Friday, March 13, 2015

CORNED BEEF & SPAGHETTI


This week’s openings suggest that it’s Bloody Revenge Weekend:


Run All NightOne of the few pretty funny lines that Neil Patrick Harris had in this year’s Oscar show was his introduction of Liam Neeson, to the effect of: “Here’s a man with a particular set of skills—he will find you, and he will kill you.”

This new melodrama is the latest of Liam Neeson’s murmuring threat movies, the ones where he earnestly warns some gangster or kidnapper, usually over the phone, that they’re in big trouble if they don’t lay off some innocent victim. The bad guys never listen, and buckets of blood pour out of people’s heads.

Here Neeson plays Jimmy, a conscience-haunted former hitman in service of Queens crime boss Shawn. Jimmy’s now a pathetic broke drunk, but when his estranged son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses Shawn’s cokehead son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) kill some Albanian gangsters, Jimmy kills Danny in Michael’s defense. Though he loves Jimmy, Shawn feels he has no choice but to have Michael killed in recompense, and Jimmy of course is determined to defend his son.

So bullets fly, and innumerable henchman fall. There are some rather gothic twists, including one of those unstoppable juggernaut hitmen that turn up in movies like this, creepily played by rapper Lonnie “Common” Lynn, called in by Shawn to wipe out father and son (not in that order).

This has the makings of a terrific melodrama, in that it has two great actors in an unresolvable conflict. Neeson and Harris are both as commanding as ever, and when they’re onscreen together they’re better yet—two aging slabs of Irish corned beef who’ve learned first-hand what a vile business murder is, and gaze at each other tenderly, in genuine sorrow over the horror they’re unleashing in each other’s lives.

But the movie, directed by frequent Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (he also directed the notorious Orphan) from a script by Brad Ingelsby, ultimately wastes this great advantage. The action is too contrived and overscaled, the escapes too improbably hairbreadth, the music by Junkie XL too blaring. Eventually it gets funny, and then it gets tiresome.

There’s a moment toward the end, when Shawn knows—after one of those murmuring Neeson phone calls—that Jimmy is about to attack his stronghold. He looks at a henchman and tells him to tell everyone to get ready: “Jimmy’s comin’” This could have been a spinetingling melodramatic flourish, but we’ve seen so much ridiculously cartoonish carnage already that it barely registers.

Meanwhile, at the Valley Art:



The SalvationFor sheer ugly brutality, this Western revenge yarn makes Run All Night look like My Little Pony. The hero is Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) a Danish immigrant in the American West whose family is murdered. He quickly kills the men responsible, but in so doing gains the enmity of the twisted gang boss (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who has the craven town under his thumb. Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) are former soldiers, veterans of Denmark’s 1864 Schleswig War, and when they take up arms against the gang, blood spills copiously.

This Danish/British/South African co-production (it was shot in the deserts of the latter country) offers shootings and stabbings, rape and torture, scurvy henchmen and mealy-mouthed officials, most notably Jonathan Pryce as the corrupt mayor/undertaker. It’s like Titus Andronicus on the range, right down to a baleful woman (Eva Green) who’s had her tongue cut out.

This description should be enough to determine whether The Salvation is to your taste—or, indeed, whether you even approve of it—but in any case it’s executed with precision and confidence in a taut hour and a half. Director Kristian Levring works, from a script he co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen, more or less in the “Spaghetti western” style, with faux-Morricone strumming away on the soundtrack, and there wasn’t a minute that I was bored, or that I didn’t want to see Jon have his revenge. The comeuppance the bad guys ultimately receive was not painful, humiliating or protracted enough to satisfy my nasty heart, but in movies like this it almost never is.

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