Tag Archives: Linus Roache

10 Things I Thought While (Re)Watching “The Chronicles of Riddick”

How You Doin'

by Gabe Valdez

1. Let’s be completely honest here: The entire point of this film is Karl Urban’s make-up and hair.

2. I like hearing Judi Dench’s voice from a different room and not being able to tell whether she’s chewing out Pierce Brosnan in Bond or Vin Diesel in Chronicles. Someone needs to get a soundboard of her best castigations together stat.

3. Thandie Newton’s good in this. Really good. She alternates between dramatic delivery and chewing the scenery, but it’s rare we see a film giving a woman the leeway to ham it up so villainously.

Chronicles of Riddick 1

4. Alexa Davalos has had a very unlucky career. I remember first taking note of her as a briefly recurring character on Angel. She stole the two episodes in which she appeared. Chronicles failed to take off and her next big break wasn’t until the Clash of the Titans remake. She was the female lead, but the studio stepped in and forced director Louis Letterier to reshoot huge chunks of the film. She was all but cut out, and replaced as the love interest in an expanded role for Gemma Arterton’s character, which is weird since Arterton played the hero’s half-sister. Whatever, Hollywood logic. Davalos later had a lead in Mob City, which shot 6 episodes before cancellation.

Chronicles of Riddick lead

5. Chronicles is the definition of fulfilling the first rule of the Bechdel Test and failing the last two – there are multiple female characters, but they don’t speak to each other. The women each exert a certain amount of power over their male counterpart, which makes them read as strong, but in terms of story, they’re really only there as motivators to help the men get to new plot points – Dench as oracle to Colm Feore’s villain, Newton as the Lady Macbeth to Urban, and Davalos as the damsel in distress to Diesel’s heroic machismo. I have a very hard time saying whether they’re strong women – they shoot, kill, and exert political power – or if their roles are wasted – they disappear every time a man makes a new story decision. The truth lies in the middle, I think. You can give the movie credit for some decisions and hold it accountable for others.

6. This has pretty reasonable fight choreography, but it’s edited far too aggressively. I’ve always liked director David Twohy’s brashness when it comes to action. You’re expecting a gritty fight? Maybe the music cuts out and it’s just grunts and dirt and sweat for a few minutes? Not Twohy’s style: let’s drop the sound, pump up the orchestra, and cut it like some sort of ballet. It doesn’t always work – in fact, it doesn’t often work – but damn, if it doesn’t keep you glued to see what crazy scene experiment he’s going to try next.

7. The production design by Holger Goss here is stellar, but I think much of the real input may have come from art director Kevin Ishioka, whose resume in the same position includes Avatar, TRON: Legacy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Oblivion (perhaps the single most overlooked accomplishment in art direction of the past few years). In fact, there are a lot of technical elements that stand out as truly superior. Mark W. Mansbridge has worked with Ishioka often since then and Sandra Tanaka moved on to an art direct on Pacific Rim. Peter Lando was set decorator and he later moved onto the Dark Knight trilogy. The make-up department included a number of luminaries, including Ve Neill (who won Oscars for makeup in Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Wood, in addition to designing the creature makeup in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and appearing as a judge in SyFy’s wonderful makeup design competition Face/Off). No one will remember Chronicles this way because of other failings, but the technical side of this movie boasted a dream team of designers.

Oh Linus

8. I wish Linus Roache had appeared like this more often during his stint as an ADA on Law & Order.

9. Back to Karl Urban for a second. Hasn’t the man proven he should be given a franchise of his own? Doom, Riddick, Dredd, Star Trek, Almost Human? They’re not all good…well, the last four are to varying degrees, but he’s very good in all of them. Hell, throw the rest of the baby Star Trek cast out and just follow Urban. Dr. Leonard McCoy’s Adventures in Space. I’d watch that. I’d buy the lunchboxes or whatever. Just do it. I’m really not asking that much. Someone give Karl Urban a job. Feed Karl Urban.

Chronicles of Riddick 2

10. That’s a damn good sci-fi climax, both in terms of the logic of the end fight, and in terms of setting up for something truly different for a sequel. It’s a shame then that follow-up Riddick retcons every single plot point in Chronicles in its first few minutes. (Go read Russ Schwartz’s perfect review of Riddick.) They could have made The Cult of Riddick or The Conquests of Riddick or Empire of Riddick, or just ripped off Hercules and gone with Riddick in the Underverse, which would’ve been the most obvious since everyone in Chronicles brings up the Underverse every five minutes and by the time the credits roll, we still have no clue what it is. Instead, we got Riddick Sexually Harasses Katee Sackhoff for Two Hours.

Liam Neeson Doesn’t Let Down in “Non-Stop”

NonStop 1

Liam Neeson is a lot like Punxsutawney Phil. Just as the famous groundhog looks for his own shadow every February 2, the rugged Irish actor stars in a low-budget action movie every February or March. The only difference is the groundhog predicts how much more winter we have left to endure. Neeson’s a lot more consistent – his arrival always marks the beginning of the action movie season.

This time out, Neeson plays Air Marshall Bill Marks. An hour into his transatlantic flight out of London, he begins getting strange texts on his phone declaring a passenger will die every 20 minutes. As set-ups go, it’s a clever one, sort of like an Agatha Christie novel on fast-forward. Thankfully, it’s handled very well. For its first two-thirds, Non-Stop is an engrossing mystery. The smartest thing it does is immediately cast suspicion on Marks himself, creating a narrative in which even the protagonist has to earn your faith. After all, when you can’t trust Liam Neeson, who can you trust?

Like his characters in Taken, Unkown, and The Grey, Neeson plays a weathered alcoholic whose family has been broken by trauma and his hard-nosed, job-first lifestyle. There’s a formula to these films, and Neeson’s developed a dedicated shorthand to communicating these characters to us by the time the first scene’s done. Non-Stop fleshes the cast out a little more than those other films, however. As in the Airport movies of the 70s and more recent disaster films, the plane will inevitably hold a doctor, a policeman, a corrupt policeman, a banker, a teacher, a distressed pilot, and a young child who must overcome her fears when it’s most emotionally poignant. It’s like an overpopulated “So-and-so walks into a bar” joke.

NonStop 2

Again, Neeson knows how to skip across these set-ups in a heartbeat in order to focus us on the plot’s tensions. It helps that director Jaume Collet-Serra films the movie’s tensest moments as a trained marshal might perceive a knotty situation, scanning his environment, selecting details that don’t fit, and gauging the relationships between different suspects. Neeson’s supporting cast is better than many of his previous action movies, as well. Julianne Moore (Children of Men) plays Jen, a spunky, maybe-too-helpful passenger who spends takeoff trying to pick Neeson up. She’s joined by Linus Roache (Law and Order), Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and our newest best supporting actress (and my college classmate) Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave).

I mentioned the first two-thirds of Non-Stop are a good mystery. That begs the question, what does the last third become? Perhaps inevitably, it turns into a cheesy 90s action movie, in which heartfelt speeches earn trust better than hard evidence, and outnumbered heroes even the odds through superior stunt work. What earlier seemed clever may suddenly feel a touch too simple. It’s at this point that Non-Stop should lose you, but it’s too late – the mystery’s tension and the performances of such a strong cast have already earned more than enough goodwill to convince your brain to just let it ride.

This is the kind of movie that the Neesons and Bruce Willises of the world pull off with ease. They cover when the plot falters because they know all the steps – heck, they invented half of them. Non-Stop does want to say something about how too much security can make us less safe, but it suffers a severe case of wanting to have its cake and eat it, too. You’ll know what the film’s trying to say by the end, but all the wrong people have all the wrong motives to make its message even remotely effective. Non-Stop is really best viewed as a thrill ride, and not any kind of commentary.

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On a personal note, I tried to see this movie four times. The first, I was waylaid to the hospital, the second I postponed because of a sick pet, and the third saw me 30 seconds into the movie before a fistfight broke out between a half-dozen people in the theater. If you go to the theater, please have the decency to leave your fistfights outside – they won’t be nearly as good as Liam Neeson’s. Hmm, perhaps we need theater marshals. Non-Stop is rated PG-13 for action, some language, sensuality, and drug references. All of this but the action’s in passing, so it’s fairly safe for family viewing.