Taken 3

For F*** Magazine


Director : Olivier Megaton
Cast : Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 8 January 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)
Bryan Mills (Neeson) or, as we like to call him, “MC Millz with da Skillz”, is back for a third take. This time, he finds himself framed for the murder of his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) and on the lam from Inspector Frank Dotzler (Whitaker) of the LAPD. It seems Stuart St. John (Scott), whom Lenore married after her divorce with Bryan, might have played a hand in her murder. In addition to evading capture by the authorities, Bryan has to protect his beloved daughter Kim (Grace) and luckily enough has his old pals from his CIA days on his side.
            “It ends here”, the tagline on the poster proclaims. If this really is the conclusion to the Taken series, then it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Taken 3 – or Tak3n, if you prefer – is a rote, derivative affair. This is essentially The Fugitive, with a pursued protagonist who has to prove to the determined cop in charge that he did not kill his wife. The first Takenfilm drew comparisons to the TV series 24, right down to the names of both protagonists’ daughters being “Kim”. The Los Angeles setting of Taken 3 does not help matters and even in its weaker seasons, the Kiefer Sutherland-starring show managed to be more exciting than this. At least the second film had the setting of Istanbul (following up from Paris in the first one) to set it apart from the action-thriller pack. Olivier Megaton, who helmed the second film and who is probably the most ho-hum director among all of Luc Besson’s disciples, ensures the action is as jumbled and incoherent as ever, packing in the shaky-cam and the whiplash editing.

            Taken 3’s greatest asset is its always-capable leading man. While Liam Neeson most likely agreed to this just for the paycheck, he looks nowhere near as disinterested and lackadaisical as, say, Bruce Willis in his later-period action films. He’s still believably tough and badass, and that’s got to count for something. Unfortunately, the novelty of seeing the Oscar-calibre actor punching and shooting his way through scores of bad guys has more or less worn off. Forest Whitaker is not good in this; apparently tics like fiddling with a chess piece and an elastic band are acceptable substitutes for any actual characterisation. His Inspector Dotzler is clearly meant to be in the same vein as Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard from the afore-mentioned The Fugitive, but Whitaker fails to be even half as compelling.

            Oddly enough, Dougray Scott replaces Xander Berkeley as Lenore’s estranged husband Stuart – they look nothing alike and this reviewer had to double-check to make sure Stuart was in fact the same character as in the first film. While depicted as merely a milquetoast rich guy in Taken, Taken 3 sees Stuart turn into more of a badass, which is a head-scratch-inducing turn. Sam Spruell, who seems to have become the go-to guy when a Hollywood flick needs someone to play a real creep, is unconvincing as ex-Spetsnaz Russian mob boss Malankov. His lackeys in the film seem to have been found at the bottom of the “generic action movie villain” discount bin.

            Something this reviewer wanted to see more of from the first two movies was the old CIA pals Bryan hung out at barbecues with. In this film, they do have a larger part to play in the plot, helping Bryan lie low as he is pursued by the long arm of the law. Alas, we don’t exactly get to see them kick ass alongside their former colleague in a “reliving the glory days” kind of team-up action sequence. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen also visibly struggle to figure out what to do with the Kim character, the scenes of supposedly-emotional father-daughter interaction instead almost unbearably awkward. The action scenes are non-descript, it’s middling and uninspired and while it isn’t like the first Taken was some kind of masterpiece, it was at least exhilarating entertainment.

Summary:On the bright side, it looks like we won’t be getting T4ken after this dry re-tread of an action flick.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Seventh Son

For F*** Magazine


Director : Sergei Bodrov
Cast : Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Djimon Hounsou, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 31 December 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence And Brief Coarse Language)
Swords and sorcery, dragons and shape-shifting mages, a young apprentice destined for greatness studying under the wizened master – it never gets old – until it does. John Gregory (Bridges), a.k.a. The Spook, is the last of the ancient order of Falcon Knights. When his nemesis, the treacherous and powerful witch queen Mother Malkin (Moore) resurfaces, Gregory goes in search of an apprentice. Tom Ward (Barnes), supposedly possessing magical powers as he is the seventh son of a seventh son, is chosen by Gregory. Tom becomes besotted with the beautiful Alice (Vikander), who happens to be the niece of Mother Malkin, complicating things. Gregory and his pupil must defeat the cabal of supernaturally-gifted assassins sent after them by Mother Malkin to eventually storm her stronghold of Pendle Mountain and cease her imminent reign of terror.

            Adapted from John Delaney’s novel The Spook’s Apprentice, the first in his Wardstone Chronicles series, Seventh Son has had its release date pushed back several times after being originally set to open in February 2013. This is rarely a good omen and the result is a film that is profoundly middle-of-the-road. It’s not a flat-out train wreck, but there’s every chance it would’ve been more entertaining if it actually were one. “Remember, all you need is inside you. Just don’t be afraid to look,” Tom’s mother tells him with all the sincerity actress Olivia Williams can muster. It’s as “seen it a million times” as it gets.

Past the story, the film offers precious little in the way of genuine visual spectacle. Sure, the requisite battles with otherworldly creatures, chases through forests and leaps off sheer cliff-faces are all in place and there are even several effective, entertaining 3D effects, but it all just feels so perfunctory. By now, you’re probably tired of hearing critics and fanboys alike knocking computer-generated imagery, so allow us to say that we do acknowledge the effort that goes into creating the many CGI sequences in movies like Seventh Son. Industry giant John Dykstra is the visual effects designer here and Rhythm and Hues, the effects house behind Life of Pi, did most of the animation. However, it is clear that director Sergei Bodrov is desperately trying to recapture the magic of the fantastical stop-motion animated monsters created by Ray Harryhausen in the fantasy flicks of yore. Though considered quaint and dated by now, they possessed a real soul-stirring charm that masses of pixels just do not have.

Jeff Bridges is the surly old master whose glory days are behind him. Naturally, the character is at its most entertaining when glimmers of the Dude surface (such as when Gregory takes swigs from his trusty flask), but for most of the film Gregory is stern and grim. Ben Barnes, who has experience with fantasy flicks from playing Prince Caspian in the second and third Narnia movies, is handsome and bland like so many leading men are these days. Tom knows he is destined for greater things and doesn’t want to be stuck on a farm feeding pigs for the rest of his life. It’s so familiar that one almost expects him to break out in song, arms outstretched, declaring “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!”

Julianne Moore, currently receiving Oscar buzz for Still Alice, is evidently not above revelling in the other end of the spectrum, chewing the scenery with expected relish while her retractable CGI tail swishes for all it’s worth. The thing is though, there appears to be only one way to play a witch in these fantasy action flicks and a long line of actresses including Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Michelle Pfeiffer and Famke Janssen have delivered just about the same performance in movies past. Antje Traue, who memorably went toe-to-toe with Superman in Man of Steel, has little to do here as Mother Malkin’s sister Bony Lizzie, her major action scene involving the shape-shifted dragon version of her instead. Alicia Vikander and Ben Barnes seem to share little chemistry, with the “forbidden romance” coming off as little more than tacked-on.

Perfectly content with being nothing special, Seventh Son will likely hold special resonance if you’re a kid who’s never seen a fantasy film before (and who isn’t attached to the book series). For everyone else however, it will hardly register, drifting away in a cloud of its own mediocrity.
Summary:Late on the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings bandwagon by over a decade, even the likes of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore can’t make this also-rans fantasy flick worthwhile.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Vengeance of an Assassin (ตัวอย่าง เร็วทะลุเร็ว)

For F*** Magazine

VENGEANCE OF AN ASSASSIN  (ตัวอย่าง เร็วทะลุเร็ว) 

Director : Panna Rittikrai
Cast : Dan Chupong, Wat-Nantuwat Boonrupsup, May-Nisachon Tuamsoongnern, Nui-Kessarin Akethawatkul, Chatchapol Kulsiriwuttichat, Kovit Wattankul
Genre : Action
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 1 January 2015
Rating : M18 (Violence)

Vengeance is a dish best served cold – and apparently, with a heaping serving of Muay Thaimadness on the side. In this action flick, Nathee (Chupong) is driven by the most original of motivations: the search for the truth behind the death of his mother and father. Nathee and his younger brother Thann (Boonrupsup) work at an auto shop run by their uncle Norm (Ping Lampraplearng). Norm is intent on shielding his nephews from the tragic circumstances that led to their parents’ death, knowing danger will not be far behind should Nathee and Thann plan on enacting vengeance. Nathee goes about training himself in weapons skills and martial arts and takes on the assignment to be a bodyguard to Ploy (Tuamsoongnern), the young niece of an influential politician. He gets caught up in an assassination plot masterminded by criminal Chai (Kovit Wattankul) and Thann and Uncle Norm quickly become embroiled in this life-or-death situation, Nathee calling upon his various deadly skills to avenge the death of his parents.
            Vengeance of an Assassin is the final film from director Panna Rittikrai, who died shortly before the movie’s release. Rittikrai is a well-respected filmmaker and action choreographer who mentored Thai cinema’s biggest action star export, Tony Jaa. B-movie aficionados and dyed-in-the-wool fans of gloriously schlocky action flicks from the 70s and 80s won’t find anything of that sort coming out of Hollywood today – even direct-to-DVD movies are often dull and grim. It turns out that they need look no further than Thai action movies to get their fix – Vengeance of an Assassin is a cheese-fest that had this reviewer howling with laughter from start to finish. The movie begins smack dab in the middle of a combative soccer match that involves explosives and hot coals. This oddity of an action sequence has no bearing on the plot whatsoever and it seems it’s only included because director Rittikrai just thought it was that good of an idea. Later on, a character is impaled through the chest with a steel pipe, but survives because the pipe “missed his dangerous parts”.

            Let’s be honest, foreign action flicks are sometimes more exciting than Hollywood ones because there don’t seem to be as many union-mandated safety restrictions and because the stunt performers seem to actively embrace risking life and limb in the name of frivolous entertainment. Rittikrai’s regular posse of stuntmen well and truly live up to the name “Daredevil Stunt Team” and the production notes boast that they sustain “real injuries” in the name of delivering authentic fights and falls. Lead actor Diew-Choopong Changprung a.k.a. Dan Chupong started out as a member of this team and hit the big time after starring in Rittikrai’s 2004 Muay Thai movie Born To Fight. He’s skilled, intense and athletic and the biggest plus is that being his own stuntman, there’s no need to cut around the fight scenes to disguise a double. The boyishly charming Wat-Nantuwat Boonrupsup complements Chupong well and director Rittikrai waited until Boonrupsup turned 20 to give him a major supporting role.

            Unfortunately, because of how good the fighting, fireballs, bullet hits and other physical gags look onscreen, the hastily knocked-together CGI footage is all the more disappointing. Perhaps the poor visual effects work is part of the goofy charm associated with movies of this genre, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring when during a skirmish on the roof of a moving train, the actors are surrounded with fuzzy outlines because they weren’t properly composited into the background. A flatly unconvincing digital helicopter soon joins the chase. There’s also the matter of severe mood whiplash – there’s tomfoolery from the comic relief and straight-up executions literally within seconds of each other. Then there are the over-the-top histrionics, with people bawling as others die in their arms, set to maudlin piano music.

            Vengeance of an Assassin is impossible to take seriously but if you grew up on the low-budget 80s action movies of Cannon Films and similar studios, it is possible to enjoy. The characters in this film include a merciless, hilariously vampy femme fatale (Nui-Kessarin Akethawatkul) and an octogenarian RPG-firing Chinese doctor (Ooi Teik Huat). With the most threadbare of plots and as silly as its title is unwieldy, Vengeance of an Assassin is nonetheless a rather captivating brand of silly.

Summary: Director Panna Rittikrai’s swansong is dumb, ridiculous and unintentionally funny but packs in plenty of appeal for die-hard genre fans who long for some of the crazy, violent, bloody, balls-out action mainstream Hollywood releases seem to mostly lack.
RATING: 3 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong