When Liam Neeson defied expectations and proved a credible action star in the breakout hit Taken, I couldn’t wait to see what would come next. However what we did get were a series of thrillers that all seemed to come from the same blueprint, delivering entertainment of rapidly deteriorating quality … Taken’s own sequels a prime example.
However I came to this fairly well reviewed revenge thriller with a degree of optimism because well, Neeson is still a solid screen presence and with the right script can really deliver the goods. Sadly then this wasn’t the case here. Neeson plays a down on his luck mobster, estranged from his son and still hanging out with his gangster friend Ed Harris. Yet one night Ed Harris’ loose-cannon son gets in a sticky situation with some Albanian drug dealers and is soon involved in murder – that get’s witnessed by Neeson’s limousine driver son. Neeson then has to protect his only son from this unhinged hoodlum that he’s forced to kill, which pisses off old friend Harris – and so sets forth a night of retribution and well, a lot of running.
Slightly convoluted story aside, the concept here is decent, and the performances, especially Harris and Neeson are not bad. RoboCop remake’s Joel Kinnaman is also passable as Neeson’s clean-cut son … but the big let down here is the direction from usually commendable Jaume Collet-Serra (the underrated ‘Unknown’ and cult classic ‘Orphan’). He chooses to shoot the whole movie like a rapidly edited pop-video that really didn’t suit the gritty, realistic tone and spoils pretty much every attempt at a good moment. A car chase is dizzying and just not enjoyable to watch. Shoot outs get tiresome very quickly, and even quiet character moments are awash with camera angles that don’t stay in one place for more than a second. The writing is also pretty lazy and get’s rather silly at times just to help the plot along (leave the hit man alive? Really??).
Some plot elements like how Neeson won’t let his son fire a gun and the father / son bonding or the friendship between Harris and Neeson, helped give the movie some depth – and in better hands, could have made for much more memorable fair (Michael Mann comes to mind, considering we get a steal of Heat’s famous coffee shop scene). But no, this was just sloppy style for the sake of sloppy style, that took any potential and ruined it.
Jason Bateman for as long as he’s been around, has never really been the sort of actor that guarantees bums on seats. He’s been known for TV sitcoms like Arrested Development and a wealth of comedy movies such as Horrible Bosses. Yet I’ve always liked him and always look forward to seeing him in stuff. This latest thriller has him as a successful business man who has recently moved into a nice up-market neighbourhood with his beautiful wife (Rebecca Hall). The perfect little life, until that is an old school friend bumps into him one day and gradually starts muscling his way into their lives. Gordo (Joel Edgerton) seems nice, normal if a little awkward and pushy, but mostly harmless – or is he?
Classic psychological thriller territory for sure, think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Single White Female etc. and you’ll get the idea. However this has a stand out performance from Bateman, who shows a depth and complexity to his character I wasn’t expecting. Also Edgerton as Gordo (who also directs) is perfectly strange and mysterious and possibly psychotic – but balances the uncertainty well. The movie mostly focuses however on Hall’s character who is vulnerable and troubled, with a past hinting at something that went wrong (possibly a miscarriage) between the couple and how the new home is a new start. I enjoyed this as it played with genre conventions, threw in a few excellent jump-scares and kept me guessing.
It’s fairly safe in it’s concept and certainly could have elaborated more on things with the odd flash back, as I came away still asking questions about these characters. There was also potential for the story to go to much darker depths. But these are small gripes and overall The Gift was a gripping and well written thriller that surprised and entertained in equal measure.
With Rogue Nation fresh in my head, I thought it might be fun to revisit the original 1996 blockbuster. Now sitting down to this, my memory was fairly cloudy and I realised I hadn’t actually seen it since it’s cinema release, yet recalled finding it overly confusing with a couple of stand out sequences.
Cruise, looking very young is Ethan Hunt, not quite the super-spy we know him to be today but simply a special agent for a CIA division known as IMF. Headed by John Voight, Hunt and his crew consisting of smouldering French beauty Emmanuelle Béart as well as former brat-packer Emillio Estefez must locate some stolen files that could leak the identities of a number of special agents into the wrong hands. However during the mission, Cruise finds himself double-crossed and his team all but killed. He’s then on the run and out to unmask the real culprit as his own innocence comes into question.
Directed by one of my favourites, Brian De Palma (Carrie, Carlitio’s Way) and with a twisting, complex narrative … this stylish and very well filmed ‘espionage thriller’ seems at first worlds away from the action extravaganza the series is known for. Yes, we hardly get any chases, fights or stunts for pretty much the entire run time. This was therefore more closely based on the TV show, with a more ‘pure’ mission: impossible storyline and with a strong if somewhat arrogant turn from Cruise and good work from series stalwart Ving Rhames. It is too complicated (but not that clever) and at times confusing, which marred my enjoyment, but with a very tense CIA headquarters break-in that has been parodied to death (but is still cool) and a stunning climax on the roof of a speeding train heading into the channel tunnel – this remains a good start to a franchise that has developed and (mostly) improved with every entry. Oh and ‘that’ theme has never been better implemented.
The Blu-ray is a mixed bag. The image quality at first appears impressive until I noticed some harsh edge enhancement and wider shots seriously lacked detail. The bog-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 is serviceable but lacks some punch. Thankfully then we do get some decent extras on this box-set re-issue such as a M.I. retrospective documentary, various featurettes, a documentary on Tom Cruise and photo galleries. A lack of a commentary is a let-down but not surprising considering the fairly underwhelming treatment of the movie itself.
Good to see that one of our most enduring Hollywood stars can still deliver a pulse-pounding action extravaganza even as he settles into his fifth decade on this planet. Add to this the fact he does many of his own stunts, and actor Tom Cruise is the real deal, regardless of what some may think of him personally.
Cruise plays super-agent Ethan Hunt who, currently in hiding and ‘gone rogue’ is trying to unmask the real identity of secret organization ‘the syndicate’ whilst back at Langley, CIA headquarters the big wigs are disbanding the IMF. Following a lead in London, Hunt witnesses the murder of a contact and the revelation that those he believed he worked for may be involved in a global conspiracy. Like Ghost Protocol before it, this is a confident and well directed spy movie full of fancy gadgets, intense action and lots of double-crossing. Director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) has put together what feels like the Mission Impossible movie we’ve all been waiting for – the action feels bigger, the locations more diverse and glamorous (London, Paris, Vienna etc.) and the story seems more dramatic. Add to this a wonderful discovery in actress Rebecca Ferguson, who may be the sexiest (and deadliest) femme-fatale we’ve had on screen in years, and with excellent comedic support from Simon Pegg – this almost has it all.
I felt that even for an M.I. movie, sometimes the stunts and situations got a little implausible (a somersaulting car?), and some moments were just plane mad (the admitedly tense under water sequence). Also, creepy-demeanour aside, the villain was again like Ghost Protocol, rather one-dimensional. It was a shame to also see Jeremy Renner not be fully utilized for such a gifted actor … but regardless, this was still a shot of adrenaline to the heart and packed full of memorable moments, an amazing car turned bike chase, and an ending that made me want to stand up and applaud. With Spectre on the horizon, I’d say in the spy movie world, this is going to take some beating.
Following in the wake of the seminal classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day was not going to be an easy task. Director Jonathan Mostow however, whilst not being James Cameron, has managed to deliver a decent if flawed entry in one of my favourite movie franchises.
John Conner (Nick Stahl) is a loner drifter who ten years following the events of T2 has seen Judgement day come and go without a Nuclear War and thus chooses to live off the radar. That is until a female Terminator known as a T-X arrives in town, hell bent on tracking down a series of targets, including veterinary doctor Catherine (Claire Danes). As before however, another cyborg follows and this time ol’ Arnie is out to protect John Connor and Catherine and goes up against the most advanced Terminator yet.
This continues but fails to innovate on the Terminator lore, with several copycat sequences borrowed straight from T1/T2 but given corny jokes or silly updates that prevent this movie gaining it’s own identity. Kristanna Loken is effective and subtly-sexy as the female Terminator (that arrival…) and proves a worthy villain, while Danes adds some good female feistiness in the absence of Linda Hamilton. Stahl however can’t fill the boots of Edward Furlong and lacks all of his charisma and personality; delivering a character who, however pivotal to the plot, is difficult to like or even sympathise with. Schwarzenegger thankfully looks like he’s having a ball, even if his line-delivery and the sheer-bad-assery of previous (and even the latest) movies is lacking here. As a competent director though, Mostow does manage to fill the movie with some terrific action (a huge, multi-vehicle chase that obliterates many shops and buildings comes to mind…) decent effects and a good pace. It’s just a shame then that with all such ingredients intact, we still get a movie that brings no real surprises and is stuck with a rather limp ending. That said, on it’s own merits, this was still a fun, action-packed experience with a few stand-out moments. Even as the weakest of the franchise, T3 is by no means a disaster.
The Blu-ray may lack a bit of punch in the image quality, but makes up for this in a hefty Dolby True HD soundtrack that really comes to life during the action sequences. However it’s in the extras where this release impresses most, with several featurettes spanning all aspects of the making. Most notably we also get a cast & crew commentary and a special cine-chat talking heads feature that plays along as you watch. Not too shabby for a still enjoyable also-ran.