February 23, 2011

"Unknown"

From my review in Taki's Magazine of Unknown with Liam Neeson:
Orson Welles once explained that he was, inevitably, what the Comédie-Française classified as a King Actor. “They weren’t necessarily the best actors; they were the actors who played the king.” Welles had to be cast as the highest authority character “or I discombobulate the scenes,” because the audience couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t in charge. Thus, the great man’s last role was as Unicron, the planet-sized chief bad guy in the 1986 cartoon Transformers: The Movie. “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy,” Welles mused to his biographer shortly before his death.

Similarly, in the 2007 blockbuster Transformers, Michael Bay directed his animators to model the good robots’ wise leader Optimus Prime’s body language on today’s most imposing patriarchal presence, Liam Neeson.

But the 6’4” actor’s apotheosis was the surprise 2009 hit Taken, in which Neeson plays an ex-CIA man whose daughter is kidnapped in Paris by Albanian sex slavers. Taken wasn’t a great movie, but it made a great trailer built around the Dangerous Dad’s speech to the head pimp promising, “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” 

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, veteran actor Bruno Ganz has a fun role in Unknown as a retired secret policeman turned private detective. Here's a tribute to Bruno Ganz's YouTube ubiquity that seemed pretty funny at 4 AM when I was writing this review.

And here's a more lowkey video that seemed pretty funny at 5 AM.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really well written. Those who know Steve only by his reputation should read this.

Harry Baldwin said...

"Instead of Taken’s evil Muslims, Unknown features good Muslim victims of discrimination against illegal immigrants."

Okay, that's all I need to read to know I don't want to see this movie.

Taken was an excellent revenge movie and the havoc wreaked on the evil sleazy Muslims was a great part of its appeal. Neeson is one of those good actors who can still look convincing in a fight.

Kylie said...

"Orson Welles once explained that he was, inevitably, what the Comédie-Française classified as a King Actor. 'They weren’t necessarily the best actors; they were the actors who played the king.' Welles had to be cast as the highest authority character 'or I discombobulate the scenes,' because the audience couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t in charge."

And he wouldn't have had it any other way. I'm sure Welles would be delighted to know movie buffs are still arguing over whether or not he directed any of Carol Reed's The Third Man. And many still think he directed more of Jane Eyre than I think he did, which led me to post this comment on a movie messageboard:

I believe he [Welles] wanted the opening credits [of Jane Eyre] to look something like this:

An Orson Welles Presentation of Mr. Rochester

Starring Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester

Screenplay by Orson Welles based on a novel written by someone else

Directed by Orson Welles


And just for fun:

Citizen Kane: The Lost Take

TGGP said...

There was a movie collection of fight scenes that came out a few years back. Possibly the most unique in the lot was Neeson's in "Crossing the Line". Two exhausted, beat up fighters who keep going at it because they're surrounded by a paying crowd and just have to. I think Hitchcock was going for a similar angle for the death scene in "Torn Curtain".

Tom in Va said...

My kids have dubbed "Taken" "Liam Neeson Destroys France." When we went to see the remake of True Grit we saw a preview for "Unknown" which my kids immediately dubbed "Liam Neeson Destroys Germany."

Garland said...

Transformers' was Welles' second best movie.

Anonymous said...

Neeson is a big guy but has a kind of hang-dog face which makes him good for both alpha and beta roles. I think he was in a movie called THE GOOD FATHER. He was Mr. Sensitive.

What's interesting about his roles in movies like SCHINDLER'S LIST and K-19 is the shift between alpha and beta modes. In SCHINDLER, he was charismatic, confident, and smooth. But there was also something soft, tender, and vulnerable about him which made the change of heart possible. Though outwardly Schindler was the alpha and Ben Kinslowicz was beta, in the psychological realm it was as if Kinslowicz was the alpha yoda-like master schooling the subconscious of a childlike beta Schindler. Kingslowicz wasn't just a pitiful Jew begging for mercy--which might have filled Schindler with contempt--but a patient and masterful manipulator of the heart and mind.
Similarly, Obama and wasp politicians seem the alpha while their Jewish advisors/handlers seem geeky-beta, but it's the Jews who really know how to pull the psychological as well as the purse strings. In the psychological realm, Jews are the alpha though they may not seem like it.

In K-19, the most remarkable thing about the relation between Neesonovich and Fordovich was how it starts as a battle between two alphas. Fordovich is the alpha maverick who likes to improvise. Neesonovich is the alpha control freak who demands that everyone follow the iron-rules.
But something strange happens later. Just when Neesonovich could have cooperated with others to arrest Fordovich and come out as the top dog, he decides to accept the beta-role in deference to Fordovich. The scene is puzzling but believable. I can't imagine John Wayne or Eastwood doing that, but it makes sense with Neeson because there is a softer 'thinking man' quality about him.
And this is what made MICHAEL COLLINS memorable too. He starts out as a stalwart alpha Irish warrior who will never compromise. Later, he very plausibly turns into more of a beta-kind of politician who's willing to cut a deal with the British.

As for Welles, because of his voice and size, he had a commanding presence in movies, but he was good in the shadows too. In CITIZEN KANE, his bluster sometimes often makes him seem insecure and vulnerable. Kane is memorable as a big man on the outside who was a lonely child on the inside. It's touching when he begs Susan to stay.
In LADY FROM SHANGHAI, Welles plays a tough young Irishman, but it turns out he's just a bait for other sharks, especially the Jewish lawyer(feeble on the outside but monstrous on the inside). Welles' films were always big on the psychological angle, whereby physical power was often undercut by psychological power. In MACBETH and OTHELLO, Welles played a big guy brought down invisible forces. And in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, Welles played not the kingly figure but a clownish old fool. And boy, is he ever put in his place by Prince Hal in a scene both cruel and touching!!

So, even though Welles often played the BIG MAN in other people's movies--a caricature of his persona--, in his own movies he was a combination of king and jester, man and child.

Anonymous said...

OT.

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/01/20/steampunk-palin-comic/

Omg.

Anonymous said...

If Liam Neeson, Jeff Bridges and Daniel Day-Lewis hung out, who would be alpha, who would be beta, and who would be gamma?

My guess: Daniel Day-Lewis as alpha, Liam Neeson as beta, and Jeff Bridges as gamma. That or the group would be unstable.

Anonymous said...

:facepalm:

again with the alpha/beta stuff?

agnostic said...

Worse than Taken? Yikes. That was one of the silliest revenge movies I've ever seen, along with The Expendables.

Aside from the ridiculous premises, in the revenge movies of the past 15-20 years the good guy is never in any real danger, just "kicking ass, taking names" as Duke Nukem would say. It's a dress-up, comic-book version of a real revenge story.

Because the superhuman hero faces no real obstacles, there is no sense of urgency for us to identify with, no tension when it looks like he may not make it, and no catharsis when he ultimately triumphs.

Rather, it's like tuning into YouTube to watch footage of some nerd mowing down enemies in a video game being played with all the cheat codes on.

Rising-crime times give us more realistic and therefore more thrilling revenge movies -- the Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones trilogy, Beverly Hills Cop, Commando (which is to Taken what Heathers is to Mean Girls), Conan the Barbarian, Lethal Weapon, Batman, Die Hard, Rambo II, RoboCop, Superman II... shoot, even The Karate Kid was a better revenge movie (plus it has the awesome motivational song "You're the Best").

Last believable and thrilling revenge movie was Total Recall from 1990, although The Fugitive from 1993 was pretty damn good too.

Anonymous said...

Agnostic said:

"Last believable and thrilling revenge movie was Total Recall from 1990."

Total Recall was not even remotely plausible in any regard - from the absurd, basic premise, to Arnie's casting as a hapless everyman.

Seems as though Agnostic understands as much about modern cinema as he does about the mysteries of the opposite sex.

agnostic said...

- Referring to the movies as "modern cinema" brands you as a faggy lit crit.

- Better to trust warm appraisals from real-life girls than some geek on the internet.

- Total Recall's premise was not at issue, but rather whether the hero faced true obstacles and danger, or whether it looked like some simple video game.

Keep your eye on the ball when arguing.

SFG said...

"Transformers' was Welles' second best movie."

I greatly enjoyed it at the age of 7 and greatly enjoy it still as a result of that, but I think the nerd contingent is overselling itself here. ;)


http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/01/20/steampunk-palin-comic/

ROTFL. Man, we need some conservative artists...

TH said...

If you watch actual footage of Hitler, and then some clips of Ganz playing him, it's obvious that Ganz makes a better Hitler.

The best revenge movie is the Swedish "Evil" ("Ondskan").

beowulf said...

Interesting movie (dumb in an unexpected way, which makes it better than avearge). I think everyone would agree that like Anthony Hopkins or Arnold, Liam Neeson is famous enough heshould just talk with his regular accent.

No one in the audience will give a second thought to why this American scientist talks like... Liam Neson. Though, it was kind of funny listening to German actress Diane Kruger (who normally speaks English with an American accent) having to speak with a fake Bosnian accent for a movie set in Germany.

Anonymous said...

'There's vodka at the hotel with my name on it!'
Good stuff lad.

Harry Baldwin said...

agnostic said...Worse than Taken? Yikes. That was one of the silliest revenge movies I've ever seen, along with The Expendables.

Thanks for proceeding to describe a bunch of terrible movies as superior, allowing us to calibrate your taste.

Anonymous said...

Neeson is one of those good actors who can still look convincing in a fight.


That's 'cause he IS a real fighter. He was Northern Ireland amateur heavyweight boxing champion in his youth. The boy can rack.

Anonymous said...

I nominate Brian Blessed for best king actor ever. Personality > height.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxaVxF1D0XM

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Neeson played it smooth in Schindler's List, and I always thought he would have made a great James Bond.

Anonymous said...

All this blather about alpha and beta males is based on monkey love.

Gorillas are conventional mammals in that the males compete for exclusive sexual access to the females. The biggest strongest males have harems. Much of it is just bluster rather than real violence but still its the big boys who get all the monkey nookie.

Among orangutans it is also the large males who get the females. The small males rape the females. Males seem to come in two sizes: the big ones are twice the size of the females. The small ones are only slightly larger than the females. The large males don't actually fight the small ones. Again dominance is just asserted not actually fought over.

Robert Ardrey wrote a book about Killer Apes - by which he meant humans. As it happens he could have meant chimpanzees. They conspire, ambush and murder. They kill and eat chimp babies.

Bonobos are the politically correct apes. They hardly fight, are led by females, and resolve their disputes with sex not violence.

So when we speak of a alpha male among humans which monkey pattern do we intend? Obviously we are closest to the chimps. There are societies with gorilla like harems but not gorilla like passivity. The sex life of gorillas is not very interesting. You grow up big and get all the broads - end of story.

Being an alpha gorilla or orangutan is mostly just a matter of size. Being an alpha for them is determined and settled.

Among chimps and humans the real battle ín life isn't in just gathering a harem. The real struggle is to keep it. A losing chimp would just conspire with some other disaffected chimps to ambush and murder his rival. Humans and chimps don't play fair.

So females who have to live among such nasty males seek not a alpha so much as they seek a "protector".

Neeson in "Taken" had lost the battle for his female - she now lives with alpha male (rich) Xander Berkeley. In the normal course of events Neeson is off the board in the great game of reproduction. All the subsequent offspring will no longer be his.

But Neeson is a great protector. Very much as Bruce Willis was in the first two "Die Hard" movies or Kevin Costner was in "Free Range".

Alpha schmalpha. The real movie role that attracts an audience and excites out primitive instincts is the role of protector. Better yet the protector's violent impulses are hidden or suppressed. But when a crisis arises he shakes off his passivity and kicks butt. That's the formula for success. Real alpha males are boring.

Albertosaurus

Laban said...

Blessed as King - Black Adder I.

Anonymous said...

"If you watch actual footage of Hitler, and then some clips of Ganz playing him, it's obvious that Ganz makes a better Hitler."

Best Hitler I saw was in Jan Troell's HAMSUN.

agnostic said...

"allowing us to calibrate your taste."

Preening and calibrating taste levels is for circle-jerking courtiers.

Action movies are about an engrossing encounter with the sublime, not signaling exquisite taste. It's embarrassing that you need to be told that.

Whiskey said...

If you liked "Taken" then "From Paris with Love" by French Director Luc Besson is right up your alley. Bad guy Muslims blown away left and right, and a converted Muslim determined to commit a suicide bombing.

It is clear that Luc Besson loves France, and does not like seeing it turned into a Muslim dump for him in his old age and his children. That he'd prefer all the Muslims kicked out, all in all.

No doubt Neeson got a LOT of flack for being in Taken. Hollywood does not care about money (and hasn't since the Jewish moguls lost control). Guys like Neeson get paid up front and don't get the back end of royalties or toys or what have you. What guys like Neeson care about is their NEXT JOB which depends on the goodwill and old-boy-girl-network of being PC and such.

PC and Multiculturalism and Diversity is the establishment. Once you understand that you get Neeson's apologies for voicing Aslan, for being in Taken, and the like.

Hollywood cannot do action movies anymore because the villains must be "PC White men" and filled with diversity and multicultural crap because everyone: writer, director, actor is dependent on a PC establishment for their next job. Only Luc Besson, who says "F it, I'm French" and doesn't care can make decent action movies with real-life bad guys.

Anonymous said...

If it's a good, satisfying revenge film you're looking for, try The Last House on the Left. A trio of murderous bums show up at the vacation home of a well-to-do doctor. Unbeknownst to him, they've just raped and (they think) killed his daughter. The doctor and his wife give them shelter from a bad storm. I like the envy dripping in female bum's voice, as she sweetly asks, "How many houses do you have?" Finally, the revenge is just perfect.

Anonymous said...

I am sooooooo goddamn sick of reading alpha/beta everywhere. Steve, if going with this banal trend is the best you can come up with you've really jumped the shark and need to go back to market research.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

The Last House on the Left.

The original or the remake???

Anonymous said...

Yes, good choice on the Brian Blessed in Black Adder clip. He's definitely a "king" actor.

Here he is doing mock snooker commentary:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP11L9jRW94

Anonymous said...

@Whiskey burbled: "Hollywood does not care about money (and hasn't since the Jewish moguls lost control)."

Bwahahahhhahahahhahhaaaaaa....stop it, Whiskers, you're killing me! I just can't take your droll wit and hipsterish irony any longer.

Anonymous said...

We get it, agnostic, you're an "internet alpha male," that close relative of the "internet toughguy." When logic fails, accuse your interlocutors of not gettin' enough action - all while you type away at your computer.

Don't ever change, internet personalities.

Anonymous said...

The Last House on the Left.

The original or the remake???


Actually, the "original" was itself a remake of Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" (a good revenge flick itself, btw).

Truth said...

"Bwahahahhhahahahhahhaaaaaa....stop it, Whiskers, you're killing me! I just can't take your droll wit and hipsterish irony any longer."


I just lost another mouthful of soda on my lap.

Anonymous said...

"Action movies are about an engrossing encounter with the sublime, not signaling exquisite taste. It's embarrassing that you need to be told that."

Oh god - what sad and asinine drivel. Agnostic truly never fails to disappoint.

You still planning to take that trip to Latin America to find some poor, impoverished woman willing to put up with your beta-ish frame and appearance?

AmericanGoy said...

For the record, Transformers: The Movie (animated) was (is) a great movie, unlike the current live action disaster.

I miss the old school cartoon time of Batman: The Animated Series and The Real Ghostbusters.

Yes, I am a kid at heart.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the reason Taken was such a surprise hit was that, since 9/11, how many action movies have showed whites kicking Muslim ass?

TGGP said...

The ridiculous killcount in "Commando" made it seem much more videogame-on-god-mode than "Taken". And "realistic" is one of the last words I'd use to describe most of those movies.

Svigor said...

In the psychological realm, Jews are the alpha though they may not seem like it.

To sell this, you have to sell nepotism, collectivism, tribalism as "alpha." I don't care either way, but that's the package.

Svigor said...

:facepalm:

again with the alpha/beta stuff?


It's really kinda stupid when you think about it. Neeson, for example, strikes me as a guy who was a "beta," until he wasn't anymore. Who knew he had a tattoo from the Roissy categorization crew, dictating one way or the other?

Svigor said...

Hollywood cannot do action movies anymore because the villains must be "PC White men" and filled with diversity and multicultural crap because everyone: writer, director, actor is dependent on a PC establishment for their next job. Only Luc Besson, who says "F it, I'm French" and doesn't care can make decent action movies with real-life bad guys.

What really ruins it is knowing the rules. Once you realize what's on the table, and what's off, the whole thing turns to shit. You can be watching white villains vs. white heroes, but in the back of your mind you know you're being screwed, and anything good you're served is incidental, and comes with strings attached.

Anonymous said...

"I think part of the reason Taken was such a surprise hit was that, since 9/11, how many action movies have showed whites kicking Muslim ass?"

But are they white Muslims?

Mr. Anon said...

"TGGP said...

The ridiculous killcount in "Commando" made it seem much more videogame-on-god-mode than "Taken". And "realistic" is one of the last words I'd use to describe most of those movies."

To say the least. My favorite "realistic" scene in "Commando" was when Arnold climbed out of the forward wheel-well of a 727 in flight and jumped to the ground. Cinema Verite indeed.

Col. John Matrix said...

You're a funny guy, Whiskey. I like you. That's why I'm going to troll you last.

Anonymous said...

OT

http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/83161/stanley-kauffmann-films-carancho-gods-men

This French film 'OF GODS AND MEN' may be of interest in relation to NEVER LET ME GO. The monks coulda run but didn't.

Svigor said...

I'm sitting here stumped, trying to come up with a movie that handles violence realistically.

Unforgiven? Kinda, sorta.

David said...

>Transformers' was Welles' second best movie.<

No, it's just the only other one of his you've watched.

David said...

>many still think [Welles] directed more of Jane Eyre than I think he did<

Star Joan Fontaine griped that Welles arrived with his entourage on the first day and took charge of the shooting, "demoting" official director Robert Stevenson to "director-in-name-only."

"In a July 15, 1943 letter to Fox, a Selznick lawyer, agreeing to give Welles credit on the film as producer if he wanted it, wrote, [...] 'We have been informed by people from your studio that Mr. Welles worked on the sets, changes in the script, in casting, among other things, and that he had charge of the editing." (Bogdanovich and Welles, This Is Orson Welles, ed. Rosenbaum, p. 175.)

In his Welles bio Simon Callow calls the last phrase there ("he had charge of the editing") "simply sensational. To edit another man's movie is to cut his balls off."

What did Welles himself say? "I invented a few of the shots [...] but I certainly didn't come around the camera and direct it.[...] If I had a chance of directing sixty movies, Jane Eyre wouldn't be one of them."

Anonymous said...

Referring to "Instead of Taken’s evil Muslims, Unknown features good Muslim victims of discrimination against illegal immigrants", someone wrote, "Okay, that's all I need to read to know I don't want to see this movie."

I was a little put off by this statement too, but having just watched the movie, there's no need to be, it's a complete exaggeration.

I found the movie a pretty darn enjoyable mystery thriller. But since the last two movies I saw in a theater were probably Red Belt (2008) and U2 3D (2007), better take that with a grain of salt. YMMV.