Friday's Film Reviews

This week, Liam Neeson stars in action thriller A Walk Along The Tombstones, a utopian society unravels in sci-fi adventure The Giver, and the tale of an exclusive Oxford University clique in The Riot Club.

Friday's Film Reviews

A Walk Along The Tombstones

A grizzled private detective meets his match in a pair of sadistic kidnappers in Scott Frank’s gritty thriller.

Adapted from Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, A Walk Among The Tombstones establishes its grim tone with soft-focus opening credits depicting a blonde woman (Laura Birn) rousing from slumber under the gentle caress of her lover.

As the camera pulls back, we notice a tear trickle down the woman’s porcelain cheek and a strip of metallic tape across her mouth, transforming a beatific dream into a nightmare of intolerable cruelty.

Unspeakably bad things continue to happen to good people throughout Frank’s film without any guarantee that justice will prevail.

Liam Neeson wades through this moral quagmire in typically robust fashion as the private eye, who risks his life for clients in order to atone for one particular sin committed during his inglorious past as an NYPD cop.

The role is more cerebral than the gung-ho avenging angels in the Taken series and Non-Stop, but director Frank still caters to fans of Neeson’s renaissance as a tough-talking action hero.

A Walk Among The Tombstones is a solid and involving genre piece that lays the groundwork for further adaptations of Block’s series of books dedicated to Scudder.

Matt’s sweetheart Elaine, who is prominent on the page, is missing in action from Frank’s film, allowing us to concentrate on the case and the relationship between Matt and TJ that feels like a convenient plot device rather than a fully realised surrogate father-son bond.

Neeson doesn’t have to stretch himself in the undemanding and hard-hitting lead role, while Downton Abbey heartthrob Dan Stevens makes little impact amidst the explosions of brutality.

Star Rating:3/5

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 65%

Magic In The Moonlight

There is a soupcon of magic and moonlight but considerably more insecurities and bluster in Woody Allen’s playful yet lightweight romantic comedy set on the sun-kissed 1920s French Riviera.

The writer-director’s frequent forays away from his beloved New York to European soil have been decidedly hit-and-miss affairs and Magic In The Moonlight disappoints more than it delights.

Allen affectionately evokes the era from the opening croon of the Cole Porter classic You Do Something To Me performed by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra, and the writer-director loads the soundtrack with upbeat jazzy tunes that telegraph the characters’ emotions.

Regrettably, sparkling one-liners are in short supply on the Cote d’Azur and the on-screen chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone is lukewarm, never threatening to set our pulse racing.

Magic In The Moonlight is a valentine to Allen’s lifelong fascination with tricks and illusions, and he engineers one moment of misdirection to quickly untangle the knotty central plot.

An even bigger trick would be convincing us that Firth and Stone make a perfect match but it’s doubtful Houdini could have pulled off that gross deception.

Supporting cast, who have a canny knack of scoring Oscar nominations in Allen’s work, are subdued, even Eileen Atkins in the plum role of Firth’s straight-talking aunt, who can sniff romance on her nephew like cheap cologne.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 49%

The Giver

Happiness is an illusion in The Giver, a sci-fi thriller based on the bestselling novel by Lois Lowry about a highly regimented society, which erases memories of the past in order to secure a utopian future.

Children are genetically engineered and placed with parents, who raise them until a ceremony which designates a role to each young adult.

Citizens don’t see colour and they have no concept of dishonesty, hunger, jealousy, suffering, violence or wrath.

Sameness is cherished: identical family structures, identical homes, identical clothes.

Everybody fits in because society has been designed that way.

In Phillip Noyce’s film, conformity also snuffs out love, passion and defiance - the sparks to the flame of the indefatigable human spirit – until one intelligent young man speaks out.

The Giver matures the book’s 12-year-old hero to a handsome teenager in order to appeal to audiences who have thrilled and swooned to the vastly superior The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises.

But the film is as bland as the colourless world that Jonas inhabits, starving the thinly sketched characters of emotion and the cast of anything to sink their teeth into.

Thwaites is a sympathetic hero, but Bridges and Streep are squandered and the central romance with Rush doesn’t achieve a single prickle of sexual tension.

Chastity is dutifully upheld apart from a couple of lingering kisses.

Vibrant red seeps into the black and white cinematography as Jonas’s eyes are opened to the truth, and Noyce introduces action elements including a clifftop chase to the turgid teen angst, augmented with workmanlike special effects.

Michael Mitnick and Robert B Weide’s script simplifies themes to keep the running time trim, leaving us – perhaps fittingly – in a similar state to the futuristic populace: unmoved and apathetic.

Star Rating:2/5

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 33%

The Riot Club

The class war degenerates into foul-mouthed tirades and stomach-churning violence in Laura Wade’s robust adaptation of her own coruscating stage play.

Posh originated at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2010 and was revived two years later in the West End, painting a vivid portrait of a fictional dining clique akin to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, which once included David Cameron in its notorious ranks.

Lone Scherfig’s film, retitled The Riot Club, packs a similar emotional wallop to its stage-bound predecessor, detonating pent-up testosterone and tempers with horrifying repercussions.

Wade has fleshed out key protagonists and excised some scenes entirely to reduce the running time by 40 minutes.

There seems to be a greater emphasis on the fledgling romance between the most likable male character and a down-to-earth northern lass (Holliday Grainger), who is dazzled by the dreaming spires and gushes, “Being at Oxford is like being invited to 100 parties all at once – and I want to go to all of them.”

The Riot Club is not a party most of us would wish to attend. But that’s the point.

Scherfig’s film is a sobering attack on a culture of inherited privilege and power in Britain.

The Riot Club dissects how our egalitarian society is founded on secret handshakes in wood-panelled rooms far from the madding electorate, and you can almost see the venom streaking down the camera lens when one inebriated club member sneers: “I am sick to death of poor people!”

The Danish filmmaker, who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age story An Education, doesn’t spare the morally repugnant characters any blushes.

A climactic showdown is just as jaw-dropping in lurid cinematic close-up as it was from the safe distance of the theatre’s upper circle.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 73%

In selected cinemas…

Think Like A Man Too

In this sequel to Tim Story’s 2012 comedy Think Like A Man, a group of male friends face various temptations when they fly to Las Vegas for a wedding.

Michael (Terrence J) and Candace (Regina Hall) prepare to tie the knot in the Nevada desert and they welcome their family and friends.

The men and women spend a day apart with the bride and groom and secrets from the past re-surface, forcing some of the couples to make painful decisions about staying together or breaking up.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 24%

Wish I Was Here

For his second directorial feature after the critically adored 2004 comedy drama Garden State, Scrubs actor Zach Braff turned to the fundraising website Kickstarter to raise the $2m for this similarly intimate ensemble piece.

Wish I Was Here revolves around proud Jewish patriarch Gabe Bloom (Mandy Patinkin), who has seen his two sons Aidan (Braff) and Noah (Josh Gad) gravitate away from their faith and fall short of their potential.

Aidan is now a struggling actor, while his long-suffering wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) pays the bills.

Their children Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) attend a private school and Gabe has paid the tuition fees.

When Gabe is diagnosed with cancer, Aidan realises he will have to home-school Grace and Tucker because they cannot afford the school fees.

As he embraces his new-found responsibility as font of wisdom, the struggling actor learns afresh the joys of being a husband and parent.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 42%

20,000 Days on Earth

Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard pay tribute to charismatic singer-songwriter Nick Cave with this film that melds documentary and fiction.

The film portrays a highly stylised day in the life of Cave as he begins work on a new song that will develop, by the end of the 97 minutes, into a full-scale performance by Bad Seeds at Sydney Opera House.

En route, Cave drives through his adopted hometown of Brighton and discusses his childhood and influences with psychoanalyst Darian Leader.

Familiar faces from Cave’s creative past including multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, singer Kylie Minogue and actor Ray Winstone also share their fond memories of the iconic figure.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 97%

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