Strangers Derailed on a Train

DATELINE:  Riding the Rails?

Neeson Sees Rushes of Commuter Old-Timer Hero

Yes, we imagine this is Neeson’s face (above) after looking at the daily rushes for The Commuter.

Though The Commuter sounds like a pedestrian film, it is actually one of those improbable Liam Neeson action/adventure movies.

Our credulity might be given a hard task to accept a complex conspiracy is afoot on a train out of Manhattan. Or, our credulity may be more strained by the notion that the self-identified 60-year-old hero is able to fight strenuous younger opponents and show only a few huffs and puffs for his efforts.

Most 60-year old commuters would be suffering cardiac arrest after a bumpy ride on this commuter train.

A fiendish woman approaches Neeson after he is fired from his insurance salesman job—with an offer he cannot refuse. We learn he is a former police detective, which may explain a few plot holes.

The train out of Grand Central has your usual suspects from central casting—and Liam must earn his $100,000 bounty and save his wife and children from clever kidnappers who may be equals of terrorists, FBI agents, or even the transit police force.

The film defies you to withhold logic and apply an explanation until the final moments. It will take enormous willpower. Forget the notion that anyone that powerful and rich enough to be executed by a mysterious black ops group would not be on a commuter train (as one Goldman Sachs broker on the train tells us).

Wonderful Elizabeth McGovern is around in a small role as Neeson’s wife, and all the actors are suitably well-cast in support of the wild goose chase along the rails. Next, time you may want to call Uber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Move Over, Sam Spade; Liam Neeson is Here as a Private Eye

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 

Astro & Neeson 

Lawrence Block’s Detective Scudder receives tough-guy treatment from director Scott Frank.

Liam Neeson seems to turn these out these film like sausages on an assembly line, but they are the kielbasa of sausages. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a dark and dangerous throwback to the Bogie detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

It turns the bad guys into psychopaths taking revenge on drug dealers, turning the usual formula upside down.

Besides Neeson’s usual performance as the best example of world-weary ennui since Richard Burton, the film is loaded with wonderful character actors on top of their game.

You won’t recognize Dan Stevens as client of Scudder. Formerly one of Downton Abbey’s pillars, Stevens seems to have lost weight and darkened his hair for this unflinching role. This isn’t Matthew Crawley.

Most of all, we recognized Astro, basically playing the same role he performed on Person of Interest a few seasons back, as a precocious sidekick to the hero. But, all the actors are impressive—from Boyd Holbrook to David Harbour.

Set in New York City in 1991, it takes upon it a rotten Big Apple flavor with body parts scattered about the boroughs. Neeson’s detective works in a society on the cusp of computers and cell phones, and he disdains both. Now that’s hard-boiled.

Since author Lawrence Block has more than a few novels in the Mickey Spillane style with this lead character, it would surely give Liam Neeson a franchise worthy of his talents.

Whether box office has suffused this to be a series, we will have to wait and see. We will, however, eagerly await Scott Frank’s future directorial efforts.

 

One Way to Kill a Laugh

DATELINE: UNFUNNY

Not one laugh in the west

 

We love Westerns, and we are horrified by something called A Million Ways to Die in the West. If writer/producer/director/star Seth McFarlane thinks he is any of the above, we beg to differ. This is not Orson Welles making a movie; it is not even Woody Allen doing a parody.

An alleged comedy/satire/burlesque/parody, this stinkeroo may be considered a misfire by a Gatling gun.

This film tries to juxtapose modern parlance of the main character Albert with everyone else in Western veneer. Filled with witless profanity and ugly sexual references, the humor must be knocking them dead if audiences are high on dope.

A big budget, high gloss film, the movie has elements of music that reminds one the big westerns of the 1950s. Scenery and plot holes are right out of the heyday of oaters. We almost wish this had been toned down to a reasonable bad movie. Instead, this film is a colossal misstep, working hard to do pratfalls.

Oh, a few performers always shine no matter how deep in sheep dip their movie paycheck can be found. Neil Patrick Harris and Liam Neeson actually rise above the material, though it would only take one step up on the step-ladder to achieve this height.

One heavy stepping dance sequence makes us yearn for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but instead we have flatulence jokes that Blazing Saddles wore out forty years ago.

The concept of the picture seems to be that the West was a dangerous place filled with menace and sickness. Most of that is in the mind of Seth McFarlane who has seen enough Westerns to miss their point.

Taking most set-ups in western movies, this story goes from one gag to another, making foul language and brutality the stuff of humor.

We rate this movie: “Just Awful.”

This Airplane is Non-Stop

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 Non-Stopper

 

Liam Neeson has abandoned single word titles like Taken and Unknown for the hyphenated world of airline travel Non-Stop.

The apparent story centers on an air marshal facing a diabolical killer who is cleverly bumping off passengers every twenty minutes until our superhero agent Neeson can rectify everything. In the meantime, our hero looks like a looney who has hijacked the plane.

We kept waiting for Leslie Nielsen to stand up while his nose grows to tell us everything will be fine, but Neeson’s nose does not grow when he stands up and tells his fellow passengers the same story. Just about everything else reminded us of Airplane, except for the absence of laughs.

When the pilot gets food poison, the film was headed for the land of incredulity. We half expected Michelle Dockery (of Downton Abbey) would fly the jet the rest of the way.

Neeson is no Nielsen, though he does manage to turn the entire passenger manifest against him in under an hour.

When the writers had to bring this dog to heel, they ran out of clever ideas. The final twenty minutes is haywire with every special effect ever used in every other air disaster movie we’ve ever seen. We still don’t know what happened at the end. So, we don’t have to worry about spoiling it.

Lupita Nyong’o didn’t win an Oscar for this film, and neither did Julianne Moore, but they certainly were taken to unknown parts as well as given a ride. At least there were no wolves at their heels.

Once again, we have a movie that you won’t see on the cross-country flights by the major airlines. We were unable to see it non-stop, hitting the pause many times for a mental breather, and our destination of bedtime couldn’t come fast enough.