Liam Neeson works as an action star because he’s always the best thing in his action movies. Sometimes he gets lucky and the story holds up or the action is well-handled, but time and time again he’s managed to lift an otherwise average project to a higher level with his gruff-bordering-on-comedic charm and totally commitment to whatever unlikely story he happens to be found in. Which is good news, because it means that when he does get a decent project – such as this one – the end result is a film that really is worth your time.
American films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have usually failed to connect with audiences. Director Peter Berg’s adaptation of US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir Lone Survivor is an exception, raking in big money at the US box office: it seems the secret to mainstream success is no-holds-barred patriotism. The true story of a failed four-man mission in 2005 to assassinate a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, this film is smarter than it looks. Which, to be honest, isn’t all that hard thanks to a lot of extremely overt US patriotism. (It opens with a real-life Navy SEAL training montage and ends with a terrible soft-rock version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’.)
First, the bad news: this reworking on the 1981 classic does not take the same approach as that film and depicts quasi-underage love (he was 17; she was 15) as some kind of dangerous mental affliction that will burn down both homes and lives with its unstoppable passion. For starters, both our endless lovers here – small town mechanic and country club valet David (Alex Pettyfer) and rich girl Jade (Gabriella Wilde), who’s spent the last few years in a social isolation chamber after the death of her brother Chris – are firmly of age, with the film’s opening scene showing the pair of them graduating from high school.
Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a high school student in modern-day France where just about every book they study has some bearing on her personal life. Something a little less relevant is her peers’ obsession with boys. She acts interested but her heart isn’t in it – and then one glance at a mysterious blue-haired woman (Léa Seydoux) is enough to send her heart (and other regions) a-flutter. As Adele explores her attraction to women, her path and Emma’s crosses again and they become friends, then more than friends, and if you were wondering what “more than friends” actually means, there’s a ten minute sex scene just to make it clear.
When Texas rodeo cowboy and electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) wakes up in hospital with thirty days to live, he’s not happy. As a (generally) straight non-junkie, HIV is not something he’s supposed to have in 1985. His friends promptly shun him and trash his house. The treatment available does nothing. So he does what a hustler does – he pays an orderly to steal him a supply of AZT, a drug that, maybe, might help.
Biopics that attempt to cover the whole life of their subject often end up just skimming the surface. It’s just not possible to fit an entire life into a feature-length film, even if a big chunk of that life was spent in a prison cell. This follows the life of Mandela (Idris Elba), starting from his days as a young lawyer in South Africa. Initially more interested in the ladies than in revolution, he gradually became more involved in the anti-apartheid movement, first following the non-violent model set out by Gandhi in India, then moving towards armed struggle when the regime cracked down.
The year is 1987. Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is a single mom living in a rural home with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Depressed ever since her husband left her (not because she misses him, we’re told, but because she “loves love”), she now rarely leaves the house; so it’s just bad luck that she’s shopping with Henry when a dodgy type with a bloodstained t-shirt comes up to them and tells them that their giving him a lift “needs to happen”.
While in theory it’s a good thing that Hollywood has finally realised old(er) people go to the movies, in practice this has led to the creation of Last Vegas. Which is a bad thing. Not that it starts out that way: Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been best friends since childhood. Now Billy is getting married – to a woman well under half his age, who he proposed to at a funeral – and he wants his best buds to be there on his bachelor weekend in Las Vegas.
The year is 1841, and Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living with his family in upstate New York. Then he’s offered two weeks touring work as a fiddle player; only at the end of the tour the (white) men he’s with get him drunk and he wakes up in chains in a Washington D.C. slave trader’s basement. He’s shipped south to New Orleans where he’s sold by Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).
For a franchise based around one idea – found footage of creepy hauntings – the Paranormal Activity series has proved to be surprisingly consistent when it comes to quality. That is to say, every second film (the second and fourth) are a waste of time, while the first, third and now fifth actually manage to find new ways to get scares out of the old formula. Here the initial twist is that it’s an all-Latino cast: the year is 2012, and in the Los Angeles suburb of Oxnard high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) lives with his dad and grandmother in a block of flats above a creepy woman named Anna, who everyone thinks is a witch.