The Commuter: Movie Man Jackson

Should have flown. Oh wait…nevermind. Sixty year-old Michael McCauley lives as basic as one can in their sixties; mortgage, wife (Elizabeth McGovern), and soon-to-be-college-student son (Dean-Charles Chapman). He’s prepping for retirement in roughly five years from his financial adviser position, a role he took some years back after serving in the New York police force.

Costs a lot to send a kid through university, however, and Michael’s best laid plans are obliterated when life happens. On his daily ride home on the train, he’s approached by a “social experimenter” in Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who offers to solve all of Michael’s financial problems if he can do one thing: Find the person who isn’t supposed to be on the train, for they have something very valuable in their bag. Doing this nets Michael 100K, but failure to do so may result in loss of life for everyone on the train, and even those off it in Mike’s family.

Honestly, it’s fascinating how one Liam Neeson has not only created a genre for himself, but for other older actors and some actresses since Bryan Mills introduced his set of skills to the world in 2008 with Taken. Ever since that movie, it’s been a boom to Neeson’s career. There’s value in a person knowing what they’re getting. I don’t even know if The Commuter is bad. It just…exists.

No, The Commuter isn’t bad because it’s two stars are solidly good at their day jobs. Yes, two stars, one of them being director and longtime Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop). His direction is a formula for these types of films, and it is arguably a carbon copy of Run All Night. But it is an effective one, nonetheless, taking advantage of a tight and enclosed environment for some occasionally tense moments. Additionally, Serra manages to direct a fight scene that is somehow simultaneously (strangely) impressive and laughable. Hard to explain, but a person will know it when they see it.

And of course, there’s Ol’ Reliable, also known as Liam Neeson. I’m saying nothing that is not clear knowledge now, but the fact is, he can play this role in his sleep. This means that while he’s not necessarily stretched per se, he does bring a level of professionalism, commitment to the material, and—arguably most important—lead star power—critical as this story becomes more incredulous as the runtime goes on.

Speaking of star power, The Commuter is up there with Run All Night with regards to consisting of the most star power of any Liam Neeson-led movie from 2009 and beyond, featuring the likes of Conjuring co-stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, and even Sam Neill. But, none make their mark on the movie, either entrenched as stock stereotypical characters (Neill, Wilson), or barely present at all to do anything (Farmiga, Banks). Farmiga in particular is a disappointment; mainly due to how the film sets her up.

The Commuter has an awesome set-up. That’s not hyperbole, either; Collet-Serra’s first fifteen minutes are wonderful in laying out the story of one man and his traditional, nondescript life through unique editing. The introduction of Farmiga’s character is brilliant, as is the dilemma she presents, evoking shades of the classic opposing philosophical theories debate of deontology vs utilitarianism. Around the point that Farmiga physically exists the film is when the plot goes off the rails, much of it relying on this idea that people can control every little minutia of a particular situation well ahead of it actually occurring. Collet-Serra’s writing falls back more on the “Eureka” moment that Neeson’s ex-cop experiences rather than a logical process of elimination with snuffing out suspects. Lastly, the ending is very rough, way too neat, and opening up way more questions than answers.

Collectively, Neeson and Collet-Serra the director deliver The Commuter to its destination—barely. Still, better trips are out there for the fare it takes to get on this train.

C-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, comingsoon.net, and femalefirst.co.uk.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Run All Night: Movie Man Jackson

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“No sin goes unpunished in this life.”

Why does it feel like so many running/escape movies take place in the Empire State? Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an old, grizzled, and essentially retired hitman. Every individual in the past he’s killed while working for his old mob boss and best friend Sean Maguire (Ed Harris) has weighed heavily on his psyche. His line of work has made family and relationships difficult, like the nonexistent one with his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman).

During a routine day as a limo (or cab?) driver, Michael becomes a witness to something he was not supposed to see after dropping off Sean’s son Danny for some business. As such, he is targeted by Danny, and only saved when Jimmy lays a fatal slug into him to save Michael. Angered by the death of his son, Sean commands the whole NY underworld to take down the father and son. If that wasn’t enough, the police, corrupt and honorable, are after the two as well. To survive, Jimmy and Michael have only one option: to Run All Night.

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Yours truly cannot be the only one surprised that if you take the first letter out of the words Run All Night, you get a nice abbreviation of RAN, right? Intentionally or not, cool tidbit. RAN, like others movies based in New York revolving around being on the run like The Warriors and Escape from New York, is a nice, familiar, B-level movie that isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Behind the director’s chair for this one is Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop), going a third go-around with the 21st century action hero Liam Neeson. Both are extremely reliable and comfortable here, in nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before. Neeson may not be flexing a ton of acting muscle, but when he’s asked to do so it’s successful, as his character does have some layers to it. Whenever Liam appears in a film these days, action is almost always sure to follow. Truth be told, this isn’t action-filled and more along the lines of a drama with action interspersed at specific times. Nothing really looks amazing from an action sense, but it is all solid and far from shoddy. Neeson still has the particular set of skills, and Collet-Serra knows how to exhibit them.

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There’s a predictability on two fronts with this flick. One reason being that, as alluded to, there’s really not a ton done here that hasn’t existed before. The other reason is that the story structure begins in media res, more towards the end than the absolute middle. As a result, it’s not where the movie is going, but how it will get there to what has been shown. This does lead to Run All Night feeling overly long at points. The predictability is not damming, but it is what it is.

Part of the reason why it isn’t damming is because almost everyone appearing in this gives a strong performance, with convincing New York accents nonetheless. Neeson has already been mentioned, but Ed Harris takes the cake. His character is calm, methodical and straightforward, seen most clearly in scenes with Neeson. One in particular seems like a well-done homage to Michael Mann’s Heat that truly raises the hunt.

Other supporting characters add a lot to RAN without the screen time Liam and Ed get. Vincent D’Onofrio may be channeling his years on Criminal Intent, but he looks and sounds the part as a police investigator. It is nice to see inspired work from Kinnaman after his RoboCop was so dull. He and Neeson work well together. A feel for his character is had, not liking what his father did but deep down still desiring a fulfilling relationship with him. As the real emotional cog of the story, Kinnaman deserves kudos for giving it that element. And who knew Common would be so effective as a hired gun? He blends in with the rest of the noteworthy cast and makes for a nice physical foil to the protagonist.

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All of this adds up to Run All Night being a steady, unambitious, but reliable crime action-drama that probably doesn’t have to been seen on the silver screen, but isn’t a bad decision if done so. Running at night isn’t safe, but this film is and sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to screenrant.com and 411mania.com.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West: Movie Man Jackson

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“Look around you. Everything out here that is not you wants to kill you.”

In real life, Seth MacFarlane is seemingly a man of a million talents, but in A Million Ways to Die in the West, he is just a man…a man devoid of a backbone by 1882 American Old West standards. MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, an aforementioned individual making a below average living in the frontier, which is an absolute drag of a place to live in. The only thing that makes his situation bearable is the company of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

As these things go, Louise tires of Albert and decides to end things with the poor sap after he shows cowardice before a quick draw. Luckily, Albert’s long depressive stupor is ended when a beautiful mystery woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes into town. Out of character during a ruckus, Albert saves Anna’s life, and the two strike a liking to each other. Unbeknownst to him, Anna is actually married, and not just to some nobody. No, this guy is Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the best and most dangerous shot in the whole Wild West.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West should really be prefaced by Seth MacFarlane Presents. . . If you don’t know by now, the man credited with Family Guy’s success and bringing Ted to life not only stars here, but also produces, writes, and directs. What does this all result in? A movie with no true cohesion, and one in which too much responsibility was bestowed upon one man.

A comedy’s first and sometimes only goal is to be consistently funny. This is not easy, seeing that what tickles one man’s funny bone may fail to leave a mark on another’s. With A Million Ways though, I cannot remember the last time I was hoping, waiting, and wishing for jokes and gags to genuinely make me laugh. Speaking for most of those in my theater, it appeared my sentiment was shared. As it stands, only one scene in my opinion occurring in the middle was a legit funny moment, which is a shame. Because on paper, this is a solid cast, which is something I’ll come back to later.

The problem essentially comes down to lazy writing and a dependence on overused gross out gags, fart, and Indian jokes. There isn’t much of a story really, just comedy sketches draped in Old West garb barely tied together. Early on, it becomes apparent that the people with the most creative power in this (read: Seth MacFarlane) maybe believed that the setting of the Old West would “sell” itself from a humor standpoint, and all that was needed as a supplement to this backdrop is a few random scenes interspersed with strong language and revolting moments.

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Yes, this is an R rated comedy film, so a high level of raunch is expected, including the common fare just described. These jokes are fine in doses, but when it becomes what the well consists of, well, the film gets old very quickly, which in turn makes the film feel a lot longer than it should be.

Not necessarily featuring big stalwarts in comedy aside from Seth, still A Million Ways is comprised of well known actors who do their best to make it better than what is presented to them. Charlize Theron shines brightest as Anna, who generally looks she she is having fun and is easily the most likable and appealing character throughout.

Sadly, this is a major issue being that Seth’s Albert is the character we are supposed to pull for and like. At length, I am unsure of whether his grating role is a result of the lazy writing, or if it is just he himself who cannot carry the weight. It is probably the latter with a bit of the former mixed in. The film is undoubtedly a comedy, but there are instances of Western drama sprinkled across, and when Seth actually has to act, it isn’t believable. He appears to be in over his head when these times come up. Additionally, the whining act becomes played out, to the point where (Spoiler) I actually wanted Liam’s character to shoot and kill him in the end climax. Not exactly what I should be rooting for.

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Played by Neeson, Clinch is a good antagonist, but one that is also forgotten for a large chunk of the movie, so his presence is sort of nonexistent. Giovanni Ribisi plays off of Sarah Silverman in a side story that wears out its welcome immediately. Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris fill the secondary villain roles, and aren’t particularly memorable in doing so, but NPH may be the funniest character as a whole. Similar to Family Guy, there are random occurrences and bit players unrelated to the main tale that are supposed to inject laughs. Just know it works better in animation than in a live feature.

The biggest positive ends up being the setting, from a visual sense. It appears that tons of research and hard work was done to make this look like the old frontier, from rinky-dink saloons to clothing worn, so kudos to that.

However, a successful setting does not solely make a successful film, especially a comedy. There may be a million ways to die in the West, but side splitting laughter isn’t one of them.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, whysoblu.com, & http://www.evoke.ie.

Reader’s/Followers note: Hey all, I will be on vacation starting late Thursday-June 15th, and I will most likely be without Internet, so new postings are not likely. If I somehow do post a review, expect something older. When I do return, I will be a bit behind, but I do plan on checking out and reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, The Signal, and maybe The Fault in Our Stars. Thanks all for reading and supporting my blog!

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The Grey: Movie Man Jackson

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“Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”

As long as Liam Neeson is on one’s side, he or she has a puncher’s chance of surviving anything, and that anything includes a pack of ravenous wolves. In The Grey, Liam Neeson is Ottway, a skilled marksman/huntsman with personal demons whose job is to protect oil workers in Alaska from native creatures, namely wolves. It is business as usual until Ottway and the oil drillers board a plane back home, presumably to the contiguous 48 states.

Suddenly, Ottway awakens from a short slumber to find the plane succumbing to turbulence by way of a violent blizzard. He and the plane go down, and upon waking from an undetermined amount of time being knocked out, he finds the aftermath of the crash. Only he and seven others have survived the calamity and many of these survivors have suffered substantial wounds. The wintry elements themselves are nothing to scoff at, but even then, the weather becomes a secondary concern when a bunch of grey timber wolves are biting (literally) at Ottway and company’s heels.

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To be honest, The Grey felt like two distinct halves of film. The first half, in my belief, is what was expected when seeing the trailer. Some disaster occurs and people are stranded with little to no hope of survival in punishing conditions, all while having to contend with animals protecting their den. This half appears to be more focused on the wolves attacking and has little in the way of plot or character development, outside of survival. It is not necessarily a bad thing, as more or less it felt like Taken with wolves and a few differences. Sure, the factuality of wolves attacking is not true to real life, but this is a film, and it did an adequate job of explaining why they would behave in such a way. The attacks come out of nowhere often and become weirdly funny, but by and large it was entertaining.

As for the second half, the tone shifts. Survival is still of importance, but the movie begins to expound on characters and themes, such as religion, atheism, existentialism, loss, family, and ultimately what pushes a man to his breaking point. The shift does force a viewer to think about certain things, and kudos to the filmmaker for leaving the ending open to interpretation. With all of that said though, this half should have resonated more, instead of inducing a too-little, too-late feeling. Some characters go on and on about their lives and beliefs and it becomes a chore to listen to, feeling unneeded and shoehorned. It is here that The Grey becomes somewhat of a bore.

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The second half would have been more effective if the characters were more thorough, and their failure to be largely falls on the writing. Eight survivors is a lot, and some do not last that long. But for those who did, it is a struggle to even remember their names, which is a problem. Most of the survivors just take up screen time and it sort of becomes a predicting game as to when they will get picked off. It should be a bigger moment when a wolf eliminates someone, but since the characters are faceless, it results in an “on to the next one” sentiment for the viewer. No one is particularly memorable, and even Ottway is uninteresting for a large portion. One would think that Neeson’s character would have the biggest development, but it ends up being someone else, previously thought to be a cliched one, that has the most powerful moment in the movie.

Liam is obviously the star here, and it is quite clear he has found a semi-niche in these types of roles. He is very convincing as a wily and gritty elder man with a bit of vulnerability dashed in. Does that make his character intriguing? Not entirely, but Neeson does lend credibility. As for the rest of the cast, no one’s acting is offensive but it unfortunately just blends in after a while with the environment. I did appreciate Frank Grillo’s character of Diaz. He starts off as grating and idiotic, but transforms into something more and ended up as the only individual to truly click.

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The cinematography ends up being the best thing about this movie. Shot in Canada, director Joe Carnahan captures the bleakness and drab of being left for dead in extreme conditions. It just looks like (cold) hell. But, there are some truly picturesque frames as well, mainly in the last third that serve as a testament to technical precision. However, not all is praise worthy. The wolves are much more menacing from a distance; the scene around the fire that reveals not one set of eyes but multiple is well done and creates some uneasiness. But when the wolves are close up and begin to attack, they end up looking fake and unfrightening. Furthermore, most of these attacks and fights are hastily edited and shaky camera-ish, so a visceral element is lacking.

Though lacking in emotion, appealing characters, and occasional logic, The Grey all in all is respectable. Honestly, some people may love it more than others just off of the fact that Neeson is battling wolves. While it did not connect with me, it could very well do so with others.

Grade: C+ 

Photo credits go to movieinsider.com, http://www.tribute.ca, and upcoming-movies.com

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