Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taken: a thinking man's action flick

New to the screen is the Liam Nelson fueled Taken, which pits a retired "preventer" (read: bad mother) against ethnic mobsters who have stolen his daughter to sell into prostitution.

Sort of Daddy Knows Best meets Man on Fire, Taken starts out slow and picks up pace. Brian Mills retired to connect with his Californian daughter, who he barely gets to see at her birthday before the shrewish ex-wife starts busting his chops. Husband number two is a rich Nancy-boy that trots out the pony birthday gift making Mills' carefully chosen and wrapped gift a quickly forgotten trinket. All this middle-aged divorcee's issues nicely setups up Mills' character, skills, and emotional state. He will do anything for his daughter, even take a security job for a pop star just to ask her how his little princess can break into the singing business. Even letting himself be manipulated into agreeing to her trip to Paris.

So, said princess is taken by Albanian mobsters while on the phone with the father. He springs into intelligent action collecting evidence, reaching out to contacts, doing his homework. This is a prudent older gentleman, who doesn't even yell that much--and he barely repeats himself. Some leads don't work out, but quickly his efforts lead him to the grittiest levels a PG-13 rating should allow.

The skill craft is good. He's not superhuman, he's not a daredevil, his combat is subtle and realistic by movie standards. Car chases are practical if not a little fanciful, and the big stunt is what appears to be a live stuntman falling what must be the absolute distance limit. Sometimes he's lucky, sometimes he's quick, but Mills' eyes are always one step ahead of the viewer--watching who gives the order, noting who's got the key, measuring the distance to the next bridge.

Mills' says, "no," at first, to a 17 year old going to Paris without adults because he's not an idiot. But also, he's not the cool dad; in a word, he's kind of conservative.

And the negative characters in this film are kind of a conservative hit-list: the poor parent/mean ex-wife, the bitchy pop star, the pampered slutty influence on the daughter, the corrupt bureaucrat that enables crimes, the illegal immigrant gang, the French, and the evil, decadent Arab sheik. And oddly, it is the daughter's own values that seem to give her the few breaks she gets.

Taken doesn't have that "hero moment", it has cold blood and a warm heart. Not flashy, not abig popcorn movie, but way more refined than you'll get in most genre flicks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

FF 562 review

Fantastic Four number 562 is a boring issue and a so far good run. Sure, I kind of found the death of future Sue Richards predictable, but I was pleased that even if they created an easy target at least Dr. Doom got to kill somebody. With all that’s been happening with Secret Invasion and Dark Reign (or not happening), surely the book can be forgiven for an issue that has a funeral, a minor family tension setup, and “some one is coming” cliffhanger.

But it is hard to forgive what they did to Dr. Doom. Richards heads to the Hague to defend Doom from a death sentence, which is stupid for a number of reasons: 1) because the Hague does not do capital punishment anymore, and how would you execute a guy that can switch minds with people? 2) Dr. Richards killed a ton of Skrulls for kidnapping his family but now he’s all Christ-like and forgiving, didn’t he almost kill the director of SWORD and not even say “sorry?” 3) What exactly would he say to defend Doom? Doom helped deliver his child then tried to sell the child to the devil? Doom is a great leader whom Richards has deposed on a couple of occasions?

What’s worse than bad ideas is bad ideas done well. The art is fun if not perfect, the dialogue is well written. Every panel is clearly going to pay off—well, except for the trial of Doom since he was sent back to Latveria in Dark Reign number one. Doom as crazy evil, bad characterization but par for the course at Marvel these days when dealing with true super-human antagonists. But then there’s the “My Master” bit.

Doom has a master? A master that taught him everything? Come on! Let’s just re-write the whole character! And because this master has almost no earthly connection you can be sure it’ll have no earth universe wide effect. Are they going to put the Osborn Supremacy on hold so earth’s heroes can have a planet wide battle with the mysterious master, no!

I have to give it to the writers that one of the most interesting things you could do to introduce a new villain is have Dr. Doom call him “master.” But you know what? As fun as the Millar run on FF might be, it lacks accountability. Global Warming is going to destroy the earth but forget about that there’s a huge Captain America robot on a rampage. Cap-bot commits various acts of war of nuclear powers and beats up all the heroes (but doesn’t kill any of them), but all is set right with a newly invented FF robot that is basically a WMD. Heroes from the future try to kill Johnny Storm and Doom but they were trying to save the world so just send them all to Nu-Earth (but nobody debrief hooded Logan on the next hundred years of world events). And now Dr. Doom has a master? It’ll probably be the last we hear of his connection to the bad guy. Millar calls it “the masters of doom” in a November interview were he claims to have more to say about the New Defenders. They apparently trained Doom but I doubt they’re from Tibet. Way before that Millar did an interview with where he says 1985, FF, and Old Man Logan are all interconnected. Millar suggests that one of the Masters of Doom do have something to do with the Tibetan monks and one of them is the villain from 1985, which makes no sense. Maybe it’s the Monster in the Iron Mask from Tales of Suspense number 31, but really, Doom’s master? Seriously?

How about next story arc they try to find the formula Magneto made himself a mutant with? Or make contact with the aliens that really designed the Iron Man armor? Or maybe Richards will time travel back to WWII and plant a clone of Captain America in the arctic because he actually saves the real Captain America brings him to the present—wait that last one actually sounds kind of cool. Anyway, the point is Fantastic Four is good, but it reads like it’s the only book there is or ever was in the Marvel. These are my friends Mr. Kirby and Mr. Lee, they did more than just setup it up so they get a check every time you put pen to paper. Perhaps the tiniest illusion of respect is in order?

Then again, I do plan on buying the next issue. I mean, I got to find out who Dr. Doom’s Master is, right? Maybe it’ll not suck, but I doubt it.