Sunday, September 30, 2012

The first Taken, back in 2008, was enjoyable nonsense. Liam Neeson made a decent fist as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills running around Europe to find his missing daughter. Hollywood also thought it was something that was worth mining again for a sequel. Fast-forward a few years and Mills is separated from wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and he only sees his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) for driving lessons. But there are repercussions from the people he dispatched in the first film and so the father of one of the men he killed in the first film and his henchmen are out to avenge the man's dead son. Neeson is a very limited actor but if Taken 2 had an intelligent or even vaguely clever premise, script, plot or execution, this wouldn't really matter. The problem is that obstacles are thrown in his way and he manages to get around them with staggering ease. The action sequences are well directed but very stupid and Neeson is lumpen and there's no credibility at all for him as an action hero. Taken 2 is empty, vacuous and lacking any substance at all and let's hope we won't see a third outing for this waste of digital celluloid. The only good thing about this film is its short running time…

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I went to see Dredd 3D way back in July but it has been unofficially embargoed until around its UK release. It has been out in the UK since last Friday and it hits the US this week. It has taken a long tome to bring Dredd back to the big screen since the Sly Stallone Judge Dredd, which was  released way back in 1995. Dredd 3D is a very different beast though: apparently it is the most expensive British independent film made to date with an estimated budget of $45m and guided by comics aficionado novelist Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), it couldn't be further away from a bloated Hollywood studio picture if it tried. Karl Urban plays the eponymous hero/ anti-hero, who is given a new rookie partner female Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) to pass a final test on the mean streets of Mega City One, to see if she's up to scratch. So Dredd and Anderson get embroiled in the shenanigans that are taking place in the drug-fuelled tower block controlled by former prostitute Ma-Ma (Lena (Game of Thrones) Headey). Dredd 3D is one of the most violent films released to a nominal mainstream audience and it certainly warrants its 18 certificate over here, as the viewer is unlikely to see this much viscera in any other wide release movie. It is refreshing that the take here is so different to Stallone's Dredd, as the production team have utilised the South Africa settings, where it was shot, to fantastic effect, creating a Mega City One that has the feel of a contemporary metropolis taken to its ultimate conclusion and its brief running time means that you are introduced to Dredd's world, he goes in and does his thing and they wrap up proceedings. Urban does look good as Dredd and the filmmakers have done a great job bringing the world of the Judges to life. But it is unremittingly nihilistic, the 3D doesn't always work and Thirlby's Anderson doesn't have enough to do to gain the empathy of the audience, as Dredd is simply a force of nature and so impossible to empathise with. For all of its flaws, and its similarities to The Raid, it is heartening to see that Dredd 3D has hit the very top of the UK box office and there are positive noises that there will be a sequel. Garland and his fellow filmmakers have certainly wiped the bad taste of Sylvester Stallone from the mouths and minds of filmgoers and hopefully they will have their opportunity to correct some of the problems in a followup. If you're a comics fan or a Dredd and 2000AD fan, then you need to see Dredd 3D.

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

The StudioCanal Collection is intended to offer some of the most influential films in their back catalogue on Blu Ray. This month sees another three titles added to their list.
First up is The Trial, based on Frank Kafka's novel of the same name. Directed by Orson Welles and starring Anthony Perkins, this film from 1962 is a little bit of an interesting curio. Perkins plays Josef K, an office worker who is arrested and made to stand trial but the charges he is accused of are never spelt out. So he spends the film attempting to get to the bottom of proceedings, being forced to go through a series of scarily bureaucratic episodes. Welles was a great director but Perkins feels out of his depth here. However, a supporting cast that includes Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff and even a small cameo from Welles himself, means that The Trial is a cinematic surrealistic snapshot of early sixties film with some exceptional performances, great visuals and strong directing. While it doesn't hold up to Welles's best (Third Man, Citizen Kane), it is still appropriate it should be in the collection and made available on Blu-ray…
The second film is Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, from 1977. There is no question of this movie's iconic status as it is undoubtedly one of Buñuel's best efforts, a look at the odd relationship between wealthy middle-aged sophisticate Mathieu and his former chambermaid, Conchita. Casting two actresses to play Conchita, the gorgeous Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, was a stroke of genius, as this reflects the duality of the character and women in general and Fernando Rey as Mathieu has real screen presence. But someone decided to issue this as dubbed rather than subtitled and this lessens its impact. The transfer to Blu-ray is very crisp but it does make you wish that it was subtitled. It's a worthy addition to the Collection as it's certainly one of the most important European films of the period…
Finally, Quai Des Brumes (1938) brings Marcel Carné's adaptation of the Pierre MacOrlan novel to Blu-ray at last. Deserter soldier Jean (Jean Gabin) finds himself in Le Havre, looking for somewhere to flee to. He finds himself among an eclectic mix of gangsters, a painter and a young girl called Nelly (Michele Morgan). What he doesn't realise is that his tragic destiny has already been written for him. Quai Des Brumes possesses a wonderful dream-like quality to it, and the transfer to Blu-ray really enhances this. Gabin is excellent as is Morgan and Carné really makes the setting like a character in the story. This film is a classic slice of French noir, with a great cast and a beautiful painterly quality to its visuals. Jean is an iconic French film protagonist and Gabin invests him with real empathy. Quai Des Brumes should be seen by true cineastes…
All three of these films are worthy additions to the StudioCanal Collection and are out now…
Studio Canal

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