Non-Stop ***


Seeing Liam Neeson in the action-man role has fast become the norm, surprising as the actor is in his sixties and only really ventured into the genre eight years ago with the successful Taken (2008). Teaming up again with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra of Unknown (2011) – his last action-hero part, Neeson plays another like character in Non-Stop that it’s beginning to feel like fiction and reality are blending, that we’re witnessing some alter-ego of the actor who can be relied on to save the day in real-life. It’s this reassurance that makes his roles so believable, however bonkers the story becomes.

Neeson is Air Marshal Bill Marks this time, an ex-cop dedicated to the job but a wreck in his personal life and ironically, not much of a flyer either. Boarding yet another flight, this time from New York to London, a troubled Marks receives a sinister text mid-Atlantic on his secure work connection in the form of a threat that one passenger will die every 20 minutes unless a ransom of $150 million dollars is paid into an account. As events escalate, and the passengers’ trust of the irate air marshal evaporates, it appears Marks is being made into the prime suspect and a scapegoat, part of a larger threat. He is running out of time to save the flight while trying to find his terrorist.

Parts of Non-Stop are so utterly ridiculous that any lesser actor in the lead role would assign this film to the scrapheap. What keeps our interest is Neeson who can hold it all together because of his authoritative presence – plus some commendable directing from Collet-Serra that keeps the momentum ticking over nicely. Neeson seems to apply his winning formula and a few solid punches, meting out his own form of justice at 40,000ft. Perhaps it’s the licence to bring justice at any cost that is so attractive to his former characters as well as Marks? In addition, Marks is a flawed, out-of-shape man who feels like the world is leaving him behind, but still has very grounded principles to admire.

Whatever, it’s all very much riding on Neeson, even though there is a great supporting cast of Julianne Moore as fellow, strong-willed passenger (and possible love interest) and 12 Years A Slave star Lupita Nyong’o and Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Crawley’s Michelle Dockery as air stewardesses cum Marks’s crime-solving accomplices.

In fact, what seems like a re-run of the usual tired excuses for the average flight terror film soon change. Yes, there is the ransom demand, but John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle’s script is a little more compelling than that: It’s like a modern-day whodunit on a plane with a tad of convolution in places, but enough substance to the murder-mystery tale to be consistent and engaging. Then it gets a little daft towards the end with some theory that allows for detonations mid-air while still being able to control a plane. That said the reason for the whole nasty situation is briefly unveiled and thought-provoking, tying in 9/11. You also become as eagle-eyed and suspicious of all the characters pinpointed as possible perps too, like some anti-terror agent, with your initial opinions and prejudices challenged.

Non-Stop is another solid Neeson action flick for those who enjoy seeing the actor in such parts. It has enough of a puzzle to it too, to be kept entertained and on your toes throughout, making it a perfectly viable trip to the cinema.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Albatross ****

Watching first-time feature director Niall MacCormick’s Albatross reminds you of Emily Lloyd’s confident and unforgettable performance in the 1987 film Wish You Were Here, complete with smart, sexually explorative teen challenging the small-town, small-mindedness and setting a few older hearts a flutter – there are even similarities in the seaside film poster image.

Albatross is about bookish teenager Beth (Felicity Jones) who is desperate to fly the nest of her parents’ seaside hotel on the Isle of Man and explore the world. She meets aspiring novelist, daydreamer and alleged ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’ descendant Emilia (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) who is working as the new chambermaid, having just arrived in town. Older and more worldly-wise than her years, flirtatious Emilia soon begins an affair with Beth’s frustrated writer father, Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), a one-off- novel success story, that threatens to have devastating consequences.

MacCormick’s contemporary ‘Lolita’ tale has an old-fashioned charm and quintessentially British feel to it, tapping into the English reserve about emotional and sexual encounters, even if it feels a little predictable, it still remains enticing. It’s primarily a bittersweet and rousingly funny tale about getting the best out of the life you live, as well as aspiring to be better.

Brown Findlay is Wish You Were Here‘s Lloyd in spirit, passion and razor-sharp wit, but with far more, darker layers to her character. She is a sassy and fearless gem in this, and totally different from Lady Sybil as we know her. In fact, none of he characters fall prey to two-dimensionality, which is what breathes life into Tamzin Rafn‘s astute relationships script. Jones as Beth is a matched adversary to Emilia, initially in awe of her, like her father and younger sister, but gaining her coming-of-age lesson in an abrupt fashion.

In addition to Brown Findlay, one of the most enjoyable performances comes from Julia Ormond as has-been actress Joa, Beth’s domineering mother and Jonathan’s frustrated wife. Ormond is in a role against type, brilliantly flippant and sarcastically caustic about people and events around her, which seem to be out of her control. What is an absolute treat to watch unfold Joa’s encounters with Emilia throughout, and her an underlying jealousy at the younger woman’s freshness and freedom.

As a debut, MacCormick’s talent in getting the right range of subtle interaction from his solid cast is apparent, only let down by the latter half of the story that falls a little flat and feels too safe and unsatisfactory in conclusion – the film’s own albatross. However, this is a prime showpiece for Brown Findlay’s range of talent, which is far more exciting.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF: In Our Name – 4*

It seems that once having seen images of war first-hand, it’s impossible to lead a ‘normal’ existence on Civvy Street. This is certainly the case from personal experience, and writer/director Brian Welsh’s second feature, In Our Name, would have you believe this, too. In fact, as the media is quick to remind us, it appears back home that Britain is under siege, too, from feral teen gangs. These topics, plus mixed public sentiment about war in Iraq provide ample ammunition for an intense case study of a returning soldier.

Welsh gives the concept a nice little twist by making the soldier in the film a woman who is not only a wife, but a mother, too. This raises the fascinating social debate about the still predominantly male role of a soldier and the lack of support given to those who need it most on returning. Indeed, with all the Defence budget cuts recently, disturbingly, all that springs to mind whilst watching this is just how many ex-servicemen and women end up homeless on the streets. This was an unnerving, post-viewing chill factor.

These issues fuel the intensity that In Our Name delivers from the start, when we see Suzy, played by the captivating Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame, returning to her less-than-happy home, complete with disturbing flashbacks of an incident on tour that torments her. Far from having the support she desperately craves, she finds an impatient and frustrated husband and a young daughter who blames her for going away. Suzy also soon discovers that the local youth is using her street as a meeting point, causing the usual mindless antisocial behaviour. It’s a recipe for disaster waiting to happen – all you can do is wait and witness the fallout.

Talented Froggatt’s performance is faultless, instantly engrossing as Suzy who tries to come to terms with her life as it unravels faster than she could’ve possibly predicted. Combined with Welsh’s goading slow-burn situations, Froggatt as Suzy has you questioning whether things really are that dangerous outside the front door, or whether her trigger-happy actions and fragile mental state are the true catalyst. The fear of crime is far greater than the reality – as any criminologist would say – and it’s intoxicating here.

What this film does – apart from having a large dig at governmental impotency on the matter – is provide a surprisingly fascinating microcosm of a person’s anxieties and paranoia, within the framework of an ordinary domestic situation. Just when you feel that Suzy is ‘healing’, her unstable husband (played by a suitably sinister Mel Raido) reopens the wounds again. We discover that the healing process is unlikely to happen in her trapped situation as her husband is equally traumatised by events he’s encountered in combat. Interestingly, Suzy’s reaction is to defend, whereas her husband’s is to attack.

Some events in the film turn the ordinary and believable into the extraordinary and ridiculous. Welsh tries to tackle racial intolerance in a brutally unnecessary and titillating way in one latter scene, even though we can see he’s trying to make Suzy and her husband’s over-reactions seem absurd in a climatic moment. The ending is a little strange, too, although with hindsight, could be credible if Suzy’s been used to adapting and living in her wild surroundings. Thankfully, Welsh steers away from a tragic ending with a gun, wisely realising that there has been enough drama, without going overboard.

All in all, it’s Froggatt’s marvellously acted reactions that speak a thousand words when uttering none, plus a half-decent script that drive this dramatic offering. Whether it’s a box-office winner that can cash in on Downton Abbey’s popularity in featuring one of its stars is another thing. What is evident is it’s a solid home-grown drama that goes to further showcase the talents of an actress who is always an exciting prospect to watch (and a very gracious lady), and will, hopefully, get us appreciating those who risk their lives, both abroad or at home when they deal with everyday worries, in addition to carrying the mental baggage of injustices and unimaginable horrors. Is this film a political statement? You bet, and made all the more striking with a woman at its helm.

4/5 stars

By L G-K