Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)

First review of 2018! Happy New Year folks and welcome back to AmusedintheDark.  Don’t worry we still keep things spoiler free around here. I know towards the end of the year I picked up a few new followers (still haven’t broken 200 on Facebook yet) and a few regular readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning – to which you have my thanks for every Like, Share, Retweet, and Reblog. I managed to get a public screening pass for this today, sadly I am not online press – yet, but that is why you are getting this review a little ahead of the Thursday night release.

I’m breaking from my normal format on this one for a bit of discourse, a conversation if you wish to have one over on the Facebook page. It’s relevant to the final review so please bear with me and I promise you there’s still a TL:DR waiting for you at the end.

I mentioned to a few people that I was seeing The Commuter today and a few were like “this looks really good“, and I was confused. From the moment I saw this trailer I was at the most non-plussed by it, so how is it people have such a different reaction. I mean sure everyone has different opinions on things – that’s obvious. But peel the layers back and I realized, I’ve seen too many movies.  It’s the Reviewers Paradox (I should trademark that).

You see there are people who go to see movies and don’t care, which is absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are people who want to see movies that make them think or feel something; to get that personal reaction of it whether or not it’s horror, comedy, romance, drama, or a philosophical film bridging one or more genres. Also perfectly fine. These are not mutually exclusive either. You can mix and match to your hearts content and I encourage you to do so if that’s what you want from movies!

Then you have reviewers or critics which I kind of consider similar but different enough for distinction. I’ll cover that in another post. We go to a movie for the reasons above, but also to constructively provide our thoughts to others on it’s merits and flaws. To provide a recommendation based on the experience of having watched a given movie and hundreds, if not thousands more. We observe the technical components such as editing, plot, story, camera work as much as the acting, and post production sound and effects. We store all of this and continually learn. If you look at many of my early reviews they are far less technical, but also neither more or less forgiving than I am now. Only now I can articulate better what is good or bad about a film. Which is part of the problem….

Reviewers and Critics – we see A LOT of movies. On average I watch 38 theatrical films a year as new releases and double that via mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Vudu, etc. that don’t make the theatrical cut. We observe patterns in releases, such as January and August being dump slots for movies that no one cares about. December being the drop site for Academy Award contenders. March, May, June, November being your tent-pole pictures studios hold their breath hoping to beat the others soundly with.

The phrase “we’ve seen it all before” comes to mind. This is why you will often see score sites, such as RT sometimes be so drastically different than the theatre goer. We honestly do, sometimes, see it differently because we’re comparing it to everything else we’ve seen before. We can see the parallels and repetitions. It isn’t always bad either. Movies can repeat themes, repeat core ideas, hell repeat entire plots and still be good. It just means we notice when they do and have to decide for ourselves

Can this trope/thing/mcguffin be forgiven? Does it add to the movie? Hurt it? Have no impact whatsoever and pass the pop corn please? 

This is the Reviewers Paradox. We are expected to provide constructive opinions on movies, but the movies themselves are by nature so repetitive in their components we can be seen as too harsh.

You will see in many of my reviews if you look back me use phrases like “I was entertained” – even on movies which are kinda bad. You’ll also see a lack of Oscar contenders on my list quite frequently as well. There are amazing films being made that are just plain “Great” that I will never see because the subject doesn’t interest me. Because sometimes I want to keep from getting too jaded from seeing proficient films that I end up judging other movies too harshly, where they aren’t as proficient in whatever arbitrary category you look at but provide some form of entertainment to its audience. I am never likely to watch Dunkirk, or The Post, or even things I am told are amazing like The Phantom Thread.  They didn’t get my interest and I may find myself not being fair to them or becoming less fair to movies that don’t have Oscar Bait written on the projection reels.

I reposted an article the other day talking about how Hollywood blames certain review sites and people like me for why people aren’t going to the movies. While the most common response to this is “Try making better movies” – I can’t help but ponder is there a kernel of truth. Look at what I’ve written so far about the difference between an average movie goer and a reviewer or a critic. I think about how many movies I put in the “Meh” to “Bad” category last year when I was writing my Best and Worst of 2017.

I even considered maybe I should stop reviewing because I am getting too jaded.

Then I saw The Commuter.

I heard people on the exit interviews saying “I was on the edge of my seat”, “It was good.” I thought about my own review for it, my own thoughts and how they lined up. The question stood out even more. We’re just over a thousand words on this review and I haven’t even discussed the movie yet; but I think this topic was worth it. Putting these words to screen from the horror show that is my head can help me articulate why some folks like a thing and others don’t. It can help you as my reader understand why you enjoyed a thing when me, or some other reviewer or critic didn’t.

I promise you, if you read a review of mine and see a movie, and disagree with me – let’s discuss it! Please! I absolutely have not and will never begrudge someone enjoying a film I didn’t or hating one I love. In fact, quite often, I’d love to talk about it with you. Not to change your mind but maybe to change mine. There’s a really good chance you saw something I didn’t, or appreciated something I couldn’t. This always intrigues me. 

TL;DR Part I

Which brings us to The Commuter itself and the question is this a train you should miss?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra returns to the screen with clearly his favourite actor Liam Neeson. Serra has previously directed him in Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run all Night. He was also the director on the fantastic horror film The Shallows. The writers on the film are Ryan Engle (Non-Stop and Rampage – to be seen later this year), Philip deBlasi, and Byron Willinger in their first official scripts; which does invoke my Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three continues its validation. The premise of the movie at its bones is “The Box”. Press a button, getting a life changing amount of money but someone you don’t know dies. Now they’ve added layers to it, such as an isolated location but we’ve seen these layers before in movies that didn’t make it work then, such as well….Non-Stop. You’ve seen similar “do x or y will happen to your family” before and mysteries on a train, on a plane, on a bus. It CAN work, look at Speed, Locke, or even Snakes on a Plane as examples. They all have very similar components but were just done better.

Sometimes they add humor, sometimes they add good action, sometimes they add tension. This movie tried to do the tension and action but failed miserably. Tension works best when you increase it and release it as the movie goes on. But never release it all the way. This failed to release the tension and continued it’s attempts to build it. Attempts is an important word because if you fail to increase tension by slowing the pace down or adding little twists and red herrings, but never giving an out – you end up with the opposite reaction; which is boredom. The Commuter is only 1 hour and 44 minutes when your average blockbuster is 2 hours plus these days and you don’t notice. This felt considerably longer than it’s running time and just when you thought it might be wrapping they keep going. It was like all the worst parts of the Return of the King ending.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. I did, from a technical perspective, find the opening of the movie a creative way to show the day in and day out of a mans life and the repetition we all go through on our morning routines. It was needed for establishment and it was done well. It’s also at least an ‘original’ film, not based on a book movie or anything so that’s something. Next to nothing else worked for me though. The actors were wasted, the pacing was awful, and nothing came as a surprise.

No surprises mean you fail as a mystery. Even movies where you know the ending can still surprise you or engage you if done well. Look at Murder on the Orient Express. You KNOW the ending, but you sit through and wonder how it’s going to unfold.

With this movie? Not so much.

TL;DR Part II

The Commuter derailed. It fails on basic principles of being an action movie, a thriller, or a mystery. It doesn’t succeed at one when it tries to be all three. I maintain Liam Neeson, and most of the other actors, took this for the paycheck. Neeson himself has become a parody of his own roles to the point where people are going to want to see this to see him be “bad ass” since Taken reinvented him back in 2008 from a dramatic actor to the action star.  I would actually pay to see him take a full on parody role of himself in a feature film.

I really feel for everyone who made this or put money into it. No one goes out to make a bad movie, unless you are The Asylum. You make a movie because you love making movies. I feel bad when the final product is derivative and dull. Being a creator isn’t easy. I hope they find a new project that’s better because while Bryan Mills may have had a special set of skills, this movie sure doesn’t.

Should you see it?

Nope. I am hoping when I see Proud Mary later this week I can recommend that instead.

Were you really thinking of quitting reviews?

Yeah right up until I wrote this. I realized if nothing else Reviewers can hold Hollywood somewhat accountable. If “we” are to blame for the down turn in box office – maybe rather than being antagonistic towards its audiences and the reviewers Hollywood might start talking to us? It’s a vain hope, but hey a girl can dream.

So you’re not?

Nope. Still going strong. Still trying to see what I can do to stir up more viewers/readers, but I have ideas.

What’s Proud Mary?

Atomic Blonde/John Wick but with Taraji P Henderson and it looks awesome.

Thanks for bearing with me on this really long review and editorial folks. Hope you stick around and as always if you want to support me remember to like, share, retweet, and reblog!

Happy New Year.

Darke Reviews | A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Welcome to the first original review on the brand new site.  I checked all my logs and I have yet to do a review of a September release. This raises some questions about the worthiness of anything released in this month and if its worth seeing at all. True we are coming right off of the summer. People are done with vacations, school is back in session, and honestly of all the months in the year September is the least interesting. Sorry Virgo’s, you know its true. It is neither fall, nor still quite summer. September just is. So what does it say then that we have two releases this week that at least piqued my interest?

Let us begin the exploration of that question with A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Based on a book (what isn’t these days?) by Lawrence Block who based on his writing work for the silver and small screen has a love for the detective genre. This particular novel of his was adapted for the screen by Scott Frank. Frank has an interesting blend of screen play work prior to this with mob movies (Get Shorty), crime thrillers (Out of Sight), sci fi (Minority Report), capers (The Lookout), family films (Marley and Me) and even comic books (The Wolverine – the good one). I have absolutely no idea what to make of this man as he is all over the map.  If anything based on the works I have seen he does like writing stories that have actual character moments or an attempt at them anyway and seems to enjoy unusual social interactions.

This also marks Franks first theatrical directors credit, with only The Lookout in 2007 as his other feature film credit. I feel the need to say it now that Scott Frank may be best behind the page, not the camera.

Let me explain, still within my spoiler free realm (difficult for a mystery). The story first and foremost is a mystery with Liam Neeson as a retired cop playing PI. He is hired by the brother of someone in his AA circle to find the mans wife who was taken, ransom paid, and killed anyway. This is a full on classic private eye movie with the investigator in question working his way to the source of the crime and facing off with them.

I think I wish this film had been done in black and white. It may have added color, as counterintuitive as it is.  The movie has a solid R rating, but doesn’t show us anything and the hints of what it does show don’t carry any real weight. I wasn’t horrified. I wasn’t discomforted. They wanted to talk about something wrong and something broken but I don’t feel that they went far enough. Thats where black and white could have added atmosphere to the movie to give it more weight than the off and on rain did. They might have even been able to go further and hint at more horrific acts perpetrated by our bad guys. I am not asking for gore but better teases. Better innuendo that leaves my mind pondering just how bad it really was.

Granted, I could be desensitized after 30 years of watching movies that I can remember. But the lack of risk in the film combined with way too many shots of Liam Neeson just walking created more yawns than it did tension. It threw the pacing off as things happened and didn’t throughout the film with no perceived threat to the protagonist or even auxiliary characters. Another problem the film faced in the pacing department was the stories of those auxiliary characters eating up more screen time than I cared about. I suppose they could have been there to humanize Neeson’s character, but I’d have needed to care about any of them for that to work.

This isn’t to say their acting was bad. Neeson was surprisingly restrained in this film and despite what was billed (more on that in a sec) was not playing Brian Mills.  No one else other than Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (Earth to Echo) did anything of note worth mentioning acting wise. Astro was plucky, but just nearly annoyingly so. The other actors for their parts did well enough, but I don’t think the direction was there for them to elevate the performance into anything memorable. Even our killers felt flat.

Now, I want to talk about the trailer a second. You cannot show Liam Neeson on a portable/cellular phone threatening someone or being even remotely menacing without intentionally making people think the movie is another Taken riff. This was false advertising to get your butts into the seats. To see Neeson play Mills yet again. This is not the movie we are getting. This is a slow paced murder mystery. Congratulations studio you may have duped your audience successfully, but I do not think they will forget it. This means your other trailers begin to have less weight the more trickery you try.

This film has three total action beats. Thats it. So…

TL;DR?

A Walk Among the Tombstones really should have been called a Meander through the Tombstones Eventually. This is a slow burn mystery that lacks the impact or even originality of other films before it. I remember watching 8mm (I may do a review of that in October) and being somewhat intrigued/disturbed by a private investigators descent into a world far darker than he was prepared for.

This film doesn’t do that. It just doesn’t seem to want to care even though I think its trying to.

I can’t bring myself to care either.

If you were at all curious, you can probably wait til Redbox.

If you are a Neeson completist – do yourself a favor and see it in Matinee.

 

As always, please feel free to chime in below with your own thoughts should you see the film.