By Roger Costa
Liam Neeson is back again embodying his latest “regular guy turned hero” character, in what it seems to be an “aging actor” trend among a few players who once were Hollywood top-A list in the likes of John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke. What do they all have in common? Their silly acting choices which seems the easy way to earn high cash in this competitive CGI era. Neeson is efficient and charming but his past projects, including this one, demonstrate the star is getting tired of this genre, and perhaps is time for a change- he should invest in his dramatic skills put to the service of a good indie or historical pieces. Here he is Matt Turner, a man constantly accused of ignoring his family over work and worries. One morning, as he drives both of his kids to school on his way to a big executive meeting, he gets a call from a terrorist who implanted a bomb underneath the car. The trick? If they exit their seats, the car explodes. And the unknown assailant is not joking at all. He shows off his skills, detonating a few cars in front of the scared hostages just to clarify they should follow his orders.
Since the very initial moments of this thriller, the audience can experience what it feels as a result of a “writers strike”: the narrative and dialogue are so repetitive and dull, sometimes sounds like an assault on the viewer. For instance, Leeson’s Mr. Turner is more focused on his working schedule than on his family’s needs and in the uninspired opening sequence he sends their brat kids to the car, at least, 20 times, before it even happens. They are also fighting all the time, and along with his wife, complaining the father never has any time for them, neither pays attention to their requests. They are right. But that’s the filmmakers’ fault who didn’t pay much attention to the hollow screenplay, just like his main character does. Once they get in the car, the situation becomes thrilling but stupid and we all know how it will end. The actors try their best, but sometimes they do not know how to react to the hollowness of the story- at moments, the actors take long deep breathes in between simple lines as they are uncertain on how to move on. There is a total lack of chemistry among them. Award-winning director Nimród Antal, who was born in L.A. but studied film in Hungary, promotes some moments of adrenaline infused with anarchy, but overall he only scored an uncompromised ‘male personal crisis’ car-chasing action bomber that is actually a bomb. As for Neeson, I believe he can do much better.
(Lions Gate. 8/25. AMC Jersey Gardens, Regal Union Square, AMC Empire Times Square).
BEFORE, NOW & THEN
Structured as a time-travel dreamlike experience, writer-director Kamila Andini’s lyrical feminist saga follows Nana, a young woman going through social and sexual hurdles as she navigates the dangerous anti-communist political violence of Indonesia. Set between 1940’s-1960’s it centers on her emotions and connections with her two husbands through time and phases: one is presumably dead, as a consequence of wa; the second and current one is a wealthy Sundanese man who does everything to see her satisfied. Actress Happy Salma is enigmatic and hypnotizing as Nana, especially when she is at an unconscious state immersing into past and future, in beautiful encounters with her daughter and her sister. She is haunted by her desires and the experiences from the past, both romantic and political, which randomly pops up on the screen, knitting a fantastical, melancholic and seductive puzzle. Stylish, richly reconstructed and beguiling, director Andini crafts a unique and deeply sensitive portrait of female resilience, proving to be an emerging auteur.
(Film Movement. 8/25. BAM)
Remember last year’s “Aftersun”? That slow, boring yet inventive and very personal film everyone loved, including the Academy? Yes, it has even earned nods! Well, this year we have “Scrapper”, a much better, fun, relatable and convincingly performed dramedy straight out of Sundance, where it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize.
British writer-director Charlotte Regan’s winning and heartfelt debut is one of the most affectionate, realistic and tender father-daughter films of this decade so far. She introduces us to a lovely, charming misfit character, the 12-year-old girl Georgie, developing an immediate connection with the viewer. She is struggling to survive after her mother’s death. We first see her trying to steal bikes around her neighborhood with the help of her bestie, intending to create a special machine. She also persuades the local grocery’s clerk to record a few phrases such as “Georgie is doing great in school”, so she can cheat the child services when they reach out seeking to talk to a guardian. She believes she is doing fine, she is courageous, determined and smart, she is thrilled to be on her own, despite the tragic situation, but she prefers doing her own rules rather than following the system’s. Suddenly, her joyful phase of “raising myself on my own” is unexpectedly interrupted with the arrival of her estranged father, Jason. They are forced to adapt to their differences as well as learn to love and support each other, though the most difficult part is to convince Georgie that she needs a relationship or even a father, as she is utterly stubborn and hot-headed. But as much as she is tough, she is also fragile and silently willing to be loved, to have someone to watch over her. She misses her mother, but she is unable to demonstrate that, the same way she is excited to have her father back, but will not let him notice that. Perhaps the hurdles of modern, urban life, the rush, the feeling of not belonging, the loneliness have all helped create such trauma on her, at such a young age. Director Regan lively observes how these two unusual family members interact and learn the steps of adulthood and acceptance, infusing good humor, socioeconomic commentary and an important warning about child safety and care. She is a master of her game, a natural storyteller.
Both Harris Dickinson as the father, and Lola Campbell as Georgie give superb, remarkably emphatic performances. There are at least two heartbreaking moments that prove their incredibly affecting chemistry, and the director’s efficiency, instantly putting them under the Awards Season radar.
There is no escape: we dive into their lives and journey, easily falling in love and becoming attached to them. One of the year’s best films.
(Kino Lorber. 8/25. IFC Center)
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