Trailer: “The Drop”


After “Enough Said” had gone under my radar (and it is now sitting on my shelf looking at me begrudgingly, because I still haven’t seen it) I was convinced I wouldn’t get to see the late James Gandolfini on the big screen any more. And it turns out I was wrong, because not only you would have the opportunity to see the man in the flesh, but it looks like it’s going to be a sight to behold.

Interestingly, “The Drop” directed by Michael Roskam (known for “Bullhead”, which is also sitting on the ‘to watch’ pile) is going to be the closest to a perfect ending of Gandolfini’s career, as it is nothing but a dark and gritty gangster drama about a guy who runs a bar, which the local crime syndicates use to move capital. When the bar gets robbed, things get quickly out of hand and it’s not going to end well…

With a stellar cast (Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace) and playing of a script penned by Dennis Lehane (author of “Shutter Island”, Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone”), “The Drop” has landed firmly on my radar as one of the films to watch this year.

“The Drop” drops on the 19th of September in the US and on the 14th of November in the UK.

“Snitch” – Parenting 101 by The Rock

How far would you go to save your son, the poster asks…  How many laws would you break? Those sound like really redundant questions, because of their seemingly rhetorical nature… Of course, you’d do anything within your powers to shield your offspring from danger and cinema is full of just such stories. From tear-jerking dramas, redemption stories, through uplifting feel-good comedies, all the way down to gritty morally ambiguous dramas, popcorn actioners, sci-fi summer blockbusters, and even horrors. Therefore, watching a flick about a father turning to the dark side to save his son should in theory reek of stale and rotten material – especially when a muscular Dwayne No-Longer-The-Rock Johnson stares at you from the poster.

Thus, with expectation level set adequately low I proceeded to see “Snitch” and I have to say I was rather pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Speaking as a person who cannot say ‘no’ to a solid action movie (with real people, that is – not gods or superheroes), I have to say that “Snitch” is a modern-day hybrid of a down-to-earth drama with a solid actioner worthy of the 80’s that not only provides solid entertainment, but touches on some delicate problems.


“Snitch” is supposedly based on a true story (not quite, I believe, but anything goes in Hollywood, right?) and in it, we meet John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a trucker-turned-businessman who has built a successful transportation company, owns a nice house, has a lovely wife and everything a man could ever wish for. One day, however, his teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) brings a metric tonne of trouble upon himself by getting involved in a drug deal. Well, technically the only thing he does is he accepts a package full of drugs from his friend, so that someone else could pick it up; nothing major. What he doesn’t know is that the whole drug deal is a sting operation led by DEA and he quickly ends up in jail sentenced to a decade behind bars. When his father learns about it, he tries to pull some strings with the DA (Susan Sarandon) – unsuccessfully.She reveals to John that his son has fallen prey to the DEA’s new and brilliant program of fighting the drug crime, that involves busting little school kids with sizable quantities of controlled substances and bullying them into setting up someone else in exchange for reduced sentence. Because Jason’s friend didn’t know any better, he ‘framed’ Jason instead – a boy with neither criminal record, nor any connections to the underworld, and made him up to be a gang-banger or something like that. Seeing that his son would not go down the same road and destroy someone else’s life, John offers the DA a deal, in which he would do the snitching instead of his son and if his work results in a major bust, Jason would get out of prison with a slap on the wrist; and he proceeds from there.

So, why again was I surprised? First of all, the action in “Snitch” is not at all overwhelmingly explosive – and that is a definite plus, because in the end, the film’s psychological level has a chance to surface a bit more and the characters are more colourful in return. “Snitch” is not a 2013 Commando-type revenge film, where a big and muscular ex-wrestler takes matters into his own hands, disregards the law and single-handedly brings down a powerful cartel. Instead, we see the more believable every-man character who doesn’t quite know, how to do what he needs to do, but his determination and a ‘particular set of skills’ have to suffice him in order to save his son’s life.

For once this summer (a four-month delay in relation to the US notwithstanding) I got to see some action drama with actual substance in it. While “Snitch” has its flaws and leaps in logic, I think it is fair to turn a blind eye on them and enjoy the positives. The film is paced rather well and the slow-down periods are few and far between, but the main reason I like this film has actually little to do with the car chases, gangsters, or shootings. The fact a pile of muscle like Dwayne Johnson can shed his image of a macho superhuman and go above and beyond to breathe life into his character is more than enough to buy me over. After all, when all the gunshots are fired and all the cars destroyed, we are left with ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances, and that’s vital for a good action drama.


About those circumstances: I have a reason to believe that the usual ‘based on a true story’ nonsense is about as accurate for “Snitch” as it is for any run-of-the-mill found footage horror flick. However, the only thing that was taken from real life was the fact DEA was (or is) running a huge scale game of “you’re it” where tagging a person ensured one’s freedom or reduced his sentence. Take it or leave it, but in general, the whole idea of the film hinges on something not even remotely possible (or even illegal) according to the rule of law. Therefore, “Snitch” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what could potentially be a very different (and very political) commentary, if done right. What it does, however, is take this highly illogical concept and makes it a canvas for some grit, tears, blame and penance – all the goodies that come with a family.

And that is what elevates “Snitch” together with Dwayne Johnson from the crowd of action-packed mindless strings of explosions. Apart from it providing adequate entertainment value, this film is a decent story in its own right and I think I’m OK with Dwayne Johnson dipping his toes in something more than just action films, because he has what it takes to create a character, make it his own and sell it to the audience. As much as I hate to say this, Dwayne Johnson proved here to me that he could make me forget it was ‘The Rock’ I was watching. And that’s a feat Arnold Schwarzenegger could never accomplish. Try as he might, he always remained himself.

The Blind Spot #3 – “Shallow Grave”

I think it happened when I was on my way home having just watched “Trance”. Wow, was that almost 2 months ago? Time flies when you’re running a blog… Anyhow, I was just trying to remember some of the older Danny Boyle movies in order to put “Trance” in context, because that’s just what my mind does at times to keep things nice and segregated up there. And then… What am I missing? Surely I’ve seen most if not all of his work, because Danny Boyle is in fact one of my favorite directors currently in business. But only a couple of minutes later when I got home and popped my laptop open, a quick IMDB survey revealed everything to me – “Shallow grave”… How could I have not seen it before?

Sure, apart from that, two other films also have also slipped under my radar (“Millions” and “A life less ordinary”), but his grand debut… shame on me. Quick, Robin! To the Lovefilm-o-mobile…

Now that I have corrected this heinous aberration, I can yet again walk the streets with my head held high. Not that anyone cares, but I shall do it anyway. So, for those of you who, like me, have spent your lives completely oblivious to the fact that Danny Boyle did something before “Trainspotting”, “Shallow grave” should be a fantastic treat.

It’s a story about a trio of friends (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor) who share a flat in Edinburgh and are on the lookout for a fourth flatmate. After an extensive and hilarious search that involved some mildly condescending comedy they finally bag a suitable fit. What’s not to like about him? He promised to be quiet and is loaded with cash, apparently, so welcome aboard. Nothing lasts forever though and shortly thereafter, the new tenant kicks the bucket and is found by our trio lying on his bed all naked with his junk hanging out. While I’m here, I should point out that it appears that Danny Boyle’s obsession with full frontal nudity in his films can be traced right down to the debut. And it almost never involves sexual context (maybe with the exception of “Trance”) and even if it does, it’s always almost awkwardly placed as if Boyle wanted to have the movie acknowledged as an adult feature, but not quite.


As if he would think: ‘What? Is my film getting a PG-13? Not on my watch! I’m making movies for adults, not adolescents. Quickly, let’s put a scene with a penis in it. That ought to teach them… PG-13 my ass now!’ Diabolical laugh then ensues…

Yep, I know it sounds weird, but genitalia in Danny Boyle’s movies always get you by surprise…

Right, back to the story… The dearly departed tenant leaves behind a suitcase full of cash, which leaves the trio with a dilemma: should we call in the guy’s death and have the police  confiscate the money, or maybe we should keep the money, dismember the body and bury it in the forest and continue to live as millionaires… Yeah, I think everybody knows how that dilemma is going to be solved, especially in a Danny Boyle universe…

Even though “Shallow grave” was shot on a shoestring budget and it looks cheap through and through, it is in all actuality a great film to watch. Clearly, the Danny Boyle’s storytelling genius was already well developed and at large. The story is paced fantastically and the characters evolve perfectly suited for the horrors of the film’s climax. Ewan McGregor was a delight to watch and his subsequent bromance with Boyle that lasted for a while is completely understandable as this youngster had a true natural talent. What caught my attention though, was Eccleston’s character – David, who slowly loses his senses as a result of the trauma disposing of a body must have clearly been. It was kind of reminiscent of Di Caprio’s character in “The Beach” in a way, which led me to believe Boyle’s fascination with insanity and trauma can be considered a theme of his career.

Speaking of themes in Danny Boyle’s film making career, I think am now able to divide his body of work into two chapters. The thing that separates the two is the lens flare. I mean seriously, go and watch “Trance” or “Slumdog” and you’ll know what I mean, because at some point in his career Boyle fell in love with working against the light and playing with it to a point of using lens imperfections for artistic effects. I think right around “Sunshine” (or even “The Beach” to a small extent) Boyle really made extensive use of what was to become his signature photography. Before that, “Shallow Grave”, “Trainspotting” , “The Beach” and even “28 days later” are all way more modest. In fact, they actually share a lot in storytelling and style, but when it comes to details, I think it’s safe to say that Boyle’s early work could be collectively called ‘the held-back period’. While all Boyle’s movies have a common theme of human instability and innate brutality, there came a point in Boyle’s career where the gloves came off and he started to investigate human weaknesses in a way more visceral, graphic way.  So, what in the world happened between “28 days later” and “Sunshine” that kicked Danny’s film making into another level? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that, but I surely will try and come up with something.

I can only say that “Shallow grave” allowed be to look at Danny Boyle a bit differently. It’s a fantastic piece of cinema and up till now I can’t believe I haven’t seen it for such a long time. It is not his greatest achievement – obviously, as one’s big screen debut is almost always not the opus magnum that would define him for generations to come. It did however, define Boyle’s style and set the wheels in motions, so that we could admire his latest work as mature films for mature audience with mature expectations.

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

“Love Is All You Need” – and pain is what you get…

I decided to start working my way through my review backlog (4 films in 4 days – that doesn’t happen too often, but I have to embrace the free time when I have it) and there’s no better way than from the bottom up. Otherwise I might forget things I wanted to say and then I would probably remember when it’s all out there and I wouldn’t be bothered to go and change everything… Anyway… Feeling rambly tonight… Fantastic…

Even though I had been planning for days to go and watch “Evil Dead” that Sunday, I ended up doing something completely different. Not to worry, because I actually managed to catch up with Fede Alvarez on Tuesday. Anyhow, it so happened that My Lovely Wife and I decided to use the precious time we have together, which hasn’t been happening all that often, and head out. So, the weather was mediocre to say the least – Belfast is not exactly in Hawaii, and we ended up in the cinema – obviously. I have to say that a brief thought of trying to convince her to see “Evil Dead” has crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t have been very smart. After all, pregnant ladies might not react all too well to that kind of entertainment and I think coercing your expecting partner to sit through something like that might just be punishable by law.


So, there… It was a date, than the movie needed to suit the occasion. And now that I’m writing this, I honestly believe that “Love is all you need” fits perfectly in the ‘date movie’ niche. Say what you want, but appearances might be deceiving and contrary to what the trailer suggests – it’s not a ‘rom com’. Well, maybe it is, but not in the classical sense. One simple reason – it’s not made in Hollywood.

“Love is all you need” is a delightful story directed by Susanne Bier, an Oscar-winning film maker (“In a Better World”, Foreign Language Film, 2011) who also keeps bagging awards all around the world every time she comes up with something. And I didn’t know that when I was watching her latest creation. If, like me, you end up watching this film in complete ignorance, you’re in for a really good ride, because what looks like a run-of-the-mill rom-com, quickly turns out to be something much better than that.

The film tells a story of Ida (Trine Dyrholm) – a middle-aged woman who seems to have been walking uphill throughout her whole life. She’s got two adult children (one of whom is getting married in Italy in just a few days), a difficult marriage, a low-paying job, a small house and cancer, which she’s been trying to beat whilst juggling everything else. When she finally looks as though she was about to come out on top – even with the fact that the cancer has taken a terrible toll on her body – nothing in her life is about to go back to normal. Nothing can be as uplifting as walking in on your own spouse banging his foxy assistant on the couch you used to spend your evenings together, just about when you’re about to break the news to him on your recovery. But that’s life and things like that happen all the time, apparently. There’s nothing really one can say in a situation like this, especially when the unfaithful hubby is desperately trying to explain himself by blaming Ida’s cancer for everything – nice touch.


There’s nothing one can do really, so Ida simply walked out the door and decided to join her daughter in Italy a bit earlier. On her way she bumps into (quite literally, with her car at the airport) into Philip (Pierce Brosnan), an obnoxious businessman who turns out to be attending the same wedding, as he is the father of the groom. Add to that Ida’s lowlife husband rolling up with his dumber-than-a-bag-of-rocks assistant, Philip’s painfully annoying sister-in-law with a douchy teenage daughter, premarital second thoughts, painful secrets, weirdly affectionate Italian caterers, a couple of mishaps, loads of alcohol – all in a confined space of a neglected Italian villa – and you have a disaster waiting to happen. But before it does, you get to enjoy the phenomenal scenery and the romantic atmosphere of the Italian ways, captured perfectly on camera.

That’s right. Two paragraphs it took me to try and wrap “Love is all you need” in gift paper and it still looks incoherent – and that’s a polite way of putting it. Maybe it’s just the fact that European Love Stories are always awkwardly complicated. Even though “Love is all you need” is a comedy, it doesn’t feel like one and that’s definitely a good thing. There’s no room for the touchy-feely American rom-com nonsense. The love in here is gritty, unpleasant, uncomfortable and painful. And although there is a silver lining to all this, “Love is all you need” projects an overbearing aroma of uneasiness with its story. I was taken by surprise by Susanne Bier, because I somehow anticipated a Danish attempt at a Hollywoodized love story. In its stead I received a rather honest film about how life is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around, how we spend our lives lying to ourselves that love is supposed to be difficult and painful, and how hopeless we are in thinking that we can just clench our teeth, pretend it’s just fine and wait for the end of our days.