Posts Tagged ‘suspense’

Movie Review: ‘Taken’

February 6, 2009

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There are so many films I’ve been meaning to see.  Gran Torino.  Slumdog Millionaire.  Frost/Nixon (even though it’s directed by Ron Howard).  And yet, when I had some spare time last week, what do I end up seeing?  Taken.

Not that Taken is a terrible film.  It’s just that with so many Oscar-nominated films FINALLY playing in my neck of the woods, I felt a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t see what I really wanted to see.  (I did this once before a few years ago, when I was eager to see Clint Eastwood’s  Letters From Iwo Jima but instead–inexplicably–saw Pedro Almadovar’s melodrama Volver instead.)

Taken is the kind of action that has its heart in the right place but lacks any real dramatic weight, which for a film that deals with human trafficking is something it desperately needed.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

What’s it about? Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired U.S. Secret Opps-type of guy who, after years of being absent on secret military missions, is doing his best to be a part of his teenage daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life.  Unable to compete with his daughter’s mother (Famke Janssen) and stepfather (Xander Berkeley), Bryan reluctantly grants permission for Kim to go to Paris, France alone with only her cousin Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

While in Paris, Kim calls her father right when she witnesses Amanda being kidnapped.  (If you didn’t watch the trailer above, now’s the time to do it.)  Kim is taken too, and Bryan uses his Jack Bauer-like skills to bring his daughter home.

What’s good about it? Taken sheds some light on a dirty international secret: human trafficking.  (The girls are abducted, drugged, then forced into prostitution.)  It’s a deplorable, disgusting trade, and you can’t help but root for Neeson as he kicks, stabs and shoots his way through low-life thugs, up to the highest bidders.

What’s bad about it? Don’t get me wrong–you want Neeson to get to his daughter.  But had director Pierre Morel made Kim less of a spoiled rich girl (her stepfather gives her a friggin’ HORSE for her birthday) and more of a girl who’s never had a lot of friends or opportunities, I would have rooted for Neeson even more.  (It also didn’t help that Maggie Grace, while 25 in real life, is playing a 17 year-old who acts like she’s 12.)

I’m okay with Neeson plowing through thugs and lowlifes, but –SPOILER ALERT– in one scene, she shoots an innocent person in the arm to get a complacent frenemy to do something for him.  Shooting an innocent person to get to the bad guys?  That crosses the line.  And from that point on, the movie lost me.

Perfect for: fans of Liam Neeson and/or the Transporter movies.

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Netflix this: ‘Black Narcissus’ – Nuns gone wild!

November 1, 2008

Okay, so only one sister goes wild in Black Narcissus, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 film about nuns in the Himalayas.  But the entire film has a wild undercurrent of unease that sucks all the nuns in; some fight the current with all their might and some surrender completely to it.

While made in 1947, Black Narcissus feels revolutionary in some ways; the film doesn’t feel like an oldie, thanks in part to its breathtaking cinematography and art design (the film deservedly won Oscars for both).  It feels new and fresh, and had it been made today, I don’t think much would have changed.

What’s it about?  The film starts briefly in India, where Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, The King & I) has been assigned to lead of group of sisters to start a school and clinic in the Himalayas.  The Palace of Mopu was donated by a rich general, who housed his concubines there. 

Clodagh does not get to choose her fellow sisters for this assignment, which include Sister Briony (Judith Furse), the strong,no-nonsense nun; Sister Phillipa (Flora Robson), the anguished soul; Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), the perky and compassionate one; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Bryon), the one who’s a couple beads short of a rosary.

Upon arrival at Mopu, Clodagh instantly locks horns with Mr. Dean (David Farrar) a Brit who lives down the mountain.  Dean is there to help, but often his methods clash with Clodagh.  But there’s a subtle–yet never consummated–attraction between Dean and Clodagh; Dean is a bit of a louse at times, and Clodagh frequently calls him on his crap.  Their relationship never even rises to flirting,  but Ruth senses something illicit is going on between the two and jealously obsesses over their platonic relationship.

Life at Mopu is hard; the wind blows incessantly, as if there will never be calm to Clodagh and the sisters.  Clodagh catches herself reminiscing about her life prior to becoming a nun; we get glimpses into a life that seemed so full of hope and optimism, contrasted to what Clodagh has now become: stoic and unsure of her ability to lead the sisters.

Sister Ruth becomes and increasing concern for Clodagh.  Ruth’s deterioration into madness is the juiciest part of the entire film, and what she does to defy the sisters isn’t really that boundary-pushing, but is nonetheless shocking.

What’s good about it?  The cinematography–as I mentioned before–is absolutely beautiful.  Kerr and Farrar’s performances are solid, but it’s really Bryon’s Sister Ruth who steals the show.  She’s not only crazy, she’s down right frightening.

While the film is (obviously) steeped in Catholicism, Black Narcissus isn’t really about religion.  It’s not a pick-me-up type of film.  It’s one of those films where people learn from their failures.  Sister Act this ‘aint.

What’s bad about it?  The film is on slow burn, so if you’re expecting Lots of Stuff Happening At Once, you’ll be disappointed.  

Perfect for: Deborah Kerr fans, cinematographiles, and anyone looking for a film with right amalgamation of drama, suspense and artsiness.