A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 585 – Taken

Taken – October 6th, 2011

I’ll come right out and say it: I hated this movie. I hated every second of it. I came out of the movie feeling like I’d just been told the world hates me and wants to assault me and rape me and it’s my own damn fault if anything happens to me because I didn’t have a man watching me. That is the lesson this movie imparts. And it is vile. It is so vile that this movie has taken top honors in our collection as Movie I Hate The Most. I really thought Death Proof was going to walk away with that one since it’s held the top position for so long now, but no. This movie just waltzed in and swept it away. Congratulations, Taken, for being more hateful than Tarantino’s loving portrayal of women being brutalized. At least at the end Tarantino gave a different group of women the agency to exact revenge on their own.

Let me tell you a little story. When I was 17 I got a chance to spend three weeks in England as part of a school exchange. The other students who’d gotten into the exchange were friends with each other and carpooled with the faculty chaperon but I was more than a bit of an outsider in the group. I didn’t really socialize with any of the other girls and I’d barely ever spoken to the chaperon and I later learned that she tried to get me kicked out of the group because I wouldn’t mesh well with the others (there were no other reasons and since there were no other reasons she didn’t have much of an argument for it, so I went anyhow). So once we got to England I ended up spending a lot of time wandering London on my own. Granted, that wasn’t the safest thing to be doing, but I wasn’t precisely unfamiliar with cities and I wasn’t precisely naive about dealing with strangers. And you know what? Despite being on my own and young and fairly attractive according to general social norms, I was never once kidnapped, addicted to drugs and sold as a sex slave to the highest bidder. This, despite not having my father with me to fend off any would-be assailants. I’m not saying it’s an impossibility. I’m just saying it’s not the foregone conclusion this movie suggests.

Because in this movie? It is a foregone conclusion. Every single woman in this movie is either a victim of assault or an innocent protected/shielded by strong men. The victims are victims because they didn’t have strong men to protect them and are being used by evil men. That’s how the world works in this movie. And the only person who seems to get that (aside from the scores of evil men who do the kidnapping and raping) is former spy Bryan Mills, whose teenage daughter wants to go to Europe with a friend. His ex-wife, now a pampered housewife who is clearly supposed to have no real world experience whatsoever, convinces him to sign some paperwork that’s required for the still underage daughter to leave the country. And leave she does, with a friend who’s been overseas before. But as they’re both silly girls and have no man to take care of them, they are soon abducted. All Bryan has to go on is his daughter’s last known location and a frantic phone call she made when she saw the kidnappers enter the apartment she and her friend were staying in. The rest of the movie is scene after scene of Bryan being a bad ass former spy hell bent on getting his daughter back and scene after scene of the horrible things that happened to other young women who were presumably not under the protection of a man.

For all that Maggie Grace gets second billing after Liam Neeson for her role as daughter Kim, she gets barely any screen time post-kidnapping. Because really, she’s not a character in the movie. She’s an object. An object of great importance to Neeson’s Bryan, but an object nonetheless. Had this movie been about Neeson going after someone for some other reason and being a bad-ass? Had it been about, say, Helen Mirren in the same position? I would have found it a lot more enjoyable. For one, it really is cool to see Neeson be a bad ass. He does steely determination so very well and I don’t at all mind watching a man in his 50s kick some criminal butt. But stop for a moment and imagine someone like Mirren in the same role. Imagine it’s Kim’s mother coming after her, breaking people’s arms and smashing in their faces. I’d go see that in the theater! But this isn’t that movie. This is a movie that seems to be saying that men do things and women have things done to them. And that makes me sick.

What really hammered it home to me that this movie’s attitude towards women wasn’t just an unpleasant but hard-to-avoid consequence of the story’s particulars was a scene involving a former associate of Bryan and the former associate’s wife. Said associate was once a spy as well, but now he’s working a desk job. He’s gone soft and allowed himself to be bribed and has turned a blind eye to some nasty dealings. And when Bryan makes it clear he knows this associate knows something important, who does he threaten? The associate’s innocent and naive wife. In fact, he doesn’t just threaten her. He shoots her. Really, he’s not that far away from the evil men who took his daughter. So long as the woman isn’t related to him or useful to him, she’s fair game. How does that make him different from the men he’s been hunting this whole time? The answer is, it doesn’t.

I cannot fault the acting or the set dressing or the fight choreography. All were excellently done. The action scenes are great and indeed, if all I’d ever seen of the movie was Liam Neeson taking people down? I would have said it was a perfectly decent action movie. The hateful attitude towards women aside, the tension in the plot is built up well too. From the phonecall where Bryan tells his daughter what to do as she’s being grabbed to his piecing together of clues to where she’s been taken, it’s a tense thriller and that’s done well. But that nasty tone is present throughout and I just can’t overlook it. Not only that, but I don’t want to overlook it. I don’t want to accept that it’s a reasonable thing for a movie to do. I hated this movie. I hated it deeply. And unlike Death Proof I don’t think it hates me back. I think it doesn’t see me as worth hating because I’m not worth much of anything to it. And that is just as bad.

October 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 487 – Immortal (2004)

Immortal (2004) – June 30th, 2011

Last night when looking through our list I asked Andy about this movie and he gave me a brief description and I thought to myself “Well, that sounds really bizarre.” And then I said we should watch it tonight because it was under two hours and tonight was going to be one of my later nights at work and we’re running low on those. We really need to make an effort to watch our longer movies on nights when I don’t work late so we don’t end up with a list full of things over two hours long. But hey, that meant we had tonight’s movie all picked out. Easy, right? If only it had actually been enjoyable for me.

I didn’t hate this movie. But I also didn’t really like it. I like the concept and I like a lot of the worldbuilding and I like the main character and I like the visuals but I didn’t really like the movie as a whole. It has one very significant flaw to it that bothered me immensely, and I’ll elaborate on that in a moment. But it also just never quite delivered on a lot of the potential it had. Part of the problem there is that I think this movie bit of way more than it could chew. The end credits mention that it is “loosely based on” a series of comics. And I’ve got to wonder if the comics it’s based on are any more lucid than the movie is, because the movie has a hell of a lot going on and not a whole lot of explanation for it all.

Granted, I’m glad that there isn’t a boatload of voiceover, which there could have been. There’s some, and it introduces some concepts, but then it’s done. But at the same time, when you decide to make a movie set in a world as outlandish as this one is? With Egyptian gods running around and non-humans and mutants and sewer hammerheads who can come up through drains like the slime in Ghostbusters II? You need to make sure that the important pieces of your world and plot can be understood through dialogue and action. I could blame some of this issue on the fact that it’s a French film in English and it’s entirely possible that some terminology just doesn’t translate well enough to get the meanings across. But at least some of the blame lies in the writing itself, because whole important bits and pieces seem to have been mentioned maybe once or twice and then tossed aside.

I’m running on a long day at work and a bad night’s sleep so I’m going to try and piece together some semblance of a plot here and hope it makes sense. I can’t guarantee it. It wasn’t entirely coherent in the movie and that’s not helpful. It’s the year 2095 and clearly it is The Future because there are flying cars all over New York City and people are walking around with some seriously modded looks. There are a lot of CGI Igors here, is what I’m saying, with skin patched together from what are clearly a number of sources and people have all sorts of funky stuff going on with their faces and hair and heads. Half the cast of the movie doesn’t actually exist. At least four fairly important characters are pretty much completely CG. So, you know, there’s that.

Enter two of our leads: Jill and Horus. Jill is a young woman who’s been picked up for some reason or another. Suspected genetic meddling, which is apparently an issue in The Future, but that’s one of the things that’s touched on and then tossed aside. We get a hint that genetic engineering is frowned upon and that there are mutants and non-human beings that aren’t accepted, but then the movie gets bored with that idea and moves on to something else. And that something else is a giant hovering pyramid that’s been floating over the city for a while. We get snippets of newscasters theorizing about it but we know for certain that it contains three Egyptian gods: Anubis, Bast and Horus. And Horus has been sentenced to death by the other two. They give him a week to go poke around on Earth before they execute him. And he’s intent on finding two things: A host body and Jill.

The host body is taken care of when he finds Nikopol, a convict whose cryogenic prison pod fell off of its storage blimp. Since he’s got little to no genetic modification, Horus can possess him just fine. So he does! Fab. And here’s one of my major issues with the movie. We never really get to know Nikopol. We know he comes to hate Horus and the things Horus has him do, but when Horus makes his offer, Nikopol says sure. We’re told, through signs and some talk, that Nikopol was imprisoned for starting some sort of revolution against the government and it has to do with the treatment of genetically modified people, I think? But since the genetic modification plot is given so little time and importance, so too is Nikopol’s part in it. And thus his character gets very little in the way of development. Is he a bad guy? A good guy willing to go to bad lengths for his goals? Who knows! Certainly not the movie.

We spend a lot more time finding out about Jill, a mysterious young woman who seems to not be entirely human but who knows little to nothing about herself. She has pale white skin and blue hair and lips. Her blue tears stain skin and her organs aren’t in the right places. The trouble with Jill as a character is that since she knows so little about herself, we know little about her too. Even when we get some information about her background the character who tells her who and what she is says that he doesn’t really know where she came from. And who is he? A traveler or something. He gets a monologue but it’s rambly and not terribly easy to follow. Suffice it to say that he brought her here and is giving her medication to turn her human and make her forget her past. You know, because she can’t possibly have any say over what she experiences or remembers.

Which brings me to my major criticism of the movie. Jill could have been a fascinating character but instead she is an object. Many of the other characters have things happen that are out of their control, and Nikopol certainly doesn’t get to exercise a lot of agency, but Jill is little more than a doll to most of the rest of the characters. To Dr. Turner, who becomes fascinated by her, she’s a curiosity to be tested and studied. She’s given tasks to perform and record the results of and she’s told what to do. To John, the mysterious man who brought her to New York, she’s a package to be delivered and set up. He gives her pills and tells her to take them and she does, never once questioning him even though the pills are changing her and making her forget everything. And to Nikopol and Horus? Yeah. Ick. Because Horus wants to have a child and Jill’s capable of carrying a divine baby, but Horus can’t knock her up himself. So he takes over Nikopol’s body and makes him rape her. And that on its own? Distinctly unpleasant, but as a plot point I can see where it’s going. Horus here is meant to be a nasty piece of work who sees humans as disposable. But again I have to wonder about Nikopol’s character. At times he berates Horus for making him do this but then he’ll lean in close to Jill and suggest that they have sex again because she owes him for defending mutant rights or whatever (to her credit, she points out she’s not what he thinks she is). And the worst part of it all is that the movie depends upon Jill becoming enamoured of Nikopol and wanting to care for him knowing that he’s raped her but not knowing the nature of the force that made him do it. I mean, if a man says “Sorry I raped you. I couldn’t help it. There’s another part of me that made me do it,” I don’t see that as mysterious and romantic and alluring. But the Nikopol and Jill romance is clearly supposed to be a thing here. Dark and unsettling, yes, but a thing nonetheless. And I find that to be so thoroughly off-putting that I just can’t run with the rest of the movie.

There’s a whole subplot with a CG senator and his secretary and he’s using this shark thing to track down Nikopol since Nikopol knows things and started a revolution. You know, the revolution the movie spends almost no time on. But I find it hard to get invested in that bit. There are no actual human actors involved and the plot it’s dependant on is all but non-existent, so it’s just plain easier to focus on the Jill and Nikopol and Horus bit. And I haven’t even gotten around to talking about “The Intrusion”, which is some sort of dimensional rift in Central Park that no one’s allowed near but which John can use to leave Earth and by the time we got to it I just couldn’t care. I was too irritated with the senator plot that went precisely nowhere and the rape-as-romantic-interlude/female-lead-as-walking-incubator plot that made me retch. This movie gave me so little to actually latch onto, which was such a disappointment. It looks so interesting and has such an odd mesh of ideas and concepts, but I just can’t seem to care.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment