The Commuter (2018)

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A typical set up of mysterious question and the capable Irish action star come together on a plane…sorry train this time but in fact it’s not as bad as you’d think. Sure it has flaws and is something akin to what we’ve seen before but it’s a silly delight.

Serial commuter, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is used to familiar faces and the hustle and bustle of travelling back and forth through New York but this one day sees him approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him there’s $25’000 hidden away, plus a further $75’000 if he works out who doesn’t belong on the train before it reaches the end of the line.

From the trailer alone; I guffawed at the typical Liam Neeson vehicle we’re now used to see him starring in. Gladly it surprised me and was a more enjoyable flick than the generic trashy kind of movie I was expecting to witness. That isn’t to say that’s a fantastically well made film that can blow your mind but it’s damn entertaining and comes with carriage loads of thrills to keep the film chugging along nicely.

Director of reasonable shark thriller ‘The Shallows’ and previous Neeson feature ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra manages to keep the film from derailing for the majority of the thriller outing. There’s a neat set up in the repetitive routine of Michael’s morning and the character introductions are all well and good, nothing special but there’s enough going on to set up the oncoming mystery to be solved. It’s in the strained searching of an unnamed passenger that the film hits a nice stride, as we too attempt to uncover the missing puzzle piece.

There are some downright dumb moments, where actions taken feel forced or action set ups fill the CGI quota and big spectacle box is ticked but the unexpected pleasure is in the storytelling of what the heck is going on and who Michael is trying desperately to find. There are a few twists along the way and some are ones I didn’t see but one quite big reveal is quite an obvious one but it didn’t take away from the fun I had in watching this movie unfold.

A train full of passengers makes for a great cast of characters and it’s these many faces of possible suspects that create the best aspect of the film. Neeson himself is in a role well tailored to him by now and he has the gruff charisma that makes Michael a believable figure to lead the way. Farmiga is a fantastic actor and this possible sinister presence she carries suits her down to the zebra striped shoes she wears. Even the sound of her voice on the phone carries a mysterious air of calm and danger. Jonathan Banks, Roland Moller and Shazad Latif are interesting in their roles of possible players knowing more than they let on; in the sense they are thrust forward a lot more as people to keep an eye on. I won’t go on much more as I feel more cast chatter could spoil the reveals of the movie but it’s a ensemble that work together greatly, in a mostly single set narrative.

This shuttling train thriller has more intrigue and whodunnit suspense than last years ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Who would have thought that Neeson on a Train would be more engaging and mysterious than an Agatha Christie classic!? Not me, but it truly is a fun and exciting popcorn movie.

7/10

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A Monster Calls (2017)

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Thematically powerful with a strong emotional message, this is not a typical fantasy film. It’s better than that, cleverly balancing a talking tree with stunning animation sequences whilst retaining the necessary coming of age narrative.

Artistic Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) tries coping with his terminally ill mum Lizzie (Felicity Jones), being beaten up at school and now a huge yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) is arriving at specific times to deliver three stories to him. These tales may eventually help Conor in revealing his own truth and understanding more.

Patrick Ness’ novel written from an idea by Siobhan Dowd who died of cancer before completing the book, is a fabulously rich story with a central tug of grief that is handled very well. Ness who also wrote this screenplay ensures the interpretation of the Monster’s stories are clear enough to transfer to Conor’s real life. It’s just a really smartly told plot that keeps you interested and attached.

The water colour animations that arrive with each story are creative, bold and quite dark too. This weaving of human complexity within these sequences are engaging and lifts the film even higher. The CGI and mo-cap of the tree monster is great also, thin branches or wisps of wood curling round items add to the fantastical element, he’s an interesting coach for Conor, looking brutish and menacing but having a kind heart within his trunk.

I’ll openly admit that I found the movie emotional, it never reached that overly sentimental try-hard point. Yes it does go towards that area but the way director and writer handle the subject matter keeps it from being soppy drivel. I will also go further to say that I cried from watching this movie, the film is very affecting because you get wrapped up in the vivid world and it’s certainly a more adult feature than you’d think.

Felicity Jones is gripping during the movie, her condition gets bleak and she becomes a paler gaunter figure but still keeps hold of a hopeful glint in her eye, making her a likeable and strong mother figure. Sigourney Weaver like the witch in the first tale is a see-saw of characteristics but one, ultimately that you know will be good. Liam Neeson’s work playing the booming monster is perfectly cast and he adds gravely gravitas to the part. The show is truly Lewis MacDougall’s though as he carries fear, courage, sadness, confusion and anger through the entire picture with spellbinding conviction.

Only the very ending featuring a book felt like a twee moment, aside from that this is a movie to kick off 2017 in fantastic fashion. The emotional vein running through the story is constant, touching and intelligent.

7.5/10

Ted 2 (2015)

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Foul and furry as ever, come to life walking teddy bear Ted is back in a more human capacity as he and thunder buddy John swear, get high and travel to New York. In a way this is a better movie than the 2012, it’s a got a more interesting scope and there are funnier sequences involved in the madness of unsurprising dumb frat boy humour.

John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), now divorced is still best buds with cursing smoking Ted (Seth MacFarlane) who marries Boston lass Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Though as they try and adopt Ted realises he’s being followed up as a non human, property and therefore his marriage will be void and his life will change. The thunder buddies and novice lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) fight the courts to try and prove that Ted is capable of human traits.

The story by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild could have been dull and though it’s more of the same in terms of certain events, i.e the threat of Donny, they utilise on a grander more emotional pull of court justice and humanity. Amongst the often crap humour the trio of writers bring in that weighty theme of civil rights and apply it to a bear, which actually works. It’s an interesting step up to see where else they could have taken Ted and this was probably the best route.

Fight through the bong bombardment and other kindergarten comedy and you will find some humourous moments. The comedy improv scene is brilliant for just being so black in comedy, the cutaway of lipstick wearing Ted calling out for sexual acts reminds of the typical Family Guy style and John failing to cope with Samantha’s dope is damn funny, I don’t know why but Wahlberg sells the scenes as he clings to walls scared to walk home. On the whole, the film has nothing laugh out loud about it and I probably smiled or chuckled less than ten times, but for that audience of teens it will no doubt suffice.

Classier than the rest of the film, MacFarlane clearly jumps on his passion for swing and jazz to give the sequel an opening title of gloss and black tie pizzazz. Ted dances around showgirls and tux wearing gentlemen in a stylish number accompanied by a swelling orchestra. Generally, the film is fantastic for the music, either by Walter Murphy’s score which gives the movie a better sound or excerpts of tracks from songs and movies that play on comedy. The best of which is John William’s ‘Jurassic Park’ theme over the sight of a huge field of weed.

The film can be quite often predictable and apart from a few ideas that spark comedy of cleverness, it’s a dry repeat of what we’ve seen before just with courtroom drama thrown in. Though I may have to say that Liam Neeson wanting to buy cereal is one of the best scenes I’ve watched in a long time and Ted with John shouting law type lingo from the trailer is great. The New York comic con section is also well done in terms of being the big finisher for the plot to prove Ted’s worth.

Mark Wahlberg is a much better comedic actor than his serious stuff, in my opinion. There’s something about him where you can tell he’s having fun and so you do also. Amanda Seyfried is a funky addition, being a great similarity for John’s behaviour, her thread of not knowing popular culture is well delivered and she’s what helps the court scenes have more punch as she seriously speaks about history of justice. Seth MacFarlane voices Ted with the usual profanity and quick wit. Morgan Freeman on a voice you want to sleep on a bed of, does Morgan Freeman as the way to wrap up the film and sound informed.

Moronic and firing offensive jokes left right and centre can get tiring but if you loved or even liked Ted, than this film will be right up your street. It’s got a better story running through it and with a few well structured comedic moments, this 2015 sequel isn’t actually horrendous, I enjoyed it, laughed and would watch it again.

6.5/10

John Wick (2015)

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Driven by heavy blues and greys, this revenge thriller is near perfect in combining action, character motivation and just something quite refreshing. The central character is so much better than the typical Neeson vengeance role and the script has some funny aspects too that help give the film a different edge.

After losing his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) gets the gift of a dog but this connection to his wife is swiftly lost as Iosef (Alfie Allen) and his lot make their nasty selves known. This sets off the pushed aside background of Wick and it’s not long until he’s out for vengeance, striding past bounties on his head to kill Iosef and his father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Apart from taking the crown of cutest dog in cinema this year from JB the pug in ‘Kingsman’, the beagle present John receives is a lovely and emotional tool of the plot that serves as something different to spark the narrative into gear and it does so wonderfully. It’s actually a powerful little reminder of John’s past and a message of hope around the daisy flower but when that’s lost, the brutal way he’s beaten up in his own home and animal cruelty come together to easily put you on John’s side.

The action sequences aren’t overblown or needless, they’re artistic and inspired by great martial arts features. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch not only direct the bits of story in between with a neat touch, the fights are presented in a cool and stylish way. The term gun fu is a thing I found out and it’s applied here in a thrilling manner. Seeing Wick dispense of cronies with his gunning moves is exciting to watch, the art of reloading is also evident, actually seeing that someone can run out of ammo and do something else too.

This movie has a style about it, the entire look of the film is blue and grey, giving that hard gritty quality. That palette disappears for a while in a frankly outstanding nightclub sequence that utilises neon colours to pulsate through the three floor fight scene. Accompanied by bass and club dub step, this section of the movie is out and out fantastic. There’s a great number of moments throughout this battle of red shirted bad guys vs. Wick that makes you see how fine Reeves is and how well choreographed this movie is.

Keanu Reeves is a mostly silent figure, doing what he has to do with the movement required for lethal assassin Wick. He proves he’s back in the game as this character and can also provide emotional heart when looking over the past, his wife and the puppy catalyst. Alfie Allen drifts between sounding British, Irish and Russian which is odd but he plays the horrendous villain well. Willem Dafoe is a cool fine supporting actor who comes along as initial ally of John but then it becomes unclear to what he’ll do which is great. Adrianne Palicki comes into action from TV comic book kick ass fighter to big screen kick ass fighter serving as opposition for Wick in a paralleled fighting style to his own.

I do hope the talk of this becoming a trilogy is true, which speaks volumes because normally I hate the idea of sequels and such but this film deserves more because John Wick is a brilliant character, Reeves plays him with bloody and determined resolve and the film from start to finish is sharp, cool, energetic and surprising.

7.5/10

The Gunman (2015)

The-Gunman-posterIf you’re looking for something dynamic, then look elsewhere as this is not exactly the most heart-pounding action film and frankly look elsewhere for an action film in general. ‘The Gunman’ certainly lives up to its title with weapons and shots aplenty but apart from that it fails to spice up or be a grand entry into the hall of past-40 male heroic movies.

After an assassination mission is executed by Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he’s forced to leave and eight years later this past event catches up with him leading Terrier to work out who is trying to pick him off. With old friends and an ex-flame in the mix Jim finds himself killing again to survive.

The film does come with that ‘Taken’ flavour and that is in large part to the directing style of Pierre Morel. It cannot be denied that he knows how to capture his ageing masculine stars tackling hit-men and super soldiers. The flair in executions and bloody offings is multiple and entertaining enough to watch if you’re especially into that sort of thing, but after three Taken’s and three Expendables, the daddy (or granddaddy) danger man routine is feeling worn out.

It’s pretty clear that in both directing and writing terms, this movie is attempting to carve Sean Penn out as a new muscular action figure, the bulging physique of the lead star becomes more of an odd distraction in the grand scheme of things, why on earth is he so buff for being a sniping gunman, I guess Penn is showing off perhaps!? Keeping with the writing side of things, the story fails to be overly exciting or fresh, it sticks to a standard set of tropes and throwing in this attempt at political DRC work doesn’t come across as dramatic and deep as it tries to be.

Put honestly, I think this film tries too hard to be more than one thing, Terrier gets diagnosis news that adds to the mix of loves, traumas, trusts and mistrusts, explosions and shadowing threats. A lot of these things are all predictable anyway and the plot doesn’t waver from what you’d expect and piling a dollop of cheese on top of blandness, the end plays out like a Nicholas Sparks moment.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, a couple of set pieces are done really well. The Barcelona house sequence begins with suspense and betrayal and is filled with smoke, bullets and running about. The near end scene at a bull fighting show kind of echoes that James Bond vibe of secretive talking, public meetings/deals and bloody but silly deaths as someone takes a bull by the horns.

Sean Penn takes front and centre and is good as the brute force Liam Neeson role, wrinkled foreheads and shaky looks doing the emotional work when he’s not aiming or firing a weapon. Ray Winstone is the classic Cockney geezer in a meaty role as companion and assistance to Jim. Jasmine Trinca is little more than the usual damsel in distress sadly as she looks like an actress that could have brought more to the table. Mark Rylance brings that assured televisual authoritative presence to his role as Cox. Idris Elba, well apart from somehow surviving with dignity through a bench routine and stretched analogy about tree-houses, he has a minimal character to do much with. Javier Bardem triumphs as the best performer. The domineering unnerving swagger he switches on is tense and brilliant, it’s like the part of his ‘Skyfall’ routine, sleazy but somehow inviting.

This feature is just a mediocre escape, watchable but it feels long and unconvincing, a slight few high points are soured majorly by samey attempts at gritty action, a dull lead character and bad script work.

5/10

The Nut Job (2014)

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Nothing to see here but an unmemorable animation that fails on likability, visuals, excitement and plot. It’s one of those films that can interest a really young movie goer or someone that isn’t looking for much demand in the way of good films.

This South Korean co produced film released by Open Road Films sees a park in Oakton struggling to find food to store for the oncoming winter, they realise under the order of Raccoon (Liam Neeson) that they may have to work with the selfish Surly (Will Arnett) as he knows how to find and get food. Surly, the park hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and obvious love interest Andie (Katherine Heigl) work in the midst of a fake nut store to try and get the bags of food out whilst human burglars use this ‘shop’ front to dig under a nearby bank and steal money.

The only interesting character I thought had some merit was Buddy, Surly’s buddy the rat. He doesn’t even have one speaking word and more could be seen on his face than the guff that came out of some of the other animals’ mouths. A brief moment where he keeps switching sides to stare into Surly’s face gave this movie an actual nice snippet of how sweet and touching it could be and then it was gone. Mole too was slightly funny in the initial exploration of him sent on a mission during the day and being blind but then they kept on playing to it and it lost the humour. The problem with the character work is you don’t feel anything towards them, especially in the case of the lead. Surly is just too unlikable and his comments are never witty or funny to make you feel a strange connection to him, there’s just nothing really.

Animation-wise the look of the film isn’t anything special, in this day and age where other companies strive to make their films stand out this seems to do the opposite and looks like a hack job to get the film out there asap. In Pixar you get finessed detail with water droplets and hair strands, DreamWorks too focuses on the small things to make everything look real. ‘The Nut Job’ fails in having excellent cartoon creativity, the fire and water more than anything looks pretty terrible.

The score for this film is wholly underwhelming with no real kick or drive to it to make the sequences played out feel exciting. Maybe as a child the sight of squirrels and the vague resemblance of a energetic track can do the trick but for the majority it loses any spark and magic from the get go. Even the insanely catchy earworm of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ can’t lift the film from it’s depressing slump.

From obvious villainous turns to uninspired character names there’s not a lot this film really does right, perhaps now and then it has some alright slapstick moments and the dog Precious is quite amusing when she isn’t being annoying but even the vocal cast seem to realise the film isn’t a brilliant affair and they never seem to breathe much life into their characters. It really does seem to aim squarely at children with some red bird attached to Raccoon drawn and behaving like an Angry Bird, farts, multiple ‘you must be nuts’ jokes and all round easy story telling.

Sadly a sequel has already been announced to this uninteresting, messy flat animated drivel.

4.5/10

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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Overall a fairly standard summer film that attempts to deliver on comedy but misses that target. It has some nice thought processes, some relatively funny moments too but on the whole it is a comedy with hardly any laughs or to be more precise laughs that are scattershot.

This film’s plot sees a cowardly useless sheep farmer named Albert (Seth MacFarlane) lose his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for being said useless and cowardly. He plans to win her back as quite evidently she is the the best thing to happen for him and upon the mysterious arrival of two new western folk he gets that chance when working with one of the pair, a confident capable woman called Anna (Charlize Theron). The only problem is Albert gets himself involved in a duel with Louise’s new arrogant annoying squeeze (Neil Patrick Harris) and that’s not the only thing in the wild wild west that could kill him as he very well knows.

It defintley comes with the MacFarlane brand of humour and that cutaway vibe he is so known for with his popular cartoon show, ‘Family Guy’. It works to a degree at times with quick snap cuts showing something daft or gross providing humour but after a while it’s tiresome and the main issue is a lot of unnecessary crass child-like toilet humour. There is a random moment too that feels like MacFarlane wanted to dabble in odd CGI that is very reminiscent of the trippy hallucinogenic ride Brian went on when he took shrooms in ‘Family Guy’. The entire segment also feels like a Tim Burton-esque foray into a Dark Wonderland with floating sheep, a terrifying condor and plate eyes for Seyfried. This film ultimately fails on being that funny which is a shame as it could have been so much better.

One thing that really doesn’t help is the running time being overly long, with some smart editing and story work the film could have been snappier and felt shorter. It’s not great when a comedy can’t zip along like it should. The issue with this also lays in the clear predictability of the plot. It’s so obvious what the ending will be and where Albert will end up so to take so long to get there feels pointless and boring, even a few well pitched moments of comedy can’t save that drag.

The main thing going for this film that also sees the debut of MacFarlane stepping into cowboy boots of live action acting is that it has intelligent points and the star cameos that come now and then are genius. The clever core can be found in the negativity of setting up the Old West as a grimy wasteland filled with possibilities of death. The modern language and incredible OTT methods of dying get rid of that usual romanticism of Western movies and brings in a new interesting flavour. Seeing people like Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor pop up is fun and inspired in blink and you’ll miss it cameos that do actually work well.

This movie does look gorgeous and the opening shots of the landscape and in fact the imagery throughout is on point to making this place look amazing even if the whole content of this plot is to set up the place as a dangerous worrying place to reside. Of course with Seth MacFarlane at the helm you get some relevant stirring score as he does love his live orchestral sounds to accompany his work and throughout it does add to this genre, it’s just not enough to detract from the often stupid humour that treats itself as being smarter than it really is.

MacFarlane is run of the mill as an actor in this though he does excel at pratfalls and the numerous knockdowns he recieves are quite funny to be truthful. Charlize Theron is ballsy and strong minded as the incoming love interest and acts well opposite the buffoonish lead. Seyfried does as well as she can with a limited role though props to her for taking part in a new sexual piece of foreplay that looks incredibly disgusting. Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi are sort of annoying and sort of sweet as Albert’s friends and odd couple, one a virgin and the other a prostitute. Liam Neeson is Liam Neeson in the west showing that snarl enough times to make sure you know he’s the bad guy and Neil Patrick Harris has some odd vocal tic after sentences that adds to his moustached douchey persona, though he does provide one of the funnier moments in the well choreographed sequence at the barn dance set to a musical number about…moustaches.

It’s a pretty limp affair that only serves up laughs from time to time and it’s one that makes you realise just how much Seth MacFarlane should stay behind the visage of a toon, getting back to trying to do clever things for the Griffins instead of trying to reinvent the Western.

5.5/10