Liam Neeson proves himself a man of many talents – even when stepping into the shoes of other actors…
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That was the week in which…
IMAX head Greg Foster stated that audiences want films with more of a feel-good factor.
Or more accurately: “Maybe people are getting a little sick of the post-apocalyptic, dark, angst-ridden, suicidal movies. There’s maybe a few too many of those.” Which suggests a world in which most films are an amalgamation of The Dark Knight, Blade Runner, Requiem For A Dream and Happiness.
Does Foster have a point? Casting an eye over this year’s UK box office number ones suggests not, with a wealthy variety of hits which cover everything from cautionary tales of financial success with The Wolf Of Wall Street, well-executed family films such as The LEGO Movie, cult cinema with huge appeal in The Grand Budapest Hotel, big brash comedy sequels like 23 Jump Street and The Inbetweeners 2, and the weepy The Fault In Our Stars.
We don’t, therefore, need the premature arrival of Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes 3 to conclude that audiences generally prefer more positive films. “Post-apocalyptic”, “dark” and “angst-ridden” are really only consistent traits of super-hero movies and big-budget sci-fi, and they’re truly necessarily just in case someone accidentally reboots Batman & Robin. Broadly speaking, the curse of such titles is portentously taking 140 minutes to tell a 100-minute story (sorry, Spidey).
Foster points to films that have a “twinkle in their eyes” such as Guardians Of The Galaxy (review) as a surer route to success. Disturbingly, however, that point could also be applied to a distressing dystopian future: imagine Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie being streamed direct into your retinas forever.
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The Big Film: A Walk Among The Tombstones
It’s 2014 and people are still making films about former cops who seek redemption for past sins. This time around it’s Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, a cop who has turned to private detective work after discovering that firearms and alcohol make for a chaotic cocktail which produces tragic results (clearly he hasn’t seen any of those aforementioned redemptive cop flicks himself). What appears to be a simple kidnapping case in his latest job soon escalates into a tale that encompasses drug trafficking, grisly murders and voyeurism.
Bookended by explosive opening and closing scenes, the majority of Scudder’s story is a brooding, atmospheric experience in which the looming shadows and autumnal weather reflect a world that gradually grows darker at every turn. Narratively it’s almost ridiculously obvious, but the saturated depiction of the murky back streets of NYC during Y2K establishes a mood which together with Neeson’s performance – physically authoritative, resolutely old school and punctuated with bone dry one-liners – elevates the film to something which sporadically hints at greatness.
Much of that strength, however, comes from two excellent supporting performances from unlikely sources. Former X Factor rapper Astro really sparkles as TJ, a fresh-faced wannabe street-smart whose overriding ambition is to be enlisted as Neeson’s sidekick, while the mountainous Icelandic actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson – great in the small island’s cult comedy Fangavaktin – is so compelling that he should be the go-to man whenever a production of this scale needs to cast a discomforting oddball.
It’s no surprise to see that Harrison Ford was originally cast as Scudder for everything about A Walk Among The Tombstones feels like it was built with him in mind. Neeson, however, makes the role his own, to the extent that the hackneyed concept feels worthwhile.
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The Big Brit Film: The Riot Club
Drenching yourself in port, drinking wee out of a johnny and sinking red wine and maggot cocktails – not to mention the old spunking over your classmate’s bedroom trick.
These are just some of the larks we see the toffs at Oxford getting up to in The Riot Club. What we’re watching on screen is the initiation of the organisation’s latest first-year recruits, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin), into the university’s infamous dining society, set up to celebrate and encourage the debauched antics of its privileged members.
Based on Laura Wade’s 2010 play, Posh, Lone Scherfig’s big screen version is officially not based on the real-life Bullingdon Club – a long-running Oxbridge dining society that counts David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson as former members.
However, there are similarities that you may have seen documented. The Riot Club has strict rules for membership – its recruits must be from Eton, Westminster or, at a push, Harrow. They should also be minted, or from good stock, and – this is key – have the potential to be a complete “ledge”.
As the film’s central set-piece kicks into gear – much like its theatrical predecessor, it’s set in one location, namely the private dining room of an out-of-town gastro pub – the horror of the story unfolds until it reaches its dramatic, startling climax.
An indictment of the privileged and the ruling classes, Scherfig’s film points out the flaws in Britain’s class system but it complicates its messaging with complex portrayals of the underclasses. Some are seen as chinless, and boring, while others fit the hoodie-wearing thug stereotype.
Great acting, however, and a super script keep the quality up and stop it from descending into caricature, making for a damning – and pertinent – commentary on society. Words: Kim Taylor-Foster
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The Big Nick Cave Film: 20,000 Days On Earth
Filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard are known to be experts in non-reality, and this ‘fictionalised’ documentary makes no attempt to hide its manufacture. Ostensibly a veiled insight into a day of apocalyptic poet and musician Nick Cave’s life, it features contrived conversations with a psychologist, in which he is gently probed for his thoughts on serious topics and sees him admit his greatest fears.
There’s a beautiful story of him being read Nabokov by his late father, a recounting of his first sexual experience, and a dizzying kaleidoscope of associations and images of his female fantasies combining into the form of his wife, the model Susie Bick. He visits band colleague Warren Ellis (in a house that is clearly not his) and shares a stilted conversation over an uneaten lunch. The sections of The Bad Seeds tinkering in the studio and on stage are absolutely luminous.
Each element is like a dark ribbon fluttering in the wind, seeming to go somewhere but held back, without destination. Visually sumptuous, saturated with blacks, bruised blues and the glint of gold on wrist and fingers, it’s an intimate yet enigmatic portrait of an artist and deeply impressionistic contemplation of a dazzling and varied career. Words: Anna Wilson
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New Talent: Jack Farthing
Who? A Londoner who made a comparatively recent break into television after being spotted treading the boards at the Royal Court. He attributes his desire to act to “one particular English teacher at school who put on these huge, ambitious plays and gave a lot of people the feeling that they could do it. I blame him”.
What’s he’s been in? He’s probably best known as Freddie Threepwood (a precursor to Monkey Island’s Guybrush?) in the BBC’s popular comedy adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings. He can also been seen in the current ITV hit Cilla as John Lennon, a role which he approached with “Pure terror; followed by as much reading, watching and listening as I could fit into the few weeks I had; followed by trying to forget it all and just play the scenes as they came.”
What’s coming up? In The Riot Club, out today and covered above, Farthing plays George Balfour, a character he describes as: “A sort of young rural aristocrat, the son of an earl and a man of simple tastes; shooting, tractors and very big dogs. It was an amazing world to jump into and he’s as complex and conflicted as the rest of them.” He’ll also be seen in a main role in the BBC’s reboot of Poldark, which will be broadcast early next year.
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The Box Trolls and Pride were the big new entries at last weekend’s UK box office, coming in at #1 and #3 respectively. Sex Tape lurks at #4, its revenue probably unhindered by The Fappening. I have no comedy motive for noting that Goan road movie Finding Fanny has penetrated the charts at #13.
Obvious casting news of the year: Universal want gruff Irishman Liam Neeson to take the lead in the American remake of excellent French thriller Tell No One.
Finally, strange casting news of the year: Aubrey Plaza is… GRUMPY CAT!
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Words: Ben Hopkins except where indicated