Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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Wow….oh dear oh dear. I have left this little blog of mine neglected for quite a long while. I’ve promised myself now, that with a change in my job patterns, I will get back into a writing rhythm again and that will start by returning to this site and reviewing movies as much as possible. So let’s roll right along with the recent release of the Kingsman sequel. You can find my thoughts of the 1st one here.

Just over 2 years ago Matthew Vaughn delivered cinema audiences a fast and fun action spy movie that was more a Bond film than the actual Bond films are. To say I was looking forward to this film would play down my anticipation but I didn’t want to fall into that ‘over-hype’ trap so I just let the film arrive without overplaying trailers or talking about it a lot. Even without the over-hype this film deserves no hype, it’s fizzled out in comparison and trying too hard.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now living with the Swedish princess from, yes that scene at the end of the first film. After the Kingsman brand is hacked and attacked, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to Kentucky to meet the Statesman; an American organisation of spies. The two groups must work together to try and stop the mysterious rise of the Golden Circle led by deranged company leader Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Even with all of the flaws that come with this one, I cannot deny that there is still a bundle of fun to be had with it and as long as you flick that ol’ brain off then you’ll enjoy most of it. The super fast sequences, pacy backing music and silly yet brilliantly gimmicky gadgets all combine to create a crazy time.

I must say that the biggest and most serious crime of this film is not the annoying and frenzied camera work nor the muddling mess of new and old characters but the run-time, coming in at 141 minutes this film with all its whizz and spectacle actually begins to tire and by the end I must admit I was growing bored. Back to the first comment of frenziness, what made Secret Service so delightfully entertaining to watch was the energetic way they presented fight scenes, such as that awesome massacre in the church but here most battles are with more than 2 people or cut against other fights so you end up losing the focused choreography and instead begin getting a headache.

The story isn’t much of a change either, instead of Valentine trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with technology we get Poppy trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with addiction and the idea of legalisation. It starts off as an interesting premise and Poppy’s whole jungle like 50’s ghost town is a cool location but the plot becomes less creative and more stupid.

Egerton is back on form as the almost cocky yet charming and confident street lad turned suave. Strong gets more time on screen but mostly to sing Country Roads which becomes a quite sad note to be honest. Moore is a wonderful watch as the pretend sweet American housewife type with an insane and evil streak. Channing Tatum rocks up and does little more than his Tatum best then there’s Pedro Pascal who almost runs away with the whole film as the whip-cracking lasso wielding Whiskey. Colin Firth gets a mildly interesting arc to play upon his return which I won’t spoil of course.

This is a disappointing film to tell the truth without the creative flair and brutal nature of the first, it feels more like a kiddified rush with no brains and just lots of spare energy to burn up. It does have some funny moments and a few rewarding set pieces but with this golden circle scratch away the layer and you’re left with a cheap knock-off.

Oh….Elton John steals the show!

5/10

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

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The young adult movie phenomenon is now at its end, the closing chapters of Katniss and her (not so) merry followers hits the big screen and after a year wait is it worth it? My rapid answer is to say no. After what I now deem a well paced and interesting political agenda theme from Part 1, this promise of excitement and action never flies straight or aims true.

We pick up from 2014 with just strangled Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) coming to terms with the fact that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) may never be the same thanks to President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which leads to her want of killing the Capitol head and bringing Panem to unity. Now with President Coin (Julianne Moore) in the mix, Katniss must work out who there is to trust as she makes her way through the districts to end this war.

With three of the four Hunger Games movies under his belt, Francis Lawrence should know what he’s doing right? Wrong, it seems to all come to a dreary finale as this last film does nearly everything to make you wonder why you liked the franchise in the first place. I mean, granted I haven’t read the books yet but with this direction, there’s no intrigue or suspense and Lawrence brings the movie no pacing quality, it’s almost as if he just sat back and let the dialogue be shot not even thinking of how slow and laborious it makes the film feel.

Danny Strong and Peter Craig double up to take on Suzanne Collins’ well received novels, but whatever may happen on the page doesn’t all need to be seen on screen. The most tedious element is this almost Deal or no Deal game of real or no real between Katniss and Peeta that bores to the core. I won’t even go into the closing moments of the movie that had me cringing and laughing in equal measure of horror. It loses the political, conspiracy edge and is quickly replaced by predictable teen romance that taints what could have been a cool run of films that thrust society and its problems in the spotlight.

I always feel a film is best when it leaves the audience asking questions and making it their own by having their own interpretations of what could happen down the timeline but this Part 2 is nonsense and closes everything, spoon-feeding the audience so they have nothing to ponder about. It’s a real shame because after the grit of the first and the set up of the third, this just goes and makes me hate the whole HG story.

Not even the rare moments of darkness or grim action can save this film but I will go into the points that I enjoyed. ‘The Descent’-esque sequence of mutts in the underground escape is shot fast and cut like a madman editing for the first time but in this crazed scene of hell breaking loose it works well. The oil slick beginning was interesting before becoming stupid and Jennifer Lawrence gives Katniss that strong yet emotional female lead the power it deserves as everything possible gets in her way.

A lot of things ultimately feel lost in this movie, the editing truly doesn’t help us immerse into the story, it cuts so damn often that we never see who’s died and we don’t know much about them in the first place which severely lessens the impact of their deaths. The idea of uprising is so pushed yet lost to the wayside for effects and ‘Peeniss’ love struggles that when it does come back to the fore it’s presented so clearly that we can tell what’s going to happen a mile off, once again I haven’t read the books but I guessed most of what was going to happen throughout this film which lands like a massive weakness in my eyes.

Jennifer Lawrence leads us through this savage landscape with clear motivation yet troubled emotion as she flickers between determined symbol of hope to saddened lover and sister. She has become the perfect actress for Katniss and especially as she acts opposite, hopefully Best Supporting cat she demonstrates the raw talent she has in her arsenal. Josh Hutcherson does good with the evil brainwashed moments but then is nothing more than a loyal and romantic character for Katniss, so too with Liam Hemsworth’s Gale that is still one of the most dull characters. Woody Harrelson brings much needed laughter in the little things he does or says, Elizabeth Banks is apparently not in the last book and nor was she really needed in this movie, only giving the costuming department more work to do. Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore battle it out as opposing leaders and do in fact give interesting moments about right and wrong in their equal flawed beliefs but for me the bittersweet aspect was seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last ever film still showing that with even a small role he possessed the acting magic many can but dream of.

I can’t say I hated this film but I most defintley didn’t like it either. It suffers under a heavy amount of dragging, laughable writing and how it’s shown and as everything watched over three years boils down to this, we lift the lid to a Capitol whimper.

5.5/10

Still Alice (2015)

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Emotional, powerful and wonderful, ‘Still Alice’ doesn’t dumb down or soften the dramatic narrative of a character with a mental illness, it shows all the strengths of Alice with a lot of the low points of suffering with her condition. Adding to this delicate strong story is a stunning performance from Moore that makes the film hit even harder.

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a professor of linguists and a thriving working woman with three children and a busy husband, John (Alec Baldwin). Alice learns that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease and her world and future is immediately tested as she tries memorising words, keeping on top of lectures and being present with her family.

The story is brave and quite unflinching and for this worrying disease it needs to be. Based on the novel by Lisa Genova you see how character can be tested when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The plot is fantastic in not making the entire thing a sob fest and making you feel pity for Alice, it shows the side of human nature that powers through, the will and reserve to try and stay positive and Alice at times does indeed try and be strong and make quips about her condition.

Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer joined together for the screenplay and directorial duties and they present a brilliant film. Credit too has to go to Glatzer who was suffering with ALS and couldn’t speak during shooting so used technology to talk to crew and cast. He has now passed but I’m sure he’d be proud of the work he and Westmoreland created. The soft look to a lot of the film makes the film more touching and real, their use of flashbacks to younger times as photographs are looked at are short but poignant in making you realise the horror of losing track of your life. The majority of the film does focus on Alice, even when other people are speaking and that’s a great directing decision as it lets you see her reactions, her processes and her progressions.

Alzheimer’s is something I am admittedly terrified of, memory loss and just forgetting yourself and the people around you is a generally scary thought. The film brings up those senses of dark absence spots in your mind a lot, forgetting little things to not knowing the layout of your own home. It’s an emotional film and it does make you more aware of this condition which Alice beautifully states is worse than cancer, maybe hard but fair in the grand scheme of things when she goes on to say why she feels that way. Alice is a character to root for, admire and cry for, her disease is a weakness but the film doesn’t zoom in on that, it tries and succeeds in keeping her heart in tact and the end of the film is near perfect in running with that idea.

Ilan Eshkeri’s score is poetic in the lullaby tones it maintains. A good portion of the movie repeats the similar sounds he composes and that works to benefit the story. The music in fact compliments the theme of the film really well, it’s present but not distracting, you know it’s there aiding in the emotion of what you’re seeing but it’s not too filled with strings or piano making it scream SAD. The score does shift pace briefly at a path that may open up for Alice as she watches a video of her past self instruct her to do something and that entire scene is tense and tough.

Julianne Moore is outstanding. The performance she gives deserved that Oscar, the way her character journeys from intellectual, assured mum and doctor to broken, scared and lost is phenomenal. The little looks on her face as she cannot remember words to the sobbing as she realises what she has all show Moore as the capable and brilliant actress she is. It’s a resounding role she immerses herself in and she doesn’t overplay the disability, she’s subtle and just right. Kristen Stewart proves that Bella was the bland factor and not her acting as she steps forth and acts damn well as the honest, dreamer of the family, trying to be an actor and help her mum at the same time. Alec Baldwin is great as the sometime supportive and sometime distant husband, the reality of the situation hitting later in the film as Baldwin nicely breaks the stern look and displays emotion.

A heart-breaking feature that doesn’t shy away from the subject matter even if little things in the story get lost to spend more time on the condition. Moore is fantastic and ‘Still Alice’ is bold, defiant and a life affirming film.

8/10

Oscars 2015 Look Back

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A fairly predictable night at the 87th Academy Awards, with all acting winners being the ones I expected and on the whole, ones I was happy to see pick up the golden statuette. The show itself started off spectacularly with showman Neil Patrick Harris doing his usual song and dance shtick, but he does it so well it doesn’t matter. ‘Moving Pictures’ was stylish, cool and one of the better notes of Harris’ hosting gig.

J.K Simmons deserved the win, his role as Fletcher in WHIPLASH is blisteringly good. The harsh way he tries to inspire a new musical icon is violent and cold and Simmons does well giving the teacher some light shades from time to time, either in marvellous one liners or a brief scene of sadness. Patricia Arquette was the out and out favourite all along, scooping up major prizes in the run up to last night, it was a shoe-in for her to get the biggie. Don’t get me wrong, I felt her motherly vulnerable performance held a lot of BOYHOOD together but I would have loved to see Rosamund Pike win, for shock value and doing something Pike had never really done before. Eddie Redmayne is someone I never really loved until seeing his turn as Stephen Hawking. He embodies the genius and his bodily acting as Hawking is outstanding, he thoroughly deserved the win and I was glad he got it, a sweet and gentlemanly speech too. Julianne Moore was the fourth out of four predictable acting wins but from the small snippets I’ve seen of STILL ALICE she looks damn good. Just have to see it now and watch what got the trophy.

Birdman got Best Picture and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu clawed up another two for Original Screenplay and Directing. I’m more than happy with these three big prizes as Birdman was not a bio-pic, it’s theatrical, clever, funny and excellent. I have to admit I thought Boyhood would win but luckily it didn’t. It’s a sheer statement and project but not an overwhelming treat of a film whereas Birdman stands out. The second year in a row for a Mexican to win Director and gladly it seems the Oscars voters are rewarding the talents and not just American releases. Just waiting for more female recognition and they’re doing better.

Glory got Best Original Song for SELMA, beating off earworm ditty, ‘Everything is Awesome’ featured in THE LEGO MOVIE, still a major snub for not being in Animation but it’s too late now! Glory well and truly deserved the win, John Legend and Common collected the Oscar mere minutes after their hair raising performance. The production value of the Edmund Pettus bridge and large groups marching on the Dolby Theatre stage was emotional and powerful. It got a rapturous ovation and tears were shed by snubbed David Oyelowo and Chris Pine also.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lovely Anderson film and the whole look is perfect, so it was 100% agreeable that it picked up all the visual elements, such as costuming and production design. The state of Zubrowka is quirky and sweeps through doll house like mountains, hotels and prisons in typical Wes design.

Neil Patrick Harris himself threw in a couple of good jokes and zingers but on the whole the show did drag on, his magic suitcase prediction gag was a pointless waste of time. The opening number and his Whiplash/Birdman skit were the peaks of his hosting role. Harris stepping out in his tighty whities was brilliant and perfectly spoofed. I don’t know who may get the honour next time but Fey and Poehler are full of character and have chemistry so hopefully they’ll move up from Golden Globes duty.

A long and sometime odd show, Gaga and Sound of Music being a case in point, but I still can’t shake off the Oscar buzz every year it comes around. Even when the films aren’t as exciting or the winners are expected, there’s something fun about staying up to watch the Academy Awards. See you again next year. #stayweird #staydifferent.

Don Jon (2013)

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This got the number 8 spot in my top films of 2013 and I guess after watching it again, I shall expand on why I like it enough to warrant it a top 10 status. It’s incredibly slick and sexy, there’s a fine amount of comedy and romance and though some ideas aren’t perfect the movie proves to be cool, clever and interesting.

It’s a story revolving around the pumped up Jersey lad Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who cares for his body, car, friends, women and porn. This last obsession could ruin the amazing chance he has with new partner Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) and maybe a fellow night student called Esther (Julianne Moore) could make Jon see what he’s doing wrong.

As a debut director, Gordon-Levitt nearly hits it out of the ball park. He does definitely demonstrate some charisma in acting and directing terms, the quick and smooth sections accompanied by spot on voice overs contribute to this stylish feel. It’s in his world of porn viewing that the largest amount of style and comedy arrives, the simplicity of the start up sound doing more than enough to crack a smile and make you realise what Jon is doing. This simple audio device is once again used to comedic effect in the nightclub scenes when Jon eyes up his next sexual partner.

It’s a confident film with a simple narrative utilising family, religion, relationships and sex. The routine Jon has is brilliantly executed in repeated images of him entering church or the gym, the panning shot of him and his family sat in their pew is a nice touch, if just for Brie Larson’s disinterest heightened more than at the dinner table. When a new figure comes along, some of these routines change and that has more effect after seeing them pretty much the same before then.

The whole debate of virtual sex and real dramatic partnerships is a great platform to base a film on and though it doesn’t go to outstanding levels, you do see both sides of the argument and ultimately there is an end answer to whether or no porn is brilliant. The laddish talk and fanastising of perfect women doing all kinds of things is understandable and so to is the flip-side of someone not appreciating them loving it more than them. Seen through manically edited porno videos to raise the adrenaline or the twee romance of movies starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway is a big contrasting tool to set apart Jon and Barbara and however obvious there stances on life are, it works well.

It’s quite a touching story at times, with Moore’s character providing more of the grounded human aspect needed for this film. Esther is there but not at the same time and it’s clear she has a sad background, this three dimensional persona in fact makes her the best character in the film, Jon and Barbara merely serving as caricatures of the Jersey lifestyle which is both suitable and annoying.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a twinkled eyed star, but to good effect he loses that good guy image and becomes a greasier gel haired objectifier with eyes only on stellar bodies, himself and the female species included. He opens up and becomes more real when around Esther and this is a nice character progression to have. Scarlett Johansson is just gorgeous. Now that shouldn’t be a acting review but it works in favour for her male gaze character. She plays the romantically inclined dreamer of homely togetherness to fab effect, in fact making you dislike her because she cannot care about Jon. Julianne Moore, as mentioned is the best character and she acts that mysterious past well, while all the time being frank, engaging and believable. Brie Larson has the moment to say what we all think after being quiet for so long. Tony Danza is a great way to show how Jon is and could be and his football and Barbara focused passion are very funny.

A fun and slick insight into relationships from differing sides, the sentiment that finally lands may be too predictable and sugar coated but the debauchery, sex, comedy and style that comes before, more than makes up for it in a thoughtful and satisfying directorial debut from Levitt.

7.5/10

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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There’s no unnecessary action filler or forced suspense, this film stands quite nicely alone as a separate movie with a humongous political undercurrent coarsing through it. Of course it is mostly pre amble material to set the stage for what will hopefully be the big climax of it all, but it never feels boring. I went in knowing it would be a first parter, that would likely present the beginning of the major revolution and I hoped it would succeed in strong character development in the absence of spectacle and I can confirm it does.

Picking up not that far after the events of ‘Catching Fire’, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in the underground District 13. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) want to advertise the fight within Katniss to keep the riots across the districts going and ultimately take down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. Katniss meets new rebels on the path to raise hope and save Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).

It’s a very different Katniss in some regards. The character progression and focus is pretty effective for all figures involved to tell the truth. Miss Everdeen is a more somber broken girl than she’s ever been, her appearance in the Quarter Quell has effected her deeply and her bond with Peeta is clearly the big character push of the movie. I think this film does a good job with highlighting the reluctant hero status of Katniss and through rubbled district visits and propaganda shoots, we firmly see the way this mockingjay is born and fuelled. Peeta’s character may take sidelines in physical presence, but the film is never subtle on making it clear his presence is felt elsewhere and later on he gets a great whack of powerful character change thanks to his time in the Capitol. Thankfully Plutarch gets more to do and under his now much clearer good guy status, he thrives as a propaganda master, his job has changed dramatically but he makes this one his own as much as head gamemaker.

The new characters are a welcome fresh addition and Alma Coin is a cool opposite in presidential terms, her leadership shown as feisty rebel leader and unifier compared to the sneaky tyrant Snow. Coin also serves as a nice flip side to Katniss, both are leaders with followers, both have ideas but Coin is a more assured role with fight, politics and a huge vision. Then there’s the propaganda crew who film and record sound for Katniss’ drops in other districts. They’re a pretty blank set of characters sadly, they try to give some personalities but in this part at least, they don’t come alive, even led by the media manipulating Cressida, there’s not much substance under her tattooed skin.

Once again James Newton Howard puts together a score that never overpowers the image on screen. It’s even more of a bubbling lurking sense of dread, the rebellion and political themes influencing the music and aiding the build up tension in quite a few moments. The stairwell scene is brilliantly tense, the shocks of sound that burst in on something quite unpleasant Peeta does make it sound like a troubling horror for a few seconds. It’s a film with an obvious thread of uprising drama, smoking rubble, injured civilians and grey uniformed district 13-ers come together in a clear picture of purpose and creation of power.

Francis Lawrence captures most of the film with a generous blend of handicam and then smoother moments, though this time there is more shaky camerawork that works to desired effect of making it feel more real, more uneasy and less stylised and that needs to happen considering the more raw plot this time around. It’s a very watchable film, even if it’s quite a basic set up for next year’s finale, thanks to some much needed light relief in Haymitch and Effie, suspense of Capitol breakdowns and character study in the case of Katniss fluctuating in her role as mockingjay.

Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic. I could easily stop there but I guess I should expand. She’s a powerful and dominating actress with a talent of slipping into raspy anger, streams of tears or quirky awkward humour whenever needed. Lawrence acting an acting moment in front of what is that district’s own green screen is a great pause in the drama and gives time for comedy to shine as Plutarch, Effie and Haymitch despair at Katniss’ shocking delivery in a propaganda video shoot. Philip Seymour Hoffman has gladly more to do and makes Plutarch more interesting than his character might otherwise be. The last film he completed work on and that does paint a level of vulnerable sadness over his performance which works actually. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are on form as per usual and deliver the right dose of funny to serious to keep their characters two of the best in the series. Josh Hutcherson has little to do, more than Jena Malone but still not a lot, yet he really breaks out the mould of pretty dull whiny sidekick at one significant moment. A growing cast but all play their part even if some are obvious uninteresting parts compared to the likes of others.

There is quite a lot of time when lulls slightly, Katniss and her repeated viewings to districts is like the tiresome whistle-stop victory tour in the previous film, a key character detail of Snow’s is lost in the exploration of the COD-like recon mission and on the whole this film does feel nothing more than a set up, no spectacle or dazzle isn’t a bad thing but it leaves you wanting more and Part 1 is a stop that needs to be made even if you know not much will happen during it.

Effective in character and subtext and even more successful in building the anticipation of what will go down in Part 2, the same time next year. A smoky shadowy teen rebellion drama that becomes a rather cool political thriller.

7/10

Chloe (2009)

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A sultry thriller that provides an attractive cast and a chance for a tense storyline but ultimately falls a little short of this opportunity by the ending. Perhaps a case of less being more should have been taken into account as this film seems to believe it’s darker and more intelligent than it really is, too much in the way of sexy kinkiness between the female leads and not enough substance in the plot help contribute to a small if noticeable dslip in what could have been much more.

Catherine is a married woman and a gynecologist who starts to suspect her husband, David is cheating on her so she pays a beautiful young lady to talk to him and see what happens, any news is reported back to Catherine and soon she’s tangled up in the stories of this Chloe and trouble could very well be around the next corner.

It’s a good film for the most part but certain sex-thriller tropes become overused and it can grow a little tiresome. It feels forced sometimes in the lingering of looks and moments leading to the inevitable hook-up between Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) and Catherine (Julianne Moore). It’s more troubling in the way it seems to be winking at the audience letting them know that a steamy lesbian sex scene is on the cards and however committed that scene is acted, it’s hinted to far too much leaving little or no surprise to it happening, which would have made it more impacting if it came out of the blue. The biggest problem though, is the latter half of the third act where it becomes stalkerish and over the top and the finale involving the twisted love/lust affair between the women is pretty bad. A huge preposterous event that could have been done in another more subtle manner helping provide more fear and/or emotion instead of the odd feeling it does create. It feels a little over dramatically stitched on after the previous more effective evocative thriller like atmosphere made throughout the movie.

The score adds greatly to the thriller mood of the piece and with the big orchestral sounds you feel involved in this dark and sexy world not knowing what is going on and just what is happening behind those big doe eyes of Chloe. It helps that she looks the part in being alluring, seductive and smart. The opening voice over leads you to understand from the outset that she knows what to do, say and where to place her hands, etc. All helping spell out the kind of character she could be and in that you feel the manipulative force she can control without ever looking that way, a worrying yet attractive quality, this spills over in that weaker final act where you see her contemplating in Catherine’s reception, the look on her face is perfect in saying it all without speaking one word and then she looks up as if eyeing the camera and the audience and the music layered over suddenly feels more dangerous than it ever has so far.

Amanda Seyfried is perfect in this part, looking beautiful and sexy and however her character comes off by the end you can’t help but understand Catherine’s attraction to her. You also feel trapped in her eyes and her words, a powerful sultry performance from Seyfried in one of her finer roles even if the film itself isn’t overly fantastic. She is at once conniving and assured but also vulnerable and lost to the desire of everyone around her. Julianne Moore delves well into her character and provides raw emotion in the affecting journey of whether her husband is cheating and then how to cope with this new passion in her life. Liam Neeson is good in a role that sits back to let the story of the two women expand and manifest. The bubbling friendship and disturbing attraction between the females are both believable and dangerous and these two actresses are the strongest elements in the film.

The city landscape of this film also looks picturesque and smoky streets help try and elevate the thriller tendency of this film, it’s a pity the last part of the movie becomes over the top and that other moments of thriller film making are thrown in and misfire, a cliche of obsessive fantasies and the third act twist don’t ramp up the film like it should and after feeling like it could have gone somewhere you can’t help but feel a little lost that it didn’t live up to the way it felt it was heading.

A sort of interesting look at developing attraction and the trusts of marriage that become more melodramatic than thriller based and by the end the tight tension unravels and leaves us with a slack payoff.

6/10