Film Review – MAN OF THE WEST (1958)

MAN OF THE WEST (1958, USA, 100m, 12) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Ashton Productions / Walter Mirisch Productions; d. Anthony Mann; w. Reginald Rose (based on the novel “The Border Jumpers” by Will C. Brown); pr. Walter Mirisch; ph. Ernest Haller (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Leigh Harline; ed. Richard V. Heermance; ad. Hilyard M. Brown.
cast: Gary Cooper (Link Jones), Julie London (Billie Ellis), Lee J. Cobb (Dock Tobin), Arthur O’Connell (Sam Beasley), Jack Lord (Coaley), John Dehner (Claude), Royal Dano (Trout), Robert J. Wilke (Ponch), Joe Dominguez (Mexican Man (uncredited)), Dick Elliott (Willie (uncredited)), Frank Ferguson (Crosscut Marshal (uncredited)), Herman Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Signe Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Ann Kunde (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Tom London (Tom (uncredited)), Tina Menard (Juanita (uncredited)), Emory Parnell (Henry (uncredited)), Chuck Roberson (Rifleman-Guard on Train (uncredited)), Glen Walters (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Guy Wilkerson (Train Conductor (uncredited)), Jack Williams (Alcutt (uncredited)).
This psychological western sees Cooper in fine form as an ex-outlaw aboard a train when bandits rob it. When Cooper tries to intervene, he is knocked unconscious and left stranded in the middle of nowhere with a saloon singer (London) and con man (O’Connell). Cooper leads them to his nearby former home, which is now the hideout for the bandit led by his uncle (Cobb). He must re-join the old gang for one last holdup to save his friends. Mann directs with a sureness of hand and total control of the material. A strong script by Rose, adapted from a novel by Will C. Brown gives Cooper, Cobb and co plenty to get their teeth into. The cast gives excellent performances as the tension mounts between the bandits and their captives. Cooper is splendid conveying a man wrestling with a past he would rather forget, whilst Cobb is frightening as his unstable older mentor. Standout scenes include an exhausting fistfight between Cooper and Lord and a superbly staged shootout in a ghost town as Cooper looks to gain the upper hand. The result is another example of Mann’s mastery of his craft and his ability to elevate seemingly familiar material to new heights.

Film Review – A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014)

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014, USA, 113m, 15) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Entertainment One (UK); pr co. 1984 Private Defense Contractors / Cross Creek Pictures / Da Vinci Media Ventures; d. Scott Frank; w. Scott Frank (based on the novel by Lawrence Block); pr. Tobin Armbrust, Danny DeVito, Brian Oliver, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher; ph. Mihai Malaimare Jr. (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. Carlos Rafael Rivera; ed. Jill Savitt; pd. David Brisbin; ad. Jonathan Arkin.
cast: Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), Astro (TJ (as Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley)), Sebastian Roché (Yuri Landau), Boyd Holbrook (Peter Kristo), Maurice Compte (Danny Ortiz), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Jonas Loogan), Laura Birn (Leila Alvarez), Eric Nelsen (Howie), Razane Jammal (Carrie Kristo), Marielle Heller (Marie Gotteskind), Frank De Julio (Eduardo Solomon), Mark Consuelos (Reuben Quintana), Natia Dune (Nurse Anna), Liana De Laurent (Yuri’s Wife (as Liana Delaurent)), Danielle Rose Russell (Lucia), Samuel Mercedes (Jacinto), Leon Addison Brown (Stover).
A refreshingly old-school take on the PI genre sees Neeson as Matt Scudder, a former alcoholic NYPD detective who has cleaned up his act and now works as an unlicensed private detective. His latest client is a drug trafficker (Stevens) whose wife was kidnapped and brutally murdered, and as Neeson delves deeper, he finds it is the latest in the line of targeted abductions. Decidedly dark in tone, the script eschews the mystery elements of the plot and focuses on Neeson’s investigative interactions with the various lowlifes he has dealings with. Doing so he forms a reluctant partnership with a teenage black boy, played enthusiastically by Astro. Neeson is also in fine form and although the film never strays too far from genre conventions, it is a professionally packaged thriller that will satisfy noir aficionados.

Film Review – NON-STOP (2014)

NON-STOP (2014, USA/UK/France, 106m, 12) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), StudioCanal (UK); pr co. StudioCanal / Silver Pictures; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Christopher Roach, John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle (based on a story by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach); pr. Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Ottman; ed. Jim May; pd. Alec Hammond; ad. David Swayze.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Scoot McNairy (Tom Bowen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Nate Parker (Zack White), Corey Stoll (Austin Reilly), Lupita Nyong’o (Gwen), Omar Metwally (Dr. Fahim Nasir), Jason Butler Harner (Kyle Rice), Linus Roache (David McMillan), Shea Whigham (Agent Marenick), Anson Mount (Jack Hammond), Quinn McColgan (Becca), Corey Hawkins (Travis Mitchell), Frank Deal (Charles Wheeler), Bar Paly (Iris Marianne), Edoardo Costa (Herve Philbert), Jon Abrahams (David Norton), Amanda Quaid (Emily Norton), Beth Dixon (Older Woman).
Ludicrous but fast-paced action thriller vehicle for Neeson. Here he plays a washed-out Air Marshal who boards a transatlantic flight bound from New York City to London. During the flight, he becomes the recipient of text messages demanding the American government deposit $150 million into an offshore bank account or his fellow passengers will be killed off one-by-one every twenty minutes. What starts off as an initially intriguing idea is wasted by a script that defies logic and character actions and interactions that frequently feel unreal. Neeson lends the proceedings some gravitas through an honest performance and is supported well by Moore, as a cooky passenger who has faith in Neeson. However, the finale stretches credulity beyond breaking point and is hampered by poor visual effects leaving the viewing experience an ultimately disappointing one.

Film Review – UNKNOWN (2011)

UNKNOWN (2011, UK/Germany/France/Canada/Japan/USA, 113m, 15) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), Optimum Releasing (UK); pr co. Dark Castle Entertainment / Panda Productions Inc. / Canal+ / Horticus UK / Studio Babelsberg / StudioCanal / TF1 Films Production; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell (based on the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert); pr. Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. John Ottman, Alexander Rudd; ed. Timothy Alverson; pd. Richard Bridgland; ad. Andreas Olshausen.
cast: Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler), Olivier Schneider (Smith), Stipe Erceg (Jones), Rainer Bock (Herr Strauss), Mido Hamada (Prince Shada), Clint Dyer (Biko), Karl Markovics (Dr. Farge), Eva Löbau (Nurse Gretchen), Helen Wiebensohn (Laurel Bressler), Merle Wiebensohn (Lily Bressler), Adnan Maral (Turkish Taxi Driver), Torsten Michaelis (Airport Taxi Driver), Rainer Sellien (Control Room Detective), Petra Hartung (Control Room Detective).
This mystery thriller becomes more concerned with staging its action sequences than with maximising the potential of its premise. After a serious car accident in Berlin, biochemist Neeson awakes to find his world in utter chaos. His wife (Jones) does not recognize him; another man is using his identity, and mysterious assassins are hunting him. With the authorities sceptical, Neeson must go it alone. When he teams up with an unlikely ally in illegal immigrant Kruger, the determined Neeson discovers the truth is more than he bargained for. This is a plot that would work exceptionally well in the hands of a master like Hitchcock. Here, however, Collett-Sera initially builds up the intrigue but resorts to action genre convention in the final act. Whilst the story may be hard to swallow, Neeson injects a level of energy and intensity that allows you to go along with it for a good portion of the running time. But ultimately the script, whilst occasionally clever, lacks finesse and the portrayal of the villains is a little heavy and obvious.

Film Review – UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

UNSTOPPABLE (2010, USA, 98m, 12) ***½
Action, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Prospect Park / Scott Free Productions / Firm Films / Millbrook Farm Productions; d. Tony Scott; w. Mark Bomback; pr. Eric McLeod, Mimi Rogers, Tony Scott, Julie Yorn, Alex Young; ph. Ben Seresin (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Harry Gregson-Williams; ed. Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon; pd. Chris Seagers; ad. Julian Ashby, Drew Boughton, Denise Hudson, Dawn Swiderski.
cast: Denzel Washington (Frank), Chris Pine (Will), Rosario Dawson (Connie), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Dunn (Galvin), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Werner), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), Lew Temple (Ned), T.J. Miller (Gilleece), Jessy Schram (Darcy), David Warshofsky (Judd Stewart), Andy Umberger (Janeway), Elizabeth Mathis (Nicole), Meagan Tandy (Maya), Dylan Bruce (Michael Colson), Jeff Hochendoner (Clark), Ryan Ahern (Ryan Scott), Christopher Lee Philips (Baker), Kevin McClatchy (Hoffman), Toni Saladna (Galvin’s Assistant).
Director Tony Scott delivers one of his best films with this exciting tale of a runaway train. When a huge, unmanned locomotive laden with toxic chemicals speeds out of control, the only hope of bringing it to a safe stop is in the hands of a veteran engineer Washington and a young conductor Pine. Together, they must risk their lives to save those in the runaway’s path. Inspired by true events. Scott’s usual penchant for visual dynamics and tight editing are in evidence here but are less obtrusive than usual. Washington and Pine are excellent in the lead roles, although attempts to flesh out their characters seem superfluous. The main attraction is the train action and the near misses along the way. It is here Scott excels in maintaining a high level of tension with some well-staged action segments. The commentary on corporate politics is a little more clumsily handled but serves to create an inner tension between the workers and the management as they look for a solution. The result is an exciting action movie that may lack depth but has a lot of class and delivers its thrills with aplomb. The film was loosely based on the real-life CSX 8888 incident in the U.S. state of Ohio in 2001. Unfortunately, the film was Scott’s final one before his death in 2012.
AAN: Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Mark P. Stoeckinger)

Film Review – THE GREY (2011)

THE GREY (2011, USA, 117m, 15) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Open Road Films (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Open Road Films / Inferno Distribution / Scott Free Productions / Chambara Pictures / 1984 Private Defense Contractors; d. Joe Carnahan; w. Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers); pr. Joe Carnahan, Jules Daly, Mickey Liddell, Ridley Scott; ph. Masanobu Takayanagi (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Roger Barton, Jason Hellmann; pd. John Willett; ad. Ross Dempster.
cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Frank Grillo (Diaz), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Dallas Roberts (Henrick), Joe Anderson (Flannery), Nonso Anozie (Burke), James Badge Dale (Lewenden), Ben Hernandez Bray (Hernandez), Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s Wife), Peter Girges (Company Clerk), Jonathan Bitonti (Ottway (5 years old)), James Bitonti (Ottway’s Father), Ella Kosor (Talget’s Little Girl), Jacob Blair (Cimoski), Lani Gelera (Flight Attendant), Larissa Stadnichuk (Flight Attendant).
This tense survival thriller is a solid vehicle for Neeson. Alaskan oil refinery workers, including sharpshooter Neeson, are flying home for a much-needed vacation. A violent storm causes their plane to crash in the frozen wilderness. As the small group of survivors trek southward toward civilization and safety, Neeson and his companions must battle mortal injuries, the icy elements, and a pack of hungry wolves. Shot in a washed-out colour palette, which adds further harshness to the already unforgiving environment. Carnahan directs his actors skilfully to produce naturalistic and believable performances. The constant threat of wolf attack plagues the group as the savage creatures pick the survivors off one by one. This is helped by the chilling sound design, which adds considerably to the foreboding atmosphere. One or two weak CGI effects and the familial flashbacks occasionally break the relentless suspense, but with Neeson at his grizzled best, this remains an absorbing watch for the most part.

Film Review – TWISTER (1996)

TWISTER (1996, USA, 113m, PG) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Constant c Productions; d. Jan de Bont; w. Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin; pr. Ian Bryce, Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy; ph. Jack N. Green (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. Mark Mancina; ed. Michael Kahn; pd. Joseph C. Nemec III; ad. Dan Olexiewicz.
cast: Helen Hunt (Dr. Jo Harding), Bill Paxton (Bill Harding), Cary Elwes (Dr. Jonas Miller), Jami Gertz (Dr. Melissa Reeves), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Dustin Davis), Lois Smith (Meg Greene), Alan Ruck (Robert ‘Rabbit’ Nurick), Sean Whalen (Allan Sanders), Scott Thomson (Jason ‘Preacher’ Rowe), Todd Field (Tim ‘Beltzer’ Lewis), Joey Slotnick (Joey), Wendle Josepher (Haynes), Jeremy Davies (Laurence), Zach Grenier (Eddie), Gregory Sporleder (Willie), Patrick Fischler (The Communicator), Nicholas Sadler (Kubrick), Ben Weber (Stanley), Anthony Rapp (Tony), Erik LaRay Harvey (Eric (as Eric LaRay Harvey)).
A white-knuckle ride following a group of storm chasers, brilliantly filmed by de Bont and his crew with notable sound design and visual effects work. During the approach of the most powerful storm in decades, university professor Hunt and her underfunded team of students prepare a ground-breaking tornado data-gathering device, which was conceived by her estranged husband, Paxton. When Hunt tells Paxton that the device is ready for testing — and that their privately funded rival Elwes has stolen the idea and built his own — Paxton re-joins the team for one last mission. Echoes of Howard Hawks amidst the natural destruction make this worth seeing. Hunt and Paxton are likeable leads and spar well off each other. They are given a witty script and an assortment of oddball supporting characters as their “professional” group. Gertz is charming as Paxton’s delightfully naive fiancée, who gets caught up in the adventure. The story may have more than its fair share of cliches, but the set-pieces are excitingly staged if a little far-fetched in the lack of injuries Hunt and Paxton sustain amongst the flying debris.
AAN: Best Sound (Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Kevin O’Connell, Geoffrey Patterson); Best Effects, Visual Effects (Stefen Fangmeier, John Frazier, Habib Zargarpour, Henry LaBounta)

Film Review – THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004, USA, 124m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Centropolis Entertainment / Lions Gate Films / Mark Gordon Productions; d. Roland Emmerich; w. Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (based on a story by Roland Emmerich); pr. Roland Emmerich, Mark Gordon, Thomas M. Hammel; ph. Ueli Steiger (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. Harald Kloser; ed. David Brenner; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Claude Paré.
cast: Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J.D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Sasha Roiz (Parker), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson), Robin Wilcock (Tony), Jason Blicker (Paul), Kenneth Moskow (Bob), Tim Hamaguchi (Taka), Glenn Plummer (Luther), Adrian Lester (Simon), Richard McMillan (Dennis), Perry King (President Blake), Mimi Kuzyk (Secretary of State).
Even global warming advocates may baulk at the situations presented in this far-fetched, but surprisingly enjoyable disaster epic. After climatologist Quaid is largely ignored by U.N. officials when presenting his environmental concerns, his research proves true when an enormous “superstorm” develops, setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. Trying to get to his son, Gyllenhaal, who is trapped in New York with his friend Rossum and others, Quaid and his crew must travel by foot from Philadelphia, braving the elements, to get to Sam before it’s too late. The game and likeable cast keep their faith in the lame script, delivering awkward dialogue without a metaphorical wink to the audience. Emmerich loves destroying his iconic buildings and landmarks and here he and his effects team take their carnage to impressive set-pieces in LA and NYC. He asks an awful lot of his audience to suspend their disbelief, but for those willing to do so this is a fun ride.

Film Review – DANTE’S PEAK (1997)

DANTE’S PEAK (1997, USA, 108m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures / Pacific Western; d. Roger Donaldson; w. Leslie Bohem; pr. Gale Anne Hurd, Joseph Singer, Marliese Schneider; ph. Andrzej Bartkowiak (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. John Frizzell; ed. Conrad Buff IV, Tina Hirsch, Howard E. Smith; pd. J. Dennis Washington; ad. Francis J. Pezza, Thomas T. Taylor.
cast: Pierce Brosnan (Harry Dalton), Linda Hamilton (Rachel Wando), Jamie Renée Smith (Lauren Wando), Jeremy Foley (Graham Wando), Elizabeth Hoffman (Ruth), Charles Hallahan (Paul Dreyfus), Grant Heslov (Greg), Kirk Trutner (Terry Furlong), Arabella Field (Nancy), Tzi Ma (Stan), Brian Reddy (Les Worrell), Lee Garlington (Dr. Jane Fox), Bill Bolender (Sheriff Turner), Carole Androsky (Mary Kelly), Peter Jason (Norman Gates), Jeffrey L. Ward (Jack Collins), Tim Haldeman (Elliot Blair), Walker Brandt (Marianne), Hansford Rowe (Warren Cluster), Susie Spear Purcell (Karen Narlington (as Susie Spear)).
This effects-driven disaster movie sees Brosnan as a volcanologist who convinces Dante’s Peak town mayor (Hamilton) and the unbelieving populace that the big one is about to hit and they need to evacuate immediately. When Hamilton’s two children (Smith and Foley) go up the mountain to get their stubborn grandmother (Hoffman), Brosnan and Hamilton must rescue the kids and grandma before the volcano explodes in a shower of molten lava and ash. The visual effects work is excellent and the many scenes of chaos and destruction are well constructed. Alongside this, Brosnan and Hamilton make engaging leads whose relationship grows through the story. Once the eruption gets underway character development takes second place to the non-stop action. There are some weaknesses and an occasional lack of logic and plausibility in the mechanical script, but for those willing to go along for the ride there is still plenty to enjoy here.

Film Review – THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974, USA, 165m, 15) ****
Action, Drama
dist. Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Irwin Allen Productions; d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant (based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp (DeLuxe | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm version)); m. John Williams; ed. Carl Kress, Harold F. Kress; pd. William J. Creber; ad. Ward Preston.
cast: Steve McQueen (Chief O’Halloran), Paul Newman (Doug Roberts), William Holden (Jim Duncan), Faye Dunaway (Susan), Fred Astaire (Harlee Claiborne), Susan Blakely (Patty), Richard Chamberlain (Simmons), Jennifer Jones (Lisolette), O.J. Simpson (Jernigan), Robert Vaughn (Senator Parker), Robert Wagner (Dan Bigelow), Susan Flannery (Lorrie), Sheila Allen (Paula Ramsay (as Sheila Mathews)), Norman Burton (Giddings), Jack Collins (Mayor Ramsay), Don Gordon (Kappy), Felton Perry (Scott), Gregory Sierra (Carlos), Ernie F. Orsatti (Mark Powers), Dabney Coleman (Deputy Chief #1).
A fire breaks out in a state-of-the-art San Francisco high-rise building during the opening ceremony attended by a host of A-list guests. McQueen plays the overworked fire chief who along with the building’s architect (Newman) struggles to save lives and subdue panic while a corrupt, cost-cutting contractor (Chamberlain), son-in-law to builder Holden, tries to duck responsibility for the shortcuts he took that caused the disaster. Guillermin sustains the tension throughout this big production disaster movie, which along with producer Irwin Allen’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, is the best example of the 1970s disaster genre and needed the funding of two studios- Fox and Warner. A stellar cast – led by Newman and McQueen – adds considerably to the familiar elements. The photography and production values are first-rate and are enhanced by an excellent grandiose score from Williams. The action sequences, directed by Irwin Allen and photographed by Joseph F.Biroc, are effectively staged. It was Jennifer Jones’s final film.
AA: Best Cinematography (Fred J. Koenekamp, Joseph F. Biroc); Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress, Carl Kress); Best Music, Original Song (Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”)
AAN: Best Picture (Irwin Allen); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Fred Astaire); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William J. Creber, Ward Preston, Raphael Bretton); Best Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis); Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams)