[Happy 5th Birthday!] The A-Team (2010)

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Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Patrick Wilson

Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.

 

It is difficult to turn a popular television series into a movie. How do you condense years of storytelling into two hours? It has been attempted multiple times for multiple series, and while many of these attempts do not fare well, some happen to slip between the cracks. One of these rare finds is 2010’s The A-Team from director Joe Carnahan (The Grey, Stretch).

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In the adaptation of the popular 1980s series, viewers get to see how the famous team was formed by Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Entourage). We see the meeting of the team, the inciting incident behind their court-martialing, and their fight to reclaim their freedom. After they are betrayed during a mission, Hannibal, Face (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Aloha), Murdock (Sharlto Copley, TV’s Powers, District 9) and B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, The Midnight Meat Train, Miss March) must outrun the cops, led by Face’s former flame Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist, Accidental Love) and try to prove their innocence with the help of the mysterious Lynch (Patrick Wilson, Insidious, Home Sweet Hell).

The A-Team is a perfect example of updating a classic scenario using all the bells and whistles of a big production. Getting strong performances from top names like Neeson, Cooper and Copley to play the infamous mercenaries (notice I didn’t mention Jackson here…) really elevates the level of excitement and fun had in this movie. We even get a unique and comedic performance from Wilson as Lynch, a notable character from the series.

Carnahan’s cinematography skill here is his ability to maneuver the camera constantly without resorting to shaky cam. It has a frenetic yet focused chaos to it. He also knows how to get a near-perfect flow from his films. The A-Team never lets up for the entirety of its near-two-hour runtime.

The subtle use of the original theme helps to homage the original musical cues. This is assisted by the great makeup and costuming. These characters are allowed to look damn cool no matter what they do. It is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s treatment of his characters. Everyone in this film is so cool it made me jealous.

The visual effects work quite well for a bulk of the film, but their overuse in the finale is noticeable aged and comes off much more cartoony than it should, making many of the stylized action pieces look a bit like a video game cut scene, which ultimately takes away from the “Wow” factor of the explosive ending.

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Thanks to some dated effects and the poor casting of Rampage Jackson as a carbon-copy attempt of Mr. T, The A-Team has some faults, but it is a rather underappreciated and sadly forgotten action spectacle. I suggest you take some time to revisit this oft-unloved film from a great but largely unnoticed director like Carnahan.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

The Boxtrolls (2014)

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Director: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi

Cast: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan

Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava

96 mins. Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Today, I have the pleasure of talking about the seventh-best film featuring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) and Nick Frost (Paul, Cuban Fury). This is the kindest I’m going to be on this.

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In The Boxtrolls, we get to meet…well, the Boxtrolls, a group of creatures similar to the Borrowers or the Underpants Gnomes in that they sneak up to the surface and steal objects from the humans. Also, they wear boxes. It is also the story of Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, TV’s Game of Thrones, The Awakening), a boy left in their care as a baby and raised by the creatures. Eggs heads up to where the humans reside in an attempt to keep his family safe from the diabolical Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List, Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse). In doing so, he meets Winnie (Elle Fanning, Maleficent, We Bought a Zoo) and the two team up to save the Boxtrolls.

I struggled through this film. It was tough. I kept telling myself it must get better; it was nominated for an Oscar. It didn’t get better though. The only scene that blew me away was the end credits in which Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade, TV’s The IT Crowd, The Watch) and Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan, TV’s 30 Rock, Accidental Love) discuss the meaning of life as the filmmakers construct the scene around them. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the animation team, and that part I will agree comes through. The animation is amazing. The technology has improved even upon the impressive ParaNorman.

Beyond the animation and visual look of the film, there really is nothing left in this casket of a movie. The voice work is fine enough to get by, but this story just goes nowhere. It feels like someone threw several plot pieces onto the screenplay just to see if it would come off as quirky. Quirky it is. Good it is not.

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The Boxtrolls is a technical marvel indeed, yet it isn’t an animated film worthy of the statue or even really the nomination. It looks good, but like an aged cheese, it leaves an odd taste in the mouth.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Taken (2008)

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Director: Pierre Morel

Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Famke Janssen

Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

93 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.

 

There was a time, not too long ago, when Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, A Walk Among the Tombstones) was not thought of as an action star. Think about that. Think about it.

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Bryan Mills (Neeson) is a retired CIA agent who spends his time in solitude while trying to build a relationship with daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lockout, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). When Kim wants to go to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy, TV’s Arrow, Monte Carlo), Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, TV’s Hemlock Grove, X-Men) is fine with it, but Bryan has his reservations. When his fears become true and Kim and Amanda are kidnapped in Paris, Bryan’s old CIA skills rise up and take over as he heads to France to find his daughter and get her back…and get revenge on those who took them.

Taken was a bit of a surprise for me. While I liked Liam Neeson from his work in Batman Begins and Schindler’s List, I never thought much on the one-man army concept working for him. I was wrong, and am happy for it. This is a nonstop thrill ride of immense proportions. Neeson kills it as Mills, and director Pierre Morel (From Paris with Love, District B13) keeps the film rollicking along. It isn’t perfect, but it is one of the better films to be dumped during the dry season for action films.

There isn’t anything truly special about the cinematography or the editing, the music is pretty nice but nothing amazing, and the direction isn’t going to win any major awards, but the film is still a fun time carried by a veteran performer and his ability to win fans over.

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Taken is pretty great, but not entirely well-made. See it for Neeson. See it. For Neeson. Yeah.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Non-Stop (2014)

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Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount, Lupita Nyong’o

Screenplay: John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, Ryan Eagle

106 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.

 

Liam Neeson gets on a plane…

I watched Non-Stop with the expectation to see Taken again. What I got was more like a rip-off of Taken 2. I found the film to be a bit of a bore, unlike normal Neeson fare. The movie tells the story of Bill Marks (Bryan Mills?), an alcoholic federal air marshal who hates planes. Perhaps this is the first indicator that you picked the wrong career. Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, A Million Ways to Die in the West) portrays Marks as he boards a flight and discovers that a killer is on the plane, but who is it? This is essentially the plot at its most intricate. Julianne Moore (Magnolia, last year’s Carrie remake) is Jen, a passenger on the plane who might want to bone the air marshal. The rest of the somewhat first-class cast are given coach roles and little wiggle room to stand out.

I’d like to point out that I don’t know how many flights allow vigorous make-out sessions and dry humping during flight, but maybe I need to switch airlines.

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I have very little to say that is good about this movie. It all comes down to a weak antagonist (literally a pop-up bubble text message that is sent to Bill throughout the film but does very little to convey menace), characters we don’t care about (live or die, who cares?), and a motive that is so over the top that it makes one laugh out loud at real tragedy and just downright pissed me off. I didn’t like this movie. For my money, I’ll hold out for Taken 3.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop? Did Liam Neeson save you on this film, or would you like a pillow for this flight?

The Lego Movie (2014)

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Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

100 mins. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

 

The Lego Movie has a simple enough premise: an ordinary everyday man (mini-figure?), Emmet (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, next year’s Jurassic World) discovers that he may actually be the Special, a Master-Builder who can save the Lego world from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell, Step Brothers, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), who plans to unleash a weapon known only as the Kragle. Joining Emmet in his quest is Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, Walk of Shame), another jealous Master,a Lego-ized Batman (Will Arnett, Despicable Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a cyborg pirate named Metal Beard (Nick Offerman, TV’s Parks & Recreation, 22 Jump Street), a princess unicorn/kitty (Alison Brie, TV’s Community, The Five-Year Engagement), a hyper-active astronaut (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses 2), and a wizard with a prophecy (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, Lucy). Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, A Million Ways to Die in the West) is Good Cop/Bad Cop, an unhinged enforcer working for Lord Business is hot on their tails.

This movie shocked me by how much I enjoyed it. After it began raking in the big bucks, I assumed it was at least something of merit, but originally, I laughed it off. I had seen toys/board games turned into really bad movies before, and I just knew that this would be one of them. After all, do Legos have a plot? Not really. In fact, they are meant to be a tool for imagination in a lot of ways. Little did I think that this would be the resounding theme of the film.

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The breakout voice work here is from Pratt, Arnett, and Neeson. The former two for their great comedic timing, and the latter for his ability to play straight-laced with absolutely wacky. I can tell from this performance that we will see a lot more headlining from Chris Pratt in the future (and that isn’t all that much of a prediction with Guardians of the Galaxy just recently released and Jurassic World on the way for 2015).

The cinematography in this movie is astounding. Get a look at this visual perfection. The Lego-style brick animation looks very stop-motiony and mixes perfectly with the lush landscapes in a very unique way that I’ve never seen before.

The music is another major win here. This score is very mechanical and, forgive my pun, building the entire story in a way that just pumped me up for the action and mayhem still to come. Let’s not forget the song “Everything is Awesome!” I could probably spend another article just analyzing this incredible piece that not only is very catchy, but also adds an entirely new dimension to the story.

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What more can I say? The Lego Movie is absolutely astounding! From the Octan references that harken back to my childhood to the overtly meta-storytelling we could get from Writer-Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, I cannot recommend this movie enough, both for children and adults, it works on just about every level, and it just so happens to be one of the best films of the year. Look for it in the Best Animated Feature category at next year’s Oscars.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie? Was Everything Awesome? Did the film just not snap together for you? Let me know!

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