“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.
Overall Score: 6/10
“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”
Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.
Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”
Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.
Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Here We Are, Again..!”
Based upon the 1994 novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by English author Peter Ackroyd, American director Juan Carlos Medina hits the big time this week after a string of independent, low-key releases with The Limehouse Golem, a British murdery mystery featuring the enigmatic figure of Bill Nighy in the leading role of Inspector John Kildare and a supporting cast which features the ever-reliable figures of Olivia Cooke, Daniel Mays and Eddie Marsan. Adapted from novel to screen by writer Jane Goldman, whose previous successes include Kick-Ass and the jet-black gothic horror of the worlds scariest 12A rated movie, The Woman In Black, Medina’s movie is unfortunately a slog of predictability, one which forces through style over substance and shock tactics over story, resulting in a televisual murder mystery which ultimately feels rather too silly to be taken seriously even with some eye-catching performances from its’ leading cast and effective gritty, murky cinematography from the film’s DP.
Put onto the case of the “Limehouse Golem” after a string of grisly, violent murders in Victorian-era London, Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare’s high profile history and attachment to former stage actor Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is placed onto the local spotlight. With Cree on trial for the supposed murder of her husband, Kildare balances his attempt to prove her innocence along with revealing the identity of the crowd-pleasing vicious killer, one who has striked both fear and excitement from the bloodthirsty London audience. With the violence ridiculous, the dialogue cliched and the final twist so obvious even a half-asleep audience would have got there eventually, The Limehouse Golem doesn’t quite manage to live up to the retro, murder thriller vibe it so obviously wants to excrete on-screen, and whilst Nighy, Cooke and Douglas Booth give it their best go, Medina’s big-screen debut is B-movie fluff of which memorability isn’t exactly its’ leading trait.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”
Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.
With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”
Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.
After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”
It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.
After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.
Overall Score: 3/10
“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”
Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.
Overall Score: 7/10
“The Answer To What Is Happening To You Is Here. You Five Are The Power Rangers…”
Of all the many facets of my well-nurtured youth between the mid 1990’s and the early years of the 20th century, Power Rangers was the pretty much the last thing I personally had in mind to be reincarnated and re-imagined for the purpose of reaching out to a modern-day audience, yet here we are this week reviewing a movie which not only conjures up a youth-infused opinion regarding the sheer awesomeness of 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a film which featured the iconic presence of Paul Freeman as Ivan Ooze and in an adult-fuelled retrospect, isn’t as awesome as originally thought, but also begs the question where Hollywood will eventually stop when it comes to flogging and remaking as many footnotes of entertainment that they possibly can. Featuring a primarily youth-infused cast such as Me, Earl and the Dying Girl’s RJ Cyler and The Martian’s Naomi Scott, each battling for screen time against not only their similarly aged peers but the famous figures of both Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks, Power Rangers is a tiresome and wholly predictable CGI-fuelled mess which can’t decide whether it wants to adhere to a Nolan-esque level of maturity or come across as just an overly corny cheese-fest, resulting in a movie which bears similarities to the latest adaptation of Fantastic Four in all the worst possible ways.
Straight off the bat, Power Rangers suffers from a fundamental flaw of having five leading characters who aren’t only ridiculously underdeveloped but are just outright annoying, with introductions ranging from a criminalised youth who finds spare time to wreak havoc on the local town to a bitter bully who thinks it’s fun to sex shame her friend and assault her boyfriend whilst wondering why each of these relationships goes downhill rather fast. Although I understand there is a level of flexibility within a narrative which centres around superheroes and aliens but it takes even the most optimistic of audiences to accept that the five youths portrayed on-screen are indeed the best humanity has to offer. Aside from monotonous central characters, Power Rangers suffers too from the same illness which has raged Michael Bay and Zak Snyder movies for years by including a final act which can only be described as an amalgamation of Man of Steel and Transformers in the worst way possible, utilising awful CGI in creating foes which not only come across as spitting images of the watchers from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, but are as threatening as a battery powered furby.
Whilst the contractual duties of both Cranston and Banks are both adhered to in some form, both appear and act in ways which can only be seen as dollar-ringed, with the former literally doing absolutely nothing in the twenty seconds he is on screen both in physical and digital form, whilst the latter taking the form of the villainous Rita Repulsa, a simply terrible villain whose penchant for gold infused items can only be regarded as a metaphor for Banks’ appetite for a Power Rangers signed cheque, thanks to a performance which bears similarities to Eddie Redmayne’s camp-fuelled monstrosity in Jupiter Ascending, just without a sense of memorability. Power Rangers ultimately is two hours of film-making recklessness which you won’t get back and being aware of the film-maker’s promise of at least a SIX movie story arc, perhaps we can live in the hope of their first offering being indeed the worst of the bunch. In conclusion, 2017’s Power Rangers is the type of movie in which you leave longing for the ripeness of a 1990’s Ivan Ooze in order to push it into a realm of enjoyment which is severely lacking through almost two elongated hours of dullness. Not for me.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Got Multiple Explosions. We Need Help Down Here..!”
Of the many cinematic pleasures within 2016, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon was a surprisingly entertaining thrill-ride, utilising the on-screen likeability of Mark Wahlberg to helm a dramatisation of one of the 21st centuries’ most infamous accidental disasters in a vein both poignant and wholly respectful. Whilst the one-two pairing of Wahlberg and Peter Berg shared mild success previously with Lone Survivor, the release of Deepwater Horizon last year has ultimately pushed the duo into a formidable partnership, returning this year with yet another live-action adaptation of a high-profile disaster in the form of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a recent example of terrorism action within the United States. With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman, Patriots Day is a thrilling continuation of the Berg’s recent cinematic success, creating a sometimes breathtaking drama which mixes white-knuckle tension, Michael Mann-esque action set pieces and an effective screenplay which amalgamates a wide range of on-screen depictions of many who were involved in the events which occurred during that terrifying day almost four years ago.
In terms of differences between the previous works of the successful duo, unlike in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon where Wahlberg portrayed real-life characters, Patriots Day allows the Boston-born A-Lister to fill his boots with a strictly composite character, created to not only fill certain narrative gaps throughout the movie, but also act as the walking cinematic guide for the audience, seemingly being wherever the high-octane events take place as often and as quickly as possible. Whilst the film uses its’ leading stars to a somewhat solid degree, the frighteningly startling and wholly believable pairing of Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the real stars of the show, using their intimidating capabilities to create one of the tensest scenes of the year so far in which they carjack and threaten to kill the life of a Chinese U.S national in a manner similar to feel and tone of a similarly haunting scene within last year’s Nocturnal Animals. Concluding with interviews with the true survivors and heroes of Boston, Patriots Day follows in a similar vein to Deepwater Horizon by not only being a entertaining body of work but by being one which is entirely respectful too.