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Entries in Liam Neeson (8)

Friday
Mar132015

Run All Night

Liam Neeson shooting people. If that sounds like a familiar premise for a film, it’s for good reason. Over the last seven years, ever since Neeson surprised everyone with his transition into action territory with “Taken,” it seems to be the only type of movie the once respected actor has made. A man who was once nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Schindler’s List” has since built a generic filmography that makes him more or less a walking joke. Seemingly every film, from “Taken” to last year’s “Non-Stop” follows the same at-this-point worn-down formula, with each film becoming more of a slog than the last. “Run All Night” could be the worst one yet, as it simply goes through the motions without doing much of anything particularly interesting.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a mobster who finds himself in a precarious situation with his boss after, through some of the most contrived circumstances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, he ends up shooting his son. Once friends, that boss, played by Ed Harris, is now an enemy and plans on making him feel the same hurt by taking his own son, Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman, away from him. Naturally, Jimmy will do anything to prevent that from happening, which leads to one long night of shootouts and chases.

And I mean loooong night. Not since last year’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has a movie been so unnecessarily long in relation to the complexity, or lack thereof, of its story. Thankfully, “Run All Night” isn’t quite as long as that movie, as it clocks in at roughly two hours, but it feels about the same. Characterization and emotion is minimal, though the film tries to create some of both with amateur screenplay tactics—Mike is estranged from Jimmy, meaning he has never met his own grandkids, all the while he’s freezing in his home because the poor guy can’t afford to fix his heater, etc.—so there’s very little grab onto here. In fact, it’s one of those rare films where I was actually rooting for the supposed “good guy” to lose.

You see, despite attempts to make Jimmy a likable character, his introduction shows him as the boorish pig he is, as he dresses up as Santa, gets drunk, treats the kids around him poorly and then proceeds to speak to an attractive woman in what can only be described as sexually abusive language. The introduction to this character is so bad that it leaves a lasting impression that later acts of goodwill fail to reverse, though even if it did, a late film reveal shows the true cowardice and selfishness of his personality.

Meanwhile, his boss, Shawn, shows empathy and even a tinge of regret. When he turns down a business deal with a local drug dealer trying to peddle heroine, he explains it’s because when he did something similar in his younger, more naïve days, it led to too much hardship, as those he loved became hooked on it and he lost them all. He’s still a bad guy, of course, and has most certainly done or ordered people to do worse things than Jimmy, but the film, perhaps unintentionally, paints him in a better light than the supposed hero.

Simply put, “Run All Night” has everything backwards and its tepid action does little to hide that fact. Its action is accompanied by few truly heart racing moments and lots of far-too-dark cinematography, occasionally aggressive close-ups and shaky cam and shot reverse shot shootouts. It feels very much like action filmmaking 101, like what an amateur filmmaker without the experience to truly know what he or she is doing would produce if given millions of dollars to toy with.

Run All Night receives 1/5

Friday
May302014

A Million Ways to Die in the West

There’s a moment in Seth MacFarlane’s previous film, “Ted,” where Ted the bear makes a joke, which is then told again by another character in a slightly different way. Ted then remarks in a condescending manner that the character did nothing more but repackage his own joke and deliver it again. It was an ironic moment because MacFarlane, for all of his perceived edginess, has been doing that for years. Despite a setting that, in a more flexible comedian’s hands, should prevent the same old gags from reoccurring, his latest, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” manages to include more of the redundant, played out humor he’s known for in a shoddy looking movie with a poor story and jokes that are intended to shock or offend rather than amuse. While I’m sure fans will find something to appreciate, I personally found this to be the worst comedy since Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups 2” and easily one of the worst of the year.

The thin plot follows Albert (MacFarlane), a lowly sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has just broken up with him and he’s lost without her. In an effort to win her back, he befriends a pretty woman named Anna (Charlize Theron), who agrees to pose as his new girlfriend and teach him the skills he needs to impress her. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is actually the wife of the most famous outlaw in the West, Clinch (Liam Neeson), and if he finds out what Albert is doing with Anna, he’s a-gonna be lookin’ for revenge.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” starts promisingly enough. Similar to a film from the heyday of the Western genre, the credits play before the movie starts, complete with a stylized font, while sweeping shots of the majestic Western lands and a musical composition befitting of the genre set the stage for your senses. Unfortunately, any hopes for intelligent genre parody, or even homage, are dashed shortly after, the bulk of the film’s jokes coming from a mindset that believes merely hearing modern phrases and curse words in the context of the old West is somehow funny. When the first joke is meant to instill giggles in the 13 year olds in the audience who still think merely hearing a curse word is funny, you naturally assume “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is likely to put forth a minimum amount of effort.

And such assumptions aren’t only justified; they’re proven to be correct. As the film goes on, it repeatedly sinks to the lowest common denominator, relying once again on the most puerile jokes imaginable. To put things into perspective, a penis joke, gay joke and racist joke all appear within the first minute of Albert’s introduction, and the rest of the film never rises above it. Take, for instance, the recurring jokes about a Christian prostitute “saving” herself for marriage, which aren’t funny the first two or three times, much less the 14th or 15th times when the film still hasn’t let it go by the end of its overly long and exhausting two hour runtime. At one point, a periphery character makes a lousy joke and Albert turns toward the camera and asks why anyone would think what is being said is funny, the irony being that I had been asking myself the same thing the entire movie, as nothing that comes before it (or after) is any better.

If one relief comes from this film, it’s that there isn’t a 9/11 joke, a strange fixation MacFarlane has, what with it appearing in both “Ted” and countless episodes of “Family Guy.” One could argue the exclusion is due to the time period the film is set in, but such is not the case, particularly when he makes references to other films with non-sequiturs that differentiate themselves from MacFarlane’s television endeavors only in that there are no cutaways; they are instead just stumbled upon.

What it all boils down to is that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is lazy. Its jokes are obvious, like when it unamusingly points out that a single dollar was a lot of money back then, and many of them are in poor taste, like when Albert and Anna go to the “Runaway Slave” shooting booth at the town fair. There are a handful of deserving chuckles, usually when the film actually makes an attempt to parody the times, but those moments are few and far between and certainly aren’t plentiful enough to justify sitting through this bloated and meandering comedic disaster.

A Million Ways to Die in the West receives 0.5/5

Friday
Feb282014

Non-Stop

When a film’s opening shots consist of its protagonist prepping a hard drink for himself, it’s hard to not assume the events that follow will be a little heavy-handed. When it’s in slow motion, it’s also easy to assume that it’s going to be a tad laughable. But when he starts swirling the concoction around with a toothbrush, of all things, the thought that comes to mind is that it’s going to be ridiculous. Well, “Non-Stop” is a little bit of all three. The character’s back story is inconsistent and exists solely as a means to force drama and the motivation of the mystery killer or killers is worthy of an eye roll, but it all plays out in such a ridiculous, over-the-top way that, if anything can be said for it, it’s never dull. That doesn’t mean it’s good, mind you, but if you’re looking for a stupid Liam Neeson thriller where you can turn your brain off, I suppose it works.

Bill (Neeson) is an Air Marshal prepping himself, through the consumption of alcohol, for a transatlantic flight. He hopes all will go well, as countless flights before this one have, but once in the air, he receives a text message on his supposedly secure phone from an anonymous person who demands $150 million to be transferred to an off-shore account. For every 20 minutes this doesn’t happen, this person is going to kill a passenger. Bill immediately springs into action, but he’s up against a cunning mind, one that has pre-planned everything and saving the people on this plane is not going to be easy.

Liam Neeson surprised everyone and proved himself as a capable action star with 2008’s “Taken” and even showed he could carry a mystery in 2011’s “Unknown.” In a sense, “Non-Stop” tries to blend those two together and the result is a jumbled mess, despite the cool, if admittedly thin, premise, but the problems arise quickly once you realize the movie has no idea what to do with it. Instead of actually investigating the mystery, “Non-Stop” features what can only be described as an intense text war. He prods and pokes and tries to get information from the person on the other end of the incessant messaging, but finding actual clues happens almost solely by accident.

When he does make an attempt to reveal the texter’s identity, he does so in ways that makes the most transparent person in the world look subtle. His tactics are obvious, to the point where nearly anyone on the plane could see or hear what he’s doing; for example, loudly asking his row mate, Jen (Julianne Moore), to watch the screens that transmit camera footage of the passengers, the screens that are directly in front of the very people she’s watching. While the film does raise some palpable suspense at times, Bill’s far-too-direct methods essentially kill it, as it’s far too easy to realize that nothing’s going to come from his attempts. Late in the movie when he makes a redemptive speech about how he’s not a good father or good man, it takes every ounce of self-control to not stand up and yell, “You’re not so hot an Air Marshal either.”

“Non-Stop” is a turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy-it type of film. It demands very little with its simple story and could have succeeded solely based on its desire to be a popcorn film. If that is its intention, how can one fault it for being just that? But then the reveal happens and, without ruining anything, an out-of-left-field political message rears its ugly head. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the sentiments, it has no reason to exist in this movie. Why can’t the motivation behind the actions similarly be simple? Why can’t the perpetrator(s) simply want to be rich? The forced message in what amounts to a nonsense film sucks any goodwill one may have for it up to that point right out the window.

Much of this won’t matter for some of the more astute viewers anyway, as the eventual reveal isn’t all too surprising, so it’s likely they’ll have checked out far before it happens. If you’re familiar with other popular TV shows and movies, you’ll immediately know which passengers to focus on, as these stars wouldn’t relegate themselves to extras, and then it’s just a matter of time before you’re able to dwindle down the possibilities, though the movie does a good enough job of doing that itself with far too heavy trickery to try to throw you off the trail. We’ve seen these tricks hundreds of times before, so they don’t work.

Still, it’s hard to truly trash “Non-Stop.” It’s dumb, but, aside from that wrongheaded political reveal, it doesn’t aspire to be anything more. If the idea of Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson-y on a plane appeals to your senses, have at it. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Non-Stop receives 2/5

Thursday
May242012

Battleship

A movie based on a board game with no real discernible story is clearly the last sign of desperation from Hollywood studios that are bankrupt of ideas. With Candy Land, Monopoly and even a Ouija Board game on the horizon, cinema lovers can’t help but feel like their passion is on a decline. When I first heard of this week’s board game turned movie adaptation, Battleship, I, like so many others, thought, “There’s no way this will be good.” But I never imagined it would be this bad. There isn’t a single moment of Battleship that works the way it’s intended to. It’s an aggressively loud, utterly incompetent film without a single redeeming factor. If the film isn’t a stone cold lock for a Worst Picture Razzie nomination (along with a handful of other equally deserving category nominations), then I don’t know what is.

The film, in as far as a departure from its source material as it could possibly go, follows Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a former slacker who was coasting by on the generosity of his brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). However, after meeting and falling in love with Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), he cleaned up his act and joined the Navy. Old habits are hard to break, however, and his rambunctious behavior eventually gets him in hot water. He has just head out to sea to participate in the Naval War Games, but because of his transgressions, he is told that once he arrives back on shore, he’s going to be kicked out of the Navy. While out there, though, the participants in the game see a fleet of spaceships crash into the ocean. Upon closer examination, the ships fire upon them and the planned war games turns into an all too real war against intergalactic space travelers who are planning on wiping out the human species.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this same exact story has been told so many times, it’s practically ingrained in our heads. Only the most cinematically ignorant will be unable to map out what’s going to happen far before it actually does. But the derivative path it takes to the post-movie credits is so clumsy, hokey and nonsensical that other similar (arguably terrible) films suddenly look like picturesque masterpieces, including Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Yes folks, the definition of “suck” has been redefined.

Battleship is a movie that doesn’t just fail in what it’s trying to do, however; it actually manages to achieve the exact opposite of its intention. For instance, when it attempts to be funny, it fails and when it attempts to be serious, it’s funny. Any and all laughs to be had in this void of mental bankruptcy are of the unintentional type, but they make the film no more enjoyable. Its staggering inaptitude isn’t isolated, though, and spreads throughout every facet of its production, including the performances. Taylor Kitsch, in his second bomb in only a little over two months, is lifeless and boring, completely incapable of carrying a film. Liam Neeson, who’s barely in the thing in the first place, looks bored. One can only imagine he received the offer for the part after a long night of drinking and was coaxed into accepting. The most egregious offender, though, is first time actor Gregory D. Gadson. A real life soldier who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad, he plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a war veteran who is struggling to cope with his disability. And boy is he awful. While certainly worthy of praise for his selfless actions and sacrifice for our country, he nevertheless has no business starring in movies. Despite the cornball dialogue he’s forced to recite, his performance is one of the worst (starring or supporting) I’ve seen in a big Hollywood movie in a very long time, maybe ever.

The film, perhaps because it felt obligated to, forces in some nods to the classic game. The most obvious comes in a scene where the characters measure water displacement from computer monitored buoys to determine where the ships are. Shaped like a “Battleship” grid and marked with letter and number coordinates, the characters stare at a screen and fire missiles at the most likely location of the ships (“E-11!” someone shouts at one point, to which a response comes, “It’s a miss!”). It’s both clever and contrived; clever because it actually pertains to the story at hand, but contrived because there’s no logical reason to keep the alien invaders tied to the ocean. If you’ll remember, these are spaceships that crash into Earth, not marine vessels. They can fly wherever they want, but instead “jump” from buoy to buoy. It’s a gap in rationality that simply can’t be overlooked.

Then of course there’s the alien species’ motivation. Despite their supposed desire to destroy all life (which is helpfully and unnecessarily deemed an “extinction event” through expositional dialogue), they tend to attack manmade structures more often than they do actual men, which includes bridges, cars, ships and more. When they have the chance to dispose of one of us, like in a scene where a scientist wanders directly into the middle of their camp and comes face to face with one of them, they instead leave us alone. The reason behind their actions is left hazy, not that you’ll care one way or the other while watching. They could kill all humans or the humans could discover their weakness and bring them down; whatever will end the movie quicker. Battleship is a waste of money, resources and theater screens. Watching it is a waste of life. It’s lose-lose no matter how you cut it.

Battleship receives 0/5

Friday
Jan272012

The Grey

These days, movie marketing seems to always do one of two things. It either shows far too much of the movie, spoiling any type of surprises it would have had in store for the audience, or it makes one out to be something it’s not. The trailers for director Joe Carnahan’s new film, The Grey, does both. The final shot of the entire film is actually in the commercials and it’s a shot that promises action, but The Grey is not an action movie. There are some thrills to be had, but this is a tale of survival, not constant gunfire and massive explosions. It’s going to disappoint some who go in with preconceived notions of what it should be in their head, but I plead you to keep an open mind instead. In a month normally designated for films the studio’s have no faith in, The Grey is a suspenseful, visceral, well made film that is absolutely worth a look.

Liam Neeson plays Ottway, an animal and weapons specialist who has been hired by an oil company to protect their drilling team from the numerous wild animals in Alaska. However, they never make it to the drilling site. On their way to their destination, their plane crashes and only a handful of them survive. The harsh weather conditions are enough to put them down for good, but unfortunately for them, there’s also a pack of wolves hunting them down. The plane has crashed somewhere near their den and the humans are seen as intruders.

The Grey doesn’t feature any aliens, robots, or even a human enemy. It’s merely about a group of men trying to survive the blistering cold and a pack of wolves and it’s as gripping as they come. It’s more suspenseful, interesting and, yes, frightening than most other movies in recent memory. Aside from a few unnecessary jump scenes, the creepiness derives from some excellent camerawork that frames the wolves in low lighting or emerging from a distance. The film also uses sound to a great degree to ratchet up the suspense, like one terrific scene where the guys are surrounded in the woods by the howling wolves, yet none are to be seen.

The delectable camerawork translates all through the movie, including the early plane crash scene where the camera pulls back through the entire cabin as the breath of the passengers waft through the air. Although due credit goes to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, the same man who filmed one of last year’s best films, Warrior, director Joe Carnahan deserves the most accolades. Director of 2010’s over-the-top, but still fun The A-Team and 2002’s largely forgotten, but nevertheless fantastic Narc, Carnahan brings a steady direction to what could have otherwise been a hectic, Hollywood-ized tale. He doesn’t ratchet up the pace or bring in any distracting or unnecessary filmic techniques (aside from the aforementioned jump scenes). He crafts a movie that is about people and their will to survive even when the odds weigh heavily against them.

In that sense, it’s something that viewers will be able to connect to, even though they most likely haven’t been in a similar situation. Still, The Grey isn’t perfect. There are some humorous references to other films, the most effective being Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man, but it’s a wink and a nod that doesn’t need to be there and although it will go over most people’s heads, those who have seen it will be pulled out of the movie. There are also some scenes that work great when isolated, but don’t work when in the context of the larger picture, like an early death scene after the plane crash where Ottway stands over one of the passengers and calms him down as he slowly dies. This moment is written and acted well, but we don’t even know who this guy is. The emotion isn’t there despite the technically effective production of the scene. I’m not too sure about the iffy ending either, given the dreamlike moments leading up to it where Ottway’s wife tells him to not be afraid. It seems to go through a sudden change, behaviorally and thematically, though to go into further detail would be ruining too much.

So there are some notable blunders, but whereas most movies would be dragged down tremendously for such mistakes, The Grey stands strong. Scenes that would be full of meandering dialogue in other movies serve to enhance character personalities and motivations here, so when something does happen to one of them, it hits you hard. The first couple months of every year usually bring some rotten movies to theaters, but if what follows can live up to the unexpected quality of The Grey, we’re in for a pleasant movie going year.

The Grey receives 4/5