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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Escape Plan


Viewed – 24 March 2015  Blu-ray

I haven’t been that interested in this 80s action hero revival that began with The Expendables movies (the first one was bad enough) as I felt there was too much of a nudge-nudge wink-wink attitude going on, that seemed to poke fun at the stars I had once adored.  However this prison-set actioner looked a bit more serious, and well, what’s not to be appealed by a Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up?

escape-plan

Stallone plays a guy who specialises in testing the security of prisons, and has been able to break out of every prison he has been planted in.  However when approached by the CIA to test a top-secret facility, Stallone jumps at the chance to truly put his skills to the test.  However everything is not quite as it seems, and soon he’s inside a high-tech prison even he is unsure can be escaped from.  So he befriends fellow inmate Schwarzenegger who has an agenda of his own.

It’s a fairly complicated set up for what is basically a slightly more tongue-in-cheek ‘Escape from Alcatraz’.  We get a shady warden who seems utterly corrupt, a psychotic henchman who takes too much pleasure in beating up inmates (a snarling Vinnie Jones) and a kindly doctor who takes an interest in Stallone & Arnie’s plight (Sam Neil looking a tad bored).  The plot gets rather convoluted at times (such as the warden’s evil scheme, something to do with a banker?) – but we’re not here for meaningful characters or absorbing plot.  What we do get is plenty of violence, action and intrigue as we watch our heavy-weight heroes devise plan after plan to escape their surroundings.  Stallone struggles with the explain-to-the-viewer dialogue due to his almost incomprehensive drawl, and Arnie seems fairly tired and a shadow of his former self … until he gets a moment where he lays waste to a slew of bad guys with a high powered machine gun … complete with a knowing grin.

I had fun with this.  It’s clichéd, gets pretty silly at times, but retains an 80s vibe of daft plot, maximum action such movies cut their teeth on back in the day.  Entertaining nonsense that’s worth your time if you were ever a fan of these guys.

Verdict:  3 /5

Jurassic Park


Viewed – 28 April 2012  Blu-ray

Universal Studios 100th Anniversary Edition

Not many movies have had the monumental impact with the box-office that this enjoyed during the nineties.  Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this was going to be the blue print by which all future summer blockbusters would be judged, and pioneered many of the effects we now take for granted.  Two Paliantologists (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) are called to a remote island by a wealthy tycoon (Richard Attenborough) in order to over see the imminent opening of a theme park.  Yet this one isn’t anything like Disney.  This one has living, breathing dinosaurs as it’s star attractions.  Of course something always goes wrong, and soon its a battle to survive against some of the deadliest creatures to ever roam the earth.

At its basic level, this is a monster movie, but with a director like Spielberg behind the camera, it quickly becomes so much more … uplifting, awe-inspiring, exciting as hell and to some extent magical.  He is a grand master at the high-concept picture, being responsible for the likes of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Jaws, to name but two of his many achievements.  Add to this some of the finest effects work of their day (that still look good now, even if day-time shots reveal the CGI a bit too much) and set-pieces that have become Hollywood legend (the amazing T-rex attack especially).

The movie does crawl in the quieter moments and there’s too much exposition at the start, but along with some enjoyable performances (with a memorable Jeff Goldblum) and that stirring score from John Williams … this still works magnificently and for me, remains one of the finest blockbusters ever made.

The Blu-ray picture quality whilst not jumping off the screen as I had hoped, still has enough ‘pop’ to satisfy, seems free of noise-redcution and is in pretty good condition.  More importantly the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack positively roars and really enhances a movie that for me, was always about its sound design not just its effects.  Saying that, in HD some of the CGI is showing its age, but overall this is a movie that has stood the test of time fairly well.  Extras-wise we get a 3 part documentary (not 6 part as stated on the sleeve) as well as archive featurettes, interviews and galleries.  I would have liked a Spielberg commentary, but apparently he doesn’t like doing them, so that isn’t going to happen.  Overall as a tribute to a classic movie, this could have been better, but as it stands, many fans will still find plenty to like.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5

Daybreakers


Viewed – 25 June 2010  Blu-ray

Well, another vampire movie.  Even though I’m getting a little tired of the blood suckers these days, this one at least has a rather interesting premise:  A mysterious virus turns 90% of the population of the  world into vampires, and the remaining humans become an endangered species.  Yet these vampires aren’t the monstrous creatures you may be used to but rather civilised, respectable men and women forced to live in a world where the human blood supply is gradually dwindling and as they grow ever more hungry, some begin changing into ravenous creatures, occupying the subways and sewers in their desperate need.  Heading an investigation into finding a blood substitute, Haematologist Ethan Hawke refuses to drink human blood, does not agree with how humans are harvested and would prefer to find a cure.  That’s when a small band of humans call on him and show him that they’ve found a way to turn a vampire back into a human – and it’s just a matter of convincing the vampires that immortality and a thirst for blood is less desirable than being normal again.

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