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Non-Review Review: Ordinary Love

Ordinary Love offers a charming and affecting glimpse inside a marriage.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville play Tom and Joan, an ageing couple enjoying their autumn years together. One evening, Joan discovers a lump in her left breast. As a result, the couple find themselves navigating a precarious emotional rollercoaster as Joan deals with the resulting diagnosis and Tom struggles to hold it all together long enough that he might be his wife’s rock. Along the way, the couple try to find some balance in their lives, to maintain a delicate equilibrium inside a marriage that has already been strained by trauma unimaginable.

Food for love.
And also just food.

The “cancer” subgenre is a strange thing, encompassing movies such as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or My Sister’s Keeper. These sorts of movies, and others about terminal diseases or afflictions, have to walk a fine line. Cancer is so common an ailment that such loss and such trauma is almost a universal experience. Movies like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and My Sister’s Keeper can often struggle to capture the depth of emotion associated with such a diagnosis without slipping into cynical exploitation.

Ordinary Love works so well because of the humanity and empathy at its core. As the title implies, and as Tom outlines during one of the film’s most moving scenes, Ordinary Love understands that this sort of trauma is so horrifying because of the way it intrudes into the familiar and the safe. Cancer is a disease that turns a body against itself, spreading and growing inside the body that a person has known since birth. Ordinary Love captures that intrusion of the unknown into the familiar, offering a beautiful and moving sketch of a marriage that feels lived-in.

A couple of delights.

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Non-Review Review: The Commuter

The Commuter is the best Neeson Season movie since The Grey and the best movie about the financial crisis since The Big Short.

On paper, The Commuter is a mildly interesting premise that feels very much of a piece with the typical January awards-fare counter-programming. It is very much a high-concept action film that feels populated from a mad lib. [Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis/Gerard Butler] is a [former cop/current cop/law enforcement official] who finds himself embroiled in a race against time to [protect/rescue/expose/defeat] a [loved one/conspiracy].

McCauley took the instruction not to fire the gun inside the carriage a little… literally.

The Commuter is very much of piece with Liam Neeson’s other collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra; Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night. It is a movie about a weary protagonist embroiled in a situation beyond his control, the perfect fodder for a midweek movie to be enjoyed with a bucket of pop corn and a soft drink of choice. However, what elevated The Commuter above these earlier collaborations is similar to what elevated Collet-Serra’s The Shallows above so many familiar shark movies.

The Commuter has the look and feel of a big dumb action movie, a film inviting the audience to engage on its own terms rather than theirs. However, there is a very knowing and self-aware quality to The Commuter, an understanding of what the audience expects of the film and what the film can expect from the audience in return. The result is a film that always feels smarter and better than it needs to be, very carefully calibrated; just serious enough to work, just self-aware enough to charm. The result is a delightfully enjoyable action film.

Dial “C” for Commuter.

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Non-Review Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones is an oddly nostalgic serial killer film.

The movie is an adaptation of Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name. Block originally published A Walk Among the Tombstones in 1992, around the time that pop culture’s fascination with serial killers was building to a crescendo. Thomas Harris had released Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs to universal acclaim. Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs had managed to sweep the Oscars, despite the handicap of a February 1991 release.

Dead letters...

Dead letters…

Scott Frank’s feature film adaptation moves the action forward to 1999, towards the tail end of pop culture’s interest in serial killers. Morgan Freeman’s career in serial killer films offers perhaps the best illustration of the state of the genre. By this point, Freeman had already moved on from 1995’s stylish se7en towards 1997’s efficient Kiss the Girls and was on the cusp of 2001’s unnecessary Along Came a Spider. The serial killer’s stock was falling, and the serial killer would soon be replaced by another bogeyman.

This shift in the story’s setting makes it feel like A Walk Among the Tombstones is a funeral ode towards the serial killer.

Lives are on the line...

Lives are on the line…

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Non-Review Review: Non-Stop

At its best, Non-Stop evokes one of those mid-nineties high-tension high-altitude thrillers – movies about various crises unfolding on a plane, with a questionable hero wading in to help save the day. There’s a decidedly pulpy aspect to Non-Stop, as the film revels in the absurdity of its set-up and the contrived planning of the movie’s would-be skyjacker/ransomer. Those looking for a tightly-plotted thriller that withstands any level of critical thought would be best served to look elsewhere, but that’s entirely the point. Non-Stop basks in its minute-to-minute thrills, which it delivers with just enough consistency to maintain momentum.

The movie runs into problems though. Running to almost two hours, it’s impossible for the film to maintain the necessary level of tension for such an extended period. One sense that twenty minutes might have easily been trimmed from the film and tightened up the pacing a bit – after all, it’s not as if the plot hangs together particularly tightly as is. Non-Stop also runs into difficulties when it is forced to confront the fact that it is not – despite its best intentions – a hijacking movie from the mid-nineties. For better or worse, Non-Stop is set in the wake on 9/11, and the movie’s attempts to acknowledge that can’t help but feel a little forced.

Non-Stop is hardly an exceptional little thriller, but Neeson anchors it well and the movie often feels like an affectionately pulpy throwback to much more exciting skyjacking films.

Cabin fever...

Cabin fever…

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #6

Ireland got an IMAX screen this year. Well, it had an IMAX screen before, but it shut down before The Dark Knight kick-started the whole “watching cool movies in IMAX” thing. Evidently, watching Liam Neeson talk about Everest wasn’t nearly as exciting as watching Batman flip over an articulated lorry. Christopher Nolan shot a large percentage of The Dark Knight on IMAX, but he shot even more of The Dark Knight Rises using the special cameras.

As such, I was delighted that Cineworld and The Irish Times organised a special screening of The Dark Knight Rises in early December, even though the cinema had only reopened after Nolan’s epic was available on blu ray. It’s an oft-cited criticism that the third part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy featured surprisingly little Batman. I’d disagree, and instead suggest that the film made excellent use of its large cast – and when Batman appeared on screen he carried the weight that he deserved.

The sequence in which Bruce leads the Gotham Police Department on a merry chase while pursuing Bane and his terrorists is the perfect example, a fantastically constructed action sequence that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the cast at that moment in time.darkknightrises15a

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Watch! It’s Neeson Season!

To celebrate the release of Taken 2, the guys behind Silence! The Musical – a musical adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs – has released this rather brilliant musical compilation of Liam Neeson’s greatest moments. (Jon and Al Kaplan are also some of the best pop cultural musical minds out there – I adore 24: The Musical, a pitch-perfect musical adaptation of the second season of the show.) By the way, “Neeson season” totally needs to be a thing. Like between blockbuster season and Oscar season.

Anyway, enjoy.

Non-Review Review: Taken 2

Taken 2 doesn’t pack quite the wallop of its predecessor. The original was a fairly standard action movie, elevated by a relatively lean and focused story, driven by a surprisingly effective Liam Neeson. Neeson is back for Taken 2, and he remains the best thing about the sequel. However, the film lacks the focused intensity of its predecessor. Much like its protagonist, the first film was almost single-minded in pursuit of its goal. This time around, there’s a lot more grizzle on the bone. Most of that comes from the decision to expand the world around Bryan Mills. While the movie works efficiently when Mills is driving the plot, it suffers from its decision to saddle him with more of his family this time around, with both the movie and the character almost weighed down.

Okay, which bright spark thought this was a good idea?

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