Liam Neeson on Returning to Play Bryan Mills in ‘Taken 2’

TAKEN 2

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

Actor Liam Neeson returns to his role as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills in the Olivier Megaton directed sequel “Taken 2.” Neeson has long been considered a fantastic dramatic actor, but playing Mills in the original “Taken” helped to reestablish him as an action star. Despite his increasing age (which I am NOT going to mention here), he still appears to be excited as ever taking on an action-packed role like this.

In “Taken 2,” Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are kidnapped while in Istanbul, and their abductor is the Albanian Mafia Chief Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija), father of the man Mills killed in the first movie. Neeson was understandably hesitant about doing a sequel to “Taken” as he described it as being “complete in itself” and that the original storyline given to him for the follow up was “not terribly good.” But once producer Luc Besson and his writing partner Robert Mark Kamen came back to Neeson with the scenario set in Istanbul, he found himself saying, “maybe this could work. Ok, let’s go for it.”

Like the stars of “The Expendables 2,” Neeson is getting older but he doesn’t look like he has aged as much as Stallone or Schwarzenegger (and I’m not just saying that to be nice). While Neeson revels in doing dramatic movies like “Michael Collins” or “Schindler’s List,” he is still very eager to action movies like “Taken” and “The Grey.”

“I like doing this stuff. It’s come to me later on in life, with the success of the first ‘Taken,’ Hollywood have thrown three or four different action movies my way,” Neeson said. “I feel like a kid in a candy store, I love doing that stuff. I love hanging out with these great stunt guys and fight choreographers. It’s a great catharsis, I love getting the chance to be physical and do this stuff.”

While on “Good Morning America,” Neeson talked extensively about the fight training he had to do for “Taken 2.” His stunt double Mark Vanselow, whom Neeson has worked with for almost 13 years, and fight choreographer Alain Figlarz worked on the action scenes. They started doing them in slow motion in order to get the moves down perfect, and then they eventually speeded things up to where they did the scenes blindfolded to make sure everyone was in sync.

“He (Alain Figlarz) introduced a style of fighting in the first ‘Bourne Identity,’ very close combat, which I found very difficult because I’m a big person and I like a bit of distance in fighting,” Neeson said. “So, I found it a bit strange to do this very close hand-to-hand combat stuff, but we got the fight choreographed, and then it’s a matter of rehearsing it and practicing it every day after we wrapped.”

When he was a kid in Ireland, Neeson said he did some boxing for a time and found the experience helped him with this role in regards to the “work ethic and the discipline to get off my fat ass and go to the gym.”

While these action movies may have come late into Liam Neeson’s life, I am glad they did. We look forward to seeing him kick butt in “Taken 2,” and even if there is not a third movie in this series (which he made clear he’s not interested in), we can still be sure he will play the action hero again in another movie very soon.

SOURCES:

Neeson talks Taken 2 with RTÉ TEN,” RTE, October 1, 2012.

Liam Neeson ‘Surprised’ at Success of ‘Taken,’” Good Morning America, October 1, 2012.

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Roddy Piper Discusses the Fight Scene in ‘They Live’

They Live Roddy and Keith

While at New Beverly Cinema for a screening of “They Live” on June 10, 2012, Roddy Piper spent some time talking about how he, director John Carpenter and co-star Keith David staged the alley fight in the movie. At five and a half minutes, it remains one of the longest fight scenes in cinema history.

Piper said that while Carpenter asked him many questions in preparation for “They Live,” the director also made him watch “The Quiet Man” which starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Aside from its beautiful photography of the Irish countryside, the movie also had one of the longest fight scenes ever filmed. Carpenter was determined to make an even longer fight scene, and to that, Piper said, “Okey dokey.”

Another reason Carpenter asked him so many questions, Piper said, was because “he was trying to figure out whom to put with me.” Keith David ended up being his co-star, and Piper described him as a “220-pound dancer” and of how “he is like Mike Tyson and doesn’t know it.” He also went on to describe David as a “great and wonderful man” and that he “kept laughing at all my mistakes.”

Piper did have a hand in choreographing the fight, and much of the rehearsal between him and David took place in Carpenter’s backyard. He taught David how to throw and take a punch, but knowing how punches on camera can appear faked, Piper eventually told him:

“Listen Keith, just hit me. From here and down (pointing to below his neck and above his waist) just hit me and go as far as you can.”

Piper said David had no problem doing that.

In filming the fight, Piper said he and David worked on three sections of it, and that they took it as far as they could. The day after that, they worked on the close ups for the scene. Rumor has it that it took three weeks of rehearsal to get the choreography of the fight just right. The audience was shocked however to hear that, even with the fight lasting almost six minutes, five minutes were actually taken out of it.

“They Live” also inspired a parody on “South Park” in which Timmy and Jimmy duke it out in a shot-for-shot remake of Piper and David’s fight. Upon learning this particular “South Park” episode featured “little crippled kids” fighting, Piper said he felt so bad about it and refused to watch it for about ten years. What changed his attitude regarding the episode was when he was at an autograph convention a few years ago:

“There was a beautiful little kid in a wheelchair that came up and told me about it, and he was laughing his ass off! Then I watched it and, oh baby Jesus put the hat on, one got hit in the crouch and another with a wheelchair! So you know if he likes it then I like it too! I just didn’t want to offend him.”

Piper did talk about how “They Live” is on the verge of being remade, and this did not please any fans in the sold-out audience at New Beverly Cinema. Apparently the remake will not have a fight scene in it. While some were disappointed to hear this, it’s probably just as well. After watching Piper and David pummel each other with such raw power, it seems impossible to top what they did today.

They Live movie poster

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

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Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is one of those few movies I can describe as being truly exhilarating. It combined amazing martial arts sequences with a great story filled with compelling characters you were eager to follow along with from start to finish. To simply call it a martial arts movie was not fair as Lee gleefully subverted the genre to give us something completely mesmerizing, and it went on to become one of the most successful foreign films ever made.

So it’s a shame to see its eagerly awaited sequel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” doesn’t come even close to recapturing the spirit of the original. Michelle Yeoh returns as Yu Shu Lien and Yuen Woo-ping, who choreographed the action of the original, steps in as director, but those who loved the original are bound to feel like something is missing. While Woo-ping still delivers some amazing action scenes, he lacks Lee’s poetic touch.

“Sword of Destiny’s” greatest strength is definitely Yeoh who looks fantastic at 53 years old and can still kick ass and do her own stunts like nobody else’s business. She is the only cast member from the original to appear in this sequel, and she makes it almost worth a recommendation as her performance is as powerful and heartfelt as it was before.

The movie takes place 18 years after the events of the original and sees Yu Shu Lien coming out of solitude and heading back to Peking where her lover Li Mui Bai’s legendary sword, the Green Destiny, is being held. However, it doesn’t take long for her to encounter resistance as her carriage is attacked by several warriors. In the time she was away, various clans have wreaked havoc in the martial world in an effort to gain control of it, and many have their eye on stealing the Green Destiny which will allow them to rule it with unimpeachable power.

The Green Destiny was a major focal point of the original as Jen Lu (Zhang Ziyi) stole it in an attempt to engage in the warrior lifestyle she had become envious of. That sword is a focal point in the sequel as well to where I began to wonder if perhaps destroying it instead of keeping it safe and locked up would have made more sense. It certainly would have saved the martial world a lot of trouble. Then again, destroying that sword would also have meant destroying the past, so perhaps that’s why the characters are not eager to obliterate it even for their own safety.

We get a lot of characters thrown at us this time around like Wei-Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.) and Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), both of whom want the sword for their own purposes. There’s also Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen) who faked his own death because he was in love with Yu Shu Lien and preferred a life of solitude as he knew Li Mu Bai was the one she loved more. And then we have Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), the West Lotus warlord who learns he must obtain the Green Destiny as it will allow him to rule the Martial World.

With all these characters and their various plot threads, it’s hard to get involved in their individual dramas and they are nowhere as compelling as the ones from the original. Many of the characters we see here feel like typical kind martial arts movies tend rely on. Snow Vase in particular feels like a generic version of Jen Lu, and the latter only appears a footnote in this sequel. They all fight like the best warriors, but the action feels ordinary and less than thrilling because we don’t care that much for them.

Another thing about “Sword of Destiny” is the actors speak in English instead of Mandarin, and this proves to be a big mistake. While there are many who can’t stand subtitles, seeing the dialogue spoken in English makes it seem all the more clichéd and uninspired. It’s like watching the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” dubbed in English; it’s still cool to watch, but everything sounds rather laughable in another language. In Mandarin, there was at least a beauty to the words they otherwise would not have had.

But perhaps “Sword of Destiny’s” biggest sin is its overall look. While the original only used CGI effects to remove the wires which helped the actors to fly all over the place, this movie looks like it bathed in them. As a result, everything looks artificial to where “Sword of Destiny” has the appearance of a video game, and not a very good one at that. In fact, the movie at times looks quite ugly because you can easily tell that what’s on the screen is not at all real. While Lee made collapsing buildings look exciting, Woo-ping is not able to recapture that magic as scenes of warriors crashing through floors of a tower looks inescapably fake and all done on a computer.

Coming out of this sequel, I wondered if “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” even needed one. The stories of both movies connect, but this one looks like it exists on a different planet. Time will only tell if there is to be a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 3,” but “Sword of Destiny” doesn’t make much of a case for one. Yeoh is great as always and Woo-ping does pull off some nice stunts, but this sequel feels uninspired and routine at best. Perhaps it’s time for the Green Destiny to be laid to rest once and for all. Just look at what Harry Potter did with the Elder Wand in the “Deathly Hallows;” problems were solved and the wizarding world was balanced out. It’s that simple.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016

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Exclusive Interview with Zoe Bell on ‘Raze’

raze-zoe-bell-photo

New Zealand native Zoë Bell has long since made a name for herself as a stunt performer having doubled for Lucy Lawless on “Xena: Warrior Princess” and Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies. But once we saw her play herself in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” we saw she was a very entertaining personality to watch onscreen as well. Since then, Bell has been balancing stunt work with acting in films like “Whip It,” “Django Unchained” and “Oblivion.” Now she gets to combine those two talents in the viciously intense “Raze.”

In “Raze,” Bell plays Sabrina who is one of 50 women which have been abducted and imprisoned in a concrete bunker. She soon realizes this bunker is a modern day coliseum of sorts as the women are forced to fight one another to the death. If she doesn’t fight than her daughter will be murdered, so her choices are extremely limited to say the least. From start to finish, Bell is a riveting presence as she is driven to emotional extremes to do things she doesn’t want to do in order to protect the one she loves.

I was lucky enough to talk with Bell when she was doing press for “Raze,” and she proved to be as cool as she was in “Death Proof.” On the surface, “Raze” looks like your typical women-in-prison exploitation flick, but its director Josh C. Waller ends up taking this material much more seriously than you might expect. I talked with Bell about how she got involved in this movie, what kind of fighting styles were used in it and if she was instrumental in choreographing the brutal fight scenes. She also talked about what it’s like to be a stunt performer in show business today as opposed to years before, and she gave us an update on “The ExpendaBelles.”

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Ben Kenber: “Raze” was different from what I expected it to be.

Zoë Bell: Well what were you expecting? I hope you weren’t expecting a romantic comedy.

BK: Oh no, I usually avoid those (Bell laughs). With so many different fighting styles around the world, was there any specific style of fighting you used in this movie?

ZB: There are all these action movies out there with samurais and stuff, but we didn’t want to have those kinds of fights at all. We wanted it to be real characters that were plucked from their lives and put in this really shitty situation. But as far as the characters are concerned, Sabrina comes from a military background, Teresa (Tracie Thoms) comes from a boxing background, Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall) is just street, and Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) is just the young girl who has to fight for her life. So the characters’ individual fight styles were less about the styles they were trained in and more about the life experience that they have, and it was really important for us that that come through. That’s what makes the fights different.

BK: What do you want audiences to get out of “Raze?”

ZB: I wanted the audience to have an experience of female fights that they maybe haven’t experienced before. I was looking to get more experience. I wanted to do female fights and stuff in a way that I’ve not done before. We wanted to take everything sort of heightened and strip all of that away. It was more just sort of like an experience I wanted to put out there for people. Ironically what’s ended up coming out of it is the joy that women audiences who have watched this movie have. It’s like they’re living vicariously through this womanhood and these actors, but also the characters and for all the right reasons, obviously the crazy ones, it’s satisfying. All the actors were just like, “This is so fucking cool that we are doing this film!” And that means the world to me because I’ve spent my life doing these kinds of films and I’ve gotten benefits from it as long as I can remember. It’s cool to be able to share that around a bit.

BK: How did the role of Sabrina come to you?

ZB: Sabrina came to me through the project really that was sort of… Kenny (Gage), Andy (Pagana, the producer) and Josh (C. Waller, the director) had also worked together on this project before I came aboard. Josh and I have known each other for a long time and when he threw my name in the mix, Kenny and Andy were excited about it and they brought me in. We all kind of vibed and jived and they asked me if I wanted to come on as a producer, and I got really excited and I said yes. At that stage it was still in a short format, and the role of Sabrina was really… I was just going to work on staging the fights basically. I worked with this woman named Christy and I created this whole story and at some level put a lot of preparations on her (Sabrina) for the short. But as it turned into a feature, a lot of the stuff I worked on before carried over to her in the feature script which was really cool. It’s a really fun way to go about it. It’s kind of an ass backwards way of going about it. We had problems doing it the way we did, but it was still pretty exciting.

BK: Did you work closely with director Josh C. Waller on the fight scenes in “Raze?”

ZB: Everything on this movie was pretty collaborative, but the fight scenes in particular because I have experience in that world and therefore I basically have a convenience when it comes to that stuff. We had a fight choreographer called James Young, and so basically we had James Young and we had me who was never going to be quiet about it. My forte is female action and what works well for women. There’s something about a female character in the way that she moves in the kind of choices that she makes in a fight situation, and Josh was very much about bringing emotional truth to those fights and these women. Kenny, having been a boxer for years and a real ring fighter, was one of the biggest cheerleaders for having female fights that were real that haven’t been seen before, so we had a lot of people that the fights were very important to on the creative side. So fortunately we all worked quite collaboratively together and I think we all ended up getting the fights we wanted. They are pretty cool.

BK: Did you do all your own stunts in this movie or were there some done by a stunt double?

ZB: Oh no, no, no, no. No one had a stunt double. There was one stunt that ended up not even making it into the movie which we brought in a stunt double for. We didn’t have time or the money, so the girls are all bringing it.

BK: Having been a stunt person for quite some time, what kind of changes have you experienced for stunt performers in the industry? Have things gotten better or worse?

ZB: I think work conditions for stunt people across the board have technically improved. There are more challenges in regards to safety and, having said that, when you get more technology it also enables you to push the limits. We’re always trying to do something new and bigger. Work conditions are what they were. As for work opportunities, now compared to 22 or 30 years ago, women were not really allowed to be stunt people. Guys would put on wigs and cover their hairy legs and double for women. As far as female action, it almost feels to me like it kind of goes back to where you’ve got “Xena” and “Alias” and all these… There is more female driven stuff now to where I feel like then there was for a long time. I think the type of action that’s acceptable for what females are doing now has probably shifted too. “Charlie Angel’s” was technically action and it was all females, and the action of the “Wonder Woman” to be done now, the type of action you’d see your committing would be far different to what was in the day.

BK: “Death Proof” really opened doors for you as an actress. At this point, does doing acting appeal to you more than stunts, or are you equally passionate about both?

ZB: “Death Proof” was definitely the catapult for me. It feels like it’s probably a good time to naturally progress over. If I’m being given these opportunities and I’ve worked hard enough to make that change, then that’s the next stage of wherever my career is taking me. I’ve had to be very conscious about not being in the industry as a stunt woman as much as an actress because, for myself certainly, I would very easily kind of slide back into the comfort zone of what I know well which is being a stunt girl and shy away from maybe what’s a little more challenging which has been acting. But also the intention of being seen as an actor and taken seriously by the industry, I think it was sort of important to me to sever ties from one so that I could fully commit to the other. It’s a shame but it’s part of the process, you know?

BK: Yes, it is. What was the budget for “Raze?”

ZB: Well I’m not sure that’s something I am allowed to say. We think it was $600,000 or $700,000. It was definitely well below $1 million.

BK: I was just curious because it looks like it cost a lot more than that.

ZB: Yeah, and it’s very important for us, I think, for people to know that the budget was incredibly low but that we are so proud of what we managed to do with well below $1 million. We are just in the process of doing a general audit just to double check the numbers, so I don’t want to put a number out there because I would be making it up, but I can basically say that it was well below $1 million.

BK: That’s interesting because what I’ve learned from most filmmakers is that working with less money forces you to be more creative. It certainly looks like you got a lot of creative stuff out of the budget that you had.

ZB: Yeah definitely, and we also got really lucky with the people that we had on board.

BK: Regarding the other actresses, did they have any fight training when they came onto this movie or did you help them out with that?

ZB: A lot of the girls had taken themselves and… I know Rebecca has been doing some kickboxing on her own time. Rachel Nichols has done a bunch of action films before. The girls are not meant to be… We didn’t need Rachel Nichols to walk in there and look like she had a black belt. We did a lot of work on the fights together before we shot it. James has done a lot with the choreography, Kenny worked on a lot of boxing with bags, and I just worked with them doing everything and anything they could when I had a minute. And most of when I was of use to the other women was just as a girl in how I approach it. So I spoke their language and that’s the gift I had to give. Everyone was just super dedicated and it was really touching to see these women always so dedicated to their roles.

BK: One last question, is there anything you can tell us about “The ExpendaBelles?” (This is an offshoot of “The Expendables,” and it was reported that Bell had been talking to the filmmakers about being in it.)

ZB: No, absolutely nothing. I have met with those guys. I don’t know if it was specific to… Well here’s what I can tell you about “The ExpendaBelles” and why I’m excited for that movie to be in existence whether I’m a part of it or not: I would love to be a part of it. That’s all I can tell you.

BK: Okay no problem. Well thank you very much for your time Zoë. This has been a lot of fun and you were terrific in “Raze.”

ZB: Thank you!