Tag Archives: 20th Century Fox

MOVIES: Sleek, Stylish and Slightly Skeevey, Taken Delivers The Goods!

A retired spy’s daughter is kidnapped to be sold as a sex slave [the slightly skeevey part]. The ex-spy hunts the men who kidnapped her. As premises go, this one is simple, direct and a bit odd to find in a PG-13 film – but we are talking about a Luc Besson production, so maybe it’s not really a surprise.

Taken - Neeson

What is a surprise is that Taken, co-written by Besson [Leon, The Professional and The Fifth Element] and Robert Mark Kamen [The Karate Kid, The Transporter], and directed by Pierre Morel [District B13], is better than the premise suggests. This mostly because it takes a bit of time to establish that our protagonist, Bryan Mills [Liam Neeson] has retired because he wants to reconnect with his daughter, Kim [Maggie Grace]. We believe him because we see how disappointed he is when her mother, Lenore [Famke Janssen] and step-father, Stuart [Xander Berkley] upstage him at her birthday party [he brings her an expensive karaoke machine, but Stuart gives her a horse].

When she and her mother persuade him to sign a waiver allowing Kim to go to Paris, his warnings of danger fall on deaf ears and – sure enough – she and her friend are kidnapped. Then comes the phone conversation we saw in the trailer – followed by Mills taking action. Although Neeson is not a small guy, he does a good job of making himself seem ordinary as he begins tracking down the kidnappers, but once he swings into action, he becomes a force of nature.

Morel keeps the action up front and his pacing builds as Mills works himself up the chain of command – starting with the spotter who set up Kim and her friend. The usual ingredients of a Besson production are here – fights, chases, explosions – but because we buy into Mills as a father, there is a little more gravity, a little more at stake than usual.

Taken is entertaining but, ultimately, reliant on one performance. If you buy Neeson as Mills, then you’ll enjoy the movie. If not, you won’t. I did.

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: The Day The Earth Stood Still: Well Mounted But Empty

The Robert Wise film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, was a metaphor for a cold war that was threatening to go hot. The remake is an ecological horror tale – if we can’t take care of the earth, we – and everything we’ve created – will be removed.

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It seems that we are at the edge of a great precipice – not unlike the civilizations that grew on a handful of other planets out there in the universe. Klaatu [Keanu Reeves] has been sent to carry out the removal of the one major blight on the planet – us. Where the precipice comes in is when a beautiful scientist, Dr. Helen Benson [Jennifer Connelly], asks him if the other civilizations Out There had come to such a precipice and what happened.

So, despite the governments and people of Earth behaving like paranoid imbeciles – and even Helen’s stepson, Jacob [Jaden Christopher Smith] says we should kill Klaatu – even though all that violence and paranoid is only offset by a bit of Bach and the love Helen has for Jacob, Klaatu has had the answer he needed all along. It just takes one beautiful lady scientist to ask the question that shakes the answer loose. That’s drama, folks!

For the third time in three weeks, I’ve seen a film that held a certain amount of promise and discovered that promise is wonderful for trailers, but films need a bit more than that. The Day The Earth Stood Still is well made. It moves at an appropriate pace; most of the effects are quite effective; most of the cast give solid performances [Reeves is his usual Tabula Rasa self – you see what you want to see in his transparent performance… or not…], and there’s even a moral to the story.

Too bad that that the whole thing just so damned silly.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW: Max Payne – Overused Plot Not Juiced by Superficial References to Norse Mythology!

Take the basic Punisher plot [cop’s family killed by bad guys], add some designs by Constantine and top with a superficial gloss of Norse mythology, and you get the videogame-based Max Payne. Max Payne [Mark Wahlberg] is the cop whose wife and son are murdered; Alex Balder/Baldur [Donal Logue] is his ex-partner who discovers a link between the deaths of Payne’s family and the death of Natasha Sax [Olga Kurylenko], sister of assassin, Mona Sax [Mila Kunis].

maxpayne 

Then there’s the blue fluid that is a failed super-soldier formula [so very Captain America] and the hallucinations it induces of Valkyries [the warrior women who bear Vikings who died in battle to Valhalla. The question is this: if everyone who uses this stuff sees the same hallucination, is it a hallucination or a glimpse into a supernatural realm – a question that is never answered [and could have made the movie something much better]. That fluid leads to the mighty Aesir [residents of Asgard – home of the Norse gods] Pharmaceutials. The company’s head of security [Beau Bridges] is Max’s dad’s former partner on the police force.

There’s more of this kind of thing throughout Max Payne – like the big blowout that occurs in a club called Ragnarok [the Norse end of the world myth]. Of course it’s a red herring. What else could it be? The biggest twist possible would have been if the club actually was where the movie ended.

Max Payne is beautifully shot, well-paced and so technically accomplished, overall, that it’s a shame it never attains any actual style. Most of the action choreography is an homage to John Woo [or blatant theft – you decide]. All it needs is a few doves…

Max Payne is a waste of some very talented actors – and of an hour and forty minutes in the life of anyone who sees it.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW: City of Ember: The World Ends But Life Goes On… For Awhile!

When a movie begins with a narrator intoning, “The day the world ended…” you can be sure that there’s a caveat somewhere. With City of Ember that caveat is that a bunch of the best and brightest built an underground city so mankind could live on. An ingenious device was placed in a box that would open in two hundred years, giving instructions on how to return to the surface to find out if the upper world was once again inhabitable. Unfortunately, the device [which was to be inherited by each succeeding mayor] was lost when the seventh mayor had a heart attack and the box was put away in a closet.

Doon and Lina

Now, two hundred years later, Ember is falling apart. The city’s generator is cranky and blackouts are occurring – each longer than the last. Food supplies are getting low – and what food can be grown in the city’s greenhouse is looking less and less edible. The city is run by the corrupt Mayor Cole [Bill Murray] – the only person in town who is actually fat. Into this situation come Lina Mayfleet [Soairse Ronan] and Doon Harrow [Harry Treadaway] who swap assignments after graduating from whatever school exists there – she to become a messenger, he to become a pipeworks worker.

City of Ember is darkly gorgeous to look at. The actual city looks like a close-packed English village with a central meeting circle, but the machines that keep the city alive are oddly fascinating, clunky Rube Goldberg devices that actually have uses. Though the citizens of Ember are worried about what’s happening their fears are assuaged by the mayor and a group of religious singers [led by Mary Kay Place’s Mrs. Murdo – who takes in Lina and her sister, Poppy when their grandma dies].

Based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau, City of Ember starts slowly, like the city’s generator, and then [unlike the dying generator] picks up steam as it goes – and as Lina and Doon discover that there may be a way back to the surface – all tied into fragments of instruction in a weird little box Lina finds in her gran’s closet. Their characters aren’t all that well developed but both Treadaway and Ronan make us care about them. Other notable actors also make a lot of slenderly written, though pivotal characters like Tim Robbins [as Doon’s inventor father, Loris; Marianne Jean-Baptiste as greenhouse keeper, Clary, and Martin Landau, as pipeworks veteran, Sul].

With its touches of satire, fable-like storytelling and enthralling design, City of Ember manages to engage for its ninety-five minutes – though kids will likely find it vastly more engaging than adults [if Murray hadn’t sleepwalked through the role of Mayor Cole, that might have been different].

Final Grade: B-

DVD REVIEW: War Games: The Dead Code: Sleek Can Still Be Boring

War Games: The Dead Code is the straight-to-DVD sequel to the Cold War thriller starring Matthew Broderick as a teen computer whiz who almost starts World War III while under the mistaken impression that he’s playing a computer game. In The Dead Code, Matt Lanter is Will Farmer, a hacker who plays an online game called Ripley to win the money to go on a trip to Montreal with a girl [Annie D’Mateo, played by Amanda Walsh]. When his smartass best friend, Dennis [Nicholas Wright] up the ante while he’s not looking, Matt winds up catching the attention of the anti-terrorism computer program [R.I.P.L.E.Y. – voiced by Claudia Black] and being tagged as a potential terrorist.

Box Art

Unlike the threat of “Global Thermonuclear War” that powered the original, The Dead Code’s threat is bio-terrorism – and Will’s problems unfold because of odd coincidences – fixing his neighbor’s computer [and borrowing the stake for the online game] link him to a possible terrorist in the middle east, and because his mother works for a company that manufactures chemically-based household products [one failed attempt was for an odourless bleach], her unsuccessful prototypes making it seem like she is also a possible bio-terrorist.

The problem with The Dead Code is that Will’s situation spirals out of control so quickly – and on such flimsy evidence – that it strains credulity. Worse, Will’s pal, Dennis only exists for the express purpose of getting him into trouble and then making sure he stays there before vanishing from the proceedings. Then there’s the girl. Annie is going to Montreal to play in a chess tournament and doesn’t even know Will at the film’s beginning – and yet, she puts up with all sorts of crap because of him for no other reason than because he followed her to the French-Canadian city.

War Games: The Dead Code hits all its beats pretty much when it should as director Stuart Gillard tries to keep the action distracting us from the flimsiness of the plotting and lack of real characterization. What special effects there are, are used well, and solid performances from Colm Feore [Slings & Arrows] and Maxim Roy [ReGenesis], among others, are wasted here. Probably the movie’s only original moments are provided by the manner in which the original film’s Joshua Project factors into the proceedings.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Gillard and Lanter [boring] a Making Of Featurette, and a Production Stills Gallery [and no, trailers are not a bonus feature – they’re a marketing tool – unless they are the trailers for the actual film].

Grade: War Games: The Dead Code: D

Grade: Features: C-

Final Grade: D+

MOVIE REVIEW: The X-Files: I Wanted To Believe!

As an X-Phile who sat through every single episode of the The X-Files [yup, all nine seasons and the first movie], I have to say that it was disheartening to see a mere eighteen people in the theater for the first matinee of The X-Files: I Want To Believe. What was even more disheartening was watching the film unfold to pretty much stony silence from the assembled [I’d hardly call it a crowd].

You don’t need to have watched the television program to understand what’s going on in I Want to Believe, but it certainly helps when it comes to some of the inside jokes and character moments. Even a non-X-Phile can follow the plot – which revolves around a specific urban legend – and the relationship between former FBI agents Fox Mulder [David Duchovny] and Dr. Dana Scully [Gillian Anderson] is apparent even to the uninitiated [though some of their exchanges might not have the same impact for those new to the X-Files experience].

Mulder and Scully

Duchovny and Anderson slip back into their roles so well, it’s like they’ve always been there and there are pleasantly surprising performances from newcomers to the X-Files, Xzibit [as a sceptical FBI Agent who seems like a Skinner-in-training, but without the people skills] and Billy Connolly as a psychic pedophile ex-priest. Amanda Peet, as Agent-in-Charge Dakota Whitney, is merely adequate. Callum Keith Rennie, as the primary villain, brings a suitable menace to his performance.

Unfortunately, the plot is pretty average – to the point where the B-plot [Scully’s efforts to save the life of a boy with a deadly brain disease] is actually more involving. On the plus side, series creator Chris Carter – who co-wrote the script with Frank Spotnitz – does a good job of creating the murky, atmospheric feel that made the series unique to the proceedings. That compensates for many of the film’s flaws.

The X-Files: I Want To Believe is an adequate way to kill a couple of hours, but it’s not likely to spawn the kind of fervent glee that the best episodes of the series generated. I fear this will be the last new X-Files adventure/investigation. Pity… [Please note, stay through the credits and you’ll see a glimpse of Mulder and Scully that is particularly memorable for Scully fans – two words: black bikini.]

Final Grade: C+

MOVIE REVIEW: The Happening: Almost… by Sheldon Wiebe

Any great mystery, espionage or horror movie lives or dies on its writer and director combining to provide suspense – the ominous shadow here, the piercing music sting there – while creating characters we can relate to and placing them in situations that leave them more and more unable to cope, or adapt, until some revelation… some idea… gives them the wherewithal to overcome their plight.

For about two-thirds of The Happening, writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan does exactly that. Beginning with the first intimations of something wrong beginning to happen in New York city’s Central Park, Shyamalan provides an almost Hitchcockian build of suspense as people begin killing themselves in numbers that suggest, at first, a terrorist attack.

thehappening_teaser

The film follows a troubled couple, Elliot [Mark Wahlberg] and Alma [Zooey Deschanel] and the young daughter of a friend, Jess [Ashlynn Sanchez] – giving us a chance to see her with her father [John Leguizamo] before bad things separate them. As the behavioural problem mounts, and theories about the problem evolve, it seems certain that humanity is about to be removed from the face of the planet.

Even allowing for Shyamalan’s tendency to write dialogue that no one would ever really say, The Happening builds nicely. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s score do work well to keep the audience on the edge of its seat. The problem arises when the third act has absolutely no surprises and the development of the attacks evolves precisely as it seemed it would – until…

Normally, that would be a good thing, but here, Shyamalan telegraphs the way the film plays in a rather clunky manner, so that the impact of some events are nearly nullified. Also, as a direct result of information imparted earlier, the film’s brief tag is also telegraphed, leaving us saying, “So?” On the other hand, The Happening is a huge improvement over Lady in the Water, so maybe Shyamalan’s career isn’t over just yet.

Final Grade: C-