“Taken 2”: Liam Neeson returns as the man with a very particular set of skills, this time dealing with the kidnapping of his ex-wife and the soon to be dead men who committed that incredibly stupid act. The idea of a sequel to film with such a specifically one off concept as “Taken” was always incredibly shaky and in practice it’s even shaker. The film tries to rationalize the improbability of a second kidnapping a renowned killing machine’s loved one by having the new kidnappers by related to the men Neeson sliced through in the first “Taken” but then its incredibly lazy to retrace the plot of the first when all that’s needed is a half decent reason to set Liam Neeson loose on a bunch of bad guys and director Olivier Megaton simply doesn’t have the action chops to make the film’s ridiculous plot excusable. Since this film was such a huge hit financial but not critically, hopefully writer/producer Luc Besson will actually put some work into making “Taken 3” a decent movie. Also starring Maggie Grace, Femke Jensen, and Rade Šerbedžija.
Special features: A digital copy of the film, an unrated presentation of the film, four featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and an alternate ending.
“The Possession”: A standard issue child possession movie, with the unique twist of a Jewish rather than Christian demon done the possessing. Also once popular reggae star Matisyahu plays the part of the film’s Jewish exorcist, so remember that when you see nan on screen guide listing for the film on FX in a few months and can’t imagine why Matisyahu is in a horror movie where it will air a few dozen times before slowly fading into oblivion. Also starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick and Madison Davenport.
Special features: A digital copy of the film, audio commentary with director Ole Bornedal and another commentary with writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White.
“To Rome with Love”: Woody Allen’s latest, following a quartet of love stories set in the title city. With none of the historical sweep or poignancy of his recent “Midnight in Paris,” “To Rome” is more in tone with Allen’s late ‘90s, early ‘00s work which is to say it’s charming and light but isn’t as funny or substantial as one would want from the director of “Annie Hall.” As with all Allen film, it has a great cast and they do well with sex farce/regular farce narratives that they’ve been given but no one leaves a lasting impression aside from the unusual casting of Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg as the Woody Allen surrogates in a film that also stars Woody Allen. Such is the work of a master of the form in his twilight years. Also starring Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, and Judy Davis.
Special features: One featurette.
“Won’t Back Down”: A fact based drama about a deeply dysfunctional primary school and the parent (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and teacher (Viola Davis) who are determined to fix the school in spite of the meddling of the local teacher’s union. If you like your inspirational drama mixed naked propaganda, this is the film for you. How unforgivable is that a movie with this title isn’t a martial arts competition on a tropical island movie starring Scott Adkins and featuring a soundtrack by The Chromatics? Also starring Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, and Ving Rhames.
Special features: commentary with director Daniel Barnz, deleted scenes with Barnz commentary, and two really self-righteously titled special features.
“Branded”: It’s really not fair to judge a film by its trailer. A film that hasn’t even completed filming or still deep within the editing process can debut a trailer that doesn’t really communicate the proper tone of the film or in some cases, can be made of material that doesn’t make it into the final cut. You can bet that a trailer for a film that won’t be released until almost a whole calendar year later will only bare a passing resemblance to its first theatrical teaser. However, there are other times when a trailer is designed solely into making the audience think a movie belongs to one genre when it’s blatantly doesn’t. The producers of “Drive” were sued for making a trailer that made the meditative crime film look like it was of a piece with the “Fast & Furious” series. While filing a nuisance lawsuit over a misleading trailer ridiculous, the company behind “Branded” should at the very least be admonished for editing together a trailer that made their attractively photographed anti-advertising polemic look like a Cronenbergian conspiracy thriller. While utilizing some of the tropes of a paranoid mystery movie, “Branded” has all the political subtlety of a Michael Moore film with half the entertainment value. Even worse, it’s an issues film that deliberately employs the practices it preaches aganist. Starring Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, and Max von Sydow.
Special features: Commentary with directors Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn.
Mario McKellop has written about film on Examiner for the last three years and can be reached directly at email@example.com