The Marksman

Posted on January 13, 2021 at 8:00 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, violence, and some bloody images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scene in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive peril and violence, brutal murders, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 15, 2021
Date Released to DVD: May 17, 2021
Copyright 2021 Voltage Pictures

I can’t help saying that “The Marksman,” the 2021 entry in the annual Liam Neeson action film we usually get to start the year, is no bullseye. Neeson is always watchable and the Mark Patten cinematography makes the most of the southwestern landscape. The shoot-outs are well-staged. But the screenplay by
Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and director Robert Lorenz is underwritten and predictable.

This is less the “Taken” or “Cold Pursuit”-style action thriller where we get to enjoy Neeson showing off his special skills than it is a Clint Eastwood-style cranky old guy movie, perhaps because Lorenz is Eastwood’s longtime producer. There’s even a pause where the two main characters watch “Hang ’em High,” a 1968 Eastwood film that was the first from Eastwood’s own production company. In “The Marksman,” Neeson plays an Eastwood-like character who rails against his fate: “I’m trying to understand how you can work your whole life, serve your country, pay your taxes” and end up with nothing.”

Neeson plays Jim a Marine vet turned rancher on the Arizona border. He sometimes finds Mexicans who have been injured illegally crossed the border, and he always calls the immigration authorities, where his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick) is an official.

Wiped out by medical expenses, he is notified by a banker that his ranch is about to be auctioned in 90 days, but can be sold sooner if they get a good offer. The loan officer Jim knew — and who knew Jim — is no longer  at the bank. The fact that Jim’s late wife’s ashes are spread on the hill and that he is “no deadbeat,” does not mean he gets extra time. “You have yourself a good evening,” the banker says as he gets into his car.

Jim finds a Mexican mother and son who have sneaked through a hole in the border fence. He calls the authorities, but then cartel thugs led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba) come after them and start shooting. Jim shoots back. “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine.”

The boy’s uncle stole some money from the cartel. They killed him and now they want to send a message by killing his family. The boy’s mother is shot. As she is dying, she gives the boy a rosary and hands Jim a blood-soaked scrap of paper with an address in Chicago, where the boy’s relatives are. She asks Jim to promise to bring her son to them.

And so, Jim and Miguel (Jacob Perez) get on the road. Jim does not have a phone or GPS, so he needs a paper map, which an amused sales clerk lets him have at no charge. But the very high tech cartel thugs are able to trace him through his credit card. And so it is a cat-and-mouse road trip with the interactions, escapes, and confrontations you would expect. Which is the problem. This movie is so bereft of ideas that it telegraphs everything that is coming (I mean, the title makes sure we know what Neeson’s special skills are this time) and repeating too much of it.

I respect Neeson’s special skills. I just hope next time they include picking a better script.

Parents should know that this film is about a former Marine who tries to protect a young boy after his mother and uncle are murdered by members of a Mexican drug cartel. The film includes shoot-outs and fighting, with many injuries and deaths, including a parent and a dog, all witnessed by the boy. There is also some strong language and some drinking.

Family discussion: Why does Jim help Miguel? Why does he change his mind about helping Miguel? Why does he end things with Mauricio the way he does? Do you agree?

If you like this, try: “Let Him Go” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and “Taken” with Neeson

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format

Made in Italy

Posted on August 13, 2020 at 5:14 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: References to sad offscreen death, divorce, family conflict
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2020
Date Released to DVD: December 7, 2020

Copyright 2020 IFC
Made in Italy” is a labor of love starring a real-life father and son playing a father and son. And it is about a labor of love in the most literal terms as the estranged father and son have to work together on the house in Tuscany they jointly own so that it can be sold.

Like the characters they play, Liam Neeson (Robert) and his son Micheál Richardson (Jack) experienced the devastating loss of a wife and mother, actress Natasha Richardson (Micheál uses her last name as a tribute). This adds an overlay of intimacy to the film would not be supported by the script alone, a first-time feature written and directed by actor James D’Arcy. It is perhaps for that reason that a climactic scene of grief is truncated and underplayed. Maybe it is because it was just too painful. Or the shifting and uncertain tone of the film, which wants to be warm-hearted, romantic, comic, and dramatically emotional at the same time.

Jack manages an art gallery owned by the family of the wife who is divorcing him. When she tells him they are going to sell the gallery, he insists he will buy it. “The gallery is my home,” he says. He cannot let it go. But to get the money he needs he will have to sell his late mother’s home in Tuscany, deserted for twenty years because it was too painful to return. And he will have to get his father to agree. They are barely on speaking terms. Jack has contempt for his father’s failure to produce any new artwork in years and for his irresponsible attitude. Jack arrives to take him on the trip and Robert has not packed (“I thought it was tomorrow”) and, in one of the movie’s most regrettable cliches, cannot remember the name of the woman who spent the night. Robert does not respect Jack. Again, regrettably, he puts it this way: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t run their wive’s galleries.”

The house is a beautiful mess. The landscape around it is breathtaking. Robert calls it “one of the most fabulous convergences of nature ever,” and dismisses Jack’s referring to it as “the view.” And they disagree about a mural Robert painted on one of the walls, which he calls his tribute to abstract expressionist Franz Kline, but looks more like a tribute to the blood-tsunami elevator in “The Shining.”

There is a brisk British real estate agent with a severe haircut (Lindsay Duncan), who brings a delightful mix of disdain and saleswomanship to every scene she’s in, at least until her character has to soften up when she is charmed by Robert. There’s a warmhearted local woman (Valeria Bilello) who is there to soften up Jack. These women and the experience of living in and working with the home of the woman they are still grieving makes it possible for them to do what they have never done before: talk about their loss in a scene that is not as emotionally resonant as the film sets us up to expect. Maybe it is just be British reticence.

But then we return to the real heart of the film, the spectacularly gorgeous Tuscan scenery and oh, that food. That setting, and the genuine affection between Neeson and Richardson, makes up for the predictability of the script. What do you think, with the potential buyers be kind, considerate people who deeply appreciate the house as it is or a poor copy of the self-centered boors Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis used to play on “Saturday Night Live?” It’s the fabulous convergence of nature and the almost-fabulous convergence of the actors that makes it worth a watch.

Parents should know that this movie concerns a tragic death, survivor guilt, and family estrangement. Characters use strong language and there is a mild sexual situation.

Family discussion: Why wouldn’t Jack sign the divorce papers? Why was the gallery so important to him? Why couldn’t Jack and Robert be honest with one another?

If you like this, try: “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Life as a House,” and “Enchanted April”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues movie review Movies -- format

Cold Pursuit

Posted on February 7, 2019 at 5:45 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended criminal peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 8, 2019
Date Released to DVD: May 13, 2019

The setting of “Cold Pursuit” is white, not just the endless expanses of deep snow in the (fictional) ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado. A frozen whiteness shimmers throughout the film, but the grim humor of the story is very, very dark.

Copyright 2019 Summit Entertainment

Liam Neeson has been reliably providing us with annual winter action movies for more than a decade, starting with the “very special set of skills” rescue thriller Taken” in 2008. In that he was the father of a kidnapped daughter. This time, in a remake of the similarly snowy Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, also directed by Hans Petter Moland, Neeson is the father of a murdered son.

He plays Nels Coxman (intentional — the Norwegian character’s name was Dickman), a snowplow driver who is about to be honored as the local community’s citizen of the year as the movie begins. He is a simple, straightforward man a bit disconcerted by the attention. When his wife (a criminally underused Laura Dern) gently reminds him that he will have to say a few words when he accepts the honor, all he can muster is, “I’m just a guy who keeps a strip of civilization open.” A man who has spent his entire clearing snow from one road recognizes the inevitably conflicted feelings about the road not taken, but is comfortable with the notion that “I picked a good road early and stayed on it.”

And then Nels and his wife are in the morgue identifying the body of their son, dead from a heroin overdose.” “Our son was not a druggie,” Nels says to the coroner. “That’s what all the parents say,” is the response. We have seen what happened and we know it was murder. We are here to watch Nels prove it, which happens quickly, and then to watch him avenge it, which takes some time. It isn’t enough for him to kill the men responsible. He has to go after everyone up the chain of command.

At the top of the chain of command is a brutal, arrogant man known as Viking (Tom Bateman), who gives his young son a copy of Lord of the Flies (“All the answers you will ever need”) and tells him he should have tried to fight the school bully. “A bully is a chance to prove your mettle.” The boy is not interested in fighting, or in the very restricted diet (no sugar, no junk food) his father insists on. Even the thugs on his father’s payroll take pity on him and slip him a few snacks.

As Nels knocks off one of Viking’s colorfully nicknamed henchmen after another, tombstone-like title cards appear to help us keep up. Because no one suspects an outsider, suspicion falls on Viking’s current and former colleagues, leading to many complications and much more killing. Soon there is another father seeking revenge. While the senior cop has no interest in anything but keeping the tourists happy, the rookie (Emmy Rossum) wants “to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys.” And catch some bad guys, too.

The film is visually striking, the whiteness of the snow in the mountains echoed in the fur decor of a fancy ski resort, the merchandise in a bridal wear shop, the sterility of the morgue, with its agonizing cranking up of the drawer where the body is lying. The archness keeps us far enough away from the carnage to be amusing until there is so much of it we just get numb.

Parents should know that this is a very violent film with crime-related peril and violence, attempted suicide, shoot-outs, and disturbing and grisly images. The main character is essentially a serial killer, and the film includes drugs and drug dealing, sexual references, and very strong language.

Family discussion: What were the unintended consequences of Nels’ actions and how did he respond to them? How does this movie from most other action films?

If you like this, try: “Taken” and “Run All Night”

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DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Thriller

The Commuter

Posted on January 11, 2018 at 1:56 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language
Profanity: Brief language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, guns, knife, fights, explosions, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 12, 2018
Date Released to DVD: April 16, 2018

Copyright LionsGate 2017
Sigh. Another January, another dumb Liam Neeson action movie. This one is on a train.

Liam Neeson is The Commuter, a devoted husband and father named Michael who reads every book his teenage son is assigned in school. Every day he wakes up at 6, cuddles with his wife (Elizabeth McGovern), and gets on the same train at the same time to go to his job selling insurance. Until one day is different.

First, he gets laid off with no notice and no cash severance. He has a few drinks with his former partner from the days when he was a cop, and then gets on his usual commuter train for the ride home. After ten years, he is very familiar with the routine, the conductors, and the passengers, greeting many of them by name. But this time, something is different. A woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga, magnetic and disturbing) offers him a hypothetical proposition that quickly turns real: for $100,000. Michael needs money badly. And Joanna says all he has to do is “one small thing” — identify a passenger on the train carrying a bag and known only as “Prynne.”

This isn’t one of those “it makes no sense but it doesn’t matter” movies. This is one of those, “it makes no sense and that is really annoying” movies. The twist/revelation of the bad guy is ridiculously obvious. The premise that a commuter on a New York train, no matter how regular, would be on a first-name basis with the other passengers is more ridiculous. The premise that someone like “Joanna” would be able to exert complete control over every element of the situation and yet still need Michael to figure out which passenger is Prynne, much less that he would have the capacity to do so based on the limited information he has is even more ridiculous. And then we get to the really “you’ve got to be kidding” section, basically the whole last half hour.

Remember “Non-Stop?” Same director. It’s pretty much the same movie, and it wasn’t so good the first time out. Both puts Neeson in what is essentially a locked room in motion and force him to solve a puzzle from an omniscient villain while also risking his life a dozen times in crazy fights and stunts. The fights are okay, the stunts are pretty good, the camera work makes good use of the claustrophobic setting, with only one gratuitous Speilbergian dolly zoom. But if Michael was as observant as he is supposed to be, he would have noticed right away that this script goes off the rails long before the train does.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed including murders, fights, knives, guns, some disturbing images, corruption, some strong language, and alcohol, including drinking to deal with stress.

Family discussion: What would you want to know before accepting Joanna’s offer? Would you claim to be Prynne?

If you like this, try: “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” (original version), “Speed,” “Source Code,” and “Runaway Train”

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray movie review

Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”

Posted on January 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Martin Scorsese worked for thirty years to bring Shusaku Endo’s book Silence to the screen. It is finally in wide release this week, with an outstanding cast including:

Andrew Garfield is best known as “Spider-Man,” but he also co-starred in “Social Network” as Eduardo Saverin and most recently starred in “99 Homes” and “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Adam Driver, who lost 30 pounds for this part, appeared recently in both a prestige art-house film (a poet in Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson”) and the biggest of the big-budget studio films (Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). A former Marine and a Juilliard graduate, he had a starring role in Lena Dunham’s “Girls” and sang with Justin Timberlake and his “Force Awakens” co-star Oscar Isaac in the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Tadanobu Asano may be familiar to American audiences from the “Thor” films or “47 Ronin.”

Liam Neeson is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, an Oscar winner for “Schindler’s List,” and an action star in the “Taken” films. This week he stars in both major nationwide releases, with a motion capture/voice performance in “A Monster Calls.” You can see him in “Love Actually,” “Leap of Faith,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Kinsey,” and “Rob Roy,” and you can hear him as the voice of Aslan in the “Narnia” films.

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