Tag Archives: Jaume Collet-Serra

Movie Review: Run All Night (2015)

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In 2008, director Pierre Morel and actor Liam Neeson gave us Taken, an action film so unexpectedly awesome that it redefined the genre and spawned a new industry of copycat efforts, usually about a dude with a particular set of skills kicking ass all over the place in a life-or-death race against time. These days, just about every action movie with an “old” actor — be it Nicholas Cage, Pierce Brosnan or Sean Penn — is directly compared to Taken, whether justified or not.

Neeson himself, who discovered a brand new career thanks to Taken (and its uninspiring guilty-pleasure sequels) has made a couple of copycat efforts himself, two of which were made with the formidable Jaume Collet-Serra. Both Unknown and Non-Stop were completely preposterous and silly, but still relatively enjoyable in their own ways. Their third collaboration, Run All Night, is more grounded and serious, and it’s arguably the best of the lot. Perhaps I’d even go as far as to say that it’s Liam Neeson’s best Taken-like action film since Taken (though opinions will probably be split between The Grey — if you put it in that category — A Walk Among the Tombstones and Non-Stop).

In Run All Night, Neeson plays a retired mob enforcer named Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Collins. He is a man with a very particular set of skills, and if he finds you, he will kill you. But he’s tired of all the crap and the demons of his past actions are catching up to him. He’s abandoned his family, including his son, former boxer Michael (Joel Kinnaman, ie, the new Robocop), who wants nothing to do with his old man. When Michael witnesses a crime committed by the son of Jimmy’s boss (played by Ed Harris), however, he is drawn into their world of murder and corruption, and it’s up to Jimmy to redeem himself by making sure his son makes it through alive.

You know they’ll be running all night. The title says so. There’s no chance they won’t be running.

So what make Run All Night more enjoyable than a lot of other similar efforts in recent years? First of all, the action is superb. From car chases to the hand-to-hand combat, everything is well-choreographed and suspenseful. I don’t know about realistic, but it gets the job done.

Secondly, while the plot is relatively cookie-cutter, there is a surprisingly level of emotional heft due to the strained relationship between Jimmy and his son. We know Jimmy’s not a good guy, but we root for him because we know how much he loves his son and would do anything to make up for his regrets. It doesn’t hurt that Michael is a good guy and isn’t annoying, like say Maggie Grace is in the Taken movies.

Thirdly, the cast is wonderful. Neeson is who he is — kicking ass and taking names, so you get what you expect from him. Joel Kinnaman, on the other hand, is a solid piece of casting as his son. He’s got the height, and you can believe from his build that he could be a former boxer. Add on top of that you’ve got the reliable Ed Harris, who delivers a complex villain that is miles better than the bad guys in the other flicks, as well as Common, who is pretty good too as a contract killer. Even Vincent D’Onofrio makes his “good cop” character better than it should have been.

In terms of style and execution, Collet-Sera’s approach is rather straightforward. You get his usual grit and dark tones, and as such Run All Night doesn’t really stand out from the pack. It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s definitely entertaining and one of the best post-Taken Neeson action films to date. Fans of this type of movie wouldn’t be wasting their time checking it out.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Non-Stop (2014)

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It’s kind of crazy that we now automatically associate Liam Neeson with action thrillers, but that’s what he’s been giving us time after time since 2008. His latest, Non-Stop, is another solid entry that is, uh, non-stop entertainment from the get-go, and despite its implausibility and flaws, is arguably his strongest effort since Taken, one of the best in the genre in more than a decade.

When director Jaume Collet-Serra teamed up with Liam Neeson in 2011 they delivered Unknown, a fairly interesting action-mystery that kept audiences guessing until it collapsed under the pressure of being forced to provide answers. Non-Stop has that similar semi-surreal feel to it where the mystery is seemingly too bizarre to be real, but in my opinion it is more thrilling, more riveting and more daring, and even though the explanation is expectedly a letdown, it’s actually not too lame, relatively speaking.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a US federal air marshal battling some personal demons. He is assigned to a flight from New York to London, and shortly after takeoff, begins receiving strange messages on his secure phone line telling him that passengers will be killed unless a ransom is paid. Without divulging too much more, the mystery begins to get stranger and stranger the more Marks tries to find out who is responsible. It’s a classic “locked room mystery” set on a plane, where any one of the 150 passengers — including the pilots, the crew and the passengers — could be the culprit.

That’s the wonderful thing about Non-Stop, which takes full advantage of the situation to deliver clues, red herrings and misdirection at a frantic pace to keep audiences off edge. The script and Collet-Serra’s direction cleverly bring out suspect after suspect, each of whom seem equally capable of being the villain. I would be very surprised if any audience members managed to solve the mystery in advance.

And the action, considering the confined space, is well executed too, gradually ramping up to a climatic finish. There are no breaks in the pace, an impressive feat given the 106-minute running time. The initial scenes are intentionally blurry and choppy so there is minimal set up, and audiences are soon thrust into a white-knuckle roller coaster ride that never stops twist and turning.

Liam Neeson, even at 61, is perfect as Marks and looks like he can still kick plenty of ass for at least another 5 years. I was also surprised at some of the big names and familiar faces in the supporting cast. There’s the always pleasant Julianne Moore as the mysterious stranger in the seat next to Marks, Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery as his trusted air hostess, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as another hostess, model Bar Paly as a skanky seductress in first class, and Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly) and Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as suspicious passengers.

With a film like Non-Stop you obviously can’t take things too seriously or think too much, because the moment you do it all starts to unravel. There are about half a dozen problems with the way the plot progressed and the way the characters reacted, just off the top of my head, but I didn’t let them get to me during the film because I was having too much fun going along for the ride.

The dialogue and character interactions are also cheesy and “scripted” in that they in no way resemble reality, but none of these issues are deal breakers either. They serve their minimum purpose so we can get on with what we want to see, and that’s Liam Neeson being a badass.

Ultimately, I found Non-Stop to be one of the stronger action thrillers I’ve seen in some time. It plays to its strengths, shies away from its weaknesses and milks an intriguing scenario for all it’s worth. The unfortunate reminder of topical events (ie, missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370) is of course pure coincidence, but it does make one ponder how secure commercial flights really are in the post-911 age.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Unknown (2011)

I had been looking forward to seeing Liam Neeson’s latest thriller, Unknown, ever since I saw the trailer a few months ago.  It reminded me of Taken (another Neeson film), one of my surprise favourites from a couple of years back, with an compelling mystery anchoring the plot — a biologist visits Berlin with his wife and has an accident, and when he wakes up from a coma days later, another man has assumed his life.

Is there a conspiracy at play here, or has he lost his mind?  And what lengths will he go to in order to uncover the truth and take back his life?

For the most part, Unknown unfolds as expected.  Nothing appears to make sense, and it keeps you guessing whether what you’re seeing is real, imagined, or perhaps both.  At the same time, there is action, suspense and thrills, and plenty of it.  I can honestly say I was intrigued.

Of course, Liam Neeson is brilliant, but the supporting cast wasn’t too shabby either — Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, and Frank Langella.  Each actor/actress manages to put their stamp on their characters, even with limited screen time.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who directed the underrated Orphan) does a fairly good job here with some pretty farcical material (and I’m not just talking about how improbable it is for someone as attractive as Diane Kruger playing a taxi driver).

In less capable hands, Unknown could have easily spiralled out of control, but despite all the plot holes and unnecessary convolution in the unravelling of the mystery, the film manages to stay afloat and avoid total disaster.

Ordinarily, films with predicaments this bizarre can only end in bitter disappointment.  You’ll tend to be riveted by the mystery until you discover the truth, which is usually outrageous or silly or both, and the film just completely crumbles from that point on.  Surprisingly, Unknown‘s resolution is about as good as you can get for a film of this kind.  It’s not necessarily believable, but considering how far it takes you, it’s at least within the realm of possibility.  Or so I tell myself…

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Orphan (2009)

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In some ways, Orphan is your typical ‘child from hell’ movie.  However, it is also a superior horror/thriller that can keep you at the edge of your seat for a couple of hours.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see the film – it had a fantastic poster (see above) and a stellar cast, but it’s also directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who was at the helm of such classics (not) such as House of Wax (2005) and Goal! 2: Living the Dream (2007).  Well, I came out of it pleasantly surprised and rather impressed.

The plot, of course, is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into it too much.  The adopted child Esther is a seemingly charming 9 year-old girl who dresses weird, has a secretive past and gives one hell of a dirty stare.  Yes, it has a cliched storyline with cliched characters, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s all in the execution. 

Collet-Serra has injected much style and tension into the film, with a strong beginning and a ripper of an ending (which, even though I unfortunately guessed in advance, was still good).  He mixes it up with the voyeur cam and the POV (point-of-view) cam, and in addition to the ‘boo!’ scares, throws in the occasional ‘feint’ scare (where he sets up a ‘boo!’ shock that never comes).  Combined with the cool colour scheme, the icy surroundings and the smooth wooden house, the atmosphere is superb for a horror film.  

Collet-Serra also doesn’t shy away from the violence and the visceral shocks, which was a little unexpected as the incidents all involve young children.  And for those who think the movie will be entirely predictable, think again because not everything will go according to the way such films usually pan out.  It’s these little breaks away from the cliches that kept things interesting for me.  Oh, and there’s a dash of dark comedy as well.  Intentional or not, it was amusing.

The highest praise is reserved for the cast.  Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are both outstanding as the parents (which you would expect from actors of their calibre), but of course it’s the title character, played by Isabelle Fuhrman, that really lifts the film to another level.  Fuhrman is really a wonderful little actress that manages to captivate the audience whenever she’s on screen.  She demands your attention.  She can be sweet, funny, scary and downright terrifying.  She makes you believe.  I can’t wait to see what she’s in next.

No doubt there are a lot of critics out there that would call Orphan trash – but really, what do people expect when they watch such a film?  It may be a little overlong (122 minutes) and totally unbelievable, but Orphan succeeds at what it set out to do – scare and shock the audience.  Can’t ask for much more than that.

4 stars out of 5!

[PS: they really shouldn’t say things like ‘You’ll never guess her secret’ in the trailers and posters because whenever they do I always end up guessing it!  Keep silent and surprise the audience!]