The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of “The Chinaman” (Trailer)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of "The Chinaman"

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by David Marconi, is the big screen version of Stephen Leather’s taut and very entertaining novel “The Chinaman.” Jackie Chan plays the lead character and he faces up against Pierce Brosnan and a group of “new” IRA members who are hell bent on starting up the old campaign of terror anew.

Fans of Leather’s work will no doubt notice a few changes, with the title change being the first as well as the character’s nationality change, but this does not affect the story at all.  Overall, the tale’s message is the same and it is very easy to get caught up in Quan Ngoc Minh’s personal vendetta against those responsible for his daughter’s death.

The Foreigner is all about Minh’s search for justice after his daughter is killed by a bomb blast in a small clothes shop.(In the book it is Minh’s daughter and wife who die.) Minh visits the police everyday in order to get the names of those responsible. He even offers to pay for the names but the police, despite not operating that way, do not know who is in this new IRA cell.

Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, an Irish deputy minister with a few too many irons in the fire, who offers to help the British government find the new cell and stop them. He also has a lot more going on than is immediately evident. Minh goes to meet with Hennessy and soon the two men are locked in battle.

The Foreigner, like “The Chinaman” offers a main character who is much more than he appears. Minh may well be the owner of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant but he is the sum of his past experiences. These turn out to be all too deadly as Hennessy soon learns to his chagrin.

The pacing is spot on, like the novel it is based upon, and it feels like a splendid throwback to gritty films like the 1980 Bob Hoskins Helen Mirren gangster movie The Long Good Friday(A film that features a very young Pierce Brosnan as a young IRA assassin and one that also deals with bombings.) It has a touch of “Who Dares Wins” to it and features solid performances from all the players.

Campbell manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace and Chan proves that he is adept outside the action/comedy roles that have made him an icon in the industry. The film looks brilliant with everything meshing together perfectly.

The locations, the film is mainly set in London, are spot on and all lack the glamorous appearance of the capital city in films like “The Kingsman 1 and 2.” The action in The Foreigner steadily increases and while the timeline has been “moved up” to fit the present, the tale loses nothing in this shift.

Anyone who has read the book will find that the film delivers Leather’s story well and one has no problem getting behind Minh in his quest for vengeance and his own personal closure.

This is a full five star film that has been, somewhat strangely, given a limited release. (In the cinema where we viewed it The Foreigner was showing in only one theater cubicle.) There is some cursing (the worst being the “C” word), a tiny amount of vague nudity and a lot of violence.

The Foreigner is playing in cinemas now and is well worth the price of admission. Check it out.

The Neon Demon (2016): Slow and Weird (Review)

Elle Fanning The Neon Demon

Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon is, beneath its slow weirdness, a cautionary tale and a horror film that creeps up on the viewer. At just under two hours the film seems much longer and it seems to be almost a love letter to Italian maestro Dario Argento’s Suspiria

The action in this tale of a young talentless beauty “I got looks (sic) and that’s worth money” who attempts to break into the modeling business in Hollywood, is a 180 degree twist to the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone vehicle “La La Land.”

Unfortunately the film moves at a snail’s pace and Refn tends to drag out his visuals that bit too long.  The director specializes in scenes that take forever to get through, sometimes with minimal dialogue, and while it works on some films, like “Drive” and Only God Forgives it only serves to frustrate and bore in The Neon Demon.

The acting, which is spot on by Elle Fanning as the new kid in town, along with Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks (in a blink and you’ll miss her cameo) is a bit hit and miss.  The only other performer who raises the bar is Jena Malone (The RuinsSucker Punch). Desmond Harrington (Wrong Turn, Ghost Ship) looks ill and the two other models are wooden in every sense of the word. 

Reeves is particularly good as the douche motel manager “214 has got to be seen” who seems too impressed by the 13 year old “Lolita” who just checked in.

Fanning, who is starting to steadily outshine her sister Dakota, is brilliant as the slightly vapid teen who wants to become famous and rich on the virtue of her looks alone. As the character tells her male friend, she cannot act, sing or write, so it is her natural beauty that must pave the way to her fortune.

Unfortunately, there is an all too familiar sense of doom to the youngster who seems to be heading on the right track. Everyone she meets is weird or at the very least damaged and we can feel that this will not end well for anyone.

Refn has pulled out all stops here. There is a taste of lesbian necrophilia, some cannibalism and scene that seems to suggest that female models are not better than dogs. (Think of canines and their disgusting habit of eating regurgitated “food.”)

The entire film has a “bad dream” quality to it that is in keeping with Refn’s near somnambulistic delivery, started with Ryan Gosling’s almost narcoleptic performance as the driver in “Drive” and continued with his later role in “Only God Forgives.”

Fanning’s character is, like Gosling’s, almost silent when it comes to everyday conversation. The young thing clearly is not thinking deep thoughts and if she were, could not explain them anyway. Jesse (Fanning) is slow on the uptake which makes her “end” not too surprising.

If there were any message at all with Refn’s latest effort it is clearly that “beautiful” people are not, as a rule, the sharpest tool in the shed. Ambition needs some smarts to back it up and Jesse lacks the knowledge to really survive.

The ending is shocking, to a degree, but somewhat anti-climatic. The film is worth watching, especially if one is a Refn fan, and is available on Amazon Prime, if you are a member, or can be streamed/rented, if you are not.

The Neon Demon may not give you nightmares but the 3.5 star film will make the viewer think. On a sidenote, Keanu Reeves plays an unpleasant character very, very well: “Wider…”

Green Room (2016): Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots Nailing It (Review)

Anton Yelchin as Pat

Written and directed by “Murder Party” and “Blue Ruin” auteur Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room has the sad distinction of being the last film released starring Anton Yelchin before his untimely death on June 19, 2016. The film follows the misfortune of a struggling punk band who stumble onto a murder while playing at a skinhead roadhouse.

Saulnier, whose debut feature length film was the brilliant low/no-budget offering “Murder Party,” has a knack for making American film that have a distinctly English feel to them.  Taking a note  from such talented Brit filmmakers like “Dog Soldiers” (Neil Marshall, who wrote and directed the werewolf picture, specialized in violent and terse thrillers like Doomsday and the gloriously scary, and all female, The Descent before moving onto mainstream television.)

Yelchin plays the meekest member of a punk band who later teams up with Poots as they fight against a group of white supremacists tasked with killing them.  Patrick Stewart plays wonderfully against type as the club owner who calmly arranges for all the witnesses of the murder to be disposed of.

Green Room, for the most part, takes place in a claustrophobic setting. The band members plus one, Poots’ character Amber, are trapped in a club (roadhouse) in the dressing room, aka green room as Darcy (Stewart) and his Aryan lackeys work out how to kill them all.

The band, which consists of three young men and a female guitarist, and Amber work together and the film is really all about survival. Everyone does a great job in their respective roles but Poots and Yelchin almost effortlessly nail their performances from word one.

Poots boasts a sort of “bowl” band cut and pigtails that makes her looks like a demented Pippy Longstocking’s wannabe while Yelchin appears to be almost emaciated. At one point early in the film Pat (Yelchin) takes Sam (Alia Shawkat) on the back of a folding bicycle and he looks so rail thin that one wonders how he pedals the thing with her balanced on the back. 

All  the band look thin and somewhat wasted, as behooves a young musical group struggling to find gigs, food and petrol. Wisely, the film spends little time on white supremacy themes and opts instead to have Darcy remind his club members to “remember, it’s a movement, not a party,” as the only reference to their leanings.

There are pit bulls, the usual “pet dressing” of these members of society, and they are used against the young band members throughout the film. Saulnier, who has already proven that he can do comedy horror on a budget, with “Murder Party” and a quirky, bloody, crime thriller (Blue Ruin) has now shown what he can do with a horror/thriller.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire film is Darcy’s unflappable calm as he plots the demise of so many people. He even instructs, via a seemingly throwaway remark, how to kill the people responsible for the whole “cluster-f***” in the first place.

The soldiers who willingly go after the targets are also unsettling but as they are really quite two dimensional they serve more as bogeymen cohorts rather than the real deal, like Stewart’s character.

Green Room looks top notch with its grimy sets and gritty decor. Black walls with graffiti scrawled everywhere and a dressing room that looks too disgusting to walk through add to the grungy feel of the bar where the band play.

Once again, the late Yelchin proved just how versatile an actor he really was by playing a more unconventional lead character. Saulnier even allows his lead to be somewhat horrifically injured, a move that causes the audience to wonder of the actor’s character will make it past the first reel.

The band comes across as a real group of musicians who are working hard to make it happen. Kudos to all the actors for finding the truth of characters that could have been flat two dimensional people without a perfect marriage of script and actor.

Green Room is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and keeps the audience close to the edge of their seat as the characters are hunted down through the film. The movie can be seen on Amazon.com, as part of the “Prime” stream and if you have not already done so, head on over to watch this one.

The Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.

After Hours (2016): Short, Effective and Spot On (Review)

Bill Oberst Jr.

Written by Adam Weber (This was his first time up as scribe.) and directed by Michael Aguiar (His second stint in the big chair.),  After Hours  stars the prolific Bill Oberst Jr. as a detective investigating the murder of a young girl in what appears to be a thrift store. 

The young lady is working after hours and once the lights go off, before she can leave the shop, it seems that she is not alone. When she goes to investigate, things take a tragic and deadly turn.

Detective Harris arrives to find that the girl he questioned earlier in another case has been brutally murdered in the store’s elevator. As he searches for clues, the killer stays busy.

After Hours proves how effective camera work, spot on lighting and some on point suspense, via sound, can take a short film and really make it shine. Cinematographer William Schweikert gives us crisp images, even in the darkened shop, that focuses on the events without distraction.

The FX in the film pack a satisfying wallop that is just this side of brilliant. (Keep an eye out for it and see if you do not agree that it is more than effective.)

The lighting is used to set things up, as is the soundtrack itself, and Aguiar, who edited the film, puts it all together flawlessly.  The end result is a thriller cum horror film that delivers its punch very nicely.

Bill Oberst Jr. has over 164 credits under his belt and the actor brings a stamp of truth and authority to whatever role he plays. In this film, his portrayal of the detective with drive and a keen attention to detail makes the ending come across brilliantly.

Gabriel Lee, as Detective Cordova, projects a sense of realism in the few seconds he has on screen and Tracy Decresie screams the place down very convincingly. 

Aguiar pulls us in nicely and moves the tale along at a solid pace. This short horror thriller manages to deliver a one-two punch that surprises as much as it pleases. The build up to pay off is expertly done, so much so that even with a repeated viewing or two, the essence is still there.  Watching the film several times also allows the viewer a chance to catch all the clever nuances that Michael has “hidden” in the movie.

The director recommends watching After Hours “in a darkened room.” He also suggests wearing earphones to enhance the experience. His advice is sound (pun intended) but watching the film without the tips still entertains and has an impressive scare factor.

After Hours is still on the festival circuit and will, no doubt, garner some excellent reviews from horror fans and critics alike. Film’s like these are what the short film category was invented for. Succinct, punchy and clever this film earns a full 5 stars for effectiveness and an O. Henry flavour that delights.

Have a look at the trailer for a taste of this nigh-on perfect offering: