Run All Night

March 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop”)
Written by: Brad Inglesby (“Out of The Furnace”)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: in order to escape a dangerous situation, a deeply flawed, but stoic and stern Liam Neeson needs to use his kickassery skills that were honed in some vague way to pile bodies and save the day. It’s a formula that has served Neeson well, as he has sustained a newfound action film career as he rolls into his 60s. Still, one can’t help but think Neeson is making the same movie over and over again, an issue which continues in “Run All Night.”

After witnessing a murder, Mike (Joel Kinnaman) finds himself in danger from the ruthless son of a mobster. When Mike’s estranged father Jimmy (Liam Neeson) shows up to try and protect his son, he is left with the choice to kill the man after him. To complicate things further, the man he killed is the son of his longtime best friend Shawn (Ed Harris). With a vow to return the favor, Jimmy and Mike must band together to survive one long night.

There usually isn’t a lot of variance or nuance to Neeson in this particular type of role, and “Run All Night” provides no exception. It’s a typecast that, at this point, he is comfortable in and, to his credit, also pretty adept at. Still, it is no different than any other performance in any other action film he has starred in. As his son, Kinnaman is a little bit of a blank slate, never showing enough emotion to register as a worthwhile character. Of the entire cast, it is the always fantastic Harris who stands out as the most well rounded of the bunch.

The “eye for an eye” driving story behind “Run All Night” is familiar, but is actually heightened a bit by the prior relationship between Harris and Neeson’s character. Unfortunately, those complexities are never fully explored and it feels like an entirely missed opportunity. There is also the case of the father-son relationship between Neeson and Kinnaman, which is intentionally icy cold from the get-go yet never warms up, even when it is meant to.

The requisite violence, narrow escaping in close calls and angry phone threatening that happens in every single one of these Neeson movies is, of course, present and at the forefront of “Run All Night.” It is generic, by the numbers and a clear signal that the Neeson shoot-em-ups are growing tired. Neeson, unexpectedly, has proven himself to be an action star capable of commanding the screen. It’s a shame that filmmakers can’t provide him with more complex roles and juicier storytelling.

Non-Stop

February 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“Unknown”)
Written by: John W. Richardson (debut), Chris Roach (debut), & Ryan Engle (debut)

In his mid to late 50’s, something strange happened with Liam Neeson’s career: he became an action star. Kick-started by his “special set of skills” in “Taken” in 2008, Neeson began taking on roles usually reserved for guys like Bruce Willis and Jason Statham. At age 61, the roles continue to pile in, this time with our hero trying to save an airplane full of people from an anonymous texting killer in “Non-Stop.”

During an international flight from New York to London, alcoholic U.S. Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) receives a text message from someone on the airplane stating a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into a bank account. Racing against the clock and not knowing who he can trust, Marks must find a way to smoke out the aggressive texter.

Using technology to enhance the story and an interesting wrinkle to the premise as bodies start dropping, “Non-Stop” starts off as strong entertainment. Neeson delivers what one might expect given his recent track record. He uses his now trademark and gravely suspect American accent to bark orders and angrily explain to another agent on the phone what is happening 30,000 feet in the air. It’s a far cry from the type of performance that netted him an Oscar nomination in “Schindler’s List,” but he plays it straight which is appropriate for this type of film.

There’s a nice level of tension throughout the beginning of the film, as Neeson’s character assesses the situation, trying to figure out who on the plane is sending the threatening texts. Unfortunately, other than Julianne Moore, who provides the bonding relationship Neeson’s character needs, many of the other secondary characters add little to the story. Corey Stoll in particular, who was incredible in Season 1 of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” is given a stale and overused role as the angry guy demanding to know what is going on.

Somewhere around the midpoint, the film’s once interesting plot slowly starts to dissipate into a sort of whodunit that, quite frankly, isn’t that difficult to figure it out. From there, the movie features a final act that is predictable and absurd, even considering the ridiculous synopsis that requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Not to mention, there’s a political message that feels completely shoehorned. As a result, “Non-Stop” squanders its tense and unique set up and becomes typical action movie fare.

Orphan

July 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”)
Written by: David Leslie Johnson (debut)
 
Make some room Damien. There’s a new evil kid on the block and she doesn’t care that you’re the spawn of Satan. In fact, Esther, the demented adopted daughter in the thriller “Orphan,” doesn’t care for much else other than bludgeoning people to death and looking oh so sweet doing it.

Call it my one guilty pleasure of the year. It’s really surprising how entertaining “Orphan” is in all its preposterousness.

Directed by Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s first film was an inadequate remake of 1953’s “House of Wax” with Paris Hilton, “Orphan” follows the Coleman family (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga play the parents, John and Kate) as they come to terms with the death their a child and eventually open their home to a young girl they adopt from an orphanage.

Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) impresses John and Kate from the start with her sparkling personality, winning smile, mature nature, and artistic talent. She almost seems too good to be true, so the Colemans sign the paperwork and take Esther home to live with them and their two children Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer, one of the cutest little girls you’re bound to see in any movie this year).

It takes a good hour for Collet-Serra to set up the tension before unleashing Esther, which is bold of him to do since most thrillers usually jump right into the action. The waiting, however, pays off as we get a sense of who the Colemans are as a family. As they begin to suffer later, you can actually feel for them as real human characters instead of as victims of Esther’s lunacy.

In other similarly themed movies, shocking scenes are usually censored especially when the wrongdoing is at the hands of a child. In “Orphan,” however, there is nothing Collet-Serra decides to pull away from. There are extremely upsetting scenes in the film that are excessively violent. With Fuhrman behind it all, it’s more disturbing and effective.

“Orphan” is not just a kiddie slasher film. There are some genuine scares despite Collet-Serra overusing some substandard camera tricks and baiting the audience like children in a funhouse. Sure, it may slink back into clichés at times, but you could do a lot worse in the genre.

Jaume Collet-Serra – Orphan

July 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Growing up in Barcelona, filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra always found himself watching the American movies that played at the local theater.

“I grew up learning a lot about American culture from the movies I watched,” Collet-Serra told me during a phone interview. “That’s why now I can make American movies for American audiences.”

His love for movies led him to attend film school at Columbia College in Los Angeles in the early 90s. Soon after graduating, Collet-Serra began his career as an editor before moving on to direct music videos and television commercials for companies such as PlayStation, Budweiser, and Verizon.

In 2005, Collet-Serra was given an opportunity to direct his first feature film by producer Joel Silver (“The Matrix”). The movie, “House of Wax,” was a remake of the 1953 original of the same name. Two years later, Collet-Serra directed the sequel, “Goal II: Living the Dream” starring Kuno Becker.

Now, he reunites with producer Silver for the third film of his career, “Orphan,” which opens in theaters this week. The thriller stars Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”) and Peter Sarsgaard (“Kinsey”) as Kate and John Coleman, a couple who adopts a 9-year-old girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) and soon discovers she is not as sweet and innocent as she led them to believe.

Was there a particular movie you saw when you were a young boy going into the theater in Barcelona that made you realize you wanted to become a filmmaker?

I don’t know if it was one movie or one filmmaker that inspired me. For me, I was fascinated with the worlds in movies I saw as a kid. I wanted to be a part of it. When I found out I could do it as a job, there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do. After I knew I wanted to be involved in moviemaking, it was all a matter of finding out how to accomplish that goal.

Who inspires you as a filmmaker?

I’m a big fan of Roman Polanski, [Alfred] Hitchcock, and Spanish director Luis Buñuel. I like directors that are very psychological. Buñuel is very surreal. They all have great imagery. Their movies entertain, but at the same time they like to explore the human condition.

I read that the trailer for “Orphan” had to be changed because viewers complained about one of the lines. (According to reports, Warner Bros. removed the line “It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own” after receiving complaints from adoptive parents and foster care organizations). Do you think that was a reasonable request?

Our goal is to entertain and make movies. Our goal is not to offend anybody. If someone was offended, I think it is reasonable to ask to change one line in the trailer. If it’s in the movie, I’m not going to change something because someone is offended. A trailer is more understandable.

I read that you spent a lot of your childhood in a boarding school, so can you empathize with the character Esther in that you didn’t grow up in a normal home situation?

Definitely. It was something I would have loved to explore more, but unfortunately in this movie the scenes where we see Esther in the orphanage are very short. If we had more time at the beginning, I would have enjoyed exploring aspects from my own personal life. As a child, when you are separated from a normal family environment, it makes you stronger as a person.

What kind of actress were you looking for to play Esther and what did you see in a newcomer like Isabelle Fuhrman to cast her in the role?

We were looking for somebody who was really smart and talented obviously and someone who was believable in the role. That’s what we got with Isabelle. When she read for us, she had strong convictions behind every word she said. That’s very difficult to find in a child. The script asked for a blonde girl. When Isabelle came in she was very different than what we were looking for physically. But we immediately liked her and created the character to fit her. She has great eyes and the way that she looks at you is very interesting and creepy.

Was it difficult to explain the tension you wanted to portray in this film to someone like Isabelle, who can’t even see her own performance at the theater without her parents since it’s rated R?

It isn’t difficult when you break it down in pieces. You still get all the tension, but it’s just make-believe. There are moments in the movie that are scary, but we were just careful and we were in constant communication with her parents and made sure she understood the scenes.