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Monthly Archives: April 2014

“Don’t worry dad I’m coming to save you… Um… actually come get me I’m stuck!”

The description of this on my digital box sounded ridiculous. It seemed to indicate that this time Liam Neeson is taken captive and now with the roles reversed, his daughter has to save him. I had images in my mind of lots of kinetic acton and fast-cuts as his daughter kung-fu’ed her way through hundreds of henchmen. I had got it all wrong of course, although… ironically this would have been preferable to what actually happens.

The families of the gangsters Neeson killed in the first film want revenge (yes it already sounds stupid). They plan to capture Mills (Neeson) while he is working in Istanbul. Unfortunately for him but good for the bad guys : his wife and daughter have just arrived there to surprise him.

We know what is going to happen from the start of the film but the story seems to take an age before it gets to the point where the criminals try to take Neeson or his family. Then after this does happen, the film suffers from bad pacing and predictability which means that equivalent moments to the first film now seem less tense and exciting than they should. The sections where Liam Neeson’s daughter does play a role in helping to rescue him are actually some of the better and more tense moments. She does so as an ordinary person and as someone who is lacking his “particular skill set” and because of this you constantly worry about her ability and safety.

Taken was a film that didn’t need a sequel, it was refreshingly paired down, tense, dramatic, action-filled and did exactly what it set out to do. This sequel attempts to do the same but with a twist. Really though it’s exactly the same film but remade in a different location.. The end of Taken 2 is left open for a sequel – where the sons of these gangsters may now want revenge too. Meaning that Taken 3 could have an even dumber story than this one. Now that would be impressive. 4/10

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Wreck-It Ralph is rarely laugh out loud funny but it’s often delightful and there are lots of clever videogame references and jokes to spot.

This is probably the best computer-animated film I’ve seen since The Incredibles and it’s certainly better than the over-rated Toy Story 3 and Up.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) or to give him his full title Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an old arcade game (think of the ape from Donkey Kong). Only he’s tired of being the bad guy,. No one in his game likes him and when the game shuts off, he sleeps alone by a tree stump in an old town dump.

What’s clever about this film is that all the characters live lives outside their games. From the outside you only see the view through the screen, but really there is a lot more to their world than that. They are even able (via the electricity wires) to enter the other games in the arcade. Handy for Ralph since he attends ‘Bad-Guys Anonymous’ meetings run by one of the ghosts from Pacman, and which is also attended by such famous villains as Bowser, Zangief, and generic zombie.

Ralph soon sets off on a quest to become a hero, because with a hero’s medal around his neck, everyone will like him? Right? His quest takes him to the latest Hero’s Duty game (a great parody of Call of Duty and all those games that feature muscular bald space marine type heroes). It’s here where we meet one of the best characters, the very intense and aggressive Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). We are told the reason for this intensity is that she has the the most tragic back-stories ever: The one day she didn’t do a perimeter check, her wedding day, her husband- to-be was killed and eaten by aliens.

Then it’s on to Sugar Rush. A cynical karting game possibly inspired by the Candy Crush franchise (I can’t say for sure since I’ve never played it but it’s fair to say most karting games are cynical cash-ins). Here Ralph meets a little girl, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) who is also a glitch. This part of the film is both it’s greatest strength and weakness. Ralph forms a tempestuous but touching friendship with her (she is also an outsider within her game on account of her being a glitch). However a large part of the story is told here and the world of Sugar Rush is very bland, not just on the account of it being a saccharine-sweet karting game but also because it’s generally a very empty place when it’s not race day.

The message behind the film is a familiar but admirable one – that it’s ok to be yourself. After a bumpy and difficult journey getting there, both Ralph and Vanellope find this out for themselves. There’s another message to be learned too, this time for video game developers: what goes on outside the games in the arcade is a lot more magical and enchanting than than the generic action that we often see happening behind their screens. So something else to think about there too. Not perfect but a very good film. 7/10

This is very unfair : Russell Crowe faces off against a gladiator and a tiger. They need a T-Rex to even things up…

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this and I felt like watching it again. It feels a bit pointless reviewing it, because who hasn’t already seen this? Even beleaguered girlfriends were dragged to the cinema to watch it at the time.

I saw it first at the cinema and the impact it made back then was huge. A truly inspiring story of a disgraced Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) – although really he was the victim of the scheming of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the new Roman Emperor. Maximus is left for dead, sees his family killed, is sold into slavery and then becomes a gladiator. As part of a gladiatorial troupe he then returns to Rome where he may or may not get his revenge.

The film hasn’t dated much, although it occasionally feels a little over earnest in places and at times rushed – but then there is a lot to fit in. There are also many scenes to enjoy which have since become iconic. To give one example : early on in Maximus’ career as a gladiator he enters the arena alone and kills all of the opposition’s gladiators quickly and efficiently, throws down his sword and turns to the subdued crowd and shouts “What’s the matter? Are you not entertained?”. They want to see killing of course but they also want to see a show.

Crowe is superb as Maximus, and in many ways this was his breakthrough performance as a Hollywood leading man. He carries weight in his words and actions, and his emotions are as often expressed by what he does not say as by what he does.

Phoenix is also very impressive as the cowardly, often childlike, yet ruthlessly scheming Commodus. He desires his sister, kills his father and craves absolute power for himself. He is a true movie villain, weak and vulnerable but clever and dangerous.

Many years after it’s release – 13 years now – this is still a great film. At the time it felt almost like a spiritual sequel to the similarly iconic Sparticus. It has the classic moments, the epic sweep, huge action scenes, and the weight to rival that film. If you haven’t seen it for a while you should definitely watch it again. 8/10