Taken3: when he’s framed for the murder of his wife ‘Dad of the year’ Bryan Mills needs to clear his name, and keep his daughter out of danger. For a blockbuster film the action sequences are frustratingly disappointing – looks like they’d been filmed for a more violent edit, then cut down to get the lowest certificate possible; leaving them disjointed, and Neeson looking like he’s barely trying (Seagal in Russia style). More generally, everything about this is lifted and slightly shifted from the first movie: he meets the wife, but they’re getting on slightly better; there’s a torture scene, but it’s waterboarding instead of electricity; he meets the lads, but they’re golfing instead of BBQ-ing; they have a chase, but instead of a boat, it’s a plane; Kim’s gift it a teddy bear instead of a karaoke machine… There’s too much time spent re-treading overly familiar ground, trying to add depth to one-dimensional (and already established) characters and relationships – at the expanse of time that should have been piling up Eastern-European bodies. Despite being a derivative and inferior shadow of the first movie, Taken 3 is nowhere near as terrible as the 1* reviews would suggest; it’s just that with the first film being so great the sequels taste all the more bitter.
More widely; the Taken trilogy (and Expendables) perfectly sum up the problem with successful “one-hit wonders”. Both were originally Hard-18 blood-and-guts nasty / B-movies, kneecapped to a more timid 15 for the second installment, then a paralysing 12A for the third – removing any semblance of the original films which weren’t actually all that different, but had the edge in terms of violence, and no expectations
FuckYeaPANDA: So long, and thanks for all the dosh
Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚, Tsumetai Nettaigyo) (mild spoilers): a mild-mannered fish-shop owner crosses paths with a larger competitor who at first seems like an ideal business partner – but that veneer doesn’t last long. It feels like the director started out with two completely separate film ideas; the first 1-hour 45 contains a pretty credible, low-key, tense, but slow-burning con-man drama – with an off-kilter / black comedy undercurrent. The final act transforms the film into a full-blown slasher – which dwells on depraved sex, violence, gore and some body disposal scenes for a little longer than would be deemed comfortable (or necessary), peaking in a hyper-messy crimson-soaked blood ‘n’ guts finalé – shock cinema at it’s best; or perhaps worst! This wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but at 2.5 hours you could have cut two (better, and) entirely different 90-minute movies out of it – an Evil Dead style gore-romp, or Coen–esque black comedy. There are glimpses of superb direction and storytelling, straight off the bat, but they end up getting lost in the bigger-picture. Acting is also solid (the runaway star being leading man Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s full-bodied transformation) – although, along with everything else, it all gets watered down and lost within the superfluous runtime. This would, by normal standards, be anything but an ordinary film – particularly because it’s littered with gropey and sensational sex scenes – but when you’re following up from an epic like Love Exposure, this feels lukewarm in comparison.
Bullet to the Head: a career hitman and police detective team up in order to bring down a corrupt politician. From the opening scene (and every other frame of the duration) this is 100% a shameless Sly Stallone action vehicle – making him out to be as cool and badass as possible for the duration – which, let’s face it, a 66 year-old action hall-of-famer, doesn’t really need to do. His voice sounds like a sub-sonic stroke victim – so close to requiring re-dubbing or subs. Almost every minor character (wannabe models and actors) seem to be using this film as nothing more than exposure. The action scenes are poorly handled; but even blurry focus, fast cuts and shaky cam can’t spice up what’s clearly shit fights! To make up for this Sly and Walter Hill cram as many other things from the action B-movie checklist as possible: big loud guns, sexy cars, booze, nudity, drugs, tattoos, broads and more fights – and it never aims higher than that. The bi-racial ‘buddy’ element (90% of the film) reeks of 1980s – and generates cheap ‘cultural misconceptions’ and ‘hilarious’ misunderstandings RE: opposing work-ethics. The final talking point is some in-yer-face product placement – namely cars and Bulleit Burbon. While The Expendables (& #2) takes everything that was awesome about 80s action films and cranks them up past 11, up to 15; Bullet to the Head feels like a typical action B-movie with one big star and half a budget, and in the end, it’s not a bad film, but despite their best efforts, this is nowhere near Stallone or Hill’s glory days.
The Rock: when some miffed ex-military seize Alcatraz and aim chemical rockets at San Fran, a SWAT team is sent in to the save he day. Unlike most run-of-the-mill action films this is genuinely intense in parts, and has a substantial story – particularly the bad guys cause, which makes you question if it’s wrong to be rooting for them. Connery plays a blinder, reprising the James Bond role (great article here) and owning every scene he’s in with all the best lines. Cage does his crazy/comedy acting that somehow fits the tone of the film perfectly, and you couldn’t hand pick a better bunch of bad guys if you tried. The only downside is that there are some ridiculous attempts at comedy that fail terribly, and undermine / cheapen the film. Despite that little niggle, It’s almost incomprehensible that Michael Bay used to make films this good. Brilliant 1990s action affair. Ahhhh, Nicolas Cage and his green balls…
The Devil’s Double: after being forced into doubling for Saddam Hussain’s crazy son Uday, a regular Iraqi soldier is thrown into a crazy world. The biggest reason to watch this is the central performance; Domnic Cooper absolutely owns two completely separate and distinguishable characters – often in the same scene. It really is fantastic to watch, and the film shines brightest when the ‘brothers’ are together (Beginning, nightclub, wedding…). The girlfriend side-story on the other hand is pedestrian, predictable and feels crow-barred in – detracting from the political story and making the final half hour drag on, which is the film’s biggest downfall as the first hour is superb. Parts of the film are hard to watch, but it’s centered around such a fantastic story of identity and what’s wrong/right.
Somewhere: A successful-but-despondant film star has to spend time with his estranged daughter, they hang out, we watch. This film makes driving a Ferrari boring; it makes Italy look boring; it makes having beautiful women swoon over you boring; worst of all it makes two kinky blonde twins, doing cheeky pole-dancing as nurses rocking to the Foo Fighters boring!! I know this is supposed to be the point but when a character appears to loathe that lifestyle, this reviewer feels no pitty. Sofia Coppola definitely has her own style; unfortunately, it makes me nod off – I genuinely fell asleep twice in the cinema during Lost in Translation, and was so close during this – other punters were more sensible and walked out (and if it hadn’t been the actual ending I’d have walked out after the last scene too). There’s far too many overlong boring shots of mundane non-events. We see some cooking, guitar hero, sunbathing eating, smoking, breathing, empty conversations… it’s essentially a mind numbingly boring fly-on-the-wall focusing on a rather unlikable person. Neither the story or emotions progress, but Dorff and Fanning Jr both do particularly well considering what they have to work with. To top it all off this was sickeningly smug and self-referential; harking back to previous films, echoing a misunderstood celebrity upbringing, and even Sofia’s iPod. This is the rich and famous complaining about being rich and famous. Totally inconsequential, bourgeois, middle class ridiculousness.
NB: If I was that famous I would be traveling the world and having as much fun with family and friends as possible – definitely wouldn’t be a miserable shit like Johnny Marco.
Skyline: Brain-eating bio-tech aliens invade earth, consuming anyone that looks at their blue light. This wasn’t too shy about plagiarising massive chunks from previous sci-fi blockbusters like The Matrix, Cloverfield, Independence Day etc – it could have been a re-write of any of those films. The TV actors do alright for the most part, although nobody really gets characterised beyond b-movie territory, and you’ll have heard the script a hundred times before. The only redeeming aspect of this was that some of the destruction and mayhem looked pretty sweet, however, most of it just looked plan old ridiculous. The last five minutes sucked out what little credibility the film had by the end; one of the worst endings ever. Patchwork, hackneyed Sci Fi.