What I Watched Last Week – 01/08/14 – Neeson’s on a plane. Neeson. Is.On. A. Plane.

Awwwwwww shiet, bloggity bloggin. I’d like to take a moment to say goodbye and good luck to Bryce Dion after his unfortunate death at the hands of a trigger-happy policeman as he was filming an episode of Cops (the only true reality programme in the world) this week. Cops is the best show. RIP. Now here are the film reviews you came here for; one of them has the incomparable Liam Neesons who is famous from Schindler’s Pissed and Tooken.

Non-Stop (2014) – 3/5
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyongo, Scoot McNairy

NonStop1

You know when you just so badly want a film to be bad? But then it turns out to be, if not great, at the very least watchable? Such is the case with Non-Stop, the ‘Taken-On-A-Plane’ thriller led by Liam Neeson. As a suspense/action hybrid Non-Stop is very serviceable, mainly thanks to the commendable panache with which director Jaume Collet-Serra executes the ludicrous premise. Bill Marks (the unassailable Liam Neesons, from Batsman and The Greys) is a weary alcoholic divorcee whose relationship with his daughter is in ribbons. He makes a shambolic excuse for a federal air marshal, a career which he pursues despite the fact that he ‘hates flying’ and can’t go twenty minutes without a G&T and a smoke , two things which it is a federal offence for him to consume on an aeroplane. Four hours into his London-bound flight Marks receives a message from an encrypted number; when he demands to know how this person accessed the network, he is informed that the mystery texter is on his plane and planning to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless an extortionate ransom is debited to a specified account.

NonStop2

Liam Neeson has the grit and the chops to make the events of Non-Stop seem serious and even plausible. He doesn’t kill anyone with a single punch nor pretend to know what he’s doing; he’s just a man past his prime that hasn’t got a clue how to deal with the situation at hand – especially not without a drink. What plays out across the fairly tight run-time is a taut race against the clock in which a life or death scenario is boiled down to an out and out guessing game. This is a ‘Whodunnit’ for the modern age and, though the absurd overemphasis on the use of technology to solve all things has a tendency to sap the tension, there are still satisfying moments. So the film wasn’t bad like I expected – nay, hoped – it would be, but I can still make it look crappy with all these pictures of a flummoxed Liam Neeson holding a cell phone.

NonStop3

Animal Kingdom (2010) – 4/5
Director: David Michod
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, James Frecheville, Jacki Weaver

AnimalKingdom1Australia-set sequel to The Lion King in which Cane toads have taken over all habitats and species. But not really though. No, this is the debut film from David Michod (whose new film The Rover is out currently) and, while it may have vicious beasts, they aren’t cartoons and they belong to the Homo genus of the Primate order. They are people. The animals. That the title of the film is referring to. Moving on.

AnimalKingdom2AlternativeAnimal Kingdom takes an unflinching look at criminal families and the things that they do to survive and thrive, angled from the POV of a young man named Joshua (James Frecheville) who is thrown into the household of a pride of armed robbers (his uncles) when his mother dies of an overdose. The Melbourne accents momentarily throw you off the scent – ‘They can’t be too bad, their voices are friendly like the Fosters men and they all seem well up for a laugh…’ – but once Michod shows you what they’re capable of the story takes on an urgent, visceral menace. Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford and Sullivan Stapleton are all class acts as the hunter-gatherer gangsters, but two performances stand out from the pack. Ben Mendelsohn is darker than dark as the psychopathic Uncle Pope, his questioning glare putting the fear of god into all who cross him, but James Frecheville, who plays initially innocent party Joshua, is the real champion; as he is torn between his loyalty to a family on the brink of collapse and the possibility of a new life, as offered by Guy Pearce’s copper, he makes you feel for him and understand what he’s going through without ever breaching the subject in words. David Michod’s The Rover is good, but Animal Kingdom is outstanding……….mate. Sorry.

Terms of Endearment (1983) – 3/5
Director: James L. Brooks
Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels

TermsOfEndearmentAmong the (slightly hard to believe) five Oscars snatched by Terms of Endearment were the Best Picture, Best Director (James L. Brooks), Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine) and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson, who looks shockingly aged compared to his turn as Jack Torrance three years prior). 1983 must have been a slow year because as touching as this complex romantic drama may be, it isn’t infallible. What is infallible, though, is the sizzling chemistry between Shirley McLaine’s stuck up grandmother and Jack Nicholson’s sleazy ex-astronaut; whenever the two share the screen the film is perfection, so it’s a shame that the bulk of the screenplay centres on the love life of Emma (Debra Winger) and her husband Flap (Jeff Daniels), which was doomed to fail from the outset. This is clearly an issue of personal preference because many people – critics and Academy voters especially – rate this as a flawless cinematic representation of family and the things which bring them together… as well as the things which tear them apart. Video below.

Goin South (1978) – 3/5
Director: Jack Nicholson
Cast: Jack Nicholson, John Belushi, Mary Steenburgen, Danny DeVito

GoingSouthFarcical Western directed by and starring Jack Nicholson, with newcomer (and future Oscar winner) Mary Steenburgen and John Belushi in supporting roles. Henry Lloyd Moon (Nicholson) is captured before he can make it to Mexico but is spared the hangman’s noose when a naive maiden called Julia Tate (Steenburgen) pays for his pardon so that she may marry him. Henry’s luck doesn’t end there, either. When he accompanies her back to her ranch and helps out with some digging, he realises that he’s struck gold. After discovering an untapped wealth of precious metal contained within Julia’s ranch the pair decide to sell up to fund a life of shared happiness down old South America way.

A man of Moon’s disposition – gambler, drinker, horse thief etc. – is never without old enemies, and soon some former felons come sniffing around for his fortune. Furthermore, the local law don’t trust Moon as far as they can throw him – considering John Belushi (sporting a casually racist moustache and Mexican accent) is the deputy sheriff, they can actually throw him a fair ways. Nicholson’s framing is somewhat odd, as is the script and the undeveloped double love triangle, but it’s not quirky enough to be bad nor to stand out – it just looks like a Western by a journeyman director, which it is.

Rififi (1955) – 4/5
Director: Jules Dassin
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Manuel, Magali Noel

RIfifi1
Rififi is one of the most acclaimed films to emerge from the highly productive French Noir genre of the 1950s. Strangely, despite being set in Paris and all actors speaking in their native French tongue (except for one Italian safecracker), the director himself, Jules Dassin, was an American who was blacklisted by all US production companies – it was purely a personal thing, not a Polanski thing. Exile though he was, Dassin managed to pull off a stunning heist movie with Rafifi on a minimal budget and with barely any known faces, getting himself a Best Director award at the 1955 Cannes film festival in the process. Every actor knows exactly what they’re doing and how to do it, their nerve-wracking displays of tension aided by the pinpoint lighting and the meticulous pre-planning of each shot – not forgetting the awe inspiring central bank robbery, which puts Ocean’s 11 (and 12 and… the other one) to outright shame.

Rififi2Based on one of prolific crime novelist Auguste Le Breton’s many, many suspense stories, Rififi succeeds because of the simplicity with which events fall into place; more so, the unravelling of the troupe of cat burglars is so believably human that one could expect to find a Wikipedia page detailing the real robbery. Rififi spawned several sequels on the strength of its gripping plot and luxuriant setting, though none of them were helmed by Dassin and no doubt hurt from the loss of his genius eye for the iconic shots that make the film such a pleasure.

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