Tag Archives: Genesis Rodriguez

A Tale of Two Neesons — “Run All Night”

Run All Night Liam Neeson

by Gabriel Valdez

It’s rare that an actor becomes an action star in his late 50s. Liam Neeson was hardly unknown and he’s not among the tombstones yet, but he is getting pretty grey. To tell the truth, I was quite taken with Neeson’s latest non-stop action movie.

And if you’re rolling your eyes at that opening paragraph, it just goes to show you what a cottage industry Liam Neeson action movies have become. The references hidden in those three sentences alone have made nearly one-and-a-half billion dollars worldwide.

When making an action movie with Neeson, you have two options. Option one: stick to the formula. Neeson usually plays tough, flawed men exiled from their families. In Run All Night, Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon has a son who hasn’t talked to him in five years. His brother distrusts him. He doesn’t even know when his own mother goes into the hospital. An alcoholic hit man, Jimmy’s only kept around in his old age because he grew up with the gang’s boss, Sean (Ed Harris).

When Jimmy shows up to help his own son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), it’s not out of familial duty, it’s as a favor to Sean. Unfortunately, things go awry and Jimmy ends up killing Sean’s son Danny. Jimmy has to protect Mike and family from gangsters and corrupt cops as they Run All Night.

How much of his taste for these roles reflects Neeson’s loss of his own wife, Natasha Richardson, in a 2009 skiing accident may make for a fascinating biography one day. (Watch The Grey and try to separate the actor’s grief from his character’s.) There’s a reason he connects to these characters and plays them with such a protective and personal fervor.

Option two: undermine the formula. Neeson’s characters are often functional alcoholics. Make this one dysfunctional. Neeson’s characters usually want to live and fix things. Give this one a death wish and no hope. Neeson’s characters are usually charming. Make this one rude and despicable. Neeson’s characters are all expert fighters. In most other Neeson action movies, his size, reach, and how hard he can punch are on display. He fistfights with skill. Here, his only talent is taking punishment, getting beaten like a side of beef. These changes in the formula make the movie compelling.

Run All Night Neeson train

Run All Night is a pretty great entry into this cottage industry. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s filmed almost entirely on location in New York at night. It breathes and oozes New York better than most films that take place there, even if it cheats the geography a little. There are well-shot chase scenes in cars, on foot, through burning apartments and down the side of a building. There are fistfights and gunfights.

If there’s one problem, it’s that Run All Night keeps trying to follow option one and option two. While he’s on the run, Neeson is a dysfunctional drunk and a liar, one of his most challenging and unlikable characters in years. It’s also one of his best performances in these films. We root for him not because he charms us, but because we pity him. It’s a change-of-pace that makes familiar setpieces feel fresh. Yet, inevitably, we’ll see Super-Neeson at some point. Usually that’s a good thing, but when he shows up here it runs against the grain of the rest of the film.

While Neeson’s on the run, it’s captivating stuff. He plays desperate as well as anybody and here he gets to do it twice over – desperate on the run and desperate to reconnect with his son.

So what does separate this from Neeson’s other action work? Firstly, the style. If you like gritty, this is Neeson’s grittiest. This is Neeson’s third film with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) and each time out, the pair find a new sense of narrative and style to inhabit. Secondly, Harris and Kinnaman are superb in this. Between the three leads, a great supporting turn by Genesis Rodriguez, and capable performances by Vincent D’Onofrio and Common, this is as good a cast as you’ll find in these films. They cover over any weak spots in the script and make the strongest moments shine. Harris and Neeson, in particular, get a trio of scenes that elevate the entire movie.

Run All Night feels like it’s poised to be something more, but in the end gives us exactly what we expect. That said, it does it very well. It’s in stiff competition with a lot of other R-rated action movies right now. If I had to choose one, it would still be Chappie (read the review), but that’s comparing apples to oranges. “Run All Night” doesn’t excel, but it doesn’t disappoint either.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Run All Night have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Genesis Rodriguez plays Gabriela Conlon, Mike’s wife. They have two daughters. Patricia Kalember plays Rose Maguire, Sean’s wife. Giulia Cicciari and Carrington Meyer play Gabriela’s two daughters. Jessica Ecklund plays the wife of a gangster named Frank.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes, but only just. Ecklund serves to be hit on by a drunken Jimmy. Kalember only has a handful of lines to her husband. Mike and Gabriela’s two daughters do briefly speak to each other and to Gabriela.

3. About something other than a man?

Hard to call. The Conlon daughters speak to each other about hide-and-seek and ask a few questions of Gabriela while hiding from gangsters, so technically yes, but these are so few (a couple words, really) and so brief (taking a few seconds) it’s really difficult to give Run All Night, a movie essentially dominated by male characters and their relationships, any credit for it.

“Big Hero 6” is This Year’s “Frozen” (and might be even better)

Big Hero 6 flying

by Gabriel Valdez

There’s a moment in Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated superhero film, when I was reminded why I like watching movies with live audiences instead of in critic screenings. Young Hiro has just flipped the switch on his sweet, rotund, inflatable robot Baymax, turning him from a friendly caretaker into a killing machine. In order to exact vengeance, Hiro momentarily erases any conscience the robot has. The next time Hiro tries this, Baymax refuses. You see, Hiro’s lost someone very close, and Baymax tries to teach Hiro to cope in a healthier way than just getting even.

It’s a touching scene that offers a glimpse into how deeply emotional something as silly as a computer-animated superhero comedy can be. I glanced around the theater. Critics would have been furiously scribbling in their notebooks. Instead, I saw a mother wipe away tears and a father badly pretend not to. I looked further and saw this reflected across the entire theater. Families leaned a foot closer to a screen 80 feet away and cried. I’d already given up on wiping away my own tears.

As an adaptation from a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 is hilarious and full of creative action. It’s colorfully, brightly animated, written for both children and adults, and let me repeat: it is incredibly funny. It’s also a tremendous film about coping with loss, one of the most difficult subjects to talk about with children.

Big Hero 6 mid

Hiro is a child prodigy. He invents robots in a California-Japan mishmash of a city called San Fransokyo. He’s content to hustle robot fighting leagues until older brother Tadashi inspires him toward college. Hiro is putting it all together until one key cog comes loose, and everything is taken from him. All Hiro is left with is a clue about the man responsible, and his brother’s robotic personal healthcare assistant Baymax, as large and squishy as he is well-meaning.

The two follow the clue, recruiting help from Hiro’s inventor friends and, once they realize they’re out of their depth, recasting themselves as a team of superheroes with Baymax at the center.

If you’ll follow me on a tangent, Disney (like Pixar) runs a short animated film before each feature. Big Hero 6 gives us a treat with “Feast.” It’s the story of a dog rescued off the street who changes the direction of a man’s life. It is easily the best pairing of animated short and feature film either Pixar or Disney has ever made – “Feast” sets the theme and level of emotion for the bigger film that follows. What is Baymax, after all, if not a rescue? Take away the central mystery and the villain and the superheroics, and the emotional effect Baymax’s innocence and unconditional loyalty have on Hiro’s life are much the same.

Big Hero 6 hairy baby

Let’s get to that headline, though. How is superhero adventure Big Hero 6 like fantasy musical Frozen? There’s no singing, there’s no dancing, no talking snowmen or ice palaces. And yet, I felt the same way coming out of both of them. Endorphins had been kicking in the whole movie, I felt happier coming out than when I went in, and I’d been taken on a very complete emotional journey. I’m still feeling overwhelmed and incredibly charged by Big Hero 6 even as I edit this a day later.

Neither Disney film is a cinematic marvel, and they each lack the polish of a Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon) or proper Pixar (Brave) movie. Yet Big Hero 6 and Frozen are both more rough-and-tumble creative propositions, less finely tuned and more willing to make mistakes. They each bite off more than they can chew, yet find a way to rise to the occasion. They each make up for some occasionally simplified animation with well-defined characters, improvised elements, and plots that are incredibly full of heart. If there were an Oscar for Best Crowd Pleaser, the two Disney animations would walk away with it two years running.

The Big Hero 6 by the way? That team consists of African-American, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Latin-American, and robot characters. Three men, two women, one robot. Including more diverse casts of characters not only provides a wider range of role models for children to look up to, it’s also one of the easiest ways of making the world of a film feel bigger and more real. It’s one less suspension of disbelief rested on an audience’s shoulders. Given the response I saw, I’d say it works.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Big Hero 6 have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Two of the heroes are GoGo, voiced by Jamie Chung, and Honey Lemon, voiced by Genesis Rodriguez. (They all have silly names like that. The hero’s name is Hiro, for godssakes, although that’s lifted from Snow Crash). There’s also Hiro’s guardian, his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. They talk about science and technology, plan how to foil a villain, and argue over whether they’ll make it out of precarious situations. They also engage in group conversations in which women and men address the group at large.

As I was researching the film, I found an early interview indicating GoGo and Honey Lemon would have a petty rivalry over the boys’ attentions. Somewhere along the line, that got ditched, and I couldn’t be happier. Who are they without that petty rivalry? They’re both inventors, geniuses, technically apt, and good in a fight. GoGo is a laconic daredevil, Honey Lemon a stylish nerd.

When they become superheroes, GoGo uses magnetic levitation roller blades and hurls discs at enemies as if she saw Tron and took it as a challenge. Honey Lemon enters chemical formulas onto a keypad on her purse, which then dispenses the correct concoction. She can toss a ball of ice, sticky goo, or hardened shields at a moment’s notice.

As for the men, Wasabi has energy swords and Fred can jump high and breathe fire. That’s fun and all, but the women are far more exciting. GoGo’s scenes offer a lot of high-speed movement and stunts. Since Honey Lemon uses chemical reactions to fight, you don’t exactly know what she’s going to do – that always makes for an intriguing brand of action. Yeah, she uses her purse, but a purse that creates chemical reactions at will to let you fight as you want? Hell, I walked out of the theater wanting one of those.

Big Hero 6 GoGo

I’ll admit, GoGo is now one of my favorite superheroes. At one point, she tells a fretting Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) to “Woman up.” This later becomes a catchphrase she uses when she does something especially superheroic. I imagine my niece running around and shouting, “Woman up,” treating the phrase as the absolute essence of toughness and bravery. That is an incredibly big deal.

Additionally, on that diversity I mentioned earlier – Big Hero 6 is based on a Japanese comic in which nearly all the characters are Japanese. Obviously, that’s going to change in an American adaptation. It’s just what happens, and the same thing happens in reverse when American material is adapted in other countries. There’s nothing wrong with that. Cultures adapt and cast specifically to speak to their own demographics.

In this adaptation, however, Hiro’s family is Japanese, GoGo is Korean, Honey Lemon is Latin-American, Wasabi is African-American, and Fred is Caucasian. Where Frozen tackles issues of gender equality head-on and makes it an issue for certain characters, in Big Hero 6, no one ever has an attitude that someone can’t do something because of ethnicity or gender. It’s never even mentioned.

Both approaches are valuable. Frozen forces audience members to confront the way in which traditional media presents women as weak, helpless, and in need of saving. In Big Hero 6, equality just seems an everyday normality, and you get to spend two hours experiencing what that world is like.

That in itself is a powerful statement, and I can’t applaud the multitude of writers, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, and casting director Jamie Sparer Roberts enough for how they designed this cast and these characters.

As moving as the film is itself, it’s even more extraordinary when you take into account how rare an approach to casting and character treatment this is in something that cost $165 million to make. I can’t recall a big-budget film ever doing diversity this well. Period.

Big Hero 6 team