Author Archives: theswitz

The Great Wall – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Starring global superstar Matt Damon and directed by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Legendary’s The Great Wall tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure. The first English-language production for Yimou is the largest film ever shot entirely in China. The Great Wall also stars Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau.

Did you see The Great Wall?  Did you hear about the controversies?  Before it even came out there were accusations of racist whitewashing, of cultural appropriation and of being a “white-saviour” story with one heroic white man saving the day.  These accusations mainly came because Matt Damon, a white, American actor was cast in the lead role, but director Zhang Yimou defended The Great Wall and Damon’s casting. He said the movie’s narrative couldn’t be further from a white-saviour story: “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at [a] tentpole scale for a world audience.” Yimou also explained that Damon’s character was always intended to be white. “Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese,” Yimou said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly.

This is the biggest American-Chinese co-production ever, and probably one of the most expensive movies ever made in China.  Casting Matt Damon in the lead role of your movie is usually a pretty good idea.  Matt Damon sells tickets.  Plain and simple.  He is a bankable movie star known and recognized the world over.  The film employed hundreds, if not thousands of Chinese actors and crew, which probably wouldn’t have happened if the film wasn’t greenlit by the studio.  Having a bankable star in the lead is probably what helped “sell” The Great Wall to those studio executives in the first place.

The Great Wall takes place during China’s Song dynasty and follows two European mercenaries — William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) — who accidentally find the Great Wall as they’re searching for black powder (gunpowder) to bring back to Europe. William and Tovar are taken prisoner by the “Namless Order” that staffs the Wall, and learn that the real purpose of the 5,500-mile long structure it is to defend China (and the rest of the world) from the Tao Tei, alien monsters who crashed on earth on a meteor centuries ago and attack every sixty years. The Nameless Order is led by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) and Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and broken up into five colour-coded, special military units: the melee-specialist Bear Troop (black), the acrobatic-specialist Crane Troop (blue), the archer-specialist Eagle Troop (red), the siege engine-specialist Tiger Troop (yellow), and the horse-mounted Deer Troop (purple).

Originally slated to be executed, William and Tovar are set aside when the Tao Tei attack the wall. Fearing the Tao Tei (and being crushed in the skirmish) they are freed by Ballard (Willem Dafoe), another European prisoner who we learn has been a voluntairy prisoner for some years when he was captured also looking for black powder. (I say he’s a voluntary prisoner because he has free reign in the Wall, but is not allowed to leave because he knows their location, their secrets, and about the Tao Tei.) Once freed, William and Tovar help the Nameless Order fight off the Tao Tei on the wall, and prove themselves worthy warriors. After the fight, William joins with the leaders to fight the Tao Tei, while Tovar and Ballard focus on escaping with the black powder.

The film was visually stunning, and the colour coding of the armies really worked to make the action scenes stand out on the screen. There were three separate battles, and the filmmakers did a very good job of not making them repetitive or just a rehash of the previous scene. The stunts and the effects were excellent.  The acting was also quite good, I thought and I enjoyed the story. I really enjoyed Andy Lau as Strategist Wang and Tian Jing was great as Lin Mae. While they may have hinted at a romantic sub-plot, it didn’t really happen. I’m glad they didn’t, because I think that would have really diminished a strong, female character. Sure there were a few lighter moments in the film, such as Tovar bullfighting with a Tao Tei, and the scenes with the Emperor, but this to me was a popcorn film, so I was fine with it.

As for the “white-saviour” issues, I don’t think it really applies. Usually that means the white hero teaches the other culture how to be better and that the white culture is superior. William doesn’t teach the Chinese how to be better Chinese — it’s William who must redeem himself by risking his life to serve the greater good, which is a popular theme in both Chinese culture and entertainment. In other words, it’s William who has to learn to be more Chinese. William and Tovar are in awe of the technology that the Chinese possess, that’s why they’re there in the first place. They are essentially greedy and “dumb” foreigners in search of gunpowder and fortune, who know nothing of the Great Wall, the Nameless Order, or the Tao Tei.  Sure they are capable warriors, but they are not bigger than the whole Chinese army.  The story was largely a redemption story, because William talks about how he’s fought for money and fought for different causes before, but never really fought for the greater good or for himself. Fighting this fight makes him a better person, and they’re not just saving China, they’re fighting to save the whole world.

Bottom Line: If you’re asking me to believe that the Great Wall of China was constructed to keep alien monsters at bay, I can also believe that a white European was in China searching for gunpowder.

Last King – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Just a quick timeframe update, I’m now only 8 movies behind in my reviews, and am finally reviewing things I watched over the Victoria Day long weekend!  Why is this significant?  The films I’m talking about are still fairly fresh in my mind and I’m only a month behind!  Alright, for some reason I got on a little foreign film kick which was quite enjoyable.  I’d seen the trailer for The Last King on several of the movies I rented and was quite intrigued.

In the year 1206 the throne of Norway is in turmoil. King Håkon is murdered by the queen who is in league with Gisle (Pål Sverre Hagen) who clearly wants the throne for himself, but is also in league with the church, who wish to convert the country to Christianity.  In order to seize power he dispatches a team of Baglers to kill t
he King’s illegitimate infant son, Håkon Håkonsson who is being guarded in secrecy by two members of the Birkebeiner.  The Baglers (or Bagli Party) was a faction during the Norwegian Civil Wars made up principally of the Norwegian aristocracy, clergy and merchants. The Birkebeiner were another key group and at this time supported the King.  Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV, who ended the civil wars in 1240 and forever changed Northern Europe’s history through his reign.

Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro) and Torstein (Kristofer Hivju) race through the snow, the mountains and the forests to get the baby to the seat of the Norwegian throne as they’re hunted by the Baglers, stopping briefly at farms and homes that are loyal to them.  Along the way, we see Gisle jail his own brother Inge (Thorbjørn Harr), accusing him of conspiring for the throne and killing the King, and to cement his own path he conspires to marry Princess Kristin (Thea Sofie Loch Næss).  The political scheming and intrigue are probably not much different from what they are now nearly 800 years later, just that they skied a lot more back then…

The camera work was excellent, and director Nils Gaup finely balanced the action and the drama of the moment with light humour.  The action was great, and the scenery was beautiful.  The fights were well choreographed, and the ski chases were very exciting, all making for a very enjoyable medieval action movie. What makes this even more impressive is that it is actually based on a true story. I’m certain the story was embellished for the screen, and what we saw was not 100% historically accurate, but I still enjoyed it.

Bottom Line: There sure were a lot of actors from In Order of Disappearance in The Last King

A Man Called Ove – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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A Man Called Ove is based the book by Fredrik Backman and starred Rolf Lassgård as Ove, a grumpy old Swedish widower and Bahar Pars as Parvaneh, his new neighbour, a pregnant woman from Persia.  Ove is a typical “grumpy old man”, he fusses about his neighbourhood, and has rules that he thinks everyone else living there should live by too.  He works at the train yard, as his father before him did, or at least he did work there for today was the day he was told he was no longer needed.  Progress has eliminated the need for the old man.  He berates the neighbours unfortunate enough to meet him as he walks to his house where he puts on his suit, ties a cord to a hook in the ceiling and prepares to hang himself.  The rope breaks, so he heads back to the store to complain about the rope’s falsely advertised weight bearing capabilities.  Armed with some new rope he tries again, but is disturbed by the sound of someone crashing into his mailbox.  Parvaneh, her husband and two children are moving in, and her husband Patrik (Tobias Almbord) is not very good at backing up the trailer.  Taking charge Ove deftly navigates the vehicle into their driveway for them.  He doesn’t do this to be nice, no, he does it because their own attempts would bother him.  When the task is complete, he’s just to tired to kill himself that night.  We learn a lot about how Ove came to be the way he is through flashbacks, where we learn about his late wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll), how they met, and fell in love, and what happened afterwards.  Ove was really happy with Sonja, but cancer came and took her, and he spiralled away too.  As his backstory is revealed, you begin to change your opinion of Ove.

At first, I  found his behaviour somewhat funny, but ultimately he was just a rude, angry old man, but as the character was fleshed out and developed, you really begin to like him.  The addition of the neighbours was just what he needed to initiate the character shift.  Though Parvaneh herself is competent, her husband really isn’t.  We already know he cant backup a car with a trailer, he can’t hook up a dishwasher, and he breaks his leg when he falls off the ladder he borrowed from Ove (who did tell him to read the instructions).  With a broken leg he can’t teach Parvaneh to drive either, so Ove steps in.  Not out of compassion or friendship, but out of frustration at the lack of efficiency with which the family is living their lives.  Eventually though his assistance does come from friendship, and love.  Throughout the story, (between suicide attempts) Ove has been building up a circle of friends and softening in his ways, and we realize what a nice guy he can be.

A very well told story, and I’ll admit that more than a few times my eyes may have gotten a little misty.  I think that really says something about a “foreign film”.  If a film where you have to split your attention by reading the subtitles the whole time can emotionally move you, it really is a good film.  The plot may be a little obvious, it is a “feel good story” after all, but it was still a rewarding and entertaining watch, and I think it was really a bit more than that, I think it was actually a love story.  A rom-com almost, about this grumpy old man who you think no one could love, but eventually everyone loves.

Bottom Line: A Man Called Ove was kind of like a Swedish Gran Torino, it even used cars as a plot point!  Ove loves Saabs.

East Side Sushi – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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After working long, early days for little pay at a fruit cart in Los Angeles (I think, I can’t remember), Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is robbed one day and has decided she needs to make a change in her life.  She is also frustrated with her night job at a local gym.  One day she sees a help wanted sign in the window of a sushi restaurant on her way home, and decides to apply.  Having worked in restaurants before, but unfamiliar with sushi, she still feels she’s up to the challenge.  Starting in the kitchen working prep and cleanup, Juana soon becomes intrigued by the culinary concept, and begins to experiment at home, recreating the restaurant’s menu with limited success for her Mexican-American family.  Eventually Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), one of the sushi chefs takes her under his wing, and helps instruct her, which pays off one busy night.  Making dishes in the back room for the front house chefs, Juana yearns for more, but the restaurant’s traditionally  minded owner Mr. Yoshida (Roji Oyama) doesn’t think that women should be sushi chefs, especially if they aren’t Japanese.  In a feel good story, Juana learns and adapts to the ways of sushi as she struggles to overcome both the racism and the sexism of the restaurant industry.  When she enters an online sushi cooking competition, will she have proven herself enough to realize her newfound dream of becoming an actual sushi chef?

There is something about food movies that seems to draw me in, even though I’m not particularly competent in the kitchen myself.  I’ve never had sushi before either, but I do like Mexican food, so the premise of a Mexican woman making sushi but blending the foods and flavours of her own culture into the dishes made  East Side Sushi look interesting enough to me.  The story unfolded as predicted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This wasn’t a suspense thriller and wasn’t going to have surprises around every corner.  It was a feel good story that was meant to entertain, enlighten and maybe teach a little.  I enjoyed the performances as well as the story and how it was told, and I’ll also admit I was pretty hungry after watching.

The film hits all the usual notes and reminds us to take chances, get out of your comfort zone and to believe in yourself.  All in all, a solid little indie film that was worth watching.

Bottom Line: I still haven’t tried sushi, but I did go to a great Mexican place here in town last week.

War on Everyone – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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From the writer and director of The Guard and Calvary, comes War On Everyone, a story about two cops (Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña) who are lazy, drunk, disorderly, and corrupt.  They like to take any shortcuts they can, such as using ex-cons to do their work for them, and of course they’re out to make some money on the side all while living under the protection of their badges.  When they learn of a plot to steal a million dollars from a local racetrack, they figure they can swoop in and pickup the spoils of the crime for themselves while making the arrest, but criminals are criminals and someone beats them to the punch taking the money before them.  Really short on cash, the pair are on the trail of the money, but so is the original criminal who wants the money he stole back, and he may be more dangerous than they anticipated.

Watching the trailer, there were some very funny bits that made me really want to see War On Everyone, also I really enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s previous films, unfortunately the best bits were in the trailer and the film did not live up to McDonagh’s The Guard and Calvary.  It was funny, quite darkly funny, and I did enjoy the humour, but it just didn’t seem to “turn the corner” and deliver what I expected.  There were minor redemption moments for the leads, but not enough to make this a better film, and not enough to really make me care.  The plot was clever at times, but then quickly returned to insult humour rather than continuing to build upon itself.  The action was pretty good, but a little uneven at times drawing on maybe too many tropes of 1970s cop movies and TV shows.  The acting was good, but the characters were quite undeveloped.  We never learn why Skarsgård and Peña‘s Terry Monroe and Bob Bolaño were corrupt or what led them down the paths they’re on.

At the end of it all, there didn’t really seem to be a point which was the biggest disappointment.  I don’t know if the lack of a point itself may have been the point, but I think that hurt the overall film.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but if it interests you, I wouldn’t discourage it either.  There was a fair bit of entertainment value, but it just needed a little bit more to turn it into a really good film.

Bottom Line:  At least the dishonest cops are brutally honest in the film.  They say what they mean and follow through on it.

Solace – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review


Anthony Hopkins working alongside the FBI to catch a serial killer? Hmmmm…… and he’s a psychic?  Yeah, I was hooked by the premise of this one.

Hopkins plays John Clancy, an actual psychic who assisted the FBI.  Though he’s retired after losing his daughter to leukemia, his former handler agent Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) calls him to assist with a string of unsolved murders that look to be the work of a serial killer.  Though he clashes at first with Merriwether’s partner (Abbie Cornish playing FBI Agent Katherine Cowles) they soon learn that the killer is also psychic and one step ahead of them all the time.

Okay, it should come as no surprise that the killer is Colin Farrell.  If you’ve got a big named actor listed in the cast and they don’t make an early appearance, 99% of the time they’re the bad guy.  This isn’t really a spoiler because when his character is introduced to us it is only as the killer.  When we find out how he’s choosing his victims and why he’s killing them, Solace turns from a standard crime thriller into a clever, thoughtful crime thriller. The casting was excellent as was the acting, but what I really enjoyed were the visuals.  When Clancy was having a vision, the way they showed events that happened in the past and possible events to happen in the future was really well done.  In one scene where they’re investigating a woman found murdered in her bathtub, you get to see the events leading up to the murder, but you see the person splitting into multiple versions of herself as the events unfold.  In a foot chase a vision of the killer splits into multiple versions, each taking a different path, representing the different choices he could have made as the psychic follows him.  I thought it was a very unique way of telling a story dealing with psychics.  If something like this has been done before, I don’t remember seeing it, so I really enjoyed this facet of the film.

At the end I think Solace works because even though it can be brushed off as a simple crime thriller, it leaves you with something to talk about, but it’s something I really can’t touch on because I think it would be a really big spoiler.  It will definitely raise questions about euthanasia and murder.….

Bottom Line: Kind of reminded me of Red Lights from a few years ago, which I really should re-watch.

The Founder – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Oh Ray Kroc, you certainly were a ruthless one weren’t you?  The Founder tells the tale of Ray Kroc, the man who built McDonalds into the international, multi-billion dollar success that it is today.  Ray (Michael Keaton) was a down on his luck travelling salesman until he met two California brothers who had a breakthrough in the fast food hamburger industry.  Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) were happy running their single hamburger stand with their “speedy system” of preparing a meal in 30 seconds, but then they ordered some milkshake machines from Ray who fell in love with their system and their restaurant.  Ray thought big, he wanted to see McDonalds restaurants from coast to coast, but the brothers were reluctant to get on board.  When he endlessly pitched them a franchising idea, eventually they finally relented.  The agreement wasn’t great, as the brothers had ultimate say over a lot of the operation, including how much money the restaurant operators could effectively make without diluting the McDonald’s brand.  Ambitious, persistent, and definitely ruthless; Ray thought big, bigger than the McDonald brothers ever could and ever would.  How he took control, right out from underneath them was both dirty and brilliant, and The Founder shows us how he did it.

The film doesn’t always paint Ray in a good light but there were times I couldn’t help but root for him.  I think that Michael Keaton’s portrayal was probably responsible for that.  His performance was easily equal to what he delivered in Birdman.  I’m not sure if he’d be eligible for a nomination at the upcoming Oscars (I’m not actually sure when the film was officially released or how the nomination process works) but I’d say he deserves one.  Offerman and Lynch delivered equally impressive performances, and the whole ensemble cast really worked together well.  I was growing as frustrated as Keaton’s Ray was as Offerman’s Dick refused to grow the business.  I felt empathy towards Lynch’s Mac who seemed to want to play peacemaker and keep both sides happy.  Laura Dern played Kroc’s first wife Ethel, who was ignored by him as he tried to build the business (and as he found a new romance in Linda Cardellini as Joan, the wife of a franchisee).  I really expected Ethel to leave Kroc, not the other way around.

Kroc, when he was approaching the top of his game, was unstoppable and really took whatever he wanted.  He wanted McDonalds, so he found way to get it.  It may have been a fluke, and he may not have come up with it on his own, but when someone told him that the real money was in the real estate, and taught him to purchase the land that the franchises were built on and to lease that out to the franchisees he had the McDonald boys where he wanted them, he was able to control how the restaurants operated on the land which raised more capital, which bought more land, which built more restaurants, all while getting him out of the constraining contract and standards Dick and Mac had imposed.

Legally purchasing the name, the processes, and everything from them was a smart business move, screwing the McDonald family out of future royalties was a dirty move, but he did it.  And if you think about it, if Ray Kroc hadn’t done all this, all the planning, conniving, and backstabbing, we wouldn’t have the McDonalds we know today.  I would never have had the chance to eat a Big Mac being up here in Canada.  Ronald McDonald House and McHappy Day, which annually supports children’s charities, would not exist.  There likely wouldn’t be any Burger Kings or similar fast food restaurants that copied the McDonalds idea. While it was Kroc’s wife Joan who was largely responsible for the charity work, you have to admit, whether you like Kroc or not, his McDonalds helped shape a lot of the world we live in.

The movie was very entertaining, and very informative with excellent performances, especially by Michael Keaton.  We’ve probably all eaten at McDonalds at some point in our lives, but I know I didn’t know the story behind it all, The Founder was a fascinating biopic that really opened my eyes to that world.

Bottom Line: I’m pretty sure that the “Big Mac” was named that just to rub it in Mac and Dick McDonald’s faces that Ray Kroc owned McDonalds.

Hidden Figures – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Hidden Figures is another “real life story” movie, this time based on the true story of the African American women working at NASA in the 1960s working to put the first American into space.  The movie focuses on three women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) a mathematician, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) a supervisor, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) an engineer and their struggles to get by in the segregated world of the southern United States.  Following a successful Russian satellite launch, pressure to send American astronauts into space increased. When the Space Task Group needed another “computer”, Katherine was assigned by her supervisor, Vivian Mitchel (Kirsten Dunst), where she worked under Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and his team.  She becomes the first African-American woman in the team.  We follow the paths of these three women as they advance in their lives and in their careers.

Okay, I really enjoyed this one, and it was one that I had hoped to catch before the Oscars.  It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  The subject matter fascinated me, because I love space stuff.  I’ve got books about it, and newspaper clippings that my grandmother saved for me from the space race and the moon landing.  This was a look behind the scenes to see how it all happened, and I loved that.  Seeing the race and gender barriers slowly being broken down was great too.  This was NASA, and they were there for science, they were there to put someone into space.  They weren’t there to be racist or sexist, the mission was what mattered.  Or at least that’s how it was supposed to be, and for the most part it was, but the movie showed that there was racism and sexism.  Jim Parsons’ character was obviously threatened when a woman excelled at a problem he was trying to solve.  Kirsten Dunst’s character was more racist than she believed she was.  Eventually though, through strong leadership, those feelings were put aside in favour of the greater good of the job.  Kevin Costner as Al Harrison really brought that feeling to life. When he questions why Katherine is absent from her desk so often and for so long, he is furious to find out it’s because she has to run half a mile away to use the toilet as the only bathrooms in their building are “white only”.  The next scene where he breaks down the bathroom sign with a crowbar declaring  “here at NASA, we all pee the same colour” was great.  The speech that Taraji Henson gave about the bathrooms was equally memorable, even if it was maybe exaggerated for the screen.  That aside, you really did love when Johnson repeatedly showed herself to be the smartest person in the room at every turn.

My only complaint with the film was that I thought it spent too much time telling me about the personal lives of the three ladies, which I personally didn’t find that interesting.  I know I will never “know” what it is like to be an African American woman in the 1960s and I understand that these looks at their lives personalizes the characters and humanizes them and brings home the racism and the sexism, but I didn’t want to see them going to church or picnics or dating or putting their children to bed or finding a boyfriend.  I’ve seen that before in movies, I haven’t seen all the space stuff.  I wanted to see them calculating re-entry trajectories, building heat shields and putting rockets into orbit!

Bottom Line: Really a great film, and I don’t want to make light of the issues they dealt with, I just thought as a movie it ran a little long and a little slow at times.

In Order of Disappearance – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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On the evening that Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) accepts a citizenship award, his son is murdered after becoming involved with a vegan gangster called “the Count” (Pål Sverre Hagen).  Nils had dutifully plowed the roads of his small town after immigrating to Norway from Sweden, but now finds himself plowing through an escalating gang war as he seeks revenge for his son’s death by killing his way to the top of the criminal mountain.

Nils’ wife leaves him as she struggles with the depression brought on by the death of their son.  Alone, Nils beats up and shoots low level gang members as he tries to discover who was behind his son’s death, eventually turning to his brother (Peter Andersson), a former gangster himself who points him in the direction of the Count.  The Count doesn’t have it easy either though, he sees his operatives being killed and assumes it’s a turf war with a Serbian gangster named Papa (Bruno Ganz), with whom he had previously had agreed to split the town’s drug trade 50/50 to avoid violence.  He’s also fighting with his ex-wife over visitation times and the raising their son.  As the Serbians move into town to fight the Count, the bodies start piling up, and the Count’s son is about to be kidnapped by the Serbians and held hostage for the final reckoning in the film’s climax.  Of course the boy is kidnapped by Nils before the Serbians could get him, but there is still a final reckoning.  Remember that Nils is a grief-stricken father, so he actually takes care of the boy, keeping him safe and shielding him from the violence of his father’s world.  This was a very well done film on so many levels.  There was action, there was suspense, there was drama and even heart.  There was also a lot of extremely black and extraordinarily dry humour.  Each time a character is killed, there was an “in memoriam” style card on screen, with a logo to represent their allegiance in the story, which was a nice touch I thought.

Nils was actually a very relatable character for someone taking out gangland style justice, which speaks to the skill of Stellan Skarsgård.  He expertly balances Nils’ violent side and at the same time his vulnerable side. The character has probably never been in a fight but is going up against seasoned killers and criminals.  The film does a great job showing how easily an average person can turn into a systematic and determined revenge-seeker.  Aside from Skarsgård, there were quite a few other recognizable actors.  Pål Sverre Hagen was quite humorous as the Count but he also played Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki and was in The Last King (which I’ve recently watched and will review soon) which starred  Kristofer Hivju as Torstein and  Jakob Oftebro as Skjervald who were also both in this film.  Peter Andersson played Nils’ brother Egil was Nils Bjurman in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, and German actor Bruno Ganz has been in lots of things (Remember, Night Train to Lisbon, Unknown, The Reader, Downfall, Manchurian Candidate to name a few…).  The scenery and setting were wonderful, I really rather enjoyed this one.  If you are in the mood for a foreign language crime drama with quite a bit of a dark humour, give this one a try.

Bottom Line: We know this in Canada, but In Order of Disappearance reminds the rest of the world that you don’t mess with the snowplow guy….though Nils was less likely to block your driveway than he was to plow your car over a cliff…

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Never go back?  Well, if we didn’t go back we wouldn’t get sequels to movies that we enjoyed, though sometimes the follow-up does diminish the original.  I don’t think that was exactly the case with Jack Reacher Never Go Back (or Jack Reacher 2 if you prefer), but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first film.  That being said, I still believe that Jack Reacher can be a successful action franchise and still put out a few more good films.

Jack Reacher has been on the road, travelling here and there, righting wrongs, bringing criminals to justice and quietly assisting the army.  He’s stricken up a friendship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has his former job.  Communicating by phone, it seems they will finally meet up in person and have that dinner they’ve discussed but Major Turner is arrested on treason charges.  Reacher thinks the charges are just to keep her out of the way and prevent her from solving the mystery of two soldiers murdered in Afghanistan; soldiers she sent on an investigation; soldiers who were getting too close to the truth; soldiers she still feels responsible for.  Reacher finds the file on Turner, and inside it is a file on him as well, a file that suggests he has a teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) he never knew about.  Naturally the girl is threatened so Reacher has to bring her along with himself and Major Turner as they cross the United States tracking down clues and beating up bad guys as they get to the bottom of the frame-up.

I liked it, but felt it was turning into a family road trip movie rather than a spy/action thriller.  I signed up for a spy/action thriller.  Fortunately there was enough action to carry it, and it was shared pretty well between Cruise and Smulders.  Cruise as Reacher did have more action scenes, and more important ones, but Smulders’ Major Turner was quite capable on her own (Smulders herself was Deputy Director of SHIELD Maria Hill if you remember).  That was great, but I thought that the addition of their teenage travelling companion really slowed the movie down though.  Danika Yarosh did a good job, but the character herself didn’t seem to fit.  If the premise is that Reacher thinks the bad guys will harm her to get to him, and that Reacher is the best at what he does, does it make good strategic sense to bring her along with you?  Maybe once they’re “safe” call someone to pick her up, or send her off to be watched by someone he trusts?  The lawyer played by Rosamund Pike in the first one perhaps?  His old sniper friend (Robert Duvall) from the first movie?  Wait, he might have died in that one, it’s been a few years and I can’t remember.  Regardless, Reacher has contacts out there that he could call upon to keep the girl safe, which might have allowed for more action, more suspense and the the story to unfold a little better.  Who knows.

I think since we’ve had films like The Transporter and John Wick where the action has been amped up so much that action movies are continually trying to outdo themselves which is getting harder and harder.  Jack Reacher Never Go Back did a very good job with the fights, but I think the original was actually more “action packed”.  I liked the story, and was a little surprised by one of the reveals of the plot.  Not a bad film, but it played the “family” card a bit too heavily I thought.

Bottom Line: I liked Reacher a lot more when he drove a Chevelle SS…this one needed more car chases.

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