Tag Archives: 2008 movies

Movie Review: Taken

Image result for taken movie poster free useTaken is a stud of a film, plain and simple. A kidnapping carousel with a dominant presence is what the doctor ordered back in 2008. French creationist Luc Besson is one of the best international names in the industry. Most of his filmography has not been visited by American audiences but those that have debuted in the U.S. have been quite a hit.

Besson gets the majority of the credit for Taken, not director Pierre Morel, a cinematographer whose directing gigs have been less than thrilling. Go watch The Gunman and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

No, what stands out about Taken is not the cinematography, though there are nice framing shots.

It’s not that action, although it does give the movie an adrenaline shot on more than one occasion.

The script, coupled with Neeson’s character delivery, is what you remember.

Taken lives on in the minds of moviegoers for this.

That is by far the best sequence in Taken. It does not go downhill from there but it never reaches that point again. That phone call with his daughter is Bryan Mills at his most vulnerable and yet also at his most composed and most threatening. Halfway through, it feels like Neeson is ready to throw his phone to the side and grab the camera with outstretched hands, looking into the very soul of a man he has met many times before. His familiarity with the type of creature he’s conversing with is prevalent. That monster on the other end of the call doesn’t know it but he just released Bryan Mills’ monster and his is far smarter, chronically diligent and lethal without hesitation.

In most scenes where a father was talking to the man who just kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter halfway across the world in one of the largest metropolises on planet Earth, you would greatly sympathize with the father. By the end of that phone call, you don’t feel sympathetic for Bryan Mills. You feel sympathy for the guy on the other end who just opened the gates to Hell.

We don’t know who Mills is at this point in the movie. We know he served his country and has military experience, that his occupation cost him his marriage and time with the love of his world, his daughter, and we know that doubt and forlorn sadness has crept up to him following his retirement. The opening sequences of the thriller do a solid job casting Mills as a figure for which we can carry empathy.

The Olympus of the film makes us feel for anyone dumb enough to get in his way. A mere two minutes of screen time flips our perception of our star. He has trials like we do. He has suffered. Throw him in a den of wolves though and suddenly it’s a crib of Mills.

He sees the world through a different lens. His ex-wife mistakes his knowledge for paranoia. Her comeuppance comes shortly after.

And none of all this happens unless Luc Besson writes down a few paragraphs. Besson is primarily known as a visionary (he’s made a career out of displaying artwork on film rolls) but lets his pen strokes do the painting here. That scene is gripping and a thesis for the film. Remove it and Taken loses a substantial amount of emotional investment and character acceleration.

With that scene, Mills becomes an element of darkness, an agent of terror, wholly justified and unquestioned by his audience. He is karma itself.

I really can’t say enough about that scene. It is one of the best monologues action films have had to offer in the last decade.

From there, it’s Mills doing what he does best.

Besson drags out the tension in his script, glazing the piece with emotional rigor. There aren’t a lot of plateaus in this film. It’s a two-hour heartbeat of fjords and highlands. You will find no clean pastures here.

I couldn’t find the whole segment but the introduction of this set is terse and tense. You can almost see the realization creep into his face.

The crafting of this character and this tone is masterfully done. Besson is careful not to stoke the fires of xenophobia, though I’m sure some will take that message away from this anyway. Instead, he showcases the corruption that the world is all too familiar with. It’s almost expected at this point. Mills isn’t just fighting the people who took his daughter. He’s fighting the system that prefers to keep everything quiet and unexciting. The schemers, as one great character once said.

At the end of the day, you know Mills is going to save his daughter, so there is some predictability there. The film actually lacks a strong villain. Villainy as a whole fills in as a stand-in but doesn’t serve as the most accurate counterweight to the super agent Neeson delivers, though the one man against the system style does benefit the film’s vision. Fight choreography is solid throughout and Morel deserves credit for not cutting it to death as some novice directors are known to do. Too many cuts can really take wind out of the sails. This final archive is well done.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Wind RiverTommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great Wall)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Taken: 90.

Hopefully sooner rather than later I will have my next installment of Winners And Losers (WAL) up. I look forward to resurrecting that series. Until then, this gets a link to WAL Round 2 as a solid win. Taken is a rendezvous through human trafficking, espionage and some superb character writing from Besson. A must-watch if you haven’t seen this in the last decade.

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Movie Review: Ip Man

Image result for ip man movie poster free useFilm is a transcending medium. In spite of language disparities, film is understood. Sadly, there will always be a small disconnect. Subtitles are an annoyance that can’t be ignored, not to mention that one mistranslated portion can significantly alter a message. With that said, the foreign film industry is one that should be respected and investigated. They have something to offer to film the same as anyone else.

The Asian film market is no different. Perhaps its biggest hit, Toho’s Godzilla is the longest continuously running movie franchise. Godzilla was a key component in creating the monster genre that is now popularized today and also demonstrated what at the time were one-of-a-kind special effects from Eiji Tsuburaya.

Other Asian industries have become known for their superb stunt choreography, especially in martial arts films. The Raid films, which I have sadly not seen yet, are examples of recent memory while Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li became Asian superstars many years ago. While stuntwork has become the staple of the Asian market, they’re capable of more than that. Every country’s theatrics are greater than any one aspect.

And so I introduce you to Ip Man.

Centered on the true story of the Kung Fu master that taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man is as much folklore as dramatic fiction, neither of which is problematic. Ip Man is both a character and a cultural icon, shouldering both the weight of his family and of his city. As the region of Foshan is enveloped by the Japanese during World War II, this struggle becomes heavier and widened. Ip Man is the beacon for a lot of people and through all this turmoil, he knows its his duty to stir hope.

This, sadly, is about as dramatic as our main plot is going to get. Director Wilson Yip doesn’t dive into anything more than that, taking a cautious but thorough route with a beloved figure. I imagine he may have been looking at the long-term possibilities here, knowing that trying to say all there was to say about Ip Man in one feature-length film simply wasn’t feasible.

And look, the plot may not be doing much for me, but I enjoy this movie. I really do. Each time I watch this, I gain more respect for it. There is some dramatization at points that takes away from the legitimate lens the camera is shooting with, but it does not erase the natural quality this movie possesses. It’s a finely crafted film from a visual standpoint. It’s just not an overly substantial one. It’s an interesting story because of what we see, not because of what we hear (in this case, read) or feel, at least most of the time. It’s rather basic storytelling presented with exaggeration at points, leaving us little contextual themes or underlying messages to chew on.

Donnie Yen is a more than competent martial artist and actor but his acting repertoire seems to fall by the wayside in favor of the action sequences. While Ip Man is doing an amazing job balancing his struggles, the pendulum of the film moves only one way: those action portraits.

The action novellas are pretty solid. For example, there’s a scene where Ip Man, armed with a feather duster, beats a man with a sword. These fighting sequences take both the stuntwork to execute and the direction to capture and frame them in a smooth rhythm. This process, for the most part, takes a lot of patience on the editing floor and from the actors themselves and so, whenever I see a practical stunt segment like this, I can only grin from the technique being displayed by the crew.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Kong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHushGhostbusters (2016)Batman)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great WallRobin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: Apocalypse)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Ip Man: 76.

Ip Man is a film that shows some of the best of Chinese cinema, but also never hits its full stride, leaving me hopeful for future installments but content with what I have here.

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