Faster (2010, directed by George Tilllman, Jr.)


A man known as the Driver (played by Dwayne Johnson) is released from prison, having served time for taking part in a bank robbery.  As soon as he gets his freedom, the Driver is jumping in a fast car, driving across Nevada and California, and killing everyone who he believes set him up and murdered his half-brother.  The Driver has even made out list of the people on whom he needs to get revenge.  Among those on the Driver’s list are a nightclub bouncer, a snuff film producer, an traveling evangelist, and one name that the Driver has not bothered to write down.

As the Driver conducts his killing spree, he is pursued by two other men who each have their own reason for wanting to find him.  The Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) is close to retirement and has a heroin addiction.  The Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a hit man who views murder as a personal challenge and who plans to marry his girlfriend (Maggie Grace) as soon as he takes care of the Driver.

Today, we take Dwayne Johnson’s superstardom for granted so it’s interesting to go back and watch a movie like Faster, which was made when Johnson was still best known as a wrestler and there were still doubts about whether or not he had the screen presence to carry an entire film on his own.  Though Johnson’s character is the main character and it’s his single-minded quest for revenge that propels the plot, the film spends as much time with the Cop and the Killer as it does with the Driver.  The Driver doesn’t get much dialogue.  Instead, the majority of the Driver’s scenes emphasize Johnson’s physical presence, casting him as the unstoppable hand of fate.  Johnson doesn’t really get to show what he can do as an actor until nearly halfway through the film, when the Driver has an emotional meeting with his mother.  Johnson acquits himself well in the scene but it’s still obvious that the film was made before people realized that Dwayne Johnson really could act.

Seen today, Faster is a relentless and exciting B-movie.  It’s fast-paced and, even if it doesn’t give Johnson a chance to say much, it’s smart enough to surround him with memorable character actors like Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Berenger, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Carla Gugino.  Even without a lot of dialogue, Dwayne Johnson is such an imposing figure and has so much screen presence that he dominates the film in a way that it’s hard to believe that there were ever any doubts about whether or not he could be a film star.  Faster holds up well, as both an action movie and star-making vehicle for Dwayne Johnson.

Playing Catch-Up: The Accountant, Carnage Park, The Choice, The Legend of Tarzan


Continuing my look back at the films of 2016, here are four mini-reviews of some films that really didn’t make enough of an impression to demand a full review.

The Accountant (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

2016 was a mixed year for Ben Affleck.  Batman v. Superman may have been a box office success but it was also such a critical disaster that it may have done more harm to Affleck’s legacy than good.  If nothing else, Affleck will spend the rest of his life being subjected to jokes about Martha.  While Ben’s younger brother has become an Oscar front runner as a result of his performance in Manchester By The Sea, Ben’s latest Oscar effort, Live By Night, has been released to critical scorn and audience indifference.

At the same time, Ben Affleck also gave perhaps his best performance ever in The Accountant.  Affleck plays an autistic accountant who exclusively works for criminals and who has been raised to be an expert in all forms of self-defense.  The film’s plot is overly complicated and director Gavin O’Connor struggles to maintain a consistent tone but Affleck gives a really great performance and Anna Kendrick reminds audiences that she’s capable of more than just starring in the Pitch Perfect franchise.

Carnage Park (dir by Mickey Keating)

I really wanted to like Carnage Park, because it was specifically advertised as being an homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s and y’all know how much I love those!  Ashley Bell plays a woman who gets kidnapped twice, once by two bank robbers and then by a psycho named Wyatt (Pat Healy).  Healy chases Bell through the desert, hunting her Most Dangerous Game-style.  There are some intense scenes and both Bell and Healy are well-cast but, ultimately, it’s just kind of blah.

The Choice (dir by Ross Katz)

The Choice was last year’s Nicholas Sparks adaptation.  It came out, as all Nichols Sparks adaptations do, just in time for Valentine’s Day and it got reviews that were so negative that a lot of people will never admit that they actually saw it.  Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer play two people who meet, fall in love, and marry in North Carolina.  But then Palmer is in a car accident, ends up in a coma, and Walker has to decide whether or not to turn off the life support.

As I said, The Choice got terrible reviews and it’s certainly not subtle movie but it’s actually better than a lot of films adapted from the work of Nicholas Sparks.  Walker and Palmer are a likable couple and, at the very least, The Choice deserves some credit for having the courage not to embrace the currently trendy cause of euthanasia.  That alone makes The Choice better than Me Before You.

The Legend of Tarzan (dir by David Yates)

Alexander Skarsgard looks good without his shirt on and Samuel L. Jackson is always a fun to watch and that’s really all that matters as far as The Legend of Tarzan is concerned.  It’s an enjoyable enough adventure film but you won’t remember much about it afterward.  Christoph Waltz is a good actor but he’s played so many villains that it’s hard to get excited over it anymore.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Quickie Reviews: The Big Game, The Connection, Graduation Day, McFarland USA, Taken 3, and War Room


Here are 6 more reviews of 6 other films that I watched this year.  Why six?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers, that’s why.

The Big Game (dir by Jalmari Helander)

In The Big Game, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States and you would think that fact alone would make this film an instant classic.  Unfortunately, this film never really takes advantage of the inherent coolness of Samuel L. Jackson playing the leader of the free world.  When Air Force One is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness of Finland, President Jackson has to rely on a young hunter (Onni Tommila) from a group of CIA agents disguised as terrorists.  Tommila does a pretty good job and the scenery looks great but at no point does Samuel L. Jackson says, “Check out this executive action, motherfucker,” and that’s a huge missed opportunity.  As for the rest of the film, it takes itself a bit too seriously and if you can’t figure out the big twist from the minute the movie starts, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.

The Connection (dir by Cedric Jiminez)

Taking place over the 1970s, the French crime thriller tells the largely true story of the efforts of a French judge (played by Jean Dujardin) to take down a ruthless gangster (Gilles Lellouche) who is the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in the world.  The Connection run for a bit too long but, ultimately, it’s a stylish thriller that does a very good job of creating a world where literally no one can be trusted.  Dujardin, best known here in the States for his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, does a great job playing an honest man who is nearly driven to the point of insanity by the corruption all around him.

Graduation Day (dir by Chris Stokes)

Hey, it’s another found footage horror film!  Bleh!  Now, I should admit that this horror film — which is NOT a remake of that classic 1980s slasher — does have a fairly clever twist towards the end, that goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the inconsistencies that, up until that point, had pretty much dominated the film.  But, even with that in mind and admitting that Unfriended and Devil’s Due worked wonders with the concept, it’s still hard to feel any enthusiasm about yet another found footage horror film.

McFarland USA (dir by Niki Caro)

McFarland USA is an extremely predictable but likable movie.  Kevin Costner plays a former football coach who, while teaching at a mostly Latino high school, organizes a cross country team that goes on to win the state championship.  It’s based on a true story and, at the end of the film, all of the real people appear alongside the actors who played them.  There’s nothing about this film that will surprise you but it’s still fairly well-done.  Even Kevin Costner, who usually gets on my last nerve, gives a good performance.

Taken 3 (dir by Olivier Megaton)

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back and he’s killing even more people!  Fortunately, they’re all bad people but you really do have to wonder what type of dreams Bryan has whenever he goes to sleep.  In Taken 3, Bryan’s wife (Famke Janssen) has been murdered and Bryan has been framed.  He has to solve the case and kill the bad guys while staying one step ahead of the police (represented by a bored-looking Forest Whitaker).  Neeson does all of his usual Taken stuff — the intense phone conversation, the steely glare, and all the rest — but at this point, it has literally been parodied to death.  If you’re into watching Liam Neeson kill ugly people, Taken 3 will provide you with adequate entertainment but, for the most part, it’s but a shadow of the first Taken.

War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)

I saw the War Room in Oklahoma.  It was being shown as part of a double feature with The Martian, of all things!  Anyway, this film is about an upper middle class family that hits rock bottom but they’re saved by the power of prayer!  Lots and lots of prayer!  Seriously, this film almost qualifies as “prayer porn.”  Anyway, the film was badly acted, badly written, incredibly heavy-handed, and ran on way too long but, on the plus side, it did eventually end.

Trailer: Taken 3 (Official)


taken-3-poster

Why are bad guys still messing with Liam Neeson…I mean Bryan Mills. He literally took on an Albanian gang in Paris (of all places) who were kidnapping young, female tourists to sell to Parisian sex-slave auctioneer who only did business with a very exclusive clientele. Then the hometown relatives of said Albanian gangsters tried to take him out. That didn’t work out so well.

Now, this coming January just when Bryan thought his life as a retired government worker with a unique set of skills can finally enjoy retirement with his lovely daughter and rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife people are out to be quite the killjoy once again.

Taken 3 will see Liam Neeson back as Bryan Mills, Maggie Grace as his daughter Kimmy and joined by Forest Whitaker as an LAPD inspector tasked with taking him down for a murder he didn’t commit. Once again this sequel will be helmed by that French director with the awesome name: Olivier Megaton.

Some people say Taken 3 (will not call it Tak3n) is just a rehash of The Fugitive, but I disagree. Richard Kimble never broke people’s throats and shot many people in their heads to find those responsible. The throat breaking alone puts Bryan Mills heads above Richard Kimble.

Taken 3 is set for January 9, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Taken 2 (Official)


Taken was the surprise hit of 2009 as audiences bought into Liam Neeson as the baddest of badasses. One would rarely think of him as an action-thriller hero. He’s done tough guy, man of action roles in the past but they tended to be of the mentor types. It was the Luc Besson-produced Taken that first made Neeson as a believable action hero.

The film was a simple enough revenge fare. One would thnk that the film’s ending was closure enough that a sequel wasn’t needed, but Hollywood won’t have none of that. It took a year or so, but soon enough 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the sequel to Taken and quickly greenlit the project.

It’s now 2012 and Neeson’s former CIA black ops character, Bryan Mills, is back to do what he does best and that’s kill, torture and main (not in that particular order every time) every gangster and criminal who gets in his way as he tries to save not just his daughter (again), but his ex-wife as well as they vacation in that hotbed of spying and intrigue,

Istanbul. Luc Leterrier is not helming the sequel but another Besson protege in Olivier Megaton. Now with a name such as Megaton one should expect some explosive action and the trailer hints at such. Here’s to hoping that the film doesn’t go too overboard with the killing and maiming and torturing (again not in that order when they occur each and everytime).

Taken 2 is set for an October 5, 2012 release date.

Lisa Marie Finds Herself On Lockout (dir. by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger)


This Friday saw the release of two new genre films, The Cabin In The Woods and Lockout.  As you may have heard by now, The Cabin In The Woods is one of the best films of 2012.  But what about Lockout

Well, let’s just say that it’s no Cabin In The Woods.

Co-written by Luc Besson, Lockout takes place in the 2079.  The world is pretty much exactly the same  as it is right now with the exception of the fact that there’s a big space prison orbiting the Earth.  The prisoners — who we’re told early on “aren’t here for traffic violations” — are kept in a state of suspended imagination.  Though the process apparently has the side effect of making the prisoners even more psychotic than before, keeping the prisoners in “stasis” also keeps the prison relatively peaceful.  However, as usual, lefty do-gooders are concerned as to whether or not “stasis” is humane and they basically end up ruining the whole thing and getting a bunch of people killed. 

While the president’s daughter (played by Maggie Grace of Taken and Lost fame) is visiting the station in order to investigate whether the prisoners’ rights are being violated, the most psychotic prisoner is revived so that she can interview him.  Why they would select this prisoner — out of the 400 that they have — to wake up is anyone’s guess.  Anyway, this leads to that prisoner escaping, all the other prisoners waking up, and the president’s daughter being held hostage.

Who can save her?  Well, how about a surly and disgraced former CIA agent named Snow (and played by Guy Pearce)?

The main problem with Lockout is that, with the exception of few welcome moments, it’s never quite as fun as it should be.  This is a film that opens strong (with a witty interrogation sequence and a thrilling chase scene) but it’s almost all rapidly downhill from there as the film fails to come up with anything to match the excitement of the first five minutes.  The space prison, itself, is well-designed but the prisoners within are a pretty bland and predictable bunch and they make for boring villains.  (The one exception is Joseph Gilgun as a half-blind, gleefully insane maniac named Hydell.)  Maggie Grace made for a perfect kidnapping victim in Taken but she’s a lot less convincing here.  Listen, I’m about as independent as you can get and I’m proud of it but I can guarantee you that if I was trapped in a prison and surrounded by potential rapists, the last thing I would do would be to give attitude to the one guy who has been sent to rescue me. 

Especially if that guy was Guy Pearce!  Seriously, this film has its flaws but Guy Pearce is not one of them.  Whether he’s telling off his superiors and informing Maggie Grace that she’s on her own as far as getting off the space prison is concerned, Pearce is pure surly sexiness.  Ultimately, Lockout works best as a showcase for Pearce and he makes the most of it.  He looks good beating people up, he’s a better actor than Jason Statham, and he’s got a sexier voice than Ira Glass.  He’s such a charismatic animal that, if he hasn’t played Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire yet, somebody better hurry up and cast him.

Seriously.

Review: Taken (dir. by Pierre Morel)


In 2009 a little film coming out of France gained a buzz from on-line film bloggers. The film wasn’t the latest arthouse attempt to relive the glory days of French New Wave. It wasn’t a film that’s become part of the extreme French horror that’s becme all the rage in the horror circles in the past decade or so. This film was an action-thriller starring Irish actor Liam Neeson with an ensemble cast of actors from the US, UK, France and Albania. The film I am talking about is Taken by French filmmaker Pierre Morel (his previous film, District 13 with it’s parkour action scenes would make it a cult hit) and produced by his mentor Luc Besson.

Taken at its most basic core is a film about a father’s love for his daughter who has gotten herself kidnapped by Albanian sex-traffickers while on vacation in Paris, France. Liam Neeson’s character gets introduced as a retired government worker and divorcee whose attempt to reconnect with Kim his teenage daughter (played by Maggie Grace of Lost). His attempts to impress his daughter and make her happy gets upstaged by his ex-wife’s richer husband and stepfather to his daughter. It doesn’t help that Neeson’s character Bryan Mills has skillsets not easily translated to the civilian sector. He’d take an offer of a bodyguard gig from one of his former co-workers and it’s during this security job that we get a clue as to what sort of government employee Bryan Mills was before his decision to retire.

Moving forward we finally get past the introductions of the characters (Famke Janssen as Mills’ ex-wife really comes across as a major harridan who seems intent on punishing Mills for selfish reasons). Mills learns of a trip Kim will be taking with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to follow U2’s European concert tour. Mills, the clearheaded parent, doesn’t like this plan to have his daughter galavanting across Europe without adult supervision, but his guilt for having neglected Kim while he was working for the government plus his ex-wife’s insistence that Kim take the trip makes him relent, but not without giving her some advice to stay safe.

To say that Kim and Amanda get into a heap of trouble right as soon as they arrive in Paris would be an understatement. The two get kidnapped while staying at the luxury apartment of Amanda’s cousin. Before Kim is taken by the masked intruders (who’ve already taken Amanda) she’s able to make a desperate phone call to her father. Calm, collected and knowing that her daughter’s abduction was an inevitability, Mills instructs his daughter to relay to him as much information as possible about those abducting her. With that information in hand Mills heads to Paris to find his daughter (and to punish those who dare kidnap her).

From then on Taken becomes an action-thriller which barely gives the audience a chance to take a breather. Mills knows his time frame when it comes to finding his daughter gets shorter and shorter thus goes about his job searching for her in a deadly efficient manner. Mills becomes Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne rolled into one. There’s no witty, debonair Bond in this character. Mills goes about his business of interrogating, killing and gathering information with cold, calculating efficiency which leaves no room for Bondesque dialogue. The story moving forward once Mills arrive in Paris becomes almost an extension of Mills’ character. Writers Besson and fellow collaborator Robert Mark Kamen keep the dialogue to the barest minimum. We learn more about Neeson’s character through his actions more than we do during character interactions with other players in the film.

The film hinges on the audience buying Liam Neeson as a deadly, ex-CIA operative who manages to survive every violent encounter throughout the film (some by his own doing and others just trying to survive through it). From how people have reacted to this film and Neeson’s character I would say that it’s a big definitive yes that we buy Neeson as someone akin to Bauer and Bourne. In fact, I would say that Neeson’s Bryan Mills would be the more dangerous of the three. He has no compunction about using torture to gather information and barely breaks a sweat when killing those involved in some way in his daughter’s abduction. He has no bouts of guilt about what he has done in the past (probably killing as a secret agent) , what he’s doing in the present (killing to find his daughter) and what he’ll be doing in the future (probably thinking killing thoughts about anyone who will look at his daughter funny). Neeson’s Bryan Mills is a cold, efficient killing machine who doesn’t use fancy moves to take out his opponents and willing to shoot them in the back if it ends the fight in his favor.

The action sequences in Taken has some parkour influences, but not enough to make it distracting. There were no Michael Bay-style skewed camera angles, slo-mo shots and ADHD-style editing. Morel actually keeps the frenetic editing that made the Jason Bourne fight scenes so dynamic to a minimum. There’s just enough of it to make the fight scenes look brutal and painful, but not enough to make people nauseous. The climactic action sequence on the yacht of a rich buyer of sex-slaves goes by so quickly yet was more entertaining than half the prolonged action scenes from Bay’s Transformers sequel.

The rest of the cast barely keep up with Neeson in the film. They become tertiary characters whose job were to give Neeson’s character the motivations he needs to get the job done. I will say that Maggie Grace as Kim was believable as a teenager even down to the spoiled teen she starts off in the beginning. But again her character was just there to motivate Neeson’s character to go back to doing what he did well and that’s kick ass (he’d probably do it just as well while chewing bubble gum).

In the end, Taken was an action-thriller which more than surprised many people. It cemented Liam Neeson as one badass dude in the same league as Kiefer Sutherland’s Bauer and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. The film became a showcase for people to witness Neeson kickass and do it believably while Morel does just enough to keep the film from becoming too ridiculous. While Taken won’t herald the coming of another era of French New Wave, it does succeed in doing what it set out to do and that’s entertain, thrill and just give the audience some kickass escapist fare that some big-budgeted Hollywood studio titles never seem to do.