Taken 2

Released: October 2012

Director: Olivier Megation

Rated: PG-13

Run Time: 92 Minutes

Liam Neeson: Bryan Mills
Famke Janssen: Lenore
Maggie Grace: Kim
Rade Serbedzija: Murad Krasniqi
Leland Orser: Sam

If it seems like I’m reviewing this movies in reverse, I am.  In the case of the Taken movies, I feel it’s appropriate to save the best for last, which means, I’m saving the original movie for last.  It strikes me as a little unusual for certain movies to get sequels.  Taken didn’t really strike me as a particular candidate for the whole sequel thing.  As I’ve mentioned before, a good sequel will not only meet audiences expectations but exceed as well.  You want to provide something that’s familiar will adding in something new.  A lot of major blockbuster sequels do that to a varying degree.  A film-maker will back himself into a corner if he’s not careful.  What I mean by that, is that if he ends up retreading the same kind of material that the original film had laid down, people really aren’t going to find the sequel to be worth their time.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with more of the same, if it’s done well and still adds something fresh to the mix.  Unfortunately for the Taken sequels, we don’t really get anything new here.  It’s all rehashed, either from the original picture or other movies.  The lack of originality can seriously hinder somebody’s enjoyment of a film.  If it’s something you’ve seen before and done better, what’s the point?

Taken 2 begins in Albania, as we witness the funeral of the men who were killed by Bryan Mills in the previous film.  One of men, Marco, was the son of the Albanian mafia boss, Murad.  Devastated by the death of his son, Murad vows revenge on the man responsible for his son’s murder.  Later, we see Bryan Mills parked out in front of his ex-wife’s house waiting for Kim, so she can finally pass her driver’s test.  As it turns out, Bryan’s ex-wife had been planning a spring break vacation for her and Kim when Lenore’s husband cancels all their plans, so Bryan invites them to Istanbul after he’s done with a job.  No sooner than after they get their rooms at their hotel, Lenore and Bryan set out on a date when Bryan notices that they are being followed.  Having her leave the car and find a way back to the hotel, Bryan is attacked by several members of the Albanian mafia.  He’s kidnapped along with Lenore, but not before calling Kim and telling her what happened.  It seems like the story feels like a fairly natural progression from the first, and to a certain extent it is.  Like the first film, it’s a very simple story, with not a whole lot of surprises.  It’s a very straight-forward revenge tale.  Here’s the problem:  It’s not very believable.  I mean, what are the odds that the boss of the Albanian mob would personally see to the kidnapping of an ex-CIA agent and his family?  You would think that Bryan Mills would have things and people in place to prevent that from happening.  Not only that, but it seems like Bryan’s family seems to be the unluckiest family in the world for them to be victimized for three movies.  For THREE movies!  That’s just plain bonkers, and it’s just so unoriginal that it’s laughable.  Here’s something else to think about: When Bryan is kidnapped, he gets his own daughter to help him.  That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  She doesn’t have training for that kind of thing, despite him talking her through it.  Not only that, you would think that she would be suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder from her ordeal in the previous film.  So, yeah, there are quite a few logical inconsistencies throughout the film.

The one thing I can say about the Taken trilogy, is that they are not boring movies.  There’s plenty of action.  Taken pretty much Liam Neeson a legitimate action lead again.  He does most of his own fighting and physical stuff, because he’s in really good shape.  It also helps that Neeson is a great actor, so not only does he bring the fisticuffs, but he also gives the character that particular level of intensity that the character requires.  I can’t really see anybody else playing the character the way Liam Neeson does.  He’s fantastic.  Famke Janssen is alright as Lenore.  The problem is, like Kim in the first movie, Lenore is the victim.  I guess Megaton felt that Kim needed more screen time and more to do than she did in the first movie, so he attempted to turn her into a quasi-action heroine.  It doesn’t really work.  For one, Bryan is an ex-CIA operative/soldier so he knows how to get out of tight situations.  So, if he can do that, why does he need her?  I’ll be honest, it’s actually nice not seeing Kim as a complete victim this time around, she does have more to do despite the script’s logical fallacies.  Maggie Grace does a pretty good job trying to keep up with Liam Neeson.  The action sequences are actually not too hard to follow, despite the crack-headed editing.  There’s a huge car chase scene that takes place throughout Istanbul which is actually pretty interesting considering that Bryan Mills isn’t the one driving.  Nope, he’s the one shooting, while Kim is driving.  It’s an interesting team-up that doesn’t really add much to the film.  The elephant in the room is the same as in the third film:  The editing.  I’m not sure what Olivier Megaton was going for when he wanted to shoot his movie.  The amount of cuts per scene is unbelievable and hard to follow, at times.  The one thing that you need in a movie like this is to be able to see what’s going on.  Apparently, Olivier Megaton didn’t get that memo.  A lot of the close-ups during the hand-to-hand sequences are nearly incomprehensible, because the editing sucks.  I’m repeating myself here, but every movie that Megaton has directed suffers this same problem.  It smooths out as the film goes on, but jeez, it starts out rough.

If you can make it through the issues with the script, the editing, and the somewhat shallow characterizations, you actually have a pretty decent action movie here.  Of the three films, this one is definitely the worst, but it is by no means a terrible movie.  The villains are pretty much cardboard cutouts with Rade’s Murad being the exception.  He does a good job with the character, despite the character not giving a crap about what his son did that got him killed.  Aside from that, what we have here is a by-the-book thriller with a fantastic performance by Liam Neeson.  It’s okay when you get past the issues, but there are better movies out there, like the original Taken.  I’m not going to say that Olivier Megaton is a bad director.  He’s not.  Check out Columbiana, if you don’t believe me.  That’s a good movie.  So he is capable of some pretty cool stuff,  I just wish he would give his editors some Ritalin.  While Taken 2 has some good things going for it, I just can’t really recommend at as a sequel or stand-alone film.  There’s too much wrong with it.  But I’m not going to give it a bad movie label, because it’s not a bad movie.  It’s just barely above average.  6.5/10.  This one’s a rental at best.

Taken 3

Released: January 2015

Director: Olivier Megaton

Rated: PG-13

Run Time: 109 Minutes

Liam Neeson: Bryan Mills
Famke Janssen: Lenore St. John
Maggie Grace: Kim Mills
Dougray Scott: Stuart St. John
Sam Spruell: Oleg Malenkov
Leland Orser: Sam
Forest Whitaker: Frank Dotzler

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Man has a beautiful wife/ex-wife.  Man leaves.  Man comes back to find his wife dead.  Man is framed for his wife’s murder.  Man escapes law enforcement.  Man encounters gangsters….need I go on?  This plot device has been used in so many movies that it’s old hat.  There’s nothing new about it.  Each movie that deals with a man being framed for somebody’s murder ends up following the same bread crumbs.  One of the best movies that features this particular plot is The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.  Awesome movie, very intense and believable.  Well, it was believable for the most part.  It was pretty good.  Action thrillers these days seem like a dime a dozen.  Liam Neeson has been in a lot of action movies since Batman Begins.  One of the most memorable films that he did was a little movie called Taken, where he played an ex-CIA operative who has to rescue his daughter.  It was a solid action movie that really had you on the edge of your seat.  The French certainly have an interesting eye for action….except Olivier Megaton.

Opening in Los Angeles, California, we see a group of mysterious men kidnap a man and take him to an office building where he encounters a Russian mobster who’s looking for money that he’s owed.  Later, the ex-wife of ex-government agent Bryan Mills, Lenore visits Bryan and talks to him about the problems that she’s been having with her husband, Stuart.  A day or so later, Bryan gets a visit from Stuart himself, asking Bryan to stay away from his wife.  Bryan agrees.  Next day, Bryan gets a text from Lenore asking to meet him for bagels.  He returns to his apartment to find her dead.  After eluding the police who suddenly showed up, Bryan is on the run for his life while trying to find out who killed his wife.  Why Taken ended up becoming a film series is beyond me.  The first film was kind of a one-and-done deal.  It didn’t really leave a whole lot of room to move for a sequel, let alone two.  The story in the second film makes a little bit of sense, because in the first film, Liam Neeson’s character kills the man who kidnapped and sold his daughter.  So, in the second movie, the kidnapper’s father enters the fray and tracks down Bryan and HIS family to get revenge.  Taken 3 throws all that out in favor of a more generic “framed for murder” action thriller, and it suffers for it.  You can thank Olivier Megaton for that.  Taken 3 follows very familiar territory.  Yeah, the main character gets framed for murder and he’s being chased by a very persistent cop.  See, the first film was a very straight-forward and simple action-thriller dealing with a very touchy subject, human trafficking.  It had one direction and one basic trail to follow.  But it also had a sense of urgency about it.  Even the second Taken had those same qualities.  But even Taken 2  was a re-hash of the original, and it wasn’t as good.

The makers of Taken 3 decided that it would be a good idea to throw Russians into the mix.  Right from the get-go you already know the plot twists from a mile away and the film doesn’t disappoint in hitting every single one of them.  The cast, for the most part, is spot on.  Liam Neeson is fun to watch as always.  Forest Whitaker is great, as a detective who is almost literally one step behind Bryan Mills.  The character is pretty interesting in that he’s an OCD kind of person, he has unique quirks, and has a very good eye for detail.  Whitaker is good enough to give the character some of those quirks.  Leland Orser reprises his role of Sam who aided Mills in the past.  I’ve always liked Orser.  He’s got an interesting sense of humor and humanity that just suits his character.  Sam has more involved role in this movie, so that’s refreshing.  The one casting decision that I have to question is that of Dougray Scott.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fine actor and it’s not really his fault that he falls kind of flat in this movie.  No, that’s the result of some very bad writing.  Unfortunately, when you cast him in a role that is pretty generic, you can expect the character to be not a very good person.  Because of that, it leads to one of the most generic motivations for a bad guy….money.  Making Russians the go-to bad guys of a movie is an easy fallback, especially when you really don’t have another plan.  They’ve been villains for a majority of films since James Bond, and quite frankly, I’m tired of it.

The action in Taken 3 is actually pretty decent.  We’ve got some pretty intense fist-fights, cool car chases and some pretty decent explosions.  Pretty cool, right?  It’s always fun to see Liam Neeson kicking someone’s ass left and right and shooting up the joint.  It would be a lot better, though, if you could see what the hell was going on.  And this is where we get to the problem of Olivier Megaton.  His style of film-making is so hyper-kinetic it makes Michael Bay’s movies seem coherent.  Aside from the whole shaky-cam thing that’s really freaking old and has no place in an action movie, the editing is insane.  The first action sequence has Liam Neeson jumping out of a window being chased by cops.  Most of the shots during this sequence don’t last more than one or two seconds.  It’s like the editor went to the Michael Bay School of Editing, and injected the process with crack.  The editing eases up later on, but it’s still one of the main issues in Olivier Megaton’s movies.  It was present in Transporter 3, Colombiana, and Taken 2.  Colombiana actually ended up being a pretty good movie as Megaton showed some restrain in that regard.  He is clearly capable of making a really good action flick.  So why doesn’t he?

Taken 3 isn’t a bad action movie.  It really isn’t.  There’s a lot to like here.  Liam Neeson is still pretty good, even though he’s starting to show his age, but he doesn’t lose any of his intensity.  Leland Orser’s group of security specialists are given a more significant role in this film and I think that’s fantastic.  Watching Whitaker’s character follow all sorts of clues to get to the truth is pretty compelling, even though it’s kind of ridiculous.  As far as threequels go, you could certainly do worse than Taken 3.  While I don’t think Taken 3 was ever going to be a great movie, there a lot of fun moments, like in the second movie.  It’s just a shame that Megaton’s editor is constantly on crack and making things confusing, even if the plot really isn’t.  One other thing I should mention, each of the Taken movies has been release on home video with an alternate Unrated cut, which feature more action and language.  Each film has pushed the PG-13 envelope.  The unrated version for Taken 3 features a lot more f-bombs and blood.  I’ve already made my opinion known on extended and unrated version of films.  The rating I would have to give Taken 3 would be a 7/10.  It’s entertaining enough, when you get past the psychotic editing.  The film is utterly predictable and features some of the most generic villains I’ve ever seen.  But Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker help elevate what is otherwise a very generic action movie.


Dracula 3000

Released: August 2004

Director: Darrell Roodt

Rated R

Run Time: Eternity

Casper Van Dien: Captain Abraham Van Helsing
Erika Eleniak: Aurora
Coolio(Really?!): 187
Alexandra Kamp: Mina Murry
Grant Hornsby: Arthur Holmwood
Langley Kirkwood: Orlock
Tiny Lister: Humvee
Udo Kier: Captain Varna

I’ve always had an interest in the character of Dracula.  He’s probably the most iconic villain in film history, and even he was inspired by the stories of Vlad Tepes III.  He’s known as the Prince of Darkness, and according to Bram Stoker is the first of the vampires.  As someone who has read the book, I’ve recently been watching a number of adaptations of Stoker’s book.  While most of the adaptations are mostly harmless and some are actually very,very good, there are some that are truly abominable.  A couple months ago, I had reviewed Dario Argento’s Dracula.  I thought that movie was really….not so good.  It followed the original story okay enough, but the production values and acting were absolutely dreadful.  Oh….but that one doesn’t even come close to how horrendous Dracula 3000 is.  It was probably a sign that I was in for a very rotten movie when the disc I rented from Netflix was broken, so I sent it back for another copy.  The copy of the disc that I had gotten today worked well enough, but the movie itself….oh, man.  Sometimes, I review bad movies so I can vent.  I would like to believe I’m pretty fair in my critiques.  I believe in being fair, but there are movies that deserve NO mercy and Dracula 3000 is one of them.

This “film” opens on a video recording of Captain Varna of the spaceship Demeter detailing certain events of what’s been happening on the ship.  The movie cuts to an abysmally rendered ship docking with an equally poorly CG rendered Demeter.  The smaller ship is piloted by Captain Abraham Van Helsing.  As soon as they dock, they begin to realize that something is really wrong.  Yeah, there’s something wrong, alright: The movie f**king sucks.  Anyway, the resident pot-head 187 stumbles on a room of caskets.  Apparently they used to ship drugs across the galaxy using caskets, so Humvee and 187 start opening them up only to discover sand.  Meanwhile everybody else is acting like complete morons and explore the ship.  Humvee ends up abandoning 187 for some stupid reason, and then somebody hears him scream.  They discover he’s been injured and has two puncture wounds on his neck.  You know what? No. No, no, no, no.  NO!!  Just…no.  It just seems criminal to pick apart this movie, because it’s so damned easy.  Let’s start with the acting.  Are you kidding me?  If it was a joke, it would be funny.  Everybody here just plain stinks.  Casper Van Dien plays Van Helsing.  Yes, Abraham Van Helsing.  You know, the legendary vampire killer from Bram Stoker’s novel?  The only thing here that’s legendary is how poorly he does.  Erika Eleniak plays Aurora, the android.  Other than standing there and looking pretty, she does absolutely nothing except whine like a mule.  Coolio?  he stopped being relevant even this movie was released, which was back in 2004.  So, he’s been off the radar for a while, and that’s a good thing.  When he turns into a vampire, he seems to be taking a cue from Gollum, except that he’s just plain awful.  Everyone else is equally horrendous.  The only one who managed to not really be affected was Udo Kier.  He was the only bright spot here.

Story-wise, Dracula 3000 rips off some stuff from the book, but it is done in such a way that absolutely disrespectful of the source material.  Planet Transylvania in the Carpathian System?  At one point somebody actually said Transylvania was a space station, and then changed it to a planet.  A planet of vampires.  Apparently the main baddie, Count Orlock(Dracula) paid for passage on the Demeter with caskets full of sand, which was never explained in the movie.  Let’s talk about the villain, now.  Count Orlock.  When we first see him, he’s dressed up typically like Count Dracula with that ridiculous cape and poofy shirt, only it looks like they got the costume from Wal-Mart, at a discount.  Kirkwood’s performance as Orlock?  This is not acting.  This is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  The costumes on the other characters are equally appalling.  Van Helsing sports a sleeveless uniform that is supposed to make the character look like a bad-ass.  It only succeeds in making Van Dien like look a Van Dingbat.  Believe it or not, I actually like Casper Van Dien.  I really do.  I liked him in Starship Troopers and I thought he did a fairly decent job in Sleepy Hollow.  I don’t think he’s a terrible actor, just that he doesn’t make the greatest decisions when it comes to movie projects.  Dracula 3000 has to be his worst movie ever.  I don’t think anybody came out of this one unscathed.  For a movie that’s rated R, there’s not a whole of blood or violence.  There’s not even a titty shot from Erika Eleniak or Alexandra Kamp.  That probably would have made the movie a little bit more tolerable.  Nope.  Not even that.  I don’t know how the actors got roped into this, but I’m guessing they were desperate for a paycheck, maybe?  The amount of incompetence on display here is beyond reckoning.  Dario Argento’s film is like Citizen Kane compared to this tripe.  The director had absolutely no idea what the hell he was doing.  The writers must have been on meth or some kind of narcotic, because I think the only way to enjoy this movie is to be stoned out of your mind.  Dracula 3000 isn’t worth the Monopoly money that was probably used to pay for it.  How the movie got the green light will always remain a mystery to me.  Oh, I can’t forget that ending.  Uh…Orlock gets his arm cut off as the ship heads towards some sun.  So in their last hours, Humvee and Aurora use their remaining time to bang each other, apparently.  I didn’t mention that earlier Van Helsing got turned a vampire and then staked through the heart with a pool cue.  There’s that.  And then the ship explodes and then the credits role.  You know, in most cases, I would consider that a bad thing, because it’s a non-ending.  But I’m just fine with it here.  The movie actually runs about 86 minutes, but it feels like forever.

If, for some unfathomable reason that you decide to rent, or God forbid, buy it, and the disc doesn’t work, consider it a sign from the Almighty that you probably shouldn’t watch this garbage.  Do yourselves a favor:  Stay away.  Stay far away.  If you see somebody pick this up to look at it, grab it out of their hands and throw it into the garbage.  Or better yet:  Douse it in holy water, stake it, and set it on fire.  It is the only way to cleanse that brand of evil from this earth.  My final verdict is: DEAR GOD, WHAT IS THING?!  BURN IT!  Warn your friends.  Warn your family.

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Movie Trailer

Released: November 1997

Director: John R. Leonetti

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 95 Minutes

Robin Shou: Liu Kang
Brian Thompson: Shao Kahn
Sandra Hess: Sonya Blade
Talisa Soto: Kitana
Lynn ‘Red’ Williams: Jax
James Remar: Rayden
Reiner Schoene: Shinnok

I may have said my piece about why movies based on video games suck for the most, but I’m going to say it again with emphasis: Do it right, or don’t do it at all.  There are countless movies based on video games, and most of them are garbage.  If it has Uwe Boll attached to the movie, it’s almost guaranteed to suck.  He’s the Ed Wood of video game movies.  But even before Boll showed up with House of the Dead, video game licenses were being handed out like candy to movie studios to be able to make more money and bring more attention to the franchise.  There was Super Mario Bros. which was a complete catastrophe; Street Fighter was completely bonkers with Raul Julia being the only saving grace(God rest his soul), and the Mortal Kombat films.  Here’s the thing with Mortal Kombat, though: The first movie was actually pretty decent.  While the visual effects were kinda goofy, it had solid fight choreography, interesting characters, and surprisingly decent acting.  Oh, and it had Christopher Lambert as Rayden, the God of Thunder, so it was a win-win situation.  I thoroughly enjoyed the hell out of it.  I will defend the first movie until the day that I die.  Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, though?  Oh, dear.

Beginning right where the previous film left off, Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and Kitana have returned from Outworld after a decisive victory in the tournament of Mortal Kombat.  After a brief period of rest and relaxation, it turns out that the emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn, isn’t willing to admit defeat.  So, he breaks the rules of Mortal Kombat and invades the Realm of Earth.  With a horrendously rendered sky being torn apart, Shao Kahn begins to merge Earth and Outworld into one realm, effectively annihilating mankind in the process(see what I did there?).  After a brief encounter which leaves Johnny Cage dead and Rayden defeated, our heroes escape to fight another day, but not without help.  The “story” is ripped right from the Mortal Kombat 3 video game, if you can call it a story.  It’s just a reason for people to start fighting and beating the hell out of each other.  I’m absolutely okay with that, if it was properly done.  In the case of the first Mortal Kombat, they used the whole tournament backdrop to tell the story and get things moving.  It worked.  But with the sequel, it’s no longer a tournament, but a fight for survival.  A poorly choreographed fight for survival, I might add.  Let’s start off with the obvious, shall we?  The visual effects are abhorrent.  Even for 1997, the visuals effects in Mortal Kombat: Annihiliation were very, very bad.  The film apparently had a smaller budget than the previous film, and it shows.  The opening scene at the Temple of the Order of Light was just bombarded with absolutely horrid CGI effects.  The sky has lines in it.    I don’t know how they managed to get a theatrical release with this one.  There is a fight with Shao Kahn and Liu Kang at the end of the movie where they use their Animalities, which is where they turn into their spirit animal…or something like that.  Honestly, it’s worse than it sounds.  Don’t believe me?  Please Click Here.

The visual effects can be forgiven if the rest of the movie is okay, right?  Right?  Wrong.  Before I even get into how bad the choreography is, let’s discuss the casting.  See, the first film had a pretty solid cast, with Christopher Lambert chewing the scenery as Rayden.  He was awesome.  So who had the bright idea to let James Remar play the role?  They also replaced the actress for Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, who gets killed in the first 10 minutes of the film.  The only two actors to reprise their roles were Robin Shou as Liu Kang and Talisa Soto as Kitana.  Given the horrific dialogue these guys had to speak, I’m amazed people had a straight face while making this movie.  The only actor who seems like he’s having a real good time was Brian Thompson, who plays Shao Kahn.  He chews the scenery like it’s nobody’s business.  The amount of characters that they threw in is so ridiculous that some of them don’t even get to fight.  Rain, the purple ninja just shows up only to be killed off by Kahn.  The writing in this movie is absolutely rotten to the core.  It’s like the film was written by a 5 year old with no hands.  The dialogue is absolutely cringe-worthy.

How about the fighting?  Is that any good?  Eh…it’s a mixed bag.  Some of the fights are actually really, like Jax vs. Cyrax.  That was actually pretty awesome.  There are a lot of cool moves and stunts, but that doesn’t make a good movie.  Some of the fights are so poorly done, it’s wonder why they even bothered.  The fight between Liu Kang and Baraka is just plain bad.  It also hurts the film that the editing is sloppy.  It doesn’t cut when it needs like when the prison cell drops down on Sheeva, you can tell that it stops before the scene cuts.  The fight scene with Rayden and the ninjas was pretty cool, but you could obviously tell that it wasn’t James Remar doing the fighting.  His stunt double was Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars.  It was painfully obvious.  Painful is generally how I would describe the choreography in this movie.  It was choreographed by Robin Shou, who should have left it to somebody else.  The music on the other hand, is fantastic.  Like the film before it, the music in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a combination of techno and heavy metal, featuring bands like Rammstein with the main score being conducted by George S. Clinton(no relation to the politicians).  The main theme of the movie is a remix of the theme song done by The Immortals for the video game during the 90’s.  So, that was pretty cool.  At the end of the day though, this is not a good movie.  Is it the worst video game movie?  Not really.  But as far as sequels go, this one falls way short.  I’m not saying the first movie was a masterpiece, it was definitely not, but it was competently made and a great deal of fun.  Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?  Not so much.  Here’s a couple of options.  1.  Stick with the original film, which was kind of a blast.  2.  Go for the YouTube series, Mortal Kombat Legacy.  Both seasons.  Those are actually very, very good.  I definitely recommend them.  Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is only good for a drinking game.  I’m going to change-up how I rate movies from here on out.  If a movie gets below a 5/10, it gets a different kind of rating.  Otherwise it’s still the same.  The final verdict for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is: BAD MOVIE.