When 2008's Taken debuted at the U.S. box office with a $24.7 million debut, following months of rumors the Liam Neeson-starring movie would go direct-to-DVD, Hollywood was shocked. Producer Luc Besson (Leon, District B13, Lockout) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid) were thrilled. Taken's gross continued to grow; eventually, it became evident that a sequel was in order. Now in 2012, we have Taken 2 — the franchise's second mega hit.
"We never talked about a sequel," says Kamen, "But when we had this thing, a phenomenon, we took a look at it and said, 'What's the phenomenon?' It was a man striving to be reunited with his family. On the flip side, we had a man who just lost his family. We went from there."
Kamen and Besson's lucrative writing partnership goes back nearly 18 years and includes films like The Fifth Element, Kiss of the Dragon, and the Transporter series. The two met when Kamen was brought in by Warner Bros. as a "script assassin" to comment on the script for Fifth Element. He was cool on Besson's draft. "I told them what he had didn't make sense. A week later [Besson] called me and told me to come to Paris to work with him. We've been working together ever since."
"He wanted me to clarify structure, character, and he needed someone who could write in English because when I met him his English sucked," says Kamen. Now, with Besson's written English up to snuff, the two are a creative machine for blockbuster movies. "We call each other 'Shrek and Donkey.' Luc is a big guy who owns the swamp. He has a huge vision." Kamen believes Besson's French sensibilities allow him to filter "the American action experience" style through his own unique lens — the key to their films' success. "His car chases look different. His different point of view on characters, how he cuts into the characters. Americans need so much exposition. It has to be so complicated. He cuts right to the chase. The human condition is right there. It's very European. Then he lays on the American action."
Every movie the duo tackle starts with Besson's mile-a-minute brainstorming sessions and grows organically. The first Taken had unexpected origins: "Luc said he heard a story from a French cop, and we started there," says Kamen. "[Then] he had a vision of a father buying a daughter a karaoke machine because she liked to sing. Literally, that's where we started talking. I know that sounds crazy."
While there were trepidations over embarking on a Taken 2 — as in, neither men had even thought about the possibility until they were saddled with the success — the process was still organic, considering it less as a "sequel" in the traditional sense. "It's not really a sequel, it's a continuation story," says Kamen. As they worked out the beats, it finally dawned on Kamen that their location was key. "We were sitting in Paris working on this thing, and I said, 'Maybe we should really go to Istanbul to see some of this stuff.' And [Besson] said, 'I'm too busy, you go.' And the next day I was in Istanbul." Through his touring of the city, Kamen was able to incorporate unique elements into the film, from the bathhouses locations to the train sequence to Lenore's race through the city streets — a moment that actually happened to Kamen. "I got lost. I went walking through this thing, then this thing, then this thing, and I go through this doorway and it was locked. Then I went back, and went back, and went back, and I came to the same gate. Took me an hour to get out of there."
Kamen has written several sequels in his career, and while he strives to find a balance between delivering more of what made the first film work and fresh material, that's not always what the studio wants. He looks back to his first franchise baby, The Karate Kid. "After Karate Kid II, I wanted to get rid of Ralph [Macchio]," says Kamen. "I wanted to do a story about a girl and Mr. Miyagi going back to the 16th century in China, to the origins of Mr. Miyagi's family. I wanted to do a flying-people movie in China. Ten years before Matrix, ten years before Crouching Tiger — I wanted to do a Hong Kong action movie." Producers told Kamen that wasn't an option. They wanted more Daniel and Miyagi — the combination that made the first film a success.
"The people running the studio had no f**king imagination. They wanted the same thing served up. So I declined." Kamen did end up writing the screenplay for Karate Kid III, but the venture ended up being a business move only. The studio eventually had an epiphany (as Kamen describes It: "No one could write Mr. Miyagi and Daniel exactly the way [he did]"), so they returned to the writer with a new, large offer. That's the movie business.
Thankfully for Kamen, he's never really seen a lull in his career, always having multiple projects (including ones with Besson) in development. And after Taken 2's $49.5 million weekend, he's just added another one to his plate. "We didn't start talking about [Taken 3] until we saw the numbers," says Kamen. "But then we said, 'Oh, okay. I think we should do a third one.' And Fox wants us to do a third one." In the first Taken, Neeson's character Bryan Mills' daughter was taken. In Taken 2, he and his wife were taken. In Taken 3…. "We've taken everyone we can take — it's going to go in another direction. Should be interesting."
Also on Kamen's plate is a remake of the 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme fight movie Bloodsport. While Van Damme has been campaigning to join the film in some capacity, Kamen says there isn't room. "There's a whole bunch of depth to it, and it has nothing to do with the original Bloodsport except for the title," says Kamen. "You have Philip Noyce directing. It's a politically-driven character piece with a bunch of fighting in Brazil. There's the issue of the rainforest being destroyed. And then there's the larger issue of this country misconducting itself through two wars. And there's all of that dealt with. It's big action movie entertainment that is very politically based."
Bloodsport currently has funding and is in the casting process, but Kamen isn't worried about filling Van Damme's shoes. "[They're not looking for] someone with muscles, strangely. It's a different story. Not driven by fighting." Maybe Liam Neeson?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
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Take Liam Neeson's family members once shame on you. Take Liam Neeson's family members twice shame on him (but you'll still end up in a world of hurt).
Taken 2 sequel to the 2008 sleeper hit doesn't worry too much about improbability in devising a way to bring Bryan Mills (Neeson) back into the action. In the first film Mills punched and shot his way through Paris in order to retrieve his kidnapped daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). The followup jumps ahead two years Kim still on edge from the experience and Mills just hoping to move past it all. To wash away bad memories Kim and Mill's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) join the badass-for-hire on a work trip to Istanbul where everyone can finally relax. That is until someone gets… taken.
In Taken 2 director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3 Colombiana) sticks to the formula that helped transform Neeson into an aged action star laying out obvious hurdles for his MacGuyver-esque hero and letting fast-paced editing and Mills' fists do the heavy lifting. There's an added layer of character that feels like a tease: Mills and Kim are trying to act like a normal father/daughter — handed the horrific experience of learning to drive as their through-line conflict — and Megaton finds humorous ways to touch upon the struggle. In one sequence Kim drives a stolen taxi cab away from gun-toting pursuers as Mills dictates directions from the passenger side. The action movie equivalent of "10 and 2!" is shouted and all hell breaks loose in the moment of familial genius. But that's about it for Taken 2's innovation. More of the same is the goal here and the film delivers.
The only issue with straight up repeating Mills antics' from the first movie is that his new adversaries — relatives of the people he previously offed — are old and boring and easily defeated. Seeing schlubby Neeson slice dice and electrocute the private parts of men half his age was exciting. Seeing him do the same to senior citizens isn't. But Neeson is such a powerful onscreen force even Taken 2's slowest moments have a bit of a spark. He makes the nonsensical into pure Shakespeare; in hokey scenes where Mills pals around with his best buds Neeson drops lines that are laughable ("Oh can't we just talk about basketball!) — yet he owns them. We're chuckling with his awareness that Taken 2 is beyond silly.
September 30, 2009 4:49am EST
Support is growing for Roman Polanski, and so is a backlash. Some French politicians are not siding so closely with the artistic community in their defense of the jailed filmmaker while other folks from all over are weighing in with indignation that Polanski should receive special treatment.
More names have been added to the petition started in France, which Wiretap was first to post on Monday morning while a similar one has now been floated. At least one big-name French filmmaker, however, has chosen to abstain from adding his support even though he says of Polanski "our daughters are friends."
Scores of prestigious filmmakers and industry players have now added their names to the petition, which began being circulated on Sunday, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Patrice Chereau, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Buck Henry, Diane Kurys, Jean Labadie, Claude Lelouch, David Lynch, Richard Pena, Jacques Perrin, Jerry Schatzberg and Andre Techine.
Further, French sales, distribution and finance outfit Wild Bunch tells Wiretap it has pulled Jan Kounen's Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky from the Zurich Film Festival in a sign of protest. Coco & Igor was the closing night film at Cannes this year.
Further, another petition has now been started by Henri-Bernard Levy, which reads:
"Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26 in Zurich, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski is now in prison. He risks extradition to the United States for a thirty-year-old affair whose principal plaintiff repeats with hue and cry that she has put the story behind her and abandoned any idea of legal proceedings. Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecution in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which should normally be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.
"We ask the Swiss federal justice system to free him immediately and not to turn this brilliant filmmaker into a martyr of a political-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, demands it."
Signatories on that petition include Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Neil Jordan, Mike Nichols, Diane von Furstenberg and Paul Auster.
On the other side of the fence are some of France's politicians who have come out to accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration of jumping too quickly to Polanski's defense. Included among them are Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French deputy in the European Parliament from the Green Party and Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen - the father and daughter from the extreme right National Front party who said officials were supporting "a criminal pedophile in the name of the rights of the political-artistic class," The New York Times reports.
One person from the artistic class whose name has been absent from any petition is Luc Besson. "Our daughters are good friends," Besson told France's RTL radio. "But there is one justice, and that should be the same for everyone."
The Wrap reports that in Poland, the prime minister asked his Cabinet members to subdue their angry calls for the release of Polanski, noting that the case involved "punishment for having sex with a child."
Polanski's lawyers have asked that the director be released from Swiss custody where he now resides following his arrest on Saturday on a 31-year old warrant stemming from having pleaded guilty to sex with a minor.
"Our first concern, and principle concern, is that Mr. Polanski be set free" from jail while "remaining on Swiss territory," Polanski’s French attorney Herve Temime said, TW reports. "He has a chalet in Switzerland. He would naturally accept to be placed under house arrest during the follow-up of the extradition proceedings."
Meanwhile, the mood in blog comments both in the US and in France is for the most part against Polanski. Of the nearly 30,000 respondents to an online poll from French daily Le Figaro, more than 70% feel he should be judged (then again, Web site L'Internaute also has a poll wherein over 70% of respondents think he should be freed).
That 70% figure is an interesting one: On CNN, a poll asking whether he should be extradited to the US also shows 70% in favor.
And on blogs like Deadline.com and Hollywood-Elsewhere.com, the comments skew overwhelmingly against Polanski.
Now that Harvey Weinstein has weighed in via a piece in The Independent, will his comment that he is "not too shy to go and talk to the Governor of California" to ask him to look at the situation hold much sway?
It's unlikely given the stance of the LA District Attorney's office. Spokeswoman Jane Robison responded to questions from FoxNews.com thusly:
Q. Will the DA respond to pressure from Tinseltown's biggest bigwigs?
A. Will the DA consider their plea to give up on extradition?
Q. Does the DA have any plans to meet with the directors allying themselves with Polanski?
For the Full story, click here to go to Hollywood Wiretap
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