Friday, August 22, 2014

CALVARY: McDonagh & Gleeson’s Fine Follow-Up To THE GUARD

Now playing at a indie art house near you...

CALVARY (Dir. John Michael McDonagh, 2013)

In Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 comic Irish thriller THE GUARD, Brendan Gleeson’s partying police sergeant lead came off as a ballsy blend of Dirty Harry and Benny Hill. In McDonagh’s fine follow-up CALVARY, now playing in the Triangle area, the bearded bearish Gleeson plays a less outlandish, much more grounded protagonist, a small town parish priest whose downbeat demeanor belies his gentle and kind soul.

The film, named after the hill near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, begins with a close-up of Gleeson in the darkness of a confession booth listening to the unidentified voice of a man who speaks of being sexually abused by a priest when he was a child. As the offender is long dead, the man plans to take revenge on the Catholic Church by killing a good priest, which he figures will make more of a statement than killing a bad one. He gives Gleeson until the next Sunday to get his house in order: “Killing a priest on a Sunday; that'll be a good one!”

As his quaint coastal village – the film was shot in Easkey in County Sligo, Ireland – is sparsely populated, there are few suspects, so right off Gleeson has a good idea of who the threat is coming from (so may many in the audience who are familiar with the cast), but he doesn’t go to the police. 

Instead our pious priest protagonist goes about his daily duties of tending to the townfolk, including Chris O’Dowd as the local butcher whose wife (Orla O’Rourke) has been cheating with the local mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé). O’Dowd claims that De Bankolé is where his unfaithful wife got the shiner she’s been sporting (or more accurately hiding under Jackie O-style sunglasses).

Gleeson also deals with Dylan Moran (SHAWN OF THE DEAD) as a drunk millionaire who wants to donate money to the church to help absolve his guilt over how he obtained his riches, a former student behind bars for murder and cannibalism (played by Gleeson’s real-life son Domhnall) the always welcome (and always grizzled as Hell) M. Emmett Walsh only credited as “The Writer” who asks the priest to get him a gun (a Walther PPK – James Bond’s weapon of choice, in fact), and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones) as the town’s physician who says of himself: “the atheistic doctor, it’s a cliché part to part.”

There’s also Gleeson’s adult daughter (Kelly Reilly) in town to recover after a suicide attempt. Reilly and Gleeson’s scenes together have a quiet power; at one crucial point they share a shadowy confession booth pondering questions of salvation and damnation. One can really feel through their exchange how troubling laws of spirituality can be, especially when considering that they may not really exist.

Things get out of Gleeson’s hands, in the film’s unsettling second half. Somebody burns down Gleeson’s church, his dog is found dead, and the long sober priest goes on a bender at the local pub.

There are many amusing lines and moments in CALVARY, but few laugh out loud instances as it’s a drama speckled with black comedy rather than a black comedy decorated with dramatic bits. It pokes fun at the notion of Gleeson living by a moral code, yet still respects him for trying to do so; it pities rather than ridicules religion.

On the surface, Gleeson puts in a performance that can be seen as a huge shrugging off of a lifetime of tiring existential ponderings, but look deeper and you’ll see a masterful portrayal of a sincere as sin holy man at the end of his rope.

More later...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Win The Tony Jaa/ONG BAK Trilogy On Blu Ray!

I've got a copy of the Blu ray box set of the newly released ONG BAK Trilogy, starring actor/writer/director/martial arts master Tony Jaa, to give away this week.

I'm looking for a reader who's a fan of the films, who can write up 100-300 words on why these movies are awesome. You can write more than that if you'd like, but it's got to be at least 100.

The winning entry will receive the 3 Blu ray box containing: Panna Rittikrai's ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (2003), and its two prequels, which were co-directed by Rittikrai and Jaa, ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING (2008), and ONG BAK 3: THE FINAL BATTLE (2010).

So if you or somebody you know are into these movies and want to win a box of them on Blu ray with the power of your words, get cracking!

Send your short (or long) essays to:

Deadline for entries is August 29th.

I'll be announcing the winner and posting their winning writing on September 1st. 

More later...

Friday, August 15, 2014

THE EXPENDABLES 3: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (Dir. Patrick Hughes, 2014)

If you don't know the drill by now, it goes like this: Sylvester Stallone assembles a cast of every action movie star ever into a summer blockbuster filled with explosions and fantastically stupid stunts in hopes that every action movie fan ever will go see it.

So far it’s worked - both 2010's THE EXPENDABLES, and its 2012 sequel were huge hits despite largely negative critical reaction.

So here’s the third one, directed by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes, whose only previous feature length credit is the little seen thriller RED HILL.

This time, the mercenary group headed by the smug 68-year old Stallone goes up against Mel Gibson as a former Expendable gone rogue. 

The bare bones of the plot-line: On a team mission in Somalia, Crews gets shot in the ass (that’s right) by evil arms trader Gibson, which causes a guilt ridden Stallone to disband his crew, made up of the returning Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone hires new Expendables (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz) to help him bring down Gibson, but he captures the new recruits so the old members get back together to go save them.

A less crabby than usual Harrison Ford fills in for Bruce Willis as the gang's CIA contact, a slick Wesley Snipes, and a constantly jibber jabbering Antonio Banderas are on hand as a new “old” Expendables, and Kelsey Grammer, for some reason, appears as a retired mercenary who helps Stallone find the new blood.

There’s way less dumb fun as the second installment, but it’s still much better than the first, although it shares that film’s draggy down times. 

It’s surprising that three writers (Stallone with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt) are credited for the screenplay, because most of the dialogue has a real make-it-up-as-we-go feel to it especially when it comes to lines like “You were stupid enough to get yourself into this mess! And we're the only ones crazy enough to get you out of it.”

Another favorite bad line, “Morons need friends,” could serve as the movie’s motto, and just about everything that Schwarzenegger says is funny as Hell - especially his callback to PREDATOR: “Get to the Chopper!” 

The climax, taking place in an abandoned building in Bulgaria that Gibson has rigged with C4, is the most successful set-piece sequence, a reward of sorts for being able to get through the excruciating boredom of the bulk of the film.

It, of course, all comes down to hand-to-hand combat between Stallone and Gibson right up to the building being detonated, because what action film doesn’t end with the protagonist and antagonist facing off? You know, like in FACE/OFF?

Except for some jokes made about their elders’ advancing age (“That would be a good plan, if it was still 1985” one quips about Stallone’s proposed strategy), the new Expendables don't make much of an impression, except for Rousy, a UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion in real life, but that’s really only because she’s the only woman present.

Ford is amusing in his role, showing off his helicopter piloting skills, and I almost believe him when he says at the end that the adventure “was the most fun I've had in years.”

Gibson makes a great scenery chewing adversary, you know, the kind of vicious villain that kills his henchmen if they fail. He certainly makes the most of being the guy that audiences love to hate, even without saying anything racially insensitive.

But this is Stallone’s show, and overall I like how he’s re-branded himself with this franchise. It’s so much more preferable to him putting out Rambo and Rocky sequels for the rest of his life, but it’s disappointing that this sloppily executed old school action exercise doesn’t go for the so-bad-it’s-good gold until the last 15 minutes.

I also hate that it's the first EXPENDABLES that's rated PG-13. I really miss the blood splatter.

More later...