Tagged in: 1 year too late

Non-Stop (2014)

More Liam Neeson late-middle age macho movie madness, this time on a plane.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 1 year too late.

I don’t know why Liam Neeson suddenly started making one action movie after another about eight or nine years ago but I am glad he did. His ageing, world-weary agents/marshals/hunters/crooks generally forced into situations not of their doing have proved enjoyable fare, and “Non-Stop” is another addition.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who was also behind the camera for Neeson’s “Unknown” and his recent “Run All Night”, “Non-Stop” moves the action to the skies.non-stop-2014-02

Neeson is Air Marshal Bill Marks who receives a mid-air text threat that people on the plane are going to start dying every 20 minutes unless a few quid (well, $150m) is transferred to a secret bank account. And yes, after 20 minutes, someone does indeed snuff it.

And there we have our setup, ladies and gentlemen. All that remains for Liam is to dive into the mystery of who is doing what, why, stop the plane being down, and clear his name after being framed for everything. Oh, and not have a drink either since he has a bit of a booze problem.

He’s assisted by Julianne Moore, who, frankly doesn’t have a lot to do but pick up her cheque and good luck to her for that. Liam, meanwhile, kicks some passenger arse when they start to think he’s behind the whole thing, discovers a bomb and some poison darts (poison darts!), and generally does a lot of his trademark growing at folk as he seeks to keep control of an increasingly unstable situation.

It’s enjoyable, by-the-numbers stuff. The plane, like all planes in airborne thrillers, seems to be Tardis-like in its size, providing endless repositories for dead people, nervous people, tied-up people, and all manner of things. A Ryanair 737, this ain’t.

But, like Ireland’s much maligned airline, “Non-Stop” gets you there on time, is not entirely unpleasant, and you know what you’re getting. And, like Ryanair, it made money: $200m+ off a $50m budget, so it must have something to pack the punters in.

Trailer

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Not-as-bad-as-you-thought Cruise big-time SF actioner

Rating: ★★★½☆

This review was written 1 year too late

You’ll love Edge of Tomorrow if you don’t love Tom Cruise. Watch him die, die and die again. As William Cage, a slimy army PR man pressed into frontline service in a losing battle between earth and invading aliens, he drinks alien blood by mistake and suddenly finds himself living every day over and over again.

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I’ll let you make up a Groundhog Day reference. I can’t be bothered.

With each repeat, he learns more and more about how to survive and manipulate events. Eventually, he connects with Emily Blunt’s uber-warrior Rita (Rita? Sounds like a dinner lady) who’s had the same experience and offers advice and training. Eventually, he dies enough times to figure how to beat the aliens. No surprise there, then.

What does surprise is the film’s predominantly London setting, with Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 transformed into a vast military base, Tom being accused of cowardice by an old geezer in a boozer, and alien thingies racing up the Thames.

We’re so used to grand invasion disaster to happen Stateside, this really was refreshing. It also has enough humour, with Cruise seemingly aware that more than a few people in the audience will enjoy his repeated demises, and playing subsequent deaths with a resigned irritation – squashed rolling under truck wheels until he gets the timing right. Need I say more?

PH0M3v7s9Z5929_1_lBourne” director Doug Liman gets the pace spot on, cutting the repeats perfectly so we don’t get bored of watching too much of the same stuff over and over. Emily Blunt delivers in spades as the kick-ass talisman of the army and PR people. FX are pretty neat too.

Give it a whirl. But once is enough.

 

Trailer

The Hunger Games (2012)

Children kill each other on telly in a well-acted but otherwise familiar SF action drama.

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

This review was written  1 year too late

Reading anything about the film adaptation of Susanne Collins‘ popular novel of the same name reveals a familiar set of references. Its resemblance to both the book and film of Battle Royale, its resemblance to the short story “The Lottery” and numerous other humans-hunting-humans films – Death Race 2000, The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot. It’s a long list, and it takes some oomph to do it well again.

The story set-up is the usual futuristic, post-war division of society with rich winners and destitute losers. Here, the rich offer the poor a way out by randomly choosing young boys and girls to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of all.

Katniss Everdean volunteers for the games to save her chosen little sister from a certain fate. A skilled hunter with a reason to win beyond the riches escape and victory promise, Katniss is played with some depth by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence, supported by Woody Harrelson as a former winner turned trainer, as well as good turns from Wes Bentley and, surprisingly, Lenny Kravitz. The quality acting really saves The Hunger Games because, alas, there’s not a lot else going on.

By falling into that SF chestnut (i), the divided, dystopian society, the makers (let’s not single any one individual out) approach their vision so heavy-handedly it’s embarrassing. The well-to-dos flaunt themselves in garish, OTT costumes and make-up – imagine an entire city populated with Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element – and eat fine food. Meanwhile, the struggling poor in concentration camp-stylee clothes, living in a permanent grey, survive off of scraps and barter.

Turkey Shoot (film)

Turkey Shoot (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cue SF chestnut (ii), where a violent game keeps the urges of the masses checked. Administration of this televised game is borrowed wholesale from The Truman Show, with Wes Bentley in the Christof role, manipulating events to produce better entertainment. This approach is particularly knuckle-headed in that the two big FX set pieces in the film – a forest fire and a big doggy attack – don’t make sense. If the show is about watching the kids kill each other, why generate events that could result in their deaths?

The controllers of the game are also incongruous. You can just about buy all the overdressed, affected, made-up rich types enjoying the bloody spectacle screened in a Roman gladiatorial sort of way, but the “normal” folk working at the TV station where the programme is made are just so that – normal. Not crazily dressed, not eccentric in any kind of way. So matter-of-fact, that it defies credibility that not one of them might question what they do, or at least show some hint of discomfort. They are, after all, accessories to the murder of children.

And don’t get me started on the dubious gifts that get parachuted into the game to assist players. Pah.

Only worth your time if you are a fan of the books or cast. Otherwise, The Hunger Games will leave you… (I hate this bit..) starving.

Trailer

 

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Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

cockneys-vs-zombies-bannerOnly a British horror-comedy would pit cockney oiks and OAPs against the undead. Richard Briers with a zimmer frame and an Uzi? Bring it on.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This review was written 1 year too late

A couple of crafty builders in London’s east end unearth a crypt sealed since 1666 and decide to see what they can nick from it. Cob-webbed skeletons start moving, then reach for the inept pair and – bam. We have our outbreak story explained. Now, we can get on with the blood and the feasting and the carnage.

Cockneys vs Zombies is a surprisingly fun film, and much like the recent Nazi exploiter “Iron Sky“, does silly things well keeping it from slipping into genuine bad.

While a zombie epidemic begins, a small group of Cockneys are about to pull a bank job and use the cash to save their grandad’s old people’s home from closure. Cockneys, see? They love family. It’s all about family.

Despite bungling the robbery, they manage to escape thanks to the undead who have managed to eat the old bill who were lying in wait. Decamping to a warehouse, they realise their situation and go on a rescue mission to the OAP home. But is seems the old folk are doing pretty well by themselves, lead by the once hard-as-nails Ray who ain’t giving up without a fight.

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Interestingly, the film has an awareness of what zombies are and how they behave. The characters are familiar with zombie lore and use it to their advantage. Even the pensioners know it. A bite equals infection and turning, the undead shuffle slowly, you need to mash their brains to finish them off – it’s all there. They’ve seen every film listed in the Book of the Dead.

As the youngsters in the warehouse squabble among themselves Ray’s pensioners are doing their best to hold off an assault. When his family arrive, totally tooled up, we get to see the likes of Richard Briars, Honor Blackman, and Tony “Get Some In!” Selby shift prodigious quantities of lead the undead’s way.

It’s all handled with a big, knowing smile by director Matthias Hoene, while Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the grandsons of Alan Ford’s Ray, abetted by a sassy cousin in the form of Michelle Ryan, keep the rhyming slang and unremitting Cockney attitude from getting too annoying.

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All together now, “We’re going head-to-head, with the undead, you can fill ’em full of lead but they won’t stay dead…”.

What’s not to enjoy?

 

Trailer

Head-to-head song

Unknown (2011)

Review of Unknown, starring Liam Neeson

Who he?

Enjoyable Euro spy thriller that just twists enough to pull itself away from the edge of nonsense. Just.

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review was written  1 year too late

Liam Neeson gets in an identity tizzy running around Berlin in a blend of “Vertigo“, “Three Days of the Condor“, and “The Bourne Identity” and a dash of “The Parallax View” conspiracy spice.

Neeson is Dr Martin Harris, a biochemist in Berlin with his wife to give a presentation, who then suffers a car crash, and is saved by Diane Kruger‘s taxi driver. Waking up in hospital a few days later, he tracks down his wife only to find her claiming not to know him. Worse, he has been replaced by fellow Irish thesp (well, half-Irish) Aidan Quinn who is now Neeson’s Dr Harris and husband to his wife, and has the passport and other ID paraphernalia to prove it.

Shunned by all as a nutbar, he sets out to find the truth, hooking up again with a reluctant Kruger and avoiding numerous naughty men with guns and syringes and knives and bombs.

By the numbers stuff, really, if you’ve seen any identity/conspiracy type thriller in the past. You know he’s been setup and the fun is just trying to figure it out. “Unknown” does a fair job of keeping you guessing, holding its reveal to quite late on in a disappointing piece of exposition with bad people falling into the James Bond trap of monologuing (thanks, “The Incredibles“) instead of just opening fire.

That said, Berlin looks good and gritty on film, enhanced by a wintry location and generous aerial shots that pay credit to the city. There are also enough tense scenes and action set-pieces that are well handled, while a crafted sequence in a gallery is the sort of thing Brian De Palma used to do when aping Hitchcock. Lovely stuff.

Its climax is also a charmer, doing some damage to a major Berlin landmark in a typically European way – just blasting some of it to pieces rather than the Hollywood option of obliterating everything for kilometers around.

Neeson does a fair job in the second of his recent Euro-thrillers (following on from “Taken“) but he still displays a little too much of the cartoonish angst he displayed in “Darkman“, making it hard to buy his pain and suffering. A minor niggle in an otherwise solid movie.

Trailer:

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