Taken 2
20th Century Fox
92 minutes

Taken 2 is an unqualified dud, and it has taken two hours of my life that I will never get back. Despite being the sequel to 2008's Taken (which is forever awesome) and starring the elder statesman of ass-kicking Liam Neeson, this entry into the series is nothing to be taken seriously.

In the first film, Kim Mills (Maggie Grace), daughter of good-natured CIA torturer Bryan (Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson's stunt double) was taken by human-trafficking Albanians and chauvinist Arabs. He eventually un-takens her, using his very particular set of skills; namely the ability to massacre ethnic caricatures at will. In the second film, the families of the slaughtered Albanian stereotypes have taken it upon themselves to plot brutal vengeance. And so Bryan and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get taken, too, in Taken 2.

I was taken aback by the conspicuous sparseness of the action; the set pieces that do crop up are lazily staged and disjointed. All of the actors seem listless and detached, like many scenes were shot during coffee breaks taken during other, better movies. (Also, in Taken 2, Bryan and Kim at one point attack an American embassy, which may seem somewhat tone-deaf to viewers who have been watching the news lately.)

Taken together, the movie is an hour-and-a-half stretch of anti-climax. If you haven't taken two Provigil right before walking into that dark theater to see Taken 2, you risk slipping into a spout of narcolepsy. Do not allow yourself to get taken to Taken 2.

Never again will I take the original for granted.

Take a look at the international trailer for part deux, regardless:

** To take a serious tack for a minute: If box office returns are good enough to warrant another installment, what would it be called?

  • Taken 3D?
  • 3 Take 3 Taken?
  • Taken 3: The Retakening?
  • Tomado Tres?
  • Took?

Unless the studio hires a champ like William Friedkin to take over and make the series wonderful again, I have zero interest in finding out.

Taken 2 gets a wide release on Friday, October 5. The film is rated PG-13 for generic Takening. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

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Pitch Perfect
Universal Pictures
112 minutes

The movie includes a cabal of incessantly mocked "deaf Jews." It makes a shameless rape-whistle joke. It features a prolonged sequence in which a naked, cowering college girl is harassed by another naked college girl in a cold dormhouse shower. And then there's a scene toward the end of a woman spewing a couple gallons of projectile vomit (like she's in a Sam Raimi movie) at a gathering of several other young women, thus instigating an orgy of kick fighting, and causing a petite Korean with limited social skills to collapse into the plashet of lady bile and spontaneously start to snow-angel.

Am I describing an old John Waters film? Maybe the next Broken Lizard movie? David Lynch's sudden foray into teen comedy, perhaps?

Nope. That was the newly released Pitch Perfect, a cuddly PG-13 rated movie that's all about self-discovery and a cappella remixes of Kelly Clarkson and other top-40 fixtures.

And despite this less-than-flattering description, I can't recommend it highly enough.

It’s hard to tell how clever Showtime's Homeland—whose second season started last Sunday—actually is. One early scene in the season premiere showcases the range of acceptable views for cable news pundits on bombing Iran: A leftist describes the logic of Israel bombing Iran to stop Iran from bombing Israel as "maddening"; a "centrist" opines that military action is sometimes necessary; a right-winger notes that "the Arab religion doesn't value human life the way we do." A fourth voice points out that Iranians are not Arabs.

The scene does not take place on cable news, however. It is an argument between children at a prestigious Quaker private school where prominent government officials send their children (a clear stand-in for Sidwell Friends). Is this setup mere exposition, or a biting satire of a glib media conversation about war that never rises above the level of an argument between children?

Frank Turner rocks out Saturday night at New York City's Webster Hall.

Greg Walker was sweating bullets. As the longtime tour bus driver for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, he'd survived his fair share of long nights and rock and roll hijinks. But he'd never been onstage. Tonight that would change: Turner had asked his trusted chaffeur to jump in on harmonica for the final number. "And that's the problem," Walker told me on Saturday night, as he nervously lit another cigarette outside New York City's Webster Hall. "I don't play harmonica."

He needn't have worried. Walker's debut was a smashing success; he huffed and puffed with great aplomb. Not that it mattered much. For Turner, the technical execution of the harmonica solo was far less important than the chance to lodge a stick of dynamite into the wall that separates artistes from their blue-collar crews and rockstar from audience member. You see, Turner doesn't care much for walls. Since the launch of his solo career in 2006, the 30-year-old British punk-rocker-turned-folk-rocker has built many of his songs around themes of radical inclusivity: He writes songs about the value of friendship, about uniting the unruly rabble, about pacifying class warfare, and about the importance of not simply being a spectator in life. If he's going to play music in front of hundreds of New Yorkers, why shouldn't the bus driver?

Bus driver Greg Walker debuts on the harmonica.  Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesBus driver Greg Walker on the harmonica. Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesThe full depth of Turner's songbook was on display Saturday, in the first of two NYC shows capping off a US tour in advance of his newest release, Last Minutes & Lost Evenings, a "hand-picked" CD+DVD compilation of his last six years' choicest tunes. If Turner is new to you, Last Minutes... (out this week) is a bangup place to start, consisting of the backbone of the Turner canon to date. The songs deal plainly with the triumphs and tribulations of urban life as a young adult: loneliness and the euphoria of reversing it, helping friends who go off the rails, confronting fears of aging and wasted time, and, of course, learning how to fight off a raging hangover and find the right bus on Sunday morning after you've crashed in some completely foreign part of town.

Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesTim McDonnell/Mother Jones

One of the best tracks on the record (and live) is "Long Live the Queen," a true story about a friend who is losing a battle with terminal illness and who convinces Turner to bust her out of the hospital for one final drunken hurrah in the streets of London. Behind me in the audience, a pale, emaciated woman with close-shaved pate sobbed and sang along. Indeed, the audience knew at least as many of the song lyrics as Turner did—and in some cases more.

Photos: Highlights From Nashville's Americana Music Fest

Ask five badge-holders of the 13th Americana Music Festival and Conference "What is Americana?" and you'll get at least six different answers.

The more than 100 acts at the annual mid-September Nashville event covered a wide spectrum. You've got your '60s-vintage Nashville veterans, singer-songwriters from the '70s, new traditional and alt-country heroes of the '80s and '90s, and innovative new artists who blend and carry this rich inheritance forward. The stock-in-trade for Americana artists is excellent songwriting, stellar instrumental ability, and big-hearted, genuine delivery.

John Hiatt performs at the Cannery Ballroom. The 13th Americana Music Festival and Conference, September 12-15, 2012, Nashville, TN.John Hiatt at the Cannery Ballroom, Nashville.