Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It's easy to compare 3 Days to Kill to Luc Besson's flagship franchise Taken. The film itself practically encourages those comparisons, what with the older man who reluctantly returns to a life of killing for the good of his daughter. The hero's quest of hunting down international criminals in a stunning foreign locale is punctuated by all of the explosions and gore your heart could desire. Neither 3 Days screenwriter Besson nor director McG are attempting to blaze a trail or reinvent a wheel. They're simply attempting to create a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, and on that front, at least, they succeed.
Stepping into the Liam Neeson role this time around is Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, who is either an assasssin or a spy that works for either the CIA or the Secret Service (it's not really all that important in the end), forced to walk away from the job after he is diagnosed with cancer (or maybe a brain tumor). In an attempt to spend his remaining months bonding with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), he moves to Paris to settle down. Of course, that's when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA agent/spy/assassin arrives, along with an experimental new drug that could extend Ethan's life, which she will happily pass along... if he takes out their two most wanted criminals within three days.
From there, the film veers wildly between graphic fight sequences, with enough chaos and destruction to equal both Taken movies, and the story of Ethan and Zoey’s growing relationship. Much of the plot is confusing and barely explained – Ethan and Vivi vaguely work for the CIA, although they're unconcerned by the devastating destruction they leave in their wake. The drug is “experimental,” but how it helps or why it’s only available through a giant purple syringe is waived away by the presence of a stack of “research.” Ethan only has three days to complete his mission, but seems to hang around Paris for a lot longer. The villains are wanted by the government for being tangentially involved with a “dirty bomb.” There's a shoehorned-in subplot about family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment. But despite the fact that so many of these elements never find a way to coalesce into a coherent whole, once the body count starts to rise and the buildings start to fall, it's easy to simply ignore all of that in favor of massive explosions.
When the film works, Ethan's job and his relationship with Zoey blend together in a way that gives 3 Days to Kill some much needed heart and humor — like when he's interrupted in torturing a target by her constant phone calls — but when it doesn’t, the transitions between Ethan taking out the criminals he's hunting and his slightly cloying bonding experience with Zoey can be jarring. As Ethan, Costner is a serviceable action hero; he growls threateningly and stares fondly at Steinfeld when the script calls for it, but for the most part, he appears to be phoning it in. Of course, for this kind of film, that’s all he really needs to do, but it means that by the time the credits roll, much of his performance is already forgotten. As Zoey, Steinfeld does her best with the material, and makes some of the more emotional scenes between herself and Costner affecting. However, even she can’t save the father-daughter plot of the film from becoming trite and stale at times, and so her scenes mostly feel like a quick breather in between the rounds of graphic violence.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Heard feels out-of-place as Vivi, who is introduced as the buttoned-down second-in-command to the head of the CIA, but then proceeds to spend the rest of the film speeding around Paris in sports cars, and prancing about in a wardrobe of leather, corsets, and high heels. Costner is clearly in an older-man action film, but Heard is in another film entirely, one in which she’s a sexy super spy single-handedly taking down international criminals. Despite the fact that she’s mostly there to provide exposition and to look pretty, there are moments where you almost wish that she was the focus of 3 Days to Kill instead — or, at the very least, that one of the many subplots had been dropped in favor of expanding her character.
And yet, despite all of the unanswered questions and the weird disparities in tone, 3 Days to Kill is a surprisingly entertaining film. The fact that one of the best fight sequences in the film takes place in a supermarket, while Ethan and an unnamed hitman grapple behind a deli counter, means that it's ridiculous enough to keep you engaged, but it's still able to amp up the tension when it needs to. And when you need a break from watching people come perilously close to being decapitated, there's a well-timed visual gag already lined up. It hits all of the notes required of a cheesy action film, and even though it gets far too bogged down in sentiment at times, it's still got enough heart to add a little substance to the flimsy plot.
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3 Days to Kill does exactly what it needs to, and little more. It doesn't want to make you think — in fact, it actively encourages you not to — and it doesn't try to accomplish anything that will stay with you after the credits have rolled. All 3 Days to Kill wants is to keep you amused for a few hours, with a few explosions and some mindless fun. In the end, that's sometimes that's all you really need out of a movie.
If the movie business had a Hall of Fame, one the major criteria for nomination and induction would be the number of awards that a candidate had received. By those guidelines, John Ford, Jack Nicholson and Ingrid Bergman would be royalty, but with a whopping 8 Academy Awards, Alan Menken would be king.
If you are unfamiliar with the name, its because you've never seen him on the big screen, but have no doubt heard his highly influential music throughout the years. As Walt Disney's Pictures treasured composer, he's written some of the most iconic tunes in Mouse House history, including "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid, "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. To celebrate the release of Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray for the very first time, we talked with Mr. Menken about his favorite musicals, his songwriting process and the cultural impact that his music has had on the world.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Alan Menken and make sure you grab Beauty and the Beast in it's Blu-ray/DVD combo today!
Alan Menken: Hi Danny.
Daniel Hubschman: Hey Alan, how are you today?
AM: I'm very good, how are you?
DH: Good, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
A: My pleasure.
D: So, I wanted to ask you, was it possible to have the kind of knowledge - looking back in hindsight - that films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast - and more specifically, the music within those films - would have the kind of cultural impact that they did?
A: I think that at the gut level, I thought we were doing something special, I did feel that. I often think of The Little Mermaid as my follow up to Little Shop of Horrors. And I knew we had done something special with Little Shop of Horrors, and people really responded to that, and when we worked on The Little Mermaid I had a similar feeling. I guess the answer would be yeah, frankly we were up to something special - I mean how culturally groundbreaking it was or is, that's an objective point, I don't know, I'd like to think they're important but I'll leave that to others to evaluate and I'm certainly, I gotta say, not about false modesty. I'm pretty humbled when people say that about the work. That means a great deal.
D: Well, they are absolutely iconic pieces of music. My fiance, for one, when I told her I'd be talking to the guy who wrote the songs for those films, she really kind of flipped out because they do have that kind of effect on people - they're known around the globe - and the music, you cannot separate the music and the films, and that's a testament to their quality.
A: Well, thanks.
D: So, another thing i was interested in is, you've obviously composed for both animation and live action, and i was wondering what, if any, are the differences between doing the two?
A: Animation is generally a medium that's more familiar and comfortable with musicals than live action. With animation there's a consistency in movies with the teams I work with, the people I work with, and with live action we're kind of reinventing the wheel with each one, because there isn't yet really any kind of existing original live action film musical industry in place right now, and so I'm hoping that the live action film will become as frequent a form as the original animated musical. And I kind of separate the adaptation of the stage musical and the original film musical where all the decisions are up for grabs, because in the development process, that's where all the decisions get made.
D: It's pretty much undeniable that there's been a renaissance in the movie musical in the last few years - we're seeing a lot more produced, and a lot more of a positive audience response to them - do you care to comment on any of those, you know - the Hairspray's of the world?
A: Well, they're all adaptations of Broadway musicals, and I think that kind of audience - Little Shop was another adaptation - I think it's fabulous, and I thought that Hairspray move was just wonderful, I mean really wonderful and I've seen it a number of times. I really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's score, and I just enjoyed Dreamgirls and I enjoyed the movie Nine…
D: I did too. I thought Nine was brilliant in certain ways. That's one where I felt the other technical components of the film really heightened it. I loved the cinematography; it was shot so beautifully. I liked the set design in particular as well as the musical numbers, I thought it was wonderful and I was saddened that the reaction to it was what it was.
A: Yeah, that happens, and it hit a buzzsaw of it not being either what people wanted it to be, or maybe it was Rob Marshall, I don't know. So you know, I think it's great and I'm always weary of these renaissances in the film business because all it takes is one disaster and its over. And right now I've got Tangled that's coming out, and I'm rooting heavily that that does well so we can do more of those.
D: Now can you tell me anything about Tangled or the music you've written for it, or any updates on The Snow Queen also, anything you've been working on?
A: Well, you know Snow Queen is shelved, it was shelved, and the issue is that the jury is out as to how many animated musicals they want to do right now. They want to make money so you know if Tangled does well there will be more of them. We had a wonderful screening last night - I feel really good about the movie, and I hope people flock to see it, obviously. I think it's really good, it's unique and yet it's very much in my vocabulary and in the vocabulary of classic Disney - but updated in a more contemporary way, somewhat akin to Enchanted. I'm developing a couple of live action film musical ideas, which I don't want to talk about in any detail, but that is something I want to pursue as well. I love working in film, I do, and there are aspects of working on film which frankly I prefer over working on stage musicals.
D: So let me ask you: what are the other movie musicals or stage musicals from the past which you feel had a profound influence on your work, would you say?
A: My favorite is The Wizard of Oz. I love the Astaire-Rogers movies, Irving Berlin, or George Gershwin, or Jerome Kern. I love when theater writers comes out and work in film - there are just wonderful examples of that, George Gershwin… Oh my god, so many. There are so many film musicals and you know, I'm not really necessarily a film musical fan per se - that happens to be something that I do, that I enjoy. I loved the update of the film musical of Hair. I was actually very happy with the Little Shop musical. I'm sure most of them are probably escaping my mind - Fiddler (On The Roof) was a good one, My Fair Lady was a good one, West Side Story I loved. And boy, did I love Natalie Wood. I was legitimately in love with Natalie Wood.
D: Who wasn't?
A: Well, I guess it depends on how old you were.
D: I'm a little young for her, but I still can look back on West Side Story or anything with Natalie Wood and still fall in love. She's timeless.
A: It's true, she's timeless.
D: When writing songs, do you go on instinct, based on the things you see, or do you use director's notes, or do you revert to your classical training to write? How does that process work?
A: Well, what we do is sit down with the directors and, for of all, discuss in detail where the song might go: what the sound of the song should be, what musical vocabulary is really going to inform this song, what type of song would it be, discuss examples of other songs that are like it, really go into where does the song start, where does the song end, what does the song say, do we want it to be funny, do we want it to be touching, what are we going after exactly, and then, I go with my collaborators and sit in a room and usually listen to the music first, but no matter what we know what our assignment is - we know the kind of song we want to do, and we start the ball rolling. And when I feel we've got something far along, we send the demo along to producers or directors or whatever, and then we start the back-and-forth and more often than not, we get back a really great response that says "we love it" and then that kind of anoints it. And then you move onto the next level of demo, and then you'll fret about if for the next couple of months, and then you say "hey, we want to go and record this" and you go and record it.
D: Gotcha. Sounds like an interesting process, I'd love to see it. I wish I had more time to talk to you.
A: Same here, Danny.
D: Thanks for the time a lot, Allen, I really appreciate it.
A: My pleasure.