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

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HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS REVIEW

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Oh Hec . . . Well this is a mixed bag, isn’t it?

One thing that can be agreed is that Simon Pegg is brilliant and shows how much he has progressed from his Spaced days. Providing charisma and charm to an otherwise weak protagonist made all the difference.

The end result did leave me with a smile but the journey along the way seemed to stumble and stammer along, failing to decide on what tone to set. It teeters from feel good dramedy to hard hitting drama with the results mixed as none of them really gel or hit home as much as you’d expect or hope.

The slow burning opening does put you into a bit of a lull which is not a good start. Of course, the point is that we are supposed to see the source of Hector’s frustration as he plods on through his mundane life on auto pilot. But we get that connection in the first two minutes not twenty.

Pegg has great chemistry with the alluring Rosamund Pike but she is soon cast aside to Skype cameos as we follow Hector on his pursuit for happiness (No, different movie) after a mini-meltdown with one of his clients and Pegg’s many comedy counterparts Tracy Ann Oberman as the ill-titled Pathetic Jane.

The meltdown sequence allows Pegg to shine (with a catchphrase to remember). However, there only seems to be moments. A moment where Pegg can be funny. A moment where Pegg can act. It’s just not consistent enough.

A humourous incident in which Hector tests the versatility of the unbreakable cutlery on the first class flight was a good gag. A conversation with a cancer patient made for sobering viewing but was ignited by solid acting. We get to travel across the world(Well, China, Africa and America) to find the essence of happiness.

To be honest, the main message I got from the film was travel the world. Not just Africa. An elongated kidnapping sequence just didn’t seem to fit in the film at all and how Hector got out of it involving a pen from a drug kingpin was just stupid.

It helps that Pegg has a good supporting cast. It’s just a shame that anyone could have played their parts. Jean Reno played the arrogant and erratic drug king pin as well as you would expect but this didn’t seem like the sort of film to make satire. Satire that is not that subtle or clever.

Stellan Skarsgard was wasted as the affluent businessman who has it all. An encounter on the plane made for funny viewing as Hector irritates Skarsgard’s slumbering businessman. However, once they get into China, Skarsgard’s character is pushed aside.

At times, it was hard to feel sorry for Hector when he tends to act quite selfishly, especially when he has such a supporting and caring wife. I know, that’s life but as a film when you’re supposed to be rooting for the little guy, you end up wanting to slap him round the head and tell him to go home.

A lapse in judgement nearly leads to our “hero” sleeping with a hooker (played well by Ming Zhao). Why go out for burgers when you have steak at home? According to my brother who attended the screening with me.

Togo Igawa played the kind hearted monk well and to be honest, I wanted to see more of him. I know that this film was adapted from a book but this only spurred me to read the book to see if it is as bad as the film.

The weird cast asides and little convos with Hector’s inner child and childhood dog didn’t go anywhere and didn’t really fit. They felt forced into the film. Toni Collette played the old flame as well as she could bar one good scene in which they confront each other over their past.

Christopher Plummer makes a crazy cameo as the eccentric professor who can detect happiness in the brain. (Yeah, it really was as boring as you think). But Plummer manages to make any scientific mumbo jumbo sound believable with his dulcet tones.

It’s all hit and miss. Certainly watchable and Pegg has proven that he can act and act well. It will be great to see his next project with a better character, better story and a bit more room for him to apply his spiel.

The better moments seep through when Pegg is allowed to be . . . Pegg. It’s not bad but if you’re looking for a feel good travel movie then watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

It has good moments and an easy going message by the ending. That corny predictable ending.

2.5/5 for me.

Not bad not not great. Shame.