Live by Night

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

2 and a half stars

At first glance, Live by Night, trailer, bears all the hallmarks of a great film. It is directed by accomplished US filmmaker Ben Affleck. His past features, including Argo, The Town, and Gone, Baby, Gone, were all well received. Further, the screenplay is based on US author Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of the same name.

Several of Lehane’s books, Mystic River, and Shutter Island, have also been adapted into acclaimed films. Together with the aforementioned Gone, Baby, Gone, which was also directed by Affleck. Then add to the mix gangsters, the roaring twenties, and prohibition rackets. Surely the recipe for a great flick, right?

Joe (Ben Affleck), finds himself displaced after returning to Boston at the end of the first world war. A life of crime – much to the chagrin of his father, Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), a police officer – seems to be the only tonic. After a stint in jail, following a botched bank robbery, Joe decides to relocate to Florida.

There he heads up a rum racketeering operation for Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), along with Dion (Chris Messina). Joe also looks for a way to hit back at Albert White (Robert Glenister), a rival of Pescatore, who was also responsible for the death of his Irish girlfriend, Emma (Sienna Miller).

For all its promise though, “Live by Night” ends up sleep-walking from one scene to the next. Sure, it is beautifully filmed, and much care was taken in recreating the United States of the 1920s. But what’s missing is the essence of Affleck’s earlier works. The tension of “The Town”? The drama of “Argo”? All missing here, I’m afraid.

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Devil

Monday, 6 December, 2010

3 and a half stars

The premise

Directed by John E. Dowdle, Devil (trailer) is a supernatural horror thriller cum whodunit set largely in the lift of a Philadelphia office building, and produced under the auspices M. Night Shyamalan, prolific maker of supernatural themed films.

With a screenplay written by Brian Nelson (Hard Candy), “Devil” is the first in the “The Night Chronicles” trilogy of horror movies. Here, according to legend, each year the devil assumes human form, rounds up a small group of people who have committed grave misdemeanours, and makes them pay for their wrongs with their lives.

The play

Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), a recovering alcoholic grieving over the recent loss of his wife and child killed in a hit and run car accident, is investigating a rather odd jumping suicide in downtown Philadelphia when he is reassigned to a nearby tower block where five people are trapped in a lift stalled half way up.

The five, Ben (Bokeem Woodbine) a security guard, Vince (Geoffrey Arend) an overbearing mattress salesman, Sarah (Bojana Novakovic) a regular visitor to the building, Tony (Logan Marshall-Green) a mechanic going to a job interview, and Jane (Jenny O’Hara) an older woman, are needless to say, becoming mildly agitated.

Mobile phones don’t work, and the lift’s speaker is broken meaning Bowden can only talk one way to those trapped. Things take a turn for the bizarre when the power supply begins cutting out, plunging the lift into total darkness. Each time the lights come back on, someone has either suffered an injury, or worse still, been murdered.

Bowden soon finds himself conducting multiple murder investigations, and as his inquiries continue, finds all in the lift have something to hide, and a possible motive for killing someone present. Meanwhile Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), another security guard, is convinced the deaths and mayhem are in fact the handiwork of the devil…

The wrap

There’s no denying “Devil” is a tense story, which also pulls one or two decent scare scenes out of the hat. For the great premise though the suspense has largely worn off after the second lights-out incident in the elevator. A narrative, intended to tell the story as it progresses, ends up posing more questions than it answers, and is really worse than useless.

Dowdle does keep proceedings ticking over at a steady clip, and sure the story never really loses its way, but then again it clocks in with a run time of just 80 minutes. I don’t know if you’ll ever be sharing a lift ride with the devil – hopefully not – but after this one thing is for sure, you’ll see the other people around you in elevators in a completely new light.

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Julie & Julia

Friday, 16 October, 2009

4 stars

Set in 2002, Julie and Julia harks back to a time when the blogosphere still seemed like the wild west (some crazy stuff on that internet thing), and blogs were something someone else wrote.

Still there was – even in those times – gold in them thar hills as Julie Powell (Amy Adams) discovered when she set out to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, written by her idol US chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep), and blog about the experience.

As with any blogging venture it took her awhile to gain a following (too bad there were no internet marketers back in 2002) but this is what gives – aside from the food – Julie and Julia much of its interest, a movie based on a blog, the same blog that now makes occasional references to the movie (spoilers).

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