Double Review (That Liam Neeson movie and This is Where I Leave You)

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_posterWe all know the joke by now. Liam Neeson makes the same movie, or plays the same role, over and over again. But there’s a reason we keep watching. Neeson brings a calming grittiness to his roles that make him one of the coolest actors in action films. So no matter how similar the roles may be, we can’t help but at least be intrigued.

Neeson’s newest project, A Walk Among The Tombstones, sees him taking on the role of a geriatric former police officer turned Private Investigator. After a drug dealer’s wife is brutally murdered, Neeson reluctantly sets out trying to track down the uber creepy duo responsible. The story is based off of the novel of the same name, written by Lawrence Block.

Those expecting this to be like Taken, or Non Stop, will be disappointed. The action sequences are few and far between and the pace is much slower than you’d expect, making the film feel about a half hour longer than it actually is. Neeson’s character is also more tranquil than badass, although he does have a few Taken moments. The brightest spot is newcomer Brian Bradley as T.J., a talented young street kid who befriends the old detective. He adds heart and edge to an otherwise sluggishly dull film, void of any real emotion. The cinematography is also splendid in certain spots, for those who might care about that sort of thing in a Liam Neeson movie.

FINAL GRADE: B-

 

This_Is_Where_I_Leave_You_posterFamily comedy/dramas will always succeed in making me miss being around my own family, no matter how dysfunctional the onscreen group may be. That’s probably one of the points of these types of movies. No matter how much drama your family might go through, you always have each other. If it does nothing else, This Is Where I Leave You, at least manages to accomplish invoking that feeling.

The film (also based off of a book, but what isn’t these days) features an all-star cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Jane Fonda and many more. Bateman’s Judd Altman takes center stage as a formerly married man going through a mid-life crisis after catching his wife and boss in bed together. Following the death of his father, he returns home to fulfill his father’s dying wish; spending seven days with his two brothers (a stiff and a screw-up), his foul mouthed sister, and their oversexed, author mother.

The characters come off as cliché at times. Adam Driver’s baby brother, Phillip, is the very entertaining exception. And as for drama, there could probably be a bit more. None of their problems seem that bad compared to the families in similar movies like August: Osage County, The Royal Tenenbaums, or Kingdom Come. Nevertheless, their issues are enough to keep your attention, and there are just the right amount of humorous moments to keep you from boredom. These characters and this story were probably better suited for the small screen though.

FINAL GRADE: C+

The Maze Runner… Full Review

maze_runner_ver2Another season, another young adult novel turned into a movie with hopes of striking gold. If you don’t know my stance on this genre, you need only read the first paragraph of my Divergent review. Go ahead… click on it…. done? Good… Luckily, Maze Runner isn’t too much like any novel turned film you’ve seen before.

Maze Runner tells the mysterious story of the Gladers, a group of boys imprisoned in the center of a giant maze with seemingly no way out. After three years of being trapped, the boys have developed a peaceful civilization with leaders, jobs, and strict laws. The world of the Gladers gets turned upside down when newbie, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arrives. Unlike the rest of the boys, Thomas is curious and dreams of becoming one of the maze runners charged with figuring out the maze, which just so happens to be crawling with giant, bio-mechanical scorpion creatures called Grievers.

Unlike with Divergent or Harry Potter, I am familiar with the Maze Runner books. I read, and thoroughly enjoyed the first book and couldn’t put it down. For any fan of the book, you must understand that like all movies based on books, there are several changes. Some are drastic. Some aren’t. Most don’t take too much away from the plot. There is one change, however, that I found annoying and that took away from the experience of the story and that could likely kill the intrigue for newcomers. Flashbacks and dreams are shown from Thomas’ perspective, showing glimpses of the world outside of the maze. This doesn’t really happen in the book and it does take away from the eerie tone and mysteriousness of it all. But unfamiliars will be happy to know that this doesn’t feel like a young adult novel. There isn’t a sappy love triangle to dominate the subplot. This film, like the novel, plays more like science fiction horror with a Survivor tone.

The films pacing may also be an issue for some. Shortening a novel into a two hour movie is no easy task, but Director Wes Ball does a decent job of getting important information across without putting you to sleep. Where the film shines is in its cast and visuals. All of the main Gladers are solid in their roles, especially Will Poulter (We’re The Millers) as Thomas’ rival, Gally. And the massive, shifting, twisting maze is even more riveting than it was in the pages of the novel.

What’s become clear, is that it is unfair to create perceptions and draw comparisons just because you see the term “Based on the bestselling novel” on the poster or in the trailer. Ignore anyone who tells you this movie is like Hunger Games. It’s not. But what is fair, is to expect any film adaption to have its own unique characters and story. Just because some teens get sucked into the same ole crap about post-apocalyptic children, magic and vampires doesn’t mean moviegoers have to. In that sense, Maze Runner is more than fresh enough to stand on its own. And it’s over-arching theme of being complacent with mediocrity or fighting for more, comes across well.

FINAL GRADE: An only slightly biased B+

Don’t Worry, I’m Back…

No_Good_Deed_2014_movie_posterLet’s just call this the start of Movie Review, Season 2. Summer Movie Season is over. Football, moving to a new place, and the simple fact that there haven’t been many movies worth reviewing have all kept me away (For the record, I saw As Above, So Below and When The Game Stands Tall during my hiatus). But it’s time to get back in the swing of things. No Good Deed, the newest home invasion thriller, and the first movie to have a respectable box office gross since Ninja Turtles, is a solid place to pick things back up.

Idris Elba stars as a narcissistic murderer who escapes from custody (if you can call a short, out of shape white guy and an elderly black man police security) and proceeds to stalk his ex-girlfriend. After killing her for not replying to his prison letters and trying to move on, he drives off into a storm and his vehicle eventually plunges off of the road. That’s where wife and mother of two, Taraji P. Henson comes in. Henson plays good Samaritan and invites him in to wait out the storm while his fictitious tow truck is on the way. You don’t even need to watch the trailer to figure out where things go from there.

But despite what the promos may portray, this movie is only about half home invasion thriller. The other half is filled with seemingly one happy coincidence after another along with people being dumb. For instance, Henson’s character just happens to be a former lawyer who specialized in prosecuting murderers and rapists, but she is more gullible than her man-hungry, real estate dealing, bff (Leslie Bibb). Then there’s Henson’s dull husband (Henry Simmons) who is just a neglectful, unlikable, a-hole. As for every police officer in the film, they seem to be operating on a level beyond stupid.

Then again, most of the movies like this contain the same plot holes and weak characters. In that sense, No Good Deed is essentially your run of the mill thriller. Elba is effectively charming and creepy. Henson does her best frightened mother with the perfect dose of moxy. There are a few minor twists, but nothing jaw dropping. In the end, if you saw the trailer, you get the gist. This movie is meant for Red Box on a boring night, but with the shallow slate of films out, I wouldn’t blame anyone for seeing it in theaters to kill a few hours.

FINAL GRADE: C+

SN: Maze Runner, A Walk Among The Tombstones, This is Where I Leave You reviews coming soon.