The Take (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). "The Take" is one of those films I knew nothing about in advance and therefore was blown away when it proved so entertaining. Also known as "Bastille Day," the film, set in Paris, begins when an ex-patriot American pickpocket named Michael Mason (Richard Madden of HBO's "Game of Thrones") steals a woman's bag, not knowing that it contains a bomb set on a timer. The woman (Charlotte Le Bon as Zoe Neville) was supposed to have placed the bomb in the headquarters of the French Nationalist Party, but she changed her mind when a cleaning crew showed up. Not wanting anyone killed, she was going to throw the bomb in the river, but then Mason stole it. After he discards it in trash, the bomb goes off, killing four, and Mason's image is caught on surveillance video.
Ahead of French intelligence is an American CIA unit that sends rogue agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) after Mason. After an exciting rooftop chase, Mason is captured, but is able to convince Briar that he is only a thief and knew nothing about the bomb. Together, they hunt down Zoe to stop any more bombings, as the "terrorists" have given a 36-hour warning of further action to take place during the national celebration of Bastille Day. However, they are being chased by both the French police and the group that created the bomb. The bomb turns out to be just the first act in creating chaos, as the group also broadcasts several podcasts, leading to large, unruly protests in the streets. The movie heads toward a plot twist that creates a satisfying conclusion.
Elba, continuing a string of strong performances as the loner agent who can handle himself, and Madden, who also brings a sense of innocence to his thief, work very well together. The film's action is lean but exciting. In addition to the rooftop chase, with lots of sliding, there is a good fight sequence in an out-of-control van. Even the agitated crowd scenes are well staged by director/co-writer James Watkins. Reportedly, the film came out in France the day before the real-life terror incident that killed 80 in Nice during Bastille Day celebrations, causing the film to be pulled from theaters days later. The only bonus feature is a brief making-of look (2:09), with interview bits by Elba and Madden. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 0.5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 118 min.). This is the second adaptation of a book from Lee Child's series about the former military policeman, Jack "No Middle Name" Reacher, an ex-major who wanders the United States distributing his own brand of justice as he comes across or is drawn in to cases that need solving or people who need help. In both this and the first film, "Jack Reacher" (2012), Reacher is played by Tom Cruise (also the producer). Overall, I enjoyed the first film more, possibly because it was based on the book "One Shot," which was the first of the Reacher novels I read. (I loved the book so much that I went and devoured the previous eight books, starting with 1997's "The Killing Floor," and have been reading each new book annually. There now are 21 books, including the crackerjack most recent one, "Night School," set in 1996 Germany, when Reacher still served in the army.)
"Never Go Back" is one of the more recent books in the series, the 18th, released in 2013 and actually continues the story of "61 Hours," the 14th book in the series. The film's beginning snapshots the growing telephone relationship between Reacher and Major Susan Turner, who has his old job as commander of the 110th MP. Reacher decides to visit her in Washington, D.C. in hopes of at least having dinner. However, when he arrives, he discovers Turner (Cobie Smulders) has been arrested for espionage, a case that involves two military investigators who were killed in Afghanistan. Turner is being represented by Col. Bob Moorcroft (Robert Catrini), who reveals that Reacher was once the subject of a paternity suit. After Moorcroft is killed, with evidence planted that Reacher committed the murder, Reacher breaks Turner out of jail. However, now his possible daughter, 15-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), also has become a target for those out to get Reacher and Turner. The three are forced to go on the run, fight to clear their names and expose what turns out to be a much larger conspiracy. That conspiracy is the weakest part of the plot; it just isn't immediate enough. The three screenwriters, including director Edward Zwick, who previously worked with Cruise on "The Last Samurai," which Zwick produced, created a new character for the film. Known as The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), this killer makes things personal between he and Reacher. They have several well-made fight scenes together.
There is a good selection of interesting extras, often with behind-the-scenes footage, although there is no audio commentary. One of the best looks at those fights (12:42), while another looks at the rooftop battle and includes the wrap speeches (8:13). There is an overview of the film's making (11:31) and a piece more focused on Reacher's "unexpected family" (14:31) that includes an interview with author Child. Another interesting piece is about filming in Louisiana (25:46), which includes a lot of fascinating stuff on Cruise's stunt driving and the chase through the New Orleans parade. Finally, there is a piece on photographer David Jones and Cruise (8:33). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Life on the Line (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 97 min.). While there is a train crash on the DVD jacket cover, it is a very minor part of the film, which is based on actual events. Overall, the film is a homage to power company linemen, who often give their lives to provide electricity. However, the film is really a family drama, centered around a lineman (John Travolta as Beau Ginner), who feels responsible for the tragedy that killed his brother and the following event that took his sister-in-law, and the niece (Kate Bosworth as Bailey) he raised as his own child. That tragedy makes up the film's prologue.
Bailey has been dating Duncan (Devon Sawa), whom Beau feels is not good enough for her. Duncan, who is being interviewed in the unnecessary bookend opening and close (and how would he have seen all the film presents?), has now become an apprentice lineman. Bailey works at the local dinner, but is preparing to make a late entry into college. Off and on, she is being bothered by Ron(Matt Bellefleur). Meanwhile, Eugene (Ryan Robbins) and his wife Carlene (Julie Benz) are Beau's new neighbors, but their marriage is troubled, as Eugene, who works for the same lineman company, has not been the same since returning from combat in Iraq. These human interactions all come together during the climax, a big storm that the film counts down to, starting 10 days beforehand. The film is a decent enough watch with some good performances, but the plot is a little too contrived at the end, particularly the portion that includes Ron. However, by the film's end, the viewer has come to know and even care about several of the characters, which makes the ending very affecting.
Sharon Stone has a cameo as Duncan's substance-abusing mother. During the closing credits, photos are shown of deceased linemen and how to contact a group set up to help their families. Extras include a behind-the-scenes look (16:49), including that the film was made to honor linemen; and a "Life on the Line" music video by Fiona Culley, featuring Darius Rucker. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2 stars
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 130 min.). More faithfully presenting real facts is this film about the fate of the mostly young crew of the USS Indianapolis during the closing days of World War II. The ship was given the task of carrying the atomic bombs that would end the war with Japan to Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands; however, as the mission was secret, the ship was sent out without an escort and, after it had delivered its payload, had to set out to further duty at Leyte, but again without an escort and with no official knowledge it was even in the area. This would come in to play when the ship was attacked and sunk four days later by a Japanese sub, forcing the initial 902 survivors to somehow survive with low rations in shark-infested waters. About two-third did not survive. Overall, there were 317 survivors and 879 dead.
Nicolas Cage headlines the movie as Capt. Charles McVay, in one of his better performances, but the film spends much of its time, especially early on, introducing the viewer to a bunch of characters, sometimes in confusing fashion. For example, McVay is thinking about his beloved wife, when we suddenly have what I thought was a flashback to their first meeting. However, the timing made no sense. No, instead it was the development of a possible love triangle between two best buddies, sailors Brian "Bama" Smithwick (Matt Lanter of TV's "Timeless") and Mike D'Antonio (Adam Scott Miller), and Clara (Emily Tennant), the girl they both love. A whole mess more of sailors are introduced during their last wild night ashore in San Francisco. In general, the young cast fares well, but the film's pacing suffers for how the story is laid out. The sinking of the USS Indianapolis is very well done, but the film looks cheap when it comes to the survivors being adrift in the Philippine Sea for five days.
There is a big chunk of the film that is just watching the men slowly die off, which seems less than dramatic, despite the occasional shot of looming shark teeth. Then, there is a downer of a post-rescue ending in which the viewer sees what happens to McVay. Director Mario Van Peebles, who is featured in the bonus material, seems to have made an odd choice for how to end the film. Perhaps it is just that while the true events were very dramatic, at least for four days, the rest just does not make for a good film. What is moving is when two of the remaining survivors talk about being among the sharks near the film's end and footage of the actual rescue is shown. The sole extra is a well-made making-of feature (33:11), which covers the animatronic sharks, filming the first two weeks in the ocean off of Alabama and covering the large cast. Most interesting is that Lanter's grandfather, Kenley Lanter, was a real survivor of the disaster. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extra 1.5 stars
Beyond Redemption (Well Go USA, NR, 89 min.). This is the rare Well Go USA film that was made in English, but the cheapness of the budget really shows through in the sets. The acting and script are weak too. The only real spark is in some of the fight sequences.
Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Fontaine ("Once Upon a Time in China") makes his directorial debut here. Brian Ho ("X-Men: Days of Future Past") plays undercover Vancouver cop Billy Tong, but he has grown weary of the life and really wants out, now that he has learned his ex-wife is pregnant. Billy has infiltrated the Ching Tau Gang, which is planning a home invasion against wealthy Chinese businessman Xi Long (Anthony Towe). The gang's boss (Don Lew as Yuan) wants to use Xi's daughter Tiffany (Linna Huynh) as leverage. While Billy believes the home invasion will wrap up his case, he has to ensure Tiffany is not hurt, while somehow maintaining his cover.
There is not much to the film, or to like, other than several fight sequences, two of which, "Hallway Fight" (2:20) and "Mauler Opening Fight" (3:43) are shown being practiced and choreographed in the only two bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 0.5 star
The Monster (A21/Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 91 min.). Written and directed by horror filmmaker Bryan Bertino ("The Strangers"), the film puts a divorced mother (Zoe Kazan as Kathy, who has a drinking problem) and her headstrong, but young daughter (Ella Ballentine as Lizzy) on the road on a dark, rainy night. The pair are often at each other's throat, which the viewer sees in the somewhat randomly placed flashbacks, and Kathy is delivering Lizzy to her father, apparently for good. However, their car has a blowout and then hits a wolf. Then, it is revealed that monsters truly are real.
Once the car dies and the viewer starts hearing the monster's sounds in the night, the film starts to get truly scary. A man (Aaron Douglas as Jesse) arrives with a tow truck -- thankfully cell phones work -- only events are not too kind to him. Nor are they to the two paramedics who show up a bit later. As for the monster itself, the best view comes on the DVD box cover and makes one think of "Aliens." One also sees a bit more of the monster in the sole bonus feature (7:32) about making the film in Ottawa. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 0.5 stars