Tag Archives: Liam Neeson

This Old Villa

Made in Italy

by George Wolf

Made It Italy is a romantic comedy that follows a veteran artist and his estranged adult son still struggling over the devastating loss of their wife and mother. The chance to restore an old house in Tuscany brings with it the chance for some relationship mending.

With the casting of Liam Neeson and his real life son Micheál Richardson in the leads, writer/director James D’Arcy isn’t shy about introducing life to art.

Richardson adopted his maternal surname two years ago to honor the memory of his mother Miranda Richardson, who passed away in 2009 after a tragic ski accident. Even during the film’s most familiar beats, this family history adds a constant, beneficial layer of feeling.

Son Jack Foster manages a British art gallery owned by the family of his soon-to-be ex wife. They’re selling and he’s desperate to buy, enough to call up his estranged dad Robert with a plan to raise the cash by selling their old Italian villa.

As you probably guessed by the words “Italian” and “villa,” the place is surrounded by incredibly picturesque beauty. A visit by a blunt real estate agent (Lindsay Duncan, always a pleasure) assures them she could find a buyer, but only after a major facelift.

Dad isn’t happy, but agrees to help, setting up construction montages and meals in town where Jack meets lovely restauranteur Natalia (Valeria Bilello).

D’Arcy, a veteran actor at the helm of his first feature, isn’t breaking any new ground here, just making the surroundings feel plenty comfortable. The comedy is rarely more than droll and amusing, but aside from the cartoonishly misplaced rich couple sizing up the place, it carries a simple charm.

The surroundings are gorgeous, the tidy ending is never in doubt, and the real life family ties provide unspoken warmth. It will no doubt remind you of places you’ve already been, but the soft edges and lived-in appeal of Made In Italy feel like a weathered welcome mat.

Screening Room: Legos, Liam, Bad Seeds and Taraji P.

A bunch of new theatrical and home entertainment releases this week. In theaters we have The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Cold Pursuit, What Men Want and Prodigy. We talk through the pros and cons of each, sing a little Everybody’s Awesome, then hit the lobby and home entertainment.

Listen to the podcast HERE.





Best Served Cold

Cold Pursuit

by Hope Madden

Liam Neeson, everybody.

If we’d ever wondered what fueled Neeson’s on-screen obsession with a character who can turn from perfectly ordinary, even good guy to blindly bloodthirsty avenging devil, now we know. His movies were more fun before, weren’t they?

In Cold Pursuit, Neeson’s ninth riff on the theme since his 2008 career-changer Taken, he takes on mainly white guys (whew!).

Kehoe, Colorado’s most beloved snow plow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) learns of his son’s heroin overdose death. Not believing his son to have been a junkie, he does some digging, and some retaliatory murdering.

One thing leads to another, the holy bonds between father and son are honored without being explored, Laura Dern (as Mrs. Coxman) vanishes from the film by the end of Act 1, and a rival drug gang complicates the revenge fantasy.

This is director Hans Petter Moland’s reboot of his own 2014 Norwegian thriller, In Order of Disappearance. Both films employ a dark and absurd humor that keep the well-worn material from feeling stale. The weird tone and Moland’s flair for fantastic visuals—not to mention his joy of carnage—keep the film intriguing from start to finish.

A game supporting cast doesn’t hurt. Tom Bateman (listen close and you can hear him say, “holy shit” in The Interview) chews enough scenery to balance Neeson’s quiet brood.

Plenty of peculiar turns and quirky moments between odd characters elevate this one above your garden variety Neeson thriller. It offers a mildly entertaining time—assuming you can get past the actor’s own disturbing relationship with revenge.





Oceans Apart

Widows

by Hope Madden

There are few films I have been more geeked to see than Widows.

Co-writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) update a British miniseries from the ‘80s about a heist.

Wait, Steve McQueen made a heist movie? A filmmaker so punishing you watch a little Lars von Trier to lighten the mood?

He totally made a heist movie. It is a layered, deeply cynical, wildly faceted take on politics, organized crime, familial grief and the plight of a powerless woman. So, OK, maybe not your run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson flick. But Liam Neeson is in it.

Neeson is Harry Rawlings, top man in a group of criminals who hit vaults around Chicago. This last hit went south, though, and the bad men he fleeced need that cash back. Poor Mrs. Rawlings (Viola Davis, glorious as is her way), is handed the bill.

McQueen has not made an Oceans 11. Widows is not fun. It is smart, riveting entertainment, though.

McQueen’s Chicago landscape is peopled mainly with folks desperately in need of a change: the criminal trying to get into politics (Brian Tyree Henry), the career politician with daddy issues (Colin Farrell), but mostly the widows of Harry’s crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki), all left as cash-strapped as Mrs. Rawlings.

It does not pay to marry a criminal.

Every member of the enormous ensemble runs with the opportunities this script allows, no matter how much or how little their screen time. Daniel Kaluuya relishes every sadistic moment he has as an enforcer, while Jacki Weaver establishes one character’s entire history with her two fascinating minutes onscreen.

But it’s Viola Davis who anchors the film. She is the grieving heart and the survivor’s mind that gives Widows its center and its momentum. She wastes nothing, never forgetting or allowing us to forget the grim reality of her situation.

There is a heist, don’t get me wrong. There are double crosses, flying bullets, car chases, explosions—genre prerequisites that feel like new toys for the super-serious director. McQueen proves a versatile a filmmaker, though he has certainly left his own distinctive mark on the action flick.






I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of April 16

Two-word titles available for home viewing this week. Do you want to watch a slick, important movie about that reminds you just how far America has fallen? Spielberg for you. Rather watch that same Liam Neeson movie you’ve grown to need somehow in your life? That’s here, too.

Click the film title for the full review.

The Post

The Commuter





Crazy Train

The Commuter

by Hope Madden

In 2014, Jaume Collet-Serra directed Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson thriller that saw the down-on-his-luck Irishman with a particular set of skills trapped on a speeding vehicle with a killer, a mystery, and an outside force looking to pin some wrongdoing on him.

In 2018, Jaume Collet-Serra directed The Commuter. Same movie. Train this time.

This go-round, happily married devoted father Michael MacCauley (Neeson) gets chatted up by the lovely and mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) as he heads home on his nightly commute. She poses a question: would you do one little thing—something you are uniquely qualified to do—if it landed you 100k and you had no idea of the consequences?

Well, it’s not a game and next thing you know he’s dragging his lanky frame up and down the train cars trying to find a mysterious person with a mysterious bag before his family is nabbed or someone else gets killed.

How many times do we have to see this movie? We get it, Neeson is not a man to be messed with. He’s savvy, noble and he can take a punch.

Farmiga’s always a welcome sight, plus Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson contribute as they can. But mainly it’s just you, Neeson and a host of stereotypes trying to test your mystery-solving skills but not your patience.

At its best, The Commuter is a B-movie popcorn-munching ode to the forgotten middle class good guy. At its worst, a boldly predictable waste of talent littered with plot holes and weak CGI.

It’s a Liam Neeson movie. What do you want?





Deja Vu

Mark Felt: The Man Who Took Down the White House

by Hope Madden

Imagine what could go wrong if one group of power hungry thugs could subvert any investigative body, discredit the press and cover their corrupt, nation-degrading tracks.

Yes, in light of pussy grabbing, Nazi accepting, wall building, election tampering, hurricane victim abandoning and countless other inconceivable abominations, Watergate seems quaint.

But maybe that’s where Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House could find its power. It could not only underscore the nearly incomprehensible severity of our current climate but also remind us that change is possible.

Liam Neeson plays Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover who found himself so aggrieved by the corruption overtaking the bureau after Hoover’s passing that he leaked confidential information to the press, earning himself the affectionate nickname Deep Throat.

Writer/director Peter Landesman takes on nearly 45-year-old history perhaps to draw comparisons between then and now. For the former New York Times investigative journalist, the material may have been too tempting.

Since his leap to filmmaking, Landesman’s been concerned with true-life tales, but he’s been stronger as a writer (Kill the Messenger) than a writer/director (Concussion). Here, he stumbles with both.

The script wedges in too many clunky connectors to help the audience figure out who each participant is rather than creating a set of characters. Ensemble dramas have loads of characters. Watergate has loads of characters and drama. Let it breathe.

Worse still are the soliloquies Landesman saddles onto poor Diane Lane as Felt’s wife Audrey. Lane does what she can but her overwritten monologues beg the question: why is she telling him these things? Surely her husband already knows. The answer, of course, is that she’s telling us, which is just weak writing.

On paper, Felt’s a fascinating character, as any lifer in the bureau must be. And Liam Neeson’s a fine actor. So why is it the film never plumbs any deeper than a distant stare, a grimace, an errant curse word?

Mark Felt is onscreen for maybe 4 minutes in All The President’s Men and I understood him as a character more fully than in his full 2-hours here.

What may be the most interesting idea Landesman shares is that Felt was less interested in criminal activity at the highest level than he was in the idea that the FBI would become beholden to the White House. He was busy looking beyond a single presidency to the power and necessity of an independent investigative body when everybody else was too stunned by the felon in the White House to notice.

You know what, though? I bet Nixon knew he was president of the US Virgin Islands.





Tenacious M

Kidnap

by Hope Madden

Let me admit this from the start – I may have liked Kidnap better than I should have. Why? Well, I saw it immediately after The Dark Tower, and it is Citizen Kane compared to that festering pile.

In this film, Haley Berry plays Liam Neeson. It’s her second time in the role, actually.

Back in ’08, Neeson – with help from the pen of Luc Besson – revolutionized film with the (wildly over-appreciated) genre flick Taken. Mid-budget “I have a particular set of skills” thrillers have littered the cinematic landscape since, wreaking righteous vengeance and prolonging the careers of middle aged actors everywhere.

In 2013, Berry made The Call, which was not a bad B-movie thriller and her first turn as Liam Neeson. Kidnap sees the Oscar winner playing a loving mother whose 6-year-old (a very sweet Sage Correa) is nabbed from a busy park. Mom sees the napper shoving her son into a car, she jumps in her minivan and the pursuit begins.

The film amounts to a 90-minute car chase with one unreasonably attractive mom behind the wheel. Several of the action sequences are interesting and flashy (for a film with this level of budget – do not go into this hoping for Fast and the Furious: Minivans).

Writer Knate Lee can’t really justify the lack of cell phone or police presence, but he does what he can. Meanwhile, director Luis Prieto ably assembles car chases and panicked driver close ups, then competently shifts tone for a final act that toes the line between thriller and horror.

There’s nothing exceptional about Kidnap. Not one thing. You’ll forget it existed as quickly as you forgot The Call was ever made. But for a getting-the-phone-bill-paid flick, it’s not too bad.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Ht8VRPRvU

 





Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Silence

by Hope Madden

Yes, the faithful believe Jesus sacrificed himself for us – to clear our sins with God. But would he have sacrificed us for the sake of reverence?

Martin Scorsese’s elegant pondering on faith, Silence, enters the mind of Jesuit priest Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as he and his colleague Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture into 1640s Japan in search of a mentor priest lost to a violently anti-Catholic government.

Gorgeous, imposing shots paint the image of the vast and dangerous beauty of God’s world and the small if admirable people trying to survive there. Garrpe and Rodrigues first hide with faithful Japanese villagers, losing their primary mission while serving those oppressed Christian Japanese longing for signs of the church.

Garfield and Driver cut nicely opposing images, Garfield the sweet-faced picture of buoyant faith, Driver the more skeptical, impatient believer. While it’s Garfield whose story we hear, Driver’s counterpoint is a required piece of this crisis of faith driving the film and his performance delivers something painful and honest.

Scorsese’s abiding interest – some might say preoccupation – with faulty men and their tenuous grasp on Catholic faith has flavored many a film, though rarely as thoroughly as this one. What is faith? What is it, really? And who’s to say what harm Jesus would have you do to protect him?

The film may take itself too seriously (though, this is hardly light fare). Any possible misstep Scorsese can mostly overcome with meticulous, near-magical craftsmanship, though there are a handful of hang ups that sometimes break the seduction of the project.

These are Portuguese priests in 17th Century Japan speaking English (why?), and mainly with British/Irish accents (Liam Neeson plays lost Fr. Ferreira). (At least Driver gives the Portuguese accent a shot.)

And though Garfield is a genuine talent, this role requires something perhaps uglier than what he has to offer.

Mainly, though the film’s resolution is both nuanced and satisfying, there are certain answers, certain signs that feel more like movie magic than spiritual presence. They are minor flaws in a beautiful if ponderous work, but they keep Silence from joining Scorsese’s true masterpieces.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





A Poignant Beauty

A Monster Calls

by Hope Madden

There is something deeply brave in A Monster Calls, director JA Bayona’s cinematic presentation of Patrick Ness’s understandably praised young adult book.

A boy of 12 – no longer a child, not yet a man, as these tales often go – finds himself trapped in a period of tremendous discomfort. Not adolescence – although that is rarely fun for anyone. Never mind the bullies who routinely beat him, or the balance of his schoolmates who don’t notice him at all.

True, these are real problems that often litter angsty pre-teen dramas. But Bayona and Ness are prepared to more closely examine something far less frequently explored because it is untidy, uncomfortable and hard to look at.

Conor’s mom is going to die, and we spend 108 minutes – brilliant, honest and profoundly sad minutes – with him as he deals with that sad reality.

A monster (Liam Neeson) – in the form of a walking yew tree – visits Conor (Lewis MacDougall) every night and tells him stories. But like everything else about this film – and about life, for that matter – the stories are messy and frustrating. They do not fit the tidy, black-and-white fables Conor wants to hear.

“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary,” explains the monster.

Simply and beautifully, A Monster Calls articulates so many insights about adolescence and about grief.

What is so startling about A Monster Calls is now true it is to this particular time in life: the baffling behavior of adults, the suffocating aloneness, the disconcerting rage and guilt.

MacDougall steers clear of clichés with a courageous central performance. Though Sigourney Weaver’s accent is noticeably weak, supporting turns are uniformly strong.

Neeson – who narrates one of every three documentaries produced on earth – knows how to employ his voice alone to bring this thrilling beast to life.

But the real stars are Ness, who adapted his novel for the screen, and Bayona.

As he did with his breakout 2007 film The Orphanage, Bayona takes his time and lets his story take its own shape. Of course, part of that shape comes courtesy of a darkly imaginative animation department.

As splendid as the film is, minor faults stand out – the sound is sometimes garbled; sick-bed make up could be stronger; Weaver’s no Brit.

And like Spike Jonze’s underappreciated 2009 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are, A Monster Calls is in many ways a better fit for adults than for children. It is such a refreshing and intelligent departure from traditional family fare that it’s hard to even see it as part of the same category. This poignant beauty is in a class all its own.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvZrnt9b7vU