Tag Archives: Olivier Megaton

Thrones & Empires – another movie mystery solved

The epic what now?

I was left more than a little baffled recently when I stumbled upon a stack of this filmic oddity at my local video shop. Well over a dozen DVD copies of a film I had never heard of with a cast many films would kill for lay stacked on the shelves. While it’s not unheard of for a film full of big stars to go under the radar and direct to DVD, I instantly smelled a rat. All of the rats. The text from the back of the DVD box only compounded my confusion and suspicion. I quote:



Fenge (Gabriel Byrne – The Usual Suspects) steals the throne of Jutland by killing his brother, King Hardvanael and marrying his widow (Helen Mirren – The Queen). Hardvanael’s son, Amled (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises) feigns insanity, to avoid his own execution but Fenge doubts his condition and sends him to a Duke (Brian Cox – X-Men 2) in England to be murdered. Instead, the prince becomes a hero, marries an English rose (Kate Beckinsale – Underworld Awakening) and return to exact revenge on Fenge in a ferocious battle for the crown that is rightly his.

Featuring alongside Byrne, Mirren, Bale, Cox and Beckinsale is a star studded supporting cast including; Andy Serkis, Freddie Jones, Ewen Bremner, Tony Haygarth, Mark Willians, Tom Wilkinson, Saskia Wickham and Brian Glover.

Amled? OK, so I think it’s clear what we have here. This is All-Star Action Hamlet. And yet a brisk googling of the film brought up nothing but a bare Amazon sales page and an article about two hit HBO shows, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Thrones. Empire. My how those rats began to smell.

While Gabriel Axel sounds like he has the name of a director of action schlock in the style of McG, Rob Zombie or Olivier Megaton, he is in fact a respected dramatic director best known for his charming Oscar-winning period drama Babette’s Feast (1987). A little wiki-ing revealed that the venerable Mr. Axel is, at present, an impressive 94 years old – a good age to still be alive, but an improbable one to be directing historical action movies.

Putting on my DVD Detective hat, I asked around, and with some help from across the internet and closer to home finally uncovered that Thrones & Empires is little more than a shamefully cynical repackaging of Axel’s 1994 “historical Hamlet” drama Prince of Jutland (aka Royal Deceit – as if it didn’t have enough titles already). The date of the film, among other things, does explain why Christian Bale looks barely back from the Empire of the Sun on the DVD box art (interestingly, the film is notable as Andy Serkis’s debut, so there you go).

Here’s the slightly hilarious trailer:

So now the question is, will I see it? Well, the DVD remains €10, and I think I was far more interested in it when I thought it was a sorry B-movie remake of Hamlet than a respected auteur’s late offering. Also, if I want to watch Hamlet without Shakespeare’s dialogue, I’d be better off watching The Lion King. Despite the fine cast (although its 85min run-time is baffling – the play uncut is 4hrs!), there’s just no way to overlook what a cynical release this is. The fact that the film was re-released with this title to coincide with the cinema release of The Dark Knight Rises and the rampant success of Game of Thrones is the worst thing I’ve seen since Disney repackaged Cinderella in a “Royal Edition” set last year to coincide with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

There really is something rotten in the state of Denmark after all…



Filed under Film

Taken 2 much time and energy

“You will look for me, you will find me, and you will kill me… no, wait, scratch that last one!”

The only thing that hits harder than Bryan Mills, Liam Neeson’s ex-CIA operative turned bodyguard and over-protective father, is the sheer disappointment that a film so similar to Taken could be its antithesis in terms of fun.

The 2008 film became a roaring success as Neeson tore through Paris desperately seeking his daughter, kidnapped by sex slave traders. Once it got going, Taken was a to-the-point slice of gritty action fun that kept the excitement going to its rather abrupt conclusion. It’s amazing to think that that film could be succeeded by such a humourless, dragging ordeal.

Taken 2 is, for the most part, a miserable experience – retracing the events of the first film (this time in Istanbul) with a plodding pace and incoherent action. The less-than-casual racism that fuelled the first film, but suited its topic and its time, is here flamboyant, reeking of Islamophobia. As Mills takes out every male with darker skin than him in sight, his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) jumps in fright at veiled women, and every time the camera sails over one of Istanbul’s magnificent mosques a threatening “BOOMPH” sound echoes on the soundtrack. It’s worse than any of the excesses of Bush-era anti-terrorism romp 24.

Of course, 24’s influence is all over this film. The relationship between Mills and Kim is borrowed almost word-for-word from Jack Bauer’s relationship with his daughter, also Kim. The fact that the main events of Taken 2 take place over the course of one afternoon owes hugely to that TV show’s real-time structure. But even 24 never let its basic character drama slow down the growing threat. Taken 2, by comparison, drags for a considerable fraction of the length of a whole episode of 24 before the “taking” of the title occurs. That first 30 minutes or so is spent redefining the bond between father and daughter and between Mills and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) with dialogue that would make a Michael Bay movie blush. Mills teaches Kim to drive (just in time, she’ll need to be able to later). He flirts with his ex. He growls at Kim’s new boyfriend. For such basic soap opera drama, it’s simply horrifying that it drags on so long.

“Oh FFS, dad, not again!”

This time its Mills himself, with his ex-wife, who are taken, but not for very long. Using a phone that looks like it came in a Christmas cracker, he guides his terrified daughter to his rescue, before charging off to save her mother. There’s a bit of hand-to-hand combat, some gunplay and an almost thrilling car chase along the way, but it’s all for very little. Most hysterical is Mills ordering his daughter to detonate grenades so he can hear how far away from him she is. She throws one under a parked car in a secluded area, but camera angles don’t reveal how much medicine for sick people, or actual babies, are on the back seat. It’s preposterous, stupefying and very much the wrong kind of funny.

Neeson, who as a human being has proved himself over the years to be one of the most likeable of people, pleasantly surprised when he first took the role of Bryan Mills; as a middle-aged avenger he wielded handguns, blocked punches and wore a sweeping leather coat like a pro. Here, only four years later, it’s all gone terribly wrong. Perhaps due to age, or due to the manic film style of Luc Besson protégé Olivier Megaton (he of last year’s even ore stupid Colombiana), Mills’s heroics utterly fail to convince here. The action sequences are shot so shakily that it is often difficult to see where anyone is located within the scene, or make out what moves are being performed. The frantic cutting makes The Bourne Ultimatum look like Rope. In one of his final confrontations, Mills is nearly finished off by a sweaty, overweight Albanian in tracksuit pants. It’s hard to cheer for a hero who can take such a beating from a P.E. teacher.

“Stop editing so fast, I can’t see where I’m running!”

The film’s climax almost feels like something new, but by then it’s hard to care, and you’re more likely to be wondering what the next tune from the Drive soundtrack the film is going to lazily sample.

Taken 2 will of course make oceans of cash, if only off the energy of its forebear. But there’s nowhere more for this series to go, and one only hopes it will, like Bryan Mills, retire, to protect any remaining integrity of those involved in making it. In the long run, Taken 2 may even damage the brand so much that Taken itself will be forgotten – it’s not like Bryan Mills is a very memorable character, and he has perhaps the least iconic action hero name of any film to ever gross more than $100,000,000 at the box office.

Censored infuriatingly to garner a PG-13 rating, there’s no way to even contemplate recommending this film before a DVD/Blu-ray release reveals an uncut version. At the very least the action might appear believable in an extended cut, and, let’s be honest, what else are you watching Taken 2 for?



Filed under Film