Notes from the back row 

One word titles

If there is one lesson to be learned from Commando, the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger/Alyssa Milano masterpiece, it's that anytime you kidnap somebody's daughter, you're kind of asking for it, especially if the dad has some military training and a penchant for snapping necks. Twenty-some years later that lesson still stands - just check out Taken, opening Friday at the Village 8.  

Directed by Pierre Morel (The Transporter) Taken is a fast-paced revenge flick about a retired ex-CIA shitkicker whose 17-year-old daughter goes to Paris with her friend to "see the world" (e.g. chase U2 around the continent while screwing suave Euros). Upon arrival the girls are almost instantly kidnapped by crazy Albanians, who drug them and toss them into a multifaceted sex and prostitution ring.

The dad, played effectively by Liam Neeson, uses some old connections and MacGyver tricks to track down the bad guys and get bloody revenge. Neeson is like Jason Bourne meets Jack Bauer with an extra dose of 'pissed-off.' He isn't afraid to break necks, electrocute people, stab throats, break arms or even shoot an old friend's wife at the dinner table to get his daughter back.

The action is quick and brutal and the story a tiny bit unbelievable, but Taken delivers some bone-crunching good times. Doesn't have any super killer one-liners like Commando does, but it's still pretty good.

It's award season so studios are pushing nominated flicks you might not have seen the first time around - films like Doubt, re-opening Friday.

Basically an acting showcase, Doubt's story is pretty minimal - is an upbeat Catholic
School pastor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman diddling his school's only black student? Or is Meryl Streep's dragon lady nun/principal character just accusing him because he's liberal and progressive? (Odds are he did it - check out killer documentary Deliver Us From Evil for more on this topic.)

The problem with Doubt, despite some impressive acting, is that it's little more than
Oscar-Bait: based on an award-winning play, a period setting, a modern controversial theme, big names peppered throughout. But someone forgot to make it a good movie. Director John Patrick Shanley (who wrote the play) can't elevate it past the stage into the realm of cinema. Doubt's okay, certainly better than Shanley's last movie, 1990's Joe vs. the Volcano (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan? No thanks) but I guess if you are into watching acting more than watching a movie then this will work for you. Not me.

The other movie opening is Milk and it's about Harvey Milk, a gay politician in the '70s who campaigned tirelessly in San Francisco for gay rights and then got shot. Sean Penn stars, as does Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Josh Brolin and Alison Pill as Anne Kronenburg. It's another period piece with big names and a timely theme (very timely if you live in California) but the big difference is that director Gus Van Sant (apparently also gay) was able to make it entertaining as well.  

Honestly, I'm still tripping on the coincidence that Harvey was homosexual and his last name was Milk. Think homo milk. I wonder if people used to call him that before it was official?

But enough of that, Milk is a good movie and the man was one of the rare few with enough balls to fight injustice the difficult way: legally. The sad footnote is that now, 30-some years later, the gay community is still being dicked around by governments and voters despite the fact that studies show gay men are far less likely to abduct your daughter. Go figure.

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