Non-Stop


Viewed – 05 July 2014 Pay-per-view

Liam Neeson has become quite the go-to guy for action thriller’s of late, following his superb turn in ‘Taken’.  We won’t mention the sequel… So I generally find sitting down to his latest hard-as-nails agent in a difficult situation thriller an easy prospect.  He plays a U.S. Air Marshall boarding a plane as the hired security.  All seems well until he receives a text from a fellow passenger saying someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes, unless $150 million is transferred into an account.

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A great concept and a claustrophobic setting make for a very interesting twist on the usual terrorist plot device.  Neeson is great as always, and the fact the terrorist makes Neeson look like he’s the guy hi-jacking the plane adds bags of tension.  Along the way various suspects turn up for who the texter may be and you’ll surely have your theories, which makes for fun guess-who shenanigans as Neeson tries every trick in the book to unmasks his tormentor.  Julianne Moore plays a passenger Neeson befriends but adds little considering her name, and much of the supporting cast, the pilot, various passengers etc just make up the numbers.  So have no doubt this is Neeson’s gig all the way.

Towards the end the final unmasking felt a little ‘er.. what?’ with the motives somewhat confusing, but throughout there was enough tension and red herrings thrown about to keep this viewer gripped.  Also if you loved Taken or just enjoy a solid, tense thriller – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Sacrament


Viewed – 01 July 2014  Pay-per-view

Has to be said, I’m becoming quite a fan of relatively unknown horror director Ti West, following the double hits of the unsettling House of the Devil and the gentler The Inkeepers.  This latest offering sees him turning to the found-footage / religious cult sub genres to deliver another gradual build up experience.  A film crew working for an underground TV channel travel to a remote island to report on a religious cult, following the revelation that their photographer’s sister has started living there.

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This well acted, slow burning thriller has plenty of shaky hand-held cameras, tense interviews with the locals, and a stand-out performance from Gene Jones as the worshipped cult leader referred to as ‘father’.  Although the material is very familiar if you’ve seen the likes of Red State or Martha Marcy May Marlene, this was still done well and offers the viewer both sides of the coin; a very attractive existence as well as something much more sinister.  The closing moments were tough viewing and pretty disturbing (…the baby) and left me shaken but also impressed with what Ti West had delivered, managing to pull the rug out from under me yet again.

I’d have liked it to have gone a bit deeper into the inner-workings of the cult and their motivations, but to say any more would spoil it, so basically – this is another decent offering from one of the more interesting voices in horror.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Glass House


Viewed – 25 June 2014  Netflix Alphabet Challenge

I thought I’d get back into this Netflix challenge, and so we come to ‘G’, with this being one of the more interesting choices on offer.  Leelee Sobieski (er… Eyes Wide Shut?) plays a teenage girl who along with her younger brother, are orphaned when their parents die in a car crash.  They are then taken in by their parent’s wealthy friends, the Glass’s, played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård, who may or may not be what they appear to be.

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Typical psychological thriller territory is livened up by a strong lead performance from Sobieski who proves a likable and believable traumatised teen trying to figure out just what the sinister behaviour of her guardians is all about.  The story isn’t all that much, and holds few genuine surprises, but with good support from Bruce Dern as the kids attorney, a good pace and decent direction … I couldn’t say I was bored.  The young actor playing the little brother was no more than a walking cliché and didn’t seem to go to school (he just played videogames and said ‘cool’ or ‘sweet’ a lot), but Skarsgård, one of those actors that has always been great at being shady, doesn’t disappoint.

For those looking for a fun, if tame evening’s entertainment with some good performances and a few nail biting moments… this is worth a look.  It does nothing particularly special but doesn’t do much wrong either.

Verdict:  3 /5

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Viewed – 08 June 2014  Pay-per-view

I never saw the previous, highly regarded Jack Ryan movies; the Alec Baldwin starring The Hunt For Red October, the Harrison Ford vehicles Clear & Present Danger etc.  Something about their overly serious approach to CIA espionage action always had me leaning more towards Mission Impossible or the James Bond franchise for my escapism.  Now in the wake of his credible turns in the recent Star Trek reboots, pretty-boy actor Chris Pine steps into the shoes of a more rookie Ryan, in this origin tale to Tom Clancy’s famed character.

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I’ll admit the casting of the likeable Pine drew my attention and well, I can be a sucker for a good action thriller.  Here we also get Kenneth Branagh, another actor I have admired, albiet in a typical English-thesp cast as the bad guy turn, as a Russian terrorist attempting to over throw the U.S. economy.  I was hoping Hollywood had grown out of such casting by now.  He is also the director so maybe he only has himself to blame for that.  Pine however has Keira Knightley as his girlfriend who gets caught up in proceedings when she follows him to Russia fearing his secretive goings-on are hiding an affair.  This is fairly formulaic stuff, and isn’t helped by a chemistry-free pairing of Pine & Knightley, whose relationship is given no weight due to the fact their casual hook-up during a prologue hospitalization is glossed over.  Costner also offers little more than his presence and a mentor vibe (which seems to be his thing these days, see: Man of Steel).  Thankfully Branagh’s villain is fairly decent and charismatic.  The biggest problem though is that we’re presented yet again with a thriller more interested in fancy rapid-fire editing, it’s pounding score and a great deal of espionage mumbo-jumbo than conveying a plot that is easy to follow or characters and situations we can care about.  Doesn’t help either that what action there is, is fairly limply handled and over before you can get into any of it.

For Chris Pine fans, its worth seeing, and I expect we’ll see a more polished sequel down the line.  Yet I’ll hazard a guess for Ryan enthusiasts … you’re probably better off with the books.  Everyone else, this is simply a glossy but otherwise by-the-numbers thriller – and not a particularly surprising one at that.

Verdict:  2 /5

Godzilla


Viewed – 22 May 2014  Cinema

Ah, the blockbuster, that high concept thrill ride usually packed with special effects and not much depth (cough, Michael Bay, cough) but every now and then we get a summer event picture that at least tries to have an engaging story or half decent acting, and this somewhat throwback to 50s b-movies and Japanese sub-culture casts Bryan Cranston, fresh from his iconic turn in the multi-award winning Breaking Bad as a scientist who following a nuclear meltdown at the plant he works at, becomes obsessed with a government cover up in Japan and desperate to find out what really happened.

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Not hard to guess it’s all really a cover up for the discovery of a very big lizard as well as a bunch of ready to hatch monsters, with the biggest smack-down in history just on the horizon.  This is fun, hokey but very well done entertainment.  Cranston, a very emotional and believable actor is as expected very good here, as is Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) as Cranston’s soldier / bomb-expert son in a more mature role than I’ve personally seen before.  The story is packed with conspiracy theories, cover ups etc …and I love that sort of thing, and when we finally get some monster action (about an hour or so in) it’s full on, superbly staged and awe-inspiring to the point of actually being quite scary.  The views from the people and soldiers as giant monsters loom overhead, or close by is nerve-shredding – achieving a sense of greatness and magnitude.  Effects are also first rate with the destruction of cities, explosions and just general mayhem all packing a visual and emotional punch. 

Other than it’s b-movie routs however, the movie has little else to say and I felt the first half was stretched out … we’re not here after all to look at readings on a screen and talk about nuclear testing, we want monsters!  But for a blockbuster that does exactly what you might expect, with a decent, if a little under-used cast (Cranston) and some genuinely powerful moments … you still can’t go wrong.  Just don’t expect much else.

Verdict:  3.5 /5