Cold Pursuit


Viewed – 03 September 2019. Online rental

This Liam Neeson thriller has gotten swept under the rug it following the actor’s controversial remarks during an American TV interview earlier in the year, which has since relegated this to stumble-upon VOD fodder. Here, Neeson plays a snowplow driver at a ski resort who’s son is murdered in mysterious circumstances.. A simple set up then has Neeson tracking down those responsible. At the same time a war breaks out between rival drug dealers that Neeson uses to his advantage.

Now I thought after a glut of copycat Liam Neeson thrillers that just seemed like weak attempts to cash in on tne success of Taken … a satire of his usual formula was on the cards. However despite such a promise in the trailer, what we actually get is Neeson playing it entirely straight in a movie that tries and mostly fails to a achieve that clever Coens-esque vibe that blends the serious with the comedic (think especially Fargo). Some support characters add flavour, including a rookie cop out to prove herself and a young boy Neeson befriends who’s father just happens to be the main villain. I also enjoyed the villain’s maniacal performance, and the drug gang rivalry stuff was entertaining as they slowly picked each other off. Also on a purely technical basis, the wintery setting and some of the sequences were at least visually arresting.

Yet with a limp story, a cliched lead performance and plot threads that go nowhere – what actually had the son done to get himself killed? Oh and Laura Dern is in this as Neeson’s wife who following their son’s murder, just stops talking and eventually leaves – that’s how this movie explores grief. Yeah, this was a bit of a strange one and I’m afraid, not a movie I can easily recommend.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

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The Commuter


Viewed – 24 January 2018  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped by this.  Despite seeing the trailer at one stage, I had pretty much passed it off as just another typical Liam Neeson thriller.  Now at one stage that phrase would have been exciting.  After all Taken remains one of the best thrillers of the last decade or so.  He followed this up with similar high-concept thrillers like Unknown, the two Taken sequels and Non-Stop.  So as you can imagine, it soon began to get a little clichéd.  Just as well then that this movie was a pleasant surprise.

The Commuter

Neeson plays an Insurance Salesman who takes the train to and from work every day and has done for the last ten years.  Nothing all that interesting ever happens. However one day after hearing some bad news, he’s heading back home when a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him and offers a task – find a particular person and place a tracking device on them.  If he does so before his stop comes, he’ll receive a bundle of cash.  Easy huh?

Think Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ meets ‘Speed’ with plenty of fist fights.  I was swept up in the ‘who is it’ mystery of it all, what the people the woman works for might want with said person and just how Neeson is going to get out of an increasingly desperate situation.  Add a claustrophobic setting and welcome support from Sam Neil and Patrick Wilson and I found myself suitably thrilled.  Neeson can make even the silliest plot work with his grizzled Irish charm and screen presence, and although it gets rather crazy and typical Hollywood-over-the-top in the final act – I came away both surprised and thoroughly entertained.

One not to pass up just because you might think you’ve seen it all before.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Lego Movie


Viewed – 11 February 2017  online rental

I thought I’d finally get around to this popular and highly regarded animated movie following the current hype for the newly released Lego Batman Movie.  Now I must say despite being a big fan of animation, the style and concept of animated Lego characters didn’t exactly appeal and I think I only played with Lego bricks fleetingly as a child.  However having played bits of various Lego videogames and hearing a lot of good things about this movie – I thought I’d give it a chance.

Emmet and Batman

A nobody construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) dreams of fitting in, having friends and enjoying life, but quickly realises most of his fellow workers ignore him because there’s nothing ‘special’ about his personality.  One day following an incident at the construction site, Emmet stumbles upon a mysterious girl who catches his eye, then discovers a grand scheme involving a sacred relic and a megalomaniac President that might be his chance to become a ‘somebody’.  This is fun, energetic and entertaining from the off and a clear satire of our growing superficial, social-media obsessed society and it’s focus on annoying EDM music as well as an obvious stab at our current political climate (with an eerie prediction of Trump).  It’s not quite as sharp or as funny as I was expecting and is surprisingly light on pop-culture jokes or references other than appearances from various comic book and movie characters.  Therefore, there’s not a great deal here for adults, unlike other animations.  That being said it zips along at an almost exhaustive pace and throws plenty of action and spectacle meaning I was far from bored.  A twist towards the end also turned the movie into a more heart-warming experience than up to that point I’d been lead to believe.

With memorable voice work from Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell amongst others … this was still fun, but for me no animated classic.

Verdict:  3 /5

Run All Night


Viewed – 25 August 2015  Online-rental

When Liam Neeson defied expectations and proved a credible action star in the breakout hit Taken, I couldn’t wait to see what would come next.  However what we did get were a series of thrillers that all seemed to come from the same blueprint, delivering entertainment of rapidly deteriorating quality … Taken’s own sequels a prime example.

run-all-night

However I came to this fairly well reviewed revenge thriller with a degree of optimism because well, Neeson is still a solid screen presence and with the right script can really deliver the goods.  Sadly then this wasn’t the case here.  Neeson plays a down on his luck mobster, estranged from his son and still hanging out with his gangster friend Ed Harris.  Yet one night Ed Harris’ loose-cannon son gets in a sticky situation with some Albanian drug dealers and is soon involved in murder – that get’s witnessed by Neeson’s limousine driver son.  Neeson then has to protect his only son from this unhinged hoodlum that he’s forced to kill, which pisses off old friend Harris – and so sets forth a night of retribution and well, a lot of running.

Slightly convoluted story aside, the concept here is decent, and the performances, especially Harris and Neeson are not bad.  RoboCop remake’s Joel Kinnaman is also passable as Neeson’s clean-cut son … but the big let down here is the direction from usually commendable Jaume Collet-Serra (the underrated ‘Unknown’ and cult classic ‘Orphan’).  He chooses to shoot the whole movie like a rapidly edited pop-video that really didn’t suit the gritty, realistic tone and spoils pretty much every attempt at a good moment.  A car chase is dizzying and just not enjoyable to watch.  Shoot outs get tiresome very quickly, and even quiet character moments are awash with camera angles that don’t stay in one place for more than a second.  The writing is also pretty lazy and get’s rather silly at times just to help the plot along (leave the hit man alive?  Really??).

Some plot elements like how Neeson won’t let his son fire a gun and the father / son bonding or the friendship between Harris and Neeson, helped give the movie some depth – and in better hands, could have made for much more memorable fair (Michael Mann comes to mind, considering we get a steal of Heat’s famous coffee shop scene).  But no, this was just sloppy style for the sake of sloppy style, that took any potential and ruined it.

Verdict:  2 /5

The Gunman


Viewed – 26 March 2015  Cinema

Sean Penn isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you’re talking action movies … he’s more your method actor thesp with a few decent performances under his belt.  However with not a great deal to choose from at the cinema recently, this movie from the director of Taken (is that a trusted recommendation these days?) made for an intriguing prospect.

the-gunman-sean-penn

Penn plays a special forces operative in the Congo on a top secret mission where he is involved in the assassination of a politician.  He subsequently goes into hiding following the hit and has to turn his back on his sultry girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) and his best bud (Jarvier Bardem).  Eight year’s pass and he’s working as an aid worker in a  village when a hit squad recognise him and attempt to kill him.  Scared and worried who might have been talking, Penn goes about tracking down his former colleagues in search of answers.

Penn is on fine form and handles some slick, violent action with ease – this is certainly a side we don’t normally see from him and like his predecessor Liam Neeson he acquits himself with honours.  This surprises and shocks in equal measure with some brutal violence and an intense, nerve-wracking tone.  A clever brain-injury plot device aside, It lacks the emotional wallop of Taken and Penn doesn’t quite have Neeson’s charisma, but buffed up and breaking skulls a plenty, he still does a decent job.  Supporting cast especially Bardem as the grinning, shifty friend and a weary-looking but enjoyable Ray Winston add flavour and we even get Idris Elba as a shadowy Interpol agent.

It’s not about to spawn a franchise like Taken (thankfully) and probably won’t become a classic due to a sometimes confusing plot, but for fans of gritty, bone-crunching thrillers that don’t let up – this one is worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5