Saturday, 27 November 2010

London Boulevard - Dir. William Monahan

You can guarantee if there’s one area of the current employment sector which continually flouts the rules of a recession, it’s the underworld London East End gangster. William Monahan’s (screenplays for ‘The Departed’ and ‘Body of Lies’) directorial debut is an adaptation of Ken Bruen’s 2001 novel ‘London Boulevard’ about a criminal who after being released from prison, attempts to go ‘straight,’ but despite his attempts, he can never truly escape his violent past. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but capable direction, and solid performances from a primarily solid British and Irish cast, create a competent directorial debut for Monahan.

Mitchell (Colin Farrell) has just been released from Pentonville after a three year sentence for assault, when he exits the prison he is picked up by long-time partner in crime, and local enforcer, Billy (Ben Chaplin), who takes Mitchell to a party in his honour. Every East End drug dealing gangster is there to shake the hand of one of the most feared men in London, but all Mitchell wants is to get a job, and avoid being restricted to a sixteen by eight cell again. He manages to convince a beautiful, reclusive actress (Keira Knightly) and her pot-smoking-hippy-esque-father-figure Jordan (David Thewlis) to hire him as a handyman around their paparazzi infested estate. But when the leading figure in the London underworld, Mr Gant (Ray Winstone) comes looking to place Mitchell high up in his crime organization, he must find a way to refuse the advances of such a dangerous man, while also protecting those closest to him.

For the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the film, Colin Farrell’s forced middle-class cockney accent takes centre stage, but once he settles into the role, his performance takes limelight as a sociopathic criminal with somewhat of a heart. His brash use of violence, and utter respect and protection of friends, family and confidants, provides a conflict within Mitchell that he constantly battles throughout the film. The only thing he knows what to do is enforce, and if he was a true gangster he would “kill everyone and take everything they had,” but at the same time, the last thing he wants in his life is to return to that desolate hole known as prison. Aside from Farrell, both David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin give great performances as the hippy, wannabe actor and scared, low-level gangster respectively. While Anne Friel also plays the thieving, stubborn, childish sister of Mitchell’s very well. Yet while Ray Winstone never puts a foot wrong, his role as the Underworld Godfather has become rather predictable and uninteresting, especially since every other word out of his Landan mouth is either f**k or c**t (or a combination of both). Monahan really missed a trick, by failing to provide Winstone’s character with any further depth.

Also beside the main story as Mitchell battles his growing love for the reclusive actress and the life of a straight man alongside that of his violent past, and potential gangster future, is the sub-plot of Mitchell’s old homeless friend Joe (Alan Williams) who is killed ruthlessly by a couple of youths and Mitchell’s subsequent attempts to find out who is responsible. While it is an adequate underlying story to accompany the main narrative, neither Monahan’s direction nor his screenplay seem to follow it to any decisive conclusion. It seems if anything, if this sub-plot is simply included to allow the subversion of the ending and provide a twist or surprise ending, which the film itself certainly does not need. ‘London Boulevard’ is a proficient first effort for Monahan, and while the film contains flaws, which you expect from a first-time director plying his trade, it is also an engaging gangster drama which is smartly written, and incredibly well-acted by many of the great British and Irish actors at the moment.

Unstoppable - Dir. Tony Scott

Tony Scott returns to the big screen with his fourth film in five years, and just like the previous three, 'Unstoppable' fits the mould as mediocre-fanfare that will casually keep your attention focused on-screen for an hour and a half. Frank (Denel Washington) is the twenty-eight year old railroad veteran who is placed together with newcomer Will (Chris Pine) for a day working on the tracks. However this is no ordinary day, after fellow railroad worker Dewey (Ethan Suplee) accidentally sends a train out on the main tracks unmanned, it is left to the master and his potential prodigy to overcome their differences and attempt to stop the train before it kills thousands in Stanton, Pennsylvania.

The film's premise is as silly as it sounds, but most importantly, it's just not that entertaining in general. It's only saving grace is the relationship between the veteran actor, and always reliable Denzel Washington and the relative new Star Trek prince, Chris Pine. The dialogue between these two characters is quick witted, funny, awkward, and incredibly natural, and their developing rapport keeps the film ticking over. Aside from Washington and Pine, Scott once again resorts to over-paced editing and desperately quick cuts, which make the film, feel more like a music video, than a motion picture. While the action itself, at the centre of the narrative, is constantly undermined by Scott's need to juxtapose the action of the train itself, with current live news reports from the outlets around the country which thoroughly detracts away from the audiences enjoyment of the film, as it removes any notion of surprise, or revelation as we constantly know where the train is heading, and when it will arrive at that location.

In 'Unstoppable,' everything is laid bare by Tony Scott in regards to the story, so the audience can refocus its attention towards the action shown on-screen, which is not only degrading to the spectators, but also a surprisingly backward step for a director who has yet to break the mould of mediocrity in more than eleven years. Despite attempts to create tension, suspense and an action-orientated picture, Scott instead has succeeded in creating a dull pseudo-documentary in a sense, on how the locomotive is still a powerful beast, that needs man's full attention.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Due Date - Dir. Todd Phillips

With his most recent film, the 2010 movie ‘Due Date,’ director Todd Phillips (‘Road Trip,’ ‘Hangover’) has decided to take a different approach to cultivating his comedic talents into ninety-minutes after ten unbridled years of success. Instead of the witty and often hilarious one-liners constantly lighting the audience’s smiles and occasionally unsettling their stomachs, he has now instead provided the audience with the dark, underground aspect of the comedy film. While it is undoubtedly incredibly hilarious at times, the offensive remarks thrown between the characters do at times expand into the realm of dark and uncomfortable comedy, and too many, this dialogue will no doubt be acknowledged as being disturbing rather than awkwardly funny. ‘The Hangover,’ this is not.

The story follows the highly-strung Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) as he meets and subsequently gets stranded with the eccentric wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis). With Peter needing desperately to get from Atlanta, Georgia back to Los Angeles as soon as possible for the birth of his first child, he must place his trust into the hands of Ethan. With no money, no identification, and the realisation that every time Peter enters a domestic airport, he will be searched in the most sacred of man areas, what follow is today’s generations ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’. As mentioned before however, this is not a John Hughes film by any standards.

Peter is an angry, aggressive, ignorant, and ill-tempered middle-class businessman, who has little regard for others and their problems. When he can’t settle an argument or situation using rationality, he instantly resorts to verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse. While Ethan is a vulnerable, well-intentioned human being, who unfortunately has many obnoxious qualities which would quite easily send the average person into a fit of insanity in mere moments. And it is through this relationship, where the film initially falters, before excelling in the final third of the film. For the first half of the film, the loathsome qualities of both men and their ability to kill the occasional emotional moment of connection with an often disconcerting flash of awkward humour, constantly keeps the audience at arm’s length with regards to allowing them to empathise and connect with the characters and their situations. But this isolation, begins to break-down as we begin to learn that both men, are simply that; men, under the most stressful of situations and that while they may have initially resented each other to the point, they have both their underlying reasons why they both constantly end back up in other’s company.

Aside from the relationship between the two men, there is little else that the film tries to introduce to stir up the narrative of the film. The secondary characters such as Darryl (Jamie Foxx) as Peter’s best-friend, and Heidi (Juliette Lewis) as a Craiglists drug-dealer, become slight restrictions in the boys road trip from coast-to-coast, but provide little else aside from momentary comic relief. ‘Due Date’ is a valiant effort in the contrasting character road-trip genre, but it just lacks any invigoration or invention that Phillip’s previous outings provided for the audience. And by attempting to introduce prolonged scenes of disturbingly awkward comedic sequences that most often than not end in the audience squirming at what they have heard, rather than laughing at what was said or done, Phillips will have isolated his the loyal contingent of comedy fans who just want to break-away from the serious nature of life, rather than become engaged within it during the confines of a theatre visit.