The Road Not Taken 3

Taken 3 is currently in theaters

Taken 3

 

Taken 3 (2015) – Rated PG-13

Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name.

Ugh.

It is pretty sad when absolutely the best thing about a Liam Neeson action movie is the preview for Liam Neeson’s next action movie.

One Line Review: Liam Neeson is a man with a particular set of skills – unfortunately saving this film is not one of them.

I have to admit that I was not caught unawares. Taken (directed by Pierre Morel) was a fabulous romp but Taken 2 (directed by Olivier Megaton) was just awful, in spite of some nice shots of Istanbul, the same cast (well, those who survived the first film anyway), and the same screenwriters.

All three films were written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Strangely Taken is well written but Taken 2 is a slapped together mess, apart from the humorous idea that all of the surviving family members of the villains that Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) killed have banded together.

The script for Taken 3 is surprisingly lazy. Since Mills was a superspy, you can simply write him doing anything to escape or kill and they do but the scene of Kim Mills being bugged is stupidly clumsy. When you hear Basil Exposition state that Kim always drinks the fourth peach yogurt drink back in the fridge, you will be rolling your eyes waiting for that tip to be useful. We actually return to that little gem twice.

Still lazy is better than inept. I think Olivier Megaton is easily the worst director working in action movies today. After taking down the Transporter series, he has now destroyed Taken in two steps.

I feel so sorry for the stuntmen on Taken 3. Straining to look, you can see that there is a lot of fantastic stuntwork going on in Taken 3. Sadly, Megaton films it entirely with jump cuts and shaky cams. I did a count in my head during one sequence where a car goes off a cliff and I couldn’t get past two Mississippi before it cut over and over again to different angles of the same scene. Every single action sequence is ruined in this fashion. A nice shootout in a liquor store shows some promise but any other director would have handled it better.

Taken 3 seems bizarrely discontent with its PG-13 rating, aiming instead for an actual PG in the violence, despite the torture. I don’t remember specific examples of language but all of the violence is filmed in an incredibly bloodless fashion. When Mills finds a body in his bed, he is completely in disbelief that the person is dead, in spite of the victim’s throat having been slit. I can understand his disbelief as there isn’t so much as a drop of blood spilled in the entire bed.

Lest you posit that this person was killed elsewhere, drained of blood, and transported, let me post another example. Later in the film, Mills shoots a shirtless protagonist mutliple times in the torso. He then tortures this individual by poking his gun in the bullet hole. There is not a drop of blood on this victim, either before torture or after gun poking. This goes on and on. The usual ridiculous number of people are killed for an action film, all bloodlessly.

The tagline for Taken 3 is It Ends Here. We can only hope.

Aliens Attack! Species Edition

Those aliens just can’t beat us down. Species is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-line Review: Gorgeous alien models (Giger and Henstridge) enlivens otherwise routine move.

Species (1995) – Rated R

“When government scientists (led by Ben Kingsley) receive a transmission from space containing alien DNA, they create the ultimate femme fatale: a hybrid woman named Sil (Natasha Henstridge) with supermodel looks, deadly shape-shifting abilities … and raging hormones. When Sil escapes, a team of specialists scrambles to find her before she can reproduce, culminating in a fright-filled climax in the Los Angeles sewer system.”

“Nobody ever asked me to find anything they didn’t want dead.”

Species is definitely a guilty pleasure. It is neither written nor directed well and the acting is all over the place, in spite of the cast. Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Dante’s Peak) is an adequate director but is often too by-the-numbers to produce something memorable. Dennis Feldman has seven writing credits – three of them are Species films.

Donaldson assembled a nice cast of solid ‘B’ performers. Ben Kingsley is our resident Frankenstein, Xavier Fitch, tampering with the forces of nature. Kingsley proved he was a great actor with Gandhi but since then has appeared in anything anyone asks him to. As usual Michael Madsen plays the killer, though no one seems to get the performance out of him that Tarantino does.

Marg Helgenberger is actually good as Dr. Laura Baker. The same cannot be said of the normally reliable Forest Whitaker as the world’s most clueless empath, Dan Smithson. Alfred Molina rounds out the cast of hunters as the hapless Dr. Stephen Arden.

The real find here, of course, is Natasha Henstridge in her debut performance. She is really good here channeling a Daryl Hannah Splash-type of alien and the camera loves her. From her emergence from the womb, naked and completely covered in KY (I swear I’m not making that up), well let us just say that she had me at hello. I liked her so much that I watched several more of her movies before I realized that I really just liked her as Sil.

The other real star here is H.R. Giger’s creature design. He does a wonderful job of creating monsters that convey an uncomfortable level of sensuality. His Alien design was so classic that it helped spawn a whopping five sequels and now a prequel (of sorts) in Prometheus. His Sil design is reminiscent of the classic Alien crossed with a human which, not coincidentally, is pretty much what Sil is.

Not only is Giger a great artist but he had such a commitment to the project that when MGM canceled the ‘nightmare train’ shoot because it was too expensive, Giger put up a hundred grand to film it. I like that they kept it because it looks neat but it is not actually integral to the plot.

The film is somewhat by-the-numbers. Sil, an unstoppable alien hybrid, escapes from a scientific facility and ;earns human behavior while trying to find a mate. The government assembles a team of experts to hunt her down but can they find her in time? This formula and the other factors would have produced a classic film had portions of this movie not been so terribly stupid.

Notes to filmmakers: Cyanide gas is invisible. Arcade games should be plugged in. Empaths should be empathic. Lab grown aliens do not have pierced ears. You don’t need an empath to state the obvious. You don’t need a psychologist to state the obvious. You don’t need a biologist to state the obvious. Oh fine – let’s just say you don’t need to state the obvious. For goodness sake, learn to hide the boom (Film 101).

Species is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy in moderation but the script is deeply stupid. Every one of the hunters states the obvious repeatedly and almost none of what they say or do requires the expert knowledge they supposedly possess.

People Watch: Look for Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island) as the young Sil (prior to her transformation into Natasha Henstridge). Patricia Belcher, Caroline on Bones, appears briefly as a hospital admittance clerk.

Battlefield Earth – Solar System week

In honor of my father-in-law, a retired professor of astronomy, this week we will spend exploring our solar system in the movies. Today we will visit our home planet Earth. Battlefield Earth is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Battlefield Earth (2000) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language and violence.

“In the year 2000, an alien race known as the Psychlos devastated Earth and turned it into a wasteland. In the year 3000, the aliens — led by the horrific Terl (John Travolta) — still hold the surviving human population hostage and have forced Earthlings into slavery. But when human Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) discovers the aliens major weakness and leads the final fight for Earths survival, the parasitic Psychlos are in for a shock.”

“I am sorry – the gods took your father in the night.”

“I am sorry. I cannot take you Chrissy.”

I am so sorry if you had the misfortune of seeing this film.

First off the official title is Battlefield Earth – A Saga of the Year 3000. How positively generic. If you still did not get it then the first text onscreen is “Man is an endangered species”. The alien race are Psychlos so you know they are not good. Our hero is Jonny Goodboy Tyler. I understand that subtlety is not a strong suit for many but this is some serious overkill.

This film is sooooooo bad. I have not read the book by L. Ron Hubbard but this inane plot had to have come from somewhere so he definitely has to share the blame. Especially since they rejected the screenplay written by J.D. Shapiro as not being faithful enough to the book.

They have a deus ex machina in an alien device that teaches Jonny not only to speak Psychlo but also teaches him (and this had me laughing hysterically) Euclidian geometry (among other things). So apparently after Euclid, a Greek, developed geometry, he must have left the planet to teach the aliens geometry since they named theirs after Euclid as well.

There is another real head-scratcher as well. Perhaps it is better explained in the book but there is no indication that the alien device would teach Jonny how to read English (or that he would have time to do so after being shown a human repository of knowledge). Strangely Jonny knows that gold was stored a thousand years ago in Fort Knox.

Another character – a human savage – refers to something as “a piece of cake”. Really? Terl refers to the humans constantly as “man animals”. Do we refer to elephants as “elephant animals”?

Jonny teaches the other savages how to fly jets (I swear I am not making this up) by using a simulator from a thousand years ago (still not sure what power source it uses). Oh and he does this in a week – obviously our Air Force spends far too much on training. This is so they can properly use the 1,000 year old jets with 1,000 year old jet fuel in them.

Please note that these jets were completely ineffective in 2000 at the time of the Psychlo invasion. In fact, Terl states that humanity put up a fight for only nine minutes.

Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies in 2001. It won Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor – John Travolta, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Supporting Actress – Kelly Preston. The only reason Forest Whitaker did not win his Worst Supporting Actor nomination was that Barry Pepper won it by being even worse. The most amusing Razzie was that Battlefield Earth won Worst Couple – John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him.

In 2005 Battlefield Earth won a Razzie for Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years. It won again in 2010 for Worst Picture of the Decade and Worst Actor of the Decade – John Travolta. At the Razzies, Battlefield Earth was referred to as Plan 9 from L. Ron Hubbard.

What happened to John Travolta? He made a fabulous career comeback in 1994 with Pulp Fiction. He had some great roles right after that in Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon and Michael. He did an excellent nuanced Clinton impersonation in Primary Colors (1998).

Then Travolta went kablooey. He was abominable here, awful in Swordfish, dreadful in Domestic Disturbance, and cringe-worthy in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. He even revisited (poorly) his character of Chili Palmer from Get Shorty in the sequel Be Cool.

I think I could write an entire week on just the different facets of this awful movie. AVOID at all costs!

People Watch: Kelly Preston, wife of John Travolta and fellow Scientologist, has a brief but painfully funny role as Chirk.

Body Snatchers

I love both versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978). Netflix has Abel Ferrara’s more recent Body Snatchers (1993) available on instant play. Jack Finney’s source novel was adapted again into The Invasion in 2007 but while it is enjoyable, it is the least of the adaptations.

Body Snatchers

WATCH: Body Snatchers (1993) – “Young Marty Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) and her family have just moved to a Southern military base so that her father (Terry Kinney) can study a curious environmental issue. Just as she’s settling into her new life, Marty learns that an alien attack is imminent and that the creatures are planning to turn humans into “pod people” as they sleep. Marty and her friends must now band together to fight off the aliens.”

In 1993, sleaze-meister Abel Ferrara (Ms. .45, Driller Killer) turned to Body Snatchers after completing Bad Lieutenant. He does place his unique stamp on this classic tale and while it is a nice romp, it does not quite measure up to the first two. Part of the point of the original, set in small-town America, was that people you’d known your whole life might have been replaced. Abel Ferrara makes his film more about alienation and powerlessness – the protagonist is an alienated teen, her father is an EPA investigator and as such not exactly welcome at the military base. Marty’s mother is a stepmom and her friend’s mother is an alcoholic. There is one wonderfully creepy scene in a classroom where the children all show the pictures they’ve drawn. Ferrara keeps this moving at a brisk pace – the invasion is underway before Marty even arrives. Although the last 15 minutes of the movie make little sense, it is a fun ride.

People watchers: the versatile Forest Whitaker has a small part as a troubled Major.