Oh, those Russki crims
The Equalizer (MA15+) National release The Skeleton Twins (M) National release In Bloom (Grzeli Nateli Dgeebi) (M) Limited release
ACCORDING to a brutal and almost comically unconvincing thriller, the Russian mafia is so deeply entrenched in American society that only a lonewolf hero can save the day. These heavily accented villains, armed with improbably elaborate firearms, have corrupted American police and have completely taken over all forms of crime, from prostitution to drug-running to arms dealing. They have warehouses filled with millions of dollars in cash, and in an emergency can always count on bringing well-armed reinforcements in by private plane from Moscow, no questions asked. They seem invincible, but they make one mistake: they come to the attention of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington).
The film, scripted by Richard Wenk and based, rather loosely, on a late 1980s television series that starred Edward Woodward, isn’t very clear as to McCall’s place in the scheme of things. He lives alone in a small, obsessively tidy apartment in Boston, works in a large hardware store, and is charming and helpful to fellow employees. He reads the classics and suffers from insomnia, so most nights about 2am he walks down to a 24-hour cafe for a coffee. That’s where he meets Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute. They have conversations about the books McCall is reading ( The Old Man and the Sea, Don Quixote), but it’s clear that she lives in fear of her pimp. When Alina is brutally beaten and winds up in hospital, McCall decides to take action.
Suddenly this ordinary American is transformed into something close to a superhero, able to kill half a dozen nasty Russians, using a variety of lethal weapons that include corkscrews, without any effort whatsoever.
And that’s only the start of the mayhem; as the film proceeds we gather that McCall has a background with some unspecified government agency, and that he’s mourning the loss of his wife. But whether he’s working undercover or simply driven to action by his friendship with the unfortunate Alina remains unclear. At any rate, his obsessively violent crusade eventually leads him to Moscow (Putin beware).
It’s sad to see a star of Washington’s stature reduced to this sort of trash, just as it’s sad to see
The Skeleton Twins,
The Equalizer, the talented Marton Csokas playing the unusually sadistic villain. Director Antoine Fuqua handles it all with jaded skill, and at inordinate length (two hours and 10 minutes) but the film’s combination of silliness and extreme brutality is depressing. MAGGIE and Milo, the twins portrayed by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in
are not at all close geographically (they live on the opposite sides of the country) or emotionally. Yet strange bonds link them. In the opening sequence of Craig Johnson’s excellent independently made feature, both have reached the point in their lives where suicide is an option. In Los Angeles, Milo, gay and deeply depressed, a failure both professionally (he’s an out-of-work actor) and personally, slits his wrists, while his sister, whose marriage isn’t satisfying her, considers taking a fistful of sleeping pills. Both survive — in fact, Milo’s suicide attempt brings them together after a 10-year separation, and he agrees to return to his roots and to stay with Maggie in the comfortable home in upper New York State where she lives with her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson).
As Johnson explores the lives of these damaged siblings over the next few weeks we gradually discover more about them and what brought them to this point. Both were deeply affected by the death of their father in circumstances that are only hinted at, and neither one is close to their mother (Joanna Gleason), an annoying woman whose New Age philosophies are alien to her children.
Lance is an interesting character. At first he seems to be a thoughtless jock whose interests barely coincide with those of his wife, but gradually we see him as a decent, kindly man and realise that first impressions can be very misleading.
That’s enough plot description, as this is a film whose effectiveness depends on the gradual revelations of past and present traumas. Suffice it to say that Milo’s relationship with Rich (Ty Burrell), an older man, and Maggie’s with her scuba-diving coach (American actor Boyd Holbrook with a dodgy Australian muddy the waters considerably.
The surprising thing about this above-average relationship movie is its sense of humour, something you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a drama that starts with attempted suicide. Hader and Wiig are both veterans of the TV comedy show Saturday Night Live, and their consummate performances here inhabit the characters of the twins and make them painfully, wonderfully human. Not that The Skeleton Twins is a comedy, far from it, and not that it doesn’t have a couple of plot contrivances; but Hader and Wiig are marvellous in their roles, and Wilson is their equal.
Johnson’s achievement is that he makes you care about all the main characters, whose problems and hang-ups entwine during the course of this intelligently made drama.
accent), FILMS from Georgia (the country, not the American state) rarely find their way to our cinemas, so the award-winning is particularly welcome. It’s the story of the close friendship between two 14-year-old schoolgirls in Tbilisi in 1992; the Soviet Union, of which Georgia was a part, has imploded, and fighting is taking place not far from the city. But for shy Eka (Lika Babluani) and her more sophisticated friend Natia (Mariam Bokeria) life is for the most part untouched by the dramatic events occurring around them. They have to cope with the usual problems of teenage girls. Eka lives with her mother and obnoxious older sister; her father is in prison, for unspecified reasons. Natia lives in a crowded apartment and her parents are constantly fighting. Natia is the pretty one, and unwittingly becomes the source of violence between rival suitors and the victim of what to us seem strangely medieval customs, especially given that the events depicted are unfolding little more than 20 years ago.
The film, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili (who also scripted) and Simon Gross is small in scale but dramatically most satisfying. This patriarchal society, located midway between Europe and the Middle East, is a mess of contradictions, both sophisticated and primitive, and the place occupied by these girls, who are determined to stand up for themselves, is revealing. Beautifully photographed by the distinguished Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu, the film delicately evokes the beautiful but crumbling old city, its backstreets, its cluttered apartments, its diverse inhabitants.
Babluani and Bokeria are completely believable as the two teenagers who have to grow up very quickly, and a long, uninterrupted scene in which the former dances, alone, at her friend’s wedding is a highlight of an extremely engaging movie.
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in
above; Denzel Washington in