Do con-men and women really look this dashing? If so, I’m not cut-out for the job.
Lilly Dillon (Huston) is a veteran con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy (Cusack), a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury when hit with a thrust from the blunt end of a baseball bat, right after a failed scam. However, she doesn’t realize that her boy has fixed himself up with a dame (Annette Bening) that may not seem to be all that she appears to be.
Calling this movie a “thriller” would not be doing it any justice, and I’m still contemplating on whether or not it’s the good type of justice, or the bad. Good, mainly because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool, but at the same time, bad, because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool. See, it’s not the type of film about cons that you’d expect. It’s not filled with a big-heist, it’s not filled with thrilling suspense and action to hold you over, and it’s not even really filled with that many twists or turns. Instead, it’s sort of like the day-time soap opera version of a movie about cons and that’s both good, and bad. It’s very love-hate with me here, and I think you’re about to find that out.
The problem I ran into with this flick was that I feel like it would be going-on in such a slow, tedious-pace that it almost felt deliberate. Most movies that have this slow pace, usually do it for the same reasons that this flick did it, but it works a lot better for them since it’s exactly how the story should be told and judges how effective it will be to the viewer. However, with a story/movie like this, the slower-pace doesn’t quite work as well as it might think and continued to piss me off, because every time the film felt like it was really getting somewhere and picking-up itself and all of the pieces it was leaving on the ground, it would just stop, take a moment to pause, and jog it’s way through.
It was like me in a 5k mile run. I start off so perfectly, then I realize I put too much energy into the first 5 minutes, then I decide to slow things down, almost to the point of where I begin to walk, then, I get some inspiration and energy in my step and begin to run again, and then so-on, and so-forth, all up-until I get to the finish-line and everybody treats me like I just cured cancer, even despite me coming in 2nd to last place. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes with me (I obviously always win those runs, obviously…), but that’s how I felt with this flick and I feel like director Stephen Frears was just toying with me on-purpose. In some ways that works and makes the flick seem less predictable as it strings along, but in other ways, it just feels cheap and sort of like the director wants to be like the characters and play a sick, cat-and-mouse game that some people may not be too happy with in the end when they find out what’s to come of it all.
However, I can’t hate on Frears too much because no matter how slow and languid the pace got, I was always interested in seeing what was going to happen next. The story definitely takes it’s fair-share of detours into the past and they are definitely what feature the most energy and fun of the whole flick, but whenever it focuses on these characters, what they’re doing now, how they’re getting their money, and who’s playing who, the film still stays fun, if not all that energetic as the flashback sequences. Seeing cons do their thing like no other is always a blast to see on-screen and rather than just having it be a flick that exposes trick-after-trick, we get more of a balanced look at how broken and dull some of these cons lives are, and how money cannot buy them happiness and instead, only buys them more trouble. You actually care for these characters and that’s only what raises the stakes even more when the unpredictable-factor of this story comes into play, and you feel like you have no idea where it’s going to go or how, you just know that somebody is playing somebody. Then again, when you think about life and all that is: aren’t we all?
Okay, away from the philosophical ramblings of a 19-year-old film critic, back to the movie at-hand here. Yeah, the Grifters. I think without this trio of leads that the flick features, it probably would have folded underneath it’s own weight but thankfully, this trio of leads are here and are here to give some magnificent performances that stick with you, long after the flick is over. Before ’90, John Cusack was mainly known for racing randomly in the streets and always knowing the right Peter Gabriel track to have the ladies swooning, but once the year 1990 actually hit and this flick came-around, people began to look at him differently and realize something about him: this guy’s all grown-up. Cusack never really got a chance to stretch his acting-skills back in those days, mainly because everybody thought he was made for just hooking-up with high-school girls and in a way, they may have been right, but Cusack proved them all wrong and showed that the guy could play a sly, evil son-of-a-bitch that was as slick as they come and didn’t know when to stop pulling-in jobs and ranking-up the dough. Cusack always seems like a believable character and that’s all because the guy never over-does his whole cool essence and look to his act and always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody else in the flick, as well as the audience themselves, yet, we always like him and cheer for him as things begin to go South for his hormones and his job. I guess being a con is considered a job and if so, he definitely must have had to won “Employee of the Month”, at least once.
Anjelica Huston plays his mommy, who just so happens to be 14-years-older than him and shows you that the gal can, as usual, play a strong-willed and big-brained, female-lead like no other and as much as this may seem like a convention of hers by now, I still can’t hold that against her. Huston’s great with this role and you always wonder whether or not she is Roy’s mom, his lover, a past-fling, or simply, just some chick who’s trying to play a con on him and get his stash of cash. Like the rest of the characters in this trio, you never know what’s up with her and what her next move is going to be, but like typical, Huston-fashion, she always keeps you guessing and interested. Still, I was just waiting for that wig to come off. I could not believe how legitimate it truly was in terms of the story and setting.
The best out of this trio, and the one who really stands-out among the rest is probably Annette Bening as Myra, the fellow-squeeze of Roy. Bening, no offense to her or her looks, has never really been the type of actress that I could really declare “sexy”, “hot”, or even one that I would just have to take to bed, if I saw her in real-life (because they all would go to be with me, let’s face it), but here, she totally had me re-think that. Bening uses her flair for sexuality and nudity to her advantage and has her character come-off as a bit of a tramp, but a smart tramp at best, and a tramp that knows exactly what she’s doing, even if the others may not be able to catch onto it right just yet. Out of of the three, you’ll be wondering the most what side Bening’s is on and when you finally get your answer, you may be shocked, you may not be, but what you will be, is surprised by how much Bening uses the look and feel of sex-appeal to make a character that’s full of it, really, really work.
Consensus: Stephen Frears’ direction definitely makes you feel as if he is just playing with you, just in-order to be more like his subjects, but that’s why The Grifters does, and does not work in it’s own right. However, you can’t deny the charm and power that is within these three performances and it’s just wonderful to see them act each-and-every-single-one of their asses off, even if the pace seems to not be serving them the full-plate that they so rightfully deserves.
Dude, just stay away from foreign countries.
He came, he saw, he kicked-ass, and took his daughter back (Maggie Grace), and basically lived a life he thought was all fine and dandy, until now. That’s right, this time around, it’s Neeson’s wife (Famke Janssen) who is kidnapped and instead of Paris, it’s going to be Istanbul, and it’s all by the man (Rade Sherbedgia) who wants revenge on Neeson for what he did to his family.
In all honesty, I was very surprised by how much of a success Taken was when it was released way back when in 2009. It did feature a pretty cool trailer, but for what was essentially a pretty lame thriller idea, with a big-name that hasn’t really been big since the first Star Wars prequel, and to top it all off, a film that was released in the dead-heart of January, aka a time nobody goes to see movies cause they’re all pooped-out from seeing the same crap, drunk on egg nog for the past 2 weeks. So, that’s basically why I never understood how the hell it was numero uno at the box-office for about 3 weeks, boosted Qui-Gon Jinn’s career back-up to “action hero” stardom, and made itself destine for a sequel, and possibly more. However, despite all my angry ranting and rambling, I can’t say I hate the idea of a sequel to that film, especially when this is the type of stuff we get.
Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the original, Taken still had it’s moments of fun that made the final-product all the more enjoyable. The problem I had with that story was how it would always start-and-stop and always kill the momentum it had going for itself, by focusing too much on the whole internal-crisis that was going on with Neeson and the thought of his daughter going out there and bangin’ dudes under the influence of drugs. I’m not saying he’s wrong to be upset about that, but come on man, go out there and start shootin’ some fuckers and get revenge. That’s exactly what this film is from the 25-minute mark to the end of the whole movie. Need I remind you, that the whole movie itself runs a steady and swift 91 minutes, so that’s basically about an hour of pure mayhem, fun, action, and Oskar Schindler looking as bad-ass as he can look.
Director Olivier Megaton obviously knows the type of movie he’s making here, and you know what? He doesn’t care what you think about it or how you want to look at, he’s having fun and that’s all that matters to him, as it should because it had an extremely positive effect on a group of a d-bags like my friend and I who went to go see this. What’s so exciting and fun about this action is that there is never a dull moment in it to where you think, “Oh great, they’re slowing things down to focus on character-development.” Nope, there’s none of that at all here because we already know who these characters are, what purpose they serve to the story, and why they are motivated to save each other’s lives. We don’t need any freakin’ back-story, we need some freakin’ action and that’s exactly what Megaton delivers on.
However, this is obviously the case where you may have to not only leave your brain at the door, but also have it delivered to you when you’re sleeping in the middle of the night so you sure as hell don’t remember half of the crap you see here because the more you think of it, the more you’re going to ask yourself, “What in the fuck did I just watch?”. Seriously, this movie is one of the dumber ones I have seen the whole year so far and in ways, that’s a compliment, and in others, it’s too distracting to even be considered anything. It’s just there and never seems to go away.
For instance, one of the only subplots that make a difference in this “story” is how Neeson’s daughter is finally learning how to drive with a permit. Now, anybody that ever remembers having a permit, sure as hell remembers how hard it was to go 5 mph down a long-road without falling to the side of the road at least once. I sure as hell do, and if that’s not the exact type of example that has happened to you, something along those lines definitely have and it just goes to show you that when you’re driving a car with your permit, shit is pretty stressful. That’s what really took me by surprise here as the daughter not only goes over 80 mph in very tight and narrow side-streets, but does it all without barely hitting anything, and/or crashing it in the first five-seconds of being behind the wheel. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been so bad either, if it hadn’t been going on for 5 minutes where it was just her driving as if she was taking over Ryan Gosling’s job from Drive, when in reality, the girl still doesn’t know how to master the art of parallel parking, if there ever was one (you city people know what I’m talking about). This example is just one of the many, I do repeat, many of times that this movie just comes off as downright stupid and if you don’t like that with you’re action movies, then stay the hell away and go off and wait for The Avengers 2 to come out in 2014, or whenever the hell Joss Whedon has that planned.
Once again, much to my douchy surprise, Liam Neeson is the big-draw with this flick and as so he should be, the guy still has the talent to pull a character like Bryan Mills, off perfectly. Neeson just has this certain amount of likability and warmth to him that makes you sympathize with his over-protective ways and also make you believe that he’s got everything under-control, when half of the time he’s got a gun pointing straight at his dome. But Neeson is also able to totally switch that off in a heartbeat and make him, your worst nightmare by pulling out all of the stops to succeed in the end and do everything in his power, to kick the ever-loving shit out of you. Neeson does that so well here, but I think it’s his time to eventually hang-it up after this, at least with action anyway. It’s not that Neeson isn’t good nor believable with these roles, because he surprisingly is, it’s just that he seems to old (60) for a role that has the guy moving around, shooting guns, beating the tar out of dudes half his age, and still not be able to break a bone of get a hernia. I love you and all, Liam, but maybe it’s time to go back to drama and see if you got one, last Oscar-push left in ya. That’s all I’m saying, though.
Maggie Grace, despite her out-of-nowhere expertise of driving, does a nice job as the sweet but determined daughter of Bryan, but also seems a bit hard to believe as a girl that is still 17 and going for her learner’s permit. It also surprised me that the first-shot of her that we get is her getting groped by her boy-toy, when in reality, I would think that someone who just got drugged-up and raped by a bunch of Russian mobsters, would still feel a little dramatized and not allow anyone to touch her in that way and to just take it slow. Basically, any girl that’s like that with me would be tossed-out as quick as 1-week old pie, but since it’s Maggie Grace, ehh, I think can withstand the wait. Rade Sherbedgia is here in his 100,000th anniversary appearance as playing the stereotypical, Russian villain that never seems to do a nice thing throughout the whole movie, and is still pretty good at it, even if his character does seem a bit overly-dicky with what he’s doing. I mean honestly, if this guy was a real Russian mobster, wouldn’t he at least understand that family-values are family-values and shouldn’t really blame Bryan for going out there and killing his son, considering his son attacked, drugged-up, and captured Bryan’s daughter? I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking about it too much but doesn’t sound like a real mobster to me. Where’s Don Corleone when you need him?
Consensus: Taken 2 is your typical unneeded, stupid, and unintentionally sequel that seems to get pushed-out every couple of times a year, but for this time, it’s actually fun and keeps your eyes moving along with the quick-fire pace at 91 minutes of pure adrenaline fun, and Liam Neeson bad-assery.