On My Way (4 OUT OF 5 SWANS): Writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot presents two delights, Catherine Deneuve impulsively jumping in her car to strike out on her own to change her life, and a terrific road picture shot on location in Brittany. Using mostly non actors in key roles, there’s a lot more to this film than merely seeing a ‘60s-era beauty as a still beautiful older woman. In French.
Blood Ties (4 OUT OF 5 SWANS): Clive Owen is my choice to play James Bond. However, in his first English language film, writer/director Guillaume Canet remaking 2008’s “Les Liens Du San” (in which Canet played one of the male leads), casts him as a cold-blooded bad guy pimp to Billy Crudup’s good brother cop. Canet fills the screen with wonderful performances by an outstanding cast, but the film is dark, unhappy, depressing, and extraordinarily violent, physically and psychologically. It closes with a short car chase that is the most realistic since 1967’s Bullitt, but not nearly as exciting.
300: Rise of an Empire (1 OUT OF 5 SWANS): We always hear about how brilliant the Athenians were, the cradle of democracy, Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and all that. But if this picture is to be believed, the rest of the Athenians were dumber than a rock. While their opponents in this film, the Persians, are bedecked in armor from head to foot, the Athenians go into every battle bare chested and bare legged. Worse is the desecration of history. Ignoring Herodotus’ description of Artemisia (Eva Green, in a fine performance despite the ghastly script and directing) as a heroic woman, this film shows her as a despicable villain. The film is little more than pornographic in its graphic depiction of blood-spilling violence.
Non-Stop (4 OUT OF 5 SWANS): Despite a huge plot hole at the end that it’s best not to think about, and a first killing that doesn’t correspond to the story, this is Liam Neeson’s almost-annual beginning of the year thriller and it lives up to his past efforts exemplified by the “Taken” series. Neeson is so good I wish he were playing James Bond.