Cinema review: No Escape as action keeps tension high
No Escape Cert 15A
Reviewed this week are No Escape, Legend, Ricki and the Flash, Me and Earl and the dying girl and The Transporter Refueled.
It would be bad enough to get caught up in a bloody coup, but it is especially bad luck to have your own personal psychopath during it. This is precisely what befalls Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell) when they move to an unnamed Asian country that looks like (because it is) Thailand.
The couple and their two young daughters (played by Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) are moving so that he can take up a position in an American water company. On the plane, they meet seedy-looking Englishman Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who takes a shine to them.
What first appears to be just an issue with the wifi is actually a revolution. The locals' ire is focussed on their government for being in cahoots with evil American conglomerates, especially the conglomerate for which Jack works. Despite having a clear principle the mob appears indiscriminately murderous and particularly bloodthirsty but a photo welcoming him in the hotel lobby marks Jack as a special target.
Director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle keeps his cast busy, albeit more with running and thumping people than acting. The plot is ridiculously simple and feels old-school in the badness of the baddies and the amount of reality it requires the audience to suspend. But it feels also, sadly, increasingly feasible, so the scenario is inherently scary and the action does keep the tension high. Wilson and Bell aren't bad at all and Brosnan is great. So it is daft but very watchable if action thrillers are your thing.
Editor's choice: Legend
The first story Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland heard about the Kray twins turned out to be a lie. After half a century of rumour and urban myth, ascertaining the truth about them would prove difficult when writing his version of the story, hence the title, Legend. Finding an angle from which to tell it would also prove challenging, but the one on which he settled is both original and effective, and in Tom Hardy he has an elegant interpreter of the roles of both Ron and Reggie Kray.
The story is narrated by Reggie's wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning). Dazzled by the debonair gangster who promises to go straight, her life with him is overshadowed by his complex relationship with his brother, Ron. It's thought that Ron had paranoid schizophrenia and the film begins with him being declared sane and released back into 1960s London.
There is gang war between the Krays and the Richardsons (Paul Bettany plays Charlie) and it's our first glimpse of Kray violence. Police officer 'Nipper' Read (Christopher Eccleston) is determined to get them but hits obstacles from on high. The film charts their 'glory' days of the Esmerelda Club up to the murder of Jack McVitie. It's slick, violent, the script is great with flashes of humour, the soundtrack excellent, Duffy is the resident singer in the Esmerelda. The whole cast is solid but above all Hardy does an amazing job. He makes two very distinct characters of Reggie and Ron, physically, vocally and in terms of character. They are almost portrayed as good vs bad, with Reggie often painted sympathetically, which is complicated. Well worth a watch.
Ricki and the Flash
As if further evidence were needed of Meryl Streep's transformative powers, writer Diablo Cody (Juno) devised this tale of an ageing rock chick patching things up with her estranged family with the 66-year-old first lady of Hollywood in mind.
Cody knew Streep could not only hold a note (after last year's fairy-tale song spectacular Into The Woods) but would also be the perfect matriarchal figurehead for a film gingerly laced with the screenwriter and former stripper's brand of feminism.
Forestalling a life of attendant motherhood, Ricki (Streep) deserted her family to follow her rock dreams, only to end up years later fronting a covers act in a Californian dive bar. Out of the blue, she is called upon by ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) to fly home to Indianapolis to help tend to recently divorced daughter Julie (Streep's real-life daughter Mamie Gummer).
There are also two grown-up sons to be negotiated after all these years, one scornful of Ricki's absence, the other more understanding. The latter is due to be wed, but before Ricki can even be invited to the ceremony some home truths must be faced and skeletons in the cupboard finally aired.
It's only months since Danny Collins, a similar vehicle for Al Pacino, trundled into omniplexes, and besides sharing themes of parental absence, making amends and showbiz twilight, RATF feels cut from the same cloth in terms of structure. Director Jonathan Demme's (Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs) latest is light and sappy and formulaic, but with enough barbs (Gummer is acidic opposite her mother) to deflect from some woefully corny junctures and the obligatory final musical number.
Streep is as convincing as ever (production was delayed so she could learn to play guitar) and just about lifts things above mediocrity.
Me and Earl and the dying girl
And so it is that we bid farewell to that stock indie character once famously dubbed "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" and welcome "Manic Pixie Dream Boy". This is the "Me" of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Sundance-winner, as played by Thomas Mann.
Mann is Greg, a kooky, arty high-schooler who protects himself by maintaining vague associations with all the cliques of the school yard. His only real friend is Earl (R.J. Cyler), with whom he makes cute and ironic remakes of cinematic staples between watching arthouse classics. His father (Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman) is obsessed with imparting his experiences backpacking in far-flung climes, while their English teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) is a punk-rock take on Dead Poets Society's Mr Keating. "Twee" is the obvious default setting.
Greg's mother (Connie Britton), however, one day nags him into befriending classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Reluctantly, he slumps into her world and a strong friendship with flecks of romance is slowly forged, all en route to a reliably poignant ending that solidifies things.
This narrative arc, the performances and Gomez-Rejon's fresh, dynamic camera work are all reasons that Me and Earl... is worth your time. You will, however, require a stomach for overbearingly cute humour and a quaint, flaky sensibility that you sometimes wish would snap out of it.
The Transporter Refueled
The less said about director Camille Delamarre's hopeless 2014 feature debut Brick Mansions, the better, but on the back of The Transporter Refueled, we can at least say the French director is consistent.
On his second time out, he has produced something so shockingly bad that it almost serves as a companion piece to that previous horror-show.
In an age where everything must now be rebooted and rehashed, there is little point in going into the merit of "refuelling" the 2002-2008 action trilogy starring Jason Statham. Suffice to say that leaving cynicism for such a project's genesis aside, this is a particularly low moment in the modern-day remake phenomenon.
For starters, it resembles a smashing together of advertising promos for various products (cars, perfume, lingerie) and is about as charismatic. Ed Skrein may have an interesting back-story - he was a rapper, a swimming instructor and there was talk of an ill-defined brush with juvenile crime before coming to acting - but is too slight to hold down the lead as Frank Martin, the ask-no-questions driver-for-hire who takes on a job with a "beautiful but deadly" (deadly boring) team of prostitutes (led by model-turned-actress Loan Chabanol) bent on taking down a Russian crimelord. When Frank's father (Ray Stevenson) is embroiled in the danger, he has to help out the vengeful vixens.
Plot, alas, wouldn't be a key focus of The Transporter Refueled. The main thrust of the entire outing, it would appear, is to swerve cars around Riviera streets and objectify the cast's womenfolk at any opportunity.
All the while, Skrein smirks, frowns and tucks at his jacket collar like a nice-price Bond, while Stevenson's preposterous character seems lifted straight from the set of a coffee commercial. Even the uninspired fisticuffs scenes are like lazy chop-socky knock-offs, devoid of inventiveness or flair. For all its other failings, this in particular is unforgivable and should be the raison d'etre of any Transporter film.
A poor excuse for an action film. And that's being kind.