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- A Most Violent Year
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- The Gambler
A Most Violent Year 4 stars
Abel Morales owns a fleet of oil transport trucks that carry valuable fuel to customers across the city. One of his trucks is hijacked and the driver Julian is been badly beaten. Threats to Abel's livelihood become personal, targeting his children and wife Anna, whose gangster father used to own the company. "Let me deal with this," pleads Abel. "You better," she retorts. "Because you won't like what's going to happen once I start getting involved."
- GenreAction, Drama, Romance, Thriller
- CastJessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Albert Brooks.
- DirectorJ C Chandor.
- WriterJ C Chandor.
- Duration125 mins
- Official site
According to statistics, 1981 was the most violent year in New York City history in relation to the population. Over the 12 months, more than 1.2 million crimes were recorded including 60,000 aggravated assaults, 5,400 forcible rapes and 2,220 murders.
A crack epidemic had the city in a chokehold and Mayor Ed Koch seemed powerless to curb gang warfare and spiralling lawlessness on the subway system. Writer-director JC Chandor, who was Oscar nominated for the 2012 thriller Margin Call, uses this turbulent period as a backdrop to his masterful and searing portrait of crime and brutal punishment.
Centred on a married couple, who are struggling to keep their heating oil distribution business afloat, A Most Violent Year powerfully conveys the personal and professional sacrifices of a devoted husband and wife, who become one of the shocking statistics.
The film's pacing is deceptively steady and slow, lulling us into a false sense of security as Chandor ups the stakes for his beautifully sketched characters, forcing them to take greater risks to protect their nearest and dearest.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) owns a fleet of oil transport trucks that carry valuable fuel to customers across the city. He's a small player but hopes to expand by clinching a deal for property on the Brooklyn waterfront that will allow him to take delivery of oil from the river. Having put down 700,000 US dollars as a deposit, Abel has just 30 days to close the transaction or the vendor keeps the downpayment and can sell the land to a competitor.
Soon after, Abel learns that one of his trucks has been hijacked and the driver Julian (Elyes Gabel) has been badly beaten. Union rep Bill O'Leary (Peter Gerety) asks Abel to allow the drivers to carry unlicenced guns as a deterrent but the boss strongly objects, knowing that it will take just one stray bullet to arouse the suspicions of the crusading Assistant District Attorney (David Oyelowo).
Threats to Abel's livelihood become personal, targeting his children and wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), whose gangster father used to own the company.
"Let me deal with this," pleads Abel.
"You better," she retorts. "Because you won't like what's going to happen once I start getting involved."
A Most Violent Year hits a sweet spot on every level, from Chandor's measured direction and lean script, to the powerhouse performances. Isaac is mesmerising as an honourable family man, who refuses to sink to the depths of some of his rivals, sticking to the path of righteousness for as long as he dare.
Chastain essays another ballsy woman of substance, cutting through her husband's rose-tinted idealism with harsh home truths. When oblivion beckons for Abel and Anna, we discover the true strength of their moral compasses in the face of the corruption and senseless bloodshed.
Kingsman: The Secret Service 3 stars
Gary Unwin, who is known to his friends as Eggsy, is on the downward spiral to drugs and crime. He is dismissed as a hopeless cause by everyone except agent Harry Hart, who believes Eggsy would make an excellent crime-fighting operative. So Hart takes Eggsy under his wing and enrols the young man in a gruelling training programme against more eloquent and refined peers.
- GenreAction, Adventure, Comedy
- CastColin Firth, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Jack Davenport, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Prior, Mark Hamill.
- DirectorMatthew Vaughn.
- WriterMatthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman.
- Duration129 mins
- Official sitewww.kingsmanmovie.com
Directed at full pelt by Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an outrageous James Bond-esque caper with an unpleasant and sadistic streak. This hare-brained tale about a secret organisation of impeccably tailored British agents dedicated to world peace lampoons the conventions of the spy genre with an arched eyebrow. "Nowadays, they're all a little serious for my taste," opines Colin Firth's lead operative about modern-day spy films, one of several self-referential winks in Vaughn and Jane Goldman's script. "Give me a far-fetched plot any day," he quips, and that's just what Kingsman delivers in spades. Unfortunately, the film also serves up a blitzkrieg of gratuitous on-screen barbarity. The violence doesn't support the plot, the plot is constructed to support as much wanton carnage as Vaughn can cram into each frame. This stomach-churning slaughter reaches a nauseating crescendo in a Southern church where Firth's good guy squares off against a congregation of brain-washed bigots, racists and homophobes, who apparently deserve to die in lurid close-up while Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird strums on the soundtrack. The film was cut by UK censors to secure a 15 certificate but I wouldn't want my nephews, if they were 15 or 16, anywhere near Vaughn's giddy bloodbath. Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton), who is known to friends as Eggsy, is on a downward spiral despite an impressive IQ. He is powerless to stop his mother Michelle (Samantha Womack) suffering abuse from her boyfriend (Geoff Bell), and a spot of joy-riding leads to a brief stay in a police cell. Eggsy is dismissed as a hopeless cause by everyone except dapper secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who believes the young man has untapped potential as a crime-fighter. So Hart enrols Eggsy in a gruelling training programme against sneering posh lads Charlie (Edward Holcroft), Barnaby (Matthew William Jones) and Hugo (Tom Prior), and friendlier rivals Grace (Sophie Cookson) and Roxy (Alisha Heng). The recruits test their strength and guile in a series of challenges devised by gadget geek Merlin (Mark Strong). Against the odds, Eggsy shines brighter than some of the supposed creme de la creme and when technological wizard Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) and his blade runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) threaten mankind with a radical solution to climate change, Eggsy puts his training to good use alongside his stiff upper-lipped mentor. Kingsman: The Secret Service leaves an exceedingly nasty taste in the mouth that is difficult to shake, garnished with crude sexism in the closing frames. Firth is a debonair action hero, contrasting sharply with Egerton's bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Jackson has fun with his lisping megalomaniac, who gags at the sight of blood. If we did the same watching Vaughn's undeniably stylish film, we'd all need urgent medical assistance inside the first 20 minutes.
Mortdecai 1 stars
When a priceless Goya masterpiece disappears without trace, clueless Inspector Martland calls in aristocratic art dealer and notorious scoundrel Charlie Mortdecai to unravel the mystery. Charlie agrees to take on the case for a sizable fee plus expenses and he criss-crosses the globe flanked by his trusty manservant Jock Strapp in search of the missing painting. En route, Charlie must placate his demanding wife Johanna and resist the seductive charms of Georgina Krampf.
- GenreAction, Adaptation, Comedy, Romance
- CastOlivia Munn, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Aubrey Plaza, Gwyneth Paltrow.
- DirectorDavid Koepp.
- WriterEric Aronson.
- Duration107 mins
- Official sitewww.mortdecaithemovie.com
In David Koepp's poorly executed crime caper, the eponymous hero repeatedly seeks assurances from his hulking manservant that their hare-brained mission to retrieve a stolen painting will end in success. "I couldn't say, sir," dryly responds the lackey. Well I could say: it will end in boredom, despair and disbelief, and an occasional sympathetic titter for a starry cast, who have to wrap their weary laughing gear around the flaccid one-liners that litter Eric Aronson's haphazard script.
Based on the first book of author Kyril Bonfiglioli's cult trilogy, Mortdecai is an anachronistic tale of puckish rogues, swordplay and bitter love rivalry, which lampoons a culture of privilege that remains blissfully out of touch with the grim realities of modern life.
The irreverence and borderline insanity of Bonfiglioli's writing fails to mesh with exaggerated performances, cartoon violence and Carry On-style innuendos. As depictions of stereotypical British aristocracy go, this is more Downmarket Shabby than Downton Abbey.
Johnny Depp proudly combs his moustache and adopts a velvety British accent as art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, who is in dire financial straits. "We're staring down the barrel of insolvency," despairs his luscious wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is denying her husband physical satisfaction until he removes the manicured monstrosity from his exceedingly stiff upper lip.
All hope seems lost for Charlie - it's lost for us in the film's opening sequence - until high-ranking MI5 officer Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) and his sidekick Maurice (Guy Burnet) pay a visit to Mortdecai manor.
A priceless Goya masterpiece, rumoured to contain the code to a secret bank account of Nazi millions, has been stolen from a restoration house by revolutionary Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky).
The police implore Mortdecai to use his shady connections to locate and retrieve the painting before Strago can sell it to finance a violent worldwide uprising. Flanked by trusty manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), Charlie criss-crosses the globe in search of his prize, aided by dodgy car mechanic Spinoza (Paul Whitehouse), American billionaire Milton Krampf (Jeff Goldblum) and his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn).
Mortdecai is a car crash of broad physical comedy, crass culture clashes and preposterous action sequences, draped awkwardly around Depp's predictably showy performance.
Channelling the spirit of Terry Thomas replete with gap tooth, though none of the charm, Depp careens from one limp scene to the next like a bull in a cheap china shop. Paltrow struggles to catalyse screen chemistry with her buffoonish leading man while Bettany takes most of the bruising punches in the skirmishes that punctuate an outlandish plot.
It's a mystery how some of the so-called gags - "The file was thick and well-handled like a Welsh barmaid" - will translate for audiences across the Atlantic. On these rarefied shores, it's toe-curling comedy tumbleweed.
The Gambler 3 stars
College professor Jim Bennett loses at the blackjack table in an underground den run by one of his creditors, Mister Lee, leaving Jim with seven days to find 240,000 US dollars. Without enough money to stake at a table, Jim borrows 50,000 US dollars from Neville Baraka and also turns to his mother for help. A further loan from a hulking gangster called Frank gives Jim the collateral he needs to gamble himself back into the black.
- GenreDrama, Romance, Thriller
- CastMark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson.
- DirectorRupert Wyatt.
- WriterWilliam Monahan.
- Duration111 mins
- Official sitewww.thegamblermovie.com
Silence is golden for everyone except American screenwriter William Monahan. With an Oscar on the mantelpiece for The Departed, his English language reworking of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the Massachusetts-born scribe attempts a similar feat of alchemy with this modern update to the 1974 film of the same name directed by Karel Reisz.
Alas, Monahan's penchant for excessively wordy set pieces proves an insurmountable distraction. He arms the cast with polished one-liners and barbed retorts that would draw blood if his woe-begotten characters weren't so emotionally cold and distant.
After the first hour of endless verbosity, I hoped - in vain as it transpired - that Monahan would rein in the dialogue and let actions speak a hundred words instead. No such luck. But then good fortune is in perilously short supply in Rupert Wyatt's film, which unfolds through the bloodshot eyes of a college professor, whose daredevil antics at the blackjack table have left him heavily in debt to men who trade in violence.
From the moody opening frames, all bets are off whether the eponymous gambler will end his losing streak and evade a knee-capping - or something worse. The misery begins with Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) striding into an underground den run by one of his creditors, Mister Lee (Alvin Ing).
The night ends badly, as usual, leaving Jim with seven days to find 240,000 US dollars. "Get me my money," threatens Mister Lee. Without enough money to stake at a table, Jim borrows 50,000 US dollars from Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) and also turns to his mother (Jessica Lange). "I don't want to understand the nature of your problem. I just want you not to have it," she snarls.
A further loan from a hulking gangster called Frank (John Goodman) gives Jim the collateral he needs to gamble himself back into the black. Meanwhile, Jim spars with his students and sparks an affair with his most talented pupil, Amy (Brie Larson).
As time runs out for Jim to settle his spiralling debts, Neville issues a stark warning: "I'm going to kill that pretty little blonde girl, mail you the pictures, and kill you next."
The Gambler stakes everything on Monahan's screenplay and incurs losses. Wahlberg is elevated by the material but those long speeches, including a centrepiece rant in the lecture theatre, become wearisome.
He verbally jousts with Lange in fiery form as a matriarch who is sick of hauling her son out of the mire. Larson is shamefully underused in an underwritten supporting role.
Director Wyatt should crank up tension every time Jim sits down at a card table. Instead, we savour the momentary silence as the lead character stops philosophising to concentrate on the deck.