Sunday, 28 October 2012

Bachelorette


WRITTEN BY: Leslye Headland
DIRECTED BY: Leslye Headland
STARRING: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Rebel Wilson
RATING: 3 stars

How can you have such a fantastic cast who give great performances and still have an only mildly funny and entertaining film? I'm still scratching my head thinking about it, but that's what we get with Bachelorette. Anyone who complains that Bachelorette is just a B-grade version of Bridesmaids should know that Bachelorette came first in the form of a 2008 play. Leslye Headland has adapted her own play to film but it's far darker than Bridesmaids, which is probably why it might work as a play, but not a comedic film. My main problem with the film is that the characters are so nasty. I'm all for romantic comedies depicting reality in a more accurate way, but having characters that have no redeeming qualities is just off-putting. How are we supposed to care about people who are so vile? Sure, give them flaws, but don't make them impossible to connect with.

When Becky announces she is getting married, her high school friends are in shock. Over-achieving Regan (Kirsten Dunst) is dating a medical student and always thought she would be married first. She immediately calls the rest of the gang including Gena (Lizzy Caplan) who likes to take drugs, party hard and sleep around, and Katie (Isla Fisher), an airhead who just wants to date a man with a job. Despite their shock at Becky's news, the trio decide it will at least be a great opportunity to have a fun bachelorette party. But, the night before the wedding, the trio accidentally rip Becky's wedding dress and spend the rest of the night trying to either replace or fix the dress before anyone notices. Of course, during that night they also face their personal demons of self-loathing and misery, which means they find the time to have sex, drink too much and snort too much cocaine while hanging out with other wedding guests including best man Trevor (James Marsden), Gena's ex-boyfriend and the source of her angst Clyde (Adam Scott), and Joe (Kyle Bornheimer) who has had a crush on Katie since high school.

I understand why someone like Becky would have hung out with these girls in high school to fit in, but why is she still hanging out with women who are clearly selfish and bitchy? Surely Becky has moved on with her life and doesn't need these women around anymore? She is after all marrying a rich, good looking man. Perhaps she's more of a bitch herself and wants to rub it in to Regan and co that she is getting married first and to a great catch? It's never really explained, but Becky and her groom still seem to be the only likeable people in this film. I also had an issue with Joe's character who seems to like Katie despite her ditzy personality but then we never learn what it is about her that he actually likes. It seems the guy that's supposed to be sweet and caring because he refuses to have sex with a woman on the verge of passing out (ohhh, look, he's not a rapist) is actually just interested in how attractive Katie is - just like every other guy.

Having criticised the characters themselves, I must say the actors play the roles very well: Dunst is great as a cold, snobby, control freak; Caplan has the hardest job dealing with dark, personal issues and does it well; Fisher is hilarious and zany; Marsden is a sexy jerk; Scott is charming and witty; and Bornheimer is suitably awkward. I would have liked to have seen more from Wilson though. Her comedic prowess is underutilised.

Bachelorette is a good first attempt from Headland. I'm keen to see what she learns from how this film is received and what she does next. Bachelorette is a fun film, but it's nothing groundbreaking.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Argo

WRITTEN BY: Chris Terrio
DIRECTED BY: Ben Affleck
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber
RATING: 4.5 stars

You know you've seen a good film when you immediately want to watch it again and spend the next two days thinking about it. That's what happened when I saw Argo, a film that is worthy of its Oscar hype and should take out a few awards. Director and star of the film Ben Affleck proved he was a serious film maker after the success of The Town in 2010 and has now given audiences an even more amazing film about a bizarre true story in which Hollywood helped the US and Canadian governments in a covert operation to rescue six Americans hiding out in Iran during violent, political turmoil. Argo will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Argo begins in
1979 at the height of the Iranian revolution when a mob storms the American embassy in Iran and takes 52 people hostage. Six of the American embassy staff manage to escape to the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) in Tehran. CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) develops an unusual plan to free the six hideaways by flying into Iran and posing as the producer of a Hollywood science fiction film called Argo. He plans for the six consular staff to pose as his location scouting team and lead them out of Iran without being detected.

The film cleverly intertwines t
he drama of the political crisis in Iran in 1979-80 with the comedy of the ridiculousness of making a fake Hollywood film as a guise to get the CIA into Iran, and the suspense that goes with every obstacle Mendez has to overcome to see his “best bad idea” work. This is all thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Chris Terrio. In fact, what makes the film so powerful is that it doesn't feel like a typical “America saves the day” story that we so often see in Hollywood films. Every character is layered and complicated. Not all Iranians are bad and not all Americans are heroes. It makes the story unpredictable and exciting.

As a director, Affleck has done a great job of capturing the essence of the 70's by increasing the graininess of the imagery, which adds to the feel of the film. The costumes, make-up and hair are also very good. As an actor, Afleck is also believable in the role. In fact, all the performances in Argo were good. Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide fun laughs as the Hollywood guys tasked with making the fake film. They've got some great dialogue to work with and coin the phrase I hope everyone will use from now on: “Argo, fuck yourself”. Garber is sympathetic while Bryan Cranston gives a strong performance as Mendez's boss. The hostages including Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham and Clea DuVall are all convincing too. Stay for the end credits because you will see images of the real people next to images of the actors, as well as photographs of the real events to compare with how those moments were depicted on screen.

If you don't like this film, Argo fuck yourself!






Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Master


WRITTEN BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
DIRECTED BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
RATING: 1 star

I'm going to make an unpopular comment. I did not like The Master and I think it is the most overrated film of the year. I don't understand how this film could produce so much Oscar hype. Aside from a strong performance from Joaquin Phoenix, the film which has a great concept, failed to engage me with its pointless dribble and drawn-out plot in which we come to a conclusion of absolutely nothing. I don't think I had unreasonably high expectations, it was just plain boring. I literally wanted to fall asleep during the screening and one man sitting near me actually did. The most interesting aspect about The Master is that it is the first film to be shot in 65mm, and projected in 70mm on some screens, since Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet in 1996. But, unless you're a film geek, you probably wouldn't even care about that either.

The title character is inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology. The Master opens with Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who is onboard a US navy vessel in the Pacific when World War Two ends. Freddie is a strange man with odd sexual desires and a raging inner violence that can explode at any moment. He also spends a lot of time drinking unusual concoctions he creates from chemicals including paint thinner. After he gives a potentially fatal cocktail to a migrant worker in a California cabbage field, he runs away and hides on a yacht belonging to Lancaster Dodd, (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd tells Freddie: "I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher, but above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you." Dodd is founding a group named the Cause and the two men quickly bond with Dodd offering Freddie advice and teaches him about the Cause. Freddie also picks fights with anyone who opposes Dodd's teachings.

Phoenix gives a very interesting performance. His character seems almost insane and is incredibly violent and complicated. Hoffman was also convincing as a cult leader. Amy Adams is a good actress but she was underutilised in the film as Dodd's wife, Peggy. Unfortunately, The Master is so centred on the two leads without explaining enough about them that the plot goes nowhere. It should have been at least 40 minutes shorter and the characters could have been better developed. Instead, the protagonists remain an enigma and we don't learn what they truly believe. In a nutshell, if you thought the film might offer an insight into Scientology, forget about it.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pitch Perfect


WRITTEN BY: Kay Cannon
DIRECTED BY: Jason Moore
STARRING: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin
RATING: 3.5 stars
Rebel Wilson's character in Pitch Perfect introduces herself to two girls as Fat Amy, she says “so twig bitches like you don't do it behind my back”. Later, a boy tells her that he thinks they should kiss and she replies: “I sometimes have the feeling I should do crystal meth, but then I think, mmm ... better not.” And that ladies and gentlemen is how you do one-liner comedy. Pitch Perfect may be touted as an Anna Kendrick film, but Wilson steals every scene. The film allows the hilarious Aussie to shine. In fact, Wilson is so good in this film that during the romantic scenes (because yes, it is a romantic comedy) I found myself thinking, “Bring back Fat Amy!” The film eventually follows a generic formula and the ending is abrupt, but it's worth seeing just for Wilson's performance.

If you thought Pitch Perfect was going to be “Glee: The College Years”, you'd be wrong. It's so much funnier. Kendrick plays Becca, a girl who wants to move to Los Angeles and produce music. The only problem is that her father insists she try college for a year and join in social activities. If she hates it after a year, he says he will help her move to Los Angeles. Barden University is known for its a cappella groups, particularly rival groups the Bellas and the Treblemakers. Becca joins the Bellas and tries to shake things up from the group's usual boring routines. Meanwhile, she juggles a complicated friendship with Jesse (Skylar Astin), who joins the Treblemakers and also works with her at the campus radio station. There is also a hurdle to their blossoming relationship because the Bellas have been banned by their control freak leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) from dating members of the Treblemakers. Of course, everything comes to a head during the singing competition.

For a film about music, but not quite a musical, there is actually quite a good variety of songs in Pitch Perfect. Unfortunately, there is a Miley Cyrus song, but there's also some good old Salt n' Pepa thrown in the mix. I also have to give kudos to a film that references Jaws and The Breakfast Club with so much love. I hope the target audience of teenagers take a look at the 80's teen classic after seeing this film.

While Wilson is the stand-out performer, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are also hilarious as the socially inappropriate and often sexist competition judges with some great one-liners. For example, Higgins says: “Women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors.” Banks also has her own share of one-liners like: “Nothing makes a girl feel more like a woman than a man who sings like a boy.” (It's funny because it's true). Hana Mae Lee is also hilarious as the shy and creepy Lilly, and Brittany Snow is her usual songbird self. I wonder if she can actually do anything else? Camp is suitably annoying and Kendrick definitely holds her own in the singing department too, although it's not her best overall performance - that would be Up In The Air.

Pitch Perfect has been compared to Mean Girls, Bring It On and Easy A. If you liked those films, you probably will enjoy Pitch Perfect. Writer Kay Cannon (30 Rock) has written a fun film and director Jason Moore, better known in theatre, has made a fine feature film debut.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Intouchables

WRITTEN BY: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
DIRECTED BY: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
STARRING: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot
RATING: 4 stars

I was not expecting to laugh so much during what I thought was a drama about a man in a wheelchair. How do you possibly make that concept funny? Well, French film makers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have nailed it with The Intouchables, which is a buddy film with a difference. There is no action or road trip as you would usually see in a buddy film; it's just two heterosexual men who form an unexpectedly beautiful friendship. It is an uplifting and heartwarming film that has some fantastic performances from its leads.
 
Inspired by a true story, but not very closely based on real events, The Intouchables tells the story of Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a very rich man who is injured in a paragliding accident and is left a quadriplegic. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to feel anything below his neck, Philippe cannot move without assistance but still manages to have a positive attitude and wants to be treated like everyone else. Unfortunately, his wife is dead, his teenage daughter is a brat, and his staff cannot care for him full-time. When he looks for a new full-time caretaker, he interviews Driss (Omar Sy), a thief from the Paris ghettos who has only applied for the job to collect the French equivalent of unemployment assistance. Philippe offers Driss the job and after a few hiccups, they form a bond over fast cars, art and marijuana among other things.
 
The film deals with a dramatic issue but handles it with natural, everyday humour such as Driss' reaction to his first opera, his dancing to Earth Wind and Fire at a birthday party and when Driss acts as Philippe's barber. In fact, the performances are what really make this film. Both leads are fantastic. Cluzet is especially good because his entire performance is based on facial expressions. Sy is also very good in a goofy, yet also tough way. It's a well-balanced performance. Both Anne Le Ny and Audrey Fleurot are also very funny as staff members Yvonne and Magalie. My main criticism of the film is that it relies on stereotypes and tends to over simplify some aspects. There are a few moments where I thought, "Really? Another 'black man' joke?"
 
The film was released in France last year and quickly became a huge hit, winning several awards. Yes, it's a foreign film, but don't let that deter you mainstream film fans. If you drag yourself to just one subtitled film this year, I'd definitely recommend The Intouchables to be that film.
 
 



Monday, 15 October 2012

Wuthering Heights


WRITTEN BY: Andrea Arnold, Olivia Hetreed
DIRECTED BY: Andrea Arnold
STARRING: Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer, James Howson, Kaya Scodelario
RATING: 1.5 stars

Wuthering Heights is a classic piece of English literature. Since Emily Bronte published the novel in 1847, people around the world have been falling in love with the book. There have already been countless films based on the book but none that I have seen have been able to capture the true complexity of the love, passion, obsession, brutality and supernatural themes of the novel. In this latest offering from director/co-writer Andrea Arnold we finally see the violent essence of the novel depicted well, but it fails to deliver the full story. In fact, it completely ignores the second generation in the saga. Fans of the novel, like me, will have many criticisms of the film, but I think even those who have not read Bronte's masterpiece will have problems with the painfully slow pace and lack of dialogue.

Wuthering Heights is set in 18th century England and tells the story of a farmer named Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) who finds a homeless boy on the streets of Liverpool and takes him in to be part of his family at Wuthering Heights in the Yorkshire moors. He names the boy Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, James Howson). But Mr Earnshaw's son Hindley (Lee Shaw) is jealous of Heathcliff and treats him like a slave rather than a brother. Meanwhile, Mr Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Shannon Beer, Kaya Scodelario) forms a strong bond with Heathcliff and they become inseparable. Hindley is sent away to study but when Mr Earnshaw died years later, Hindley returns with his new bride and makes Heathcliff a servant. After a misunderstanding, Heathcliff believes that Catherine has betrayed him so he runs away only to return three years later with his own fortune. But Catherine has married someone else and Heathcliff is more bitter than ever about his ill-treatment by Hindley and others. He seeks revenge that threatens to destroy everyone around him, including Catherine and himself.

The first half of the film is boring. Arnold spends so much time filming picturesque scenes that the plot itself is left suspended. I think Arnold tried too hard to be artistic in her film-making. Stylistic elements in a film should add to the overall look and enjoyment of the film and should wash over an audience, not be showy and over the top to the point that audiences are noticing the director's choices. Arnold has filmed it in a very tight 4x3 aspect ratio, which is obviously a stylistic choice, but not a good one. Everything is also tightly framed and the hand-held camera work makes it difficult to see what is actually happening. I'm not sure why we needed to see so many random cutaways of birds, insects, trees and meadows. One stylistic element I did appreciate however was the use of sound. There is very little music in the film, but there are other sounds including the howling wind, rain plummeting and mud being squashed under shoes. My only problem with this is that there are many drawn out scenes in which the actors barely speak but instead are just shown walking around and looking longingly at each other. Where was Bronte's wit?

As for the acting itself, Arnold has used a lot of first-time actors. While they were reasonably good, they weren't powerful. It was however, a brave choice to make Heathcliff black. The novel never fully explains what Heathcliff's ethnicity is - he could be black, Indian or just a dark-skinned European. It's sure to attract further debate among fans.

On The Road has been criticised for capturing the plot but not the essence of its novel. Arnold has done the opposite with Wuthering Heights. I think it was a mistake, but perhaps others will disagree. Have you seen the film? Did it do the novel justice?


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Lawless


WRITTEN BY: Nick Cave
DIRECTED BY: John Hillcoat
STARRING: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman
RATING: 3.5 stars

It seems Lawless will go down as a film you either love or hate. At least it's a film people care enough to talk about and have an opinion on. For me, Lawless is a very impressive film. It's a different look at the prohibition era, which Hollywood seems to love making films about. It's also about family, loyalty and a brotherhood. The screenplay was also written by Nick Cave so you're sure to enjoy the dialogue and the slow and steady pace of the film. Like a fine wine, I think this film will be appreciated more upon reflection and with time.

The film is based on the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. Set in 1931 in Franklin Country, Virginia, USA, Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) runs a bootlegging business with his crazy brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and their little brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf). They are also helped by lovable “cripple” Cricket Pane (Dane DeHaan). The business turns violent when the brothers refuse to allow corrupt policeman to join the racket, forcing a standstill with federal agent Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). Meanwhile, Jack is trying to court Bertha (Mia Wosikowska), who is the daughter of a preacher, and Forrest is trying to protect former dancer Maggie who recently moved to the country to get away from the violent city life only to find herself caught up in the Bondurants' feud.

Some have argued that certain actors have been underutilised but I thought the cast was fairly good. Perhaps Gary Oldman could have been used more but his role as the ruthless Floyd Banner was still pivotal. I've never been much of a fan of LaBeouf but he was quite good in his role, especially considering the story centres on him and his actions and the way his character grows. Chastain also has some good emotional scenes and DeHaan will make you sympathise with his character. But it is Pearce and Hardy who give the best performances. Pearce was suitably slimy and creepy. Some may be put off by his cartoon-like mannerisms but I thought he played the character well as a weak and hideous man hiding behind his authority. Hardy also stands out as the tougher, older brother. He spends most of his time grunting and pouting but it's perfect for his character.

The cinematography is also fantastic in this film and the music is effective. My main criticism was for the shoot-out scene towards the end. It seemed clunky and didn't quite work. I also thought the love story between Jack and Bertha dragged on. My other concern was with the ending, which seemed to take on a different tone to the rest of the film. While most of it was dark, violent, gruesome and serious, the end became a comedy. However, upon further reflection, I felt like the film was somewhat whimsical and fantastical with the “immortal” legend surrounding the three brothers so perhaps the comedic ending wasn't entirely out of place. I think if I re-watched the film I might appreciate it more.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

To Rome With Love


WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Paige, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Alessandra Mastronardi, Judy Davis, Fabio Armiliato
RATING: 3 stars

In one scene in To Rome With Love, Woody Allen's character says to his wife that he could never be a Communist because he can't even share a bathroom. This is the kind of humour audiences have come to love and expect from Allen's films. Speaking of bathrooms, I'd like to think of To Rome With Love as an odd homage to anyone who likes to sing in the shower because, thanks to Allen's uniquely warped mind, he's created a world in which a man who only has the confidence to sing in the shower can actually perform for an audience doing just that. It's also a world where a man can become famous for no reason at all (surprisingly, even less reason than why the Kardashians are famous) and suddenly everyone wants to know what he had for breakfast. To Rome With Love is ambitious, random, witty and a fun critique on celebrity culture.

The film uses the Italian capital as the backdrop to four stories. The best involves Allen himself playing Jerry, a retired opera director visiting Rome with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her fiance Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). But when Jerry overhears Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (real-life opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, he decides it's his chance to work again and tries to convince the man to give up his career as an undertaker and become an opera singer. In another story, Jack (Alec Baldwin) relives his past. His younger self is played by Jesse Eisenberg who portrays the kind of character Allen would have played in his younger years. He wants to be an architect and is living with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). But everything goes pear-shaped when her friend Monica (Ellen Paige) comes to Rome and Sally invites the seductress to stay with them.

In the third plot, Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberian and Alessandra Mastronardi) are newlyweds who have just moved to Rome and become separated when she gets lost. Milly has an encounter with her favourite movie star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese) while Antonio unexpectedly meets a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz). His relatives find them in a compromising situation so he has to pretend she is his wife. In the final story, an ordinary man named Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) becomes famous overnight and is followed everywhere by paparazzi, making his life difficult.

Allen attracts great actors to his films and usually draws fantastic performances out of them. Unfortunately, this time Paige is miscast as the seductress. The intent to cast her against type is obviously there, but I just found her to be her usual awkward self, which is fine, but not right for the character. Baldwin's role is also vague and not properly explained. However, my main criticism of the film is that the timeline is jumbled. One story spans a couple weeks while another covers a few days and another seems to last just a day. It doesn't flow. There's also a little too much cheating going on in this film, which isn't taken too seriously, and might put off some people. But then, it is a comedy.

To Rome With Love is the first film Allen has acted in since 2006's Scoop. It's also another recent film in which he has moved away from New York as a background, in favour of Europe. Unfortunately, To Rome With Love does not compare to hits like Midnight In Paris, but then, for a 76-year-old film-maker who has made a film almost every year since the 60's, I think even a mediocre Allen film is still better than most other films that examine love and relationships. At least it's funny and original.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Killing Them Softly


WRITTEN BY: Andrew Dominik
DIRECTED BY: Andrew Dominik
STARRING: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot NcNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
RATING: 3.5 stars
Like so many people, Brad Pitt was amazed by Andrew Dominik's writing and directing work on Chopper in 2000. He was so impressed with the film that he worked with Dominik on the underrated film, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Pitt was not dissuaded by the lack of success of that film and decided to work with him again on Killing Them Softly. It's another low-budget, independent film – in fact, there are a lot of small production companies attached to this film, including Pitt's own company, Plan B – but the pair are onto a winner with this film. I just hope enough people take the time to see it.
Based on the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, but set during the 2008 US presidential election, Killing Them Softly is essentially a gangster film. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) runs an illegal card game for the mob and one day decides to steal from his friends by hiring two men to rob the game. Everyone forgives Markie because they like him and they all move on. But, Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) gets wind of what happened and decides to enlist the help of low-level criminals Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob the game again, thinking the mobsters will blame Markie for cheating them again and whack him, leaving the trio home free. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite go according to plan so an enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in to sort out the mess.

Some may argue that the film is a little too political and my initial feeling was along those lines. There are a few scenes where George W. Bush or Barack Obama are speaking in the background and it's a little distracting at times, rather than adding anything to the story. Nonetheless, upon further reflection, I don't think the film is setting out to be political, as such. What Dominik has done is actually look at the USA as a country irrelevant of political parties but more so in terms of how it is generally business-minded to the extent that it impacts the country's politics and relations with other countries. I suppose it's more of a commentary on how the USA has fallen from a great power to a country that still holds international influence while its every day people struggle to make ends meet – even mobsters.

There are amazing performances from every actor in this film: Richard Jenkins is suitably awkward as the driver dealing directly with Cogan on behalf of the mob; Liotta has a particularly moving scene in which his character is almost beaten to death; James Gandolfini provides an interesting look at an ageing, drunk, sex-addicted killer; McNairy is appropriately panicky; Mendelsohn nearly steals every scene as a drug-addicted, idiot thief; and Pitt is lethally calm, cool and collected to the point that no one wants to mess with him.

The violence in this film is gruesome and entertaining but it's not for the squeamish. I particularly enjoyed the slow motion shots during one killing. In fact, the entire film was slow-paced, like Dominik's other films, with good dialogue that is at times appropriately offensive and other times quite funny. I think Dominik is the best Aussie born in New Zealand since Russell Crowe.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Taken 2


WRITTEN BY: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
DIRECTED BY: Olivier Megaton
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija
RATING: 3 stars

I think Taken II writers, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, watched too many MacGyver episodes to draw inspiration for this sequel. In one scene, Liam Neeson's character enlists the help of his daughter to use a map, a shoelace and grenades which she detonates around Istanbul so he can figure out where he is being held captive. Yes, that's right, this time Neeson's character is kidnapped. The film is ridiculous and cringeworthy at times. However, it is also fun, humorous and action packed. If you're like me, and would watch Neeson kick arse any day, then maybe you will get something out of this film.

In Taken, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) killed every bad guy in his way as he travelled the world to save his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who was kidnapped in Paris by Albanians wanting to sell her into prostitution. In Taken II, Murad (Rade Serbedzija), the father of one of the kidnappers killed by Mills in the original film, has sworn revenge and takes Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) hostage during their family trip to Istanbul. Mills enlists Kim's help to plan his escape and save his ex-wife.

I have several problems with this film. Firstly, it's so painfully lame and had such ridiculous dialogue that it forced decent actors to act badly. Secondly, Grace is 29-years-old. She should not be playing a teenager. Thirdly, Olivier Megaton's style of directing during the action scenes involved jumpy camera work and messy editing, which made it difficult to see what was happening. Finally, and most annoyingly, the film has a very weak love story between the former husband and wife. It's like an action version of The Parent Trap.

Having said that, you have to accept Taken II for what it is - a mindless, fun action film. Let's not forget that Liam Neeson is 60 and yet he is still a believable tough guy. He's also incredibly charismatic, which makes me wonder if the film could be entertaining without him because the script is so awful. Janssen has a thankless role and spends most of her time screaming "No!" while Serbedzija's character is surprisingly underdeveloped. He is good at playing the bad guy, but has little to work with in Taken II. Despite my criticism of Grace's age being inappropriate for the role, her performance is actually quite good. The setting of Istanbul is also quite lovely and the music is great.

I've probably been a bit harsh on this film in some areas, but I think I've also been kind in my star rating. Taken II is not a good film, but it is a fun film. You'll laugh, you'll enjoy seeing Neeson shoot everyone and beat up the bad guys, and you'll leave the cinema satisfied that you just spent about 90 minutes not having to think at all.