Posts Tagged ‘Liam Neeson’

Taking Down the West Wing

Mark Felt:

The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Director: Peter Landesman

Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Josh Lucas, Tony Goldwyn, Kate Walsh, Marton Csokas, Tom Sizemore, Eddie Marsan, Ike Barinholtz, Maika Monroe, Michael C. Hall, Bruce Greenwood, Julian Morris

Parkland and Concussion director Peter Landesman takes on another factual drama in his detail heavy fictional account of the Watergate scandal called Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the Whitehouse.

It’s April 1972 and Mark Felt, deputy assistant director of the FBI deftly underplayed by a haggard looking Liam Neeson is hoping to get the job of Director of the FBI after the death of J. Edgar Hoover.

Oscar nominee Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) plays Mark Felt brilliantly, underplaying the amount of stress he is under when Felt is by-passed for the directorship for a Nixon crony Gray played by Hungarian actor Marton Csokas (Noah, The Equalizer).

Felt, who always played his cards very close to his chest, realizes that there is a massive conspiracy within government agencies. These fears are confirmed when the magnitude of the Watergate scandal broke in 1972 in which covert ex-spies where caught red handed breaking into the National Democratic Convention headquarters at the Watergate Hotel just prior to the November elections.

President Nixon got re-elected in November 1972 but Mark Felt soon realizes that a move by the government to capture the integrity and independence of the FBI when the slimy Billy Sullivan is poking around headquarters. Sullivan is suitably played by Tom Sizemore who hasn’t been in many films recently but is most remembered for his roles in Natural Born Killers, Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and Heat.

If audiences like detailed political docudrama then Mark Felt is for them.

Don’t expect action in this drama which is saved by memorable scenes between Neeson and his co-star Oscar nominee Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Trumbo) who plays his wife Audrey Felt as the couple also battle with the disappearance of their wayward daughter Joan played by Maika Monroe (Independence Day).

Mark Felt is a fascinating portrayal of one man’s ability to stick to his own ethics at a time when the Nixon administration was beyond reproach as Felt clandestinely feeds classified information to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward played by Julian Morris and Time magazine journalist Sandy Smith played by Bruce Greenwood.

Felt was indeed the man who brought down the White House and in media circles was known only as deepthroat, a rather sexy title for an informant and extremely valuable source to the Fourth Estate which eventually caused the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and his administration.

Despite the intrigue, Mark Felt does get caught up in the details and scores a film rating of 7 out of 10. It is nevertheless a fascinating film for those that enjoy an intriguing docudrama. 

The film does feature a superb supporting cast including Eddie Marsan, Michael C. Hall, Tony Goldwyn and Josh Lucas. Recommended for viewers that enjoyed director Peter Landesman‘s previous American historical drama Parkland about the assassination of JFK.

 

The Prince of Gotham

Batman Begins

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Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Rutger Hauer, Linus Roache

To create a successful trilogy a director has to start with the mythology, the background of a story and the childhood trauma of what moulds a hero. To appreciate the mythology one should always start at the beginning. The Origins of a Superhero.

Having afforded director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins a second viewing, and being hugely impressed by the two brilliant sequels The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, a retrospective review of the film is in order.

Christian Bale (Empire of the Sun) is superb as Bruce Wayne and in Batman Begins, the origins of the superhero Batman are extensively explored from his falling into a bat cave as a young boy, to his maturity as Billionaire playboy who eventually recaptures his own dynastic inheritance and forges a vigilante alter ego to reclaim the city that he initially abandons.

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Batman Begins reignited the mythology of the League of Shadows, with not one but three villains in the form of Liam Neeson as Decard, Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow and the irrepressibly brilliant Tom Wilkinson as Gotham gangster boss Carmine Falcone.

Nolan’s vision of Gotham is heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner, even casting Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner in the role of Earle who plans on taking over Wayne Enterprises. What makes Batman Begins so timeless and watchable is the witty repartee between Wayne and his trusted manservant Alfred, wonderfully played by Oscar winner Michael Caine.

The onscreen chemistry between Caine and Bale is the groundwork which makes the two sequels work so wonderfully. The two actors went onto make Nolan’s magical masterpiece The Prestige in 2006 along with Hugh Jackman after the success of Batman Begins.

After all, who is Bruce Wayne, after his parents were brutally murdered?

A Billionaire orphan cared for by his manservant, who transformed into the caped prince of Gotham. A dynamic completely explored in Bruno Heller’s superb TV series Gotham, which evidently was inspired by the Dark Knight Trilogy.

The love interest in Batman Begins is Rachel Dawes played by Katie Holmes although there is no hint of romance more of affection. Holmes holds her own in a male dominated film about the moulding of a superhero. Gay Oldman is reliably good as Detective Gordon, a character also featured in the series Gotham, but it is Liam Neeson who is exceptional as the mysterious Decard who initially encourages the itinerant Bruce Wayne to embrace his fears, little realizing that the instruction comes from his own enemy.

Visually, Batman Begins sets the tone for a gripping and enduring trilogy which only proved more watchable with the release of the stunning Oscar winning sequels. Director Christopher Nolan clearly was the right man for the task of recreating the Gotham mythology judging by the success of this trilogy and also his later films including Inception and Interstellar.

Batman Begins is worth watching again for establishing a mythology and also recreating the origins of a superhero, which although might appear timeless will ultimately be reinvented by DC Comics with the release of the forthcoming Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016.

Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are indispensable films to own for any cineaste to understand the progression of a blockbuster trilogy and the birth and rebirth of a seemingly immortal superhero. Batman Begins is guaranteed recommended viewing again and again, destined like its superhero to become a cultural classic.

 

 

Celebrity Style Bromance

Entourage

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Director: Doug Ellin

Cast: Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrera, Adrian Grenier, Mark Wahlberg, Billy Bob Thornton, Debi Mazar, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Armie Hammer, Ronda Rousey, Haley Joel Osment

It’s not always easy to translate a 30 minute HBO series into a full length feature film but the producers of the hit HBO series Entourage do that with a certain degree of success. For those oblivious to the carousing of the gang in the original series, Entourage focused on four friends in Hollywood, Eric, Vince, Johnny Drama and Turtle as they navigate their way through scoring girls, attending wild parties and the intricacies of the entertainment industry. Naturally it’s Hollywood on steroids.

entourage

Produced by Mark Wahlberg and Doug Ellin, the latter of whom directs the film version, Entourage the film is like a watered down version of Robert Altman’s scathing diatribe on Hollywood, The Player and also uses a similar self-reflexive technique of blending actors playing onscreen characters with real film stars which include Liam Neeson, Armie Hammer and Mark Wahlberg.

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Most of the action of this celebrity style Bromance takes place in Los Angeles with a brief opening sequence on a yacht in Ibiza, which looks like an offcut from Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

As the brat pack make their way to stardom through a series of parties, optimal seductions and behind the scenes Hollywood dealings, Entourage has some extremely funny moments, mostly littered with foul language, less glamour and lots of stuff guys obsess about: sex, money and girls.

entourage_ver7Jeremy Piven as the angry and hilarious film producer Ari Gold, lifts Entourage out of a banal narrative which does not really go anywhere and his brilliant performance is counterpointed by that of Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) as a Texan film investor, Larsen McCreadle along with his buffoon of a son, Travis wonderfully played by Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment.

entourage_ver4Entourage is in fact saved by Piven whose unbelievably energetic performance as Gold makes the film worth watching while the rest of the cast drift through the film in a sort of narcissistic American machismo unique to Hollywood, where the only thing that matters besides their egos is their sex lives.

entourage_ver5Audiences should watch out for some fabulous cameo appearances including singer Pharrell Williams, Armie Hammer, Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba, Piers Morgan and Billionaire Warren Buffett playing themselves. Kevin Dillon, younger brother of Matt Dillon and Jerry Ferrara provide the laughs as Johnny Drama and Turtle while Piven’s character of Ari Gold makes the film thoroughly enjoyable.

entourage_ver6Entourage is a B grade film about Hollywood with appearances by some A grade actors as themselves, with a cast that does not have to do much but just be the annoying yet lovable guys they were in the original series, cruising around Sunset Boulevard living the dream. Recommended for viewers who followed the HBO series and natural fans of the immensely talented Jeremy Piven.

However, this film version of Entourage is a far cry from the more subtle Hollywood parody expertly done by Robert Altman in The Player back in 1992, but worth watch purely for the entertainment value.

 

No Messing with Mills

Taken 3

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Director: Olivier Megaton

Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Forest Whitaker, Sam Spruell, Don Harvey

Oscar Nominee for Schindler’s List Liam Neeson reprises his role as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills in the third installment of the hugely successful Taken franchise. French director Olivier Megaton with a script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, Taken 3 does not disappoint as a gritty muscular and tenacious thriller aimed for the 35 plus age group.

The first film Taken was set in Paris and the second film was set in Istanbul and now Taken 3 sees the much blighted Mills family in their home city of Los Angeles.

When Mill’s ex-wife Leonore St John played by Famke Janssen is mysteriously murdered, he is framed for the crime. Not wanting to becoming a guest of the LAPD, Miller ingeniously escapes from the police and goes on a vicious quest to find out who really killed his ex-wife and mother of his beloved daughter Kim played by Maggie Grace, who was the victim of a kidnapping in Taken and nearly sold into the sordid sex trade of Paris.

As the intricate plot of Taken 3 unfolds, it is revealed that Leonore’s relationship with her estranged and slimy husband Stuart St John played by Dougray Scott (Ripley’s Game, Mission Impossible 2) is not what it appears. St John owes large amounts of cash to the Russian mafia through some dodgy arms deals who can be particularly unforgiving when one doesn’t pay their debts.

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Veteran ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills knows there is a frame up and in a terrifying and exhilarating cat and mouse game Miller is pursued by wily LAPD detective Frank Doltzer wonderfully played by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) who soon realizes that Mills is no ordinary opponent. Liam Neeson has the gravitas and the tough guy image to be taken seriously as a hardened father who does not let anyone mess with his family. For there is no messing with Mills -he will find you and kill you.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, Taken 3 is a fast-paced well directed and gritty action thriller which sees Mills cause havoc on a Los Angeles freeway, at a University campus and in the penthouse of nefarious Russian mobster Oleg Malankov played by Sam Spruell (The Hurt Locker).

This is a shoot first and ask questions later film, with stunning action sequences and a fitting way to end the third installment of a gritty action trilogy.

With the razor sharp editing and unforgiving hand to hand combat sequences, the original Taken was such a surprise hit, with its trademark of unrelenting violence in a mature machismo style, it was no wonder that two more sequels were in order.

Taken 3 does not disappoint action fans and those that loved the first two films. Highly recommended viewing for those that like their action heroes older, tougher and wiser.

You’ll Never Fly Again…

Non-Stop

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Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast : Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o, Shea Whigham, Scoot McNairy, Linus Roache

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Orphan) has teamed up again with Liam Neeson for a new action aerial thriller Non-Stop. Neeson has found a new cinematic lease after the success of the Taken franchise and seems to be brilliant at playing the aged action hero.

In Non-Stop, he plays a hard drinking US Air Marshal on board a transatlantic flight from JFK in New York to London and as the plane takes off and settles into cruising altitude, all is not what it seems. Non-Stop is an action murder mystery set entirely on this non-stop Transatlantic flight and is similar to films like Flightplan and Flight. All three films should not be recommended for viewers with a fear of flying.

Non-Stop cleverly integrates the cellular digital world in its quirky and suspenseful narrative as Bill Marks, played by Neeson receives text messages on a secure flight mobile device from a suspected hijacker saying that he will kill a passenger every twenty minutes if $150 million dollars is not deposited in a Swiss bank account.

Acclaimed actress Julianne Moore (The Hours, Far from Heaven) plays Jen Summers a fellow passenger who assists Marks in tracking down the culprit, while the rest of the cast is made up of character actors like Michelle Dockery and Corey Stoll from such hit TV shows as Downton Abbey and House of Cards. Look out for an underwritten appearance by Hollywood It girl  Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as air stewardess Gwen, which proves that Non-Stop was made before Nyong’o won a best supporting actress Oscar elevating her to instant fame.

Nevertheless the cast are secondary to the action and suspense on Non-Stop as this mid-flight murder mystery turns into a fully fledged action film, as Marks battles the clock to find out which passenger is responsible for killing off fellow passengers. Non-Stop is hugely entertaining and nowhere near as diabolically stupid as such airline films as Snakes on a Plane or the comedy series Airplane. Non-Stop is economical in narrative, huge on suspense and great on twists and unexpected realistically done action sequences all set aboard a 737 bound for Heathrow.

Neeson is adept at playing the ripened leading action man with enough emotional and physical baggage to weigh down international departures, and in Non-Stop, he does not disappoint as the main hero, despite all his characters known flaws. If audiences enjoyed Taken and Unknown , then they will love Non-Stop. See it now before making any airline reservations!

From Bogota to Turkish Revenge

Taken 2

Getting Tested in Turkey

Los Angeles always used to be portrayed cinematically as a potentially dangerous place, but now in the much anticipated sequel to Taken, aptly named Taken 2, it is the more exotic location of Istanbul that is proving to be treacherous with shady Albanians bent on revenge on retired CIA operative Brian Mills played with zest by Liam Neeson and his family who make a brief visit to the Turkish city.

Taken 2 follows a very similar storyline to Olivier Megaton’s 2011 hit Columbiana featuring the agile Zoe Saldanha who escapes crime ridden Bogota to the safety of America where she trains to be a superb and silent assassin in Chicago to avenge her parents’ murder by the king of a Colombian drug cartel.

Colombiana

Colombiana was big on storyline as well as action and highly engaging featuring a great supporting cast including Callum Blue, Michael Vartan and Cliff Curtis. Megaton’s directorial traits as demonstrated in Colombiana are repeated with less flourish in Taken 2, expertly making use of Istanbul as a fantastic action location as he did with Bogota and Chicago. Where Colombiana succeeded was that the narrative was more original and the action sequence more inventive especially as it wasn’t a sequel. Where Taken 2 succeeded was that it was brilliant as formulaic sequel using the similar revenge, kidnap and violence scenario of the original film Taken.

The 2008 film Taken was set in Paris and directed by Pierre Morel, both films were penned by the writing duo Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen.  Taken 2 and Columbiana have all the traits of a Luc Besson film echoing his ventures as a director in Leon, the Professional and the groundbreaking 1997 hit The Fifth Element. Luc Besson as screenwriter has penned lots of high volume action films over the past decade including The Transporter series, From Paris with Love and Revolver, so while Taken 2 is not as fulfilling plot wise as the original it is just as watchable.

Taken

Using the same cast from the original film Taken (always a good recipe for a successful sequel), Taken 2 features an overprotective and ultra-alert Liam Neeson as Mills along with neurotic ex wife Lenore played by Famke Janssen and more switched on daughter Kim played by Maggie Grace as they journey to Istanbul.

Taken 2 is not big on plot but really a sequel to the success of the original film, involving expertly edited action sequences and some brilliant inventive sound editing which makes it a rather quick and violent excursion in Istanbul not to mention an engaging high velocity action thriller. Maggie Grace shines as the daughter and Megaton’s fluid direction makes Taken 2 a thrill ride making the most of the Turkish city without having to engage too much of the viewers intellect. In fact it is the city Istanbul and Maggie Grace which makes Taken 2 so watchable and those superb 30 minutes after the initial kidnapping has occurred. It’s no wonder that both Taken and Taken 2 has made a killing at the box office.

If viewers enjoyed Colombiana, Taken, From Paris with Love, then Taken 2 will be the perfect way to spend 91 minutes watching Neeson do what he does best. Take revenge in a foreign city in this case Turkish revenge where Istanbul is a nefarious environment and Los Angeles is inadvertently portrayed as a relative safe haven.

Aliens in the Pacific Rim!

BATTLESHIP

Battleship  like the Transformers Trilogy inspired by another Hasbro game is a spectacularly entertaining male-oriented action film, but don’t expect anything deeper than the odd ship being sunk. A bizarre mixture of Hawaii 5-0 meets Aliens and features all the usual plot twists.  Rising star Taylor Kitsch last seen in the commercially unsuccessful John Carter and also in the little noticed South African inspired film The Bang Bang Club, plays Alex Hopper, a brash, untamed and irresponsible unemployed young man in Hawaii who is taken under the wing of his stricter older brother Commander Stone Hopper, played by Alexander Skarsgaard.

When Hopper decides to impassively smash a convenience store all for the sake of a Chicken Burrito to please the nubile blonde beauty Samantha played by Brooklyn Decker, he is swiftly sent to the Navy. Unbeknownst to Hopper and his older brother or the Admiral Shane, father of the voluptuous Samantha played by once again by Liam Neeson, there is a signal sent out to distant space devised by NASA and some quirky technocrats.

Soon enough whilst on an international Naval exercise involving both American and Japanese sailors off the coast of Pearl Harbour, the once sworn enemies are band together to fight off aliens that have not only landed in the Pacific, but also made their presence felt in Hong Kong and by all intentions, plan on beaming contingency plans to the mothership, awaiting in distant space, having come from a planet similar to earth in an almost identical solar system. These aliens aren’t no human look a likes either, but are stronger and more technologically advanced and are planning complete annihilation of the human race starting off with America and China of course! Battleship is low on motivation, emotional plot points but big on CGI special effects and a great cinematic vehicle for popstar Rihanna to make her onscreen debut. The characters are just more than cardboard cut outs against the Pacific theatre of naval war against an unknown species.

Viewers can read any similarities into Battleship that they desire especially since the essential irony of the film involves the Battleship USS Missouri. Taylor Kitsch is making his spring or autumn blockbuster debuts depending on which hemisphere viewers are in, but perhaps he should be aware of being typecast in too many sci-fi films especially when Battleship is more like Baywatch meets close encounters.

At least with the earlier John Carter there was some Victorian allusions, being based upon the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs…

Time is of the Essence

The Next Three Days

 

Paul Haggis’s directorial debut The Next Three Days makes for an absorbing thriller about a family torn apart by the conviction and imprisonment of the mother for murdering her boss. Haggis uses his trademark non-linear structure first seen in his Oscar winning film Crash, by setting up a scene of John Brennan played with surprising coolness by Russell Crowe driving through the darkened Pittsburgh streets with a dying man in his backseat.

Elizabeth Banks plays Lara Brennan incarcerated in the County Jail in Pittsburgh without hope of an appeal for her life sentence.

Not having much faith in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, Brennan plans a daring jailbreak for his wife and an eventual escape of them and their young son from America.

In a brief scene, Liam Neeson makes a cameo guiding Brennan in the time constraints involved in breaking his wife out of a city jail. Pittsburgh is the perfect setting for this thriller with the city’s central business district consisting of a  triangular tract carved by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Pittsburgh ‘s urban county jail where Lara Brennen is situated, makes for a more difficult escape. Neeson sketches out that in 15 minutes the inner city will be cordoned off and in 30 minutes all the major airports, and transport nodes will be shut down as the authorities search for the Brennan’s who become fugitives on the run.

The Next 3 Days is divided up into 3 sections and the pace of the film increases as the daring escape plan unfolds and takes on fruition. Whilst Banks, seen in Zach and Miri Make a Porno is essentially a comic actress does a great turn as a convicted mother, but a more accomplished actress like Naomi Watts or Nicole Kidman would have added more severity to the psychological trauma of a mother, being incarcerated and kept away from her husband and son. Haggis makes John Brennan the pivotal character, a quiet and self-absorbed Literature professor beautifully played by Russell Crowe with the story focusing more on the escape plan, than the lingering question of Lara Brennan’s innocence only to be answered in the final scenes of the film. Haggis deftly opens up a universe of questionable morality and raises the issue of how far a person would go to free their loved one in a justice system which automatically assumes guilt over innocence.

In this morality, The Next Three Days is similar to the 1996 film, Before and After directed by Barbet Shroeder, who followed on from his success of the Oscar winning film Reversal of Fortune, featuring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.

Claus von Bulow, I presume?

All films deal with families who are torn apart by a mother, son or father who has been accused of murder and the consequent questions of guilt and innocence which naturally surround such crimes. Crime and Punishment remain an enviable topic for any filmmaker especially in the context of the modern nuclear family. Paul Haggis does not leave any loose ends plot wise making his commercial directorial debut a thrill to watch.

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