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Posts Tagged ‘Liam Neeson’

Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield

“SILENCE” My rating: C+ 

161 minutes |MPAA rating: R

The trouble with passion projects is that sometimes the passion isn’t felt beyond the small group of die-hard creators involved.

So it is with “Silence,” a film Martin Scorsese has wanted to make for at least 25 years.

This epic (almost three hours) adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel takes on the issues of faith and mortality Scorsese raised with his first major film, 1974’s “Mean Streets,” issues he has returned to [and to which he has returned] often during his long and celebrated career.

This story of Jesuit priests risking their lives to bring Christianity to 17th century Japan is visually beautiful and impeccably mounted.

But it is less an emotional experience than an intellectual one — and by the time the film enters its third hour, more than a few viewers will be wishing for the simple pleasures of a samurai swordfight.

Portuguese priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) cannot believe reports that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has spent years in Japan, has committed apostasy, rejecting the church’s teachings.

They convince their superiors that they must travel to Japan — where an anti-Christian purge is in full swing — to both learn the truth about Ferreira and to minister to Japanese converts, who for the better part of a decade have practiced their religion in secret.

Their mission is filled both with inspirational moments and abject terror. They spend most of their time hiding from troops under the command of the Inquisitor (Issey Ogata), an arthritic old fellow with a steel trap mine.

Suspected Christians are given the opportunity to renounce their faith by stepping on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary. After this token display of rejection they are free to go on privately practicing their religion. (more…)

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Lewis McDougall

Lewis MacDougall

“A MONSTER CALLS” My rating: B- 

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The makers of “A Monster Calls” work so hard to avoid anything resembling sentimental manipulation that the film runs the risk of being emotionally bland.

Blending psychological insight, fantastic images and the most painful of human conditions, this Spanish/U.K. production is nothing if not ambitious.

In describing how a 12-year-old British boy copes with the looming death of his single mother, this film from Spanish director J.A. Bayona wades into some serious territory. But despite a late-breaking emotional crescendo that will have all but the coolest viewers reaching for a hankie, I found much of the film to be curiously detached.

Conor (Lewis McDougall) — described early on as “too old to be a kid, too young to be a man” — has some of the usual adolescent problems, including a trio of schoolyard thugs who revel in beating him up every day.

Things are no better at home where his loving Mum (Felicity Jones) is sinking into chemo-misery while his brittle granny (Sigourney Weaver, attempting but not really mastering an English accent) exudes about as much warmth and sympathy as a prickly pear.

Small wonder that Conor finds refuge in his own imagination. “You’re always off in your own little dream world,” observes one of his classroom tormentors. “What’s there that’s so interesting?”

A lot actually. Every night Conor is visited by a monster, a giant tree creature that uproots itself from a hilltop churchyard and comes stomping to his bedroom window.

(more…)

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Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder

Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder

“A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES” My rating: B (Opens wide on Sept. 19)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Hollywood hasn’t been kind to modern mystery writers. Giants of the genre like James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky and Tony Hillerman have seen big-screen adaptations of their work crash and burn (although Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series did finally find a home on PBS).

A similar fate befell Lawrence Block’s great detective character Matt Scudder.  In 1985 the Scudder tale “8 Million Ways to Die” hit the screen with Jeff Bridges as Scudder and the frequently great Hal Ashby behind the camera.  It wasn’t very good.

But now Scott Frank — mostly known as the screenwriter for films like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report” and, weirdly, “Marley & Me” — has written and directed a fine version of Block’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones.”

Dan Stevens

Dan Stevens

Frank seems to have absorbed not just the one novel but the whole of the Scudder canon, and has given us a film that could be either a solid stand-alone or the first step in a new franchise.Ticket sales will tell the tale.

In the meantime we have a taut, dark, surprisingly substantial thriller that is both a dandy detective procedural and a first-rate character study.

Neesom’s Scudder is an alcoholic former NYC police detective who retired from the force after accidentally killing a little girl in a shootout. He hit AA and went into business as an unlicensed private eye, meaning, he says, that “I do favors for people. They give me gifts.”

As “A Walk…” begins Scudder is called to a meeting with Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey”) a drug dealer who reports that his wife was kidnapped and, after Kenny paid $400,000 in ransom, killed by her abductors and returned to her husband in little pieces. Kenny can hardly go to the cops.  He wants Scudder to find the fiends and deliver them for punishment.

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Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde

Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde

“THIRD PERSON”  My rating: C  (Opens July 11 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge and the Leawood)

137 minutes | MPAA rating: R

 

There are those who would argue that Paul Haggis’ “Crash” was a bucket of heavy-handed melodrama and that it only received the 2004 Oscar for best picture because the Academy was too cowardly or homophobic to give the award to “Brokeback Mountain.”

To those people I can only say this:  You haven’t seen heavy handed until you’ve sat through all two hours of Haggis’ latest, the artsy fartsy “Third Person.”

Taking the template of “Crash” — several intersecting stories centering on the same theme — Haggis has fashioned an emotionally remote, narratively confused yarn that goes through all the motions without ever delivering a payoff.

In Paris, novelist Michael (Liam Neeson) reunites with the fellow writer Anna (Olivia Wilde), with whom he is having a torrid if idiosyncratic affair (their relationship seems to be as much about baiting as boffing). Every now and then Michael gets a call from the wife he left behind (Kim Basinger, looking beaten down by life).

In New York City, perpetually woebegone Julia (Mila Kunis) is in the midst of a custody case.  Her ex (James Franco) won’t let her see their young son…because the last time Julia took care of him the kid almost suffocated in a plastic drycleaning bag. The penniless, luckless Julia is one of those people who can’t get anything right — not even showing up on time for meetings with her busy lawyer (Maria Bello). Mostly she mopes.

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 Seth MacFarlane


Seth MacFarlane

“A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST” My rating: C (Opens wide on March 30)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Mel Brooks needn’t lose any sleep.

The spirit of 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” hovers tauntingly over “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” Seth MacFarlane’s (he produced it, directed it, co-wrote it and stars in it) new comic Western.

“Saddles” is, of course, the blue chip standard for rude cowboy comedy, as hilarious now as the day it was released.

By comparison “A Million Ways…” is a slog. It’s got a couple of wildly comic moments – but only a couple.

The main problem is not that its humor is overwhelmingly puerile (graphic jokes about sex and bodily functions) but that it isn’t much of a movie. Oh, it looks great, with lots of gorgeous wide-screen cinematography of Monument Valley (John Ford/John Wayne country) and a visual style dishing lots of rising crane shots (MacFarlane must have been studying Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”).

But there’s no there there. And as storytelling it’s a meandering, shapeless affair. It’s not even a particularly good satire of Western movie conventions.

MacFarlane – an astonishingly productive comic force (TV’s “The Family Guy,” “American Dad!” and “The Cleveland Show,” not to mention the 2012 feature “Ted” and hosting the Oscars) – seems most at home in the half-hour (which is to say 22-minute) animated TV format. He struggles to fill this 2-hour film with jokes, and a few hit home. But they’re not in service of a story – or characters – we care about.

And let’s get out in the open MacFarlane’s biggest mistake: Casting himself as the lead character, Albert, a miserable/angry sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona.

MacFarlane has no range. He sports a half-hearted smirk and…and that’s about it. I don’t much like watching him. So there.

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