Rewind Review: The Next Three Days

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

The Next Three Days (2010)

The Next Three Days unquestionably has some good elements to it but there are far too many occasions it trips itself up just when it is gaining momentum. It ends up being too far-fetched, silly and to an extent anti-climactic to be an effective action film.

The biggest strike against it in the far-fetched arena is that this film uses the Youtube-created myth of a punctured tennis ball being able to unlock a car door. Either the filmmakers never saw that Mythbusters episode or they don’t care. This makes even less sense when you consider the bump key plan, were John (Russell Crowe) learns to fashion a key that can open any door. At least there the way it’s explained it seems feasible. In terms of being far-fetched it almost doesn’t bear mentioning that this film contains the obligatory scene where Liam Neeson is brought in to be awesome. The information he gives is crucial but the way he delivers it and how its used is somewhat suspect.

Neeson’s performance is wonderful but it gets a bit expository and at some point and you wonder why he doesn’t lower his voice and/or look around to see if he’s being overheard, which I blame on the director- even having written a book about escaping prison you’d think he’d want to be a little discreet about being an accomplice before the fact. Then the numbers on how long it’ll get to put certain lock downs in place are taken as gospel and placed on a map and on our protagonist’s wrist, as if he would forget like this is Memento or something.
There are a few miscalculated story devices that end up working against the film: The first being the ticking clock element. It is treated like gospel but when the time runs out there really isn’t an overt threat that makes it seem as if our hero is going to get caught. Then there is the question of guilt or innocence. Due to the fact that the film wants to leave that question in doubt we rush through the early part of the story, are left thinking the protagonist is a little delusional and then are escorted through a moderate twist-ending.
Perhaps what is most difficult to embrace about this film is that our lead does resort to extraneous criminal activity to pull off the escape. To go into more detail would be to give too much away. Suffice it to say that decisions are made to cross a line that needn’t be crossed to get the job done.

Now there is in this film a few very good touches which make it watchable and do build suspense. One of the best touches being that upon leaving his house John removes all materials from his “war room.” It ends up filling three bags of garbage. Two he takes with him and one he leaves in the trash can to be found. This acts a diversion and is very well done.

However, as with everything in this film, it seems that for every step forward there was a step back. As enjoyable as that little ploy was it does try to bury something that was a niggling concern throughout, which is that he very clearly has details of his plans and calculations plastered all over his wall simply because they accommodate the aesthetics of the cinematography and tosses aside any semblance of realism. Should anyone have entered this room it would be obvious he was plotting something.

Ultimately, there are a few elements to latch on to that will get you through this film mainly watching the plot of the escape unfold, however, there are too many elements that hold it back and stop it from staying afloat.

4/10

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Review- Wrath of the Titans

Sam Worthington in Wrath of the Titans (Warner Bros.)

The first film in this newly reborn series was passable, but barely. There was a rote nature to it that held it back from being all it could have been. While this film doesn’t maximize the full potential of Greek mythology, it does implement its gods and demigods in a much more enjoyable fashion than the prior installment did. What minor stumbles occurred in this installment were more just missteps than an over-aching approach that was slightly off, so the end result is very enjoyable.

To start with the elements that are slightly off: one of my pet peeves that makes suspension of disbelief rather difficult in many films, (and it is truly a question of accents more so than performance) is the unwritten cinematic tradition in the US has stated that British accents substitute for foreign tongue when the film is shot entirely in English. The first installment adhered to said rule, so it was fine. Here it is sketchy. Sam Worthington is speaking with a full-on Australian accent. While I applauded the decision in the Narnia series that took Caspian from sounding Castilian to using his natural voice, it’s more forgivable in a fantasy, and at least in the Narnia series there was a conscious attempt to make the Telmarines sound like they were from another country in a fantastical realm, hence the affectation. Here there’s no basis in logic for the switched accent.

Yet, despite that distraction, the performances are good. Worthington is slightly more engaging than before; Fiennes and Neeson are allowed to strut their stuff more than they were. Meanwhile, Rosamund Pike adds a much needed tough-girl factor and John Bell, as Helius Perseus’ son, gives an effective performance which acts as Perseus’ catalyst in part.

The beginning of this film means well by establishing that Perseus has had it with the gods and their games and he should be reticent, however, the stakes introduced are far too high for him to ignore. We end up knowing he’ll resist but concede to the quest so the first act is rather bereft of tension. To the film’s credit, tension does come eventually but this beginning holds it back, and despite all the past experiences he has seems uncharacteristic.

Once the obligatory resistance is overcome the story really kicks into high gear and becomes very entertaining indeed. There is an ease with which the story flows in this installment that was not quite as present previously.

Similarly, and this is crucial, several different mythical elements are introduced in this film, and barring the occasional bit of expositional dialogue, they are folded into the mix much better. This more seamless blending of mythological tropes makes the story far more engaging and enjoyable than the predecessor.

I can’t speak for the 3D as I did not see it as such, however, the effects work is definitely an upgrade and when you consider the fact that much bigger creatures, both in stature and importance, are tackled than this is also a very welcome change.

The score of the film also does its part to churn the film along while adding the necessary tension to the mix.

The new incarnation of Greek Myth films has not yet been perfected but this most certainly is a step in the right direction and very much worth checking out.

8/10

Review- The Grey

Liam Neeson in The Grey (Open Road Films)

Here’s another Liam Neeson butt-kicking his way out of trouble by himself with the promise to be so much more than the other ones. In some ways it better but in other ways it is more frustrating when things don’t quite work which they don’t on more than one occasion.

Now where this film succeeds greatly is in the use of the poem in voice over and then being explained later on along with the flashbacks. There are few things I enjoy more than effective and well-placed flashbacks and that I cannot take away from this film.

Now the film is about survival on the surface and frankly it’s better at skimming the surface than trying to plumb the depths. Yet even in the surface discussions of survival there are too many old hat, “necessary” conversations. One of which is the repetitive “Who made you boss?” discussion. It always ends in submission and it comes up too often in this film. I’m sure there are instances of one person leaving the pack and dying but you don’t see it enough.

One area wherein I don’t have issues with the film is on the animal rights front. There are reports of some groups being against this film. That’s silly. The film does a good job of explaining wolves habits and when they will attack and it’s a Darwinian set up. Yes, in his “past life” Neeson’s character was a contract killer but the bulk of the film is a kill or be killed basis. Not to mention that many scenes had no actual wolves in them.

So the animals pose no problem to me in my viewership and enjoyment of this film what does is one character in particular. Death to a film where it’s life or death is your not caring in the least of one of the character’s meets their demise, worse yet if you want it. That character to me in this film is Diaz. It’s not Grillo’s interpretation that I have an issue with it’s just that it’s written in such a way that there’s next to no chance for redemption for him.

Yet through all that I was hanging on for dear life and then the ravine swinging sequence and the end really took it over the edge. Now the former I can discuss. After real, gritty action suddenly a cliché, and an implausible one at that, breaks out. And it was lengthy and dumb and yet I still was kind of into it. Then it ended.

Like with any film I try and find things to like and there were quite a few things here. I can see how one would like it but it just really fell short for me.

5/10

Review- Unknown

Liam Neeson in Unknown (Warner Bros.)

OK, so here comes another one. Unknown is a film that to review properly, in my estimation, requires a few disclaimers:

1) SPOILER ALERT. I feel it’s important to get this one out of the way as soon as possible. I try to avoid it as much as I can but on occasion there will be a film that will leave you with little to no choice in the matter. I haven’t compelled to spill as much of the beans to make my point since I saw Orphan.

2) This is a hazardous film for me to review as a filmmaker. We are all guilty of armchair direction. Meaning we sit there and debate how we might’ve handled shots or the story. Part of my delay in writing this was to get past all the “I would’ve changed that” moments. I think it’s true in any form of criticism. Most notably food, I hate when a critic on a food shows alters the dish so greatly as to change it. Then it’s totally different and you’re not judging what’s on the plate. There are plenty of issues with “what is on the plate” in this story so I’ll leave it at that.

Without much further ado, Unknown.

This is another in a long line of films to have a pretty big twist due to either the fallibility of its protagonists memory or perception of reality. Unlike, say Shutter Island, the film doesn’t hinge entirely on the twist but the twist illuminates other issues.

The twist that Liam Neeson’s character is an assassin who after an accident has started to believe his cover story is his reality. In and of itself that’s a pretty darn good premise, however, in bringing that to fore there are many issues. Now one case of I wish that I will employ in this review is that while the coil is wound tightly you’re not necessarily expecting the criminal underworld to play into it and it’s a more effective story there.

The problem with the execution of the concept is that once the cat is out of the bag there is ample time for you to think back and realize how inconceivably unbelievable some of this film is.

Example: Neeson’s would-be wife, and actual assassin, is dumb enough to let his bag get lost which sets up the inciting incident. If there are crucial documents and information in their luggage why not handle it whenever possible? Secondly, the doctor immediately assumes that he is confused and misremembering things rather than coming to that conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Memory and the functions of the brain are still so mysterious such that it’s difficult to believe that someone’s adverse reaction to trauma can be that easily guessed.

Then there’s this lovely little cliché: everyone Neeson runs into, practically, is in some way involved in this plot and trying to stifle his paranoid rantings. He happens across more people by chance who are involved than those who are not and it’s annoying and hard to swallow.

As a viewer I am one who tends to suspend disbelief rather easily so bear this in mind before I describe the next “I just didn’t buy it” moment. When Neeson is knocked out of the equation he is quickly replaced by his back-up. The problem here is that he is supposedly a noted scientist and no one notices his photo changing on a website, no one has ever seen this man just talked to him and over the course of a single year he’s developed a big reputation as a botanist.

It’s all a bit much. Neeson for the most part does a fine job in this film. He does manage to stick with his American persona without too many chinks in the armor but he’s also not given a great deal to work with. He said “I am Doctor Martin Harris” so many times it was a punchline amongst viewers both during and after the screening.

The bottom line is this: too many films are overly concerned with “fooling the audience” because they fear being too predictable, however, more often than not this has lead to films which are so ridiculously far-fetched they border on being laughable. For an example see the film Shutter. Yes, it’s horror and it’s difficult to be “believable” and original there but there’s a motif revealed at the end which fooled me, yes but also made me laugh when I saw it.

People have no problem with predictability believe it or not. We just want good. If you find me a person who walked in to The King’s Speech who having read the synopsis didn’t know what to expect I have a bridge I need to sell. It’s somewhat predictable nature doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine film. It’s just good we want, not tricks, which are after all for kids.

4/10