“Non-Stop” Review

July 8, 2014 |  by  |  mike horne, movies, reviews  |  2 Comments

Review by Mike Horne – contributing film critic.

Some roles have the power to resurrect or change an actor’s career.  “Pulp Fiction” brought John Travolta back to life and gave him a good box office run though the rest of the 90’s.  “The Bourne Identity” turned Matt Damon in an action hero.  Similarly, “Taken” transformed Liam Nesson into a bad-ass. Yes, Liam was no stranger to action movies, and even managed to train Batman, but his role as the deep throated Ex-CIA bone breaker highlighted a particular set of skills acquired over a long career.

This time around he plays Bill Marks, a depressed and abrasive federal air marshall who doesn’t actually like flying. He also enjoys hard liquor more than he should. During a flight from New York to London things take a turn for the dramatic, as the first of many threatening text messages start to roll in.  “If you don’t do what I tell you, people will start to die”, type of threatening. The thing is, these texts can only come from someone on the plane. The other weird thing is that no one else seems that concerned.

With the help of Julianne Moore, and a few other reluctant passengers, Bill races against the clock to capture the technical mastermind who will continue to kill if his demands for $150 million are not met. What follows is a highly enjoyable cat-and-mouse action thriller. We are also treated to some surprisingly emotional moments, as Bill begins to crack under all that pressure. He’s not perfect. He has made mistakes, but one thing is certain… You shouldn’t fuck with him. He is a bad-ass after all, and it is his determination that drives us through the twists and turns of this little caper.

I thouroughly enjoyed “Non-Stop”, but I found a few things to be a little too convenient and some characters a little too thin. There were a few points in the film where I shook my head, but it never really took me out of the movie. Thankfully, these minor niggles were put aside after some good old fashioned fist fights and a heavy doses of “Who the hell is it?’. I also have to mention the onscreen text overlays. They were some of the best I have ever seen, and their presentation helped to keep the tension and story rolling. They became a kind of character themselves, floating around the frame like some textual menace. It was also the first time I think I have ever seen spellcheck represented in a movie. Yea… I noticed that.

I also noticed a few other things:

A curtain’s effectiveness for privacy is directly correlated to how wide open you decide to leave it. Smoking on planes without setting off alarms is actually super easy. Being able to act like everything is hunky-dory is a hugely important part of being a good air stewardess The stereotype for Afro-American males with attitude is annoying. The stereotype for upperclass British males is stupid. Kids in movies, that are only there to cheaply play with our emotions, are annoying. Bad guys with poor motives are stupid AND annoying.

“Unknown” director, Jaume Collet-Serra, does a great job with his once again lead, actively forcing him into highly compromising situations. He dishes out some truly amazing camera tricks and manages to make a static environment both dynamic and exciting. He also captures the nervousness and group-thinking of the post 9-11 passengers perfectly. He uses all of this to slowly turn up the heat in that confined space, and manages to keep us guessing until the very end.

Liam is again delightful as the man possessed. There are a handful of familiar faces littered about, each playing their parts well, but Neeson is the reason why I watched and enjoyed this movie. Despite his age, he is giving our modern action stars a good run for their money. I truly hope “Taken 3″ will remove some of the bad taste left in my mouth by the second one. If this is any indication, he is still up to the job.

I wouldn’t say this is a perfect film, but it does serve up some decent heart-pumping eye candy. Personally, I was let down by the revelation. I heard this described as “Die Hard” on a plane. Like O.J’s glove, that doesn’t quite fit for me. Hans Gruber is one of the greatest villains of all time. Our villain doesn’t even come close. This didn’t pop my fun balloon, but the air was definitely let out.

In the end, “Non-Stop” was a bucket full of adrenaline soaked popcorn, with a few annoyingly burnt kernels that got stuck in my teeth.

THREE STARS Non Stop Review

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“Anna” Review

July 7, 2014 |  by  |  mike horne, movies, reviews  |  2 Comments

Review by Mike Horne – contributing film critic.

Watching “Anna” is like getting a cheap lap dance. It is thrilling, mildly erotic and a bit of a rush. And like all good things, it ends too soon. You are then left alone, unsatisfied, filled with regret and with less money in your pocket.

“Anna” had so much potential. A borderline sci-fi thriller, with enough of an original concept to truly bend your mind. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. The only brain bending received is when you try to figure out how such a wonderful idea could go so horribly wrong.

Mark Strong (“Sherlock Holmes”, “Green Lantern”) plays John, a grieving and emotionally wrecked ‘Memory Detective’. He is hired to help people relive their memories and witness them as they are recalled, inside their minds. Having run out of money, he needs to get back in the game and returns to his former boss, Sebastian, played by the excellent Brian Cox. It just so happens that Sebastian has the perfect job for him: Help a bright 16 year old, spoiled rich girl to start eating again. She is confined to her mansion and is on hunger strike. Easy enough. What could possibly go wrong?

So we meet Anna, the centerpiece of this thriller. She quickly proves herself to be a very shrewd and devilishly clever piece of work, leaving our John very perplexed indeed. It is in his journeys through her mind that we get the real meat of the story. Lines between reality and imagination start to blur, accusations are cast and we go on a hunt with John to find where the truth truly lies.

I have to admit that I was emotionally caught up with the movie towards the end and had no real idea where I would end up. I did pick out a few telling clues along the way, but the final destination was still hidden from me. I was put in a welcomed, fun-filled state of confusion and began to slowly edge myself off my seat. I was brought ever so close to a magnificent climax… The pace quickened… almost there… things heated up… getting closer… Oh yes! Yes! HERE WE GO!! YES!!

Then nothing…

Sweet F.A.

Bar’s closed. Time to go home. Drink up and get the fuck out.

And for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.

All of the required components were there. Good story, great actors, pace, mood, originality, decent direction, and lots of lovely twists and turns. Then, somehow, the entire movie decided that suicide would be the best course of action.

Seriously, who needs closure these days? Let the viewers put all of the pieces together themselves. Movies are far too obvious anyway… Besides, we can always wrap things up with some crappy, seemingly poetic narration to conclude this mindfuck of a movie. And conclude it does. Badly.

All of the actors earned their money and there is a certain classy feel to everything. Taissa Farmiga does very well playing with our heads as Anna, but I feel her performance was entirely wasted due to the so called ending. I still don’t know if she was a remorseless psychopath, or damaged goods. I enjoyed my time with Mark Strong and connected with him as the broken, concerned professional. I loved him in “Welcome to the Punch”, but felt like trading a few fists of my own after he uttered the film’s closing line.

Disappointing is a word that can be freely thrown at this movie but, if I am to be honest, I did enjoy it. Well, the better part of it anyway. I just wish it had paid off. There are too many unanswered questions and obvious plot holes that you can’t help but feel that the plot gave in under the weight of its own grandiose ideas.

This felt like so many bad dates, birthdays and Christmas let-downs. My hopes were deliciously raised, but in the end, all I got was a kiss on the cheek, some poorly homemade cake, and a pair of woollen socks.

Ultimately, “Anna” is like premature ejaculation, but in reverse. If you can deal with that kind of torture, there may be something here for you. And if that is true, then you are one sick puppy, my friend.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Anna Review

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“Transcendence” Review

July 7, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Consider this list of mediocre movies…

The Lone Ranger
Dark Shadows
Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides
The Rum Diary
Alice in Wonderland
The Tourist
Sweeney Todd
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Corpse Bride
Secret Window
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The Man Who Cried
From Hell
The Ninth Gate
Sleepy Hollow
The Astronaut’s Wife

Sure… You may find a few films in there that you like.  I doubt there are any that you really love.  And to be completely objective, that is one shockingly average filmography from a so-called megastar actor.

How many great films has Depp been heavily involved in?  “Edward Scissorhands”, “Benny & Joon”, “Gilbert Grape”, “Ed Wood”, “Donnie Brasco”, “Pirates of the Caribbean 1″, “Finding Neverland”, “The Libertine”.  Maybe four or five of those could be considered great.

You could argue strongly that Depp has the worst success ratio of any leading actor in cinema history.  He makes at least three clunkers for every mild success… and most of his good movies were made years ago.

Well, you can safely add “Transcendence” to the list of clunkers.  It is a hodgepodge of fortune cookie philosophy combined with a 1980′s-style cheap sci-fi that would feel like a B-movie, were it not for all the famous people involved.

Depp plays a scientist who is slowly dying after being shot for his beliefs.  In order to save his mind, he and his wife, played by Rebecca Hall, try to transfer his consciousness to a super-computer.  This ludicrous transformation is wholly impossible to accept as a viewer.  A better film could have suspended our disbelief, but “Transcendence” resorts to showing us montages of people putting together desktop PC’s, bundles of wires, and gibberish on screens.  Ahhhh… so that’s how you transfer a human mind into the digital realm???!!!???

The performances are all run-of-the-mill.  In this movie, Depp doesn’t have all the wigs and clothes and make-up to distract us from his limited talents.  He is stuck being very Depp-like… mumbling his lines like a stoner who is coming off a weed-high, trapped in that depressed mode.  Rebecca Hall has done better work in her primary school Christmas play.  Morgan Freeman does a good Morgan Freeman impression as he mails in his lines.  All of the supporting cast are instantly forgettable.

“Transcendence” takes its low-budget veneer and ambles to a hysterically pompous attempt at a grand finale.  All the viewer is left with is an elongated third act that tries to convey grand philosophical thoughts, only to deliver silly nonsense about the dangers of technology, the beauty of nature and the motivations of a deranged lunatic who just wanted to be with a girl.

Johnny Depp is the biggest smoke and mirrors success story in Hollywood.

ONE AND A HALF STARS Transcendence Review

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“Locke” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Here is the pitch… Tom Hardy drives a car for 90-minutes and takes phone calls along the way.  Literally nothing else happens.  Does that make you want to see it?

Well, think again., because “Locke” is one of the more stressful and exhausting thrillers of the year.  It is a multi-layered film that seems more like a radio play than standard cinematic storytelling.  Viewers will find themselves imagining the scenes that take place at the other end of the phone.  The conversations are scripted so supremely well that you will visualize the action with all the necessary clarity.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, one of the most trusted construction managers in the business, who gets in his car one evening and drives away from everything that matters most in his life.  An enormous cement pour is happening the following morning, at which his presence is supremely important.  He leaves it in the hands of his inexperienced subordinate.  It will likely result in Locke losing his prestigious career.  Without giving too much else away, Locke will also be making some personal phone calls, along the way, that will change his family life forever.

The film is in constant motion, despite never leaving the confines of his BMW.  It reminds the viewer of the gimmicks used in movies like “Phone Booth” and “Buried”… both of which use a single claustrophobic location.  All three are good films because the writing is superb and the performances are strong.  In “Locke”, Tom Hardy cements his status as one of the finest actors of the era.  He delivers a deeply thoughtful and emotionally complex turn in one of the most physically restrictive sets imaginable.

“Locke” is gripping and tense.  Perhaps there are moments in the film that feel a tad repetitive… most notably the phone conversations with his sons and the imaginary conversations with his father.  Still, those are minor quibbles.  I can wholeheartedly recommend the movie and urge you to seek it out.  It is a small film and you will probably have to go out of your way to find it… but Hardy’s efforts alone are worth the time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Locke Review

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“Enemy” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“Enemy” may not be the best film of 2014… but it is one of the most memorable and absurdly intriguing films of the year.  Denis Villeneuve directs a mind-bending mystery starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon and Mélanie Laurent.  It is strange and hypnotic and very creepy.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a loner college professor who is prompted to watch a film by a colleague.  One of the extras in the film catches his eye — appearing to be his exact doppelganger.  The experience compels Adam to find the actor, a man named Anthony Claire.  He observes the actor from afar, developing a dangerous, consuming obsession with him.  Adam’s girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent) is very troubled by his new behavior.  Anthony shares a far more exciting life with his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon).  He is much more outgoing and confident than Adam… but soon starts to feel the obsessive gaze of his stalker.

After an arranged meeting, where they compare the exact same hands and mirror-image scars, “Enemy” starts to takes some bizarre turns.  There are surreal images and scenes that create altogether chilling moods.  The film meanders slowly down a path of paranoia and psychosis.  It all leads to one of the most shocking final sequences in recent cinematic memory.

The cast is all superb.  The direction is calm and assured.  “Enemy” is an unapologetic oddity that works symbolically rather than literally.  It is the type of film that I am not sure I will ever be able to fully wrap my brain around.  Instead, it creeps beneath the skin, takes root in the recesses of the subconscious… and festers.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Enemy Review

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“Young & Beautiful” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I watched “Young & Beautiful” (Jeune & Jolie) entirely in French — without subtitles.  That is a first for me.  I am what you would call “casually conversational” in the language.  I get the gist of most conversations… but occasionally I miss things and need it slowed down or repeated.  I feel the need to qualify this review by admitting that I probably didn’t comprehend every single line of the film.  That being said, I can only imagine this film getting better when I see it a second time… with the subtitles.

The director, François Ozon, has crafted some wonderful films over the years… most notably “Swimming Pool”, “8 Women” and “Under the Sand”.  Here, he delivers a delicate exploration of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening as she enters a life of prostitution.

Marine Vacth is an absolute revelation as Isabelle, a high school girl who loses her virginity on a family holiday.  The encounter leaves her cold.  Upon her return to the city and to school, she finds an avenue to easy money by using this unemotional sexual power she has over men.  However, one older man, Georges, is a little different from all the rest.

The movie is quintessentially French… and that is a compliment.  It is patient and inquisitive, languid and wise.  It never devolves into the trivial or the salacious.  “Young & Beautiful” is a lovely and poignant story with terrific performances.  It demands a second viewing… one where I catch all the spoken words I missed out on the first time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Young & Beautiful Review

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“A Most Wanted Man” Trailer

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

It is desperately sad that this is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film.  The trailer makes this look like a taut absorbing thriller.  Hoffman looks amazing in his role.  I can’t wait to see “A Most Wanted Man”.

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“Snowpiercer” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Some of my long-time readers may know my theory that any film with a train in it simply has to be good.  That theory equally applies to snow.  “Snowpiercer” is a film about a train in snow!  Surely this is a masterpiece on the horizon!?

Uhhh… No.

In the future, a failed global warming experiment makes the world freeze and renders it completely uninhabitable for human life.  The only humans remaining exist on a train that uses a perpetual motion engine to circumnavigate the earth over and over again.  The train seems to be hundreds of cars long.  We start at the back… with the dregs of society living in slum conditions.  After years of enduring those conditions, they plan a revolt to get to the front of the train.

It all sounds good… and it has interesting things to say about class warfare and income inequality.  However, it needed a much better film to tell that story.

The movie works its way from car to car… getting more and more bizarre each time.  There are saunas and aquariums and night clubs and strange drugs and schools and yada yada yada.  It becomes a trippy mess that fails to explore all the possibilities of the plot.  Rather it is a succession of scenes that do not add up to a satisfying whole.  It could have been great… but it is really just silly nonsense.

Oh well… train theory busted… snow theory busted.    UNLESS — The two cancel each other out???  New Theory…. BAM!

ONE STAR Snowpiercer Review

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“Calvary” Review

June 28, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

This film had me… then almost lost me… then gathered me back at the end.  The result is a moody, somber piece of cinema with very strong performances and an existential aftertaste.

“Calvary” begins with an intense close-up of Brendan Gleeson, as Father James Lavelle, taking confession from an unseen man who promises to kill him as an act of vengeance.  The unseen man claims that he want to kill an innocent priest to avenge the years of abuse he suffered from another member of clergy when he was a young boy.  According to him, killing an innocent would mean more than simply retaliating against the perpetrator. Gleeson’s character takes it in stride.  He is given until a week from Sunday to “put his house in order” before the act will be committed.

In a sub-plot, the Father’s daughter arrives back in town after a failed suicide attempt.  She is played by Kelly Reilly, a fine young actress who holds her own against Gleeson’s superb performance.  The rest of the cast all deliver interesting roles — including an Ivorian philanderer, an alcoholic millionaire, a cuckolded drunk, a heartless doctor and a suicidal virgin who may join the military.

It probably all sounds a little drab and depressing… perhaps it is.  However, if you are familiar with Brendan Gleeson’s first collaboration with director, John Michael McDonagh, in “The Guard”, you will be well aware of the dark humor that pervades his work.  The first half of “Calvary” has a similar vibe and really works in creating a memorable atmosphere and a story that will have you drumming your fingers with nervous tension.

Unfortunately, the film dwindles around the hour mark.  It drags enough to lose most of its inertia.  I found myself checking the clock and the movie got mired in exposition and uninteresting conversations.  At a certain point, I had lost enthusiasm for the film and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

However, the final fifteen minutes rescued the film from inconsequential irrelevance.  The climax is really thrilling and brave… and felt more authentic than I expected it would.  Gleeson’s showdown with the unseen man is powerful and the last scenes border on the profound.  It left me completely satisfied and probably even earned a second viewing someday.  “Calvary” is a good film with fantastic performances.  Go out of your way to find it.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Calvary Review

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“A Million Ways to Die in the West” Review

June 27, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I love “Family Guy”.  I really liked “Ted”.  You can count me in as a fan of Seth MacFarlane despite his atrocious hosting of the Oscars.  I get his humor.  He throws out a million jokes a minute… and 75% of the time, he has me in stitches.

However…

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably the worst film of 2014.  It is easily one of worst “supposed comedies” I can remember.  And it ranks as one of the most infuriatingly dull movies that I have ever seen.  I hated it in ways that I cannot convey with mere words.  I have to physically pound the keyboard with my fists to impart my vicious loathing  — dsuiasd@gioklguw£%elkl wefgo wee()wklf qjweqpw9p/*#’~u38.

I have to concede that I giggled very early on in the film with the first of the 37 fart jokes.  A man collapsed after some bad gas and I was able to muster up a “Beavis and Butthead” like chuckle, which lasted 0.8 seconds.  After that, the film peters out and I was left with muscle ache from frowning so much.

There are vast stretches of this film that defiantly aren’t even trying to be funny.  And I am not talking about 2-3 minute scenes… I mean 15- 20 minute action sequences or half-hour expositions of attempted sincerity.  It is as if MacFarlane became a grandiose emotional sap… coupled with a Michael Bay impersonator.

In addition, the film’s running time is 19 hours and 43 minutes… or at least it felt so.  I thought it was over about 45 minutes in… but then it just kept going and going and going and going.  YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW LONG THIS FILM TRUNDLES ON FOR!!!

However, the ultimate crime of a film like this is being morosely unfunny.  I swear on my life I got more laughs out of “Schindler’s List”.  Weak jokes are repeated relentlessly.  None of it has any wit or timing or truth or teeth.  The gags bored the hell out of my 15 year old nephew.  They were beneath him.  I think they would be beneath anyone’s sense of humor.  It is painfully awkward to endure.

Everyone will be dumber for having watched this film.  I award it no points and may god have mercy on its soul.

ZERO STARS A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

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