Apparently, I’ve neglected my duties as an amateur film reviewer over the past two to three weeks or so. That doesn’t mean I ignored film; on the contrary, I viewed many interesting ones. Sometimes, you just run out of time. In an effort to rectify this, we’ll do some rather short reviews of a bunch of things I watched. Brevity ain’t my strong suit, but here we go:
Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp as Peter Sellars, or Inspector Clouseau as a foppish English gentlemen who really likes mustaches. Part weird British comedy, part throwback to the 1960s obsession with capers, and part semi-vulgar R-rated comedy. Mortdecai does a whole lot of things and clearly masters none of them; it is sometimes weird just for the sake of weird. Even so, I found its understated wit and general zaniness a nice diversion from the typical Hollywood comedy fare, and I laughed throughout at the silliest stuff (the “open you balls” scene still makes no sense, but I’m chuckling as I write this). I can guarantee you that Mortdecai will emerge as a cult classic far in the future, but as for now? Unfortunately, it’s the worst-reviewed film of 2015, and that’s a shame in my opinion! Mortdecai may or may not appeal to your sensibilities, however, and I highly suggest watching the trailer before bothering for a rental. B
Kingsman: The Secret Service takes many, many notes from the James Bond playbook, cranks them up to eleven with amphetamines, and then plasters flashy imagery over the screen in this kinetic action/comedy from the director of Kick-Ass (which, admittedly, I never bothered to watch). Yet again, Britishness saves the day as Colin Firth (along with a bunch of character actors) relish in playing the roles of spies in the modern world who wear bullet-proof suits and train random people to defend the world from Bond-level super villains (this one is played by Samuel L. Jackson, a truly inspired casting choice in the long run). This movie has no place being half as good as it is, but boy is it ever entertaining. And hyper-violent. And I think there’s a hidden Oscar Pistorius joke in their somewhere when a women with blades for legs chops people’s heads off. A
Run All Night, hands down, remains the best of the “Liam Neeson films” post-Taken. Yes, we all know the boilerplate by now: Liam Neeson (the character) must rescue/defend/protect his family/loved ones/random person from Eastern bloc psychopaths/mobs of various nationalities/whatever other thing you want to throw in here. Run All Night succeeds precisely because it creates an antagonist for Neeson to trade loaded verbal barbs. Ed Harris plays a tired, broken Irish mob boss named Shawn Maguire; he is a man of the old, honorable ways who sees his son, addicted to drugs, as a tired mess. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlin, Maguire’s top hitman until Conlon couldn’t stop seeing the faces of the people he killed. Both are broken men, and both know that, at some point, they may become enemies; it’s the nature of the crime business to kill those you love. When Maguire’s son goes after Jimmy’s son (Joel Kinnaman from The Killing) after a series of “wrong place, wrong time” events, Conlon has to kill Maguire’s son, and they have to cross that line.
The interplay between the two frenemies keeps the motor running on what would otherwise be solid Neeson action. Really, the action scenes exist to punctuate the tension between the two parties, and establish characters, not just cool fighting scenes. Harris plays Maguire with a hint of disappointment at his old friend, at how he could betray him after all those years of loyalty; Conlon, on the other hand, would give up everything to make sure his son never has to live the life he personally chose. The sense of palpable inevitability hangs over the air, and things just won’t work out. People need to die. The movie displays some well-worn themes subtly, and lets them play out as they should, which rarely happens in action films. So yeah, watch this one. A+
The Search for General Tso tries, in a roundabout way, to tell you where the seemingly ubiquitous “Chinese” food dish originated. However, you learn ten minutes into the film that nobody in China ever heard of such a thing! Rather, General Tso’s Chicken shows us the long, convoluted history of Chinese immigration, persecution, discrimination, assimilation, and, finally, acceptance. Chinese culture and food adapted over a long period of time into the strange comfort-food fusion we see today. I guess we could say that Chinese cusine means something very different depending on where you live, really.
Of course, the film does find the origins of the dish. General Tso, as it turns out, had almost nothing to do with it, apart from a dedication to Chinese nationalist ideals (and, in fact, the guy who created the dish is still alive today!). The real treasure here lies in finding out how Chinese food, as a business and as a culture, actually functions in America society. The reality is much more interesting than the imagined fantasy, and The Search for General Tso usurps your expectations. In that sense, the title of the film does not actually match the content within (and there might be a subtle undercurrent of complaint about how American perceive Chinese cuisine, but that’s a different matter). Course, it really depends on your ability to watch a film about food… B-
So, there you go, lots of stuff to go watch, probably!