Non-Stop (2014)

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writers: John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle, Christopher Roach

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy

Rating: ★★★★

Non Stop is the latest hard-hitting Liam Neeson action film to hit the screen and despite it feeling a bit like déjà vu, once again it and he impresses reaching high standards. A simple and common film scenario proves to be as intriguing as it is thrilling making for a very fast paced tense experience. Neeson gives a great solid performance and is supported well from the rest of the cast whilst horror fanatic director Collet-Sera changes his ways very well creating an entertaining rollercoaster which seems to achieve more than most typical action releases.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is getting ready to board British Aquatlantic Flight 10 to London as an Air Marshal whose main priority is the safety of his passengers.  Whilst mid-air and flying Mark gets a series of threatening texts demanding $150 million, if he fails to make the transaction to the off-shore account every twenty minutes a passenger will die. Marks is enraged and panicked, the sender has hacked into a private network and seems to know things he shouldn’t, such as how Marks was drinking a bottle of whisky in his SUV before he boarded. Marks’s worries are brushed aside by people in charge, but as he realises the hijacker is amongst the passengers he knows he has to keep everyone safe. Timer set and twenty minutes counting down, Marks alongside the very few passengers he trusts attempt to locate the hijacker and get to London safely.

Non Stop uses the very simple element of a countdown to keep us engaged but it works very well creating constant tension, excitement and mostly entertainment.  Although the concept is very basic it was one I thoroughly enjoyed, rarely am I as intrigued by a film especially generic action releases, but it kept me constantly guessing throughout as each individual passenger began to look suspicious.  Neeson’s character was also very good, eventually throughout the film and as situations started to get out of control we began to learn more about Bill Marks the alcoholic Air Marshal with his character becoming very in-depth and developed.  The only fault I can afflict upon Non Stop was its reasoning and references behind why the plane was being hijacked as I found it too on the nose and very un-needed. The most highlighting aspect however how the story was action packed with some excellence scenes, including a matrix mid-air gun catch and dive from Liam Neeson which is one to anticipate.

Liam Neeson more recently and especially after Taken seems to have a habit of playing the same character in films, such as in The Grey, Taken 2 and The Next Three Days, however this is due to his ability to play it so well and somewhat faultlessly.  Once again he portrays Bill Marks extremely well and his somewhat powerful emotional speech near the closing stages was very typical but good. Julianne Moore as Jen Summers was another stand-out amongst a very much faultless supporting cast. Moore’s character of Jen, a trusty passenger on the window seat next to Bill, was likewise in-depth and as an audience we fell for her emotional story as her character developed.  The acting was a real credit to what was some decent writing and especially well-written characters.

Non Stop is spot on when it comes to acting and overall writing. It also flourishes due to its pace which is no doubt down to Collet-Sera who usually focuses on making tense fast paced horrors. Collet-Sera’s direction really adds to the tension and thrills of Non Stop which again engages the audience. The film however doesn’t really evolve too much with effects or visual awe with most of it being very safe and average. The end scene too I felt wasn’t executed to its full potential in which should have been the climax to the whole entire film and the big wow factor whereas Bill Marks’s matrix dive and gun catch stole the part.

Although what seemed to be a typical action release Non Stop proved to be well above expectation and turned into a thrilling, exciting hour and half of entertainment. Although there are some small flaws, it shouldn’t down what is a well-made and thought about release which shows great acting and writing including Liam Neeson at what he does best. Non Stop is easily watchable and one of the most exciting and worthwhile action films in recent years.

 

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Zodiac (2007)

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Drama

Director: David Fincher

Writers: James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo

Rating: ★★★½

Zodiac is a film that targets a specific audience, an audience that likes to think and an audience that likes to keep guessing throughout. I wanted to love this film so much being a fan of David Fincher and his notorious work, however maybe it was that high expectation that made me slightly disappointed. Zodiac is clever, insightful and brave but somehow its ability to overcomplicate ruins what could have been a prestigious film.

The film surrounds the true case of the Zodiac killer that haunted the area of San Francisco Bay in the 1960’s and 70’s becoming one of America’s most famous serial killers. The mysterious individual taunts and terrorises police with letters and cryptic messages foreboding his future murders and explaining the gruesome details of his previous cold victims. We start to follow Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) two employees working for the areas local newspaper who personally get invited by the killer onto the case; Graysmith alongside Avery starts to come obsessed in finding the Zodiac killer. However after claiming to have killed a handful of victims the messages and the case seems to dry up with Avery losing his job and a new Inspector Toschi on the job. Despite the years passing the investigators still try and find the truth in what becomes a long and intensive battle. Graysmith years later creates a book which eventually puts him on track however Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) haunted by the Zodiac killer still doesn’t believe his findings as they battle to find one of the most notorious serial killers in America.

The story adapted by David Graysmith’s book and real life findings is put onto screen by James Vanderbilt and Fincher which results in Zodiac becoming very interesting with the case coming alive with some good direction and entertainment. The first half of the film and story is very fast-paced with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character taking centre stage and murders becoming quick headlines; however it then turns very droning and slow as the story enters many years later. The film attempts to lure the audience into the second half with this great and real life unsolved mystery however at times it is similar to an endurance test with the running time becoming more than two and a half hours long. The story of Paul Avery becomes somewhat pointless as we find out later in the film whilst Mark Ruffalo’s annoying Inspector Toschi seems to prolong events by rejecting Graysmith’s findings.  Eventually choosing the solo effort route Graysmith creates a very fast paced and tense finale which is one of the highlights of the film then leading onto the subtle confirmation and closure of the Zodiac Killer. At times it becomes very complicated and it is that which somehow ruins so much potential and such a great narrative.

The acting within Zodiac was brilliant and on this aspect you can’t complain nor fault.  Jake Gyllenhaal once again shows real talent with such versatility in his role and for me he is such an underrated actor. His portrayal of Graysmith was very realistic and just like the rest of the cast he really showed the intensity of the real-life case also making the audience connect. Downey Junior’s Avery was very impressive and he turned into two polar opposites within the film whilst Ruffalo as Toschi brought along excitement and an element of interest.  Another key element within this film was ofcourse Fincher’s direction and more so the cinematography and scenery shots which broke up tense scenes and isolated claustrophobic locations. The murders and more so the end sequence was really successfully captured by Fincher as he delivered once again a tense nervy chain of events.

Zodiac as much as it is good and you want to love it, holds a lot of flaws which can really bring it down. The long run time as I’ve stated really ruined this film alongside the concept however more so I found some parts rather sloppy. The story spreads out over a number of years but not much within the film world changes such as characters houses, appearances etc. it made for a somewhat sloppy look and proved to be a real spoiler. At times too events seemed to be pointless and although it followed true to the real life case no-doubt it did seem like a hopeless battle.

Zodiac isn’t my favourite piece of work by Fincher and if I’m honest it is most likely at the wrong end of the pile, however that doesn’t make it a terrible film. Although it requires endurance and a lot of thinking Zodiac can become very engaging and somewhat entertaining as you witness the case unfold and the intensity evolve. The acting and visuals are somewhat brilliant which again add to its list of qualities, Zodiac can be easily enjoyable and in a whole is just about worth-while to watch especially for what I believe is a great finale and closing sequence.

The Game (1997)

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Director: David Fincher

Writers: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris

Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn

Rating:★★★★

The Game is a film which more than any other fulfils its “mystery thriller” genre as throughout it is a guessing game, making you constantly choose between fantasy and reality leading to some thrilling consequences. David Fincher again involves himself in a very dark-viewed story which can be somewhat haunting at times. Excellent acting alongside the great story highlighted by the final scenes really makes The Game an entertaining and intriguing film to watch but one which really tests your mind.

We follow the life of Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) a very wealthy San Francisco banker, however his wealth and intelligence does not fill the gap of being an absolute loner which sees him even spending his birthday with only himself for company.  In the year of his 48th birthday (the age his father sadly committed suicide) Nicholas’ brother Conrad (Sean Penn) returns with the greeting of a card which allows entry to unusual entertainment, a game provided by Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Conrad however is not an equal to his brother, an addict to all kinds who’s surrendered to paranoia and fear. Giving in to curiosity Nicholas enrols to CRS and plays his own Game however as a consequence his life becomes a nightmare which sees him question what is real and what is the game eventually it consumes his life.

The story is something which The Game really thrives off and more so gains a lot of interest, the ending is something which is a huge plot twist and paradigm shift within Nicholas’s world too. Alongside being very intriguing and connecting the story also invests a lot into the building of three very unique characters. Nicholas is a character which is very true; rich and intelligent but envious of those with social popularity and a life something we could see being very realistic, the change which he shows throughout is very well written. The character of Conrad is also very important not only does he get the plot moving but the action; he’s dangerous and lethal bringing a lot of pace to the film. The third character is Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) who brings pace but the development needed for Nicholas as they form a not so conventional relationship.

The acting is good all-around from the cast, Michael Douglas however is the highlight as Nicholas Van Orton and his scenes and portrayal comes across very realistic. David Fincher’s direction for me is also a significant element which makes The Game somewhat haunting and thrilling. As always associating himself with a dark story some scenes are flawless as dark dismal settings are portrayed much like in Alien3 and Se7en bringing a very doomy atmosphere to the screen. He also chooses to use similar score to create this very droning and foreboding mood which as an audience makes us alert and on-edge.

The only thing which ruins The Game is at times the balance between pace is very bad, it would have benefited more from a constant fast-pace which would add to the excitement despite taking away some intrusive feel.  Despite the ending wrapping up everything very well before this the mixture between reality and “the game” can be somewhat frustrating to watch, but once reflected upon afterwards it seems to be a clever aspect which only draws the audience into this false sense of security.

The Game is a film which is very worth-while to watch not only for a very good finale but for its entertainment and ability to test not only your mind but your sense of safety within reality throughout its running time. Alongside being entertaining it is also very thrilling as its burst of pace and action complemented by Fincher’s direction is effective also creating a sense of horror. Rounded off by a great performance by Michael Douglas The Game outweighs its minor downfalls and becomes an almost classic piece of film.

 

 

Now You See Me (2013)

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Rating: ★★★

Now You See Me is a film based on magic and illusions which mix into the criminal world, somehow all combining it creates a fun concept; however such a well-thought and fun concept is executed rather poorly to make for a film that falls a bit short of expectation. An all-star cast mostly give good performances and alongside some action and humour the film can be at times entertaining and an exciting experience.

The story centres on four magicians who each receive a mysterious calling card leading them to an obscure address with many secrets inside. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young, intelligent and popular magician, Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a hypnotist who once had a good career but now finds pleasure by conning people out of money; the same can be said for Jack (Dave Franco) however he is much younger and a trickster, finally the fourth is an escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) together they will be known as the four horsemen. Four years after the calling card meeting they are together big-time stage illusionists and sell-out performers who climax their Las Vegas show by robbing a bank live on stage. With over $3 million flying around on stage and the impossible task looking achieved it puts the four magicians on the radar of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol companion Alma (Mélanie Laurent).  However, this mystery proves difficult to solve even with the insights of the professional illusion exposer, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). What follows is a bizarre investigation where nothing is what it seems with illusions, dark secrets and hidden agendas galore as all involved are reminded of a great truth in this puzzle: the closer you look, the less you see.

Now You See Me starts off very promising with entertaining introductions and a great what seemed lead in to the main plot of the film, however as twists occur it becomes very confusing. Although filled with action Act 2 is far from entertaining and until the end of Act 3 Now You See Me stays very frustrating. The concept made by  Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt is very exciting and fun, however its over complicated twists somewhat make it into three separate films combing into one with a variety of stories told and interlinked.  The task has been mastered before in likes of Pulp Fiction, but here it just doesn’t.

The cast is filled with some very big names, Jesse Eisenberg takes on the lead and he achieves again this clever witty character just like his role within The Social Network.  Woody Harrelson brings humour in many ways again like in previous roles such as ZombieLand and for me is the standout character and performer, however other performances were very mediocre and average, including those by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.  The main element which proved to be the highlight for me was the special effects which showed the group’s illusions in full amazement and awe, and as an audience made us so intrigued within the first act of the film.

The flaws however all evolve around its story which is too confusing and executed very poorly by both writers and director alike and furthermore it seemed to drag for a while. My other criticism is how stories within the film are left unexplained and unfinished, such as the ending which should see the police eventually catch up with the four horsemen and furthermore the story involving Caine’s character was very swiftly forgotten by the writers and characters within the film.

Now You See Me is somewhat an easily watchable fun film especially for those more easy going cinemagoers, however at times it can prove to be a dragging and frustrating process. The story although a fun concept is what brings this film down and more so the average performances from some big name stars. Now You See Me in spells brings great entertainment and amazing illusions to screen, alongside some action making it just about worth-while.