The Commuter: Liam Neeson on a Train Review

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s another Liam Neeson movie! Only this time he’s stuck on a train, of all places.

A recently laid off family man named Michael (played by the oh-so lovable Liam Neeson) commutes every day to work via train, only this time it’s different. He’s approached by a stranger known only as Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who gives him the task of identifying a person aboard the train going by the alias “Prynne”. If he succeeds, Michael will be paid one hundred thousand dollars. Desperate for cash, Michael plays along at first, only to discover a hidden murder conspiracy behind it all. Now caught in the midst of the conspiracy, Michael must quickly find Prynne, or risk being killed.

If you saw Neeson’s more recent film titled Nonstop (which takes place aboard a plane), than chances are you saw The Commuter as well. That’s because both films are carbon copies of one another. The plots are so similar that I’m convinced they used the same script as Nonstop and just replaced the word “plane” with “train”.

And just like Nonstop, The Commuter is a middle of the road and nonsensical action thriller, with particularly schlocky fight sequences towards the climax of the film.

The stunts and action are so basic on a technical level that everything feels bland. Neeson doesn’t do as much punching, kicking, and fighting as he does just pushing and shoving people. I’m actually pretty sure Liam loses more fights in The Commuter than he does win, and without the help of others he probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of the movie.

And when you factor in all the property damage and loss of life he causes; his character really isn’t much of a hero at all. The filmmakers knew this too, which is why they frequently remind the audience that Neeson is in fact a bona fide “hero”.

The Commuter relies too heavily on tropes commonly found in Neeson’s other films for it to be at all clever or unique. Most aspects of the plot, cinematography, and characterization are so by the numbers that almost nothing comes as a surprise. The action is so slow-paced and monotonous that it made me want to laugh out loud more than cheer Neeson on.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of The Commuter, only not in the way it was originally intended. I guess all there is left to do is wait for the next Liam Neeson film, which will take place upon a charter bus. I think it hits theaters this August.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Insidious Review

For the past couple of decades or so, the genre of horror has become somewhat of a minefield. With the film industry so over saturated with overdone plots and jump scares, the clever and inventive movies often slip through the cracks in the form of independent productions. Films like It Follows and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil received little attention upon their initial release, while films like Paranormal Activity maintain constant popularity.

Nonetheless, occasionally moviegoers get a widely released horror flick that manages to bring something new to the table, even if that ‘something new’ is minute. A fine example of this being Insidious.

Directed by James Wan (maker of such films as The Conjuring and Saw), Insidious didn’t revolutionize the genre or shy away from the mainstream. What it did do was put a new twist on the now conventional horror formula, making it a film that appeals to many different audience tastes without being polarizing.

Insidious stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as Josh and Renai, a couple who move into a new home in the suburbs. Soon after moving in their child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) tragically slips into a coma, and strange things begin to happen around the house. They quickly realize something supernatural is afoot, and enlist in the help of a parapsychologist named Elise (Lin Shaye). Elise informs them that their child isn’t actually in a coma. Rather, Dalton had an out of body experience that left his spirit trapped in a ghostly place she refers to as The Further. It is now up to them to save Dalton’s spirit from The Further before he is stuck there for good, and something more sinister takes his place.

A good horror flick doesn’t only lie within the bounds of its actors capabilities, but having performers that can convey the fright is always a plus. Wilson and Byrne lead the cast wonderfully here, perfectly portraying a distraught couple worried sick over the wellbeing of their child.

Their performances are complemented well by the addition of Lin Shaye about halfway through. What’s great about Shaye’s acting is that she seamlessly convinces the audience that the far-fetched sci-fi jargon is in fact genuine. Even those who are skeptical of science fiction in films will buy into the absurd rationale this movie relies on. Rather than jump the shark, Insidious somehow managed to slide under the shark.

The frightening sequences in the film are quite tactfully employed, mixing inventive and clever ideas with more conventional methods. We get the quick, one and done jump scares that many moviegoers love, but also see plenty of built up moments that get big payoffs. There are even scenes that don’t have any sort of payoff, but are authentically creepy because of the eerie atmosphere that’s created.

The eerie atmosphere is mostly due to the aesthetics of the Further, which are distinct and artistic without looking too forced to be that way. This creepy imagery is accompanied with a truly fantastic musical score that managed to intensify a lot of the more suspenseful scenes.

Again, Insidious didn’t subvert the genre or change the game completely, as we still get plenty of terrible horror films today (like the fourth installment of this franchise). What I believe Insidious (and its creative contemporaries) did accomplish was to pave the way for other mainstream horror flicks to get imaginative, so to speak. Films like Lights Out and The Conjuring have received critical and box office success since the release of Insidious, and both ride the line of conventionality too.

I hope to see more inventive and fun horror films in the future, especially from the Insidious director James Wan.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Review

Thanksgiving day is finally here, so I decided to review a Thanksgiving themed movie. Naturally I chose the best turkey day film around, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

For those who do not know, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a classic comedy film starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Steve Martin is trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving after being at a business meeting in New York. When trying to get a taxi to the airport in NYC, John Candy’s character Dell accidentally steals Steve Martin’s cab. They later meet again at the airport, as well as on the plane. Candy’s personality type constantly clashes with Martin’s, annoying Martin very much. And when their flight is grounded in Wichita, Kansas due to weather conditions, getting home suddenly becomes a lot more difficult. It is now a rush for Martin to get back home to his family before Thanksgiving. As you may have guessed, comedy ensues.

I have got to start by saying just how memorable this film is. It is full of iconic scenes that I remember very vividly. It’s not common for me to remember so much from a film, but with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles it comes easy. Just about every scene is very memorable because of some joke or some awkward moment, which is what makes it great.

Every time I watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles I notice something new I had never seen before. Little jokes that don’t catch your eye on the first viewing. Or little details that make me respect the film all the more. For example, there is one iconic scene where Martin and Candy have to sleep in the same bed. Above the bed you can just barely make out two dirty handprints, implying someone had been in a sexual position on the bed. Both very gross and funny. Another thing I noticed just recently is when Candy and Martin get picked up by a redneck in his pickup truck. The guy spits chewing tobacco into his hand just before shaking Martin’s hand. This is also very gross, and funny.

The narrative told in this film is phenomenal. It can be funny, emotional, serious, or just plain crazy. Sometimes all at once. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles knows exactly how to grab the audience’s attention. The scene that I feel exemplifies this best is when Steve Martin is on a train home. He begins daydreaming about seeing his wife and kids, then his mind naturally wanders to some of the good times he had with John Candy. The way his thoughts travel from topic to topic accurately portrays how the actual human mind wanders. I feel this is a touching scene to an excellent movie.

That was definitely the magic of John Hughes writing. He encapsulated this wonderful emotion and passsion for filmmaking so well. This is seen in some of his films like Home Alone, Uncle Buck, and The Breakfast Club. But nowhere are his talents for directing and leading his actors showcased than in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

I firmly believe Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of the best comedy films of all time. I would for sure put it in my top ten favorites, as would many people. I recommend Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to anyone who has never seen it, which seems to be a lot of people. I strangely know many individuals who have never had the pleasure of watching such a fun and wacky film. It’s the only must see Thanksgiving movie around, so go ahead and give it a watch.

-Zachary Flint

The Accountant Review

Screenwriter Bill Dubuque and director Gavin O’Connor managed to create a (so far) successful action movie about an accountant. It’s a story with plenty of humor, a well written cast, and a plot that feels half baked.

The Accountant is an action thriller starring Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, who is a freelance accountant for criminal organizations. Wolff has a severe form of Autism which makes it difficult to relate to and carry out conversations with others. Wolff decides to take a job auditing a robotics corporation called Living Robotics. There Wolff meets the equally odd and quirky Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the in-house accountant for Living Robotics.  Together they get mixed up in a dangerous embezzlement scheme by someone in the company.

J.K. Simmons plays the  director of financial crimes at the U.S. Treasury Department. He brings in Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to help identify the mysterious vigilante accountant.

There are plenty of good aspects of The Accountant, but the continuity of the plot is one of the weakest. I ultimately feel that The Accountant bit off more then it could chew. The filmmakers attempted to create a complicated story, involving many interwoven characters and subplots. Little did they succeed.

Even after watching and analyzing the film, I still do not understand all the details. I had trouble just summarizing the main points of the film. I love when a film can take on complex subjects and material, but it must be coherent. Movies like Memento and Inception both take on complex subjects, but both still make sense in their own way.

The film also flashbacked to the past at least a dozen times, which didn’t help to keep the plot on track. Many of the flashbacks didn’t make much sense on why they were placed where they were. It was hard to focus on the events happening now as well as all the events from the past.

In my opinion, I believe the enjoyment audiences will get from The Accountant will not be in the way the story was told, but in how well it was performed.

The strongest point of The Accountant is, not surprisingly, Ben Affleck’s character and performance. I’m not sure how accurate Affleck’s portrayal of Autism is, but it is definitely compelling. He’s the kind of character written so that those with Autism can look up to him, like their own superhero.

Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, and J.K. Simmons also bring in good performances. Kendrick builds an awkward but charming relationship with Affleck, and it’s hard not to be entertained by Simmons no matter the role.

There is a surprising amount of humor in this film, and it all works pretty well. People in the theater were laughing hysterically at all the awkwardness in Ben Affleck’s character. The weird dialogues he shared with Anna Kendrick were funny, but they also gave interesting insight into how difficult it is for those with Autism to carry out conversations.

The climax of the film ends with a big showdown between Affleck and the antagonists. The fight is well shot and worth the wait, just like the other action scenes in the film. The twist during the climax of The Accountant will be a hit or miss for viewers. I saw it from a mile away, but many in the theater were shocked by it.

Too me, I think the story of The Accountant is very incoherent and choppy. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will view The Accountant and find the overly complicated story refreshing. In a world of overly simplified action thriller plots, this might just be the film some are looking for. So if you want to see a complex, often times confusing action thriller with great performances from respectable actors, The Accountant will be a good choice for you.

Zachary Flint

Kevin Hart: What Now? Review

Kevin Hart has taken his newest comedy routine to the big screen in Kevin Hart: What Now?.

This film consists mostly of the stand up act Kevin Hart did at a sold out football stadium, part of his new comedy tour. His jokes vary in all kinds of topics like his kids, wife, and gangster raccoons outside his window. However the film starts by portraying Kevin as a James Bond type spy, on some kind of mission before the comedy show starts. He has to play a round of poker, as well as kill a room full of villainous spies.

I thought this opening was a very clever idea, and it was executed in a way that Kevin Hart fans will love. The scene also involves a few other popular actors, Don Cheadle and Halle Berry, who play themselves.

There isn’t much for me to say about the movie other than it is a stand up act. The scenes that weren’t of Kevin on stage were all shot well, and the fourth wall breaks during those moments were fantastic. For example, at one point Kevin can understand a man speaking Russian because he read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, which are of course only intended for the audience. It was ingeniously comical.

As far as camera work goes, the worst was the stand up act itself. It felt like the camera was cutting too often and for no reason. We were given reactions from the audience perhaps a few too many times. In normal stand up shows, the audience is shown every once and a while, not every twenty seconds. I don’t really care how funny the audience thinks Kevin Hart is. Its not doing anything to make the show funnier (or help the movie, for that matter), so stop giving close ups of random people. I’ve seen better camera work for second rate comedians on YouTube than I did for Kevin Hart: What Now?.

Those that will  like this movie will be fans of Kevin Hart’s stand up. If you are a person who thinks Kevin Hart is funny, you’ll like this movie. If you don’t think Kevin Hart is funny, the movie will suck. Plain and simple.

I personally think his comedy style is okay, therefore I thought the film was okay. I laughed sometimes, and other times I just kind of stared at the screen with a blank expression. I just don’t connect with his jokes as other people do, which really hindered my enjoyment. The opening scene was clever, but again I really didn’t find it that funny other than a few select moments.

So if you like Kevin Hart and think he’s hilarious, give this movie a shot. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it.

Zachary Flint

The Birth of a Nation Review

Before viewing The Birth of a Nation, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’m not always fond of film remakes, and at first this sounded like a retelling of the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. However I was pleasantly surprised to find out this film would be completely unrelated. Upon viewing The Birth of a Nation, I can genuinely say I enjoyed the film.

Directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation follows the real life story of Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher who leads a revolt against his Virginian owners. It takes place back in the 1830’s, only a few decades before the American Civil War. The audience watches as Nat Turner not only grows older, but grows spiritually.

This film is backed by superb acting all around. Nate Parker playing Nat Turner is the most noteworthy performance. Watching him change from a more passive man to one that is willing to resort to violence. Nat’s personal development is very well constructed and was nice to reflect upon at the end of the film.

The plot itself sometimes got out of focus, more towards the beginning. Focus was put on aspects that, by the second act of the film, were irrelevant. And The Birth of a Nation does take a path ridden many times over in storytelling. It often feels like a standard Hollywood depiction, showing things that we’ve seen time and time again.

But, despite this, the narrative is told in an effective way. Many scenes in the movie are emotionally tense, and can keep the viewer invested in the characters. There is one scene in particular that I like where Nat is being repeatedly whipped at a post. The camera rests upon Nat’s face and all the audience can here is the sound of the whip cracking against his back. His facial expressions he made evoked a strong emotional response from me, especially when his mouth slowly curled into a bloody grin.

There is a deep religious message all throughout The Birth of a Nation. Nat Turner truly believes in the words of the Bible as he speaks them, and uses the word to defend and comfort his fellow slaves. As the film progresses, he uses the Bible to defend fighting for his freedom, even if it means through murder. Religion is an interesting theme throughout the film, dealing with how some people are willing to twist the Bible’s words to defend slavery. The Birth of a Nation takes the religious theme a different route than I expected and it definitely delivers.

The climax of The Birth of a Nation reminds me a lot of Braveheart. It is very powerful and emotionally moving. The scene shows the potency of hate, but the power that individuals can have against it. It’s hard to discuss the climax without giving it away, but I’ll just say that I really enjoyed it and felt it was moving.

Anyone that enjoys period piece dramas like 12 Years a Slave will probably like this movie. And people who like a strong religious message in their movies should look no further, because this film really drives the message home. Overall, I very much enjoyed my viewing  of The Birth of a Nation and hope that others can share my opinion.

Zachary Flint

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Review

From director Steve “give me your money already” Carr comes another hit classic in the hip teen movie vault. Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid but with the intelligence of a Paul Blart: Mall Cop screenwriter. Its sad to think that so many talented people never make it in the film industry, but bozos like this stick around like wallet hungry parasites for years.

This film is based on a novel by James Patterson, about a troublemaker boy named Rafe (Griffin Gluck) trying to adjust to a new school. He has to deal with a strict authoritarian school, as well as his mom’s mean boyfriend Carl (Rob Riggle). The film follows him on his adventures to rebel against the school system.

The message in Middle School is as blatantly obvious as it gets because, they say it right to your face. Standardized testing is bad, kids should be allowed to express themselves, listen to your kids. The same boring message that many films use time and time again. I knew that this was going to be the message of the film five minutes in, and I was absolutely right.

The side plot is resolved at the end in a shockingly bad way. I won’t give it away for the few people who would ever watch it, but Rob Riggle and Lauren Graham totally phone it in. My jaw actually dropped at how lazily the climax to the side plot was written and executed. It reminded me a lot of the movie Cat in the Hat. And everyone knows just how great that was!

The few good things about the movie were as follows:

  • There was a cute Pug in the movie
  • There were some nicely animated scenes that went along with Rafe’s imagination
  • There were (at times) touching scenes involving coping with the loss of a family member, but even that was handled badly.

This film was so bad that before it was even half way over, an elderly couple in front of me continuously checked the time on their phone. I couldn’t help but do the same.

Mostly because many scenes in Middle School were completely pointless. Any time I saw Rob Riggle on screen I knew it was going to be a stupid, nonsensical, and all around pointless scene. I usually think Rob Riggle is a pretty good actor, but he really bugged me in this movie.

I  guess I can’t really put much blame on the actors, either than blame them for picking a stupid film to be in. They mostly do their best with what they’re given and I totally respect them for that. The child actors weren’t bad (except for a few), which was a real surprise for me.

Those that should be blamed are the orangutan filmmakers who keep making this crap. These kinds of movies are everything I really hate about cinema and filmmakers. People who make the same passionless crap over and over again. They try nothing new, and they don’t attempt to make the movie funny or clever. They assume that audiences full of teenagers aren’t intelligent enough for an intelligent flick. Well I can say from first hand experience that teenagers are much smarter than the people who made this.

This film is a lot of things. But being good, or even entertaining, is not its forte. I cannot willingly recommend this film to anyone. If you have seen previews for it and thought Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life looked interesting, go for it. It’s a respectable decision and this is only my opinion. However for me, I think it was a pile of crap.

Zachary Flint