Lin Shaye and Liam Neeson | January Box Office Gold

Both Insidious and The Commuter are gems in the graveyard that is typically true “January” release films. I say true because films like The Shape of WaterI Tonya, and The Post are wide-released in January but were originally released on a limited run during the Holidays in order to qualify for The Oscars. For those who follow cinema closely, it’s no surprise that months like January and September are typically referred to as movie graveyard because that is ordinarily where movies go to die that cannot stand up to Spring, Summer, Fall, or Holiday release times. However, the last couple of years have seen some very strong films in January/February. Last year’s examples are Get OutLogan, and A Cure for Wellness. Last week’s Insidious: the Last Key and this week’s The Commuter are very much paint-by-the-numbers horror/action films respectively; but the cast–in particular, the leads–makes these films fun and even exciting to watch. From background actress to leading horror queen, Lin Shaye truly makes the Insidious films ones to be experienced on the big screen. Her flair for paranormal/supernatural films is uncanny, and take mediocre horror movies and transform them into movies you don’t want to wait until it comes to VOD. Likewise, Liam Neeson wowed audiences with his trademark character with a “particular set of skills” in the Taken movies, and has since played similar characters in other films. When you see his name, you expect that character-type and often times you get it! The Commuter may be a cliche action-thriller, but Neeson makes the film one that is a non-stop ride, one you don’t’ wanna miss when it leaves the station.

But why do both Shaye and Neeson draw the audiences the way they do? By all accounts, movies like the Insidious and Taken franchises or some iteration of the aforementioned are filled with horror and action tropes that seldom provide a truly new experience for audiences. However, their movies generally do very well at the box office and are consistently thrilling to watch. Placing Neeson in an action thriller or Shaye in a supernatural horror is essentially a guaranteed box office success for audiences and investors. In a manner of speaking, what we are dealing with here are legitimate movie stars. Truth be told, 21st-century cinema does not see movie stars in the same way that the early and mid 20th century did. In early days of cinema, films were built on the back of the studio system stars. It was a Betty Hutton film, a Humphrey Bogart movie, a William Holden picture, a Bette Davis film, etc. I’d argue that Tom Cruise is the closest to a contemporary era movie star in the traditional sense that we have. But by extension, you can apply the same attributes to Liam Neeson and  Lin Shaye by the cache that they bring to their films–they are a box office draw. Just their respective names are enough to invigorate audiences and generate ticket sales. At the end of the day, that’s when you know you have a true movie star. The name alone is enough to excite audiences and drive ticket sales.

Both actors are equally talented in their respective ways. The level of talent, entertainment, and thrill is consistent. You are never disappointed in their performances. If you remove/replace either of them in Insidious: the Last Key or The Commuter, the movies would likely not play out nearly half as well as they presently do. I’m not knocking the writing, directing, scores, editing, or cinematography, I am stating that the films are nothing remarkable in and of themselves; however, Shaye and Neeson bring a powerful screen presence with them that take the mediocre horror and action films to transform them into a cinematic experience that is incredibly enjoyable.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” movie review

jackreacherposterOutstanding action movie! Paramount Pictures and Skydance’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back simply does not disappoint. Jack Reacher may never become a household name like James Bond or Jason Bourne, but Tom Cruise proves once again that he truly is an action hero. Furthermore, Cruise is probably the best example of a movie star in the classical sense. You know an actor is truly a movie star when the public refers to his or her movies as “the new Tom Cruise movie.” Even the Bourne and Bond movies are not referred to by the respective actors. Lee Childs’ best-seller makes for an excellent cinematic military conspiracy action thriller! Separating this Reacher installment from the previous one and the Bond and Bourne movies is the fact that Childs and writer-director Edward Zwick give Reacher a pseudo-nuclear family. Although action movies are the epitome of high concept films, by adding a pseudo-nuclear family, a very human element is added to the story that adds some depth and allows for humor that otherwise wouldn’t work. Never Go Back comes complete with equal amounts of bad ass action and levity. Not terribly cerebral, this action-thriller provides audiences with a couple hours of high impact cinematic entertainment at which you can sit back, take your mind off life outside of the auditorium, and enjoy the action that only Tom Cruise can bring to the screen.

The Clint Eastwood-esque action hero is back. After busting a corrupt sheriff’s office in Oklahoma, Reacher (Cruise) finds himself amidst a conspiracy and coverup involving the C.O. (commanding officer) who took over his previous position. Mgr. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is arrested on charges of espionage. Believing strongly that Turner is being setup, Reacher doesn’t hold back in solving the mystery and taking out those who would stand in his way. Crossing paths with the military police himself, Reacher soon finds out that the corruption runs deeper than he first thought. When faced with not only the dilemma of Turner but also the possibility that he may have fathered a child, Reacher must fight two concurrent battles. With mind and body under attack, Reacher stops at nothing to exonerate Turner and provide protection for his possible daughter.

Upon watching this film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Never Go Back and Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, by all accounts a masterpiece by the legendary actor and filmmaker. Both stories are about a renegade/loner who acquires a family of sorts. Although the film is very well produced, there is a flaw in that it is apparent that Reacher wants to ‘reach’ further and delve deeper than the superficial plot allows for. Evidence of this is in his dialog that suggests that he wants to be a more dynamic individual who is capable of love and devotion but gets stuck being the action hero all the time because violence is the only thing at which he excels. One of the most prominent themes in the movie is the juxtaposition between high intensity fight scenes and deadpan humorous family drama. By including contrasting elements, the film provides a real opportunity to love the protagonists and hate the antagonists.

Cruise definitely displays some of the best acting of his career in this installment of the Jack Reacher series. He does an excellent job of communicating the difficulty in balancing both the defensive and offensive in terms of protecting his “family” and providing empathetic nurture. I suppose one could infer that the film contains a reimagined “nature vs. nurture” quandary. His reaction to his possible daughter is classic. Throughout the dialog and blocking, it is clear that Reacher is struggling with how to be a dad-like figure but also keep his focus on solving the mystery. Just like any Eastwood-esque story about a loner who has a taste of what being part of a family  is like, the movie ends with a fated goodbye scene between his ‘daughter’ Samantha (Danika Yarosh) and himself. But just before it get too heartbreaking, Zwick throws in a pleasant twist.

If you are in the mood for a good old-fashioned military conspiracy action drama, then look no further. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back strikes a fun balance between kung-fu movies and quirky family dramas. Cruise will definitely not disappoint in this film He does what he always does. Provides us with solid action-star acting coupled with some humor along the way.