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.

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Darke Reviews | The Wraith (1986)

This one should be a personal favourite for my Tucson readers as the entirety of the film was shot here locally back in 1985 for it’s 86 release date. While watching the movie I spent half my time trying to identify the roads, intersections and buildings. Only a handful are left as they were when it was shot. Sorry to say folks, the Big Kay Burger is no more.

This is another one of those films where the writer and director are the same and it’s one of their first works. It unfortunately shows in Mike Marvins end results on this one. The movie is a clear product of the mid 80’s where it really doesn’t know what it wants to be musically, effects wise, story, acting. It sits on that cusp of early 80s bad and late 80s bad. It is in a wave of movies that want to be scary, want to be “Rad”, but also have an almost original concept.

The story focuses around a street gang who rules their town through fear and violence. They pull people over in the middle of the night and race them for their cars or their lives. Along comes a new kid in town by the name of Jake (Charlie Sheen), who instantly gets himself on the bad side of the gang leader Packard (Nick Cassavetes) by being nice to the girl he is scarily obsessed over, Keri (Sherilyn Fenn). Jake vanishes for the better part of the first half of the film after that. We also meet local burger flipper Billy (Matthew Barry), who is just a nice guy that lost his brother a couple of years ago. Also new in town is a mysterious street racer in an unusual black car and wears a full body suit and biker helmet; no not Racer X. He begins to race Packards gang one by one, leaving eyeless corpses in his wake. His tactic for beating them, get a head of them on the roads and let them T-bone his car and explode. Meanwhile the local sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) tries to keep the peace in a town that wants to unravel as Packards gang begins to die off. As the movie unfolds we find the connection between Keri, Jake, Packard and the mysterious driver.

So let’s get down to it, the acting isn’t stellar. It all reads as awkward with the exception of Quaid and Sheen who are able to make it look effortless. The words character development were never uttered during the making of this film. We also have such stellar names as Rughead, Gutterboy and Skank. It’s the 80’s so we do get an obligatory and completely unneeded naked girl / sex scene. Not even a very good one.

On the technicals, the sound mixing and ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) are off a bit. The Gun effects are fairly horrific for the guns being used, but you don’t watch this movie for the guns. You watch it, like Fast and Furious, for the cars and the races. By todays standards, or the standards of movies that have a budget they aren’t much to look at with the same shots being looped over and over. The odd thing is if you don’t know the area they don’t “look” looped. As an example, the 4th avenue underpass is not THAT long, but they cut in such a way it could be if you didn’t know. As I said before , Tucson locals will recognize places like the Boneyard, Catalina Highway, 5th avenue and Sabino Canyon. The cars are cool and I can only imagine the fun of driving down some of the roads at those speeds – something I imagine Pima County Sheriff hated after this movie.
Ok so TL;DR

There is absolutely no way I can say this is a good movie. I have a bit of love for it though as it was a fav for me as a kid. It’s still fun to watch now with some popcorn and a soda and just enjoy it for the raw camp.

If you are a fan of 80’s schlock and camp and/or a Tucson local, give this one a watch.

Tomorrow’s review knows what happens if you pull the hammer back to soon.