Monday, March 16, 2015

Run All Night, Cinderella, October Gale

Run All Night

October Gale

Capsule reviews on the week's new features:

In "Run All Night," Liam Neeson's latest straight-to-video-worthy vehicle, he plays Jimmy "the Gravedigger" Conlon, longtime underling to mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Shawn's ne'er-do-well son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) owes some Albanian gangsters a hundred large. When they come to collect, the limo driver waiting outside is none other than Jimmy's estranged son Mike (odd-faced Joel Kinnaman), with Mike's boxing protégé, who happened to be skateboarding by, in the backseat. Danny pops the Albanians and is about to kill Mike (who's come in to investigate) but stops to do the Talking Killer routine (one of several instances in the flick), giving Jimmy just enough time to shoot him first. 

Of course, this incurs Shawn's animadversion, and the rest of the picture becomes a silly citywide chase in which Jimmy and Mike must team up to survive the night. You'll see such fresh scenes as a near-miss at a subway station (with the doors closing just in time to keep the baddies off), a civilian car and police car smashing into each other down the streets of Manhattan (with not another cop in sight), and a climactic shootout in an abandoned rail yard. What you won't see is a woman with two consecutive lines of dialogue, or any semblance of motivation for the hit man (played by the singer Common) Shawn orders to off the Conlons. The only thing missing from this compendium of cinematic clichés is an upended fruit cart; perhaps we'll get that in the sequel, "Run All Day."

For his live-action remake of "Cinderella," Kenneth Branagh has hewn almost precisely to the contours of the animated original, which in a cinema of would-be auteurs qualifies as a refreshing departure. What makes this picture work (which it does, albeit modestly, as attested by the hushed voices of the youngsters in my showing) is the casting. As Ella, Lily James positively radiates goodness (which the script defines as kindness and courage), as do Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin as her parents. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera make delightfully catty stepsisters and Cate Blanchett a deliciously wicked stepmother (though you can see the brilliant Blanchett straining to bring nuance to the role that hasn't been written into it). Among the royals, Richard Madden fills out prince Kit's uniform impressively; Stellan Skarsgärd makes an aptly imperious grand duke (with Nonso Anozie highly winning as his captain); and Derek Jacobi's king warmly imparts the wisdom of his years. (Helena Bonham Carter's cameo as Ella's fairy godmother fails to zing.) The most memorable scene is the one in which Ella's coach turns back into a pumpkin, her coachman into a goose, her footmen into lizards, and her horses into mice upon the last echo of the last bell at the last stroke of midnight.

Everything about Ruba Nadda's Canadian import "October Gale" is odd, starting with its release at almost the opposite of the calendar year. I think of its 90 minutes as three separate half-hours. In the first, we watch in near-silence as widowed Toronto physician Helen Matthews (Patricia Clarkson) returns to the remote island cottage (in beautiful Georgian Bay) she and her late husband had shared. This half-hour serves as a showcase for the gifted Clarkson, who must create the character from scratch, though the repeated flashbacks to her seemingly rapturous married life are the movie's weakest link. In the second segment, a stranger (Scott Speedman) washes up on shore with blood oozing out of a bullet wound to his shoulder. Helen takes him in, takes it out, and tapes him up, letting him sleep while she warily aims her rifle at him from across the room. His wallet identifies him as a William Grant, from Calgary, and at length he confesses to having killed a man, though he claims it was an accident.

In the third act, the victim's father (Tim Roth) finds out (from Helen's longtime handyman, who strands her without her boat) where William is, and comes for revenge. The film "October Gale" most clearly recalls is John Sayles' brilliant "Limbo" (1999), with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as an Alaskan singer and single mother who, with a new boyfriend played by David Strathairn, becomes stranded in the forest and hunted by a drug trafficker (Kris Kristofferson) also out to avenge his son. While "October Gale" doesn't approach that level of quality, I've not since seen a character study of a woman shift into a tense and engaging survival thriller. You'll likely have guessed the exact relation between Speedman and Roth before the big reveal (if I did, you will), and the way the finale goes down may seem anticlimactic at first (it isn't), but Clarkson's terrific, Speedman's hunky, and the cinematography and Mischa Chillak's music make you feel like you're right there on the storm-battered island.

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