The Commuter –Train to Hell

The Commuter

Action thrillers are not a staple in my movie-going diet.  Nonetheless,  I like the ones Liam Neeson stars in , and The Commuter fits his murder conspiracy/ abduction genre. 

Insurance salesman Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson’s character) is a 60-year-old ex-cop turned insurance salesman who commutes to midtown Manhattan every day, familiar with almost all of the other passengers. 

On the train home, Michael meets a mysterious woman named Joanna (the always-excellent Vera Farmiga), who claims to be a psychologist researching distinct classifications of personality types. Joanna makes a  proposal:  a  hypothetical situation to do “one little thing”– to locate “Prynne,” the alias of an unknown passenger, who doesn’t belong and has stolen something.  No one will get hurt.  And Michael will receive $100,000 as payment.

This happens to be the very day when Michael has been unceremoniously terminated from his job.  So Michael agrees, only to be unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death consequences.

The Commuter is a crowd-pleaser for viewers who want an action-packed drama that will appeal to adults in the family–especially to those who like testosterone-driven action and  impossible leaps and bounds across train cars, simulating Tom Cruise in some of his Mission Impossible scenes and Denzel Washington’s besieged character in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.  Entertaining without too much violence. The Commuter held this viewer’s attention until the very surprising end.   

Note:  Available on Netflix (DVD) and Amazon Prime.  There is little  bloodshed but quite a few choreographed fights, both one-on-one physical combat and ammunition firing.

“Bates Motel”–Season Four: A Masterpiece

bates-motel-3

“Bates Motel” continues to be A&E’s number one drama of all time. I think it is a modern masterpiece!

I’ve reviewed the first three seasons earlier this year (see my June 13, 2016 review, Bates Motel, Seasons 1-3: A Mother-Son Obsession) and thought there was nowhere else to go with the plot except to the classic Hitchcock film, “Psycho”.  I am so wrong. Continuing to push boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son, in Season Four we see Norma (Vera Farming) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) play off each other’s damaged psyches in ways never seen in either cinema or television. As I’ve said before, Bates Motel “unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis” not seen elsewhere. This controversial season takes us to where only the intrepid can bear to see such damage inflicted so ferociously on family. “Bates Motel” dares to touch the unspeakable in such a brilliant and fearless manner.

bates-motel-freddie-highmore-vera-farmiga-399x600While I’ve touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid,  “Bates Motel” is an even more controversial story. The twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of this disquieting narrative—is gripping, unsettling, and disturbing yet also riveting in how far it takes family dynamics. A masterpiece of raw and primal screams.  

Note: Seasons 1 -4 are available on both Netflix and A&E’s website. Season 5 is in development

“Bates Motel”, Seasons 1-3—Mother-Son Obsession

 

Norman Bates
Norman Bates

The ongoing television series, A&E’s “Bates Motel” is a prequel to “Psycho”, the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie (1960). In “Bates Motel” we see the backstory of Norman Bates and the unfolding of his relationship with his mother, Norma, and half brother during his adolescence.

The first season received critical praise, especially for Vera Farmiga who plays the mother, Norma Bates, who was nominated for a 2013  Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The series continues to be A&E’s number one drama series of all time among adults in the 18–49 demographic.  Season 3 which premiered in March 2015 is perhaps the best season yet, pushing boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son. The writers (Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin) have announced they will end the series after five seasons, the fourth just concluded last month. In April 2015, Cuse said, “I defy anyone to watch this show and not really be completely connected to Norma and Norman. And now that bond you have with these characters is going to completely inform the rollercoaster ride of the last two seasons.”

Norma and Norman Bates
Norma and Norman Bates

 For those  who have seen the Hitchcock film, Bates Motel does not have the same sort of horror (i.e. gore fest) that the “Psycho” film is famous for (at least, not up until the finale of Season 3, the only seasons I’ve seen so far). There are some bloody and violent scenes (nothing like “American Horror Story”) but what really gripped me was the family dynamics.  Norman Bates ( extraordinary young actor Freddie Highmore, who played Peter Pan in “Finding Neverland”) is so astonishing in this role, I wondered how he could retain his sanity.  No other film or television series I have seen so far unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis. No spoiler alerts here.

I touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid, but what we see in “Bates Motel” is that the twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of the narrative—drives the narrative to an end we expect but nonetheless gasp at. “Bates Motel” dares to touch this subject matter in such a brilliant and fearless manner. A tour-de-force like no other!

Note: Seasons 1 -3 available on both Netflix and A&E’s website. Season 4 will be released soon, and season 5 is in development.

 

“Safe House”–A Safe Bet

It seems only fair to see a dick-flick after having recommended rom-coms for Valentine’s Day.  And did I pick a winner–my husband gave it a 10, which is very rare for him.  The movie is “Safe House” and it stars and is produced by the exceptional Denzel Washington.

No ordinary action-pic–although it has ample car chases, staccato bursts of exploding bombs, violent fights with guns and knives, and impossible jumps from one rooftop to another–there are still enough surprising plot twists to keep you surprised throughout.

The story is fairly routine–I think Bruce Willis starred in a similar plot in “16 Blocks”  –an ex-CIA operative gone rogue (Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost) and a clueless “nube” as the novice CIA agent, Matt Weston   (Ryan Reynolds) who has to guard Frost in a safe house and bring him to headquarters (to report to bureaucrats played by Sam Shephard, Vera Farmiga, and Brendan Gleeson).  An extremely difficult task for Matt since Tobin is captured in South Africa, and Matt has only been assigned there for little more than one year.

Denzel Washington superbly underplays his character, allowing his face to communicate what his life as a CIA agent must have been like.  Matt doesn’t know whom to believe, but has respect for authority and for the CIA’s integrity.  This film is part “Bourne Identity” and part Frontline’s “Dark Side” fictionalized.  As the viewer you will be reminded of quite a few spy thrillers especially Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy-based film blockbusters. The cinematography is several magnitudes better than the usual special effects.  One helicopter shot of their SUV speeding down a desolate road is a work of art, a beautiful abstract print in still motion.

What did I like best about this movie?  I wouldn’t give it a 10, but a much-better-than-average 8-to-8.5. It comes down to character development–and though this is first and foremost a guy’s action-packed blockbuster, there is something for the rest of us.  What do people sacrifice in service to the government that others don’t know about and don’t care to know anything about? Furthermore, when does that well-intentioned agent say “enough is enough” in a heroic exculpatory act in the name of his or her own integrity and personal life?  (Think “Fair Game” reviewed November 28, 2010). This film tries to deal with these questions–and it is superior to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” as well as others in this genre.  A superb cast actualizes the promise of the tale. The ending sets up the audience to expect a sequel and with this first narrative, I hope there is one.