Movie reviews: 'Paddington 2' one of the most entertaining films of the year
Published Friday, January 12, 2018 6:00AM EST
PADDINGTON 2: 4 ½ STARS
The last time we saw Paddington, the cuddly, orphaned teddy bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, had left Peru armed only with a “worrying marmalade problem” and his distinctive red hat. Arriving at Paddington Station in London, he was adopted by the Brown family after an uncomfortably close scrap with a crazed taxidermist.
“Paddington 2” finds the bear settled in to a comfortable life with the Browns—Mary (Sally Hawkins), Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and kids Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin)—while trying to save money to buy his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) an antique pop-up book of London for her birthday. When the book is stolen from Samuel Gruber's antique shop, Paddington is accused of the crime, wrongfully convicted and jailed. While the bear languishes in prison, the Browns attempt to prove Paddington’s innocence. “Paddington wouldn't hesitate if any of us needed help,” says Henry. “He looks for the good in all of us.” One jailbreak later, Paddington is also on the case, convinced he knows who took the book but can he solve the case before Aunt Lucy’s centenary celebration?
With his red hat and blue duffle coat, Paddington is almost un-bear-ably cute. Gentle and good-natured, he’s at the very heart of the movie. Instead, it’s a good old-fashioned romp with larger-than-life characters supplied by Hugh Grant, in a fun pantomime performance and Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty, a hardened criminal whose bluster disguises his warm heart.
Mostly though, it about the bear. With soulful eyes, good manners and large doses of slapstick—he’s a furry little Charlie Chaplin, excelling in physical humour with lots of heart—he’s a joyful presence. Without an ounce of cynicism “Paddington 2” transmits messages of tolerance, friendship and loyalty but never at the expense of the story. Those characteristics are so central to Paddington’s character that the movie positively drips with not only the sticky sweet smell of delicious marmalade (the bear’s favourite snack) but emotional depth as well.
Add to that a delightful ode to Chaplin’s trip through a factory machine’s cogs in “Modern Times,” some expertly delivered belly laughs and you have one of the most entertaining films likely to be released this year.
“Paddington 2” isn’t just a kid’s flick, it’s a film for the whole family; it’s one of those rare movies for children that doesn’t just feel like an excuse to sell toys. #paddingtonpower
THE COMMUTER: 2 STARS
In the last decade when Liam Neeson hasn’t been making “Taken” movies, chances are good he’s been working with director Jaume Collet-Serra. In the past they’ve teamed for action b-movies “Run All Night,” “Unknown” and “Non-Stop.” This weekend they return to theatres with “The Commuter,” a terror-in-the-tube tale that is a mix of blue-collar action and Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train."
Neeson plays retired NYPD detective turned recently downsized insurance agent Michael MacCauley. “Karen and me,” he says, “we live hand to mouth. We’ve got nothing to fall back on.” With debts mounting, a second mortgage and a son heading off to an expensive school in the fall, MacCauley is presented with an unusual proposition on his commuter train ride home from Manhattan to upstate New York. Mysterious stranger Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100,000 to do a simple job—find the new passenger on the train from the sea of faces he’s travelled with for the last decade and place a GPS on them. No strings attached. He doesn’t know the person nor will he ever know what happened to the person. “What kind of person are you?” she asks. If he says yes, his financial worries are over. Say no, however, and he risks the safety of everyone on the train and his family.
A better question would be, “What kind of movie is this?” It’s not exactly fair to call it a thriller because there is very little in the way of actual thrills. After an effective opening montage that shows the drudgery of the 9 to 5 commuter’s life, the film settles into very predictable beats as Neeson paces from car to car, desperation growing at every station stop. There’s a twist but as twists go, it’s more of a straight line than a real bend in the plot.
This movie should have been called “Stereotypes on a Train.” Who could be the target? Is it the obnoxious businessman? The grizzled commuter? The teen doing an illegal errand for her boyfriend? I didn’t care and you probably won’t either. Things happen, bullets are fired and fists flung but the overly elaborate set-up—why didn’t the evil mastermind, who has absolute control over the situation, plant the GPS themselves?—and clichéd dialogue doesn’t leave much room for interesting action.
Neeson certainly knows how to play the everyman with a special set of skills but he’d done it before and better in other movies. Formulaic in the extreme, “The Commuter” is as interesting as taking the same route home day after days for ten years.
HAPPY END: 2 ½ STARS
Secrets and lies lay at the heart of the latest film from Austrian auteur Michael Haneke. One extended family’s dysfunction drives the ironically titled “Happy End” but it is the film’s attitude toward its upper crust characters that makes it both satirical and cruel.
From the top down is octogenarian patriarch, the fragile Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant); his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) who inherited the family construction business; son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a doctor who can’t help but cheat on his new wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden). Anne’s son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is a drunk who is at odds with his bourgeois background while Thomas’s daughter from his first marriage, 13-year-old Eve (Fantine Harduin), is a sullen presence with a cell phone constantly in her hand.
Anne is in crisis mode, dealing with an industrial accident at one of their worksites, a catastrophe that may have been caused by Pierre’s carelessness. Thomas is embroiled in a kinky on-line affair with cellist (Loubna Abidar) and Georges has lost the will to live. Their lives are disintegrating but, almost unnoticed, are the troubles of the possibly sociopathic Eve.
In French with English subtitles, “Happy End” takes a meandering look at a family on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Each character brings a level of dysfunction to the tale but it is the eldest and youngest actors who are the most compelling. Haneke regular Trintignant is a commanding presence, a man battling dementia whose moments of clarity bring with them a search for a way to end his suffering. Harduin plays Eve in the Haneke tradition. She is both innocent and malicious, a young girl who inspires both sympathy and fear.
All the performances are top notch but Trintignant and Harduin keep things interesting in a story that feels unfocused. The director’s interest in distancing himself from the story through technology—in this case cell phone videos that document some of the disturbing action—is very much in place, but fails to create the air of menace he has so effectively evoked in previous films. The final shot will send a chill down your spine but it is too little too late. The murky story, which also includes a timely but underdeveloped subplot involving Syrian immigrant workers, is too fractured to add up to a cohesive tale of family trauma.