On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 15, 2013

Liam Neeson instantly brings credibility to anything he does, but even his presence in this money-grabbing sequel can hardly raise the quality of the overall film. I was optimistic despite the rush of negative reviews, I wanted to believe that there was something everyone seemed to be missing. That maybe in the case of Taken critics and audiences alike were so in love or at least caught off guard by the rush of excitement the first film delivered that they were looking for more of the same that wasn't readily available here. What if the makers of this unnecessary film had taken the road less traveled by greedy studios and decided to change up the formula. Maybe Mr. Neeson used his pull and demanded that he'd only appear in the film if they came up with a story that truly justified a second film. Sadly, the only thing that rings true about any of this is that, for some reason, there is less action and more talking in Taken 2 than could be found within a mile of the original. Clearly the success of the first film was based around seeing someone such as Neeson, an actor who seems so far removed from the campy action genre pick up his fists and firearms and take a shot at any idiot who stepped in his path. It was a non-stop rush of adrenaline that was as absurd as it was entertaining. It would be accurate to describe it as catching lightning in a bottle and not to mention, it propelled Neeson to a whole new phase in his career where he could take any pick of action protagonists he'd like and has continued taking advantage of the opportunities it has afforded him. The sequel, though it doesn't feel like a rehash of the original (I would have preferred that to what we've been given) instead feels like what was left on the cutting room floor the first time around. D

I guess Woody Allen was slightly insulted in 2006 when he wasn't asked to direct one of the shorts in the compilation tribute to the city of lights titled Paris, je t'aime. There were plenty of high-class directors that contributed to the project and it happened right on the cusp of Mr. Allen's tour of Europe. In not getting to attribute a short film to the collection he seems to have decided to create a film of shorts himself. In his follow up to last years wildly successful Midnight in Paris Allen has returned to his usual state of conveying his opinion through typical, if not farcical situations. Whereas last year and every once in a while throughout his consistent career Allen will diverge from his beaten path and deliver a fantastic story that mixes the writer/director's combination of wit and criticism with a story that on a different level than most, connects to its audience. In the ethics of seeming to work non stop Allen fills the gaps between these sparks of genius with meditations on the current state of society and popular culture among other things. Allen has always been known for his insecure yet intellectual persona and he applies that not only in the character he himself portrays here but into each of the four stories that is told in To Rome with Love. While overall the film does in fact appear to be several short films spliced together to perpetrate as a feature it is actually a nicely paced piece of fun to watch that is moved along by the diverse bits of casting Allen has put together here. I can understand where many critics are coming from when they find this to be "lesser Woody Allen" but I found it to be quite wonderful, a nice distraction in the summer months, if only slightly disappointing after such a higher level of imagination he delivered to us last year. B-

When this horror flick debuted in late August I was rather surprised I was hearing so many positive things about the film. All of that good energy the film had going for it was lost in the first ten minutes or so as the film quickly descended into exactly the type of generic horror flick you'd expect something called "The Possession" to be. One can tell the film has a certain visual style it tries to accomplish throughout yet it is unable to rise above any of the genre's cliches with its extremely typical story. The young girl of a seemingly modern family becomes possessed through a small box having something to do with the Jewish religion. That is the twist the film hopes will pull you from the standard way these kinds of films play out. Still, simply changing the mythology of what causes the young prey to be possessed from Christian demons to Jewish doesn't constitute a strong enough argument for the film to be any better than what anyone who's seen a "scary" movie in the last decade has come to expect. Jeffrey Dean Morgan adds a fair amount of class to anything he decides to do and he does what he can here with a character so very set in his type. The divorced dad trying to move on who has issues making it to what matters for his two daughters. We like him though, we see that he is trying. The same cannot be said for Kyra Sedgwick who hardly does her job to walk the line between the ex-wife and progressive mother that we want to see Morgan's character re-unite with. Natasha Calis does some good work helping us to wince at the screen more than laugh at the absurdity of it. Still, it is hard to see the film as anything more than typical despite it trying so hard to rise above the negativity associated with that word.

I somewhat expected to be let down by the Viola Davis/Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle that seemed to be purely inspirational for the purposes of honorable performances hoping to get noticed by Oscar. Though Won't Back Down is anything but subtle about its purpose and wears its heart on its sleeve proudly, it isn't anywhere near deserving of the fate it suffered at the box office. In fact, it is a rather affirming film that succeeds in large part to its strong lead performances that aren't as showy or as cheesy as I expected. Though Gyllenhaal certainly has the flashier role, she is able to subdue much of the typical aspects of what one might expect from her type of character by allowing the most important factor to never be forgotten, that she is in fact a mother first. Letting that sink in allows us to go along with the story written and directed by Daniel Barnz (who's had similar failure with Beastly) but knows as a writer how to navigate his way through a ton of information and streamline it into what the audience needs to grasp in order to maintain the main points of the story. He does that well here considering the difficult processes and massive amount of details likely required to do what these women decide to take on. The negative aspect to this though is his inability to pace his final product better. By the time we get to the halfway mark it feels like it should be drawing to a close. Viola Davis displays her strong instincts here but adds layers of uncertainty and regret for good measure. Despite glancing at my watch a few times throughout I still rather enjoyed the film for what it was and what it was trying to say. There is also the charming supporting cast that features Oscar Isaac and Rosie Perez that add nothing if not a little forgiveness for the overall films shortcomings. B-

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