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.
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.
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.
UNSTOPPABLE (2010, USA, 98m, 12) ***½
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)
FUZZ (1968) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 205pp
First published in 1968
© Ed McBain, 1968
Blurb: The detectives of the 87th Precinct are confronted with a call – clearly a crank call – that threatens the life of the city’s parks commissioner unless a ransom of $5,000 is paid. The deadline soon passes and the parks commissioner is shot in the head as he leaves a rock concert. Soon, another anonymous warning follows and the deputy mayor is blown up in his Cadillac. The next target is the young, charismatic Kennedy-esque mayor who is on the hit list of what can only be called a serial assassin. It is up to the hardworking detectives of the 87th Precinct to find the shrewd murderer before he can strike again.
Comment: Ed McBain returns with the 22nd book in his 87th Precinct series following a two-year break. The book is a mix of detection, thrills and comedy, with the latter adding a delicious flavour to the mix. McBain is not afraid to show the fallibilities of his detective heroes and here they are often made to look inept by their master-criminal nemesis the Deaf Man, returning after his appearance in book number 12, The Heckler (1960). Three separate cases here dovetail through happenstance into a chaotic finale. For once the solution is not achieved through procedural detective work, it is merely resolved through blind luck. The Deaf Man’s scheme is clever and is only undone through his own vanity and bad timing. The dialogue is amongst the best in the series, notably in the sidebars: the station being decorated apple green by two painters who trade verbal barbs with the detectives; Meyer looking to sue an author who has used his name for the title of his book. The comedy is broadest in a stakeout in Grover park with Kling and Meyer dressed as nuns; Willis is a sleeping bag with female detective Eileen Burke; Genero disguised as a blind man with his guide dog who ends up shooting his own leg. That McBain juggles these elements, both serious and comic, so well is a testament to his skills. The result is one of the strongest books in the series, which would be adapted for the big screen four years later.
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.
EIGHTY MILLION EYES (1966) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 172pp
First published in 1966
© Ed McBain, 1966
“The Dear Hunter” © Pyramid Publications, 1965
“Eighty Million Eyes” © Popular Publications, 1965
Blurb: When top TV comic Stan Gifford died there were plenty of witnesses – 40 million viewers, plus the studio crew and audience. Detectives Meyer and Carella had never had it so good, but when pretty Cindy Forrest undressed for bed, there was no one to watch – except her attacker.
Comment: The 21st book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees McBain interweaving two separate plotlines – a traditional whodunnit mystery and a psychological thriller. The nature of the book betrays the origins of these plotlines as two separate shorter pieces published in magazines the previous year. The mystery plot, written with a light touch, concerns the poisoning of a TV comic and detectives Carella and Meyer hunt down leads through the questioning of suspects and the forensic evidence. The thriller plot has a darker and more sinister tone with a dangerous stalker menacing Cindy Forrest (who appeared as the daughter of one of the victims in Ten Plus One) and Kling assigned to protect her. Both cases work to simultaneous and satisfying conclusions. The dialogue is breezy and the writing confident, but the stitched-together nature of the stories is evident as there is no linking theme or crossover between the cases. That said this remains an excellent example of McBain’s versatility, even within the same book.
DOLL (1965) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 158pp
First published in 1965
© Ed McBain, 1965
Blurb: She was a living doll–until she was slashed to death. Detective Steve Carella wants Bert Kling on the case, even though Kling is making enemies of everyone. Then finally even Carella has had it with Kling, and suddenly the detective is missing and suspected dead. The men from the 87th Precinct go full tilt to find the truth. But they really need to find is a little doll–the little doll with all the answers.
Comment: The 20th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series finds the author returning to his trademark approach, but with a new twist. Here, he weaves elements of psychological terror into the procedural narrative, with Carella captured and being forced into drug addiction and becoming a sexual plaything by a psychotic woman. The doll of the title is both the key to the mystery and a metaphor for Carella’s incarceration. The tension builds as Kling and Meyer race against time to locate their colleague, whilst investigating the murder of a model. The book can be seen as marking the beginning of a new chapter in the series with McBain pushing further at the boundaries of sensationalism – a theme he would often return to in later books. Whilst the move was bold it somehow seems to slightly cheapen the material and, as a result, the book is not wholly successful.
THE CONCORDE … AIRPORT ’79 (1979, USA, 113m, PG) *½
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. David Lowell Rich; w. Eric Roth (based on a story by Jenning Lang); pr. Jennings Lang; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Lalo Schifrin; ed. Dorothy Spencer; pd. Henry Bumstead.
cast: Alain Delon (Capt. Paul Metrand), Susan Blakely (Maggie Whelan), Robert Wagner (Dr. Kevin Harrison), Sylvia Kristel (Isabelle), George Kennedy (Capt. Joe Patroni), Eddie Albert (Eli Sands), Bibi Andersson (Francine), Charo (Margarita), John Davidson (Robert Palmer), Andrea Marcovicci (Alicia Rogov), Martha Raye (Loretta), Cicely Tyson (Elaine), Jimmie Walker (Boisie), David Warner (Peter O’Neill), Mercedes McCambridge (Nelli), Avery Schreiber (Coach Markov), Sybil Danning (Amy), Monica Lewis (Gretchen), Nicolas Coster (Dr. Stone), Robin Gammell (William Halpern).
Based on a story by Jennings Lang read the titles. Lang executive produced the previous films in the series and this is his only writing credit during his long movie career. It would be interesting to know at what point screenplay writer Roth and director Lowell Rich realised they had signed on to such a turkey. Journalist Blakely discovers that her married boyfriend, Wagner, heads a company that is involved in illegal arms sales. To stop her from going public, Wagner decides to bring down the Concorde she is taking from Washington to Moscow via Paris. Pilots Delon and Kennedy, this time in a starring role returning as Joe Patroni, to keep the plane in the air. The preposterous premise plays out even more ludicrously on screen with appalling dialogue and it is hard to determine the unintended from any intended laughs. The earlier entries in the series may have been hokey at times but each had its moments of suspense and drama. This fourth film is poorly assembled and an embarrassment for many of the actors. All this said the film is never boring, as you find yourself laughing at it too much, and therefore not totally wretched. Raye’s final feature film. TV versions run to 132m and incredibly 176m.
AIRPORT ’77 (1977, USA, 114m, PG) ***
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Jerry Jameson; w. Michael Scheff, David Spector (based on a story by H.A.L. Craig and Charles Kuenstle and the novel “Airport” by Arthur Hailey); pr. William Frye; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Cacavas; ed. Robert Watts, J. Terry Williams; pd. George C. Webb.
cast: Jack Lemmon (Don Gallagher), Lee Grant (Karen Wallace), Brenda Vaccaro (Eve Clayton), Joseph Cotten (Nicholas St. Downs III), Olivia de Havilland (Emily Livingston), Darren McGavin (Stan Buchek), Christopher Lee (Martin Wallace), Robert Foxworth (Chambers), Robert Hooks (Eddie), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), James Stewart (Philip Stevens), Monte Markham (Banker), Kathleen Quinlan (Julie), Gil Gerard (Frank Powers), James Booth (Ralph Crawford), Monica Lewis (Anne), Maidie Norman (Dorothy), Pamela Bellwood (Lisa), Arlene Golonka (Mrs. Jane Stern), Tom Sullivan (Steve), M. Emmet Walsh (Dr. Williams), Michael Pataki (Wilson).
The second sequel to AIRPORT also takes its lead from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE as a botched mid-air hijack of multi-millionaire Stewart’s private 747, carrying a collection of priceless works of art, results in the plane crashing into the sea. As the stricken airliner sinks, its passengers and crew, led by pilot Lemmon, are faced with a nightmare fight for survival. Despite the far-fetched nature of its premise, the film manages to deliver a decent number of thrills. The game cast help to sell the scenario, with Lemmon and McGavin delivering convincing performances. The film does have the usual array of stock characters and their domestic baggage, but the action takes centre stage once the plane hits the water and Jameson keeps the tension high through to the finale. Network TV version added additional footage, including deleted scenes and newly shot footage, and runs 182m. Followed by THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT ’79 (1979).
AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George C. Webb, Mickey S. Michaels); Best Costume Design (Edith Head, Burton Miller).