Taken (2009) **
Directed by Pierre Morel
After he finished reading “Taken’s” screenplay for the first time, I can’t imagine that Liam Neeson said to himself, “Wow! What a great script! I want to be in this movie because of the quality of its plot!” My guess is that Neeson instead wanted to headline an action flick; the paycheck probably wasn’t something to sneeze at either. “Taken” is just about as shallow and predictable a kidnapping thriller as I’ve ever seen.
Neeson plays retired CIA operative Bryan Mills, who must be among the best trained and most skilled human beings ever to walk the planet—think James Bond, Rambo and Stephen Hawkings all crammed into a tall, lanky Irish frame. Jason Bourne also ought to be added to that list since writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen shamelessly succeed in ripping off the ‘Bourne’ movies with their intense chase scenes and frenetic editing. However, the huge difference between a film like “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Taken” is the fact that ‘Ultimatum’ always keeps the viewer oriented to what is going on. Sometimes we follow the perspective of Jason Bourne, since he’s in control, and other times we follow the bad guys because they are one step ahead. “Taken” moves way too fast and tries to incorporate way too much action, not caring one bit about perspective. The result is not only exhausting, but it’s also quite disappointing. The viewer is so disoriented watching the chaotic action on screen that he or she cannot appreciate the inherent thrills. Too much energy is necessary in order to keep track of who is chasing who.
Though I don’t believe his artistic motives for agreeing to be this movie in the first place are pure, Neeson ironically elevates “Taken” to a level well beyond what it would have been without him. His acting is wonderfully intense and perfectly menacing, and yet, Neeson doesn’t take his character Mills (or himself) too seriously. There are moments in “Taken” that dive headlong into camp territory, and Neeson appears all too happy to go along for the ride. More than once, Mills battles six or more knife-wielding, gun-toting snarling bad guys and emerges the victor with only a few superficial scratches to show for it. “Taken” is not an Oscar contender, that’s for sure, and Neeson seems well aware of this with every line he growls.
The story centers around the kidnapping of Mills’ naïve seventeen year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who is subsequently sold into prostitution as part of a human trafficking ring rooted in
Labels: 2009, Thriller, Two Stars
Notorious (2009) **
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
“Notorious” gushes with admiration for a man who was unjustly taken from this world way before his time. Writers Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker present a screenplay clearly meant to honor the memory of the iconic hip hop artist known as The Notorious B.I.G., while director George Tillman Jr.’s goal, similarly, is to make Biggie Smalls proud. First time actor Jamal Woolard, who gained
And yet, the road to movie hell is paved with good intentions. While one certainly applauds the aim of all involved, it’s necessary to go beyond mere patronization and state clearly that this cookie-cutter biopic is a total mess! With a shallow screenplay, poor direction and a lead performance that ought to be called an impersonation, “Notorious” presents us with the story of the life of a cardboard cutout, nowhere near a fully-realized human being. Biggie deserves a better movie than this.
Angela Bassett—employing an on-again, off-again Jamaican accent—portrays Christopher’s mother Voletta with a clenched jaw and determination blazing in her eyes, which can only come from a
At 19 years old, Wallace transitions from innocent boy with oversized glasses concocting rhymes alone in his room to a streetwise drug dealer known for skipping school and mouthing off to his math teacher. As success and romance transform Biggie into the public celebrity we are all familiar with, “Notorious” becomes a portrait of a legend instead of a man. All the drama with Lil Kim and Faith Evans feels like the stuff of gossip magazines, and as the mounting turmoil between Bad Boy Records and Suge Knight/Tupac sets us up for the tragedy we know is coming, too much vague speculation surrounding their skirmish makes its way on screen. As the film progresses closer and closer to its inevitable conclusion, Biggie becomes more and more a saint. Right before he’s about to leave for his final car ride, he conveniently calls and apologizes to his wife Faith Evans for all the wrong he ever did to her. By this point, authenticity is thrown completely out the window in order to make room for sentimental homage, and right in front of our eyes, “Notorious” ceases to maintain any value as a biopic.
Labels: 2009, Drama, Two Stars
Wendy and Lucy (2008) ****1/2
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Wendy and Lucy” begins with a mesmerizing sequence around a bonfire, involving young drifters who are never seen again in the film. Wendy, played by Michelle Williams, is herself a young drifter, however, she doesn’t belong among the kids around the fire, which is highlighted by the fact that she leaves them at the first opportunity available. Wendy doesn’t belong anywhere, especially in the small town in
Labels: 2008, Drama, Four and a Half Stars