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

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The Conjuring 2


Viewed – 16 June 2016  Cinema

(Updated 22/06/2016).  The first movie in what appears to be growing into a horror franchise really impressed.  I was quite late to watching it but so glad I did even though supernatural ghost-story fair usually freaks me out.  But director James Wan nailed an old fashioned concept and delivered a truly unnerving and frightening experience.  So sitting down to the sequel I was both excited and a bit on edge.  Early word had it that this was going to be even scarier … and once again explored a based-on-fact true story this time set in Enfield, England in the late seventies.  Paranormal investigators Ed & Lorrain Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) are called into investigate a series of strange happenings at a family home where the youngest daughter seems to be the focus of a restless entity.

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As a UK resident this was an immediately relatable and authentic setting for a horror movie.  With recognisable east-end cockney accents, along with a street not unlike one I grew up on, I was transported back to my childhood, at least spiritually.  However this is a James Wan movie and soon the tension builds and the scares are brought on so we get freaky things going bump in the night, eerie corridors, moving furniture and a ghostly, malevolent old man.  It’s effectively creepy and unnerving but not quite as under-your-skin as Conjuring #1, relying a bit too much on jump-scares.  A prologue detailing the Warren’s involvement in the infamous Amityville house sets the tone and the involvement of a ghostly, demonic nun definitely disturbs.  However with a 2hr+ run time, the encounters do get a bit repetitive, and a boogie-man sequence that plays on childhood fears threatens to turn the movie into something else entirely.

Performances however are decent across the board especially the young actress playing tormented child ‘Janet’ (Madison Wolfe), as well as her struggling mother.  Yet this is also Wilson & Farmiga’s movie and they again add plenty of emotional weight to proceedings.  Wan cranks up the thrills especially towards the end but a bit like the last movie things wrap themselves up too easily.  However throughout I was nervously gripped and with the backdrop of a true story in mind this still made for an above average experience.  Recommended.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Conjuring


Viewed – 04 September 2015  Blu-ray

I had wanted to watch this a while back, but for one reason or another never got around to it.  Horror movies of late it seems have a funny effect on me.  I have grown up loving the genre but the more recent obsession with supernatural subjects has never been to my liking – what can I say, ghost stuff scares me.  That being said it has been a while since one has had such an effect, and the last was probably Insidious.  Funnily enough by the same director as this supposedly based on true events movie.

Conjuring 2

James Wan has made a bit of a name for himself; a relatively young director who has gained quite a reputation, starting out with the Saw movies and then the aforementioned Insidious (and it’s sequel) and now this.  A family move into an old farm house in the early 70s, a man and woman and their four daughters.  However its not long before they realise they are not alone and strange stuff starts to occur.  Step in demonologists Lorraine & Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who specialising in investigating the paranormal – and boy, have the family got a very unpleasant spirit for them.  Wan knows how to direct a horror movie, no doubt.  This is filled with tension, solid performances (with a stand out Lili Taylor) and slow burning atmosphere complete with quality camera work and a creepy setting.  I’m easily put on edge by movies like this, but this drew me into the characters and story, building up to the scares with genuine style and class.  We get an eerie sleep-walking girl, stuff going on in mirrors, glimpses of ghosts and a decidedly unsettling backstory.  As a subplot, we are also introduced to the possessed doll ‘Annabelle’ and the freaky looking thing gets to play it’s part … even if it seems under-utilised.

The movie is not without it’s clichés and there are riffs on The Ring, The Exorcist and Amityville – but the influences here are worn with pride and when the scares come – oh boy.  This was one of the most frightening horror movies I have seen in quite some time – it goes for the jugular where many recent horrors have chosen to play it safe (The Babadook).  A movie best watched with the lights down and the sound cranked up – as long as you don’t mind a sleepless night afterwards.

Verdict:  5 /5

Young Adult


Viewed – 31 July 2012  Blu-ray

I don’t know why I haven’t seen more movies starring the simply quite delicious Charlize Theron.  Despite her wealth of accolades, an Oscar nod and a healthy fan base, her talents have  so far (for the most part) passed me by.  So this latest entry to her quite prolific cannon sparked my interest.

Theron plays Mavis (!) a writer on a series of successful ‘young adult’ aimed novels, who following a divorce and in the middle of a mid-life crisis, chooses to return to the small town where she grew up with one clear aim – to win back the boy she fell in love with in high school.  Only one catch – or two actually.  He’s happily married, and his wife has just had a baby.   Co starring the underrated Patton Oswalt as the nerdy guy who had a crush on Mavis in high school, and Patrick Wilson as ‘the one’, this is an instantly likable and entertaining comedy-drama.

Penned by current Hollywood go to gal Diablo Cody, this is full of the kind of sharp dialogue and clever one-liners that were so memorable in Juno.  Although the idea gave me a feeling of deja vu, and some of the stronger langauge felt a little unnecessary … Theron holds proceedings together with what should have been an Oscar-nominated turn (tutt tutt), making what is essentially a marriage wrecker, someone I ended up liking.  She was the girl who was meant to have it all, make it big, become somebody.  Yet approaching forty, it hasn’t quite turned out like that for Mavis – so who can blame her for trying to turn things around?

A quality evenings viewing.

Verdict:  4 /5

Insidious


Viewed – 03 May 2011  Cinema

I wasn’t expecting this.  Going completely blind into this one, and knowing nothing but the fact it was directed by Saw’s James Wan.  So what would you expect?  Clever twists?  Wall to wall gore?  Then I hope you are sitting comfortably.  A young couple with two boys and a baby girl, move into one of those clichéd big-ass American houses that seems creepy from the off set.  Of course it’s not long until things start going bump in the night and weird shit begins to go down.  I know what you’re going to say, this is just like Amityville or Poltergeist, which was certainly my impression, but as the story progresses it takes a much more weirder and disturbing path, and to say it scared the hell out of me, well…

Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, along with an appearance by the increasingly freaky Barbara Hershey (just see Black Swan, you’ll know what I mean), this is well executed and incredibly effective, with jump-scares that don’t take the viewer for an idiot, and a nail-biting tension, helped by the eerie lighting and mostly hand-held camera work, that kept this viewer permanently nervous.  Ok, some moments of comedy seem out-of-place and towards the end the movie did sink into an extended Ghost Train ride, but by then you’re already glued, and in a crowded genre of torture porn gore flicks, sequels and remakes, this was a breath of fresh air, and shows that James Wan clearly didn’t fluke Saw and his follow-up, Death Sentence, making him one of the most assured horror-talents in the business.

Verdict:  4 /5