Taken – Franchise Catch Up

I’ve never seen any of the Taken films, over than trailers. They never appealed to me. I like Liam Neeson, but never went out of my way for the films. I was recommended them by a colleague who wanted to see what I thought, so I thought it would make a good Franchise Catch Up.

For those that are new, Franchise Catch Up is where I take a series of films (of at least 3 or more) and binge watch them, writing a initial thoughts for each one shortly after watching it. If you haven’t seen the Taken series and are curious, or you love the franchise and want to see what a newbie thinks, I hope you enjoy.

Taken – ★★★★

I remember this film coming out and seeing the trailer for the first time in the cinema and thinking it just looked stupid. I didn’t watch it based on that for 13 years and now that I finally have, I wish I’d watched it a lot sooner. It’s a seriously good action film. It spends enough time building up the characters at the beginning that I was invested when the plot kicks in. I wasn’t bored at any point. Liam Neeson is a great action hero. I thought the fights were great, the chase sequences were good and the film was very entertaining. There is a distinct lack of blood and apart from the final fight there Neeson is invincible. There’s a few moments where the film shows it’s age, with the music and how much better fight sequences look now. The camera is a little all over the place at points. Regardless it’s a hell of a lot better than John Wick and I’m looking forward to 2 and 3.

Taken 2 – ★★★

This one is a lot more over the top compared to the first one, but at the same time it’s still enjoyable. It’s played too straight and I wish it has leant into the goofiness a little more. There are so many silly moments, but I didn’t get the impression the film was supposed to be funny. The bad guys literally let Neeson call his daughter to let her know he’s going to be taken. The action is still good, the car sequences were good. It’s a solid sequel, but not as entertaining or thrilling as the original. There’s something missing, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the first one. On to the final part of the trilogy.

Taken 3 – ★★½

I feel like this has the same level of over the top as the second one but was somehow even more deadpan. He survives 2 cars exploding, and not one joke or pun. It’s a very dry film and could have really done with some style. It was a shock that Famke Janssen died so early on, but that’s the only part of this one that’s shocking at all. The twist is obvious from almost the first scene. The action is still good but the film drags on so much towards the end.  Overall a decent film, but not worth going out of your way for.

Final Thoughts

I was surprised by the first Taken. It is a great action film. The series diminishes in quality with each instalment and the sequels just aren’t worth watching. If you haven’t seen them and like action films, then the first one is really worth watching. It’s short, punchy and has some great action. I feel the sequels needed a lot more humour to make it worth watching, but they are still watchable (if that’s a compliment).  

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Vice – Film Review

Director: Adam McKay

Writer: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe and Jesse Plemons

Rating: ★★★½

When Vice was released in 2018 it received some of the most divisive opinions of film history. Some critics and audiences praised the direction, acting and humour, while others criticised those exact things. It’s not hard to see why the film generated such strong reactions. It only takes a few minutes on Twitter to see that we are living through a very divided time politically with extreme views. Vice isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It begins with a disclaimer to say that while the film is based on a true story, it’s about a secretive person and the filmmakers tried their best to get things straight. The film then ends with a mid-credits scene where a focus group complain that the film has a liberal bias. It’s satire and everything in the film should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are historical inaccuracies that have been documented online, but the film tells you this itself at the start. This is supposed to be a black comedy and entertainment and it works as that.

Christian Bale, yet again, knocks it out of the park as former vice president Dick Cheney. He literally transforms into a new person, and you could go the entire film without recognising him. He was nominated for best actor at that year’s Oscars and several awards including a Golden Globe. Everyone is brilliant. Christian Bale is the standout performance, and the rest of the cast are equally as good. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney is brilliant, as the driving force behind Dick’s career. Steve Carrell has the perfect blend of smarmy and charisma that makes his role believable, sickly, and funny at the same time.

The film is narrated by Jesse Plemons (Judas and the Black Messiah), who is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. He is fantastic in everything that he’s in and really lifts the film whenever he appears on screen, just going about day-to-day life while telling us the story of Cheney. There’s also a great joke towards the end where Plemons’s gets involved heavily in the main plot.

There is a lot of great moments in the film, that really show how great writer and director Adam McKay is as a filmmaker. Aside from some clever scene transitions and here’s a scene in a restaurant where the waiter is listing their options about torture and Iraq as if they are dishes on the menu. There’s another excellent scene where President Bush (Sam Rockwell), is giving a speech about bombings that will be taking place, the camera pans down to show his foot tapping nervously under the desk and then the scene switches to a family cowering under a table, with the dad’s foot tapping, as bombs fall above.

The film does feel like a hit-piece on Cheney at times. It does confront this head-on with the mid credit scene, but it’s no wonder half the audience hated this film when it came out. One of the final shots is a still shot of Cheney’s heart after an operation. It’s literally black and the camera hangs on it for a long time. It’s stuff like this, which is why the film gained extreme reactions, both loving and hating the film.

There are still a lot of funny moments that really work well, if you don’t get caught up in the film. There are some laugh out loud moments and a lot of smile worthy humour. Contrasting that is some of the most horrific events of recent years. One of the opening shots is of 9/11, there are scenes of torture, death, war, the underground bombings in London, real footage of politicians, from both left and right parties and not just from America, showing support of the war in Iraq. It does paint a strong picture of the horror the war caused.

One of the best things the film does is demonstrate how carefully wording is chosen. The moment where a focus group reacts differently to the ‘death tax’, compared to ‘estate tax’, as well as ‘climate change’ compared to ‘global warming’. After the focus group scene it switches to real footage of newscasts and interviews where people use the terms and how this has shaped policies in the years since.

There is a lot of great things about Vice. The performances are outstanding, it does a great job of contextualising The War on Terror. It gives you a good idea of what Cheney is about, without you having to have prior knowledge. But it still feels very lengthy. It’s over two hours in length, and you feel every minute. It could really have done with some trimming down, especially in the early sections. Vice is worth watching if you enjoy satire and black comedies, but this isn’t going to change people’s opinions on Cheney and it has and probably will continue to create arguments from people.  

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Mid-September Update

Hey everyone, it feels like it’s been a long time since I wrote an update post. I’ve had a breakthrough with a new story I’m working on. The idea popped into my head one night before sleep and each night I’ve been adding to it. I’m not sure how long it will be, but I’m going to be working on it as soon as possible. It’s too early to talk about because large pieces of it are changing constantly. I’m feeling positive about it.

I’ve also had a new idea for a short story that I will get on with at some point, still need to edit Teddy and upload it on here. I know what I need to do with Teddy, it’s just finding the time to do it, between work, film and book reviews.

Speaking of reviews, these are going well. I’m trying really hard to get well ahead of the publishing date, so I have more time to go over them and to not miss a post. I have 7 reviews either fully written up or in notes. Tonight will be my review for Vice, the satirical biopic of Dick Cheney that came out in 2018.

Tomorrow I will be uploading the next Franchise Catch Up, which will be the Taken trilogy. I’m watching the third one today after work. The Franchise Catch Up will be on the 30th September. I haven’t chosen the next one yet, but I’m leaning towards The Hunger Games. I didn’t watch them as they came out because I loved the books so much and the films just didn’t look as good. Enough time has passed now and I don’t remember a lot of the books, so it might be a good one to visit now.

I mentioned what I’m reading on Monday and didn’t get a chance to read much yesterday. Will be reading some more this morning. I have 9 books in a queue to review and I will be getting through them as soon as possible.

It’s been a little while since I mentioned my weight and fitness. I weighed myself this morning and am currently at 15 stone and 13 pounds, which is good progress. I feel very good to be under 16 stone again and seeing the number change on the scale is uplifting and encouraging. I have a few longer walks planned soon because I really need to get used to be up and about for long days out again.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

Ashley

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – Film Review

Director: David Lynch

Writers: David Lynch and Robert Engels

Starring: Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, David Bowie, Eric Da Re, Kiefer Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton,  Heather Graham and David Lynch

Rating: ★★★★

Twin Peaks was a ground-breaking TV show that has stood the test of time, even though it was cancelled after two seasons. It captivated a devoted cult following quickly with its central mystery surrounding the death of Laura Palmer. After being cancelled, David Lynch couldn’t leave the world behind and wanted to tell more of Laura’s story. The result is the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, that works as both a prequel and sequel to the TV series. It is a mix of the humour and quirkiness of the original show with all of the strangeness and horror of Lynch’s other feature films.

Fire Walk With Me has just received a Criterion Collection Blu-ray and it’s a perfect time to re-visit the divisive film. As Lynch himself says – ‘get your bag of popcorn and get into it’.

All of the usual Lynch moments are here, the strange dream-like feel to everything. The absurd humour that you’re not sure is supposed to be funny or not. The great collection of strange and weird characters and unique moments. It’s the strange and wonderful world of Twin Peaks that was introduced in the series with even more strangeness to it.

Fire Walk With Me is two almost completely separate stories in the Twin Peaks universe. The extended prologue deals with the investigation of Teresa Banks’s murder, which is mentioned in the TV series, but never fully explored. The rest of the film deals with the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life, ending exactly where the TV show starts. The prologue is more interesting as it expands on the universe and introduces many elements that would be featured more heavily in season three, that aired twenty-five years after Fire Walk With Me. This is the first mention of Judy, who would become an important character in the Twin Peaks lore.

The two different chapters to the film have completely different tones and a general feel. The prologue feels closer to the TV show, even though there are only a few characters from the show. The quirky odd humour is almost exclusively in the first part. Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) story is darker and depressing. It feels more distant from the show, even though all the characters and settings are present.  

The film has a great sense of impending doom. Even if you didn’t have any idea what was going to happen to Laura, you can feel that something is happening. It’s an oppressive feeling. There’s a clock that keeps on appearing, as if it’s counting down the final moments and you can feel that hanging over every scene.

The TV show reveals a lot about Laura’s dark life but seeing it on screen puts it in a whole new context. The film deals with the alienation, abuse and depression that Laura felt during her last few days of her life. Leland (Ray Wise), her father, is abusing her mentally, physically and sexually. Driving her to a state of madness. Laura doesn’t realise it is her dad but sees the manifestation of Bob (Frank Silva). The film shows the struggle that Laura goes through when trying to come to terms with what is happening. It’s haunting and dark.

Sheryl Lee’s performance is breath-taking. You can feel every emotion that she is going through, the confusion and disorientation, the fear, the depression. It’s all there on Lee’s face. There’s a moment when she walks into a bar, when she’s on the verge of figuring everything out, and her face is on the verge of tears and there is so much hurt and pain in her expression.

The music is absolutely stunning. All of the themes from the TV show are here along with new compositions from Angelo Badalamenti. It’s mesmerising and emotional and puts you directly into the mood of watching Twin Peaks and is just brilliant in every single moment. When the original theme song plays over the welcome to Twin Peaks sign, it puts you right back into the show. The scene in the club, with the loud repetitive throbbing music is brilliant, purely because of the music. Badalamenti’s music is a vital part of Twin Peaks.

When Fire Walk With Me was originally released it was met with general disdain. Critics and fans disliked it. In the years since opinions have soften and the film has been reappraised as one of Lynch’s better films. The contrast in tone to the TV show is one of the main reasons people reacted strongly against the film. If you watch the thirty episodes of the original Twin Peaks and then watch the film, it clashes massively. This isn’t fan service, it’s a David Lynch film through and through. It expands on the show without relying on nostalgia. Now it’s a stepping stone to the madness that is season three.

The new Criterion Collection includes a new transfer of the film, overseen by Lynch. It looks incredible and the sound is perfect. The set comes with a load of extras, including The Missing Pieces, the 90 minute feature of deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me. Interviews with Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie and David Lynch, which are insightful and interesting. There is also a 50ish page booklet that includes extracts from Lynch on Lynch, that gives a lot of detail on the inspiration and creation of Twin Peaks, both the series and the film. It’s a must have for any Twin Peaks fan.

Fire Walk With Me both expands the universe of Twin Peaks and works as a stand alone film. The first half is more interesting with it’s strange dream like sequences and the first mentions of Judy and the Blue Rose. The second half is a depressing dark tale about abuse and Laura Palmer’s final days are haunting. It’s an excellent film whether you love the series, hate the series of you’ve never seen it at all.  

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Eclipse, volume 1 – Book Review

Eclipse tells the story of a dystopian future where a solar flare has destroyed the way we live. The sun burns so brightly that it will burn anyone in daylight, instantly killing them. Ten years have passed and people have adjusted to living nocturnal lives. There are a group of people who wear special suits that allow them to be out in the sun. While on a routine check they find someone who was murdered by being left out in the sun.

The first volume deals with the murder, finding out who did it and why. It’s a great introduction to the series. It’s easy to read, the artwork is nice and the story flows really nicely. It does a great job of showing you the world, but still keeping the story going so you aren’t bogged down in details.

There are also a few flashbacks to the few days after the solar flare and gives backstory to the main character David Baxter. It would be nice to get more of this, and maybe there is in volumes 2-4.

Eclipse is a really good read and I had a great time with it. I’ll be checking out the rest of the series as soon as possible.

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