Tag Archives: liam neeson

Darkman Trilogy – Review

4 Sep

The super hero genre is more alive than ever before nowadays, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because most of them are very entertaining, and bad because it’s flooding the market. A name that goes hand in hand with super hero films in my opinion is Sam Raimi. Raimi successfully brought the webslinger to life in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (not so much Spider-Man 3). Before any of this, however, Raimi created a character named Darkman, a dark super hero based on characters like Batman and The Shadow, but also inspired by the old Universal monster movies. This idea spawned a trilogy of movies called the Darkman Trilogy. While two of these movies are direct-to-video with differing qualities, it can’t be denied the first film has become a cult classic.

Let’s start in 1990 with the original film, Darkman.

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Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant, but completely underfunded scientist who is on the verge of developing a new synthetic skin. Even with the hidden variables making this project difficult, Peyton still has the support and love of his long time girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand). Julie is a district attorney who is close to uncovering illegal business dealings by a major developer named Louis Strack (Colin Friels). Another party is interested in this incriminating evidence, a violent gangster named Robert Durant (Larry Drake). Durant breaks into Westlake’s lab to look for the evidence, and in the process destroys his work and severely burns and disfigures Westlake. Now thought to be dead, Peyton hides himself in a condemned factory where he rebuilds his machines that can construct any face he needs to disguise himself with, and soon begins to take revenge on Durant and his henchmen as the face changing vigilante Darkman.

Since it was first released in 1990, Darkman has become something of a cult classic. It’s over the top style and direct influences from Universal monster movies of the 1930s mixed with dark superhero action is a fantastic combination. In many ways, Sam Raimi hit the mark with Darkman, and in some ways it doesn’t quite stick. Where the movie slips up is the pacing of the story. This is an origin story, and origin stories can be tricky, especially when they aren’t based off of any real established lore. The character of Darkman came right from the head of Sam Raimi into the form a short story, so the film makers had to create a way to start the tale of Darkman. The first half hour of this movie goes frightfully quick, and it didn’t give me a chance to really care about the characters or their situations before Peyton’s transformation happens. The rest of the film goes on pretty good, with some odd speed bumps along the way, but the ridiculously fast pace of the beginning makes the character development suffer.

The movie really gets good whenever the action picks up or Sam Raimi does what he does best and goes crazy with the camera and the stylistic editing. This is a really cool movie to look at with the camera jumping all over the place and colors really popping in certain scenes. Raimi also knows how to direct action with his use of outstanding practical effects, stop motion, and blue screen to create a unique looking movie that only early-90s movies could do. Neeson also gives a pretty expressive performance as Peyton/Darkman, and it’s equally impressive given the huge amount of makeup and bandages on his face throughout most of the movie.

Darkman is a really cool, yet minor movie in the superhero genre. It’s not going to be a classic like Raimi’s later Spider-Man entries (excluding the third), but it does have a following of people that will defend it to their last breaths. While I definitely enjoyed the movie, the flaws that crop up throughout the film are very noticeable, and it’s clear that the production of this movie was pretty bumpy. Still for fans of oddball filmmaking and dark superhero tales, Darkman is a movie that deserves another look.

In 1995, Universal Studios released their first ever live action direct-to-video movie. That honor(?) goes to Darkman II: The Return of Durant.

darkman2-mca1 (VHSCollector.com)

Years after being horribly burned and disfigured, Peyton Westlake (now played by Arnold Vosloo) still dons the title of Darkman and is still working hard to perfect his formula for synthetic skin and make it last longer than 99 minutes. What Westlake doesn’t know is that while he’s been working, Durant (again played by Larry Drake) has been alive in a coma, and he has just recently gotten out of it with plans to take over the city’s crime scene using a new super weapon designed by a mad scientist named Hathaway (Lawrence Dane). After Durant is responsible for killing the one man that may have had the secret to the synthetic skin problem, Darkman once again begins a mission of revenge against the sadistic crime lord, and this time he means to end things once and for all.

Whenever something’s released direct-to-video, I have some measure of fear that I’m about to watch a really awful movie and throw an hour and a half of my life out the window. That being said, Darkman II: The Return of Durant certainly feels like a direct-to-video movie, but it also was still a pretty entertaining film. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. For one thing, Durant’s plan of using a super weapon designed with plutonium is way out of left field. His main goal is for a group of gun happy vigilantes to get rid of the competition so Durant will reign supreme. What? There’s so many plot holes there that it hurts to think about. The side characters in this movie are also completely useless and almost don’t even need to be in the movie at all. Most of them are just a testament to awful B-grade acting. Of course the cheesy screenplay adds a lot to that, as their characters and dialogue weren’t written well in the first place.

That being said, Darkman II is not a complete waste of time, in fact it felt like a pretty good sequel in terms of style and action. It still has this pulpy kind of fun that relishes at being way over the top. Believe it or not, I think Arnold Vosloo is a great replacement for Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, his performance is a little stifled by make up that doesn’t quite match the make up done on Neeson in the original. The only returning member from the first film is Larry Drake as Durant, and he hasn’t missed a beat in his performance. It’s still fun and easy to hate his character and he gives Darkman a villain worth defeating.

While this is definitely a step down from the original, Darkman II: The Return of Durant is not an awful movie. In fact, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that kept me watching for it’s entire run time. There are some really ridiculous plot holes and the acting is less than acceptable, but it’s B-grade minor entertainment that would be interesting to see for fans of the first Darkman. Just don’t expect anything great.

One thing these movies didn’t need was a third entry, but alas, we now have a trilogy. In 1996, the third film was released direct-to-video titled Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.

darkman3-mca1 (VHSCollector.com)

Still trying to find the secret to permanent synthetic skin, Peyton Westlake accepts to offer of Dr. Bridget Thorne’ (Darlanne Fluegel) help to not only fix his destroyed nerve endings, but also allow him to use her laboratory. During his time there, Westlake finds the secret, but is betrayed by Thorne, who is actually working for a crime lord named Rooker (Jeff Jahey). Rooker wants to extract whatever it is that makes Westlake so strong, so that he can synthesize it and inject it into his henchmen. These super soldiers of Rooker’s will then go on to assassinate the district attorney and give Rooker unlimited power over the city. Feeling vengeful towards both Thorne and Rooker, and feeling an overwhelming desire to protect Rooker’s innocent family, Westlake becomes Darkman again to now save the city, a task more important than saving himself.

So here we have the second direct-to-video release of this trilogy, and boy have we really gone downhill. Darkman II: The Return of Durant was a pretty ok, pretty standard B-movie that had some problems, but was ultimately entertaining. Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is a complete train wreck of a movie. There is such little action, hardly any humor, and a story that is so boring and out of place that I lost interest before the halfway mark was even close to hitting. The whole plot of Rooker not spending enough time with his family, and Westlake disguising himself to take care of them is so stupid I almost can’t even handle it. There’s so much bland family drama with cringe worthy lines said by a terrible child actor that I was almost embarrassed watching it. How can a cool superhero action movie turn into this?

Arnold Vosloo is back playing Peyton Westlake/Darkman and he’s still a good substitution for Liam Neeson, but his role is written really poorly in this entry. He’s either grunting with pain, screaming with anger, or being overly sentimental with Rooker’s family. Darkman’s entire story of trying to fix his skin is also too played out by this point and the amount of stock footage from the second film just goes to show how repetitive this whole movie feels. The only positive I can think of is Jeff Fahey’s performance as Rooker. He’s an over the top, smug villain with a face that you just wanna hit. He seems to be having a good time oozing evil, so the entertainment I did have with this movie came from him.

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is an insult to the first film and a disappointment to its ok sequel. It walks a fine line of being way too familiar while also straying uncomfortably far from the source material. The story could have easily ended after the second film, which makes this third movie feel like someone just thumbtacked it on to the canon that was already present. Do yourself a favor and do something better with your time. Spend an hour and a half tying and untying your shoes. It’s more fun than watching this mess.

So there you have it. The Darkman Trilogy is a pretty uneven group of movies. Nevertheless, the first film is a super cool dark super hero film and the sequel really isn’t all that bad considering the casting changes and its direct-to-video status. The only one to stay away from is the third film. Stay far away from that. If you haven’t exposed yourself to the dark anti-hero that is Darkman, I suggest you give it a try.

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The A-Team – Review

24 Sep

In 1983, Frank Lupo and Stephen Cannell created a show called The A-Team, which was about a crack commando unit who are sent to and escape from prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They then survive as soldiers of fortune working out of L.A., mostly specializing in helping people who can’t defend themselves against a bigger enemy. While this show it definitely silly, it’s still a lot of fun because of the chemistry between the team, the writing of their characters, and the fact that there’s plenty of action in every episode. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about Joe Carnahan’s 2010 adaptation, a film that almost lives up to its source material, but unfortunately falls flat.

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While on a covert mission in Mexico, John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) and Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) meet two other Army Rangers, B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Over the course of eight years, they become one of the most essential military units in Iraq, but are unfortunately are tricked into a mission by CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to reacquire U.S. Treasury plates taken by Iraqi insurgents. The mission is a success, but this unsanctioned mission and the mysterious murder of their commanding officer lands the team in prison. It doesn’t take long for them to break out, reunite, and begin their new mission to clear their names and take down Lynch and whoever else may be responsible while evading capture by Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel).

Now I understand that just because someone is making an adaptation of a novel, or a television show, or an older film doesn’t mean that it has to be an absolutely perfect recreation of its source material. The A-Team, for that matter, does stay pretty close but the compromises that are made were kind of weird and things just didn’t fit together properly. I’ll get to that later. There are parts of this movie that I definitely did like. The action, for one thing, is awesome and perfectly captures the over the top mayhem that you would see in the television show. Murdock flying a helicopter upside down, B.A. running from containers falling off an exploding ship, and the team trying to “fly” a tank are just a few memorable action scenes. This isn’t too surprising since Joe Carnahan was behind one of my favorite action movie, the chaotic Smokin’ Aces.

A TEAM (5)

It’s a pretty heavy responsibility when actors have to step into the shoes of such beloved characters. The whole point of the original t.v. show wasn’t necessarily the action, but how the four soldiers got along together and functioned perfectly as a team. The characters were each very rich and unique, and that being said, the actors in this movie sort of get it right. Bradley Cooper as Face and Sharlto Copley as Murdock are the best choices for those characters and they nail it. It was the closest you could get to the real thing. Quinton Jackson does fine as B.A., but never really reaches the same humorous intensity as Mr. T. Finally, Liam Neeson is poor as Hannibal. He’s far too stoic of an actor and pretty much takes all of the joy out of the character. Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson seem completely out of place and also give in some stale performances. In fact, some of the lines written for them combined with their delivery is worthy of a good, hard cringe.

While most people (myself included) watch action movies for the action and can forgive a bland plot, it still helps if the plot makes sense. The story of The A-Team made sense, but you really had to think about it and try to put it all together. Everyone’s getting backstabbed, and then backstabbed again and all these ulterior motives make the plot hard to follow. This is The A-Team we’re talking about here. Why does this have to be such a confusing mess of a story? The formulaic good guys vs bad guys routine of the source material made it easy to focus on the characters, but now I spent most of the movie just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Not only that, but the villains were just poorly written cartoon characters that are hated simply because they’re written so badly.

The A-Team isn’t an awful excuse for an action movie, nor is it a total letdown to fans of the television show, like myself. As I was watching the movie, though, I wish they’d just remove the A-Team, call it something else, and call it a day. The action is fantastic, and makes the movie worth a watch at least once. What sucks is that there really isn’t any good chemistry between the actors, which makes their tight knit relationships fall short. The story is also way too confusing for its own good and the side characters are stupid. While it’s cool that they tried to go for a modern approach to the characters, it doesn’t quite make, which, ultimately, makes The A-Team a failure.

Michael Collins – Review

27 Jan

I remember sophomore year of high school in my European History class we watched a movie called Michael Collins. The entire time I was watching it I kept thinking that I had to go out and get it ASAP. So here we are, about five years later and I finally did just that. I can’t tell you what took me so long because I really have no excuse. Forgive me. Nevertheless, I’m here today to report  back to my wonderful readers if this movie has aged well with me or if my memory is clouded.

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In 1916, Ireland is under the rule of the British government as it has been for 700 years, despite all of the failed attempts at revolution. Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), along with an entire Irish cabinet of leaders, is sick of the British rule and decide that it is once again time for rebellion. This time they won’t play by the rules, and instead resort to guerrilla warfare in the streets of Ireland. Over the course of the next couple of years Collins and his compatriots fight the British with whatever weapon they have in order to win the dream of winning the People’s Republic of Ireland.

There is an all star cast at play in this film, most of which do an excellent job. Liam Neeson is the perfect choice of Michael, even if he is a little old for the role. He commands every scene he’s in and the viewer really feels like they are watching Michael and not Neeson. Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea provide great supporting characters, but of all of them, Alan Rickman is the guy. He supports Neeson’s powerhouse performance with one of his own and acts as a pseudo-doppleganger to Michael. The only weak link is Julia Roberts, whose character and performance bring the movie down a little bit. She really didn’t serve too much of a purpose in the movie at all, besides offering a predictable love affair side story that broke up the movie.

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Historically, this movie has its ups and downs. It hits all of the major points in history but definitely takes its liberties. For one thing, the movie clearly has an agenda and portrays the British a bit too negatively. Show history, but don’t take sides. Another thing is that some of the deaths shown in the movie are either way dramatized or, more interestingly, didn’t actually happen. Alan Rickaman’s character of Éamon de Valera, the third president of Ireland, is shown as a spoiled celebrity of sorts. Still, the historical accuracies are very interesting and the excellent production design really puts you in the middle of it all.

This really is a great story to tell, and one that I don’t think gets too much attention. The first time I ever really learned about conflict in Ireland was the first time I watched The Devil’s Own when I was about 12 years old. I never would have thought that a place like Ireland could be violent. I mean, what about St. Patrick? Anyway, I hear plenty about the American Revolution and the French Revolution, but not too much about Ireland. I wonder why that is. Even though this isn’t the most accurate movie, it’s a good starting point in learning more about the times.

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So in the end, Michael Collins has aged very well for me. It looks great, both the production design and cinematography, and the performances are all top notch, save for one. I just wish that it would have toned down the need to be dramatic in favor of a more historical and unbiased approach. Neil Jordan, the writer/director of this film, is from Ireland, so I can see why he depicts people the way he does, it just isn’t always appropriate. Michael Collins is certainly more entertaining than it is factual, but it certainly serves as excellent entertainment.

Unknown – Review

6 Aug

It must be terrible getting lost in an unfamiliar place, especially if it’s in some foreign city where you can hardly speak the language and have no money to your name. What would be even worse is if the life you thought you had simply evaporated and you had no idea why. This is the premise of Unknown, a mediocre thriller that had the potential to be much better.

 

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife, Liz (January Jones), are in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. Harris makes a very normal mistake at the airport and forgets his briefcase, but on the way back to retrieve it, the cab that he’s in crashes and he is left in a coma for four days. Upon his recovery, he learns that his wife doesn’t recognize him and he has been replaced by another Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). With the help of the cab driver,  Gina (Diane Kruger), the real Martin Harris goes on a quest throughout Berlin to resume his identity and find out why he lost it to begin with, but as always, there is a larger web of secrecy in play here than meets the eye.

The entire time I was watching this, I felt like I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. At first I was completely intrigued by the characters, the setting, and the plot, but I soon began checking to see how much time was left. I also realized that I’ve seen most of what would be defined as “major scenes” in other films before. It made the rising action, climax, and resolution a lot less exciting than it must have been anticipated.

Honestly, that is the main and one of the only detractions of Unknown. Why do people see a movie? To be entertained or enlightened. That’s the joy of them: being totally immersed in a fictional world created by the writer, the director, and everyone else working on the film. The movie loses its magic when clichéd conventions and overused tricks combined with unoriginal action overtake the originality of the movie.

Let’s be fair though. Unknown isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it exceeds in a place where a lot of other thrillers fail: style. The audience gets a very cold feeling while the action is outside, bu warmth while inside. It’s amazing how lighting tricks and post production really have a mental effect on the viewer. The camera and cinematography works beautifully against the German backdrop, but it also conveys a lot of emotion. For example, when Harris first realizes something is wrong, the camera slowly tilts to show that his mental state and reality are thrown off balance. You can see this example in the clip below.

The acting chops are also present in full force. Liam Neeson acts well and kicks ass as usual. Aidan Quinn plays menace and unassuming very well, which helps the audience wonder if he is the real Dr. Martin Harris. Diane Kruger does fine, but has a pretty stereotypical role unfortunately. Very far from the interesting Bridget von Hammersmark from Inglourious Basterds. Frank Langella has a small but satisfying part, but who I think steals every scene he is in is Bruno Ganz. We all know from Downfall that he is a fantastic actor, and I’m glad that I got to see him in another role. The only person who I felt was weak was January Jones who acted very plastically and was very unbelievable. The casting there could have been greatly improved.

Unknown could have been good. Hell, Unknown could have been great. What happens is that I have seen everything before in both the plots and the characters. I understand archetypal characters are important for audiences to connect with, but when they are exact copies of characters from other movies, then the film makers are just being lazy. The same can be said for the plot and the action. If you really want to watch this movie, then by all means. If you already aren’t that interested, skip it all together. Bottom line, it has potential, but ultimately isn’t successful.

 

The Next Three Days – Review

16 Jul

Thrillers are a difficult genre for me because these movies have to be really good for me to enjoy them. If they move too slow, I get bored. If they move too fast, the suspense lacks. This made me have a feeling that I wasn’t going to be too into The Next Three Days , but I actually really did, despite a few plot contrivances and implausible scenes.

John (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Elizabeth Banks) Brennan are living the American Dream complete with fine jobs, a comfortable house, and a young son. This is all ripped away in a matter of hours when Lara is abruptly arrested from their home and charged with murder. All the evidence points to Lara’s guilt, but John refuses to accept that, and after years of appealing to the courts he decides he’s going to have to get Lara out on his own. John soon finds himself planning not only a breakout, but a new life and fending off the criminal underworld getting closer to his front door.

The intriguing thing about this movie is that it isn’t about politicians, spies, or criminals (for the most part). Our protagonist is just an English teacher at community college. Crowe’s character starts out as just a confused and broken man, torn to pieces by the accusations made towards his wife. However, over time, we get to see him evolve into a man who is willing to do anything to save her. This may sound overused or cliché, but the way it is done in a slow paced and meticulous way makes me believe in this evolution.

The plot begins to collect more and more contrivances as it nears towards the end, but the do not have to do with Crowe’s character. The beginning of Act 3 introduces to new characters who are detectives and on John’s trail. They not only figure out what he intends to do but does so in a manner of minutes (no spoiler here). If we got to travel with these characters and were shown over the course of the movie how they worked, then I wouldn’t have a problem. As it stands, the writing for them is just pretty lousy.

Although the writing for these characters is pretty bad and half-assed, the rest of the screenplay is exciting and well crafted. One of the hardest things to write for with a thriller movie (or any movie in general) is a correct pacing that will keep the viewer engaged. The smart dialogue and character development and relationships were enough to keep me going, along with the gripping and dramatic story.

But all of this would hardly mean anything if it wasn’t acted well, and Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks put their all into their roles and shine. Crowe displays the correct balance of sadness and anger, which drives him, along with the love for his wife, to attempt to break her out of prison. Elizabeth Banks isn’t in a lot of the movie, but her time onscreen is powerful enough to make her a memorable character. Great performances all around.

I’m glad that I can find thrillers that excite me, because it is a really cool genre. Unfortunately, are bores, like State of Play, which also stars Russell Crowe. This is something entirely better. I cared about the characters, their plight, and the outcome. There are also great nail biter scenes that will make the most avid film goer nervous with anticipation. If you’re a fan of thrillers, Crowe, or prison break stories, The Next Three Days is just for you. Hell, check it out anyway. It’s worth it.