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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Lloyd’

Retirement ages for film stars are not rigidly enforced, and so the phenomenon of the action movie starring someone really a bit too long in the tooth for it has been with us for a while – going back to the late 60s or early 70s at least. Here we must distinguish between films which are vehicles for an established star who is simply refusing to go gentle into the good night of actually acting their age, and those in which the long-in-the-toothness is an element of the story: part of the point of the film is that it’s about a person who’s getting on a bit. (For a reasonable example of the first, I would suggest the 1975 film Brannigan, and for the second the 1976 film The Shootist, both starring John Wayne.)

The question, of course, is really which category the slate of films made by Liam Neeson in recent years should go into: Neeson himself is 70 next year, but while the films do sort of acknowledge the fact that he seems like an unlikely person to be beating much younger actors up with quite such gusto, the issue of his actual age is usually skated over. Nevertheless, I have been known to refer to films of this type as ‘bus pass bad-ass movies’, as they are usually about vigilante pensioners or something of that ilk. (Not that they are necessarily bad films, I should add: Michael Caine’s Harry Brown is a fine example of the form, and a pretty good movie too.)

Heading sort of into this territory comes Ilya Niashuller’s Nobody, which really resembles a Liam Neeson movie as hybridised with John Wick (writer Derek Kolstad and producer David Leitch have form with the Keanu Reeves franchise about a short-fused hitman). The first odd thing about this film is that it is a star vehicle for Bob Odenkirk; this is strange because I had absolutely no recognition of his name or face before going into the movie. Men in their late 50s don’t just walk into the lead role of an action movie; at least, not normally they don’t. (It turns out Odenkirk’s star has been on the rise for a few years due to his being in Breaking Bad and its spin-off; clearly I should be watching more on TV than just re-runs of Civilisation and Space: 1999.)

Then again, the sheer nondescriptness of Odenkirk is really what the film is about; he is a slight chap, with an interestingly craggy face a bit reminiscent of Bob Peck but also of Hugo Weaving. In this film he plays Hutch Mansell, a middle-manager at a small family-run factory, with a nice wife (Connie Nielsen), nice kids, a nice house, and a life which is deeply mired in routine.

This changes one night when burglars break into the house and hold Hutch and his family at gunpoint. At one point Hutch has the opportunity to overpower them, but decides to resolve the situation non-violently and lets them go. (Hint: this is possibly the last time anything is done non-violently in the whole movie.) For this he is treated with condescension, pity, and contempt by his in-laws, neighbours, children, the police, and so on: a real man would have fought back, wouldn’t he?

It looks like Hutch initially manages to swallow his pride, but when it looks like his young daughter’s precious kitty-kat bracelet was accidentally taken by the burglars, something pops, or ignites, inside him. It turns out that – not entirely surprisingly – he has a bit of a past, and a set of skills he’s secretly dying to use again. He ends up sitting on a bus as a group of drunk young thugs get on, quietly praying they’re going to make trouble (the audience is probably hoping the same thing by this point). Suffice to say some top-notch violence ensues as the drab little manager puts the entire gang in the hospital, but it could be that Hutch has made a mistake – one of the victims of his righteous fury was the little brother of Russian Mafia boss Yulian (Alexei Serebryakov), who is a homicidal karaoke-loving psychopath, and now looking for an equally extravagant revenge…

Watching In the Heights was frequently a joyous experience, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a film which was quite as much fun as Nobody: it gets the fusion of accomplished, gritty action and droll black comedy just about spot-on. It’s not as stylised as John Wick nor as vicious as parts of Taken, and it’s a lot funnier than either of them.

Bob Odenkirk is consistently excellent value in the lead role, easily carrying the film. Not only is he funny, but he and the film also know when to drop in a grace note of pure seriousness as well, and this is something Nobody handles rather better than a lot of higher-profile films. There are many films about men with a history of violence who are looking to put it behind them, but find this kind of life impossible to escape. In most of them – Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine films, for instance – it’s all handled in a very po-faced sort of way, with the protagonist staring mournfully into the middle distance as they contemplate the fact they keep getting dragged into mayhem and carnage against their will.

Nobody does it differently. This film is quite open about the fact that there’s a part of Hutch which just really enjoys messing people up and destroying property, no matter how he tries to suppress it. More than once in the film he finds himself in a situation which could go one of two ways – and every time, you can see him really hoping it’s going to be the one involving property damage and a soaring body-count. Yet you also get a real sense of the conflict in him – the glimpses of regret and dismay in his face after he gives in to his darker impulses are unmistakeable.

Odenkirk’s performance gives unexpected heft and emotional weight to what’s otherwise a fairly silly, operatically violent action film, but it works superbly. He is surrounded by a great supporting cast and the action is superbly staged, and the plot, while being a bit convoluted in the early stages of the film, also hangs together. I feel compelled to mention in particular Christopher Lloyd’s extended cameo as Hutch’s shotgun-toting father – it’s another performance which is perfectly pitched for this particular film.

Quite often your mid-range action film is fairly forgettable filler, slapped together according to a formula with not a great deal of evidence of car being taken over it. Nobody feels like the work of people who appreciate that a mid-budget genre movie can still be a great film: it’s visually inventive, witty in all sorts of ways, maintains its tone with impressive ease, contains interesting characters, and is very well-paced too. I enjoyed it enormously; for once I am crossing my fingers for a sequel.

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We have previously touched upon the received wisdom of the ‘curse’ of the odd-numbered Star Trek films and the extent to which this colours people’s perception of them (presumably it doesn’t apply to the Abrams movies, which are – strictly speaking – 11, 12, and 13 in the series). I think the existence of the ‘curse’ is questionable at best – I completely agree that by far the best films of the lot are even-numbered ones (II and IV for me; your mileage may differ), but it doesn’t necessarily follow that all the odd numbers are flat-out bad or worse than the less-impressive even-numbered films.

For me, the film that really doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the brush of the curse (I apologise for this somewhat baroque metaphor, by the way) is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, released in 1984 and directed (following much fun and games between the studio and the director’s representatives) by Leonard Nimoy. Does it reach the same standard as the films on either side of it? Well, no; but, as mentioned, there is space between excellent and mediocre, and it’s this space that the film confidently occupies.

We find ourselves once again in the year 2285, with the damaged starship Enterprise limping home following the climactic events of the previous film. The sense of contentment felt by Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) seems to have faded, and he is troubled by the death of his best friend Spock. His other close friend McCoy is acting erratically, too. Orders from Starfleet Command that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned and that they are not to return to the Genesis Planet, where Spock died, do not help his mood much. The situation becomes acute when he is visited by Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard), and they deduce that before dying Spock effectively placed his soul into McCoy’s body (which explains his strange behaviour). Kirk finds himself compelled to go against Starfleet orders, steal his own ship, and return to Genesis in search of Spock’s body.

Of course, it isn’t even only as complicated as that – for a Klingon warlord named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) has got wind of the Genesis Project and is heading for the new planet, too, intent on terrorising the Federation science team already on the scene, as well as a revived and rejuvenated Spock…

Star Trek III was written by series producer Harve Bennett, whose work is of course not quite up to the standards of that of Nicholas Meyer (writer of Star Trek II) , but still solid. The main problem with it, once you accept the mystical properties of the Genesis effect (raising the dead) and Vulcan, um, mysticism, is that it’s never made quite clear why Kirk goes back to Genesis, rather than just taking McCoy straight to Vulcan for some kind of psionic detox – not only is he completely unaware Spock has come back to life until after his arrival there, he presumably believes his body has been incinerated (this was the original intent, after all).

That said, the movie barrels along cheerily enough for you not to notice this on the first viewing. The movie has a confidence and swagger that the previous movie didn’t actually possess – Star Trek II was considered the absolutely final roll of the dice for the series (why else would they have killed off the most popular character?), and was produced on a minimal budget, with re-used special effects and most scenes being shot on just one set. Here you do get a sense of people realising that the old dog might have much more life left in it than anyone could have guessed, hence much more lavish special effects and sets throughout.

It also feels rather more comfortable in its identity as a piece of Star Trek, perhaps because Bennett had made an effort to steep himself in a series of which Meyer was never a particular fan. The script is happy to bring back Sarek, a recurring but fairly obscure character from the various TV series, insert a tiny cameo for Grace Lee Whitney, include some Tribbles, mention the pon farr undergone by Vulcans, and so on – although without letting any of these things get in the way of the story.

Perhaps the most obvious result of this desire to take Trek back to its roots is the presence of Klingon antagonists at the heart of the story. We should recall that this is the only major appearance by the Klingons between the end of the original TV series and the beginning of Next Generation, and it’s not surprising that the depiction of them is in something of a state of transition – though still depicted as ruthless, sadistic villains (‘I hope pain is something you enjoy,’ says Kruge, shortly before ordering the execution of a prisoner as a negotiating ploy), they are much more obviously alien (they appear to be stronger and more resilient than humans), and they show signs of the obsession with honour that would define them through the Next Gen and DS9 era. Plus, of course, this film marks the first real appearance of tlhIngan Hol (better known to us tera’nganpu’ as the Klingon language). Inevitably, there are still some oddities – everyone, even Saavik, addresses Kruge as ‘my lord’, which isn’t the case with any other Klingon character in the series, no matter how distinguished they are. That said, Christopher Lloyd’s full-on performance as Kruge certainly demands respect.

As does that of William Shatner, to be honest. Joking about Shatner’s ego, waistline, musical career, hair, and line readings has become so much de rigeur these days that we can sometimes overlook what an effective performer he can be with the right script and appropriate direction. Shatner reports feeling initially uncomfortable being directed by Nimoy, but the final product contains some of his finest moments as Kirk – the ‘Klingon bastards’ scene (usually edited out when this movie turns up on TV nowadays) had the potential to be unintentionally comic, but Shatner and Nimoy turn it into something genuinely affecting.

The one thing about this movie that everyone seems to like is James Horner’s music (he did the previous film as well, of course). Horner’s predilection for, um, paying homage to other people’s tunes in his work has been much commented upon, but he’s far from alone in that, and he makes a huge contribution to the movie – Horner’s music manages to make a spaceship reversing out of a garage feel like a moment of epic high adventure.

As I mentioned, Star Trek II was made with the real expectation that it might be the end of the line for the series. Perhaps as a result of the creative licence that gave them, it turned out, rather unexpectedly, to be the start of a whole new lease of life for the series. The Search for Spock is the first piece of Trek to be made in this new atmosphere of confidence and possibility, and it marks the beginning of a roll which continued for the next two decades. Not to mention being a very entertaining movie in its own right.

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