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.

“No Escape” movie review

NoEscapeLook for an escape–from this movie. The Weinstein company’s No Escape is an over-the-top, absurd, and confused movie. Often times I can find something positive to say about even the worst of films, but this one IS the exception. Rumor has it that this movie was almost nixed from a theatrical release, and I can easily understand why that is. This film has no idea what it is, and tries to fit the tropes of multiple genres. Because of the state of confusion that this movie is in, the plot lacks adequate structure and the pacing is ridiculous. Is it supposed to be funny when people die??? Is it propaganda on not doing business in Asia??? Why are the events in the opening of the movie never explained??? I could go on and on. From the casting to the writing and direction, this film took events that actually happen in that part of the world, and treated them with irreverence and disrespect. Simply stated, don’t get trapped into watching this movie from which there is no escape.

No Escape is about a family that relocates to Southeast Asia for a a bright new future. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) travel with their kids to the other side of the world in order for Jack to take a new job as an engineer with a water treatment company in (most likely) Cambodia. Upon arrival at the airport, they meet frequent British visitor Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who offers them a ride to the hotel that both are staying in. The morning after Jack’s arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a civil war-like battle in the streets. Unbeknownst to Jack and his family, he and his coworkers are the target along with other Westerners. Virtually trapped in the small Cambodian town, Jack and his family, with help from Hammond, must escape to safety. Only, around every corner there are rebels who will stop at nothing until they see blood flowing from those they see as a threat to their way of life.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is quite literally nothing positive I can say about this movie. Interestingly, it starts out with an intense scene that sparks excitement and suspense. So, I can understand how this film even got the green light. It did what all screenplays should do–capture the attention by showing something big/important within the first 3-5 pages. I suppose, that is kind of positive. But, had the producers just read the next several pages, they would have realized that this is a travesty of an idea for a film. And casting Wilson in the lead did not help the film’s case any. Unlike the performances in True Story delivered by James Franco and Jonah Hill, that proved these icons of comedy can play serious roles, Wilson just proves that he needs to be confined to comedies, satires, rom-coms, and parodies. The casting choice for Brosnan as the eccentric British traveler was acceptable, but his character also suffers from poor writing and direction.

It is unclear what the message is supposed to be. On one hand, it can be read as a ‘don’t travel to Southeast Asia if you are a Westerner’ but it can also be read as a ‘the West needs to stop exploiting the East.’ Unfortunately, the message/subtext is opaque at best. Instead of treating the plot of this movie with the reverence it deserved, due to civil wars like the one depicted in the movie happen in that part of the world on a fairly regular basis, the movie plays it too close to a satire or dark comedy. It never quite crosses the threshold into blatant comedy, but it gets pretty close. There were numerous times that the audience laughed at the deaths of people. And understandably so, because the scenes, actions, and dialog were choreographed in such a way that they begged for chuckles and giggles from the audience. My roommate, who is originally from that part of the world, was made very uncomfortable by the movie due to the lack of respect for what real people face everyday in some parts of the world.

There is a great lack of explanation for most of the scenes and motives in the movie. The events in the opening of the movie are never re-visited, despite the scene that follows states “17 Hours Earlier.” So, I am unsure what the significance was in the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Furthermore, the entire reason for the revolt against Jack’s company and other Westerners is vaguely explained in some rushed exposition by Hammond. Even after his hurried explanation as to the source of the resentment that sparked violence, Hammond fails to actually explain in such a way that even Jack completely understands. It is like the explanation for the violence was an after thought–just stick it in there somewhere. If the intent of the movie was to highlight the fact that Westerners have been known to exploit the resources and workforce of the East, it should have been done in such a way that the movie did not make a mockery of itself.

Perhaps after this early release, Weinstein will decide to pull this movie from cinemas. I mean, Sony did that with The Interview, even though that movie was fun and entertaining and should have been shown. Much like the Taken movies could be subtitled “don’t leave America,” this movie could easily be subtitled “don’t do business in or visit Southeast Asia.”