Movie Review: Run All Night (2015)

May 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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In 2008, director Pierre Morel and actor Liam Neeson gave us Taken, an action film so unexpectedly awesome that it redefined the genre and spawned a new industry of copycat efforts, usually about a dude with a particular set of skills kicking ass all over the place in a life-or-death race against time. These days, just about every action movie with an “old” actor — be it Nicholas Cage, Pierce Brosnan or Sean Penn — is directly compared to Taken, whether justified or not.

Neeson himself, who discovered a brand new career thanks to Taken (and its uninspiring guilty-pleasure sequels) has made a couple of copycat efforts himself, two of which were made with the formidable Jaume Collet-Serra. Both Unknown and Non-Stop were completely preposterous and silly, but still relatively enjoyable in their own ways. Their third collaboration, Run All Night, is more grounded and serious, and it’s arguably the best of the lot. Perhaps I’d even go as far as to say that it’s Liam Neeson’s best Taken-like action film since Taken (though opinions will probably be split between The Grey — if you put it in that category — A Walk Among the Tombstones and Non-Stop).

In Run All Night, Neeson plays a retired mob enforcer named Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Collins. He is a man with a very particular set of skills, and if he finds you, he will kill you. But he’s tired of all the crap and the demons of his past actions are catching up to him. He’s abandoned his family, including his son, former boxer Michael (Joel Kinnaman, ie, the new Robocop), who wants nothing to do with his old man. When Michael witnesses a crime committed by the son of Jimmy’s boss (played by Ed Harris), however, he is drawn into their world of murder and corruption, and it’s up to Jimmy to redeem himself by making sure his son makes it through alive.

You know they’ll be running all night. The title says so. There’s no chance they won’t be running.

So what make Run All Night more enjoyable than a lot of other similar efforts in recent years? First of all, the action is superb. From car chases to the hand-to-hand combat, everything is well-choreographed and suspenseful. I don’t know about realistic, but it gets the job done.

Secondly, while the plot is relatively cookie-cutter, there is a surprisingly level of emotional heft due to the strained relationship between Jimmy and his son. We know Jimmy’s not a good guy, but we root for him because we know how much he loves his son and would do anything to make up for his regrets. It doesn’t hurt that Michael is a good guy and isn’t annoying, like say Maggie Grace is in the Taken movies.

Thirdly, the cast is wonderful. Neeson is who he is — kicking ass and taking names, so you get what you expect from him. Joel Kinnaman, on the other hand, is a solid piece of casting as his son. He’s got the height, and you can believe from his build that he could be a former boxer. Add on top of that you’ve got the reliable Ed Harris, who delivers a complex villain that is miles better than the bad guys in the other flicks, as well as Common, who is pretty good too as a contract killer. Even Vincent D’Onofrio makes his “good cop” character better than it should have been.

In terms of style and execution, Collet-Sera’s approach is rather straightforward. You get his usual grit and dark tones, and as such Run All Night doesn’t really stand out from the pack. It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s definitely entertaining and one of the best post-Taken Neeson action films to date. Fans of this type of movie wouldn’t be wasting their time checking it out.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Equalizer (2014)

January 22, 2015 in Movie Reviews

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The Equalizer, or as I like to call it, “Black Taken”, is predictable, formulaic Denzel Washington excitement. For those who take comfort in familiarity, the film will probably be an enjoyable experience. For those who are sick of watching Denzel play the same bad ass over and over, it will probably not do very much for you.

Denzel plays a seemingly normal loner named Robert, qho works in a seemingly normal job at a Home Mart. But of course, he is really a man with a very specific set of skills, and if you cross him, he will find you, and he will kill you.

And so when a surely-she-can’t-be-that-young prostitute played by Chloe Moretz is roughed up by her Russian gangster pimps, Denzel decides to go on a personal rampage of revenge and justice. But you already knew that.

Typical “character development” scenes aside, The Equalizer is more or less just Denzel being Denzel, taking names and taking down baddies with brutal efficiency. Unlike Bryan Mills, however, Robert McCall is not just about doing what he needs to do without giving a damn about anything or anyone else. And that’s because, of course, Denzel characters also need to have a heart of gold. So Bob is not only a badass — he’s also a disgustingly great guy with a moral compass that always points in the same direction as Jesus’s.

In terms of action and execution, there’s not a whole lot to complain about The Equalizer. It’s powered by the stylish direction of Antoine Fuqua and it features Denzel’s always-impressive acting chops, and for all the violence it’s actually a very comfortable film to watch because you know exactly what you’re in for. I did wish, however, that Robert could have run into a little more resistance or had some more formidable foes.

I don’t think it’s quite as good as Man on Fire, but those who are happy just to watch Denzel tear up the screen should be perfectly satisfied watching him do his thing in The Equalizer.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: John Wick (2014)

November 18, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Keanu’s back! And this time, instead of Japanese demons, he’s taking on a whole army of Russian gangsters with 46 less ronin by his side.

Ted “Theodore” Logan doesn’t make a lot of films these days, so when he does I always get a little excited. After last year’s disappointing 47 Ronin, he’s back this time as the titular character in John Wick, a depressed former assassin who goes on a revenge rampage after Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the son of the original Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), makes the mistake of messing with the wrong dude.

It sounds kinda stupid and it is, but John Wick has been a surprising hit thanks to the excellent direction of Chad Stahelski in his feature debut. The stylistic action is what sets film apart from others of the same genre, and it’s arguably the most exciting action flick in terms of gunfire and physical combat since Taken

Keanu doesn’t have a lot of expressions, and that’s perfect as Wick, a no non-sense killer and a quick, smooth and relentless one-man wrecking crew. There’s something almost mechanical in the way he beats down his opponents, and he always makes sure the job is complete with an extra bullet or two where it counts. The action sequences are long, often brutal, and extremely well choreographed, and Stahelski spares our eyes by keeping the camera steady and the rapid cuts to a minimum.

The other successful aspect of John Wick is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but not so unseriously that it destroys the mood. The film is admittedly dark and full of death, but it’s also littered with tongue-in-cheek jokes about the assassin “industry” or “fraternity.”  There’s a code of conduct and assassins have to abide by it or face the consequences of the wider community. The film is filled with these straight-faced gags, such as a hotel that caters especially to assassins, a dedicated mop-up crew, and so forth. I also noticed there was a nice little cameo from The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski which I found to be quite fun.

In addition to Keanu’s typical Keanu performance, the rest of the cast also do a fine job in their respective roles. Nyqvist milks his charm to provide us with a villain who might not be much of an opponent for Wick if they met in a dark alley, but one who knows what he is up against and remains relatively calm amid the chaos. Alfie Allen is also terrific as a spineless little twat who has less balls than his character on Game of Thrones, while Adrianne Palicki is convicing as a female assassin who’s not afraid to bend the rules. Rounding out the cast are the likes of Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick, each of whom have small but key roles.

After a rolling start, the film moves at such a frantic pace that you don’t really notice its flaws all that much, except when it resorts to the old cliche where the “bad guy” has the “good guy” right where he wants him but instead of killing him on the spot decides to tie him up and give him every possible opportunity to escape. With its style, tone and gaps in logic, John Wick feels almost like a graphic novel adaptation, except it’s not, though I hear there might be opportunities to spin this first film into a franchise of some sort.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed John Wick a lot. I also think it’s a victim of its own hype. It’s the type of film that I didn’t expect to be any good, but because the reviews were so positive, I ended up having unrealistic expectations. It is what it is — a really well-executed, exciting, stylistic, and not-too-serious action flick with near-non-existent plot and not much substance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

November 9, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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You can always trust Liam Neeson to find someone, then kill them.

That is why A Walk Among the Tombstones, a crime thriller based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Lawrence Block, was the perfect role for Neeson and his brooding, single-minded charisma.

Set in 1999, the film stars Neeson as Matthew Scudder, a former cop who retired eight years ago and has become an unlicensed private detective-slash-fixer or sorts. He is recruited to a drug dealer whose wife went missing, and the story opens up from there into a dark, violent journey where only Scudder’s very particular set of skills can save the day.

Don’t for one second think, however, that A Walk Among the Tombstones is anything like Taken. Yes, Neeson is a badass, but Tombstone is less action and a lot more grit and atmosphere. The first half of the film, at least, is essentially a detective film where Scudder tries to track down the sadistic perpetrators through their past crimes. He enlists the help of a street kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), whom he takes under his wing a little bit, and in return TJ acts as the catalyst for Scudder’s character development.

As the story progresses it morphs into a kidnap film, and then finally an old-fashioned action thriller. The action is relatively spare, but when there is action it is usually brutal and effective. I think director-writer Scott Frank (best known for penning screenplays to top-notch films like Minority Report, Out of Sight and Get Shorty) does an excellent job of keeping the film’s tones dark, but not so dark that it makes the film unpleasant to watch, and bloody but not gratuitously so. His direction is also quite stylish and makes an effort to bring back the feel of the 1990s.

While A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn’t exactly avoid genre cliches, it features a compelling storyline, strong direction and performances, and action and suspense at just the right pace. It certainly held my attention from start to finish. In fact, if you don’t count his cameo in The Dark Knight Rises and his voice performance in The Lego Movie, one could make the argument that Tombstones is Neeson’s best movie since Taken.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Prince (2014)

August 26, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The Prince is yet another one of the those action flicks inspired by Taken (one of the best action flicks in the last decade) — about a father with considerable man-killing skills doing a lot of man-killing to rescue his daughter from people who totally deserve to die.

I didn’t have a problem with the rip-offish premise — and I admit the film looked great on paper with an A-list cast featuring Jason Patric, Bruce Willis, John Cusack, 50 Cent and Korean superstar Rain (donning the worst haircut since Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code) — though  I can’t say I was surprised that The Prince received virtually no attention or critical acclaim. The film is getting a limited theatrical showing along with a simultaneous VOD (video on demand) release, meaning they have pretty much resigned themselves to low expectations.

Instead of a former government agent like Taken’s Bryan Mills, Jason Patric plays Paul, a widowed father working as a mechanic in some country bumpkin town. His finds out that his daughter Beth (Gia Montegna, daughter of legendary actor Joe Montegna!) is no longer at college and has gotten mixed up in some nasty business with a drug kingpin (50 Cent). But Paul is no ordinary mechanic — he’s a former crime boss and psycho killing machine known as “The Prince”. And so Paul goes off looking for her with the aid of Beth’s skanky friend Angela (Jessica Lowndes) and old buddy (Cusack) and starts beating up and killing whoever gets in his way. Meanwhile, all that killing has Paul coming up on the radar of a former foe (Willis), who is determined to ruin Paul’s life as payback. For some reason he has hired a Korean “consultant” (Rain) to do the dirty work for him.

The pieces look to be in place for a semi-enjoyable popcorn action flick, but The Prince fails due to a couple of big reasons. First of all, the characters are boring. Paul might be deadly, but he’s is a sleep-inducing hero without a proper mean streak or edge to him. Bruce Willis is now just signing up for supporting roles in movies for the cheques. And so is John Cusack, who does close to nothing in the entire film. Jessica Lowndes is not uneasy on the eyes, but she’s a pointless character. It’s not like she’s a love interest, so all she does is try to act seductive and annoying for no reason. The worst has to be poor Rain, whose Hollywood dreams appear to have fallen so far that he’s been relegated to a “henchman” role in which he is forced to spew out crappy lines in strained (albeit much improved) English. And I haven’t even talked about 50 Cent’s…um…cameo.

Secondly, and more importantly, the action is laughable. Everything else can suck in a movie like this, but not the action. I say it’s laughable not because it’s badly shot — it’s because it defies all logic. Paul might be a super killing machine, but in this film he’s the luckiest man alive. Guys shoot at him with machine guns from point blank and all miss him, while he picks them off one by one with his trusty hand gun. He walks up a set of stairs without noticing that a bunch of guys are pointing their guns at him. They don’t shoot for some reason, and then they all miss from within 20 feet, just in time for him to look up and kill them all. Rain sneaks up on Paul from behind and could shoot him dead at any time. But what does he do instead? He disarms Paul so they can have a shitty hand-to-hand combat scene. So predictable and so lame. Bruce Willis holds Paul’s daughter hostage and says he will kill her in front of him, which is what he has wanted to do for years. But he doesn’t. And he waits and waits and waits for no reason whatsoever while telling Paul he’s going to do it, until of course he loses his opportunity.

I didn’t think The Prince was THAT bad when I saw it, but the more I think of it now the more I think it sucked. Great cast but crap characters, stupid action and completely devoid of the pace, style and charisma of the film it was trying to emulate.

1.75 stars out of 5

 
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