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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Was he Secret Service? Was he FBI? Was he CIA? To be honest, I can't really remember, but he could snap your clavicle before you could say, "is that accent Irish or Scottish?" Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a highly skilled, but now retired, "Preventer" as he refers to himself, in the fun-tastic action revenge flick Taken, recently released on Blu-Ray. Okay so it's a fairly well-worn plot: the good guy retires from his dangerous, highly skilled job, wants to spend more time with his daughter, strained relationship with the bitter and snotty ex-wife (Famke Janssen) who has a rich husband that spoils the daughter with gifts that Mills cannot ever hope to afford -- daughter gets into big life-or-death trouble, and it's daddy to the rescue.

Well worn indeed, but in this case it feels more like that fleece wrap that's been sitting on your couch for a couple years, the one that keeps getting softer every time you wash it. And it's not Jean-Claude Van damme, Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris this time, it's a real actor, Liam Neeson for crap's sake. And he's good, Neeson's Mills is a deeply sympathetic character who really loves his daughter and can't quite connect with her, and it's just that vulnerability that makes us stay with this guy and want to see him succeed.

Mills' daughter Kim is 17 and she wants to go to Europe for a long trip with a 19-year-old girlfriend. Her clueless mother, Lenore, thinks it's a great idea but Bryan has reservations. He knows the girls will only get into trouble, but he reluctantly signs the permission slip she needs to leave the country without her parents. Well, sure as shinola, soon as they get to France they get spotted by some Albanian scumbags who kidnap women to sell into slavery...not like working in a field, like SEX slaves, okay. So they nab the girls, but not before Kim is able to make a phone call to her pop, and describe her attackers in as much detail as she can. Now the only hope Kim has is her father -- and you better believe he's going to find her, and fill a lot of body bags in the process.

Taken is a good old-fashioned bad-guys-getting-their-butts-handed-to-them kinda flick. Neeson even resorts to torture, but it's the good kind of torture where a guilty murderous dirtbag gets painfully electrocuted, none of this pouring water over his face crap, this is the real deal, baby! And it's effective. Very effective.

The Blu-Ray's sharpness and sound quality adds an extra dimension to the glorious brutality, from the snapping ligaments and tortured moans of the villains, to the mouth-watering Parisian street scenes, this is definitely the way to watch it. I watched the unrated version, which I generally prefer, the theatrical version is also included on this disc. There's the usual Dolby Digital and DTS Sound -- English, Spanish, and French subtitles -- audio commentary -- and there's also a digital copy for your Mac or PC. I popped in the extra DVD and opened up iTunes, it asks for the code on the back of the insert, you type it in and, voila, the digital copy downloads right to your computer. It only takes up 1.23 GB and the quality is quite good, and you can pop that onto your Ipod if you want. So, nice job on this release from 20th Century Fox. Well done.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Notorious - Blu Ray Review

George Tillman, Jr's eschatological hip-hop odyssey “Notorious” is a chilling look at the very short rise and fall of the talented and rotund rapper Biggie Smalls. He was a shy, fat kid – and Christopher Wallace's single mother tried to keep him in school, out of the drug trade, out of the gangs, but the streets and lure of easy money were too strong for the smart and ambitious youngster. Luckily he had a talent, he could rap, and he had an angle -- a big man from the streets of Brooklyn whose raw rhymes could even up the score between the East Coast and West Coast rap rivalry. It was a war that ultimately would claim the lives of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, two of the biggest names at the time.

Being a 42-year-old white guy, I'm not much of a rap fan, but I ain't no hater either. So while my expectations were low coming into this one, I found it quite watchable, perhaps because of my lack of knowledge about the deadly goings-on between the nouveau riche dumb asses who got used to selling drugs and women, using drugs and women, and shooting at each other in their old hoods, and then kept up the tradition once they hit it big. Well, old habits die hard I guess. It was just plain fascinating. Newcomer Jamal Woolard plays the teenage and adult Biggie, and brings to the role an innocence that certainly underscores the seriousness of the situation that unfolds and escalates around him. Another interesting casting move -- Biggie's real-life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, plays the “little” Biggie, and the kid does a nice job as well.

As fascinating as the characters are in the film, the dialog is a bit listless and it never quite jumps off the screen, but it does manage to sufficiently tell the story, and there's more than enough Biggie tunes to satisfy the ears. Biggie fans will no doubt enjoy some of the hip-hop history involving Biggie's relationships with Faith Evans and Lil' Kim, as well as Sean Puffy Combs and others. As always, I recommend going with the Blu-Ray version of this one. If you've never been to New York or L.A., then the blazingly sharp night sequences really capture their flavor. Extra goodies include the theatrical and director's cuts, audio commentaries from the writers and the director, featurettes chronicling the production, and DTS surround sound. Oh, there's also some nice 1080p Hi-Def nudity sprinkled in, if only there were some way to pixel out the naked Biggie underneath Lil' Kim? Well, I guess that feature has yet to be added to the Blu-Ray toolbox. And with those sequences in mind, if you decide to send Grandma a copy of “Notorious” you may want to make sure it's the Cary Grant version.