Two lightweight-but-nonetheless-enjoyable thrillers anchor this week’s home video releases.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Hopefully, summer will push 2014 movies in the right direction because things have been so bleak thus far that “Non-Stop” – a silly-but-enjoyable thriller – stands as a highlight.
The movie, which allows Liam Neeson to continue his run as an action hero, is fun from start to finish, but it is equally convoluted, meaning anyone who values plausibility is left in the cold. Neeson plays Bill Marks, a troubled air marshal who – despite the requirements of his job – hates to fly. In the first act, director Juame Collet-Serra (“Unknown,” “Orphan”) establishes that Marks is having difficulty coping with the death of his young daughter and that he is a functioning alcoholic. Nevertheless, he is a skilled and careful officer who is aware of his surroundings and does a reasonably good job keeping his addiction hidden.
Marks is forced to shove his personal demons aside when, halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, he receives a text stating that a passenger will be murdered every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to a pre-selected bank account. He questions the legitimacy of the threat but is concerned because it reached him on a secure line and was obviously from someone on the plane.
As the plot chugs forward, someone dies, and it becomes clear that the perpetrator is planning to frame Marks for all fatalities. This leads the air marshal on an increasingly desperate search for the killer. It also forces him to embrace unconventional allies, like the average passenger he met as the flight began (Julianne Moore).
Above all else, “Non-Stop” is a thriller, and Collet-Serra gets the pacing right. The 106-minute film reaches fever pitch after a short setup, and the director introduces new and exciting twists at regular intervals. Some of these will frustrate thoughtful viewers, as they seriously strain credibility, but they are entertaining nonetheless.
Perhaps the best thing about “Non-Stop” is that its intentions are obvious, and Collet-Serra doesn’t attempt to make the film more than it should be. As with any work of fiction, viewers can find worthwhile themes, but the movie isn’t intended for extended academic dissection.
Collet-Serra was obviously shooting for a freewheeling, frothy entertainment, and he and his cast deliver. They deserve credit, too, because “Non-Stop” isn’t an easy film to make. Ninety percent of the action takes place in a single location – the aircraft – and Neeson has most of the dialogue. Fortunately, he’s such a charismatic actor that the latter fact is a benefit.
When needed, Moore and other supporting cast members, including Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o and Nate Parker, help out. As a collective, they offer an exciting ride that remains thrilling until the final minutes.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
With “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” Chris Pine put himself in position to anchor what may become another massive franchise. Pine was already James T. Kirk in the new “Star Trek” series. Now, he’s the fourth actor to portray Jack Ryan, fictional hero of numerous Tom Clancy books. Although Ryan was a cinematic regular in the 1990s, it has been more than a decade since he appeared on screen, and “Shadow Recruit” is a modern-day reboot.
Pine takes viewers back to Ryan’s youth, introducing him as a student attending London School of Economics in 2001. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he leaves college and serves in the Marines where and he is severely injured in combat. While Ryan is recovering, CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits him, starting his career as an intelligence agent.
Although Ryan is initially hired as an analyst, it’s not long before he’s plunged into the sort of action-packed adventure viewers grew familiar with in films like “Patriot Games” and “The Sum of All Fears.” While working undercover on Wall Street, Ryan discovers oddities involving Russian business tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), and he is dispatched to Moscow to investigate. Although Ryan is working under cover, it’s apparent that Cheverin doubts his identity, and the two engage in a tense game of cat and mouse. The stakes get even greater when Ryan realizes he has stumbled onto a plot that could cause the entire U.S. economy to crash.
Branagh not only plays the principle villain, he serves as the film’s director, and that’s a positive. His abilities as a director rival his acting chops, as he’s proven in projects ranging from his 1993 film adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” to the superhero movie “Thor.” With “Shadow Recruit” he walks the fine line required of every good action-thriller, carefully dribbling out plot points without overwhelming his viewers with information. He also delivers some nice action sequences.
Pine is a fine actor, and his reading of Ryan is solid. He also gets strong support from Keira Knightley and Costner. The latter has grown consistently better with age, and the former – like Pine – is one of the most appealing performers of her generation. Unsurprisingly, Branagh’s on-screen work is also a delight.
The movie’s primary weakness is a plot that, although reasonably sound, has moments that strain credibility. That’s never good, but it won’t be a concern for filmgoers who are willing to lay off the nitpicking and enjoy the movie for what it is … a popcorn flick.
The DVD release contains no extra features. The Blu-ray has a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes plus deleted and extended scenes.
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download
The HBO drama “True Detective” is one of the most acclaimed series of the 2014 season, as evidenced by its nomination for best drama at the Critics Choice Television Awards and Program of the Year at the Television Critics Association Awards.
HBO allows the show to play more like a movie than a traditional series, and it features a remarkable cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The latter plays Marty Hart, a veteran Louisiana police detective who takes on a new partner from Texas, Rustin Cohle (McConaughey). Almost immediately, the pair begin work on a bizarre murder case that haunts them both. The victim, a prostitute, was not only killed, but adorned with antlers and posed in an exacting manner.
Cohle, who is intelligent but unorthodox, immediately theorizes that they are hunting a serial killer. The more traditional Hart urges caution but agrees that the murder scene is unusual.
As the men attempt to unravel the case, viewers come to understand the way they work as well as their personal lives, neither of which is pretty. Cohle is hopelessly scarred by the death of his young daughter, and Hart fancies himself a family man, yet thinks nothing of bedding a young court reporter (Lisa Tragnetti).
The show is also interesting in that the story is told in flashback, as older versions of Cohle and Hart recreate the case in interviews. The action cuts back and forth between their recollections and the actual events.
Writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto deserves credit for creating a series that is fresh, inventive and thoughtful, and director Cary Joji Fukunga does a fine job bringing his vision to the screen. Unlike most police procedurals, “True Detective” is talky, a point that works to both its benefit and detriment.
It’s nice to see a program that allows characters to leave the central plot and explore inner thoughts, but sometimes this goes on too long. Nevertheless, the show is a winner and having McConaughey and Harrelson in the lead roles assures great performances throughout.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and two audio commentaries.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Alan Partridge”: Steve Coogan has portrayed fictional broadcaster Alan Partridge on a number of BBC shows since the early 1990s. In this feature-length movie, he reprises the role. In the film, Alan is involved in a police action when a colleague (Colm Meaney) holds his radio station hostage after learning he will be fired.
“Ray Donovan” – Season One: The second season of this Showtime drama bows in July. In the meantime, newcomers can catch up with the 12 episodes presented here. The series stars Liev Schreiber as a fixer for a Los Angeles law firm. His life gets complicated when his gangster father (Jon Voight) is unexpectedly released from prison.
“Visitors”: Writer-director Godfrey Reggio offers a narrative using only imagery and music. Thematically, the picture wants viewers to meditate on our ever-growing obsession with technology. The film features compositions by Philip Glass.
“All That Heaven Allows”: Fresh, digital restoration of director Douglas Sirk’s 1955 movie about a wealthy widow (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with her young gardener (Rock Hudson) and faces criticism from family and friends.
“Bushido Man – Seven Deadly Battles”: Martial arts action-comedy about a warrior who engages in seven battles in an effort to expand his fighting skills. Presented in Japanese and English with English subtitles.
“L’eclisse”: Criterion Collection restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962, Italian drama about a woman (Monica Vitti) who leaves one lover (Francisco Rabal) to start an ill-advised affair with another (Alain Delon). Presented in Italian with English subtitles.
“Rizzoli & Isles” – The Complete Fourth Season: The 16 most-recent episodes of TNT’s drama about a police detective (Angie Harmon) who teams with a medical examiner (Sasha Alexander) to solve crimes.
“Major Crimes” – The Complete Second Season: This police procedural is entering its third season on TNT, and this boxed set contains the 19 episodes that debuted last season.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.