Taken 3 Movie Review 0 86

taken-3-movie-review

When the first Taken film was released back in 2008 and made a surprising amount of money worldwide, it was inevitable that a franchise would ensue. So along came Taken 2 which, in spite of it being a decisively watered down version of the previously brutal revenge formula (another case of the studio wanting to lower the age rating to get more bums on seats), made an even bigger splash at the box office.

And so now we have the unavoidable, obligatory Taken 3, a film which stinks to high heaven of existing purely for the sake of dragging on the franchise for as long as people seem to be interested, seemingly without thought for, oh I don’t know, actually making a decent, competent action movie in the process. Is that too much to ask?

In some sort of vein, half-hearted attempt to flip the series’ blueprint on its head, instead of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson growling his way to another fat paycheck) trying to track down random foreign bad guy #37 in a land that isn’t the good old US of A, he is back on home turf. Everything seems to be going okay; he is starting to half way patch things up with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is in a stable relationship, seemingly safe from any and all harm. However, Bryan must suddenly go on the run and once again utilize his very particular set of skills when he is accused of a brutal murder he didn’t commit or even witness. As well as avoiding the police, headed by the ruthless Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), he sets out to clear his name and find the real culprit.

It’s a lazy, perfunctory, increasingly preposterous plot that leads the way for a badly made franchise actioner. Even if, like me, you had a problem with the morality presented in the first Taken, at least the action sequences had vicious, bone-crunching bite to them. Unfortunately the third and – if we’ve to believe the “it ends here” tagline – last in the series takes a watered down leaf out of the last one’s book. Under the direction of the appropriately and bombastically named Olivier Megaton and the all-seeing eye of producer/writer Luc Besson, the vital action sequences – ranging from the usual shootouts and car chases to hand-to-hand combat against a barrage of generic baddies – lack any and all impact thanks to ADD editing and over-reliance on (ropey) CGI, intermittently interrupted by dud attempts at emotional impact.

Forest Whitaker for some reason joins in on the action this time around, basically playing the same character he played in the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand, spending the whole film here on the phone and pointing at boards with clues on them, physically always a few steps behind the now illogically still standing Bryan (the character has gone from a skilled but still mortal agent to a practically invulnerable machine) but somehow mentally way ahead of him with his love and knowledge of bagels; this genuinely might be the first action movie where bagels are actually an essential, critical plot point.

That’s the silly level at which this incoherent, messily directed, daftly-plotted sequel sits. Nothing makes a lick of sense, with a hackneyed script that so often makes laps of logic and jumps to conclusions to the point where the suspension of disbelief snaps in half, and it doesn’t have the effective action-packed goods to work in spite of that. It once again proves that the whole Taken saga should have retired after its first assignment.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 418

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 449

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10