February 28th, 2014

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952) ** ½

A masked criminal gathers together a group of hoods (Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Jack Elam) to pull off an armored car robbery. He makes them all wear masks so they can’t identify each other. They pin the crime on an innocent delivery man (John Payne) and make off with over a million dollars in cash. After being questioned and roughed up by the cops, he then sets out to find the real crooks and get revenge.

Directed by Phil (Kid Galahad) Karlson, Kansas City Confidential is a tough as nails drama that has a good hook and a great robbery scene. (Tarantino is probably a fan.) Once Payne infiltrates the gang and they go to divvy up the money, the tension sort of dwindles. And the ending is wrapped up a bit too neatly as well. But since the opening scenes are so good, it’s sort of easy to forgive the film for its lapses as it comes down the homestretch.

Whenever the pacing begins to meander, Kansas City Confidential still remains watchable thanks to a great cast of perennial tough guy actors. Brand, Van Cleef, and Elam are all great in their roles, and the film is worth watching just to see them all in one movie. And Payne is also quite good as the innocent man wrongly accused.

Co-screenwriter Harry Essex later went on to pen The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

AKA: The Secret Four.

NON-STOP (2014) ****

Whenever critics discuss thrillers, the terms “white knuckle”, “hair-raising”, and “edge of your seat entertainment” get thrown around a lot. Well, I can honestly tell you that all three of those terms apply quite literally to Non-Stop. This is one badass thriller that actually thrills you. It’s one of those types of kickass flicks that kick so much ass, it leaves boot prints.

Liam Neeson stars as a divorced, alcoholic air marshal grieving over the loss of his daughter. Halfway through a transatlantic flight, he begins to get text messages informing him that a passenger will die every 20 minutes if $150 million isn’t wired to an accountant. Neeson thinks they’re bluffing, but when people start winding up dead, he has to work fast to save the lives of the passengers (and the crew); not to mention diffuse a bomb that’s on board the plane.

Over the past decade or so, Neesonploitation movies have been an interesting phenomena. Neesonploitation films are so named because producers exploit the fact that Liam Neeson will star in virtually anything. In the past three months he’s popped in Anchorman 2, The Nut Job, The Lego Movie, and this. And before the movie, there was a trailer for A Million Ways to Die in the West, co-starring Neeson. Of course, the action films are Neeson’s bread and butter. And of this subgenre, Non-Stop is easily the best one. (Yes, it’s even more entertaining than Taken.) Not only that, of all the Star Wars Actors on a Plane movies, Non-Stop is easily the best one; surpassing both Air Force One and Snakes on a Plane.

If that doesn’t say it all right there, I don’t know what does.

It’s quite amazing how much suspense director Jaume Collet-Serra (no stranger to Neesonploitation after directing Unknown) is able to wring out of the simple, but effective premise. I mean, who knew twenty minutes of receiving text messages could be so dang nerve-wracking? Incredibly, once the flick sorta dovetails into the usual Neeson formula, things heat up even more. When the plane starts going down and bombs are going off and Liam Neeson is flying through the cabin at zero g force and shooting people, you have to admit that this is why you go to the goddamn movies.

Neeson gives one of the best performances of his career here. From the first moment we see him spiking his morning coffee with hooch and mixing it up with a toothbrush, we’re on his side. And he has some really great moments with his Chloe co-star Julianne Moore (Is it me, or is she getting hotter as she gets older?), who plays a concerned passenger.

Non-Stop also has what has to be one of the greatest Talking Killer Scenes ever put on film. In the end, the baddie puts a gun to Neeson’s head and spouts off lots of political dogma at him while the passengers cower in fear. Then when he’s done Liam quips, “You should’ve just handed out pamphlets. It would’ve saved us all a lot of trouble!”

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013) **

Well, the first Insidious didn’t do a whole lot for me, but you can’t really keep me away from a James Wan movie. I mean the man made Death Sentence, the best Death Wish rip-off of the 21st century, not to mention starting the whole Saw franchise. Since he’s moving on to the Fast and the Furious films, this might be the last horror film we get from him for a while. So I figured, why the Hell not?

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are still being bothered by ghosts. Apparently, back when he was a kid, he had all these powers to communicate with the undead, but some paranormal investigators helped him get rid of those powers. Due to the events of the first film, Wilson becomes possessed by the spirit of a killer. Meanwhile, his mother (Barbara Hershey) runs around God’s green earth with a bunch of douchebag ghost hunters who try to help Wilson exorcise his demon.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is pretty routine stuff. There are a lot of slamming doors, baby toys that move by themselves, and ghost gals strolling around dressed in white nightgowns. There are some OK scenes here (a kid plays Hot and Cold with a ghost and a séance involving Scrabble dice), and the scenes in “The Further” aren’t too shabby, but they eventually give way to some ho-hum Shining rip-off scenes by the end of the picture.

The film really suffers from a disjointed structure. The scenes with the ghost hunters drag things down and take away from the action with Wilson. The poorly lit scenes of them running around the house with their camcorders don’t help much either. You have to give Wan credit for not simply recycling the events of the first film. But his kitchen sink sort of approach yields uneven results.

On the plus side, Wilson does a good Psycho Dad act. He stands there all nonchalant and shit, but still manages to make seemingly innocent lines like, “I’ll take the kids to school today!” sound menacing. He’s much better at that than the goodie two shoes version of his character, that’s for sure.