Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones; not coming soon to a TV near you

It’s been a bunch of years since the last time someone tried to adapt Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books for the screen; you have to go all the way back to Eight Million Ways to Die, which is mainly remembered - and that not much - as the first movie that gave Andy Garcia anything real to do. It’s also got a pretty solid Jeff Bridges performance, but Bridges’ real glory days came later and it’s hard to imagine anyone including it in a greatest hits of Jeff Bridges movie night.

Probably the biggest thing that went wrong with Eight Million Ways to Die was that nobody seemed to see anything wrong in relocating the action to southern California; once you’ve wrenched Scudder out of New York, you’ve vanished the protagonist’s real sidekick. Scudder is not a creature of sunshine, not in any way. He belongs on the mean streets of New York, brooding on stuff.

So thirty years later someone’s blown the dust off A Walk Among the Tombstones, a kinda-mid-period Scudder, and tried to get it right. Scudder is in New York, where he belongs, and in the 1990s, where he belongs. And Liam Neeson’s a surprisingly not bad Scudder, even if he does feel more like a dried out version of Bill Marks. A little bit too handy with the old ultra-violence, but fallible and compromised (his best line comes when he’s asked if he left the cops because of corruption “No, that was all that let me keep my family in comfort.”). 

The thing is that it feels like the pilot for a TV show no-one’s going to make. We meet Scudder, we meet TJ (I have never made my mind up whether Scudder’s gradual development of a teenage sidekick and a second wife were Flanderisation or a journey of redemption), and we get the sense of how Scudder gets by on the margins of the big city. Meet Matt Scudder, drunk cop turned recovering alcoholic fixer! Meet TJ, street kid and miniature magical negro! Together they fight crime! Sort of! Except when they lose. 

Except Liam Neeson’s not going to give up massive paydays for Taken clones to slum it on TV, and the world’s full of cop shows anyhow. So it’s a one-off that’s OK while it lasts. It might have been more than OK if they’d picked one of the Scudder books which wasn’t all about creepy serial killers - I came across a great phrase on the internet today “Stacks O Dead Ladies” which perfectly sums up the way that every damn crime movie and cop show seems to default to chopping up women. Why can’t brave duos fight some other kind of crime?

If they ever do try to make a Scudder TV show, it hit me this morning, all they have to do is wait for Donal Logue to get killed on Gotham. Logue would be a perfect Scudder. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Most Wanted Man; not a Michael Bay movie

I spent a lot of the most sinister moments in A Most Wanted Man thinking “That’s not Lena Headey, but if it’s not, who the hell is it?” Robin Wright, it turns out, with dark hair and the Lady McBeth vibe from House of Cards turned way past 11. She’s the face of the Feds, and the Feds are not the good guys. The Feds are not the good guys in a movie about muslim maybe-terrorists and the German secret police, but then again this is an adaptation of a John Le Carre book, and he’s never been a cheerleader for the USA.

A couple of years back I watched Anton Corbijn’s The American. A Most Wanted Man seems to have been made as a reaction to reviews that called it too restrained. The American’s mostly a mood piece with no serious action and you could count the gunshots on your fingers. You can count the gunshots in A Most Wanted Man on George W Bush’s braincells. "The American not action-y enough? I wasn’t even trying there."

So, don’t go if your action reserves are depleted. This is a movie entirely about brooding silence and character moments. I think I’ve used more words so far in this post than the script gives the wanted man of the title. And most of the rest of the cast are only slightly more chatty. Philip Seymour Hoffman more or less owns the movie and gets more dialogue than everyone else put together, but even he does more brooding than talking (the last two or three minutes of the movie are entirely wordless). Corbijn needed good actors for what he wanted to do, and he got them. Of course, he got some of them from Hollywood so everyone goes through the movie either speaking English with foreign accents or occasionally being subtitled; I have no idea what the policy was, other than the usual one of wanting to sell the movie in America and no frightening them off by getting an actual German to play your German secret policeman. Sure Hoffman is great, as when was he not, but Christoph Waltz or Bruno Ganz would have been just as good and just as recognisable and they could have spoken German.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Guest; Matthew Crawley is all growed up

If you had told me that Matthew Crawley could carry a thriller movie, I’d have raised an eyebrow; probably two, because my eyebrows are no more obedient to my will than anything else in the world. If you’d told me the movie would go into free fall whenever he wasn’t on screen, I’d have bought the Brooklyn Bridge off you just to keep both feet firmly anchored in unreality.

The Guest is a great little movie, and it owes it all to Dan Stevens, the most enjoyably amiable psycho to show up at the movies in ages. It loses its way a bit at the end; no matter how much you’re riffing off 1980s influences, it’s never a great idea to set your climactic stalk-out in a funfair maze. But the first two thirds are rock solid; Stevens is note perfect in his switches from charm to menace and there’s not a wasted moment. Everything is there for a reason; every little line and incident tells you a little bit more about what’s driving the characters. 

It’s plain from the moment Stevens shows up that things are going to go terribly wrong; the tension is how they’re going to go wrong, and just why. It’s Halloween, and everywhere we look, there’s pumpkins and scarecrows; is David some kind of ghost, back to wreak havoc in his army buddy’s old town?

Well, he’s definitely going to wreak havoc. Lots of it. And it’s horribly enjoyable. I grumbled last year about Luc Besson’s The Family, which somehow muffed the whole notion of a bunch of psychos handing out well deserved smackings to  the smug population of a small French town. The Guest gets it just right. Dan Stevens powers his way through a succession of annoyances and no matter how undeserving they are of the havoc, he’s somehow hilarious and awesome. He is not the good guy, and yet it’s impossible not to root for him, no matter how many times the camera stays on his smile for just long enough for it fade into something much more unsettling.

It wears its 80s influences on its sleeve; makes them part of the action even, right from the hints of 1980s slasher movies in the choice of font for the title to the way the cast gets trimmed to a final girl. And the way it gets in a sequel hook. Just as I despaired that we’d see a chance of The Guest 2; the Enguestening, Dan limps back into view to a “what the fuck?” from the final girl echoed silently by the whole audience. Did the director just roll out balls that cosmically oversized. Why, yes, yes he did. And I’m fine with that. I’d happily watch Stevens do it all over again with another small town family; he’s just that charming.

But first, I think he should play Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson. When he was doing his “aw shucks, ma’am, I don’t want to be no trouble to you all” soldier boy, he had a wonderful wholesome rightness to him, with just the hint of some deeper damage; when I wasn’t laughing out loud at the latest atrocity, I was thinking “Yeah, Quinn Colson. You’d be perfect."

 Lady Mary doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Lets Be Cops; sure, why not?

For a movie that features an immense naked man’s crotch landing right in a character’s face and grinding away at it for way too long, Lets Be Cops is surprisingly wholesome. The real cops come out of it pretty well, the fake ones learn important lessons about who they really are and what they should be trying to do, and truth’n’justice prevail, for Hollywood values of truth’n’justice.

Your typical comedy with amiable schmucks getting out of their depth with vicious criminals usually ends with the amiable schmucks somehow discovering their inner badasses and clobbering everything around them. I liked it that Justin and Ryan NEVER got any good at the hard parts of being a cop. There’s a big shoot out at the end of it, and they spend their time cowering and panicking while an actual policeman sorts out the problem. And he’s not some kind of super cop; he’s just a decent guy with training and sense of purpose. And the panic isn’t played for laughs - much. Justin and Ryan are believably out of their depth, and it’s more menacing than funny.

It’s not outrageously funny - the only joke I can actually remember now is from the credits; embedded there in the cast list is "Insanely Handsome Police Tech - Luke Greenfield”. Which is one of the smarter things I’ve ever seen a writer-director do with a cameo. But it’s got a lot of heart and a likeable cast, and while it’s on you’re coasting along with it. I’ve seen worse, though in a strange way I get more out of worse movies because I can rag on them afterwards.

Weirdest thing in the movie is seeing Andy Garcia as a crooked cop. It’s been ages since I’ve seen Garcia in anything, and even longer since I saw him play a bad guy. The whole time he’s on screen, he can’t help making everyone else look like a stand-up comedian; it’s like he’s slipped in from another movie. Give this man more work.