WILD TALES**** Wildly delightful


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THE TRANSLATION OF Damián Szifrón’s “Wild Tales” from the Spanish (“Relatos Salvajes”) fails to convey the underlying absurdist savagery of these six enormously funny tales of revenge. (Perhaps “Tales of Savagery”?) They’re a cock-eyed view of how ‘ordinary’ people act once something has pushed them over the boundary of moral restraint. Here’s a view of humanity when humanity has slipped away to be replaced by the savage animal within us all (indeed, the movie begins with images of predators).

The structure of the tales is all the same: we’re introduced to a story that on the surface couldn’t be more uneventful: a bored driver is bombing along a mainly empty back road listening to his radio; on a flight to who knows where, a music critic leans over and engages his fellow traveller in conversation; a waitress greets a traveller who runs in to an empty diner from the rain; a loving couple are in the midst of their happy, boisterous wedding ceremony; distraught parents scramble to protect their son from a hit and run crime (OK. That isn’t so uneventful. Maybe it’s more commonplace in Argentina), a man’s car is towed away by the local council.

Quickly into each story, the seeds of disaster are sown. The driver has to force his way around an aggressive road hog and curses him as he does so, only to have a flat a few miles further on to disastrous consequences; the air passengers slowly realize that they are all connected to one person: the captain; the waitress recognizes the man who has rushed in from the storm as a local gangster, the blushing bride realizes that her husband is either having or may have had an affair with one of the guests etc.

Quickly the world of restraint and social decorum is torn away by rages of jealousy, feelings of insult, frustration, greed, the desire to get even after a life of emotional abuse and – hysterial – disasters follow. These are stories of revenge played out to wild extremes…and just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do.

It’s Scheherazade storytelling: we’re absolutely held in the spell of master storyteller Szifrón, who pulls off his tales without a false note. For despite the wildly bizarre turn of events in each of the stories, the dialog and actions and interactions between the protagonists are all minutely, carefully observed, entirely credible moments. Szifrón so seduces us into siding with each of the protagonists that for a moment we too slip into the delirium of savagery, egging on the protagonists to do what they’re doing: sprinkle the rat poison, push the car over the precipice, wreck havoc on the philanderer etc.

And none of these protagonists are particularly nice people. This isn’t a case of good men driven to desperation…which drifts into the structure of a morality tale. Rather these stories are of people who are flawed anyway; all they needed was a simple push, and their flaws, barely contained and concealed by some sort of moral law, becomes the law of the jungle.

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What works is that even as the stories descend into chaos and farce, the world of “Wild Tales” remains emotionally grounded in the everyday. They have the textural solidity and normality of some of Stephen King’s best works. Indeed, were King ever to veer away from the macabre to comedy, this is the sort of stuff he’d write.

And that’s pretty high praise.

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RUN ALL NIGHT**Exhausting


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“RUN ALL NIGHT” is yet another loud testosterone fueled Liam Neeson high body count carnage-fest. But unlike the second and third “Taken’s” this one has a trace more of an idea that holds it together better and at least offers some glimpse of the acting chops that we remember about Liam Neeson the once great actor (Remember “Schindler’s List”?), now in hiding from Liam Neeson the action star.

The story is about the lengths a ‘real man’ has to go to protect his family (women are largely an afterthought in this film). Liam is Jimmy Conlon, aka “the Gravedigger”, a retired mob enforcer. He’s seeking to protect his son, Michael (Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman of “RoboCop” and “The Killing” fame) – both from a vengeance obsessed Sean McGuire (Ed Harris), Jimmy’s ex boss and mob leader, and also from ever slipping into a world on the wrong side of the law. Michael himself is seeking to protect his family both from McGuire’s storm troopers as well as from any influence his disreputable, brooding, drunk, ex hit-man father may potentially exert over his young daughters.

But things have gone sour. Both men have gone straight. Alas, McGuire’s criminal DNA has been passed on to his wild, irresponsible son (Boyd Holbrook from “Gone Girl” and also from Liam’s last action flick, “A Walk Among the Tombstones”). The son has gotten involved with a gang of Albanian drug traffickers; all to prove his mettle to dad.

Well, it’s a small world and before you know it, young McGuire is gunning for Michael who’s witnessed his murder of the Albanians. Fortunately, and not for the last time, Jimmy (Liam) arrives just in time to protect Michael by killing the young McGuire.

Two fathers bound together in blood with two sons, one of whom is now dead.

Personally I’d have shot the son in the kneecaps or something. But Jimmy shoots him in the neck, fesses up to the killing to his ex mob boss friend (beneath the villainy and murder that marked his past, he’s a loyal and essentially honest friend) and now, what with McGuire and an army of thugs, not to mention a professional hit man (Common, who did the Oscar winning song from “Selma”) after them, he and son must… run all night.

And shoot everyone in sight.

Neeson has charisma and screen presence to spare. So that even at its most ludicrously improbable, he still manages to inject enough empathy and humanity into a stock character for us to give a damn. And stock character it certainly is: it ticks all the boxes of the faux Hollywood personality traits that are employed in (what seems like all of…) Liam’s recent movies. This particular character, Jimmy, isn’t that much of a stretch. He’s ‘done’ the brooding drunk type before. You no doubt remember that he was also a drunk, washed-up, has-been in “Non Stop” (the one where he was an ex cop on a transatlantic flight with a killer on the loose) or when he was a recovering alcoholic and also an ex-cop in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” (the one where he’s also fighting the mob). He’s one of a long list of drunks reluctantly driven to flights of heroism headlined of course by Bruce Willis’ John McClane.

Perhaps the 4A’s should incorporate vigilantism and revenge as part of its 10 step formula, as it certainly works well. You need a steady hand to fire a gun on the run.

The director is Spaniard, Jaume Collet-Serra who has clearly learned a lot from the Michael Mann/Tony Scott genre of high concept action. “Run All Night” like his previous outing “Non-Stop” is fast, taut, exciting and what with all that running, quite exhausting.

And after a long day at the office, a couple of hours watching Liam recover from an alcoholic stupor to take out every bad guy in a dark and grungy New York is almost as good as a martini (though not quite)

STILL ALICE: Read the book instead


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STILL ALICE IS as traumatic as you’d expect with a well-deserved Oscar for Julianne Moore…even though it’s just an OK movie. The story (from Lisa Genova’s excellent novel of the same name) centers around Alice Howard (Julianne Moore), a renowned Linguistics academic who, as the movie begins, in the middle of a lecture, forgets – naturally – a word. This simple slip – it happens to us all – is the beginning of the end; and we follow as Alice’s brilliant mind, and her whole world, collapses.

The self possessed, well respected Alice morphs, as her early onset Alzheimer’s becomes more and more pronounced into a lost, dependent child-like person. Of her illness, at the time when she’s still lucid, she says, “I wish I had cancer. People wear pink ribbons for people with cancer. But for Alzheimer’s, it’s just an embarrassment”. It’s worse than an embarrassment. This is a disease that’s hereditary. Alice must face her three children, one of whom is pregnant, with the awful fact that there’s a 50/50 chance of some or all of them inheriting the disease.

It’s almost as though, as her world shrinks – from that of well respected global traveller to someone increasingly confined to a room under watchful eyes – her legacy is set to expand.

Whilst it is unfair to compare a movie with literature, in this case the comparison makes sense as it perhaps pin-points what’s wrong with the movie: “Still Alice” the book was centered entirely within the deteriorating mind of the protagonist. As a reader, you were made privy, in a very clever way, to one person’s unique, confused, selfish, frightened view of the world. The central conceit the book seeks to dramatize is a simple one: what is the meaning of self? If individuality is the sum of a person’s memories and experiences and interactions; and these memories begin to fade, what then happens to the individual? Is there something deeper than memory or friendship or familial love – all of which disappear – that retains the core of what makes a person a person? Will Alice still be Alice even as she slips into intellectual oblivion?

The problem with the movie is that directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmorland shift the focus away from an internal, introspective journey and transform the story into a soapy domestic drama about how families cope in times of stress. Alec Baldwin is husband John, whose caring and love is not enough to seduce him away from his self centered careerist drive; Kate Bosworth is daughter Anna – prim, self-righteous, and equally self centered around becoming the perfect mum. The only one who is prepared to put herself on hold in order to take care of the woman who, for her, remains still Alice is the rebel daughter Lydia (an outstanding Kristin Stewart).

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In her book, Lisa Genova (who also co-wrote the screenplay) knitted together elements of Alice’s memory and fragments of her past in order to offer the reader a perspective of who Alice was so that the extent of the loss became that much more poignant (there’s a nice moment when Lydia yields her diary – a record of memory – to her mother, almost as if there’s a need to compensate for the loss that’s taking place). But in the movie, the past is shown simply as a few blurred 8mm scenes of clichéd and generic “family life”. We never really get to grips with who Alice really was, and indeed how the past makes us who we are. The focus is so centered on how well Julianne Moore portrays the onset of Alzheimer’s that the driving idea of the book vanishes.

Since we never get to know who Alice is, the question of whether she is still Alice or no becomes beside the point.

The overriding questions become: will John leave New York and take up the big job in Minnesota? Will Lydia go to college as Alice wishes? Does Lydia have the Alzheimer’s gene? Do we give a shit?