the film.

BUT it seemed to build to a frantic finale after such a juddery pace. Only for it to end so abruptly with Lucile providing a voiceover summarizing what happened after the war.

Thomas was pushed further and further into the background despite being one of the more interesting characters in the piece.

The ending was quite pessimistic without spoiling too much. I understand that there are no happy endings when it comes to war. BUT it was too open ended for my liking.

Arguably, it was as poignant a statement for the time but when you have invested your time into these characters, a little closure (no matter how open or ridiculous) would have been nice.

It was tough not to make comparisons to other war dramas. I still find The Book Thief one of the better war dramas that I have seen in the last few years.

I kept expecting something more to happen. A bigger impact. Anything.

It was all left until the final 15 minutes and then didn’t wrap up well enough.

Disappointing.

2.5/5

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