Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yosuke Kubozuka, Issei Ogata, Liam Neeson
Martin Scorsese has, in the last decade or so, enjoyed the most commercially successful period of his career, with The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street all making an impact at the box office. In contrast, his newest film, Silence, is his most unashamedly uncommercial film in decades. This adaptation is, however, a project that the great director has been trying to realise since he first read Shusaku Endo’s novel in 1989. It is the textbook definition of a passion project, and the resulting film is a breathtaking and thought provoking crystalisation of some of the key themes that have persisted through Scorsese’s life and work.
Silence takes us into the world of the Kakure Kirishitan, the ‘hidden Christians,’ of Imperial Japan. In 1640, two young Jesuit priests from Portugal, Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) head to Japan in search of their old mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). They have heard rumours that he has apostatised, renounced his faith, and is living as a Japanese, rumours they simply cannot believe. Continue reading
Director: Juame Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Genesis Rodriguez, Common
In 2008, at the age of 56, Oscar nominated actor Liam Neeson’s career took a peculiar turn. Pierre Morel’s Taken introduced the world to Neeson’s “very particular set of skills,” and the success of that movie, its sequels and imitations have turned Neeson into arguably Hollywood’s most bankable action star. That all of this happened simultaneous to The Expendables franchise having tongue-in-cheek fun by bringing back a group of action heroes from decades past, most of whom happen to be roughly the same vintage as Neeson, only adds to the peculiarity. Juame Collet-Serra’s Run All Night is the latest film to take advantage of Neeson’s new tough guy persona.
Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) is a mess. Once known as Jimmy the Gravedigger, he used to be a feared hitman for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Fifteen years down the track he is an alcoholic, estranged from his only son and gets by on charity from Shawn. One night, Jimmy’s son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) is in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), murder an Albanian heroin dealer. Continue reading
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie
The Lego Movie marks the latest step in the recent diversification of the Lego Group, producers of everyone’s favourite colourful, interlocking construction toys. The last decade-and-a-half has seen them produce a series of best-selling video games and DVDs, but a $60 million motion picture backed by Warner Brothers represents arguably their most ambitious step yet. However, rather than feeling like a film made by a toy company, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, have delivered a film that is surprisingly clever, creative and funny.
The Lego world is under the control of the tyrannical Lord Business. Business likes logic and order. He separates the Lego world into different realms, keeping the city of Bricksburgh separate from the Old West, Pirate Cove, Clown Town and the rest. He encourages people to follow the instructions and stifles creativity. But there is a prophecy that tells of the Special, “the most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe,” who will reunite the Master Builders and remove Business from power. Somehow, the Special turns out to be Emmett, a simple, lonely construction worker from Bricksburgh. He is identified by the spunky heroine Wyldstyle who takes him to meet the Master Builders so they can prepare for their assault on Lord Business. Oh, and of course Emmett becomes quite smitten with Wyldstyle. But she has a boyfriend… and he’s Batman.
The Lego Movie is all about imagination, both in its form and its content. Visually, the film presents us with a world in which everything is made from Lego. And when I say everything is made from Lego, I mean everything. Buildings, vehicles, landscapes, water, fire, all Lego. But rather than this limiting the scope of the film, it makes it entirely limitless. The internal logic which guides the film is that of a child’s imagination. Rather than being kept separate and adhering to real world story logic, the different realms of the Lego world intermingle resulting in an amazingly diverse story where our characters include Batman, cowboys, the cast of Star Wars, Abraham Lincoln, pirates, Gandalf, Michelangelo (both the Renaissance artist and the ninja turtle), space men and Shaquille O’Neal.
A fun, irreverent adventure that feels a bit like Toy Story meets Inception or The Matrix, the film’s narrative reinforces this focus on imagination and individual creativity by taking its lead from the very toys which inspire it. Yes, Lego comes with instructions but the real fun is to be had when the instructions are thrown out and your imagination takes over. So while Lord Business desires order and conformity, our heroes are the Master Builders whose creativity enables them to see the potential of their surroundings, enabling them to dismantle the world around them to build something new.
The Lego Movie is magnificently animated by the team from Australian animation house Animal Logic. The animation, while clear and vibrant, has a slightly clunky quality to it which works perfectly with the limited pliability of Lego figurines. This animation is then complemented by a strong voice cast including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. You get the impression that these funny people have been given a little bit of freedom in their characterisation, so while the film is very much G-rated in its content, the humour has the same patterns and rhythms of today’s more successful comedies.
With creativity and originality in mainstream animation appearing to have plateaued over the last couple of years, The Lego Movie feels fresh and exciting. Clever, funny and with enough heart to prevent it from being a cynical product promotion, it is possibly the best animated feature since Toy Story 3.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Lego Movie? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o
Liam Neeson is a terrific actor who has been in some really wonderful films. But at some point in the last decade, despite being on the other side of fifty, he has made an unlikely transition into being an action hero, a kind of contemporary Clint Eastwood. The upside of being a recognised movie action hero is that he can pay the bills by doing paint-by-numbers thrillers, of which Non-Stop, which sees him reunite with director Juame Collet-Serra from Unknown, is definitely one.
Neeson plays US Air Marshall Bill Marks, a burned-out alcoholic who is on a routine flight from New York to London when he starts receiving a series of text messages threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a secret, off-shore account. With the lives of 200 passengers in his hands, Marks has to determine which one of them is the culprit, preferably without causing a state of panic 40,000 feet above the ground.
Setting a thriller on an aeroplane mid-flight creates an interesting variation on the Agatha Christie formula which sees our key players – the detective and all of the potential suspects – confined to one location for the duration of the story. From the very outset of the film, before we know what is about to unfold, some clever camerawork from cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano creates suspicion of every character we encounter. Likewise, before it is even revealed that Bill is an Air Marshall we know that he is a watcher of people. It is through his gaze that we notice little details about the passengers around him.
As the narrative progresses, with its countless red-herrings, there are moments in which you are genuinely hooked into this mystery. This cat-and-mouse scenario creates some legitimate tension, and Non-Stop looks like being a basically enjoyable, if largely generic, thriller. But then it steps into the ludicrous. Like a plane with serious engine failure, this film plummets in its final third. The final reveal is disappointing, due in part to the sheer ridiculousness of the motives at play – the hijacker is the last in a long number of characters in the film who share needlessly elaborate, and in this case nonsensical, backstories. But surely the point at which this film completely descends into farce is when a moment of anti-gravity caused by the free-falling plane righting itself sees a gun that was lying on the floor levitate in front of our hero at the opportune moment for him to grab it and fire. I’m not sure the 50-50 split between groans and laughter is the audience reaction that the filmmakers were hoping for.
Even though Neeson is clearly going through the motions, he, like the rest of a surprisingly quality cast, struggles valiantly against some sub-standard material and manages to give more than it deserves. Ultimately though, Non-Stop fails to live up to the potential of what could have been quite a fun premise.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean