Posts Tagged ‘liam neeson

21
Jun
10

I’m Not Lovin’ It When an Adaptation Comes Together. ‘The A-Team’

They stayed true to shit blowin’ up…

Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Charlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Based on the TV series, “The A-Team.”

“In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.”

So goes another piece of my childhood: “The A-Team.” Let’s set the Wayback Machine once again for the Eighties and all it encumbered. In a decade that started after the official end of the Vietnam War there came the idea of the anti-hero on television: the guy you shouldn’t root for but you do because he’s out to become the hero. It probably started with Sergio Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy (especially “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) and continued with such fare as the “Billy Jack” series, “Walking Tall,” “First Blood,” “Death Wish,” and “Mad Max” (and its follow-up “The Road Warrior”). In these the antagonist became a victim before becoming the hero; the man whom acts out cathartic feelings of the collective.

Whatever becomes popular in film will seep into television and the anti-hero was no exception. “Knight Rider” gave us a cop (Michael Long, for the trivia inclined) who became injured in the line of duty only to return to fight crime as a lone crusader with the help of a rich benefactor, plastic surgery, and a talking car named K.I.T.T. Or there was Stringfellow Hawk (Jan Michael Vincent), a lone man hired to run a top secret helicopter called Airwolf while the powers that be tried to help him get his half-brother back. And then one of my favorites, “The Equalizer,” about a former British secret agent named Jack McCall who moves to New York City and makes it his job to help out the less fortunate to “pay” for whatever atrocities he committed in his life.

Out of this pool came “The A-Team”: a group of miscreant Vietnam War commandos operating as Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Southern California. There was Colonel Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), the grizzled, cigar-chomping “man with the plan.” Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck (Dirk Benedict), the ladies man and improv actor. Bosco “B.A.” Barracus (Mr. T), the brute force/muscle man of the group with a bad attitude. And finally H.M “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) the weapons/inventions madman. All of them had their quirks and lest we not forget their catchphrases: Hannibal’s “I love it when a plan comes together,” and Mr. T’s “I pity the fool.” It was all big, dumb fun with two-dimensional characters (at best) and when your other choices are the Duke Boys in their Dodge Charger, Magnum cruising Hawaii in his Ferrari, or anything else I’ve mentioned, it’s all par for the course.

Got all that? There will be a quiz later.

Joe Carnahan’s adaptation of the TV series feels a half-hearted, as if the cheese was picked off of the pizza and what we are seriously having for dinner is cardboard with sauce on it. To his credit the characters felt more fleshed-out than the TV series, and the actors who play the roles get them right for the most part (props to Charlto Copley’s take on Murdock), but still… something feels missing.

The action kicks off with Hannibal, bound to a chair by two Mexican thugs who took a wad of cash off of him before letting the Doberman dogs try to rip him to pieces. The guys leave, he gets free, the dogs go after him, they run away, he lights a cigar and sneers. Yep, badass.

Meanwhile some distance away “Face” (Cooper) is in a bathrobe inside a series of rubber tires while a guy places a noose around his neck and someone else gets gasoline to set him on fire. He slept with a General’s wife, the General is getting his revenge, and he’s waiting for Hannibal to show up.

Incidentally Barracus (Jackson) is not too far away, just having gotten out of prison he goes to reclaim his van (a modified version of the TV one) and is heading into Mexico when he almost -literally- runs into Hannibal who forces him at gunpoint to help pickup Face.

Sometime later they are at a medical hospital to pick up Murdock (Copley) who pretends to be a doctor and stitches a lightning bolt on B.A.’s arm and sets Face on fire. Hannibal picks him up because he’s a qualified chopper pilot.

Fast-forward 8 years and 80 missions later. CIA Agent Lynch (Wilson) confronts Hannibal with a mission: retrieve some stolen U.S. currency plates from Iraqis who want to start their own printing press. General Morrison (McRaney) asks Hannibal not to take on the mission because it’s currently being seen to by Blackforest Ops lead by Brock Pike (Brian Bloom). Enter Charisa Sosa (Biel), the standard former-love-interest-turned-bitch to Face. She knows that by telling Face not to do the mission that he’ll do it. And they do. And things go badly.

Morrison is killed which leads to the group being dishonorably discharged and sent to various federal pens. Lynch helps Hannibal break out and he rounds up the rest of the team, from Face living a posh lifestyle (he has a tanning bed) to B.A. Finding peace within himself and adapting a way of non-violence to Murdock being Murdock at another medical hospital. The team is now out to find who killed Morrison, why they were setup, and what happened to the plates.

And that, my friends, is all the setup you need.

Overall, I wish the movie had been more fun. It’s not necessarily the “cheese factor” but it could’ve used a bit of that. Neeson is a great actor and granted the man plays most every role with a deal of conviction, but the Hannibal of the series never had that conviction or if he had it was momentary. Cooper does a good job as being Face but he’s also starting his career for the most part and there aren’t a lot of other parts to compare him to. Jackson as B.A. Barracus lacks the “dumbness” or brute mentality that Mr. T had in the series. Charlto Copley, however, nails Murdock and is a great role for him following last year’s “District 9.”

I had a lot of hopes for this movie coming from the director of “Narc,” and “Smokin’ Aces” and was let down. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare (can anyone given the source material) but had wanted something more; something less placid and surface-level. There are general moments that are funny but for the most part its played as if everyone knows what’s going on all the time which is something that the audience should not see or know. Also there were not enough moments of things going horribly wrong -the movie and its characters keep running as if nothing just happened. We need the ups and downs in order to root for them.

WATCH FOR: Director Joe Carnahan as the liaison at the Mexican medical hospital. Also stay after the end credits to see Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict doing cameos.

My grade: C (re-evaluated)

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

Advertisements
11
May
10

Mythology Returns to the Movies with “Clash of the Titans”

A black pegasus?

Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Louis Leterrier

NOTE: I watched the film in Real 3-D.

I was all of four years of age when the original “Clash of the Titans” was released in 1981 and like every kid who grew up in the Eighties, I’ve watched the original at least a dozen times. Not to have a “back in the day” moment, but mythology was one of those cool things that sprang up on occasion. There was only one universal book on the subject by Edith Hamilton and aside from the fact that my “gifted”/really intelligent kids program did a unit of study on it, I might not have known anything about it save for the fact that the movie production company Orion was named after the constellation named for the mythological character. I have no idea or clue if kids are interested in it nowadays.

This remake directed by Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk”) brings back that since of nostalgia for Perseus, Zeus, Athena, Io, and the myriad of characters that deep down we find fascinating. Mythology envelopes us in a time and place where incredible feats were accomplished and the gods did way more than just place dice with the universe.

Loosely following the structure of a film that played pretty loosely with actual mythology, the story opens with the constellations in the sky and explains the creation of the Kraken (which comes into play later, if you didn’t know) as well as what happened between the god brothers Zeus and Hades. After creating the Kraken (a hideous, evil creature) Zeus sent Hades to sit immortality out running the underworld (a little Christianity with your Greek mythology, folks?)

Perseus is a baby laying on his dead mother’s body inside a coffin when he’s picked up by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) who brings him up as his own son. On a particular trip in his late teens Perseus (now a grown Sam Worthington) and his family watch from their boat as the tides of change have enacted against the gods and a ginormous statue of Zeus is being toppled from a cliff by soldiers. The world of men no longer needs the gods; they can make their own.

Which doesn’t bode well on Mount Olympus where Zeus looks down to see that Man has turned against him. He needs the love and worship of Man to have power and he’s quickly losing it. When his brother Hades (Fiennes) shows they make a deal to teach mankind a lesson, not knowing that Hades has bigger plans. In the meantime Zeus sends winged creatures to pick-off the soldiers and Perseus’s family drowns when their boat is capsized by the falling statue.

At Argos a ceremony is being held by the king and his wife who decry the gods and goddesses. When the queen states that her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is better looking than the goddess Athena, Hades makes his play on the kingdom of Argos: unless the king sacrifices his daughter for his wife’s insolence to Athena, the kingdom of Argos will be destroyed in ten days. Oh, and by the way Persues, the guy they pulled from the ocean, is a demi-god. Thanks.

Which causes Perseus a lot of problems. First off he blames Zeus for the death of his family. Second, the gods aren’t exactly winning any population contests with the people. Third, he’s just a fisherman and really doesn’t want to answer to being any more than what he is (an ongoing theme in the film). Meanwhile, we find out more about the birth of Perseus. His father Acrisius (Jason Flemyng) got screwed-over by Zeus in the beginning of Man’s war against the gods when Zeus came to Earth in the form of Acrisius and made out with his wife. Acrisius finds out, Zeus flees the scene and Acrisius waits until Perseus is born before putting his wife and him into a coffin and throwing it into the ocean. The demi-god Io (Arterton) guides the coffin to the boat of a fisherman while Zeus punishes Acrisius by deforming him (he now becomes Calibos) and banishing him to be Hades’ neighbor. Speaking of, Hades hires Calibos to kill Perseus because he has big plans.

Perseus meets Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) the leader of the Argos soldiers sent to prevent the death of Andromeda by… whatever. We in the theater (and at home) know it’s the Kraken, but the characters aren’t exactly sure what’s going on or really where they’re going; for all they know they could be on a suicide mission to chuck a ring into a volcano. They pick up two travelers and a Djinn (decrepit guy who can wield ancient magic) on their way to the witches and to Medusa and finally back to Argos to save the princess and keep Argos from being obliterated by the Kraken.

It’s better than I thought it would have been. Honestly. I loved growing up watching the original and was more than cautious on seeing this one. Having picked up the original on Blu-ray I can see it through a different set of eyes and –yes- it’s not the greatest movie since the train station one by the Lumiere Brothers, but it’s good and worthy of seeing at a theater.

Leterrier’s remake parallels the original but keeps its distance. Instead of “one man making a journey” it becomes a sort of “Fellowship Against the Kraken.” In the original Perseus went through self-imposed training to become PERSEUS and save the day whereas in this version the character doesn’t want to answer “the call of destiny” opting to rebel against it either because he just wants to be a fisherman or his self-esteem really is that low. The white Pegasus was traded for a black one, and the Kraken is a verifiable sea monster with tentacles as opposed to the giant Harryhausen creation.

My main complaint on the movie is that it lacks imperative nature. At no point in the film is there a time countdown; in fact, the film feels like it took place over two or three days at most. While there is camaraderie among the rag-tag group, they’re all sure of pursuing certain death so that Perseus can become who he needs to become in order to save Argos/the Princess/the day but Perseus doesn’t believe in himself nor what he’s being expected to do. Meanwhile, those around him get killed. And at the end of it all everything is righted again but it doesn’t stop from feeling underwhelming.

And that’s a concern: that our culture has divided everything into being either super-soft touchy/feely or super-action hero incredulous; there seems to be no middle ground. This is a movie for a generation of kids who grew up on “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” antidepressants, etc. On one hand not having more anima hurts this film and keeps it from being great. On the other, Leterrier makes a case about friendship, love, worship, the gods, and becoming one’s own self, regardless of fate or destiny.

Another minor adjunct complaint: everyone in the movie seemed to know what was going on/what they had to do but ignored the audience. Maybe this is a “gutsy” move to make audiences think, or maybe Leterrier is harkening back to olden days when everything wasn’t explained to its final detail. I don’t remember what led them from one place to the next except for a clue, and not one person questioned what was going on. Maybe I’ll chalk that up to “lack of character development” and letting the characters serve the story.

Special effect fight scenes were really well done. Acting was pretty good. The filmmakers attempted to take the original and make it their own and for the most part (given the source material) they did so. As for 3-D content… I have problems with 3-D glasses. Aside from putting them over my own I have a stigmatism and it takes ten minutes for my eyes to adjust to the image and as long as the picture stays in place I’m fine. The problem with 3-D (and me watching it as well) is when quick-cut fast-paced action sequences occur; they give me a headache. If you have the same problem, you may wanna skip seeing it in 3-D.

I can recommend this as a good matinee film or you may want to opt for full-price. It’s good for a remake and I would consider seeing it again.

Watch for Bubo (the mechanical owl) to make an appearance.

My grade: B

20
Mar
09

In Passing… Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

natasha_richardson

 

Broadway, theatre, TV, and film actress Natasha Richardson passed away on March 18, 2009. Richardson was the daughter of director Tony Richardson and actress Vanessa Redgrave, as well as wife to actor Liam Neeson and mother to their two sons Michael and Daniel. Natasha was a little girl when she was on extra in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1968). She had parts on TV in “Ellis Island” and “Oxbridge Blues” before having her film debut as Mary Shelley in “Gothic” (1986). She is more widely known for playing Patty Hearst in “Patty Hearst” (1988). During “Anna Christie” she met Liam Neeson. The two worked on “Nell” and were married after. While Richardson did TV and film roles, she primarily worked in theatre and has won a Tony award for Lead Actress in a Musical, a Drama Desk Award for Lead Actress in a Musical, and an Outer Critics Circle Award. She has won awards in TV and film as well. She dies from an epidural hematoma. She was 46.

 

Thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.

 

For more information check out her IMDB page at:

 

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001670/