Tag Archives: liam neeson

‘Blacklight’ Review

For a guy who announced he was going to retire from action movies, Liam Neeson sure does make a lot of action movies.

“Blacklight” stars Neeson as an off-the-books FBI fixer who gets caught up in a government conspiracy. Mark Williams directs while Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, and Aidan Quinn also star.

Liam Neeson seemingly puts out at least two movies a year, with this being his fifth release of the pandemic alone. “Blacklight” is just another standard shooter by Neeson and his long-time producer (and two-time director) Mark Williams, and despite a few nuggets of intrigue it will be forgotten as quickly as the last half-dozen Neeson vehicles.

To give Neeson credit, he doesn’t mail these roles in. Yes, every character he plays is the same (retired government guy who wasn’t the best dad gets a chance to redeem his soul), but he could easily sleepwalk through the motions. He tries his best to give audiences a committed-enough performance, and that is at the very least commendable.

It’s just a shame the rest of the film is just so bland. The plot plays out like “Shooter” and “All the President’s Men” had a baby and that child hit the snooze button; there isn’t a single surprise to be found here. It wants to be a conspiracy thriller, but takes far too long to get to the thrilling parts (the full extent of the story doesn’t even come into play for the first hour). There is a decent shootout near the end that is entertaining and semi-creative, but the rest of the action sequences are workmanlike at their best, and pretty shotty at their worst.

The film is shot in a very crisp and clean way, with Dutch camera angles to spare, but I don’t think that lends itself to a wannabe gritty action-thriller like this. There is just something about the film that combines the lens flares of a J.J. Abrams production with the stiff staging of a Hallmark movie, and it just makes for a very unengaging watch.

Shot in late-2020, it also tries to add some commentary about the current political landscape, including racist groups of neo-Confederates, “politically correct puppet progressives,” and its very own knockoff AOC. It will come off as pandering to some and annoyingly preaching to others, and by the halfway point these attempts to be relevant have no affect on the plot, begging the question why they were included in the first place.

I enjoy a handful of Liam Neeson’s films, but after the likes of “The Marksman” and “Honest Thief” this continues to trend of being more entertained by the film’s ludicrous moments and production shortcomings than its actual content. “Blacklight” is a movie you’ve seen done before and done better, and while I am happy for any and all content theaters can get right now, I can’t recommend you rush out and see it.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The Marksman’ Review

Another year, another Liam Neeson-with-a-gun movie.

“The Marksman” stars Liam Neeson as a retired U.S. Marine who lives on the Arizona-Mexican border, and is forced to escort a young Mexican boy (Jacob Perez) to Chicago while being pursued by cartel members. Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, and Teresa Ruiz also star, while Robert Lorenz directs.

Despite insisting he was done with the “retired/widowed/alcoholic ex-killer gets caught up in a situation and reluctantly does the right thing” movies several years ago, this is the second such film of Liam Neeson’s to come out during the pandemic alone (the other being the perfectly fine, whatever “Honest Thief” last October). I could honestly copy and paste most of my review for that film here and not need to change anything but names and locations, because like many of Neeson’s recent outings “The Marksman” is a very workmanlike, boilerplate installment into a well-worn genre that will give its intended audience their kicks.

While “Taken,” “Non-Stop,” and even “Unknown” all have their own sense of flair and energy, recent films by Neeson have been pretty tame. However that is not the fault of the 68-year-old Irishman. Unlike Bruce Willis, who seemingly puts out a new film every three months and reads his lines like a hostage tape, Neeson never phones his roles in. Yes at this point he is essentially playing himself, growling and only half-trying to conceal his Irish accent, but he adds a sense of gravitas to these films that would otherwise feel straight-to-VOD.

Unlike “Honest Thief” I will at least give this film credit for having a little bit of color. Cinematographer Mark Patten includes some nice sunset shots painted against the desert hills of the American Midwest, and makes each state that Neeson and Perez pass through feel at least a little unique.

The film is paced fine-enough, although there really isn’t 108 minutes’ worth of actual content here. Like most buddy road trip movies there are plot conveniences to force the story along (Neeson finds a bag of money but continues to use his credit card simply so we have an excuse for the bad guys to track him), and until the final shootout there isn’t much action. Robert Lorenz has made a career producing Clint Eastwood’s films (his sole other directorial effort was of Eastwood in 2012’s “Trouble with the Curve”), and it is easy to see this having been written with Eastwood in mind (this plot is also incredibly similar to Eastwood’s 2018 film “The Mule”).

Those who like Liam Neeson shooters or any these senior citizen romps should get their kicks, and if you’ve been looking for a reason to return to the theater then this is as good-enough as any I suppose. Normally January is reserved for the stinkers (last year’s worst film “The Grudge” literally came out on the third day of 2020 and I never forgave it), so by those standards “The Marksman” is a hit; just know that this isn’t Neeson’s first rodeo, and he and Lorenz have every intent of sticking to the formula, for better or worse.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Honest Thief’ Review

Even in a year as weird as 2020, there’s something comforting about still having a “Liam Neeson with a gun” movie.

“Honest Thief” stars Liam Neeson in the titular role as a former bank robber who wants to trade the $9 million he stole over the years for a reduced sentence after meeting a woman (Kate Walsh). Robert Patrick, Anthony Ramos, Jeffrey Donovan, and Jai Courtney also star, while Mark Williams (who co-created the show “Ozark”) directs.

In 2017, Liam Neeson announced he was done with the action genre, claiming he was “sixty-[bleeping]-five” and the genre had worn out its welcome with him. Since then, he has starred in “The Commuter,” “Widows,” “Cold Pursuit,” and now “Honest Thief,” all of which feature our favorite Irishman running around with a gun. It is what it is, can’t fault Neeson for wanting to pocket as much money as he can, and sometimes these films have a decent enjoyment factor (“Run All Night” is one of the better cop thrillers in recent memory). “Honest Thief” has all the ingredients of a successful romp, from corrupt FBI agents to a wrongfully accused Neeson on the run, but it lacks the energy or true intrigue to set itself apart from any other thriller you can find in the Walmart bin.

I usually like these Liam Neeson movies well-enough, most of the time they get a 5 or 6 from me. So I didn’t go into this expecting anything special or new. Neeson is doing his half-hearted attempt to downplay his Irish accent (he’s a former Marine, implying he has been an American for at least several decades), and he gives a dedicated-enough performance. There isn’t much nuance or character development for anyone here (the film is 93 minutes without credits so there isn’t much extra room to flesh characters out), but he gets the job done.

The set-up of the film is probably the most entertaining part, with Neeson wanting to turn himself in and two corrupt FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) deciding to take the money for themselves and frame Neeson. That part is cool, but once Neeson goes on the run with his girlfriend (a serviceable Kate Walsh) things become pretty boilerplate. The climax slightly redeems itself, but not in any sort of revolutionary way.

I liked the way the film was shot, it’s pretty simple and clean, and there are a few good shots of around the Boston area. But whenever there are special effects (including one explosion) things look *very* direct-to-DVD quality, and some of the logic of characters is non-existent.

“Honest Thief” is a very harmless PG-13 thriller, and if you come across it on TV one day then sure, check it out. It is slated to play in theaters, and like “The War with Grandpa” I wouldn’t praise this as the savior of cinema or worth you venturing out into the real world to see, but if these Neeson shooters are your cup of guilty pleasure tea, then you should get your fix.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Widows’ Swings for the Fences, Comes up Short

It’s like “Ocean’s 8” just with none of the light-hearted jokes or Rihanna and Awkafina quipping.

“Widows” is based off the 1980s British TV series of the same name, and follows a group of women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo) who must complete a heist to pay back a crime boss after their criminal husbands are all killed in a botched job. Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson also star as Steve McQueen directs.

This film had so much going for it that is almost wasn’t fair. It features an ensemble cast, with half of them sporting the words “Academy Award winner/nominee” in front of their name, and is co-written by  Gillian Flynn, the author of the “Gone Girl” novel and subsequent film. It also is helmed (and co-written) by Steve McQueen, who directed “12 Years a Slave” and won a Best Picture Oscar for producing it. The final product of “Widows” leaves a bit more to be desired, but there is still plenty to enjoy in this indie arthouse disguised as a blockbuster action piece.

I have seen “Gone Girl” a handful of times and with every viewing I fall more in love with Gillian Flynn’s script. Her dialogue is fantastic, probably the second-best next to Aaron Sorkin, and there are parts throughout “Widows” where it is clear the scene was written exclusively by her. Characters have lively interactions and quick retorts, and the film just feels “cool.” Then there are some (I wouldn’t say bland, but) sequences where the dialogue and exchanges feel almost contrived and less organic, and while I wouldn’t put all the blame on McQueen’s half of the pen…I’d just say “Gone Girl” had none of those types of scenes, take that as you will.

The performances across the board from the main cast are all phenomenal, with Michelle Rodriguez turning in a career-best performance, Brian Tyree Henry taking a nice dramatic break from his normal comedy work on Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” and Daniel Kaluuya giving probably the most silently badass performance of 2018. Kaluuya has had quite the past 20 months, being skyrocketed to fame and an Oscar nomination for “Get Out” and then taking part in “Black Panther” this past February. Here he is playing the brother and enforcer of Henry’s mob boss-turned-aspiring politician, and he says more with a silent stare or a hum than he does with his limited words.

No one plays cold and cunning nowadays better than Viola Davis and she is everything you’d expect her to be here, and Liam Neeson has some quietly affecting flashback sequences as her criminal husband.

The film’s problem is that it at times seems unsure what it wants to be, or at least doesn’t come across to the audience the way McQueen intends for it to. He tries to add some fancy camera work and just like “12 Years a Slave” he loves him some lingering shots. I enjoy a long take as much as the next guy but there has to be a reason for it; there is one fantastic sequence here but another (or two) that just comes off a bit show-offy. There is so much planning and running around for the heist that the film does slog and drag a bit, and despite only clocking in at a little over 120 minutes it feels like a longer journey.

I really wanted to like “Widows” more than I did, although I will campaign for Kaluuya and the screenplay to get Oscar nominations come February. The final heist sequence has a couple heart-pounding moments and it gives famed faces like Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson a chance to remind us that they can still hang with the best of them, but the points leading up to the climax are either slow, silly or a mixture of the two. Viola fans or those who wished “Ocean’s 8” had more headshots should be more willing to forgive the flaws, and as far as adult entertainment at the multiplex you can do worse, but given all this had going for it on paper this could have been a homerun.

Critic’s Grade: B-

20th Century Fox

Neeson Fires More Guns in Entertaining ‘Run All Night’

RunAllNight_TeaserPosterStop me if you’ve heard this one before: Liam Neeson plays an alcoholic absentee father who carries a gun and must save the save the day.

“Run All Night” stars Neeson as a former mob hitman who goes on the run (you know, all night long) with his son (Joel Kinnaman) after he kills the son of a mob boss (played by Ed Harris).  Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in “Unknown” and “Non-Stop”, directs here.

You’ve seen this movie before. Heck, you’ve seen Liam Neeson make this movie before. And it could have been just another Liam Neeson shoot-em-up in the post-Taken universe, if not for a handful of dedicated performances and well-staged action scenes.

Liam Neeson has rebranded himself as the 60-year-old guy with a gun, and to mixed results. The first “Taken” is fun, while its sequels are average and awful (the latter coming this past January). I liked “Unknown”, but “Non-Stop” was a little too stupid me. “Run All Night” is the best film Liam has been in since the first “Taken”, and I really enjoyed it.

All the actors in the film seem to really be having a good time, while simultaneously giving their all. Neeson and Kinnaman (who portrayed RoboCop last year) have the proper amount of chemistry needed for the kind of strained father-son relationship they’re portraying. I wasn’t a fan of Kinnaman’ stoic face in “RoboCop”, but here it works, playing a son who doesn’t want to open up to a father who was never there.

Common shows up as an assassin hired to hunt down Neeson and Kinnaman, and while I’m still not convinced he’s in this for any reason but to sell more tickets, his character was an interesting addition to the film. It’s also worth noting that in a film that features Liam Neeson, Ed Harris and Nick Nolte (eight nominations between them), Common is the only actor in this movie with an Oscar (for Best Song this past year).

Most of the action is shot very well, and is separated by enough human drama to give the film some depth. I thought both “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” were inhibited by their PG-13 rating, and it is clear director Collet-Serra is taking advantage of his R-rating here. This isn’t necessarily a shoot-em-up, but when guns are fired, most of the time it results in a headshot, which, as a 20-year-old guy, I’m not complaining.

There aren’t too many missteps with “Run All Night”. One thing the film does consistently is aerial shots from one location to another, flying over a clearly CGI New York City, so that irked me for whatever reason. The film’s climax is also just a *little* bit drawn out, especially because, thanks to the movie’s trailers and opening sequence, we can guess the outcome.

“Run All Night” is probably the best of the post-Taken Liam Neeson films, and is also, for what it’s worth, one of the best films of 2015. Neeson and Ed Harris have a fun scene of verbal back-and-forth, and there are several cat-and-mouse scenes with well-executed tension. I really enjoyed this film, and am glad to see Neeson making movies that aren’t “Taken 3” and “Million Ways to Die in the West”.

Critics Rating: 7/10



Third Time is Far From the Charm with ‘Taken 3’

Taken_3_poster            I really have to stop giving movies the benefit of the doubt.

Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the man with a particular set of skills, in “Taken 3”. This time around no one is taken but instead Bryan is framed for the murder of his ex-wife and must run from the LAPD and clear his name. The film is directed by Olivier Megaton, who directed “Taken 2” but not “Taken 1”, so do with that info what you will.

“Taken 3” is the third movie in a series, is following a subpar sequel, and is being released in January. There is literally no reason why I should have thought this would be a good film but alas, I went in optimistic.

That was my mistake and I take full responsibility

There’s a lot going on in “Taken 3” and almost none of it is done coherently. Much like “Taken 2”, Megaton cannot shoot a clean PG-13 action scene, and everything is done using shaky-cam, close-ups and quick, nausea-inducing edits. There is one segment when Neeson is running from the police and you can’t tell what is going on. I actually had to look away from the screen because it was hurting my eyes.

The saving grace is that there isn’t much action in this action film. I actually timed it: it takes 40 minutes for Neeson to punch someone, exactly an hour for him to kill someone and an hour-twenty before he fires a gun. In a movie that is marketed as Liam Neeson killing bad guys, and the third film of a franchise that has seen him kill a combined 50 men, taking over half the film for someone to finally die is unacceptable.

One of the things “Taken 3” almost does well is Forest Whitaker’s new character. Playing the inspector assigned to solving the murder, Whitaker is pretty much Neeson’s mental equal. Every time Neeson tries to pull something, like lose a cell phone or distract the police with a fake car, Whitaker knows it’s a trap and doesn’t fall for it. For a while it is was interesting, however by the end of the film is becomes more tedious because it means that no one is actually gaining any ground on one another.

Try now, if you will, to remember “A Good Day to Die Hard” and how indestructible John McClane has become. That is Liam Neeson in the Taken franchise. He survives things that no human being could ever live through, such as a car flipping a dozen times down a hill and said car then exploding. What’s worse is in the very next scene he is shown completely unharmed, and the film either doesn’t explain how he survived and just expects you to accept it or worse offers a ludicrous, implausible explanation.

This is the best way I can sum it up: the Taken trilogy is just like the Hangover films. The first film was a fun surprise, the second was a subpar but passable carbon copy, and the third tries to divert from the original formula but it ends in horrifically boring results.

“Taken 3” is an uneventful film that is hampered by ineffective PG-13 action sequences, and even seemingly dedicated performances by Neeson and Whitaker can’t elevate an awful script. There isn’t much more to say about this film. The word “taken” is in the title, yet the only thing taken is the audience’s $10. The poster for the film says “It Ends Here”; I sure as heck hope so.

Critics Rating: 3/10



‘Tombstones’ a Cliche, Slightly Engaging Thriller

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_poster           When Liam Neeson isn’t playing Zeus, training Batman or killing European men to save his daughter, he works as a private investigator in 1999 New York City.

In “A Walk Among the Tombstones”, Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, a retired New York City cop who now finds employment as a PI. When a drug kingpin contacts Scudder about finding the men who killed his wife, Scudder finds himself in a race to catch the men before they strike again. Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook also star, as Scott Frank writes and directs the film, which is based on a Lawrence Block novel.

Liam Neeson has had quite a diverse 2014. After starting the year voicing a Raccoon and a Lego cop, he saved a hijacked airplane (oops, spoiler. But I mean…if you haven’t seen “Non-Stop” at this point then I doubt you really want to) and he also played an American cowboy with an Irish accent (because, sure). Now Neeson takes a step back and takes on a much more serious and reality-grounded film with “Tombstones”. And how is it? …I mean, it’s alright.

The setup in this film is very solid. We get a little bit of Scunner’s backstory as to why he became a PI and quit the NYPD, but just enough to wet our appetite; we get bits and pieces throughout that complete the puzzle. We are then introduced to the kingpin, played by Dan Stevens. The guy seems like he has a few demons he himself is dealing with, and he is drug dealer, so we are not sure if we can trust him. However when he shows Scunner what the men who kidnapped his wife did to her, we quickly learn that they are not human, and that they need to be stopped.

“Tombstones” isn’t really a mystery, as we know 15 minutes in who the bad guys are, and what their motivation is. The movie even shows several scenes from their perspective. But it continues to treat itself like it is a mystery, as if every time Neeson himself finds a clue we are supposed to act all surprised and begin racking our own brains. This is one of the film’s largest flaws.

As interesting the characters and despicable the villains, we are never really met with many moments of tension or suspense. Sure, sometimes you feel like Neeson is being followed, or that a character knows more than they’re leading on, however the matter is quickly resolved, before you can really absorb the situation.

The ending also could leave more to be desired. Obviously I won’t spoil anything, but the ending seems like it is going to get interesting, but then takes a cliché route before cutting off and rolling credits entirely. You wish for all the set up the film had (or at least tried to have), it would give the audience more of a payoff.

Neeson and the rest of the cast do fine work, and Frank’s direction and screenplay are both nice and neat. The production value is also impressive, considering the film is set in New York on the eve of the Y2K crisis (because why not?). There just aren’t enough new things in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” to make it memorable.

I was never bored while watching, and Neeson does get to flash his BA badge a few times, however I just couldn’t help but think as I sat there and watch that all I really wanted was for Neeson to answer a cellphone and yell “give me back my daughter!” and before hopping on a plane to France.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘A Million Ways to Die’ Funny but Messy

A_Million_Ways_to_Die_in_the_West_posterIt’s becoming a larger and larger problem in Hollywood: trailers, particularly comedies, give too much away about a film, and when it comes time to watch it there is little surprise left. That is one of the flaws about “A Million Ways to Die in the West”, the second live-action film directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. The film features an ensemble cast, including Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and Liam Neeson.

The trailer paints an entirely different plot than what the movie is actually about, and I’m finding it somewhat difficult to give a plot synopsis, but really all you have to know is the film is two hours of Seth MacFarlane, a sheep farmer, learning to fire a gun from Theron and complaining about how the Wild West is a terrible place.

I’ll make one thing clear: the film is funny. There were a couple times I think I missed a joke because I was laughing at something that was just said. And there is no doubting MacFarlane’s ability as a writer; he once again has some very clever and very funny envelope-pushing jokes that you laugh at, even when you know you shouldn’t be laughing. There are also a half-dozen cameos which are chuckle-worthy, and there is one that is brilliant…if you haven’t seen the trailer. Unfortunately for me, I did see the trailer and the surprise was ruined, which actually made me upset. I don’t know why they needed to ruin such a great thing, and they didn’t even start showing the cameo in the trailers until two weeks ago. Trailers, man…

The largest problem with “A Million Ways” is that, much like Peter Jackson or Quentin Tarantino, MacFarlane the director keeps most things he shoots in the final cut of the film. The running time of this movie clocks in at 116 minutes, and there are probably three faux endings before it finally abruptly ends. There really is no excuse for such a long running time with a comedy.

Much of the movie feels like an inside joke and rightfully so; the entire concept started as joke among MacFarlane and the film’s other writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild that the Old West must have been a deadly place to live. Much of the film is so awkwardly stitched together and there are so many random subplots that it just feels like a bunch of random scenes from a Family Guy episode just played back to back. They just threw a lot of jokes against the wall in hopes something would stick.

Each of the cast members brings something to the table (except Amanda Seyfried, who is in here simply to put one more big name on the cast list) and MacFarlane has his funny moments, but he just seems out of place as a live-action leading man. Some of his deliveries are awkward, and other times he just can’t hold up the scene with Theron or NPH (that’s what we cool kids call Neil Patrick Harris). I also have to imagine that Liam Neeson was cast as an American cowboy simply because Family Guy once made a joke that “nothing would sound more out-of-place than Liam Neeson trying to play an American cowboy”.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is messy and overlong for sure, but it is also funny. It isn’t on the same level as “This Is the End”, or even “Ted”, but it is still a fun time at the movies. I think MacFarlane should stick to making movies set in present day because he thrives off of pop culture references and lampooning American culture; not making a joke about tumble weeds.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Non-Stop’ High on Thrills, Low on Brains

Non-Stop2014PosterLiam Neeson is an air marshal on a hijacked plane. Yes, that is the plot summary of “Non-Stop” but it is also all I should have to say to make you enticed to watch the film. Also starring Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll, the film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in “Unknown”.

Liam Neeson adds credibility to any film he is in. He takes pretty much any role he wants, but unlike other actors who do that such as Nicolas Cage, Neeson gives every role his all. Whether he playing Zeus or punching wolves, Neeson can make even the corniest movie entertaining if nothing else, and “Non-Stop” is no different. It is a stupid, over-the-top movie that benefits greatly from Neeson’s presence; his growling tone and frantic actions keep the film from ever being boring.

“Non-Stop” really is one of those movies that you have to watch with absolutely no brain cells on. There are so many unexplained plot twists, implausible breaks in the laws of physics and laughable coincidences that if you watch the film with connections to reality you may just get an aneurism.

I’m all for fun, brainless movies, but a film has to know what it is. The biggest problem with “Non-Stop” is that it spends 75% of the film being a mindless Liam Neeson thriller, but suddenly switches gears and tries to implement a political agenda and give a view on social issues. If the whole film had been building up to a lesson, or the filmmakers hadn’t ditched the rules of reality so early, then maybe the message would have been welcome. But since it comes out of left field it just exposes the film for trying to be smarter than it really is.

I am really split on “Non-Stop”. It is certainly no “Taken”, or even better than the last Neeson-Collet-Serra pairing “Unknown”, but it does a good job at never losing your interest. You know what the characters know, and are right next to Neeson, trying to figure out which of the passengers is hijacking the plane.

How much fun you have with the movie really relies on how easily forgiving you are of flawed movies, because “Non-Stop” has more than its fair share of them.  If you can easily overlook such things as nothing happening when a gun is fired at 30,000 feet in the air then you may just have a good time with “Non-Stop”. However if you are one of those people who needs their movies to have substance and both legs in reality, you may want to watch this with a grain of salt.

Critics Rating: 6/10