Action-packed US-South African coproduction with Denzel Washington as a rogue CIA agent who takes refuge at a long defunct safe house that turns out not to be nearly as safe as the name suggests. Ryan Reynolds, an inexperienced agent managing the bolt-hole, gets dragged into a web of conspiracy and ends up on the run as well. The two big names have the benefit of a strong supporting cast that includes Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard, some nice South African locations, and nonstop action. Washington looks good playing the experienced and deeply cynical agent who knows that in the CIA, nothing is as it seems.
A gay-interest movie that has won the kind of critical acclaim that takes it right out of any type of narrow lifestyle niche and places it firmly in the artistic mainstream. While it does have some echoes of Before Sunrise (1995), the overall mood is more intimate on both a physical and psychological level. Two men meet at a club, and a one-night stand builds into a powerful connection on which the clock is ticking. The pronounced sentimentality is without glibness, and the clear-eyed look at love in the 21st century manages, somehow, to avoid cynicism. Outstanding performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New, and a great effort from director Andrew Haigh, who has a long track record as an assistant editor on big motion pictures including Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Hannibal Rising.
One for the Money
Almost nothing is right with One for the Money, an attempt to combine the chick-flick and mystery genres. Katherine Heigl has been slammed by critics for a wooden and charmless performance as Stephanie Plum, a recently divorced woman who finds a job in a bail bond business, and whose first task is to bring in a wanted local cop who is also someone from her romantic past. Based on a now 18-book series of best-selling novels by Janet Evanovich, this has all the makings of a female-friendly caper franchise, but the weary by-the-numbers story, uninspired script, and Heigl’s inability to give her character appeal, is likely to ensure that we won’t be seeing Stephanie Plum back on the big screen anytime soon.
Following on from the success of Monga (艋舺), director Doze Niu (鈕承澤) is back with a big budget romantic drama stuffed with Chinese cinema’s glitterati. Niu is reported to have spent NT$300 million on this new project, which stars Shu Qi (舒淇), Ethan Ruan (阮經天), Ivy Chen (陳意涵), Eddie Peng (彭于晏) and Mark Chao (趙又廷). Despite the budget, Niu is not breaking any new ground, but playing up to the pop idol drama tropes that dominate Asian rom-coms. Niu takes on the role of a rich businessman whose mistress (Shu Qi) eventually learns that ordinary love (with Ruan) is better than wealth (and we all thought she was such a material girl). We also have to believe that Ivy Chen is fighting demons from her days on the professional road racing circuit. Whatever its absurdity, Love will undoubtedly deliver the goods as a Valentine’s Day date movie.
Bear It (熊熊愛上你)
A comedy drama from Cheng Fen-fen (鄭芬芬), building on the success of Hear Me (聽說) at the box office in 2009. The story centers on Peter, a travel agent down on his luck who comes up with the idea of teddy bear tours, in which much-loved soft toys are taken out on a journey for a small fee. Of course, things don’t go well, with car accidents and teddy bears getting lost, but these travails make Peter closer to his clients, who inevitably for a movie such as this one, include a young girl suffering from a terminal illness and kindly grandparents who understand the power of make-believe. Bear It is aiming for the laughter-through-the-tears vibe, and may very well succeed if you don’t overdose on cuteness first.