The Non-Stop Monuments Men

I also got to see Non-Stop and Monuments Men this past weekend. while neither was great, they were both far better than the other movies I saw (300 Rise of an Empire, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill).

Non-Stop

 

Non-Stop (2014) – Rated PG-13

An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it! ”

One Line Review: Exciting, generic thriller is enjoyable albeit pointless

Non-Stop was a breath of fresh, yet recycled, air after 300: Rise of an Empire.

Non-Stop is a standard Liam Neeson thriller. As long as he can keep up the quality and they bring in the box office, Neeson’s turns should not devolve into direct-to-DVD fodder like the output from Van Damme, Seagal, Bronson, etc.

The story is nothing, simply made to keep you guessing. It is fun as it goes along but after the climax you’ll be scratching your head realizing so-and-so could not possibly have known about such-and-such. Such and such being many, many different things. The only possible ending that makes sense of the events is a fascinating one that you have to read into the script. I’d love to discuss it at length but I don’t post spoilers.

Liam Neeson is in fine form. They give him a tragic backstory to help propel the plot and appeal to his hangdog demeanor. At one point, Julianne Moore simply blurts out her character’s backstory as an exposition dump but is otherwise fine. Lupita Nyong’O is wasted here in a role that is only exceeded in thanklessness by the played by Shea Whigham. I have to assume that some of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Monuments Men

 

The Monuments Men (2014) – Rated PG-13

An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.”

One Line Review: Fascinating story told rather passively and by-the-numbers.

George Clooney has a knack for finding unusual stories and telling them well. Ignoring his acting achievements, Clooney was nominated for both directing and writing for Good Night, and Good Luck. He nominated for writing again with Ides of March.

Clooney co-wrote The Monuments Men with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. He directs a fabulous, if topical cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman all perform well here. Clooney’s direction is assured if not inspired.

So what went wrong? The Monuments Men is too unfocused. Throughout the film, the men are scattered across Europe. There is not enough humor to turn this into a Dirty Dozen, not enough planning for a caper film, and we don’t really feel invested in the characters. Perhaps the narrative is flawed by sticking too close to real events and the book but I never felt invested in the characters.

The Monuments Men is not bad. It just isn’t what it should be, considering the pedigree.

People Watch: Look for Downton Abbey’s own Lord Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as one of the Monuments Men.

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).