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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Sarunas Jackson

Taken 3 (2015)

This family should just never step outside ever again.

After a few run-ins with foreign thugs, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) can finally sit back, relax, and soak in that his family, for once in what seems like an eternity, is safe and sound. His daughter (Maggie Grace) seems to be spending some lovely time with her new boyfriend (Jonny Weston), as well as getting an education in college; his ex-wife (Famke Janssen), is also currently dating (Dougray Scott), but doesn’t know whether or not she should take it to the next level; and there’s even a possibility of their being another member of the Mills family. However, that all goes away once Bryan’s ex-wife mysteriously turns up dead and, wouldn’t you know it, Bryan’s the one who is framed for it. Without standing by and allowing for himself to be wrongfully imprisoned, Bryan takes justice into his own hands, goes on the run, and does whatever he can to clear his name. That means kicking a lot of ass, questioning a lot of folks, and figuring out just who the hell is behind all of this. Also trying to do the same is Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), somebody who believes Bryan is innocent, even if he can’t fully prove it just yet.

"Act your age, missy!"

“Act your age, missy!”

Unlike everybody else on the face of the planet, I was never so hot with the Taken franchise to begin with. Sure, it was a neat concept – place an aging-actor, well-respected actor in an action-packed, take-no-names role and just let him be as menacing and scary as humanly possible. However, both movies hardly ever did anything for me. The first Taken was too serious for its own good, and if we’re being honest here, Taken 2 may have been a bit better for me, if only because it was absolutely balls-out wild and hardly ever made excuses for itself. Action movies that are like always win my heart, even if they do feature one of their characters throwing random grenades all over a city.

But hey, let bygones be bygones.

Now, with Taken 3, it seems like the franchise has finally hit its peak, or I guess, lack thereof. The story itself always showed signs of getting old, tired and stale, and that’s exactly what this movie proves as fact. There’s no real story here, except that Liam Neeson is on the run in a Fugitive-kind of way, where we’re left to sit back and enjoy all of the crazy, adrenaline-fueled close-calls he runs into to protect his life, as well as his family members. Honestly, it’s kind of a bore to watch, which shouldn’t at all be the case.

Some of that problem is due to the fact that the story just isn’t all that engaging to begin with, but it’s also because Olivier Megaton’s direction is constantly irritating. Rather than allowing for us to see how an action-sequence plays out, who is affected in it and why, Megaton feels the urgent need to shake the camera up all over the place, and cut every single shot that comes the slightest bit close to hitting four seconds. In a way, it’s almost nauseating and makes it seem like Megaton knows he’s not working with anything worth writing home about, so he just does whatever he can to distract us, in the most manipulatively obvious way possible.

Where’s Tony Scott when you need him?

Also, let me not forget to mention that this movie is PG-13 in the worst kind of way possible. People get their throats slit, shot in the face, blow-up in car accidents, stabbed in the abdomens, and so on and so forth, and there is absolutely no blood to be found. I get that the powers that be behind Taken 3 wanted to appeal to a larger-audience, so rather than scaring the hell out of anyone who wanted to have a good old time at the theater and not think of the harsh consequences for such violent acts as these, they wanted to soften it all up, without showing any sort of ketchup whatsoever. Like with Megaton’s direction, Taken 3 is made solely to distract you from the real problems that may be lurking within the movie itself and rather than being sly, or even coy about it, it’s easy to pick apart every little problem it has, which makes it all the easier to see why this trilogy needs to end, and end now.

"Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired."

“Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired.”

Which is definitely a shame because this is the same franchise that helped re-invigorate Liam Neeson’s career. Say whatever you will about these movies, without the first Taken, we wouldn’t have the Liam Neeson we see and sometimes love, in today’s world, had it not been for the unpredictable popularity of that movie. It helps that Neeson brings some gravitas to this role and allows for Bryan Mills to feel more of an actual, living, breathing human being who also just so happens to be able to karate-chop people to death. However, here, in his third-outing as this character, Neeson seems tired and, dare I say it, bored. And he definitely should be. The guy’s had some of his best roles in the past few years, with a lot better movies, and from what it seems, there’s only more of them to come.

So, people, whatever you do, don’t feel bad for Liam Neeson. The dude’s going to be mighty fine for many years to come.

The ones who you should probably feel bad for are the likes of Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, and new-to-the-franchise Dougray Scott. Because, honestly, I don’t know if either of these three are going to get anymore shots at glory like they have with these movies. No offense to Grace, but she’s never been the best actress for this role (especially considering she’s always looked 30, whenever she was supposed to be roughly around 17 to 21), and here, those problems show. She’s got at least one look on her face throughout this whole movie and she wears it to a T. Though I can’t say much about Janssen, due to the fact that she dies pretty early on, the relationship she has with Bryan borders on being friendly, to downright four-play and it makes you wonder whether these two are going to just let all of the bullshit go away and bang, right here and now. That’s the movie I would have liked to see, but sadly, didn’t. Oh well.

Then, of course, we have Dougray Scott, who has actually been pretty good in past movies, but is pretty terrible here. He’s forced to do some sort of American-accent that does not at all work one bit for him, and his character is so clearly not who he says he is at first, that when we eventually get to see some of his true colors come out, it’s no surprise to us whatsoever. And as for Forest Whitaker, he’s just here to service the plot, occasionally dueling out a nice bit of charm here and there. But mostly though, he’s left to just eat bagels.

And there’s your sales-pitch, everybody.

Consensus: With hardly any story to work with, Taken 3 is a relatively boring, aimless piece of PG-13 action, where people practically get beheaded, and there’s not so much as a pint of blood to be found.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

It's okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

It’s okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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The Gambler (2014)

Albert Camus and gambling. How could I have not seen the similarities before?

Literary professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t seem like he’s happy about his life. For one, his grand-father just died and has practically left him little-to-no money. Bennett also happens to have a gambling problem, that gets him into all sorts of trouble with powerful kingpins of the underground poker world. And, to make matters slightly worse, he has a job that he absolutely hates, where all he does is practically yell at each and everyone of his students, telling them that not only are they “not great”, but they’re also wasting his precious time. So yeah, Bennett doesn’t necessarily have the best life in the world of all person’s lives, but he does have a possible-girlfriend (Brie Larson), a very rich mom (Jessica Lange), and nearly seven days to settle all of his debts before it’s too late. But a week isn’t so bad if all you have to do is cobble up a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? Well, wrong.

One of the main problems with the Gambler lies solely within the lead character himself, Jim Bennett. For starters, he’s not a very likable, nor sympathetic one to say the least, but he also is quite repetitive without hardly any rhyme or reason. And then, there’s the fact that Mark Wahlberg, of all people, was cast in this role as a literary professor at what seems to be a very prodigious university somewhere in California. Both go hand-in-hand with what makes the Gambler a poor movie, but they’re both hard to describe to a person who hasn’t seen the movie. It just feels, while watching it, very mis-matched and awkward. Almost like a blind date you set up between two mutual friends; you know that they may have similarities and be a nice match, but you’re not sure how they’re going to approach one another.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

It’s a bad simile, I know, but it’s all I got to work with since this is a very frustrating movie.

First off, the lead protagonist of Jim Bennett isn’t a very likable one, which is fine and all if a movie at least shows us that there is something to him that’s not only interesting, but turns him into something of a tragic-figure. However, the writing for Bennett is too repetitious and simple to make him as anything but; Jim Bennett is, simply put, a dick. But he’s the worst kind of a dick – he’s that kind of rich, self-entitled, whiny dick that you see at a dinner-party, who everybody crowds around and listens to all because he seems like a smart, know-it-all dude, when in reality, he’s just a bone-head who pisses, moans, and cries about everything in life, when he doesn’t really need to. Everything’s been practically handed to him on a silver spoon and the only problems that he ever faces in life, are ones that are completely made because of him and nobody else.

Yet, the movie makes him out to be some sort of martyr that we’re not only supposed to feel bad for because he’s so pissed off and angry about life, but also because he apparently has a gambling problem; one that’s never really brought out well enough to be classified as such. What I mean is that while you see certain movies about people with addictions, mainly gambling addictions, you know that they are, the way they are, is because they love the trill of winning whatever big con it is. In the case of gambler’s, they love the excitement of winning a bet and absolutely chase that for as long as they can. Here though, with Bennett, we never see his utter joy and/or pleasure for winning; we just see him bet a lot of stupid hands in the game of Blackjack, lose, and then continue to dig himself in a deeper-hole for no other reason other than, well, he can.

To me, this not only makes him an unlikable, nearly insufferable character to watch and have to stick with for two hours. Not to mention, it also wastes the talents of Mark Wahlberg, an actor who, when given the right material to work with, is strong and impressive, but seems like he is way out of his depth here as, get ready for it, a literary professor who may have reached his mid-life crisis already. I know it sounds like a joke, but judging by how this movie portrays Bennett, as well as the rest of its story, it isn’t. It’s pure, unabashed drama, and it’s hard to take in as fact or compelling.

You’d think that casting-directors would think twice about putting Marky Mark in roles of teachers, but oh well.

Though, to be fair, I have to hold back on the hate of Marky Mark’s performance, because he’s not all bad; you can tell by the fact that he lost about 60 pounds, that he truly is trying with this role. But the problem remains that he’s just not believable enough in this role as a professor who just preaches about the monotony and shit-heap reality that is life. There are some instances in which we see the good, old school Marky Mark come out (mostly in scenes where he’s acting smarter than the person he’s talking to and/or ready to brawl), but overall, it’s a mixed-bag of a performance, that could have easily been avoided, had Wahlberg not been cast in a role that clearly doesn’t suit him well.

Then again though, it all comes back to this character of Jim Bennett; he’s not nice, not interesting, and sure as hell isn’t compelling enough to make this movie work. He’s just a blank-slate, that’s made even worse by the dumb, idiotic decisions he makes in life that not only impact his own life – one that he’s already made pretty clear he doesn’t care for. But, even worse, he impacts those around him who love him, care for him, and actually care about their own, relatively pleasant lives as human beings. He doesn’t care, so therefore, we’re supposed to care.

And because we don’t care about him, or the actions he makes, there’s hardly any tension to be found in the Gambler. Sure, some of the scenes where Bennett’s betting his life away on what seem to be ordinary games of Blackjack, do have some real suspense to them, but it’s only because of the way they’re filmed. It’s not that we’re held in suspense because Bennett may actually die if he loses whatever hand he’s playing with, but because director Rupert Wyatt actually seems to care for how this film looks and feels. Even if his lead character is terribly-written, he’s still trying and that, for the most part, at least made it watchable.

"The King stay the King." Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

“The King stay the King.” Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

Although, Wyatt isn’t the only one trying here. It’s the rest of the supporting cast that show up every so often to not only make things a little bit brighter, but make a lot of these self-important speeches the script frequently lapses into actually interesting. John Goodman has the brightest end of the stick as a bald loan shark that Bennett meets with on a few occasions, and talks about how America is build on “fuck you”. It’s a lovely bit that adds some flair to this film, but also counts as one of the rare speeches here that actually works and doesn’t seem like the writer behind it is just trying his hardest to sound smart.

The one’s who don’t really come away as nicely as Goodman does with his speeches, are Michael K. Williams, Alvin Ing, and Anthony Kelley; with the former two playing actual mob bosses who Bennett runs into conflict with, and the later just being a student of his, who is constantly on the discouraging end of Bennett’s many rants about paying attention in class and not trying to get by in the academic-world because of athletics. None of these characters really seem believable, and it’s even more evident once they open up their mouths and start going on about stuff we either don’t care for, or have much of a foundation to really build our own feelings on. We’re just sort of sitting there, wondering what it all means, and end up not caring at all.

The only impressive part about this supporting cast is that the two female roles, played by Jessica Lange and Brie Larson, actually feel pertinent to the story and add some dramatic-heft to a piece that definitely needed it. Lange plays Bennett’s mother and has maybe two dramatic scenes where you can definitely tell she loves and cares for her dastardly son, but wants to be rid of his problems and hopes that he does to. And Larson, who I’m glad was cast here, at least makes some sense of her character’s motivations, especially when we’re supposed to believe somebody as lovely and chirpy as hers would fall for someone as downtrodden and inexplicably depressed as Bennett. They are two fine performances in their own rights, that go a long way.

Especially for something as disappointing as this.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining and interesting, but mostly, where the Gambler loses points in is because its lead character is terribly-written, and suffers even more from a miscast Mark Wahlberg playing it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Ladies, don't act like you aren't impressed.

Ladies, don’t act like you aren’t impressed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz