Liam Neeson

K is for K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

When Russia’s first nuclear submarine malfunctions on its maiden voyage, the crew, led by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), must race to save the ship and prevent a nuclear disaster.

I’m not sure if Harrison Ford even attempted a Russian accent in this. His usual growl is present throughout and his accent is more noticeable in some scenes than others. Liam Neeson on the other hand, who plays executive officer Mikhail Polenin and second in command on the sub, pretty much nails the accent. Accents aside, they both give engaging performances. There’s tension between the two men, Vostrikov is the new captain and repeatedly pushes his crew through drills while Polenin is more personable and well-liked by the crew.

It’s how Vostrikov and Polenin bounce off of one another and try and work together when there’s mistrust from other members of the crew as some see Polenin as their captain, that drives the first half of the film. K-19: The Widowmaker spends plenty of time giving you an overview of the crew, both the higher ranks and the lower ranks, and seeing what it takes to man a submarine. This means that when the reactor malfunctions, plunging the entire crew in danger, the tension you have a decent idea of who is who and what’s their responsibilities.

The second half turns up the tension as men volunteer to be exposed to radiation so they can try and save the submarine and their comrades. The score can be overly dramatic at times but when it works, especially when men are being subjected to the radiation, it works. It’s quieter and feels almost respectful to what’s happening on screen. The effects of the radiation are never underplayed and it’s tough to watch the men’s bodies shut down, and the fear of the rest of the crew as they try and keep the submarine afloat.

K-19: The Widowmaker highlights both the best and worst of people in a crisis, and how it’s the people on the frontline who are often screwed over by superiors who cut corners and push for things to meet ridiculous deadlines for political clout.

Based on real events, K-19: The Widowmaker is overall a gripping film that makes good use of the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. The fact that these events happened, and the lengths the crew went to to try and save one another is astonishing. As is the fact that it was apparently kept secret by the Soviet Union for so long. 4/5.

D is for The Dead Pool (1988)

Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must stop a sick secret contest to murder local celebrities, which includes himself as a target.

The Dead Pool is the fifth and (so far but I doubt there’ll ever be more but who knows with the likes of Harrison Ford still making Indiana Jones movies) final Dirty Harry movie. Like its predecessors, it has Harry growling at anyone who gets in his way and being involved in wanton destruction, but while this film has its action and violence, it’s surprisingly funny.

The Dead Pool has one of the most entertaining and inventive car chase sequences I’ve seen, and it contains a remote-control car the exudes menace. It makes great use of its San Francisco setting with all the hills and the score is just great. It’s equally parts fun and thrilling which I really wasn’t expecting from when the remote-control car first appeared.

Harry Callahan gets a new partner in Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) and they and their fellow officers are very aware that Harry’s partners often get injured or killed on the job. Al and Harry have an easy report with each other almost straightaway as Al rolls with the whatever dangerous situations he ends up in by being connected to Harry. However, it is a bit stereotypical that as Al is Asian American, he knows martial arts and stops a bad guy by using his skills.

Part of the fun of watching The Dead Pool is seeing some of the actors who are involved. Jim Carrey plays a musician, Patricia Clarkson reporter Samantha Walker who wants to do a piece on Harry, and Liam Neeson plays horror movie director, Peter Swan, who gets caught up in the celebrity murder contest. Neeson’s Swan is a wonderfully over-the-top director who gets under a lot of people’s skin due to his perfectionism and his temper. The scenes with Swan and Callahan are great fun as their personalities are such opposites you’re never sure which one is going to snap first.

The Dead Pool is a fun, entertaining crime film. Plus, its runtime is under 90 minutes and while there’s a lot going on, the pacing is good and the mystery keeps you guessing and intrigued as Harry slowly unravels the case. 4/5.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors (2019 Edition)

Back in October 2017 I posted about which actors I’ve watched the most films from. Two years later, I thought it’d be fun to revisit that and see what might have changed. I get these stats from Letterboxd where I have a pro account. I love the stats Letterboxd can give you as it’s not just your yearly film-watching stats, but also there’s stats that take into account every film you’ve ever watched.

First thing I noticed that’s changed over the past two years is the amount of films I must’ve watched in general and it’s made getting a spot on my top 20 list quite competitive. In 2017 my most watched actor (Samuel L. Jackson) had 35 film to his name and the least watched actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Weisz) each had 19 films to their name. That’s changed a lot in just over two years and now my most watched actor (still Samuel L. Jackson) has 43 films to his name, while my least watched actors (Rachel Weisz, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith) each have 24 to their name. I think this is partly down to how last year I watched 365 different films – don’t ask me how I did it, I’m not sure but I’m definitely not putting that kind of pressure on myself again – plus, you know two years going by means there’s a lot of time to watch films from a variety of actors.

I’m happy to see over the past couple of years that there’s more female actors making into my top twenty most watched actors list. Keira Knightley (whose films I’ve watched a lot of this year) and Maggie Smith have joined Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Also got two more black actors here with Idris Elba (who has actually made my most watched actors list two out of the past three years I’ve had Letterboxd and he’s comfortably going to be on it again this year) and Denzel Washington.

It would obviously be nice if more women and people of couple made my top twenty most watched actors of all time but baby steps. I know for a fact there’s some actors like Anna Kendrick, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Emma Thompson that are just missing out on a spot. Still, based on a quick scan of Letterboxd, at the moment it’s more likely that a white woman will get a spot on my most watched actors list than any other person. This is obviously down to my taste in films, and what films are available to me in the cinema or via Netflix of similar, but it reinforces the fact I still want to broaden my film watching horizons.

Though saying that, I do watch more films not in the English language and more independent films and more films made by women each year. I think the problem is that historically I didn’t have the statistics to look at (I got Letterboxd in 2016) so there was over 20 years of film watching where I watched what I wanted without any real thought about who was in it bar whether or not I liked the actors. And that’s fine because for most of those 20 years I was a child/teenager where I just watched what I liked and what was available without a care in the world.

I know making my film viewing more diverse will take time and that’s OK. I still watch what I want to watch, whether that’s because it’s got a certain actor in it I like, or the trailer looks good, or it’s a genre I like, without feeling pressured that I should be watching highbrow films that are from a certain niche area.

In short – watching diverse films with diverse talent is a good thing that I want to continue doing, but this revisit to these stats two years on shows me that making a big dent in this will take time. But I have my whole life to watch as many films as I like with many different people starring in them, so while I will probably continue to check in on these stats every couple of years to see how things stand, I won’t stress about it too much.

My final thought about looking at my top twenty most watched actors list today is; it does make me smile that in two years I’ve only watched one more Bruce Willis film since 2017 (I told you I wasn’t a fan of his) but he’s still got quite a comfortable spot there.

REVIEW: Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead criminal husbands, take their lives into their own hands as they conspire to steal the money they need to repay the men who are out to hurt them, and to make a better life for themselves.

Directed by Steve McQueen who cowrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and many other twisty stories, Widows is a tense heist thriller that never lacks in character and world building.

Widows grabs your attention straightaway, with the heist that goes wrong and leads to four career criminals dying. From then it’s an exploration of the people who are left behind and their grief and loss of what to do next. Viola Davis’s steely Veronica is the one who brings the widows together. She has plans left to her by her late husband (Liam Neeson) and needs help in order to get the money to stop those who wish to hurt her.

All four leading ladies are magnificent. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda is struggling to provide for her young children, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice has no career prospects, and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is working multiple jobs to keep herself and her family afloat. They are four very different characters but they come together with one goal in mind. That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, but together they find a strength and determination that some of them didn’t know they had.

Set in Chicago with a backdrop of criminal activity, by politicians and more traditional criminals alike, Widows manages to be a compelling story about interesting and layered women while also managing to bring in race, politics and class into the story. These elements flesh out the Chicago setting. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a career politician and whose family has been elected to office for generations, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, a man who has criminal connections but is from the neighboured he’s campaigning to represent. These two men each have underhand dealings but they approach illegal activity, politics and violence in very different ways.

While Widows is building towards a heist, it’s the characters themselves and the stages they have to go through to prepare for the heist that’s the main focus of the film. That doesn’t make it, or the final crime, any less satisfying. You learn about these women, the hardships they’ve faced, and the forces that are out to stop them, and you soon realise that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they set out to do. 5/5.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors

I have a Letterboxd account and it’s pretty great. Letterboxd is the movie version of Goodreads so you can log what you watch, write reviews, make lists and follow different users. If you get a Pro account (which is only $19 a year which is about £15 and I think that’s pretty good value to be honest) you get to see what your various movie-related stats are each year you log films and overall on all the films you’ve ever marked as watched.

I’ve been looking at which actors I’ve watched the most overall and there’s some interesting things there but it does make me want to try and change some of my viewing habits.

Out of my top twenty most watched actors, just two of them are women – Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett Johansson was someone I was surprised to be there as she’s not one of my favourite actors nor someone who I’d go to see a film just because they’re in it. Her being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly helped give her a boost and for a younger actor (she’s 32) she’s been in the business for a while and has an eclectic filmography. Rachel Weisz is a new addition because I have been watching more of her filmography recently, trying to get her (and more women in general) into my top twenty. In comparison to Johansson, Weisz is an actor who I love and will seek out films just because she’s in them but she usually stars in dramas or films that aren’t so mainstream hence while she is someone I do really like, her filmography isn’t always to my taste. (more…)

REVIEW: A Monster Calls (2016)

a-monster-calls-movie-posterTwelve-year-old Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is struggling to deal with his mum’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness when help comes from an unlikely source, a tree monster (Liam Neeson) who comes from the churchyard near Connor’s house.

Connor has a lot to deal with a lot. He’s being bullied, his dad (Toby Kebbell) lives abroad and his mum is suffering from a terminal illness. Lewis MacDougall has a lot on his young shoulders but delivers a brilliant performance and you really feel Connor’s pain and anger at the situation he is in. The scenes with Connor and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) are especially complicated as they are completely different people but are united in their love for his mother.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful film. The Monster is a brilliant piece of CGI but it still always feels like a real, living creature that treads the line between friend and foe thanks to some great animation and a wonderful voice performance from Liam Neeson. When the Monster tells Connor stories, they are told through beautiful and bright water colour-esque animation that contrasts so well with the dreary world Connor really lives in.

The performances, the music and the cinematography all come together to give A Monster Calls a raw and almost visceral feel as you are taken through the stages of grief with Connor. It doesn’t really let up but there’s still the moments of fun and hope in Connor’s life that brighten the darkest of days. It’s an emotional rollercoaster but it’s one that’s also got a bit of magic to it as you never really know where or how the Monster exists.

It tackles a subject matter that might be too dark for younger viewers but the messages and ideas A Monster Calls presents about grief and imagination are relevant to all ages. 5/5.

Patrick Ness adapted his own book for the big screen and it’s a very true and heartfelt adaptation. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the book (which I also loved) you can find them here.

G is for: Review: The Grey

The Grey is a film about survival; it’s a horrific thriller and is incredibly suspenseful. Liam Neeson is Ottway, a hunter whose job is to protect oil workers in Alaska from wolves. When his plane crashes, he and the seven other survivors must brave the snow and the wolves in order to find shelter.

The Grey was released in late 2011/early 2012 (depending on where you live) but I watched it for the first time on Sunday night on TV. I’m somewhat grateful for the adverts (first time that happened) as it gave me a moment to get my heart beat in check and to relax for a moment before being thrown straight back into the tension and surprises.

I can see why The Grey may have got some mixed reviews and reactions when it first came out. It was marketed as an action film with wolves and while there certainly was wolves and action scenes, it is more about the harsh reality of survival and hope. It can be read as a metaphor, with Ottway a lonely man wandering in the woods of depression, hunted by demons (or wolves).

The supporting characters don’t get a lot of character development but that’s understandable in such a fast-paced, tension filled film. They each have a defining characteristic such as kindness, brash and thoughtfulness and are easy to relate to.

The Grey is brilliantly filmed and the use of music (and lack thereof) adds to the tension throughout. It’s surprising and unflinchingly realistic in its portrayal of people desperate quest of survival. I would definitely recommend The Grey to anyone who likes tense, thrillers with its fair bit of action and gore.