Argo Review – Affleck’s Artwork


Director: Ben Affleck 

Writers: Chris Terrio (Screenplay), Antonio J. Mendez (book), Joshuah Bearman (article) 

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin 


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Affleck’s work as director and actor.

Worst part: The uneven tone.

Throughout the last decade, Ben Affleck was seen as nothing more than an acting and tabloid-media joke. Since 2007, however, he has carried out one of the biggest comebacks in modern Hollywood history. After his astonishing directing début with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime-drama The Town, his new film goes in a completely different direction. Argo is a tense and authentic docu-drama, based on one of the most emotionally powerful and influential events from the past 50 years.

Ben Affleck.

In 1979, Iranian protesters took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. During the start of the conflict, six US consulate officials escaped the embassy and took shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s house for over ten weeks. CIA hostage specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) creates an absurd yet clever idea for freeing the six escapees. He will create a fake Hollywood film production, alert the press and help the victims to escape as members of a film crew currently location scouting in Iran. With the help of CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and revered producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez must pull off his plan however before the Iranian Militia finds the six hostages trying to escape the country.

Affleck & Bryan Cranston.

Affleck has now proven his worth in multiple elements of filmmaking, showing the sceptics that his Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting was no fluke. Affleck creates a nail-biting and affecting docu-drama in the vein of Munich and Good Night and Good Luck. Despite faltering under the direction of others, Affleck delivers a subdued yet charismatic performance, showing his determination in getting these prisoners out by any means necessary. The snappy dialogue, delivered by the plethora of underrated character actors here, is a rarity in modern cinema. Argo places the viewer in each heated and engaging dialogue sequence while showcasing Affleck’s talent for obtaining powerful performances. Bryan Cranston, finally proving his dramatic and comedic talents outside of AMC series Breaking Bad, is memorable in his small role as the embittered middle man between Mendez and the Jimmy Carter administration. John Goodman is dynamic as the sarcastic Hollywood heavyweight. While Alan Arkin impresses as the egomaniacal and foul mouthed producer unaware that his best days in the industry may be behind him. This story, known as ‘The Canadian Caper’, is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq being major events in the past decade, the film provides an honest and relevant account of our ongoing political strife with the Middle East. Based on information declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo provides an objective yet enrapturing look at this harrowing true story.

“Argo F*ck yourself!” (Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Argo).

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

Constantly on the lookout for danger, climactic scenes between the six hostages effectively create an intense and claustrophobic feel. As illustrated in his first two films, Affleck knows how to create tension in many of the film’s most terrifying sequences (similarly to the underrated thriller Spy Game). This is a situation where being seen means being killed, and the Iranian people’s anger towards american superiority provides a substantial threat for everyone involved. Affleck subtly increases the tension with each suspicious figure and militant roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the anticipation builds to an edge-of-your-seat final third. The film, however, loses the grit and danger of its opening kidnapping sequences, shifting focus to the absurdities of the major Hollywood system and its broad yet profound similarities with the US Government. Despite many humorous and satirical moments, the bold look of the 70’s era studio takes the urgency away from the situation on the other side of the globe. Affleck does, however, create an inventive and pulpy visual style in these sequences, in the vein of the 2007 political dramedy Charlie Wilson’s War. Constant references to classic film and TV icons such as Star Wars, James Bond, Star Trek and Planet of The Apes, along with the salty bite taken out of mainstream studio practices, are entertaining yet diffuse the importance of this particular situation. The film walks a fine line between patronising and complimentary. The film manages to succinctly touch upon various Hollywood and government systems.

This story is about globalisation saving people’s lives whilst, at the same time, condemning them to be targets of the Iranian people. Argo, thanks to Affleck’s momentous will to succeed, pulls its audience in, shakes the viewer around, and sends them packing!

Verdict: An intelligent and nail-biting political thriller.

Dredd Review – You’ve Been Judged!


Director: Pete Travis

Writer: Alex Garland

Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris


Release date: September 7th, 2012

Distributors: Entertainment Film Distribution, Lionsgate

Countries: UK, South Africa

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The hyper-stylised visuals.

Worst part: Several cheesy one liners.

Before this film, most people were unaware of the vigilante comic book character known as Judge Dredd. Despite the existence of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, the character desperately needed a reboot to bring him back into the spotlight. This new adaptation of the 2000 AD comics character is one of the year’s biggest surprises, providing an entertaining and visceral action flick unlike any other in recent memory. Derivative yet fun, Dredd provides a lot more than just a simple minded actioner aimed squarely at teenage boys.

Karl Urban.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) begins this story by describing the problems with protecting the innocent civilians of dystopian district Mega City One; a major part of the ruin of the old world. He is judge, jury and executioner in the city’s run down streets; dishing out violence unapologetically to anyone on the opposite side of the law. His cold persona conflicts with his evaluation of newcomer Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), taking her on tour around the city while testing her limits to the maximum. Their first investigation together leads to the lock down of a giant apartment complex known as ‘Peach Trees’; Ruled over by vicious gangster and drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The assault against Dredd and Anderson leads them to cut down anyone in their path and stop the new outbreak of super drug Slo-mo; known to slow the conscious mind down to 1% its normal speed.

Olivia Thirlby.

Olivia Thirlby.

This adaptation of Judge Dredd is much like Urban’s take on the character; its lean, mean and moves as briskly as possible. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) proves he can borrow from his influences while still creating a truly unique and enjoyable work of cinematic mayhem. The ‘Blade Runner meets Robocop‘ style of Dredd is indicative of classic 80’s era sci-fi action films, known for creating influential production designs, shocking violence and gore sequences, and memorable characters. Travis’ clear affection for the apparently disgustingly dark source material has paid off, creating an action flick so gritty and vile to watch that each murder affects you to the core. Mega City One is a rich plethora of concrete landscapes and blood and graffiti stained settings. The film also effectively captures a sickly claustrophobic feel for the city’s most prominent housing complex and gangster hideout. The city appears to be nothing but a crumbling economy and setting for gangland warfare, and so Dredd’s devotion to cleaning up the severely decaying streets proves to be one man brutally fighting a losing battle. Following a story similar to the revelatory 2012 Indonesian action flick The Raid, Dredd overcomes its unoriginal premise to create an impressively staged sci-fi action flick filled with charismatic characters. Working with a somewhat conventional screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Travis creates several lasting images and affecting action set pieces, thankfully moving this simple story at a breakneck pace. John Woo’s explosive and gory action style is used to create one impressively staged hallway shoot out after another.

“Negotiation’s over. The sentence is death.” (Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Dredd).

Lena Headey.

Lena Headey.

While the added incentive of exploding heads, gorgeous slow motion murders and brutal fist fights provides an action film unafraid of breaking the norms of modern ‘Hollywood’ action cinema. Paul Verhoeven(Total Recall, Robocop)’s style is also a clear influence here, providing a pulpy edge for every blood splatter and decapitation on display. The slo-mo gun fights convey a comic strip feel for each bullet ripping straight through Dredd’s victims, in the vein of Frank Miller(Sin City)’s dirty comic-book style. Despite simple dialogue and more than a few unfunny comedic moments, Karl Urban still proceeds to maintain his likeable presence on screen, becoming arguably the next Clint Eastwood. Much like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Urban delivers a fun performance despite having his face covered throughout the entire film. His dedication to the Judge Dredd comic series has paid off, creating a threatening mix of Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo from Training Day. Acting only with his jaw and fang-like teeth, the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek actor has once again earned serious contention for A-list status. Also providing a solid turn in an unlikely role is Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno) as the nervous yet determined Judge Anderson. Performing the cliché rookie role with both sensitivity and naivety, her partnership with Urban works wonders for their awkward dialogue sequences together. Put through gunfire, fist fights and scary hallucinations, her character provides the human touch needed in this already tough as nails sci-fi action extravaganza.

Certainly, Dredd is packed with stylistic and story elements known to sink similar movies. However, in the midst of it all, the final product pulls everything together to creative an enjoyable blockbuster. Judge Dredd lays down the law!

Verdict: A surprisingly inventive and enjoyable action flick. 

Savages Review – Stone-r Flick


Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio del Toro


Release date: July 6th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Benicio Del Toro’s sadistic villain.

Worst part: The multiple endings.

Ever since Proposition 19 was announced, planning to make medicinal marijuana usage legal in California, this hot button issue has been discussed by both the US Government and Hollywood to varying degrees. With an issue as pressing as drug induced relief for dying patients, heavily opinionated director Oliver Stone has now thrown in his two cents. It comes in the form of his new flick Savages, a film containing a lot of talent but failing to sink any teeth into this pressing debate.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, JohnTravolta & Taylor Kitsch.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, JohnTravolta & Taylor Kitsch.

Savages is a toned down, confused yet stylish thriller, based on the exploits of US and Mexican drug cartels. Operating in California’s stunning Laguna Beach, two friends Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch – having a bad year after mega-flops John Carter and Battleship) run a near-perfect Cannabis manufacturing and distribution business, creating the rarest and most potent chronic available in California. Protected by corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), the pair share a sun and sea-drenched life, along with a polyamorous relationship with Ophelia (Blake Lively). Their operation however attracts the interests of a Mexican drug cartel known as Baha, run by the seductive Elena (Selma Hayek). After turning down her prestigious offer, the two friends must then retrieve their girlfriend from Baha’s grasp, particularly steering clear of crazy cartel enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro). The two will lay down their version of the law, while escaping the clutches of the USA/Mexico drug scene.

Blake Lively & Salma Hayek.

Blake Lively & Salma Hayek.

Without the multi-layered and in-depth narrative of Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 Oscar winner Traffic, Savages sadly feels like a pale imitation. With inventive visuals, opinionated direction and noticeable thematic relevance, this is truly a Stone-r film (pun intended). Self confessed pot-fiend Oliver Stone, known for classic anti-establishment films such as JFK, Platoon and Wall Street, over the years has lost his affecting touch. His last few films, including W., Alexander and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, have been boiled down into overly serious yet goofy message-based propaganda. Savages is no exception, taking shallow pot-shots at the Obama Government, reality TV and the drug war without following through. It’s enough to say you are against certain issues in a democratic society, but without the investigative and strongly opinionated story elements of previous Stone films like Born on the Fourth of July, what is left is an empty and simplified pseudo-remake of Natural Born Killers. Stone does however create a derivative yet distinct sense of visual flair for this overly serious crime-thriller. Told from the perspective of Blake Lively’s character, her shattered point of view is illustrated through the fun and experimental use of quick cuts, lens flares, contrasting bright colours and black and white photography. Frustratingly taking the viewer out of this revenge-fantasy at every turn, Tony Scott’s shaking cameras and colour filters are also on display, conveying a hyper-kinetic look at the drug trade hopping across borders in more ways than one.

“I have orgasms, he has wargasms.” (O (Blake Lively), Savages).

Benicio del Toro.

The film is called Savages for a reason, displaying a shocking yet tasteful use of violence. Stone holds back from gratuity, lingering just enough on each bullet hole, cut and blood splatter to leave a lasting affect on these powerful characters, stuck in the middle of this interweaving standoff between law and cartel enforcement. The film sorely focuses too much on expressing an obvious and painfully monotonous look at a bad political situation. The film tells its story like a stoner expressing an idea; it starts off promising yet quickly descends into tedium and loses focus. Quickly becoming annoying is Lively’s continuous narration, filled with terrible puns (‘Wargasm’ and ‘12 step-dad program’ …Really?!) and obnoxious explanation of every twist and turn. The film contains many obviously black and/or white characters, mostly representing different factions in this seemingly important discussion. The three main characters are also reduced to two dimensional anti-heroes and victims, particularly due to the Yin/yang qualities of Ben and Chon. Ben is simply the charitable pot-head with a heart of gold, while Chon is the typical tough as nails war veteran with a taste for murder. Instead of an objective yet formalist discussion of race, crime and sex in the vein of City of God, the film presents a largely xenophobic representation of other cultures, particularly with every cartel enforcer portrayed as a laughable Mexican stereotype.

Despite Stone’s immense prowess (seriously, go watch his previous efforts), his last few films have fallen into easy-to-avoid traps. With Savages, his hyper-kinetic style clashes with its overbearing message – making for a truly unpleasant experience.

Verdict: A disappointing crime-thriller.

Killing Them Softly Review – First World Gangster


Director: Andrew Dominik

Writer: Andrew Dominik (screenplay), George V. Higgins (novel)

Stars: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta


Release date: November 30th, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


4½/5

Best part: Brad Pitt’s phenomenal take on the assassin character.

Worst part: The occasionally inexplicable gangster discourse.

This year, both Lawless and Killing Them Softly contained Australian directors tackling gritty crime stories. Whereas Lawless presents a fun yet violent view of prohibition-era gangster culture, Killing Them Softly steps significantly away from this style to contemplate the relevance of gangster culture in the 21st century. The result is a witty and tension filled crime drama, as Killing Them Softly subverts the cliché assassin character lifestyle and puts a fresh spin on the gangster’s economic and political status in our current financial climate.

Brad Pitt & Richard Jenkins.

Brad Pitt & Richard Jenkins.

This brutal yet enjoyably rambunctious thriller is based in the economic decay of the year 2008. The presidential race is won by Barrack Obama and the country is left in tatters by George W. Bush’s unfortunate time in office. Goofy mobster Frankie (Scoot McNairy) is released from prison and is desperate for one last job. After meeting up with his obnoxious partner in crime and dog thief Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), they hold up a high stakes mobster protected poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Threatening the mob structure of New Orleans, the robbery is investigated by professional assassin Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Before tracking down both criminals, Cogan hires broken down hitman New York Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help him track down everyone involved before the money disappears.

Ben Mendelsohn & Scott McNairy.

Ben Mendelsohn & Scott McNairy.

Based on the crime novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Andrew Dominik (ChopperThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) creates a crime thriller with similar elements of his first two features. The film is a subtle and contemplative look at the gangster life in America from Dominik’s foreign outsider perspective. The gangster version of the American dream is succinctly compared to the current economic structure of the United States. The criminal and first world perspectives of several characters are found to have many similarities, conveying a dour world in which the greedy, violent and rich succeed over everyone else. Despite the overbearing use of TV and radio to communicate the presidential debates, the memorable speeches of both presidents act as narration for several moments of pain for these suffering characters. This discussion of America’s post-economic depression is also relevant in the wake of 2012’s presidential elections, subtly commenting on the Obama government’s effect on the world over the last few years. At a swift 97 minutes, Dominik directs with the quick wit and flair of crime genre masters Guy Richie and Quentin Tarantino. The extended dialogue sequences give each character their own interpretation of their current predicament in this crumbling infrastructure. Each criminal is affected by the first world. Whether escaping the hold of prison, marriage, capitalism, drugs or money. It’s a lower-class hatred of the middle and higher class, subverting the thrills gained by several cheeky anti hero characters in modern crime capers.

“They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ’em softly. From a distance.” (Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), Killing Them Softly).

James Gandolfini.

Tightly edited, expletive filled and snappily worded, the dialogue sequences extend into nail-biting tension, with the audience concerned for the fate of each character. This is truly a man’s world; with no female characters in sight besides a vicious hooker. The male led democracy we live in is torn down by the strong characters here, with death falling upon the weakest of gangsters. The performances create several strange and thrilling characters in this intertwining narrative of resentful and violent sociopaths. Complaining about the bureaucracy of his own department, Richard Jenkin’s accountant is a likeable and sorry soul, forcing his status as the messenger upon Pitt’s assassin. Gandolfini subverts his leader and family man status from hit HBO series The Sopranos with his broke, drunken and divorced hit-man, while Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) portrays a down on his luck dealer with a balance of charm and desperation. Pitt’s second collaboration with Dominik has created a significantly different take on the witty yet resentful assassin character, portrayed recently by Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper. Pitt’s Jackie craves his profession, choosing to shut out emotion for the sake of his well manufactured craft. Taking out his targets from an affecting distance to avoid their emotional response, every blood splatter and slo-mo sequence surrounding him depicts the well thought out structure of each assassination. His black clothing, slick hair and well-trimmed goatee create an enviable presentation of the smooth yet vicious Cogan.

Thanks to Dominik’s assured writing and direction, Killing Them Softly balances everything with style and class. Gripping onto genre tropes, a political commentary, and wacky characters, the movie avoids regular flaws by sticking it it’s, ahem, guns.

Verdict: The most gripping and delectable crime flick since The Departed.

Lawless Review – Blood-stained Blokes


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (book)

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman


Release date: August 29th, 2012

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Guy Pearce’s creepy turn.

Worst part: The unbalanced narrative.

The prohibition era gangster film has always been a popular movement in modern cinema. Despite their period piece settings, films such as Miller’s Crossing, Public Enemies and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (comedic example) have brought the genre into the contemporary filmmaking era with dashes of wit and violence. The latest presentation of 1930’s gangster life, Lawless, is a gritty, authentic yet confused retrospective of the infamous Bondurant brothers. Continuing the current trend of prohibition-era crime drama, born from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Lawless is a pulpy, visceral yet profound lesson in gangster lore.

Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.

Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.

The Bondurant brothers were supposedly immortal moonshine makers and runners, situated in the hills outside of a crime-ridden Chicago. With Al Capone and other dangerous men ruling the city, the Bondurants were in charge if the regional distribution of illegal alcoholic substances. Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clark) are two of the most notoriously violent citizens of a broken United States. The youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) wants to be just like them, trying anything to prove his worth to his older siblings. Their control of the countryside is interrupted however by the introduction of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), determined to destroy every drop from their distillery. Along with an alluring new bartender (Jessica Chastain), the brothers fight to keep their reputations alive and the dirty cops at bay.

Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy.

The film successfully combines old and new Hollywood-style crime genre conventions. The strong, straight edged characters are brought to life with every gun shot, punch and stab, containing a loud ring to effectively depict every brutal act in this vile conflict. The third film by Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) is a dirty and hauntingly authentic look at so-called true events. The story of the Bondurant brothers is presented from Jack’s point of view. Unfortunately, this narrow presentation of gangster life and family bonds in the southern districts of America only focuses on the exploits behind Jack’s one dimensional goals. His eagerness to join the running and distilling business leaves little development for the other, more intriguing characters in this meaty story. Despite his character’s naive and occasionally banal nature, LaBeouf puts in a revelatory performance that could hopefully lift his controversial career. The other characters in this enthralling saga are performed convincingly despite the lack of development. Tom Hardy, continuing his promising year after breathtaking performances in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises, creates a loyal yet remorseless interpretation of the gangster who lives on his own terms. Despite his nearly inaudible southern drawl, Hardy’s physical presence and piercing stare creates a fierce leader with a slight vulnerable side. Also enrapturing in their small roles are the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s love interest Bertha and Gary Oldman as influential outlaw Floyd Banner.

“It is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.” (Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), Lawless).

Guy Pearce.

Guy Pearce.

This adaptation of the novel The Wettest County in the World by descendant Matt Bondurant succeeds in creating a darkly rich re-creation of 30’s America. Influenced by prolific crime directors such as the Coen Brothers, Brian De Palma and Michael Mann, Hillcoat efficiently emphasises the earthy and unflattering tones of every bar, dirt road and blood stained room in this era of temptation and cruel violence. Silhouettes and low lighting also effectively capture the depths these characters have fallen into, while the authentic Virginian setting depicts a southern community quickly falling to the evolving landscape of a changing century. The film continues Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave’s flair for punishingly affecting violence and torture sequences. Matching the whipping scenes of Australian western The Proposition and cannibalism in The Road, Lawless lives up to its name and the characters live up to their frightening reputations. Blood splatters all over the walls, gun fights and punch ups are handled with a shocking level of detail, creating many uncomfortable and even blackly comedic moments. Much of the violence and wit is convincingly handled through a passionate performance by Australian actor Guy Pearce. Rakes lashes out at the Bondurant Brothers with a strong distaste for their freedoms and practises. Creating one of the most disgusting yet pampered characters since Alex in A Clockwork Orange, his relentless nature, snarly accent and unique mannerisms create a truly threatening interpretation of the dirty detective character.

Bolstered by Boardwalk Empire’s immense success, Lawless is the latest effort to hop on the cinematic anti-hero wave. Thanks to Cave’s prose and Hillcoat’s style, this gangster flick sucks the stills dry and never lets up!

Verdict: An unfocused yet engaging gangster flick.

Taken 2 Review – Second-rate Massacre


Director: Olivier Megaton

Writers: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzjia


Release date: October 5th, 2013

Distributors: EuropaCorp Distribution, 20th Century Fox

Country: France

Running time: 91 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Liam Neeson.

Worst part: Poor action set-pieces.

In 2008, Taken became a worldwide box office success and critically acclaimed French-American thriller. It turned into a surprise hit for contemporary action cinema and changed the career of now 60 year old veteran actor Liam Neeson. The original’s comfort food-like enjoyability not only created Neeson’s current action hero status but was a rare win for French action cinema great Luc Besson. As it was several notches above most contemporary action schlock with Besson’s name on it as co-writer and producer, it was inevitable that a sequel would occur. Unfortunately, Taken 2 becomes what everyone feared the original was going to be.

Liam Neeson.

This clinical and forgettable action flick takes the fun out of the original, turning a gritty look at Eastern Europe into a much bigger yet blander Hollywood-ised follow up. This time, the string of slimy Albanian mafia members murdered by Bryan Mills (Neeson) in the original are now being laid to rest. Mafia boss and father of one of Mills’ victims (Serbedzjia) vows vengeance on his son’s murderer. Joining Mills in Turkey, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are still trying to move on from Kim’s abduction. But the mafia soon catches up to them, leaving the resourceful Mills and his family to escape their captors and destroy the avenging European villains once and for all.Continuing Neeson’s busy year after The Grey, Wrath of the Titans and Battleship, Taken 2 is an unoriginal, disappointing and dull action thriller. Borrowing elements from influential action thrillers and directors from the past decade, what is left is a shadow of the subtle yet violent original.

Maggie Grace.

Maggie Grace.

Tony Scott’s frayed visuals and grunge soundtrack are replayed over and over, without creating a suitable tone for every dirt covered setting and brutal murder. Along with blatantly borrowing two songs from last year’s Drive soundtrack, Director Olivier Megaton (one of Besson’s regulars with The Transporter 3 and Columbiana to his credit) sorely replaces brutality with scale, decreasing the emotional and visceral impact of the low budget original. With the original effectively focusing on the European mafia’s sex and drug trafficking trades, the sequel quickly falls into generic revenge thriller territory. Neeson’s ageing anti hero and overly protective father searching for his daughter created a scary yet affable character for Neeson’s dramatic talents. The new film repeats several of Mills’ ‘particular set of skills’, not only simplifying his awareness of every street corner and sound but blandly flashing back to already witnessed events. Despite Neeson’s usual charisma, his character here is little more than a generic Bourne-like action hero. The family’s problems cover the first 40 minutes of this boring pseudo-remake. What should be discussed about their previous overseas travels is only touched on in flashback, instead discussing uninteresting quarrels such as Kim’s driving lessons. The film from this point on is a xenophobic and excessive look at European culture. Turkey apparently contains nothing but mob informants on every corner and a serious lack of competent authorities. 

“I have to make sure these people never bother us again in our lives.” (Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken 2).

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

The implausibilities of every situation are fun to point out, yet take more of the realism away from this relatively low key thriller. The seemingly unlimited number of European villains are continually mowed down by Neeson with relative ease. While the instructions given to his daughter running around Istanbul quickly extend to unsubtle heroic actions, particularly involving grenades going off in broad daylight. The action sequences, though choreographed with a realistic and bone-crunching style, suffer from quick cuts, confusing digital strobing effects and shaking cameras. Taking away from the brutality and impact of the original, the bloodless and confusing action sequences are the result of Taken 2 being sorely cut down to fit the film’s inexplicable M15+ rating. While the film’s climactic Bourne Supremacy-like taxi cab chase is edited too tightly around every twist and turn through Istanbul’s narrow streets. Luckily, the performances save this generic actioner from being completely interminable. Neeson pulls off the heroic secret agent role with a balance of ferocity and charm. Grace steps up to the role of her parent’s saviour with vulnerability. While Janssen and Serbedzjia are underused in important roles.

Ultimately, the film takes too long to decide what it wants to do. With an uneven pace and one generic twist and turn after another, what is left is very little to recommend and a classic example of sequelitis. Dear Mr. Neeson, please pick better material!

Verdict: Stick with the original.

On The Road Review – Kerouac’s Kooks


Director: Walter Salles

Writer: Jose Rivera (screenplay), Jack Kerouac (novel)

Stars: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: IFC Films

Countries: USA, France, UK, Brazil, Canada

Running time: 137 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Eric Gautier’s cinematography.

Worst part: Sam Riley’s subdued performance.

For any writer, the most daunting experience is sitting in front of the blank page, wishing for your greatest work to be expelled from your mind and onto the canvas. On The Road reminds us however that our characteristics and experiences are what inspire some of our most creative ideas and endeavours. Based on one of the most popular books of its time, the film adaptation is a cool and viscerally enjoyable ride. Taking a more traditional approach for a road trip story, the film takes the beautiful and poignant scenic route, slowing down long enough to enjoy the ride through America’s forgotten landscapes.

Sam Riley & Garrett Headlund.

Sam Riley & Garrett Headlund.

Author Jack Kerouac based the book on his own experiences in the time of the Beat generation of the late 1940s and early 50s. Representing Kerouac, Sal (Sam Riley) is struggling to let go of writer’s block. Coping with the sudden death of his father, Sal wanders lazily through New York City searching for ideas, before he is introduced to to womaniser and drug addict Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). They instantly connect, becoming great friends while falling into the life of sex, drugs and smooth jazz music. Eager to learn about the heartland of America, they, along with several other colourful characters, travel across America in search of greater temptations and Sal’s next great story.

Kristen Stewart.

Kristen Stewart.

This once seemingly ‘unfilmable’ novel has been re-created as a touching, fun yet confronting character study. South American director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) has mixed an American road story with a taste for his home continent’s cinema. On the Road is an important discussion of freedom and liberty. Everyone in this time was free to taste, play and screw anyone and anything, letting go of personal and societal demons. We however are only introduced to one narrow side of this problematic time in American history. Salles’ discusses race, class, sexual orientation and femininity, without capturing the social and political attitudes of the time, and the consequences of questionable actions. Creating several vibrant drug trip sequences throughout the film, Salles is determined to immerse the viewer in the dirty yet delectable world he has re-created. Much like My Own Private Idaho and Into the Wild, what makes the large American setting whole are its inhabitants. On The Road is filled with a collection of strange characters, expressing their dreams and desires with the funky bunch of travellers. The acclaimed cast grows with every place Sal becomes a part of, capturing a truly engaging and unseen America. Character actors including Terence Howard, Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen provide charismatic performances in small yet thematically important roles. Homo-eroticism and sex however are the most important interactions on this journey, as each friend subtly expresses their undying love for both each other and a seemingly lawless world.

“I really wish I could drink whiskey like a man. All these guys are like: “Hey! Do a shot!”” (Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), On the Road).

Viggo Mortensen.

Viggo Mortensen.

Despite significant chemistry between Sal and his new friends, including charismatic performances from Hedlund and Kristen Stewart as nymphomaniac and lost soul Marylou, Sal’s desire for writing his next great novel never comes across as significant or even broken to begin with. His existential troubles should have been focused on to a much greater extent, instead defining his character as a quiet and emotionless outsider. Riley’s lack of personality in the role also hinders the emotional impact needed for the contemplative character, failing to establish any concerns with the purity of the blank page. The dialogue however paints a picture of every city coming up on their map. While each character’s love for art and expression is told with distinct discourses and languages, succinctly capturing a time of freedom and rebellion in post-WWII USA. This road trip is a poetic and contemplative experience. Despite its noticeably slow pace, every city and hidden place in America is beautifully photographed. Authentically capturing every desert, mountainous and industrial area throughout the country, Sal’s pallet is provided more than many delectable ideas to create the perfect story. Tracking shots of every hazardous location place the viewer in each bump and fork in the road on their kaleidoscopic journey. Not only does Salles capture each distinct and dirty setting of the Beat generation, but the radiant Jazz and Soul score, along with many expressive and sweaty dance sequences, create a toe-tapping energy for every twist and turn on their grand adventure.

Certainly, despite Salles’ best efforts, On the Road fails to live up to Kerouac’s sterling legend. The slow pacing and jarring tonal shifts show off things that were lost in the translation. However, thanks to the performances, it still stands up on its own.

Verdict: A slow yet engaging journey across heartland America.