Taking Lives (D.J. Caruso, 2004) / Held For Ransom (Lee Stanley, 2000)

“Everything you saw I wanted you to see. “

Introduction

First off, don’t worry if you haven’t watched the films because I would like to think you never will. The ‘quote’ I chose is merely in jest. They are really that bad. Anyway, the last few posts were written ages ago and I stalled their ‘release’ as I was sun-ing it up in Morocco … checkin’ out the souks (markets), snake charmers, deserts and the range of stuff Marrakesh has to offer. Even managed to have a gander at a part of the desert (Ouarzarzate) and beach (Essaouira) whereby Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven was filmed. But, alas, this is no travel blog (friends will be able to check out the pictures on facebook soon enough…) and, while at the hotel in Marrakesh we spent the night watching some films on a channel which showed cut films with arabic subtitles. Strangely enough, the aforementioned films were cut – language was not too excessive, nudity was a complete no-go and – I reckon – even a certain amount of violence was cut too. So, in the case of Taking Lives – a serial-killer thriller with sexual-chemistry between the two lead characters – without violence and sex … turned out to be a weird film without any logic and character depth … then again, there were enough problems to say that maybe the cut-out violence and sex may have been the only good thing about the film.

What I Reckon…

Both these films were truly awful – funnily enough, the worser one – Held for Ransom – was probably better for the comedic value. We have Taking Lives – an Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland combo whereby Jolie plays a detective on the hunt for a serial killer who replaces his own identity with his victim. Clearly, money was put into the production and – according to my good friend Richard, whose ‘facts’ are often suspect – Ethan Hawke chooses films himself on their merits. I can imagine this to be true – Training Day and Linklater’s After Sunset and Before Sunrise films are exceptionally well made, and in no small part to Hawke. So, we shall come back to the this question: Why did Ethan Hawke work on this film?

As soon as the film started you know the influence – namely the 1995 flawless thriller Se7en. A film released nearly a decade prior … you would think if Caruso and co are going to rip-off a movie, they might as well do it well, but they make it so much worse. For one, our first introduction to Jolie is her, lying in a freshly dug grave. I guess she is ‘sensing’ the killer. Funnily enough, I was reading David Simon’s Homicide book during the holiday also so seeing Jolie not play detective and then begin an autopsy clearly is incorrect – and when her and the homicide unit are discussing a recent robbery in Hawkes flat you have to ask yourself this: why the hell does this city not employ Medical Examiners to conduct autopsies and why does the police department not have a robbery unit. Surely they are wasting valuable time focussing in areas that are not their expertise. Well, hey, thats Hollywood.

So, the film starts and the first time we see Hawke he is discussing what he saw as a witness to a murder – though Martinez, a homicide cop, clearly has his suspicions about his credability. Obviously, even at this point we are asking ourselves who is the killer … go on, guess, who could it be? Especially if you factor in the simple fact that most killers lie … we shall come back to this movie.

Held for Ransom went straight to DVD in 2000. Starring post-Speed Dennis Hopper playing a kidnapper (Billy-the-kid, where has you dignity gone?) and a much-older Timothy Bottoms (of Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show) as a girl’s step-father. Can you guess the plot? Good looking teenagers are held for ransom by complete hick’s. Fascinating how the mighty have fallen! If this was 1972, this would have made alot of money; one year after The Last Picture Show and three years after Easy Rider comes Held for Ransom … wow … shame it was made 28 years too late.

Nevertheless, the script was awful with Hopper stating “shut the f*** up” to everyone and anyone who cared to listen. A stupid confrontation as some NYC kid ‘stood-up’ to a cliche jock. This NYC kid, Dexter (Randy Spelling) is so passionate about it, and the script is so attacking of this jock that you feel a bit awkward – as if you have stumbled into a bit of a personal-attack from the script-writer. Bets on the fact that he was bullied and ribbed at school for being ‘only’ someone who was creative? To make matters worse, for no apparent reason, towards the end of the film the jock admits to committing a hit-and-run, killing a different pupil. So, if its not bad enough that this American jock is sporty, head of the football team, etc – he is also a murderer to clarify the simple fact that sporty-jocks are basta*ds.

The film is about rich-kids kidnapped by socially-excluded country hicks, and strangely enough there is no comment on society ro anything – its simple. Poorer people envy rich people, and that is why some are violent and commit crime – such as kidnapping. I have a feeling that Lee Stanley not only hates sporty jocks, but is also quite rich – no praise for the working man. Even the ‘twist’ at the end (c’mon, you’re not going to watch it are you?) whereby one of the kidnapees step-fathers (Timothy Bottoms) is responsible for the entire thing to pay off a gambling problem he has. Why couldn’t this step-father be her actual father? I assume because how on earth could anybody within that affluent part of society concoct such a plan, let alone have such addictions – the only way such a thing is possible is if they are somehow, shockingly, married into the lifestyle. I am quite content with assuming I am looking into it too much but, if i didn’t, I would simply be saying it was sh*t. Full-stop.

The final issue is the cut scenes from both films. My good friend Richard done a little research into Taking Lives and found a few stills from the sex-scene we missed when watching the film – a scene whereby Jolie and Hawke have some sex while the room is decorated in the pictures of the victims of the murders and, to some extent, we assume they both got off a little bit to it. Messed. Up. I felt it was only neccessary (ahem) to hunt down the scene and managed to watch the full sequence on youtube (I’m not going to post the link – find it yourself …) and, dont get me wrong, I am all for cutting unneccessary sex-scenes from films but this sequence was clearly quite important. Not only have we been watching the relationship brew between Hawke and Jolie for the whole film without seeing any finale to this, we also don’t see how screwed up both of them are – passionately gazing at the photographs from the case on the roof of a four-poster bed, establishing the corrupted characters we see at the end. Nevertheless, it does answer the question as to why Hawke ‘chose’ to be in such a film. (“Yo Ethan, I got a really bad script”/”i’m not doing it”/”it has a sex scene and Jolie is attached” /”oh, ahem, you can never guess what films are successful can you. I had better have a gander at that script then”). Lastly, I reckon even if the film was ‘uncut’, it would only get 2/10 rather than 1/10 because it ends as Hawke stabs Jolie in her pregnant belly (fake or not, no-one wants to see that!), only for her to reveal that it was all a plan to capture him (see chosen quote… hmmm). To be honest, when he was fighting with her – nearly strangling her, it looked like things weren’t going to plan. Would have been a better idea to let the FBI know of her plan.

Held for Ransom on the other hand had a semi-rape scene cut from our arabic-subtitled version. The worst editing in the world too. The girl goes into the lake-area whereby a different hick tells her to take off her clothes and, seconds later he is hit round the head (she has suddenly changed from wearing clothes wearing very little, covering herself) and then, cut again, and suddenly Hoppers girlfriend is holding a gun at them as the two lay on the floor (how did they get on the floor??) potentially making out. What was clearly a long, possibly 10 minute sequence, reduced to seconds of head-hitting and gun-aiming. Looking at the trailer for the film on YouTube, there seemed to be a chase where the girl ran through the lake-area in her underwear – clearly, we missed the best bit. The whole sequence made no sense – but then again, alot of the film seemed pointless.

Another classic bit was when Dexter is shot and Jesse is trying to help him – she takes off his top to find, shock, he has serious burn-scars across his body. We cut to another sequence and then when we cut back to Jesse and Dexter, he starts the scene by saying “stop staring” (for the whole of the sequence prior was she just staring at him? thats weird) to which she doesn’t even respond to him, simply kissing him instead. Why does burn-victim = potential-relationship. I mean, I wouldn’t hold burn-scars against anyone, but its possible the burns were caused by some thick-as-shit situation which would make me consider whether he/she is the type of person for a relationship.

To finish, never watch these movie unless you are drunk, whereby Held for Ransom is simply so bad, its good. Taking Lives is shit, and if you are buying it for the Jolie/Hawke sex scene – without it, the film is worth buying just to personally destroy – then, (a) you can find it on its own on the internet and (b) why buy a bad two hour film with one sex scene (possibly two? three? I mean they were all cut out in this version) when there is such a thing called pornoraphy, that – if thats your thing – you could simply watch a 2-hour long sex scene.
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