Skip to main content

No, Bryan's not dangerous. The world he lives in is.

Taken 3
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The Taken series’ rep generally seems to be that the first one was good and then Olivier Megaton took over and did for them with his visually dyslexic direction. This is certainly partly true. Megaton’s film grammar is the most incoherent this side of Marc Forster (one wonders why producer Luc Besson, a master of visual storytelling, has repeatedly shown such confidence in him). But the first movie really only has good direction on its side. And Liam Neeson killing bad guys in unrepentant and unreconstituted manner, of course, which can only go so far. As such, Taken 3 is something of a step forward, or at least offers a tentative balancing act. Megaton’s direction remains stupefyingly bad, but there is actually a halfway engaging plot that musters a modicum of interest.


I’m not going to get to carried away praising the picture, mind, since the action is the main draw, and it’s blunderingly inept (there’s a particularly road chase that is downright shocking in its utter lack of correlation between one shot and any other). At another point he manages to drive a car backwards down a lift shaft, for reasons best known to himself. There’s maybe one sequence in which the staging is sufficiently clear to engage (Liam taking out Russians in the drinks section of a convenience store).


Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen had ditched the evil Albanians of the first two movies and gone the reliable route – possibly compulsory, given recent evidence – of making the heavies Russians. They’re well represented by (Brit) Andrew Howard, who had a highly memorable episode in the second season of Banshee (he’s also currently in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I’ve given up on that) and (Brit) Sam Spruell.


Underlining that, even if they’re not playing to nationality, British actors are the go-to-baddies to go to, the real villain of the piece is (Brit) Dougray Scott (playing an American, since we know they’re ultimately much more villainous than Russians). While the plot doesn’t mark him out as the bad guy from the start, the recasting of Xander Berkley’s Stuart St John (now married to Famke Janssen’s Leonore, but not for long) is a fairly hefty clue that something is amiss. You don’t cast the iconic villain from Mission: Impossible 2 just to relegate him to the role of the inconspicuous grieving husband.


So this starts from a different place, thankfully. Kim (Maggie Grace, at college and the definition of a mature student) is not kidnapped (well, not until right at the end), and Bryan Mills is framed for the murder of Leonore during the first 10 minutes. It’s a leaf out of The Bourne Supermacy’s book and, as beloved Kimmy is still in the picture, Bryan can continue to dote unwholesomely. Being a superspy, he can dodge the authorities with ease, of course and he even gets a little help from his friends (as before, Leland Orser is the standout).


Making matters all the more digestible is dogged detective Forest Whitaker on Bryan’s trail. Whitaker’s flourishing all the usual Forest Whitaker ticks and quirks, but that’s fine by me. If there’s any movie where that’s welcome, it’s a redundant Taken sequel. And it’s even fine that the beats of his character wanting Bryan to come in while simultaneously admiring his dedication to his craft are entirely rote; again, tolerance levels for that kind of thing come down to the actor (Don Harvey also appears as one of Forest’s men, Snickers from Hudson Hawk, if you’d wondered where he’d got to).


Neeson is as somnambulant as ever, rolling over and surrendering to the absurdity of his character without so much as a glimmer of knowingness (“Inappropriate, huh?” asks Bryan after bringing Kim a giant panda – not a real one – and champagne). So much so that, when a cop advises Bryan “This is going to end badly for you” and Bryan responds “Don’t be such a pessimist” you wonder if Besson and Kamen got their scripts mixed up (they tend to have about a dozen on the go at any one time by the looks of things).


Along the way, Bryan indulges some obligatory waterboarding (because we need to be reminded the practice is totally justifiable as long as you’re a good guy really) and delivers a ream of exposition of how Dougray done it while simultaneously beating the shit out of him. By this point, the picture has outstayed its welcome by a good 20 minutes (Taken 2 at least had the good manners to be short).


I somehow don’t think anyone’s going to be campaigning for the return of Bryan Mills in a few years the way they have for Jason Bourne, although Taken 3 has made more than enough to justify another outing. Neeson would be best advised to leave his taciturn hard man roles for a while, as two a year was at least one too many for anyone to cope with. Megaton shouldn’t be let anywhere near a franchise he can harm (so why not give him Megatron to play with) and Besson’s about to embark on a big sci-fi epic. Hopefully it will be as fun as he can be (The Fifth Element) rather than as pompously deficient as he’s also capable of (Lucy).


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I will beat you like a Cherokee drum.

Fast & Furious 8 aka The Fate of the Furious (2017)
(SPOILERS) Fun. Brio. That’s what any director needs to bring a sense of to the ever more absurd Fast & Furious franchise at minimum. Action chops are definitely up there, but paramount is an active affinity with how plain silly the series is. And it’s a quality F Gary Gray doesn’t really have, or if he does, he’s never shown it, previously or here. Even his action leaves something to be desired (his The Italian Job remake is far superior in that regard). Which isn’t to suggest there isn’t fun to be had from Fast & Furious 8/The Fate of the Furious, but it’s much more sporadic and performance-based than the previous outing, lacking the unbridled gusto James Wan brought to Furious 7.

But maybe I’m wrong about this. While I’ve seen every instalment in the franchise (only the once, mind) I haven’t followed it avidly in order (1, 4, 5, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, I think, only the first and last two at the cinema), although, it isn’t as if t…

I’m sorry to bother you, but are you telling people you’re God?

The Leftovers Season 3
(SPOILERS) I didn’t watch the final season of The Leftovers in Damon Lindelof’s preferred weekly format. Rather, I took it in over three nights (blame Sky for not knowing what to do with it), and if I’m completely honest, it wasn’t until the finale that I thought it reached the heights of Season Two. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t still (probably) the best series currently on TV (or was, at any rate), just that by the time of its third run it had evolved into something familiar, rather than disconcerting. As such, HBO was probably right to call time, as a fourth innings (Lindelof projected it might have had enough juice to go that far, left to its own devices) could have seen a shift towards mild contempt.

The big takeaway is that Lindelof has successfully rehabilitated his reputation after the litany of brickbats coming his way following the Lost finale (3.8: The Book of Nora is the anti-Lost finale) and the unfair maligning he received following Prometheus (blame …

This is our last stand. And if we lose... it will be a planet of apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
(SPOILERS) It isn’t difficult to see why War of the Planet of the Apes didn’t open as well as its predecessor and is unlikely to come close to its gross; it plays it safe. Which sounds odd to say, for such a dark, downbeat, (almost) relentlessly grim blockbuster, but the lack of differentiation between this and its dark, downbeat, (almost) relentlessly grim predecessor suggests Matt Reeve and Fox thought more of the same would tickle its audience’s anthropoid itch, when in fact it only leads to a lack of differentiation. Which is a shame, as War of the Planet of the Apes is (mostly) an accomplished movie, expertly directed by Reeves and performed with due conviction by its mo-capped (and otherwise) cast.

It does seem a tad churlish to complain about what a movie might have been when it maintains the series’ consistent high quality, but I’m now firmly in the camp of wishing some of the more tonally-varied content of the original pictures was finding…

There’s no surf in Michigan.

Don’t Breathe (2016)
(SPOILERS) I passed on Fede Alvarez’ The Evil Dead remake – it seemed a tad too close to torture porn for my tastes, and besides, why redo Evil Dead if you’re eschewing a sense of humour; it’s what made it what it is – so this home invasion thriller in reverse is my first exposure to his work (he also has a new Lisbeth Salander movie, baffling rebooting the series with the fourth instalment, and a remake of Labyrinth on his to-do list). Don’t Breathe is okay, effective within its highly exploitative bracket, rarely doing anything but serviceably pushing obvious shock buttons.


I’ve seen reviews complain about the rape subplot herein – some even seem to think the Blind Man’s defence of “I’m not a rapist” is a representation of the views of the filmmakers, and that it thus needs emphasising that he is, in fact, which rather suggest a desire to be outraged than ends up making them look a bit dim – but it seems to me to go with the generally dubious territory of this ki…

Why would you sell the cows?

American Pastoral (2016)
(SPOILERS) Maybe Philip Roth and cinema just don’t mix. I couldn’t say for sure, as I haven’t read any of his novels, but the consensus is pretty much that none have resulted in highly acclaimed adaptations (eight have been translated to film or television thus far). American Pastoral won him a Pulitzer, so I presume it must be good, although you wouldn’t know it from the stodge that ends up on screen, any more than you’d have the remotest idea what it was in the material that hastened Ewan McGregor to make his directorial debut.

He can’t take the blame for the screenplay (stand up, John Romano) so that’s something in his favour, and technically, I guess, you could call him competent, but in terms of putting a dramatically coherent film together he does, alas, seem pretty hopeless, miscasting himself in the lead (and this after a string of roles that have rather re-established his early promise) to underwhelming effect – ironic, since he had been attached as an…

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

Is that a cherry pie?

Twin Peaks 3.11: There’s fire where you are going
(SPOILERS) A damn good episode. Perhaps the lesser part of it is the still great FBI plotline, but that’s only because – despite having the most overtly weird elements – it is more linear and less inimitable than the other claims to fame: Bobby and the shooting incident, and Dougie-Dale’s encounter with the Mitchum Brothers. Yes, it’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally come around to silver fox Bobby. Or should that be Becky’s pops.

What impressed me most about this sequence was the way it develops – escalated would be the wrong word. You think the scene is about one thing but then it becomes about something else, and then it becomes about something else entirely. During the build-up to this we’ve had the ominous, Blue Velvet-esque scene in which a boy playing ball sights Miriam crawling bloodied from the woods. Followed by Shelly riding the bonnet of her car until Becky throws her off. 

There’s something very matter-of-fact procedural …

A man who doesn't love easily loves too much.

Twin Peaks 2.17: Wounds and Scars
The real problem with the last half of the second season, now it has the engine of Windom Earle running things, is that there isn’t really anything else that’s much cop. Last week, Audrey’s love interest was introduced: your friend Billy Zane (he’s a cool dude). This week, Coop’s arrives: Annie Blackburn. On top of that, the desperation that is the Miss Twin Peaks Contest makes itself known.

I probably don’t mind the Contest as much as some, however. It’s undoubtedly lame, but it at least projects the season towards some kind of climax. If nothing else, it resolutely highlights Lynch’s abiding fascination with pretty girls, as if that needed any further attention drawn to it.

Special Agent Cooper: You made it just right, Annie.
I also like Heather Graham’s Annie. Whatever the behind the scenes wrangles that led to the disintegration of the Coop-Audrey romance (and it will be rather unceremoniously deconstructed in later Coop comments), it’s certainly the …

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…