Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

Taken 2 (2012)

taken_two_ver2_xlgStarring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Luke Grimes, Rade Serbedzija, Kevork Malikyan, Alain Figlarz

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


Have you ever had a sandwich made with stale bread that fell apart as you were eating it? That’s kinda how Taken 2 is. While I greatly enjoyed the middle section of the film, even as unbelievable and ridiculous as some of it was, the first and third acts were pretty damn mediocre. The opening clumsily references the previous film and sets up a contrived situation so that now more than one of Neeson’s family members are in peril. And the ending… well, we’ll get to that.

Taken 2 is a completely unnecessary sequel to a great film. There’s no reason to make this other than a paycheck, but based on my love of the original, I was willing to put those feelings aside enough to enjoy a dumb action movie. I didn’t expect it to be Taken, I just hoped that it wasn’t quite so bad as others have made it out to be. I guess this is where my love of bad movies comes in, as I was largely able to enjoy what Taken 2 was shoveling, despite the dumb story, some horrid editing and a ridiculous amount of close-ups limiting the audience’s field of view.

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Taken (2008)

Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gérard Watkins, Famke Janssen

Directed by Pierre Morel

Expectations: Very high. I’ve seen it before.


Like Liam Neeson’s character in the film, Taken is a quick-moving, no-bullshit, relentless force. With this film, director Pierre Morel has crafted one of the best modern action movies that didn’t come out of Asia, and watching it for the second time didn’t diminish its impact much at all. When I first checked this one out, about four years ago, I hadn’t seen a fantastic action movie in what seemed like forever. So when Taken took control of my senses and didn’t let go for a solid 90 minutes, I was very much impressed. This time around, I’m a different person. I now have a website, and through it I have rediscovered my love of Hong Kong action cinema, so this viewing of Taken was through slightly different glasses.

Taken is about an ex-government operative (Liam Neeson), whose job caused him to be away from his family most of the time. He’s now estranged from his wife and he barely knows his daughter. In an effort not to be an overprotective asshole, Neeson agrees to allow his daughter to travel to Paris, against his better judgment. And like a true gentleman, he never says “I told you so” when she and her friend get kidnapped within their first hour on the ground in France.

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Batman Begins (2005)

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Rade Serbedzija, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Morgan Freeman, Larry Holden

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. This is the third time around with this one.


When I first saw Batman Begins in 2005, I thought it was pretty good. I was impressed by it for sure, and I thought that Christopher Nolan was definitely the right man for the job. I had become a fan of his with Memento, so I was excited to see him ascend to the big leagues of cinema. I re-watched Batman Begins in 2008, right before seeing The Dark Knight in the theater, and found it to be better than I remembered. Re-watching it now, a couple of weeks after the release of the third and final Nolan Batman film, I am absolutely floored by how great it is. Batman Begins is a brilliant piece of work, expertly taking the Batman franchise and elevating it far beyond anything that Burton or Schumacher could have ever dreamed of doing. Nolan did the impossible: he made a Batman film that walks the line between realism and comic book thrills, without ever crossing the line into the schmaltz that categorized every film in the 1989-1997 series.

Batman Begins is exactly what the title suggests, an origin film for Batman. Instead of wasting half the runtime on setting up a villain that will only be vanquished by the end of the film, Batman Begins focuses on what makes Bruce Wayne and Batman tick. Batman doesn’t appear until an hour into the movie, but the story is so thrilling and well told that it doesn’t matter. I know I said in my review of Batman that I loved how they ditched the origin and got straight to the Batman, and I do, but the character setup on display here is flawlessly pulled off. It succeeds in making Batman a psychotic, tortured man with toys, but one that we care deeply about. His arc over the course of the film never lets up, keeping Bruce/Batman always at the forefront of our thoughts. And to have three villains, all of them largely unknown to the public at large, and then to not provide any of them with origins proves definitively that the current superhero movie formula that everyone else uses is null and void. Seriously, have any other filmmakers seen this movie?

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The Grey (2012)

Starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Expectations: Fairly high.


The Grey is not a film that will rock your world, but it might make you thankful for that roof over your head and the problems you do have. No one wants to be in a plane crash, but to survive one and then be stuck in the Alaskan wilderness… man, that’s a hard argument whether the ones that died in the crash had the better way out. The Grey is this year’s early-year Liam Neeson film and it’s actually quite good. I get the feeling that Neeson will make most anything these days, but here is a film that he will most likely look back on as one of the good ones.

The Grey isn’t so much about story as it is moment-to-moment survival. There’s a slight back story with Neeson’s character that runs through the entire film, but all the other men are fairly shallow. They seem like they have lives behind their gruff exteriors, and a scene late in the film punctuates that, but for the most part they’re just dudes yelling at each other over the specifics of a given moment. This works well enough, but I think the film misses something of an opportunity in not exploring any character other than Neeson’s. Do we need that? Not really, but I think I would have liked it better if it had. The way it is, I was identifying characters by “the guy with the hat that looks like Marc Maron” and “the asshole guy”, so obviously that could have been improved upon.

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Mini-Review: Next of Kin (1989)

Next of Kin (1989)

Starring Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson, Adam Baldwin, Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Ben Stiller, Andreas Katsulas, Michael J. Pollard, Ted Levine, Del Close

Directed by John Irvin

Expectations: Low, but the star power here is worth a shot.


Patrick Swayze plays a tough Chicago cop who hails originally from the backwoods that has to step up to the challenge when the mob murders his brother! His justice isn’t swift enough for his other brother (Liam Neeson), who comes down from the mountain on a hunt for vengeance. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, it’s just OK. Next of Kin has definite flashes of greatness, such as the train rooftop sequence, but more often than not, the film is characterized by mediocre dialogue and a boring plot. It’s also much too long for its own good. The sheer amount of future star talent should not be overlooked though, and Next of Kin will forever remain of interest to film fans for this. Liam Neeson is especially good as Swayze’s brother. While it may be a footnote to his illustrious career, it is another great performance from the always dependable Neeson.

In yesterday’s look at Winter’s Bone, I noted that the characters in it were realistic and didn’t exhibit the traditional stereotyped hillbilly personas. Next of Kin fares surprisingly well in this regard as well, with the country folk never feeling stupid or the butt of cheap jokes. There’s definitely a similar air of “You don’t fuck with country folk,” reinforced by the scene where members of Swayze’s family all band together and take down the mafia men with crossbows in a shadowy graveyard.

Next of Kin isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty fun in spots and worth watching to see so many young actors packed into one movie. Also, I’m glad Ben Stiller lost that unibrow.

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