Tag Archives: January Jones

Unknown (2011, Jaume Collet-Serra)

Unknown is not a bad continental thriller. Liam Neeson is an American scientist in Berlin who wakes from a coma to find no one remembers him. As often happens in these situations, he finds himself a pretty sidekick (Diane Kruger) and a sympathetic native (Bruno Ganz) who try to help him unravel the mystery.

The film benefits a great deal from John Ottman and Alexander Rudd’s score, Flavio Martínez Labiano’s photography and the Berlin locations. Director Collet-Serra only has a handful of bad sequences—he likes the CG-aided slow motion a little too much—but he’s otherwise a perfectly mediocre thriller director.

Having Neeson for a lead helps too. He’s able to bring an air of respectability to the project, which would otherwise feel a little too pedestrian otherwise. January Jones—as his forgetting wife—doesn’t bring much substance too her performance and Aidan Quinn—as Neeson’s replacement—looks a little lost. Quinn gets this bewildered look from time to time, like he can’t believe he’s in this kind of picture. Neeson—who’s been doing these genre pieces for over a decade now—looks a lot more comfortable. Though it does occasionally seem like a thematic sequel to Darkman, which isn’t so much bad as unintentionally amusing.

There are twists, there are turns. There’s an ornate car chase (with unnecessary CG). The finale isn’t exactly predictable, but I’ve seen it before….

Unknown’s a diverting couple hours; Neeson and Kruger (oddly, a German playing a Bosnian) make it worthwhile.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, based on a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert; director of photography, Flavio Martínez Labiano; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Ottman and Alexander Rudd; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Leo Bressler), Olivier Schneider (Smith), Stipe Erceg (Jones), Rainer Bock (Herr Strauss), Mido Hamada (Prince Shada), Clint Dyer (Biko), Karl Markovics (Dr. Farge) and Eva Löbau (Nurse Gretchen Erfurt).


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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005, Tommy Lee Jones)

People really started noticing Tommy Lee Jones fifteen years ago, with The Fugitive. He was recognizable, given his long career to that point, but it was after The Fugitive, people started talking. Since then, Jones has done some good work and some bad work. He’s not usually bad in that bad work, but come on… he’s made some really stupid movies.

So, twelve years after he “broke out,” Jones finally got around to doing something really worth noticing. As a directorial debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is one of the finest. Given how many good directors Jones has worked with, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but Jones’s direction doesn’t really resemble any of them. It’s a particular, but traditional Western. They’ve modernized the story, but the essentials are classic.

Jones’s composition is both striking and anti-iconic. Chris Menges shoots in high contrast, emphasizing the visual beauty of the settings. Even the mobile home yard looks beautiful, even as the unhappiness drowns its residents. But Jones keeps his shots–he uses the full Panavision frame perfectly–close and personal. The shots are for the actors and their characters to inhabit more than for the viewer to admire. Jones hammers away at the idea of any sentimentality or hope for the characters.

In the lead, Jones is fantastic, but unimpressively so. He never gets flashy–the only area where he really could is with his romancing of married waitress Melissa Leo and the film avoids it, though it probably shouldn’t have. Barry Pepper is great. January Jones is great. But Leo’s the real surprise. She’s astoundingly good.

But where Three Burials has problems is with Leo and Jones. Leo is comic relief for the first half, which the script cuts to awkwardly. The story itself is linear and about Jones and Pepper, but the script jumbles it up. For the first thirty minutes, the narrative is fractured. Flash forwards, flashbacks. Lots of cute contrived relationships between characters, lots of coincidences. It’s cute instead of serious. The film’s legitimate until the end at least–the cuteness can be overlooked–but at the end, Three Burials forgets itself. It wants to be a film with an actual first act, instead of a bunch of cute edits. There’s nothing wrong with the first act and those cute edits, except they belong in a different film. Once the film really gets moving… it’s hampered with them, as it is with January Jones and Leo–who form just an interesting a relationship as Jones and Pepper, except the film ignores them.

They’re women… and it is a Western, after all.

But it’s a fine film with some excellent performances. Jones’s direction is amazing and he needs to get back behind the camera. Another big surprise is former Dimension Films horror movie composer Marco Beltrami, who does a great job here.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones; written by Guillermo Arriaga; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Roberto Silvi; music by Marco Beltrami; produced by Michael Fitzgerald, Luc Besson and Pierre-Ange le Pogam; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Pete Perkins), Barry Pepper (Mike Norton), Julio Cedillo (Melquiades Estrada), January Jones (Lou Ann Norton), Dwight Yoakam (Sheriff Frank Belmont), Melissa Leo (Rachel), Levon Helm (Old Man With Radio) and Vanessa Bauche (Mariana).


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