The A-Team

The A-Team is, hopefully, not the movie-makers’ A-game. That said, it’s full of some enjoyable stuff that shows an awareness of its source material and still provides some laughs and mindless fun.

Don’t let the hoity-toity critics turn you off; if you like action flicks, you’ll probably like The A-Team.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released June 11, 2010

Written by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods. Based on the series created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Starring: Jessica Biel, Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quentin Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, and Henry Czerny

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

An alpha team of Special Forces operatives successfully concludes a harrowing operation coming out of Iraq, but at the last moment, everything goes south and the blame is pinned on them. After an unfair court-martial, they are sentenced to prison. But in prison, their leader, Hannibal (Neeson), is visited by a CIA agent named Lynch (Wilson), who says he can help Hannibal and his team escape and prove their innocence.

The team gets out and they proceed to chase down the leads they are fed by Lynch, with Face (Cooper), charming women left and right, Murdock (Copley) acting as their nutso pilot, and BA Baracus (Jackson) acting as the muscle. Chasing them is Charissa Sosa (Biel), a smart and determined lady who wants justice. She might also be a former flame of Face.

Unsurprising conflicts and explosions ensue, with betrayals coming right on cue. One-liners spring from Hannibal like freshly minted gold coins and the team’s dynamics match those of the team in the original series near-perfectly.

All comes to a satisfying and relatively creative conclusion which will not be disclosed here, because spoilers are the devil. Or at least the fru-its of the devil.

Critique

This is an entertaining film. Fans of the original series with its cheesiness, absurdity, charm, and over-the-top action– along with its heart and moral center– will enjoy it a lot.

The writing doesn’t try hard to introduce new twists or anything too intense or heavy– which is in keeping with the weight of the TV show. Sure, because of this restraint, there’s not a lot that’s surprising about the plot or dialogue. But that is mitigated by some overall charming performances. First off, these guys clearly studied their source characters. All of them recreate their character convincingly, with Jackson doing a particularly good job of adding a little more humor to his excellent BA.

What is it with these fighter/wrestler supermen who have great comedic timing? Dwayne Johnson, anyone?

It seems like Joe Carnahan, the driving force behind this (who also did the extraordinary The Grey), essentially decided to create a feature-length episode of the old TV show– and that will work for most audience members.

In any case, just know that the clever, snide reviews of The A-Team come from people who probably never saw, and if they did, never liked, the original TV show. If you liked the TV show, you will get a kick out of the movie.

Content warnings: Some sensuality, some salty language, plenty of light-hearted and explosive action violence

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 4

No needles required; just play your A-game and share this review with everyone you know. Do it now.

Now, tell me the truth; did you like this movie? Why or why not? What’d you think of Neeson as Hannibal?

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Unknown

Unknown is generally an interesting movie, with effective suspense, a somewhat believable storyline, mostly good actors, and a finale that more or less satisfies.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 18, 2011

Written by Oliver Butcher, and Steven Cornwell, based on the novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Diane Kruger, January Jones, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, and Sebastian Koch

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Martin Harris (Neeson) has just arrived in Moscow with his wife Elizabeth (Jones) for an important conference. But he leaves a briefcase at the airport by mistake and leaves his wife to check into the hotel by herself. On his way to the airport, the cab he’s in is in an accident and he nearly dies, although the lady driver rescues him.

He wakes from a brief coma with some partial amnesia. He remembers that he’s in Moscow with his wife for a conference, but when he goes to the hotel and finds Elizabeth, she doesn’t recognize him and a different man (Quinn) is Martin Harris. Nobody recognizes him; it seems his life has been erased or usurped.

Harris tracks down the cabbie, Gina (Kruger), and she recognizes him, leading him to realize something nefarious is happening. Now Harris has to uncover what is happening to him, but the truth is far beyond what he expected and he also ends up having to save the life of a terrorist target.

Everything culminates in a showdown between the two Martins, and that fight is kind of epic. How could it not be? Two aging Irish actors beating the tar out of each other is fine holiday fun.

Critique

The single worst aspect of Unknown is January Jones. She is bland, dull, flat, and altogether off-putting. Every time she’s on screen, her energy-suckness removes the viewer from the film. This person needs to get out of entertainment and perhaps take up a career in carpentry.

Otherwise, Unknown is an intriguing concept that is explored well. The writing is certainly nothing stunningly fresh, and the action film unfolds in a generally formulaic fashion. But with a lead like Liam Neeson, and with Diane Kruger very convincing in her cabby with a conscience role, this is an enjoyable film. Frank Langella makes a late entry and he makes the most of an enigma of a role.

The most redeeming factor of how this movie unfolds is that the real Harris, while he does have to get physical, uses his brains to overcome the baddies. Sure, the likely medically unfounded amnesia is a little convenient, but Neeson pulls it off.

Content warnings: plenty of action violence, some swearing, a little sensuality

Writing: 3.5         Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

Don’t think it’s unknown to me how much you share this review with your social networks. Any less than three different links and I will find you and give you amnesia.

Or not.

Yeah, probably not.

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Taken 2

The first Taken film was a spectacular example of an underrated film winning audiences with intensity, fine acting, solid production values, a startling look at a nasty underbelly of eastern Europe, and an altogether relentless plot.

The second Taken film, to be successful, needed all of these plus a few twists in order to pull of the same success and following. Taken 2 fails because it forgets to have a relentless plot, instead doing some strange geographic acrobatics to confuse the viewer.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released October 5, 2012

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Starring Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Liam Neeson, Rade Serbedzija, D.B. Sweeney, Leland Orser, and Jon Gries

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Brian Mills (Neeson) and his daughter Kim (Grace) seem to have recovered from the events of Taken, which happened an indeterminate time previous to this film. Kim doesn’t have her license yet, which begs the question about how old Maggie Grace is trying to be here.

Age questions aside, Brian’s ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) and her second hubby are in splitsville and Brian has learned from his previous mistakes that he needs to be sensitive and solicitous. Also, he obviously still loves Lenore. Following an opening sequence of fairly regular family life and Brian being an overbearing but good dad, Brian invites his wife and daughter to meet him in Prague after he finishes his next job.

The family is reunited in Prague and good times are had, while Brian and Lenore realize that Kim is trying to get them back together.

Meanwhile, all of those eastern European human traffickers that Brian killed in the first movie apparently had fathers and brothers and sons. We see a funeral led by Murad (Serbedzija), at the end of which, Murad extends a call to arms and vows revenge upon the man that killed these deplorable human beings that worked in the human sex slave trade.

Yeah, not a lot of sympathy for these villains either.

So all of this leads to an abduction of both Lenore AND Brian, wherein Brian is just barely able to warn Kim of the attack so that she evades the bad guys. Luckily, Brian is really good at what he does and he has a tiny phone hidden on his person so that he can start gathering help, but in the meantime, Kim convinces Brian to let her help him. He leads her through the steps of tracking down where he and Lenore are being held.

Kim does a very fine job and finds them. What she doesn’t know and Brian does know is that Lenore is slowly bleeding out from being stuck in the neck. Clock’s ticking.

Brian is able to get free and he and Kim have to chase the bad guys down before Lenore’s life ebbs completely away, setting up a pretty great, if somewhat illogical, extended chase which culminates in some gunfire, some shaky-cam hand-to-hand, and a pretty good, if rather easy and premature, final showdown scene.

Critique

The reason Taken 2 doesn’t deliver anywhere near as effective an adrenaline-rush is that the filmmakers didn’t take time to figure out a few twists that made things even harder for Brian and Kim. In not throwing more at these two, the movie is robbed of authenticity, tension, and entertainment value.

When the movie is wrapping up, you’ll be sitting there thinking, “Wait. Already? Seriously? That’s it?”

Because the writing of the story just isn’t taken far enough, the perfectly good actors’ very solid performances aren’t allowed to have the emotional impact that they might otherwise have had. Maggie Grace turns in a particularly good performance, stepping up and helping with the initial rescue quite convincingly.

So Taken 2 just isn’t as intense, just not the thrill-ride, as we wanted. It’s still enjoyable, though abbreviated. The filming is standard, but enhanced by the setting in Prague. The pace is on target, but gypped. It starts very well, setting up some very nice character arcs and motivations and tension.

Then it stops. It’s worth seeing, but not at full price and not with many expectations.

Content warnings: some semi-harsh language, plenty of non-bloody violence.

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

You have a very specific set of skills that you must now put to use by sharing this review on your social networks. Do it now or bad men from an unspecified eastern European nation will come and get you.

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Battleship

Look, Battleship is another movie based on a game/toy and that’s a bit ridiculous. But you gotta give Peter Berg props for really going for the gold ring here and all in all, Battleship is actually a surprising amount of fun, mainly because it knows it’s pretty ridiculous.

Here’s a preview:

Here are the deets:

Released May 18, 2012

Written by Erich Hoeber and John Hoeber

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Tadanobu Asano, and Jesse Plemons

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Battleship begins with Alex Hopper (Kitsch) screwing up his life royally as his brother, Stone Hopper (Skarsgard), an officer in the Navy, watches. Romantically, Alex screws his life up in the pursuit of a girl he finds irresistible, Sam Shane (Decker), because he just has to get her a chicken burrito.

Stone is torqued off at his brother and makes him join the Navy so he can turn his life around. Apparently Alex does this, because the story then picks up with Alex somehow being a Lieutenant, yes an officer, and dating Sam. Based on dialogue, it’s probably been about two years. The lovebirds want to get married.

But first, Alex has to demonstrate he’s still a rogue by being a total stud but reckless in the soccer game that is part of the RimPac International Navy Exercises. Then Alex has to ship out with the rest of the Hawai’i based navy fleet for the exercises. Also, the commander of the fleet is Admiral Shane (Neeson), who is Sam’s father.

Unfortunately the naval exercises are interrupted by invading aliens who wipe out the fleet’s ability to communicate and use normal radar, and the aliens also isolate Alex’s destroyer, his brother’s destroyer, and the destroyer commanded by Alex’s Japanese nemesis, Nagata (Asano). What’s more, Sam, the fiancee, is a physical therapist who is taking a walk up a mountain with a crippled vet who thinks he’s less than a man. That mountain happens to have a huge communications array on it.

Now stop and think this through. Can you guess what’s going to happen? Is someone going to die to make the emotional stakes high? Is there going to be a grudging respect formed between nemeses? Is the vet going to have a chance to redeem himself?

That’s the story.

Critique

I’ve mocked enough. The movie is cliched and cheesy and delightfully so. The only time it takes itself seriously is when Admiral Shane is honoring a group of older naval soldiers. Not a lot of effort went into trying to craft surprising plot twists and the cleverest and most authentic of dialogue.

But think it through again. Alex misses the game-winning goal, despite the classic build up to what would typically be a winning scene. A clever, physics-defying move wins the day. Teamwork and trust and determination prove vital to victory.

This movie is all heart and effects. It’s aware of its cheesiness and pokes intermittent fun at the sometimes unbelievable dialogue of the soldiers. Watch for the scientist who asks, “Who talks like that?” The scientist who comes through in the end.

Every note that this kind of movie is supposed to hit is hit, right on. It’s not overwrought like Armageddon, not melodramatic like stuff by Michael Bay. It’s practically a love letter to the Navy, only with incredible stationery and penmanship.

I was thoroughly entertained. The acting had some good and some ‘meh’ moments. Liam Neeson is wasted, but Rihanna does a nice job. This is also Taylor Kitsch’s best work. Jesse Plemons (who was in Friday Night Lights with Kitsch (which was developed by Peter Berg, the director)) plays his FNL character, Landry Clark, on a military ship. Jesse’s going to need to get some acting lessons under his belt. Asano does a fine job as Nagata.

The writing is very self-aware, which serves the movie well. If it had tried to take itself seriously, like the Transformers films, it would have been a disaster. However, we never really find out what it is the aliens want. They would have been a lot more interesting if we knew what they were after.

Then there’s the issue of physics. Just forget everything you know about physics and you’ll have a much better time in Battleship.

Finally, as evidence of the self-awareness and light-heartedness of the script, notice how the dialogue treats harsh language. A very nice touch. And if you want to see the set-up for the sequel (because there will be one), stay to the end of the credits.

Content warnings: some mildish profanity and plenty of explosions and non-graphic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 3.5           Overall: 3.5

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