Taken 2

Taken 2

Maggie Grace doesn’t react well to the critical pasting her latest film has taken.

(2012) Action (20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija, Luke Grimes, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Kevork Malikyan, Alain Figlarz, Ergun Kuyucu, Alex Dawe, Luenell, Olivier Rabourdin. Directed by Olvier Megaton


There is an old saying – let sleeping dogs lie. This is particularly true when said sleeping dog is a former CIA operative with a particular set of skills that tend towards the mayhem-inducing.

Bryan Mills (Neeson), the said ex-company operative, wants nothing more than to be a dad. He is trying to help his daughter Kim (Grace) get her driver’s license after two failed attempts. After all, when you live in L.A. you gotta have wheels. Especially when you were kidnapped by Albanian sex slavers in Paris and had to be rescued by your Dad who put half of Albania in the ground to do it.

Of course, even these lowlifes have parents, brothers and sisters who mourn their loss (yes, despicable white slavers have parents too). One in particular, Murad Krasniqi (Serbedzija) is about as scummy as the ones Bryan slaughtered and it is him who declares that he will get “justice” which in this context rhymes with “blengeance.”

Bryan, who these days is a security consultant, is protecting a powerful potentate visiting Istanbul. Just before he leaves, his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) who will henceforth be referred to as “Lenni” since that’s what Bryan calls her, is upset because a planned trip to China with her new husband got canceled because…well, her new husband (and about to be new ex-husband) is a dick. Bryan, a sweet hearted sort, offers to fly Lenni and Kim out to Istanbul where they can vacation once his job has concluded.

At first it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen but Lenni and Kim decide to surprise Bryan by showing up anyway and thus the family vacation starts. At first there is a bit of sight-seeing and a little more matchmaking – Kim really wants her parents to get back together again, despite her overprotective dad busting in on a make-out session between her and her somewhat too-polite-to-be-true boyfriend Jamie (Grimes).

Unfortunately, nothing ruins a family vacation than a bunch of Albanian thugs kidnapping the family for the purpose of making the father watch the mom die slowly and selling off the daughter into sexual slavery like she was supposed to be in the first movie. However, apparently Murad didn’t see the first movie or he’d know that messing with Liam Neeson is tantamount to asking for your ass to be kicked and having everyone within a three mile radius gunned down.

I really liked the first Taken. Not only did it establish Neeson as an action star, it was one of French action film producer Luc Besson’s best films yet (and remains so to this day). It was hyper-kinetic and even though there was a bit of suspension of disbelief overload (which also exists here) it was a fun piece of action entertainment.

Here while Neeson continues to take center stage (as he should) there’s more emphasis on his family than before. Janssen’s Lenni goes from uber-bitch to sympathetic character and the sparks fly between her and Bryan. Also, Grace’s Kim goes from being whiny and helpless to capable and skillful. She drops grenades on people and drives like Remy Julienne during a particularly fine car chase sequence.

The action sequences are strangely not quite up to the level of the first film, although the car chase comes close. I will say I like Serbedzija as the villain over the mostly disposable and faceless Albanians from the first film.

However while pretty good, this isn’t great and the first film was great. Certainly Taken 2 will not disappoint action fans and those who love the genre should be urged to go see it if they haven’t already (and given the box office numbers it appears that they have). There is certainly enough to warrant interest in an already proposed third film in the franchise. Hopefully Taken 3 will find someone else besides Neeson’s family to take however.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson one of the most dependable action stars today and Grace steps it up a notch. Nice Istanbul locations.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences not quite as kinetic as first film. Stretches believability in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots and lots of violence, as well as a bit of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The budget was triple the one of the first film (from $26M to $80M) and seems to have been worth the uptick in cash as the film is doing big time box office and has already gotten a green light for a Taken 3.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 21% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews have been mixed to bad.


ISTANBUL LOVERS: Many of the exteriors were filmed in Istanbul, a beautiful and squalid city that rarely gets the screen time it deserves.


NEXT: Cold Weather

Four-Warned: October 2012

October 2012

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. CLOUD ATLAS (1.0)
3. ARGO (1.5)
4. TAKEN 2 (1.6)

1. BLACK TULIP (1.1)
3. TAI CHI ZERO (1.4)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

OCTOBER 1, 2012

FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES IN 3D (SK) Genre: Documentary. Follows the migration of monarch butterflies to their winter homes, an amazing journey that took scientists 40 years to unravel. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX). RATING: 2.2 Beautifully photographed; might out-do DisneyNature.

OCTOBER 3, 2012

BEL BORBA AQUI (Abramorama) Genre: Documentary. “The People’s Picasso” transforms Salvador, Brazil from a 500 year old typical colonial town to an awe-inspiring art installation. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Seems curiously affecting from the clips I’ve seen.

OCTOBER 5, 2012

BUTTER (Radius) Genre: Comedy. The wife of the reigning but retired butter-carving champion means to keep the crown in the family, regardless of what it takes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks Coen Brothers funny and with a nifty cast could be a left field dark horse must-see.
DECODING DEEPAK (SnagFilm) Genre: Documentary. The son of Deepak Chopra, a journalist, embarks on a year-long road trip with his father to resolve the spiritual icon the world reveres with the simple man who raised him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 It is ironic that the man we go to answer the question “Who am I” is seen so differently by so many.
FRANKENWEENIE (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. A young boy mourning the loss of his dog determines to bring him back to life with unforeseen consequences. Release Strategy: Wide (3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.9 Tim Burton takes his original black and white stop motion short and creates a 3D feature film out of it.
THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (Abramorama) Genre: Documentary. A look at the abject failure of the War on Drugs and it’s human fallout. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 12). RATING: 1.3 “A holocaust in slow motion.” Chilling words; unforgettable documentary from Eugene Jarecki.
THE ORANGES (ATO) Genre: Romantic Comedy. The comfortable suburban existence of a family is shaken up when their daughter, newly returned home after a bad break-up, begins an affair with their married neighbor and best friend. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A cast of Hugh Laurie, Oliver Platt, Alison Janney and Catherine Keener makes this worth a look.
THE PAPERBOY (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A journalist’s crusade to get an innocent man off of Death Row unlocks a cesspool of mixed motives, sexual tension and lost innocence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Another impressive cast, including Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron but the trailer didn’t impress me.
SISTER (Adopt) Genre: Drama. A 12-year-old boy living in a housing complex below a Swiss ski resort takes on the provider role for his troubled older sister by turning to a life of crime. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 12). RATING: 1.8 Gritty and uncompromising, the trailer looks awfully strong.
SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU (FilmBuff) Genre: Dramedy. The son of a divorced couple chooses to live his life according to his own rules and to nobody’s preconceptions. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Precocious kid movie doesn’t really look too different than all the others like it.
TAKEN 2 (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. The father (with a particular set of skills) of a former kidnap victim takes on the father of one of the kidnappers he killed. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Liam Neeson may well be the best action hero going at the moment.
V/H/S (Magnet) Genre: Horror. Criminals hired to retrieve a videotape discover a whole stack of them and must find the right one – and each one is stranger and more horrifying than the last. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Could well be the best horror movie this Halloween season.
WINNIE (D Films) Genre: Biographical Drama. The life and times of Winnie Mandela. Release Strategy: Canada. RATING: 2.0 A powerful look at the wife of one of the most revered figures of our time, who underwent suffering at least as equal to his own.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Drama. A young ward becomes enamored by the daughter of the farmer who took him in. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Another pass at the classic Emily Bronte novel.

OCTOBER 8, 2012

IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. An orphanage in a rough Baghdad neighborhood is given two weeks to vacate the premises. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Footage I’ve seen looks disjointed; with a better trailer I’d have much more interest in this.

OCTOBER 12, 2012

3,2,1…FRANKIE GO BOOM (Variance) Genre: Comedy. A put-upon sibling hopes that rehab will keep his brother from humiliating him on camera; unfortunately, that ain’t happening. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Trailer wasn’t really impressive.
A WHISPER TO A ROAR (Appleseed) Genre: Documentary. Chronicles the struggles of pro-democracy advocates from five different nations – Egypt, Malaysia, Venezuela, Ukraine, Zimbabwe – and their clashes with often totalitarian regimes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Looks very compelling at grassroots activism bringing change, something perhaps our own country should experience.
ARGO (Warner Brothers) Genre: True Life Drama. The State Department tries to rescue six stray embassy employees during the Iranian hostage crisis and comes up with a unique plan to get them out. Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Ben Affleck’s follow-up to The Town looks to be his best yet.
ATLAS SHRUGGED PART II (Strike Productions) Genre: Drama. On the eve of complete global economic collapse, industrialists race to find the secret of a motor that could be the salvation of the planet but not everyone wants the planet saved. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 The first part was amateurish and its politics were offensive to me.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 (Self-Released) Genre: Horror. A film student sets out to prove the footage from the first movie was not fake but real; be careful what you wish for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The first film (review coming soon) was an underrated little creepfest that too me by surprise; from the looks of things this isn’t quite as good but still pretty damn scary.
HERE COMES THE BOOM (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A teacher takes it upon himself to raise a $40,000 budget shortfall for his school by competing in Mixed Martial Arts matches. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Kevin James is as likable as they come and even though this looks fairly low-brow the trailer has some funny moments.
LEAST AMONG SAINTS (Brainstorm) Genre: Drama. A combat vet returning home to an uncertain life decides to aid a troubled 10-year-old neighbor boy find his father. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Looks a bit over-the-top sentimental with an abundance of dialogue clichés.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (AFFRM) Genre: Urban Drama. When a brilliant med student’s husband is incarcerated, she puts her life and career on hold, only to find a greater realization is in store for her. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Big winner at this year’s Sundance looks plenty powerful from the trailer.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (CBS) Genre: Comedy. After a couple of misfits kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu, a screenwriter gets caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 From the writer-director of In Bruges.
SIMON AND THE OAKS (FilmArcade) Genre: Drama. A young working class man in Sweden gets sent to an elite school where he becomes involved with a Jewish family on the eve of World War II. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 Beautifully shot and well-acted, the trailer looks amazing.
SINISTER (Summit) Genre: Horror. When a crime novelist finds a series of home movies in his new home he inadvertently releases an ancient demon that preys on children. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 This could well be the scariest movie of the Halloween horror season.
SMASHED (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A young couple who like to have a good time begin to spiral into alcoholism with devastating effects on their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks like it could be a performance that establishes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an Oscar-worthy actress.
SMILEY (Fever) Genre: Horror. An emotionally fragile woman believes she has summoned a serial killer through the Internet. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like it has the elements of a typical slasher flick with a supernatural-psychological twist.
SPECIAL FORCES (EntertainmentOne) Genre: War. A special forces unit is dispatched to rescue a beautiful war correspondent who has been kidnapped by the Taliban and marked for execution. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Looks kind of typical for a Gulf War action movie.
SPLIT: A DEEPER DIVIDE (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Examines the deep political division of the United States and how it got that way. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.9 For once a tag line is dead on – should be required viewing before the elections.
WAR OF THE BUTTONS (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. Two rival gangs from neighboring French villages must band together to save a Jewish girl from the Nazis. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Courage comes in all shapes and sizes.

OCTOBER 17, 2012

HOLY MOTORS (Indomina) Genre: Fantasy. A man travels around Paris for a series of appointments, transforming into different characters for each encounter. Release Strategy: New York City (expands November 9). RATING: 2.8 Not sure if this is an art film, a melancholy drama, a romance, science fiction or a little bit of all of them.

OCTOBER 19, 2012

ALEX CROSS (Summit) Genre: Thriller. The detective/psychologist from the James Patterson bestsellers takes on a brutal serial murderer who wants to make things personal. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 I’m intrigued to find out how Tyler Perry does in a movie that isn’t directed by him.
BIGFOOT: THE LOST COAST TAPES (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A disgraced journalist tries to prove that a Bigfoot hunter’s claim that he has the corpse of a sasquatch is a hoax. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The trailer looks kinda cheesy.
THE FIRST TIME (Goldwyn) Genre: Teen Romance. Two teens – one pining for a girl he can’t have, another stuck with a boyfriend who takes her for granted – meet at a party and over the course of a weekend discovers what love truly is. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 The angst just kind of drips off of the trailer.
NOBODY WALKS (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A New York art student moves into the pool house of a laid-back open-minded L.A. family which will have unanticipated consequences. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Unusually sensual for an American film.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (Paramount) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A continuation of the events of Paranormal Activity 2. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Could be the scariest entry in the franchise if the second trailer is any indication.
THE SESSIONS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A man confined to an iron lung engages a sex therapist (with the blessing of his priest) to help him lose his virginity. Release Strategy: Limited.. RATING: 1.7 Based on a true story; with John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy the cast is rock solid.
TAI CHI ZERO (Well Go USA) Genre: Fantasy. A Chinese village where everyone is a martial arts master must rely on a stranger to save them when an evil master resolves to build a railroad through their peaceful town. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 One of the most amusingly self-aware trailers it’s been my pleasure to see.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID (Phase 4) Genre: Comedy. Three women of wildly varying personalities go out on the town in New York City for a night they’ll never forget. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Nothing in the trailer convinced me that this would be anything but the latest capitalization on female-oriented raunchy sex comedies.
YOGAWOMAN (Shadow Distribution) Genre: Documentary. A look at the rising popularity of yoga among American women and the profound effects on their lives and relationships. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 26). RATING: 3.5 Seems a little New Age-y and preachy.

OCTOBER 26, 2012

BLACK TULIP (SnagFilms) Genre: Drama. A family opening up a restaurant with regular poetry readings in post-Taliban Afghanistan must struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of opposition from lingering extremists. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.1 The official Oscar submission for Afghanistan in the 2011 Foreign Film division, a powerful and moving trailer marks this film as a tribute to the human spirit in the face of adversity.
CHASING MAVERICKS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Biographical Drama. A young California boy is taken under the wing of a legendary surfer, only to become a legend himself. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Surfer movies have rarely done it for me.
CLOUD ATLAS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Science Fiction. The effects of a single act of kindness in the past reverberate through the present and into the future, inspiring a revolution. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.0 Co-directed by visionary directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, this looks like the movie to see this month.
FUN SIZE (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. A high school senior, forced to babysit her brother rather than go to the Halloween party of the year loses him while trick or treating and enlists friends to find hi before her mom finds out he’s gone. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 Ecch. Won’t be as good as Adventures in Babysitting and might just be as bad as The Sitter.
THE LONELIEST PLANET (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. A couple, hiking in the remote Caucasus mountains of Eastern Europe find their relationship and lives in jeopardy after a momentary lapse changes the way they look at each other and degrades their trust. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer just quietly stays with you for a good long time.
LONG SHOT: THE KEVIN LAUE STORY (Dutchmen) Genre: Documentary. A young man aims to be the first one-armed person to play NCAA Division I basketball. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 A true underdog story.
THE OTHER SON (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. Two young men – one Palestinian, one Israeli, discover that they were switched at birth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 While the plot isn’t new, the trailer suggests that the movie is well-crafted and well-written.
PUSHER (Radius) Genre: Crime Drama. A drug dealer runs afoul of a crime lord after botching a drug deal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Based on the film trilogy by Nicholas Wining Refn.
SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D (Open Road) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A young woman with a deep connection to the cursed town must rescue her father from its clutches. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.7 The first film was maybe the best videogame adaptation ever.
SLEEP TIGHT (MPI/Dark Sky) Genre: Horror. The doorman for a Barcelona apartment becomes obsessed with making people unhappy, leading to escalating violence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 The trailer looks suitably creepy.

Frankenweenie, Taken 2, Argo, Here Comes the Boom, Seven Psychopaths, Alex Cross, Chasing Mavericks, Cloud Atlas

New Releases for the Week of October 5, 2012

October 5, 2012


(20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Sherbedgia, Luke Grimes, Leland Orser, D.B. Sweeney, Jon Gries. Directed by Olivier Megaton

After a harrowing incident in which a retired CIA agent retrieved his daughter after she was kidnapped by a white slavery ring in Paris, he and his family take a well-earned vacation in Istanbul. However, the father of the dead white slavers has a bone to pick with the former agent and it is no small matter. The daddy dearest of the white slavers tends to get his revenge on the daughter AND the ex-agent’s wife. It seems it will be time for him to use his particular set of skills once again.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality)

English Vinglish

(Eros International) Sridevi Kapoor, Mehdi Nebbou, Adil Hussein, Priya Anand. An Indian housewife living in New York, who suffers ridicule from her family due to her poor grasp of the English language decides to enroll in an English course in order to please her husband and make her family proud. Not only does she learn a new language but a good deal more about herself.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR


(Disney) Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder. When a young boy’s beloed dog dies, he is disconsolate. Fortunately, this is no ordinary boy – he concocts a plan to put together bits and pieces of dog to replace the one that is lost – and to his surprise, succeeds. Based on a short film Tim Burton did back in the day; like that film this is stop motion animation.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, scary images and action)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

(Summit) Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Dylan McDermott, Ezra Miller. A trio of outcasts form an unshakeable bond as they try to navigate the treacherous waters of love, relationships, friendship and growing up. I never thought of high school as an epic struggle but I suppose it is/was – based on a bestselling novel, by the way.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references and a fight – all involving teens)


(Oscilloscope Laboratories) A kaleidoscope of images of things both natural and man-made in an effort to help the viewer connect the dots between the human spirit and nature. With neither narration or text graphics to describe what is being seen, the filmmakers want the viewer to interpret the images and sounds through their own filters, coming to their own conclusions.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some disturbing and sexual images)