Thistles & Freedoms: Life During the Scottish Independence Referendum


Thistles & Freedoms: Life During the Scottish Independence Referendum


3 Days to Kill Review – Dead on Arrival

Director: McG

Writers: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen


Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Relativity Media

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes



Best part: Costner’s hard-edged performance.

Worst part: The dodgy action-direction.

Known for tear-jerking baseball/ghost flicks and the movie that inspired Avatar‘s by-the-numbers storyline (Dances with Wolves), actor/director/producer extraordinaire Kevin Costner has been thrust back into the spotlight. Embarrassingly, I don’t think anyone was asking for his return. However, amiably, this All-American bloke is keen to repurpose his charming persona and limited range for a vastly different generation. In addition, this cool-calm-and-collected star hopes to reinvigorate a particular type of character – the father figure.

Kevin Costner.

Now emblazoned with crows feet and grey-tinged stubble, this brand of Costner elevates, but never legitimises, ultra-moronic actioner 3 Days to Kill. Donning a suitable facade, this veteran Tinseltown icon has fallen into a morose and vapid trap. Sadly, Costner is now wrapped around ‘acclaimed’ writer/director Luc Besson’s gargantuan middle finger. Labelled by pop-culture as a “factory” or “school”, Besson’s stranglehold on French film production is fuelled by optimistic executives and stylish action beats. Repeating himself over multiple decades, this auteur has developed a knack for handing responsibilities, and blame, off to other writers, editors, cinematographers, and directors. Kicking off Pierre Morrel (Taken) and Louis Leterrier(Unleashed)’s perfunctory careers, Besson now places his trust in one of Hollywood’s most despised directors. However, before I talk about him, I should examine 3 Days to Kill‘s meaningless and confused plot. Trust me, this synopsis won’t take too much out of you. Costner plays grizzled CIA operative Ethan Renner. Suffering a bizarre illness, Renner’s health could potentially disrupt his next major assignment. Renner’s team, aided by CIA assassin Vivi (Amber Heard), is assigned to track down a dangerous arms dealer, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his lieutenant, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). After the mission is obliterated, Renner coughs up blood and passes out before waking up in a hospital.

Amber Heard.

As it turns out, Renner has malignant brain and lung cancer. Given 3-5 months to live, he heads to Paris to send some quality time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  As you can tell, 3 Days to Kill‘s story neither says nor does anything original or intriguing. From the opening action sputter onward, the movie’s plot-points, twists, and character turns become visible from miles away. The narrative, copied and pasted from Besson’s previous efforts (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), makes for devising a fun game out of pinpointing certain French action-thriller tropes. However, given the budget, resources, and talent on offer, this derivative and inconsistent narrative just isn’t acceptable. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels series, Terminator Salvation) treads over and slips across tired, old ground. Yet again, McG’s bizarre and inconsequential style covers farcical situations, spies, and explosive action sequences. Failing to eclipse his TV series, Chuck, 3 Days to Kill delivers frustrating flashbacks to McG’s preceding flop This Means War. In addition, like Renner’s illness, Besson’s style infects the movie’s more valuable conceits. Like that atrocity, this actioner mistakes genre-hopping antics for jarring tonal shifts. With useless comedic hijinks clashing with heartfelt moments, the movie’s tone is as shaky and destructive as Renner’s ailing condition. Haphazardly, the movie also juggles Renner’s parenting issues, an African family squatting in his dingy apartment, and several wacky torture sequences. Bafflingly, this concoction of Taken and The Transporter lacks stakes, pacy thrills, and grit.

“The longer I was gone, it felt like the harder it was to come back.” (Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), 3 Days to Kill).

Connie Nielsen & Hailee Steinfeld.

Despite the directorial foibles and insufficient screenplay, 3 Days to Kill delivers enough enjoyment to last…about 2 hours in the memory banks. In fact, this movie is worth little more than a lazy, hangover-induced Sunday morning. Sadly, the extensive run-time outlasts the movie’s more gripping aspects. After the second act, the narrative falls head-long into predictable revelations and tiresome shootouts. Wrapping up plot-lines in ethically questionable and unfulfilling ways, this action-thriller could, and should, send Besson and co. back to the drawing board. Despite this, this mindless actioner still delivers entertaining action sequences and witty lines. The shootouts and fist-fights, utilising Paris’ gorgeous aesthetic, are fun distractions in this po-faced schlock. However, in typical McG fashion, the sound design and editing fatally misfire. Held hostage by misplaced gunshots and quick-cuts, McG’s approach undercuts everything Besson’s work promises. Overcoming the woeful direction and dialogue, Costner’s inherent charm saves this bland and uninspired effort. After scintillating turns in Hatfields & McCoys and Man of Steel, this veteran star can still deliver touching performances. With Liam Neeson seemingly unavailable this time around, Costner skilfully adapts to each set-piece. Despite his limitations, his action moments elevate this forgettable effort. Meanwhile, taking on a pseudo-Sin City vibe, Heard overtakes Denise Richards for the title of ‘Sexiest Blonde to Envelop Unconvincing Roles’.

With Besson and McG at the helm, 3 Days to Kill is as predictable, tedious, and groan-inducing as you’d expect. Treating constructive criticism like a mind hindrance, Besson’s money-grubbing system deals perfunctory efforts out to desperate hacks. However, with Costner anchoring the silly narrative, this action-thriller is still more tolerable than Columbiana, Taken 2, and Lockout. Well done, McG – you’ve finally made something that’s considered better than something else.

Verdict: A misstep in Costner’s career renaissance. 

Flickers & Footsteps – Cannes, Southern France 2014

IMG_6375Nearly every big-budget feature film rests on the Cannes Film Festival‘s iconic and impressionistic vibe. With critics buzzing around the city, and audiences holding onto ridiculous expectations, each major cinematic effort aims to please. From Hollywood Oscar hopefuls to small-time international gems, each film comes to the Cannes Film Festival with the best of intentions.  However, not all of them succeed. Having just held its 67th festival, Cannes is a picturesque backdrop for celebrities and their frivolous lifestyles. A wander through the streets will take you from gritty neighbourhoods, to classy shopping districts, to sun-drenched beaches. However, the best part of Cannes is the sumptuous views. Overlooking the seaside city, tourists and locals share the joys embedded in this city. Recently, I headed to Cannes to take in its cinematic glow, awe-inspiring culture, and gorgeous scenery. The casino district, setting up the film festival’s red carpet hotspot when I was there, put on a show as construction workers, security guards, and festival volunteers put on a show of their own.

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The Two Faces of January Review – Hide & Seek

Director: Hossein Amini

Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan

Release Date: April 16th, 2014

Distributors: Studio Canal, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK, France

Running time: 96 minutes



Best part: The immaculate scenery. 

Worst part: The underwhelming love triangle.

Film noir, like many genres reminiscent of classic Hollywood, relies on several visual and thematic ingredients. Marked by alluring visuals, trench coats, and seductive femme fatales, the genre thrives today thanks to aspirational filmmakers. Keen to bring back Hollywood’s greatest motifs, The Two Faces of January is one such homage to film noir and all its charming prowess. However, whilst honouring the genre, this drama-thriller seeks to envelop and grapple with several other genres simultaneously.

The Two Faces of January, despite the impressive cast and sumptuous scenery, has slipped under the radar. Like a shadow dancing across black-and-white film reels, this feature’s motions and emotions match up to its all-powerful influences. Sweeping across the festival circuit, it’s strange how almost no one caught onto this intriguing chase-saga. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name, the narrative shares a handful of similarities with one of her most notorious works. Like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January tells a softly spoken parable about dirty deeds and picturesque landscapes. Set in 1962, the movie investigates the highest peaks and seediest alley-way-laden depths of Europe. We follow enthusiastic and amoral tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac) as he attempts to start a meaningful existence within Athens’ momentous ruins. Ripping off, and occasionally seducing, young tourists, Rydal’s quaint lifestyle almost comes off as charming and enriching. However, his daydreams drift off over the horizon towards something more powerful. I may be delving into this a bit too much, for the movie says and does a lot less than it promises. However, alarmingly so, we sit alongside Rydal as he becomes infatuated with wealthy businessperson Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).

Kirsten Dunst.

It’s in one delectable moment, in which Rydal sees the couple wandering through the Acropolis of Athens, that he halts his ponderous lifestyle and sparks wondrous ideas. After introducing himself, Rydal even begins to picture their holiday schedule. The plot, kicking in shortly after the jaw-dropping opening scenes, takes several turns toward romantic-drama territory. With Rydal’s affection geared increasingly towards Colette, a love triangle begins to sizzle under the European sunlight. Sadly, this laboured start, defined by candle-lit double dates and forced character development, comes close to getting this twisted narrative off on the wrong foot. In fact, the love triangle is sorely under-utilised in this otherwise rich and decadent stand off. Soon enough, thanks to its tight and eloquent screenplay, this keep-you-guessing thriller steers toward its more exciting promises. With Rydal falling into the MacFarland’s sticky situation, the three of them embark on a daring escape from the law. Admittedly, this drama-thriller deserves to be stuck with the most overused and lugubrious of descriptions: Hitchcockian. Attempting to match the master filmmaker’s subtle touch and distinctive visual motifs, director Hossein Amini sticks close to everything we’ve seen countless times before. Despite his best efforts, Amini – having written actioners like Drive and Snow White & The Huntsman – fuses Hitchcock’s deft sensibilities with bombastic action-thriller tropes. Leaving the page for the camera, Amini mistakes a derivative and inconsistent style for resonant, slow-burn storytelling. With its pace more wave-like than Greece’s gold-and-aqua beaches, this drama-thriller becomes mind numbing and predictable well before the second half arrives.

“I’m sorry I disappointed you.” (Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), The Two Faces of January).

Oscar Isaac.

Fortunately, despite the stylistic flaws, The Two Faces of January smuggles several intensifying and immaculate parts into its sleek and pristine suitcase. As a sprawling romance between Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, the movie tackles its fun premise by delving into its three-character feud. In the spirit of classic Hollywood, this Europe-drenched story pits our well-dressed allies against themselves, gun-toting baddies, and the foreign labyrinth around them. Along the way, several sequences remain dialogue free. Puffing on cigarettes and honour codes, our characters look through one another as the clock ticks down. The tension even reaches breaking point early on, as Chester says of Rydal to Colette: “I wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn”. Gracefully, this tension-defying conflict, between these three power-starved anti-heroes, boosts the entertainment factor. Certain sequences, in which our characters come close to becoming recognised by security personnel, deliver the most memorable highlights. Indeed, thanks to everyone around him, Amini’s debut has looks to die for. Set against Europe’s most valuable and awe-inspiring cities, the cinematography, sound design, and mis-en-scene deliver something to write home about. Beyond the aesthetic wonders, our three A-listers bounce off this performance piece. Mortensen – known to impress first and attack his own movies later – excels as the relentless antagonist in this vicious concoction. Dunst delivers her most nuanced and likeable performance in a decade as the unpredictable squeeze. Meanwhile, following up his immense success with Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac is a magnetic force as the other side of the coin.

Keeping friends close and enemies closer, The Two Faces of January’s vigorous premise is on par with many of classic Hollywood’s shining lights. If anything, this drama-thriller will be seen as a commendable effort for our three charismatic and dexterous leads. The movie’s compelling visuals and tough-as-nails screenplay deliver several delights hidden around famous landmarks and decrepit streets. However, Amini’s first-time jitters stall an otherwise enlightening thrill-ride. Let’s hope his Hitchockian blues no longer chase him across Tinsel-town.

Verdict: An intensifying yet glacial drama-thriller. 

Taken 2 Review – Second-rate Massacre

Director: Olivier Megaton

Writers: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzjia

Release date: October 5th, 2013

Distributors: EuropaCorp Distribution, 20th Century Fox

Country: France

Running time: 91 minutes



Best part: Liam Neeson.

Worst part: Poor action set-pieces.

In 2008, Taken became a worldwide box office success and critically acclaimed French-American thriller. It turned into a surprise hit for contemporary action cinema and changed the career of now 60 year old veteran actor Liam Neeson. The original’s comfort food-like enjoyability not only created Neeson’s current action hero status but was a rare win for French action cinema great Luc Besson. As it was several notches above most contemporary action schlock with Besson’s name on it as co-writer and producer, it was inevitable that a sequel would occur. Unfortunately, Taken 2 becomes what everyone feared the original was going to be.

Liam Neeson.

This clinical and forgettable action flick takes the fun out of the original, turning a gritty look at Eastern Europe into a much bigger yet blander Hollywood-ised follow up. This time, the string of slimy Albanian mafia members murdered by Bryan Mills (Neeson) in the original are now being laid to rest. Mafia boss and father of one of Mills’ victims (Serbedzjia) vows vengeance on his son’s murderer. Joining Mills in Turkey, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are still trying to move on from Kim’s abduction. But the mafia soon catches up to them, leaving the resourceful Mills and his family to escape their captors and destroy the avenging European villains once and for all.Continuing Neeson’s busy year after The Grey, Wrath of the Titans and Battleship, Taken 2 is an unoriginal, disappointing and dull action thriller. Borrowing elements from influential action thrillers and directors from the past decade, what is left is a shadow of the subtle yet violent original.

Maggie Grace.

Maggie Grace.

Tony Scott’s frayed visuals and grunge soundtrack are replayed over and over, without creating a suitable tone for every dirt covered setting and brutal murder. Along with blatantly borrowing two songs from last year’s Drive soundtrack, Director Olivier Megaton (one of Besson’s regulars with The Transporter 3 and Columbiana to his credit) sorely replaces brutality with scale, decreasing the emotional and visceral impact of the low budget original. With the original effectively focusing on the European mafia’s sex and drug trafficking trades, the sequel quickly falls into generic revenge thriller territory. Neeson’s ageing anti hero and overly protective father searching for his daughter created a scary yet affable character for Neeson’s dramatic talents. The new film repeats several of Mills’ ‘particular set of skills’, not only simplifying his awareness of every street corner and sound but blandly flashing back to already witnessed events. Despite Neeson’s usual charisma, his character here is little more than a generic Bourne-like action hero. The family’s problems cover the first 40 minutes of this boring pseudo-remake. What should be discussed about their previous overseas travels is only touched on in flashback, instead discussing uninteresting quarrels such as Kim’s driving lessons. The film from this point on is a xenophobic and excessive look at European culture. Turkey apparently contains nothing but mob informants on every corner and a serious lack of competent authorities. 

“I have to make sure these people never bother us again in our lives.” (Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken 2).

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

The implausibilities of every situation are fun to point out, yet take more of the realism away from this relatively low key thriller. The seemingly unlimited number of European villains are continually mowed down by Neeson with relative ease. While the instructions given to his daughter running around Istanbul quickly extend to unsubtle heroic actions, particularly involving grenades going off in broad daylight. The action sequences, though choreographed with a realistic and bone-crunching style, suffer from quick cuts, confusing digital strobing effects and shaking cameras. Taking away from the brutality and impact of the original, the bloodless and confusing action sequences are the result of Taken 2 being sorely cut down to fit the film’s inexplicable M15+ rating. While the film’s climactic Bourne Supremacy-like taxi cab chase is edited too tightly around every twist and turn through Istanbul’s narrow streets. Luckily, the performances save this generic actioner from being completely interminable. Neeson pulls off the heroic secret agent role with a balance of ferocity and charm. Grace steps up to the role of her parent’s saviour with vulnerability. While Janssen and Serbedzjia are underused in important roles.

Ultimately, the film takes too long to decide what it wants to do. With an uneven pace and one generic twist and turn after another, what is left is very little to recommend and a classic example of sequelitis. Dear Mr. Neeson, please pick better material!

Verdict: Stick with the original.