‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ Review

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Dir: Scott Frank

Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Adam David Thompson, and David Harbour

Synopsis: Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

At this point we all know Liam Neeson is great at playing a gruff, no nonsense ass-kicker. Some say it’s getting a bit old, but Neeson still manages to bring something different to each character he plays. While he does play almost the same character here in A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson once again shows his range of playing a different kind of badass.

 

Based on Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, the film follows ex-cop turned unlicensed Private Investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson), who after a terrible accident eight years before, reluctantly agrees to help a drug trafficker Kenny (Stevens) to track down a pair of criminals (played by Thompson and Harbour) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife even after he paid them to return her. When he starts to investigate and digs deeper into what’s going, he finds out these two have done this before and will continue to do so, until they stop.

 

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Stevens as Kenny and Neeson as Matt

 

 

Like I stated before, Neeson plays a badass again but not a badass like his previous movies like Taken or Non-Stop. Instead of constantly going up to people and beating the crap out of them for not giving him an answer, Neeson’s Matt uses his words – with the occasion threat or wise crack. At one point he does do a Taken-like speech near the end of the movie, which at that point of the movie it felt necessary and welcomed. It’s weird to say but Neeson gets to actually act as opposed to just be a badass and has some depth added to him with past troubles.

 

Director Scott Frank builds the world and tone right from the beginning. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling mystery thriller that keeps you engaged and scared for their characters, especially once you figure out what our villains Ray (Harbour) and Albert (Thompson) actually do to their victims. It is a little hard to watch but credit should be given to them for giving eerie performances and Frank for making them feel like monsters in the shadow for a good portion in the film before we see their faces.

 

The rest of the cast holds their own and do a good job with their roles. Stevens makes us feel some sympathy for his drug tracking character of Kenny, who is a bad guy, but considering his situation, you almost forget that. I actually wish there was more of Stevens because his character and performance was rather great. Eric Nelsen plays Howie, who is Kenny’s brother who has s secret that doesn’t really go anywhere and might fall a bit flat for some. Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley plays TJ, a local street kid that helps Matt and has his own problems going on, but also gets a bit annoying at times. Finally Olafur Darri Olafsson has a small but standout performance as James Loogan.

 

Matt and TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) getting to know each other

Matt and TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) getting to know each other

 

An interesting backdrop of the movie is that it takes place in 1999 and right at the beginning of the Y2K-scare, which in a nice touch one of the killers says “people are afraid of all the wrong things.” The year doesn’t really come in to play or matter despite being a bit heavy-handed in the beginning of the movie and felt like it wasn’t going to lead to something. The only thing it really leads to is Matt saying he doesn’t put his faith in computers or cell phones, but this does get him close to TJ, who is tech-savvy.

 

All in all, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling but engaging mystery thriller where Neeson adds another dimension of his usual ass-kicker roles in the past. The film relies on its tone and performances from its actors to keep you guessing until the end.

 

 

A Walk Among the Tombstones

4 out of 5

‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Review

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Dir: Shawn Levy

Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz and Jane Fonda

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

Based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper of the same name, This Is Where I Leave You follows the Altman family; after the father passes away mother Hillary (Fonda) tells her kids Judd (Bateman), Wendy (Fey), Paul (Stoll), and Philip (Driver) that his dying wish was to have his family “sit shiva” (a Jewish tradition, although the characters are Jewish) for seven days to mourn his death. But, turns out the family have their own dramas and being locked up together isn’t the ideal situation.

 

The movie starts out with Judd, who finds out that his wife Quinn (Spencer) has been cheating on him with his boss (Shepard) for a year. It’s after this that he finds out his father has died and goes back to his old home. There we meet his sister Wendy, a mother of two and the only girl, the oldest and serious brother Paul, and the youngest favorite/wild child Philip.

 

It is a pretty impressive cast and surprisingly they all have their moment to shine. Bateman’s Judd is the lead in the movie and it really isn’t until the middle of the movie where we get to see, possibly, the real side of him (obviously I don’t want to spoil it), and like almost every Bateman character, he’s funny and quick-witted – which isn’t a bad thing. He also has amazing chemistry with Tina Fey and make a very believable brother-sister duo. Fey also gives a really strong dramatic performance, which was nice to see considering she’s mostly known for her comedic chops, and she does have some great comedic jokes her as well, but it’s her dramatic performance that really stands out.

 

Stoll does his best as usual and despite a small sub-plot with his wife Alice (Hahn), he’s probably the least interesting of the siblings. Adam Driver will probably be a highlight for many as the youngest and playboy-y character of Philip. Driver does have some great comedic timing and manages to bring something different, although not a lot, to the cliché character. Jane Fonda as the Altman mother drops some wisdom on her children and tries to keep her family in line, all with some new boobs too.

 

The rest of the cast holds their own in their small roles, considering the movie is focused on the Altman cast. Rose Byrne plays Penny, she’s a bit of an odd-ball but not in the traditional sense and Byrne holds her own against Bateman. Timothy Olyphant plays Horry, who was Wendy’s former boyfriend and suffers from being a bit mentally impaired. Connie Britton plays Philip’s older girlfriend who wonders if she’s making the right choice, Dax Shepard plays his character the way you would think, Abigail Spencer does very little in her role but does have a moment. Ben Schwartz also pops up as the family rabbi and has some great moments, with a great nickname.

 

I will admit that the movie has a lot going on. So some of the arcs in the movie fall a bit flat compared to others but overall they bleed pretty well together. Director Shawn Levy does know how to make the real standout moments pop when necessary and when the emotional beats need to be made, Levy doesn’t hold back. There might be moments where he gets a little heavy handed but it is a movie about mourning a love one and dealing with a difficult family.

 

All in all, This Is Where I Leave You has it all; humor, love, anger, and tears. It’s a nice look that a dysfunctional family under one roof, that may or may not be like your family.

 

 

This Is Where I Leave You

4 out of 5

‘Divergent’ Review

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Dir: Neil Burger

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, and Kate Winslet

Synopsis: In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

Based off the popular Young Adult Novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a dystopian, post-war Chicago where its citizens are divided into five factions, each one emphasizing a particular personality trait: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), and Dauntless (bravery).  Each one is assigned certain jobs, e.g. Abnegation runs the government, Erudite handles science, and Dauntless are the soldiers.  Every citizen must choose their faction and are given a test to see, which faction suits them best.  When Abnegation citizen Beatrice Prior (Woodley), who later calls herself Tris, takes the test, she comes up as “Divergent”, which she has to hide because it will make her a target against the higher ranks that including Jeanine (Winslet).

Divergents “threaten the system,” as we’re told over and over by various characters in urgent and cryptic whispers. Why they pose such a danger is not revealed until later in the movie and even then it doesn’t pack much of a punch (at least for me).  Despite that, the movie has an interesting world, but we never fully grasp what it really is. We see a somewhat ruined Chicago (which is cool because it’s the home city) with some futuristic touches and we get the idea of the Fraction-less.  But the only real concept we see is Beatrice’s Abnegation house when the family eats dinner around a single, tiny light bulb.  There are conflicts between the fractions, Erudite and Abnegation, although we don’t see it and are only told through Peter (Teller), who bashes Tris any chance he can get.

Of course being based off a young adult novel, Tris has a love interest in her instructor and Dauntless member Four (James). I’ll admit Woodley and James’ chemistry is one of the best things about Divergent but at the same time it takes away from the other relationships that Tris has with spunky Christina (Kravitz), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Al (Christian Madsen).  Even her “rival” Peter and ruthless instructor Eric (Courtney) don’t feel bad, although Eric is menacing at times.

Again, Woodley is probably one of the better parts of the movie. She brings her A-game when need be and adds some depth to the scenes, even when it’s not necessarily needed.  Theo James adds some mystery to Four and tries to lead Tris in the right direction.  On the other hand, there is some wasted talent when it comes to Kate Winslet’s Jeanine, who feels like she’s evil for the sake of being evil.  Even Ray Stevenson’s Marcus, the leader of Abnegation, and Ashley Judd who plays Tris mother feel like they could have gotten other people to do them and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Thankfully, it does make an effort to deliver on the action, although some feels a bit anti-climatic.  The zip-lining across Chicago skylines is pretty cool.  Even the “fear tests” have some vivid imagery and is the only time the movie allows itself to go into “dark territory” which I kind of wish the movie had more of.

All in all, Divergent is kind of all over the place. For a movie that’s about two and half hours long, it kind of feels like it’s running fast to get through a lot of story that it misses the details that could make it come alive and the plot points that could help it make sense. Although it sounds like I’m bashing it, there were some moments that I did enjoy. While it’s not any different from the other Young Adult Novel adaptation, I’m guessing fans of the book will enjoy seeing the story on the big screen. I know the five pre-teen girls sitting behind me did.

Divergent

3 out of 5