Tag: famke janssen

Taken 3

Taken 3 (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“Taken 3” is a death rattle to a series that started off so strongly, we learned that Liam Neeson could be an action star—not just any action star who can shoot guns and look good doing it, but one who we can sympathize with when the chips are down and cheer for when a baddie deserves his comeuppance. This film exists to steal our time unabashedly, which is actually worse than taking money out of our pockets.

The nondescript setup is this: Bryan Mills (Neeson) receives a text from his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), that she would like to meet him at his place for bagels, presumably to talk about the marital issues she is having with her current husband (Dougray Scott). But when Mills gets to his apartment, he discovers Lenore on the bed with her throat slashed. He has been framed and escape will not be so easy since two cops are already on the scene.

Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen should be ashamed because what they have come up with is a regurgitation of painfully standard action plot lines. They attempt to insert a twist here and there but they make no impact because there is no emotional heft to the material. We already know that Mills has a talent for extricating himself out of the most complicated situations and so when a rather straightforward and predictable murder “mystery” is placed in front of him, there is no tension. We watch passively as one boring scene bleeds through another.

The action sequences command no sense of urgency. The shootouts are not well-choreographed; everyone just seems to be shooting at each other aimlessly. Once in a while someone gets hit. The vehicle chases are sloppily put together; the editing is so manic at times that it is a challenge to appreciate the thrill or suspense of a scene. The hand-to-hand combat, too, is lacking. Eventually, Mills gets into a fistfight with a Russian man who is directly involved in Lenore’s murder. The scene is supposed to be raw, suggested by the closeups, but I found it only mildly watchable. The lead actor does not seem very into it either.

The supporting characters are cardboard cutouts. Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is supposed to be smart and highly pragmatic. It is difficult to buy into his character because although we see him make conclusions, we are not given a chance to walk in his shoes for a little bit and experience how his mind puts two and two together. Meanwhile, Maggie Grace, playing Mills’ daughter, is a bore, her character a caricature of a young woman in college who discovers that she might be pregnant. Of course she’s going to name her baby after her mother by the time the movie ends!

Directed by Olivier Megaton, “Taken 3” is an exercise is banality. There are only a few times when I have nothing positive to point out even in a bad movie. I don’t know what’s sadder or more infuriating—that the filmmakers, including the producers, know they are making this only to make money or that people are actually paying to consume the trash placed on their laps.

Taken 2

Taken 2 (2012)
★ / ★★★★

After putting their dead in the ground, the enraged father of one of the deceased Albanians, Murad (Rade Serbedzija), bows to get revenge on Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former CIA operative who killed everyone who got in his way to rescue her daughter after she was kidnapped in Paris. When their mother-daughter-new beau trip to China is cancelled, Mills invites his Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim (Maggie Grace), his ex-wife and daughter, respectively, to join him in Istanbul. He works there for three days and, if they want, they can drop by and spend time together. And they do. However, sightseeing is set aside when the angry Albanians execute their plan to take Mills.

Although “Taken 2,” written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, is somewhat passable as an action-thriller, the technical elements utilized are not enough to save an otherwise very unambitious picture. There is enough material here to make a solid fifteen- to twenty-minute short film, but expanding it to a ninety-minute work means a lot of padding. Furthermore, a lot of the violence that transpire in Turkey’s largest city are weak, disposable, and unmemorable. There is a lack of energy behind scenes that should be exciting.

The set-up is cheesy and slow. While Neeson does a fairly good job playing a father who yearns to connect with his daughter on a deeper and a man who wants to be supportive of his former wife, the script is written superficially. Words that should communicate Mills missing his former life with his family come off silly at times. It is apparent that what we are seeing and hearing is the calm before the storm. Either the first act needed to be written more intelligently and with subtlety or it needed to have been eliminated completely and allowed the picture to start the moment the family are together in Istanbul. Why bother with introductory scenes when the approach is akin to sleepwalking?

The chase scenes are conventional, from cars slowly making their way through crowded streets to a desperate pursuit on the rooftops. No matter how nicely the would-be heart-pounding scenes are edited and put together, there is no masking the fact that there is barely energy coming from behind the camera. It feels like the same action sequence is shot about three times, but the director, Olivier Megaton, fails to hone in on what should be shown, how it should be approached, and when to break patterns in order to keep us on our feet. It is not that enjoyable to watch.

I appreciated the risk involving the daughter playing a key role in the action. At least for a while, it breaks the rhythm of Mills always having to be the one rescuing everybody. Though it is nice that Kim is capable of following instructions given by her dad, I would like to have seen her make more mistakes and less scenes of her jumping from one building to the next. Yes, adrenaline can help to overcome a person’s typical physical limitations. However, in this case, Kim’s mistakes would have been more interesting to watch than Kim looking like a trained government agent. Since the material leans toward the latter route, the picture lacks a down-to-earth human element.

“Taken 2” gets so stagnant at times that I caught myself noticing how tall Neeson is compared to the extras (and then snickering to myself afterwards). It should have been the complete opposite: a memorable thrill–or at least an element of surprise–every other minute that the holes in the plot end up unnoticeable because we are in the moment and at the same time wondering what else it has in store for us.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Eleven children are missing and the town is desperate to hold someone responsible. Despite a lack of evidence, they welcome anyone in suspicion of being a witch to be burned at the stake. To gain control of the madness, the mayor hires Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), siblings who hunt witches for a living. They discover that a sabbath called The Blood Moon, led by Muriel (Famke Janssen), a dark witch, is to occur in three days and one more child, a girl born in April, will be kidnapped for sacrifice.

A sinking feeling enveloped my senses while watching “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” written and directed by Tommy Wirkola. Instead of being a fun, silly, and engaging action-fantasy, the picture is largely composed of random scenes of ostentatious–at times gratuitous–violence. Meanwhile, the story moves slower than a snail’s pace. By the time the third act comes around, it is near impossible to care about what will transpire.

There is no strong connective tissue to pull the scenes together in such a way that is practical with respect to its own universe. As a result, it is often choppy. To compensate, when the next scene begins, there is almost always an attempt at explaining what is going on and why characters are taking certain courses of action. It gets boring real quick because it rarely breaks away from this approach.

The script is inconsistent and the dialogue is as dead as a fish that has been out of the water for a week. Characters like the siblings are allowed to utter anachronistic phrases which, I guess, is supposed to make them sound cool or modern, but others–though not all of them–speak with archaic tongues. Further, there is no punchline in the would-be amusing remarks. Perhaps the contrast might have worked if the screenplay had had a solid grip with its universe. Instead, it sounds like the filmmakers are trying to appeal to or impress the younger audiences, specifically those who crave only empty calories of visual acrobatics, instead of treating their work with dignity.

My favorite character is a troll named Edward (voiced by Derek Mears). He is so ugly but he has such a presence. Unlike the witches and the witch hunters, the troll does not pose as if it were in a photoshoot after a big action scene. It just walks away and when the attention is back on the humans, my mind goes back to the creature with gigantic face and hands. I started to think about how the film might have had a bit of an edge if the story were told through the troll’s point of view, a reclusive being feared by humans and treated by witches as slaves.

There is a subplot involving Hansel and Gretel’s history regarding their parents and, of course, a house made up of confections. But the subplot is not neatly tied into the main story. It simply appears and disappears whenever it is convenient. By the end, the whole thing is as mind-numbingly dull as it is frustrating because its potential just sits there.

The Chameleon

The Chameleon (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Nicholas Barclay mysteriously disappeared when he was about thirteen years old. Almost four years later, he reappears in Europe where he claims he was forced to partake in an underground prostitution ring. But there is one problem: the man who surfaces is not Nicholas Barclay. His real name is Frédéric Fortin, a twenty-five-year-old with hundreds of false identities. Based on the book by Christophe d’Antonio and directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, “The Chameleon” might have been a compelling story about loss if the script actually makes a semblance of sense.

Jennifer Johnson (Famke Janssen), an FBI agent, is in charge of the case. She has a strong suspicion that Nicholas is not who he claims. We watch her approach Nicholas’ family members and ask questions. The mother (Ellen Barkin) seems apathetic, the sister (Emilie de Ravin) welcomes the supposed sixteen-year-old with open arms, while the half-brother (Nick Stahl) is angry. Because of the weak and one-dimensional script, Agent Johnson comes off as highly incompetent. Instead of pushing the difficult and urgent questions in order to get to the truth, she sounds like a bad psychologist who only pretends to care about the case in question.

There is only one scene that grabbed my interest. That is, when Agent Johnson divulges to her superior (Tory Kitties) why she feels the need to take on the case even if pretty much everyone else is convinced that the man who returned is the same boy who disappeared. Because of the shame she feels at that moment in confession, she cannot–or will not allow to–find herself to establish eye contact. The scene manages to exhibit real emotions which is what the entire picture needs, at the very least, if we are to buy into its premise of stolen identity and theme of redemption.

There is an implication that the real Nicholas has been murdered in his home town, but the material does not have much to go on. I felt it blindly and furiously attempting to grab at any explanation. Nicholas’ family is dysfunctional, drugs and neglect being their solace when the situation gets tough, but the film fails to do anything interesting except judge them. I had the impression that the filmmakers wants us to think that the family members are stupid and a bunch of criminals because they are of low socioeconomic status. It was frustrating and disheartening to watch.

“The Chameleon” should have strived to be more sensitive because all of the facts of the actual case are not available. Instead of allowing its audience to judge for themselves what might have happened to the boy, it insidiously pushes us to think that his family has murdered him. Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t. The film’s focus should have been in the tragedy: a man posing as someone else because he wants to feel loved (or so he claims) and, more importantly, an unsuspecting family tricked into thinking that they have been given a second chance.


Celebrity (1998)
★★ / ★★★★

A journalist (Kenneth Branagh) divorced his wife (Judy Davis) because he wanted to be with other women–women who were some type of a celebrity, like a supermodel (Charlize Theron), an actress (Melanie Griffith), or a very successful book editor (Famke Janssen). One of his main reasons for divorcing his wife was, as he claimed, he was unhappy with the way she was in bed. The insecure wife, on the other hand, met a seemingly perfect television producer (Joe Mantegna). She could not believe the fact that she had met someone who was willing to devote everything to her. She suspected there must be something wrong with him and so she waited for the relationship to go haywire. Throughout the film, the journalist became unhappier while the ex-wife’s luck turned for the better. Directed by Woody Allen, “Celebrity” was ultimately a disappointment despite its interesting subject matter. I think it is more relevant than it was more than ten years ago because of the recent surge in technology that allows us to get “closer” to our celebrities. Unfortunately, I thought the humor was too broad. Did it soley want to be a showbiz satire, a marriage drama, or a character study? It attempted to be all of the above but it didn’t work because the protagonists lacked an ounce of likability. The journalist was desperate in getting into women’s pants while the ex-wife pitied herself so much that it was impossible to root for her. Their evolution and the lessons they learned (or failed to learn) were superficial at best. Instead, I found myself focusing on the many interesting and vibrant side characters. For instance, I loved Theron’s obsession with her health as well as her outer appearance. It was interesting to see her and the journalist interact because I constantly wondered what she saw in him. As the night when on, layers were revealed as to why while some details were best remain as implications. Leonardo DiCaprio as the very spoiled young actor was great to watch as well. His arrival on screen was perfect because it was at the point where the script was starting to feel lazy. The characters had no idea what they wanted or what they wanted to say. DiCaprio’s character was invigorating to have on screen because he wanted everything but at the same time his wants lacked some sort of meaning. Even though the spoiled actor and the journalist did not get along well, they were more similar than they would like to believe. While cameos were abound such as the surprising appearance of Donald Trump, I wish the filmmakers trimmed the extra fat in order to make a leaner film with astringent wit. It had some great moments but they were followed by mindless sophomoric jabber (uncharacteristically not charming considering it’s a Woody Allen film) that quickly wore out their welcome.

X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

The government had found a drug that could suppress the mutant gene which recently became available to the public. Magneto (Ian McKellen), more than ever, was desperate to eliminate humans due to their intolerance against Mutants. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came back from the dead but, Phoenix, her other fiery and unpredictable personality had almost completely taken over. It seemed like not even Professor X (Patrick Stewart) could control her. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, “X-Men: The Last Stand” felt like it settled with one concept and allowed the action scenes to take control of the material. As it went on, I wondered when it was going to offer us something fresh. The idea of finding a cure to a mutation could have gone in a million interesting directions, but the script didn’t break away from the topic of humans versus mutants. Humans were bad, mutants were good–except for the ones who chose to team up with Magneto. We just knew they were bad because they wore leather jackets, had tattoos, and rode motorcycles. There was a painful lack of depth. The introduction of Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a key figure in the United States public relations, could have been a chance for the material to acknowledge that not everyone in the government wanted to “cure” Mutants. There was irony in the way he looked versus the manner in which he carried himself. He looked like an animal but he was professional, smart, and very likable. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t do more with the character was beyond me. Did we really need more sloppily put together action sequences? The tension between Mutants and humans became increasingly complicated because the root of the problem wasn’t black and white. Further, the characters weren’t utilized in an interesting way. For example, it seemed like Rogue (Anna Paquin) only wanted to be cured because she wished to be able to touch Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), her boyfriend, without a glove. She became very jealous when she saw Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby get close physically. The complexity between Rogue and Iceman’s relationship was suddenly thrown out the window for the sake of typical teen drama. Rogue looked selfish. She didn’t even get to help in the final battle. The writers needed to sort out her priorities. As for Angel (Ben Foster), he wasn’t given much except to look pretty while flying around the city. I wanted to know how he felt with the fact that his father didn’t accept him for who he was to the point where he felt the need to cut off his wings when he was a child. If Angel’s scenes were completely removed from the film, the final product would have been the same. That subplot’s lack of connection to the main storyline reflected the picture’s main weakness. Directed by Brett Ratner, “X-Men: The Last Stand” did exactly the opposite of what made its predecessors very entertaining. The material having imagination didn’t necessarily mean expensive-looking special and visual effects. It meant bringing out the magic from within the characters and reminding us why we loved them even though they were genetically dissimilar from us.


X2 (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a teleporter, was sent to kill the president for the sake of peace between humans and Mutants, William Stryker (Brian Cox) blamed Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the mutants he harbored in his School for Gifted Youngsters. Unbeknownst to the president, Stryker, a military scientist, had devoted his career in solving the “mutant problem” and wasn’t above genocide to reach his goals.”X2: X-Men United,” directed by Bryan Singer,” was a confident sequel which was reflected from its energetic opening scene. There was a certain flow in which the camera moved, the way it smoothly slithered across and between hallways, sometimes in elegant slow motion, as it followed Nightcrawler’s impressive disappearing acts. It was a stark contrast from its predecessor’s modest approach; it immediately gave us something new. Much of the film’s goal was to expand storylines it already introduced. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) learned more about his past and his adamantium claws, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) actually acted like a real couple, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) continued their struggle in not having a physical relationship, and Magneto (Ian McKellen), with the help of a very resourceful Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), finally escaped his plastic prison. But what impressed me most was in the way the filmmakers took opposing sides, Professor X and Magneto, and made them work together in such a way that didn’t feel forced. In fact, we relished them occupying the same space because of the awkward tension. How do you work with someone who tried to kill you or one of your friends just some time before? They didn’t have to necessarily like each other but without one another, they wouldn’t be able to achieve their goals. Various levels of symbiosis were explored which ranged from mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. I admired that the action sequences always had purpose but never afraid to go over-the-top. For instance, there was a gruesome scene in which Magneto sensed one of the guards having too much iron in his blood. I watched in wide-eyed anticipation (or horror) as Magneto extracted the metal from the man’s body. It looked painful and there was no way the guard would have survived the extreme experience. Some scenes served no purpose other than to show off the Mutants’ powers. Take Iceman and a couple of shots in which he froze a bottle of pop and a cup of coffee by simply touching or blowing on them. But the key was heart being always ahead of the cool factor. His visit to his home and the way he had to inform his family that he was a Mutant reflected a coming out experience. He wasn’t one of the lucky ones. “X2” met and exceeded its grand ambitions.


X-Men (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Evolution is a slow process but every once in a while, and for unknown reasons, it jumps forward. The next step in evolution for humans was for select few to develop unique abilities, which typically began in puberty, that ranged from varying psychic powers to consciously deconstructing one’s molecular structure. This created fear and hatred between normal humans and Mutants. There was a legislation, if passed, would allow the government to legally keep a record of those with abilities. Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen), also called Magneto for his ability to control metals and create magnetic fields, found the idea outrageous and was willing to kill, along with his henchmen (Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn), those without tolerance. It reminded him of his time in the concentration camps, the way the Jewish was marked like cattle. On the other hand, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), also known as Professor X, created a school for Mutants so they would learn to control their abilities. He believed that over time, Mutants and humans would be able to co-exist. Directed by Bryan Singer, what I loved most about “X-Men” was it had a modest feel to it. I imagine that might have been difficult to accomplish because there were so many interesting characters worth putting under the spotlight. By giving us a relatively simple story and a modicum of, though never obvious, character development, we could easily navigate ourselves into their world and the conflicts that impacted their existence. It didn’t take the easy route of putting the Mutants’ abilities ahead of what they stood for and their place in the brewing war between humans and Mutants or, quite possibly, Professor X’s group versus Magneto’s. It started out small with Rogue (Anna Paquin) not understanding her powers. It was a smart decision because most Mutants’ abilities came to a surprise to them. From there, everything fell naturally into place as she met amnesiac Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor X’s instructors like Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Storm (Halle Berry). She even found potential romance in Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), a boy who could generate ice at whim. In spite of being a modern and sleek science fiction film on the outside, it had elements of classic coming-of-age elements which paved the way for us to become emotionally invested in the characters. By highlighting who they were and what they stood for, it underlined the prejudice from both the humans and the Mutants. “X-Men,” a fast-paced action-adventure with enough humor on the side especially the friendly banters between Wolverine and Cyclops, understood the importance of having a solid foundation before dealing with more ambitious storylines.


GoldenEye (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)