February 19th, 2014

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: LIAM NEESON

Liam Neeson has done it all in his long and illustrious career. He’s played superheroes, super-villains, Jedis, gods, Scottish historical heroes, Irish historical heroes, and has lent his voice to everything from lions to Legos. Today, we’ll take a look at three of Neeson’s films.

First up is…

CROSSING THE LINE (1991) **

Liam Neeson stars as a loving father and family man who just lost his job. Out of work (and blacklisted for hitting a police officer), he eventually tries to put food on the table by being a bare knuckles brawler. Naturally, his wife hates the idea and leaves him, which disappoints him. But when the job has such perks as hookers and drugs, it’s hard to miss his old life. After Neeson blinds an opponent in the ring, he tries to make amends and quit the fighting life. He soon finds that it’s easier said than done.

Crossing the Line gets off to a very slow start. The scenes involving Neeson’s family strife are particularly dull. Overall, the first hour of the film feels like a bad British soap opera. Once the fighting aspect of the flick crops up, things improve, but not much. Neeson’s big match is fairly long and brutal, but the ensuing business with the gangster at the end draws things out needlessly.

Liam is nevertheless quite good and keeps things afloat whenever the pacing gets slow. The supporting cast is filled with a lot of familiar faces too. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer co-stars as Neeson’s wife, Pat Roach plays his first opponent, Hugh Grant is onscreen for about a minute as Whalley-Kilmer’s new man, and Billy Connolly has some good scenes as Neeson’s down-on-his-luck friend. Their performances don’t exactly help Crossing the Line cross the line into good movie territory, but they keep you watching.

AKA: The Big Man. AKA: The Big Man: Crossing the Line.

Our next Neeson film is…

WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012) **

I pretty much hated the Clash of the Titans remake. This one isn’t all that good either, but at least it doesn’t insult your intelligence or the memory of the 1981 original film. That doesn’t make it “recommended” though.

The Titans are losing their power. Zeus (Liam Neeson) wants to get help from his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), but he kidnaps him and unleashes fire-belching monsters on the humans. Zeus’ son, Perseus (Sam Worthington) must once again fight the gods and make some unlikely alliances to rescue his father.

Wrath of the Titans wastes no time getting down to business, which is admirable, but it suffers from a decided feeling of déjà vu. At all times it feels like deleted scenes from the Clash of Titans remake than a narrative of its own. But although the story is slight, it moves at an acceptable pace.

Perseus battles a Cyclops, a Minotaur, and various other assorted monsters. None of these scenes are especially great or memorable, but at least shit is happening. In the end, he fights a giant lava beast that is basically just a smoke and soot version of the Kraken from the first movie, which is a tad disappointing though.

Director Jonathan Liebsman films everything in a monochromatic pallor. He gives us a lot of monster battles, but they all kinda of blur together by the end. And you just have to sort of roll your eyes when the plot takes an X-Men 2 turn when the villain teams up with the heroes.

Worthington is yet again bland in this. And Fiennes looks like he’s there because his contract says so. Neeson is held captive in chains most of the time, so he’s not given much to do sadly.

The script, such as it is, isn’t much to brag about, but I did get a laugh during the scene where someone told Worthington to “go to Hell” and he replied, “That’s exactly where I’m going!”

And finally we have…

BATTLESHIP (2012) **

Taylor Kitsch stars as a fuck-up sailor who gets assigned aboard his brother Alexander Skarsgaard’s battleship. He’s in love with Brooklyn Decker and tries to meet her admiral father (Liam Neeson) and ask for his permission to marry her during the Navy’s war games off the coast of Hawaii. Before he can do that though, aliens land and start blowing up the fleet. Kitsch winds up being in command by process of elimination (READ: A whole bunch of people die) and it’s up to him and his remaining crew to save the world from an alien invasion.

Battleship was of course, based on the Hasbro board game. There is one scene where Kitsch and his crew use a low-fi method of using a grid to fire upon alien ships that is like the game, but it’s a long time coming. And not surprisingly, this is the best scene in the entire movie since it relies more on suspense than brainless action sequences.

Mostly, the film plays like a tribute to Michael Bay. It’s like a noisy, soulless mash-up of Pearl Harbor and Transformers. The good news is that director Peter Berg resists the temptation to use shaky-cam and over-edit the action scenes like Bay does.

Taylor Kitsch is kinda funny when he’s trying to impress Decker by breaking into a convenience store and stealing a burrito for her. And he isn’t bad in the scenes where he has to lead his men into battle. Rihanna is mostly there because they needed a pop star in there somewhere, but she doesn’t embarrass herself or anything. Neeson isn’t given much to do besides act grumpy and isn’t on screen long enough to make much of an impression.

Overall, Battleship is a “Miss”. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Next week’s Legend: Steve Martin!

ALIEN 51 (2004) *

A couple goes out to the middle of the desert to check out Area 51 and get killed by an alien that has escaped from the facility. It runs off to a nearby freak show and kills a hot lesbian in the crowd. A sexy Fish and Game warden (Phoebe Falconer) investigates while the owner of the freak show sets out to capture the alien and make it the main attraction.

Alien 51 is a bad movie that assaults you from all fronts with its awfulness. The alien costume is terrible, the pacing is nonexistent, and the gore is pretty pathetic. The cinematography is also really poor, so it’s hard to even look at, particularly in the nighttime scenes.

But it’s the acting that really takes the cake. Man, I have sat through some bad sci-fi/horror movies in my day, but I am hard pressed to think of another film with worse acting. Falconer looks plenty hot, especially with her short shorts and heaving cleavage. However, her line readings will make you cringe and she gives a performance so wooden that it’s bound to leave you with splinters.

Some people might disregard the previous statements and still watch Alien 51 just because Heidi Fleiss is in it. Unfortunately, her performance is just sad to watch. She’s often unintelligible and looks embarrassed to be there. You’ll probably feel the same way, especially when she says shit like, “What is this? The olden ages?”

AMERICAN MARY (2012) ** ½

Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student who is deep in debt. She eventually gets roped into performing plastic surgeries for a cult of people that get off on extreme forms of body modifications. One night, Mary is taken to a party by her professor who drugs and rapes her. She gets revenge on him by performing several body modification operations on him. Taking everything she learned from the operation, Mary uses her skills to open up her own underground body modification business.

American Mary is the Soska Sisters’ follow-up film to their Dead Hooker in a Trunk. And it’s a much more polished and accomplished movie than their first. Dead Hooker seemed like their ode to Troma films and this one plays like their version of an After Dark Horror Fest movie.

The film is at its best in the early going. The scenes of Mary getting lured into the realm of illicit body modifications are rather intriguing. And I liked the scenes of Mary interacting with her oddball patients too. Once the film focuses on her getting revenge on the professor, it begins to lose some of its appeal. And the film pretty much peters out completely by the end, thanks to the overlong running time (103 minutes).

But even though the film loses its way as it enters the second act, it still is worth a look thanks to Katharine Isabelle’s performance. She is excellent as the sexy, no-nonsense Mary. Even when she’s at her coldblooded iciest, she still manages to endear herself to the audience, which is quite a feat.

ANDROMINA: THE PLEASURE PLANET (1999) **

A couple of deep space pilots stop off at the planet of Andromina; which is nothing more than a deserted strip club. All the women have disappeared and the pilots decide to go to Planet Eros to find some hot babes. Each of them gets captured by a different tribe of women. One tribe treats the guy as a king, another ties him up, and the third want to use him as breeding stock. It’s then up to the guys to convince the girls to come back to them to Andromina.

Andromina: The Pleasure Planet looks like it was filmed on sets left over from other movies. There are medieval dungeons mixed in sci-fi settings and some primitive bamboo huts thrown in for good measure. The strip club set is also really cheap as it looks like it was set up in somebody’s living room. It’s also weird that the space guys wear outfits that make them look like extras from Robin Hood. But then again, that’s one of the goofy things about the flick that make it sorta watchable.

The flick runs 71 minutes. In that time, we get seven sex scenes; six Guy on Girl scenes and one Girl on Girl. That means we get an average of a sex scene nearly every ten minutes, which is pretty good, but a lot of the sex scenes suffer from choppy editing and/or too much slow motion. This leads me to believe that this might be an edited version of the film. They aren’t bad or anything, but once things threaten to get good, the scene will end abruptly. I mean you can’t tease the prospect of a naked pie fight and then not deliver on it!

HEIST (2010) * ½

Two knuckleheads are in deep to a tough customer. If they don’t come up with half a million dollars in a week, he’ll kill them. One dude takes the easy way out and blows his own brains out. To cover the debt, the other guy stages a big armored car robbery with the help of his criminal brother. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the shit hits the fan and everything spirals out of control.

I’ve sat through a bunch of crappy low budget, independently produced crime movies in my time. And Heist is certainly one of them. As far as these things go, it’s pretty bad. I can say in its favor that the cinematography is borderline professional and that some of the acting is serviceable. Other than that, it’s kinda unbearable.

The plot leaves something to be desired. The flick is marginally entertaining at the outset while chronicling our hero’s dilemma. However, once more and more characters enter the mix, things get jumbled up. The scenes of characters pulling guns on each other and yelling at the top of their lungs certainly didn’t help either. And when the robbery enters complication after complication, there’s even more yelling and screaming, which grates on the nerves. And incredibly, after the robbery is over, there is even MORE yelling due to all the double and triple crosses.

Bottom Line: Heist is far from a score.