Saturday, 25 May 2013


Saturday, 25 May 2013
I've started using Letterboxd to post short reviews of films, which will be linked to in this blog's sidebar. I'm also going to 'mirror' a selection of DMD film reviews over there, and vice versa here. So starting from now, the past two or three Letterboxd entries will be collated into an occasional blog post...

Frankenweenie (2012)
Tim Burton's best film in years is also his biggest commercial failure, despite being a "remake" of exactly the sort of thing that gave him his big break in the 1980s. It seems big audiences don't like pure Burton—or at least not in animated, monochrome form, without Johnny Depp lending his vocals. I'm glad Burton appears to have used his post-ALICE IN WONDERLAND cachet to make something as personal and non-commercial as FRANKENWEENIE, but it'll only really be loved by dyed-in-the-wool fans who don't feel it's a backwards step. Still, at this point in Burton's career, a backwards step to try and recapture former glories is perhaps better than dancing in circles with CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or DARK SHADOWS. I just wish SWEENEY TODD didn't feel like such an aberration, when it should have heralded a fresh start.

Budding film-maker Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loses his beloved dog Sparky in a traffic accident, prompting the almond-faced boy to resurrect his dead pooch like his mad scientist namesake, which manages to work against all the odds. This being a feature-length remake, the story is expanded to allow for the extra running time, but if I'm honest things didn't really get interesting until almost an hour into the picture. The film takes awhile to achieve the resurrection we all know is coming, then kind of twiddles its thumbs until a storyline about other children resurrecting dead animals arrives—leading to fun sequences involving a vampire cat, wererat, and a GODZILLA-style giant tortoise. Sadly, that rush of activity and horror comes too late to save things.

FRANKENWEENIE isn't a bad film, it's just a pointless one. I only hope Burton's trip down memory lane awakens some of the hunger he used to have until MARS ATTACKS!, through reconnecting with actors like Catherine O'Hara and Winona Ryder (BEETLEJUICE), and Martin Landau (ED WOOD). I wondered if maybe the film was symbolically bringing Tim Burton back to life, and with IMDb telling me his next project is a biopic of American artist Margaret Keane (BIG EYES) maybe that's true...

Taken 2 (2012)
The movie that reinvented Liam Neeson as a full-blown action hero (leading to THE A-TEAM and THE GREY), TAKEN was never going to get an easy sequel.

In the Luc Besson-produced original surprise hit, Neeson was mesmerising as a joyless ex-CIA agent whose daughter was kidnapped by European sex traffickers while holidaying in Paris. He punched, kicked and electrocuted gonads across La Ville-Lumière in his unyielding mission to rescue his offspring—starting with a brilliant phone warning that's since become part of pop-culture ("I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.")

TAKEN 2 is at a disadvantage from the start, when it becomes clear this will be an absurd follow-up where the grizzled father of a nondescript character Neeson killed is after him for revenge... and swoops when he's on a trip to Istanbul with his wife and daughter in tow. I'd accept awkwardness in any sequel to TAKEN 2, but it has a DIE HARD 2-style problem in asking us to swallow "the same shit" happening to the same guy twice. But the bigger issue with TAKEN 2, which you never expected to be high art, is that the graphic violence has been dialled down so it could play to more audiences at the cinema—which means it all feels very safe and struggles to grip and shock.

Instead, enduring memories of TAKEN 2 are silly ones—such as a moment when a kidnapped Neeson helps screen-daughter Maggie Grace (still playing teenagers just shy of 30!) locate him using a map, a ruler, a shoelace... um, and some grenades. Thing is, I'm all for silliness in B-movies -- it's just that we could have used more scenes that registered like that, because after this tired "remake" your enthusiasm for a potential TAKEN 3 is at rock bottom.