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Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
A heavily under-rated Ridley Scott film.
After the high profile, but at the time commercial unsuccessful Bladerunner, Ridley Scott's meteoric rise into Hollywood juddered to a halt. Nevertheless Scott decided to head in a different direction with this small scale, archetypal and relationship oriented drama about how a committed but inexperienced working-class detective (Tom Berenger), under pressure to protect a charming and beautiful New York socialite (Mimi Rogers) as part of witness protection team plays out in circumstances of growing pressure and danger.
Berenger's character is working in shifts with two much more experienced detectives (well played in smaller parts by Tony DiBenedetto and James E Moriarty) and watching him develop a repressed human affection for Mimi Rogers character, who plays her character as vulnerable but also charming and assertive is involving and enjoyable. One event then tips this friendship over into a full blown affair, and the rest of the film deals head on with the consequences of this decision in the context of Venza's growing determination and finally desperation not to be identified as the murderer. Alongside this is how the relationship between Berenger's character and his family, well played by the relatively new to Hollywood Lorraine Bracco as his wife and child actor turned businessman Harley Cross as his son changes as the affair becomes public. This change is well realised, though the film's ending does feel a little too convenient, even if it is emotionally satisfying. However the progression of the story works well as Mimi Rogers portrayal of her character means the viewer ends up being sympathetic to the tragic circumstances unfolding of two individuals caring for the welfare of each other being placed in an ever more intense situation.
While hardly a success at the box office, (around $10 million in US takings against at $10-$15 million budget) as a film is was Scott's most human and relationship driven film at this point in his career. He coaxed solid performances from the cast, and despite a focus on characters he still produced a visually impressive film, making New York look fabulous. Technical credits are solid all round with a particular nod to Steven Poster's excellent photography.
Overall a fascinating and involving film.
Blade Runner (1982)
One of the great science fiction films
This film is a fascinating and involving experience if the viewer has the patience to experience the film properly. It has, despite its age, a tremendous visceral impact, especially if you can see it on a big screen in the dark. The final cut of this film is definitely the best version of this Ridley Scott classic.
The plot mainly focuses on ideas and how the key characters in the film deal with the situation they find themselves in. The actors playing the genetically engineered human replicants all give original, fresh, unusual yet convincing performances in their roles, led by the strong and committed central performance of Rutger Hauer is Rory Batty. The journey these replicants are on plays alongside a separate journey of another Replicant Rachel (well played by Sean Young) as a company owned experimental model that, by using human memory implants, is convinced she is a human until forced to question her existence by an interrogation by human detective Deckard. Deckard is played in a surprisingly low key and introspective performance by Harrison Ford. How the Deckard character interacts with Rachel, while he attempts to track down the group of replicants led by Hauer's character (their presence on earth is illegal) is very steadily paced, but interestingly and effectively executed as a dramatic police procedural story, including immersing you the viewer in a brilliantly realised environment of a highly polluted 2019 Los Angeles.
While moving through the films plot, the focus is on the gradual climax of the procedural story within the context of looking how these intelligent, super-strong, but emotionally child like engineered humans go on their journey to confront their human creator (brilliantly played by Joe Turkel as a billionaire recluse) about the truth of the nature of their existence. Juxtaposed against this is Deckard's disillusioned and largely emotionless human gradually having his humanity re- awakened by the development of an increasingly romantic relationship with Rachel, as well and questioning himself as to whether there is in fact a difference between humans and replicants. These plots are embedded is an amazing visual experience, largely down to Scott's amazing vision and execution (despite some well publicised problems during shooting), but brilliantly supported in its realisation by cinematographer Jordan Crowenweth, visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and his Entertainment Effects Group Company, editor Terry Rawlings, production designer Laurence Paul and the truly amazing score of Vangelis. The final cut rightly restores an appropriate ending fitting to the noir overtones of the film, the original cut released in 1982 suffered from an out of place narration and ending that was not in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film.
It was surprising that ET beat this film to the visual effects Oscar, as in my opinion the work on this film was far more impactful and impressive. Overall an outstanding film experience that has stood the test of time remarkably well. It will be interesting to see what director Denis Villenuve, who in my view is an excellent choice does with the long-awaited sequel Bladerunner 2049.
An outstanding achievement.
Rogue One (2016)
Up there with the best of the Skywalker saga films -much better than the Force Awakens
This is my first thoughts review - and will add to this when I have though about it more. It is definitely up there with the best of the Star Wars films and significantly better than the Force Awakens - puts the 'war' into Star Wars!
Gritty, political, tragic and engrossing with some great action and great performances. The film really succeeds in creating a pervading sense of oppression and and all the Imperial characters are seriously nasty, including a certain Sith Lord and a certain regional governor who takes over control on the famous "its no moon... its a space station" during the story!
9/10 Go and see it!
An exercise in cool, calculating visceral horror
Ridley Scott's first mainstream Hollywood film is still fresh and powerful 30+ years after it was first released. The story of a commercial spaceship crew diverted to explore a distant planet as a result of the detection of mysterious signal getting themselves an extremely unwanted visitor and the subsequent horror than ensues makes this a landmark science fiction horror film. A fairly straightforward plot is helped by Scott creating a truly superb visually arresting atmosphere, thanks to great work by production designer Michael Seymour and cinematographer Derek Van Lint. It starts of epic, then transitions to the mundane, before building a growing sense of uneasiness leading to claustrophobic suspense and dread that just keeps building and building until, in the final act it turns into a nerve-wracking horror- thriller as key characters fight for survival.
While Ridley Scott deserves great credit in pulling this all together so well, kudos has also to go to the whole cast for creating a wonderfully naturalistic approach to their roles, and being able to define their characters so uniquely and clearly, even if they are archetypes – Yaphet Kotto as the engineer with a chip on his shoulder regarding the preferential pay that the officers get, who nevertheless when the chips are down does demonstrate heroic qualities; Harry Dean Stanton as the fellow engineer who may have some form of brain damage, possibly brought on by historic substance abuse but knows the mechanics of the ship inside-out; Veronica Cartwright as the ships navigator, who acts as the link to the audience as a professionalism is gradually striped away as she is consumed by fear; Ian Holm as Ash, the enigmatic and quiet science officer who has only just jointed the crew at the start of this journey; John Hurt as the curious, fearless and gung- ho second in command, Tom Skerritt as the level headed, approachable but experienced Captain, and of course Sigourney Weaver (for whom this was her first film in a significant role) as what seems to be the young, less experienced but confident and assertive career-driven up and comer Ripley. The growing tensions between the characters, particularly the way that all the character butt heads with Weaver's character works well in the development of the story, and despite relative inexperience Weaver is terrific in the role, and helped create an iconic character in science fiction that would lead to three sequels.
Kudos also has to go to the technical crew for creating a terrific atmosphere for the actors to work in – this was helped by Scott deciding to film the movie in chronological order of the story rather than a more typical logistical shooting order. The decision to hire the dark surreal artist HR Giger certainly brought a fresh new look to science fiction, but Michael Seymour's production design is truly brilliant and the way that the Alien is presented on screen is still pretty much the best – keeping its appearances limited and quick – nerves are so shredded by the end of the movie that seeing the monster in more extended full body shots where it is more obvious that it's a man in suit doesn't pull you out of the picture. Credit has also got to go to the brilliant Oscar winning visual effects team – as well as the aforementioned HR Giger, it also included in-camera effects from both Nick Alder and Brian Johnson, and excellent miniature photography from Dennis Ayling. Alder had cut his teeth as a director of effects photography on the Gerry Anderson TV show 'Space 1999'. After Alien, he has worked as an on-set special effects expert on an array of films including Empire Strikes Back, Conan the Barbarian(1982 version), Legend, Jewel of the Nile, Leon, Braveheart, Lost in Space, Behind Enemy Lines, Blade 2, Underworld, Hellboy, Shanghai Knights, Ghost Rider, and would win a BAFTA for best visual effects for the Luc Besson film The 5th Element. Johnson's early credits including work as a special effects assistant on 2001, before also cutting his teeth on Space 1999 as a 2nd unit director overseeing the visual effects. After Alien he would work on a variety of films including Never-ending Story, Dragonslayer, Slipstream, Dragonheart as well as winning another Oscar for best visual effects for Empire Strikes Back and a BAFTA for his work on Aliens. Carlo Rimbaldi was already an Oscar winning special effects veteran of over 20 films prior to working on Alien, and had just prior to this film completed work on both King Kong (for which he had won his prior Oscar) and Close Encounters. He would go on to win a third academy award for his work on E.T, and would go onto work on Conan the Destroyer and Dune. Denis Ayling followed this film as a cinematographer in British Television. Giger's did occasionally work on other films (creature designer on Alien 3, visual designer on Species) but his legacy is that the basic Alien look and design influence has survived through 3 excellent to OK Alien sequels, two poor Alien v Predator crossover movies, two disappointing Alien prequels, a batch of (very bad) Species sequels.
Another noticeable contributor to the film's mood was the music – which should have been credited to Ridley Scott and Editor Terry Rawlings. Jerry Goldsmith's original score was extensively edited, cues moved around and classic music from other compositions fitted into the scores, but nevertheless somehow the music works very well.
All of this helped make Alien a truly outstanding movie. The atmosphere created is so visceral that the film always leaves you with an impact after when the film is over
Overall a landmark science-fiction classic.
Forget the history, as an old fashioned fictional drama, it's very good indeed
While this film stirred some controversy regarding its portrayal of history, particular in the media in the UK, this needs to be totally ignored and there was a complete lack of understanding that this was a work of FICTION. Some of the hysteria around the release was to be frank, totally irrelevant and the focus needed to be on whether the film was any good or not as a story.
So, as a old fashioned adventure film, it's very good indeed. The film's plot is simple and straightforward, helped a lot by portraying both the American and German sailors in a rounded and grounded way. Performances are solid all round, with Matthew McConnaughey in good form as the lead, with excellent support from both Jack Noseworthy, Jake Weber and Harvey Keitel in supporting roles. The script by Director Mostow, Sam Montgomery and writer/director David Ayer is lean allows that action to zip along at breakneck speed, supported greatly by excellent and authentic directing on the part of Mostow and excellent photography by Oliver Wood. Wayne Wahrman's outstanding editing, convincing production design with Richard Marvin's thunderously rousing score helps create a thrilling and exciting experience full of tension. Kudos also need to go the to the visual effects crew, who make excellent use of life size submarines and truly excellent sets, to highly effective underwater miniature photography.
However this film's biggest technical credit is the excellent atmosphere created by the excellent sound work, with Jon Johnson winning an Academy Award for his sound editing. His work contributes massively to creating a genuinely real and claustrophobic atmosphere aboard the submarines that feature in the story, and helps put the viewer in the action. He had already worked on a number of high profile films prior to winning the Oscar, including Star Trek Generations, Independence Day, Breakdown (Mostow's previous film as director), and Payback. Subsequent to U571 he would go on to work on other high profile pictures such as A Knight's Tale, The Rookie, Amazing Grace, Captain American, Saving Mr Banks, The Blind Side and Surrogates – yet another collaboration with Jonathan Mostow.
If there are any quibbles, the way the core crew get out of an initial rendezvous with an enemy destroyer does stretch credibility. The fact that a supply submarine would still have space to carry torpedoes also comes as a bit of a surprise, as does the use of a spotter plane that looks suspiciously like a short range Messchermitt (which you would never find out in the middle of the Atlantic – or a German destroyer for that matter – Germany only tended to send it large battleships into this region). However the fun and enjoyment of the film will grab you to will tend to overlook any flaws.
So in summary if you just accept and experience it as a work of fiction, you will have a great time
The Game (1997)
An intelligent, gripping drama, filmed with crisp efficiency
A very solid, thoughtful and stylish outing from made with great precision that is becoming a hallmark of David Fincher. His interest in 'films that scar' continues, and while this film doesn't top quite the heights of the remarkable Se7en, it is still a very worthy achievement, thanks to a trenchant yet subtle performance from Michael Douglas. The script is solid, but it is really the effective partnership between Douglas and Fincher, as well as great supporting acting turns from Sean Penn, James Rebhorn and Debra Kara Unger, which really helps ground this slow burning but always engrossing psychological thriller. You have to pay attention, but as the plot twists and turns it does work its way to a satisfying if surprisingly climax (especially for a director of Fincher's background) you'll enjoy the way that Douglas's Nicholas Van Orton character is stripped of his layers of reserve and control as the character is cleverly placed in one crisis after another.
Technical credits are as usual very polished – production design and Haris Savidies's photography stand out, but its Howard Shore's minimalist score that really enhances the mood of the film brilliantly. While the score has some of the dark overtones of Se7en, it is not as dark as that movie but still works very well to make the viewer fell unsettled – in particular the use of a sole piano is extremely effective in certain scenes. To cap it all it is slickly edited and comes together with a crisp efficiency. Overall another film that firmly cements David Fincher's reputation as an extremely talented and uncompromising film-maker.
Excellent, unsettling and suspenseful B movie thriller
This is the film that showcases director Jonathan Mostow's talent. Unfortunately, since this film his work has never come as close to this film in terms of overall quality.
The plot is fairly straightforward but is well executed and focuses on the Jeff Taylor character, brilliantly played as an everyman by Kurt Russell. He conveys there characters descent into desperation and terror very well – to a point where forces that start manipulating his character cause something in him to snap and his character finds an untapped source of courage – being driven by an unstoppable urge to find a loved one. Russell charts this character journey well, yet the fear never leaves his character – he just evolves to handle it within the extraordinary situation he finds himself in. Other performances are solid, particularly the late J.T Walsh as the main protagonist and Rex Linn as an empathic sheriff.
Director Jonathon Mostow has an effective and sophisticated take on the filmmaking. He develops the story gradually, allow the suspense and pace to continually build up throughout the film. Technical credits are solid, including editing and Douglas Milsome's excellent photography. The growing tension and dread builds up brilliantly throughout the film, leading to an excellent action oriented climax and a coda that is reminiscent of early 70's US movie-making.
Overall simple but a brilliantly executed movie.
Powerful drama with stellar performances by Kingsley and Cruz
American writer Philip Roth's 'They Dying Animal' is brilliantly adapted for the screen by Nicholas Meyer. However, a great script can be undone if execution is poor. Thanks to director Isabel Coixet and performers Sir Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz a truly superb, engrossing and thoughtful drama emerges.
A thoughtful story is brought brilliantly to life by stylish but subtle direction by Coixet, and is helped by excellent technical contributions from Jean Claude Larrieu's excellent photography and Amy Duddleston's first rate editing. Coixet also eschews a conventional soundtrack for existing music, notably of Erik Satie, Beethoven and Vivaldi. Coixet's musical choices work brilliantly in conveying the appropriate mood for the story. The film has a deftness of touch that allows the performances to shine, but in a way that is subtle and thoughtful and by no means showy.
The dynamic between Kingsley and Cruz works really well, and is erotic at times without ever being gratuitous, as the compelling story has you invested in the characters, and that is the journey that these characters go on that is the key interest throughout the film. Kingsley's character is also well served by excellent supporting turns by actress Patricia Clarkson (as a successful businesswoman who is Kingsley's long time sex partner), and Dennis Hopper is a personal if hedonistic friend.
The journey these characters go on, most notably Kingsley's are fascinatingly well observed, and the grounded performances make the whole experience even more enjoyable. There is clearly a fabulous collaboration at work between performers and director and the story works in several clever twists that help drive the film to a thoughtful and slightly ambiguous, but no less enjoyable climax.
A little patience from the viewer will lead to a hugely rewarding cinematic experience.
A solid and dignified sign off for the original crew
Despite disappointing box office returns for Star Trek V, Paramount was originally looking to develop a Star Trek Prequel concept for veteran producer Harve Bennett to direct. However pressure to give the original series cast an opportunity for a (moderately budgeted) sign off led to Bennett departing the franchise to return to TV producing, and gave Leonard Nimoy, as executive producer, the opportunity to steer this film to completion.
He made a reasonably sensible decision to hire Nicholas Meyer, who had wrote and directed Star Trek II, and helped re-write the script for Star Trek IV. The addition of producers Steven Charles Jaffe (long term Meyer collaborator from both Time After Time, The Day After, and Volunteers) and previous Trek movie's effects producer Ralph Winter meant that a very focused team was formed. This was crucial when trying to get the maximum production value out of an outer space set movie on very limited $30 million budget. The team wisely brought back visual effects houses ILM and VCE (the same two companies who had worked on Star Trek II), and supplemented by further good work from companies run by ex-ILM workers Matte World and PDI. Like Trek II, some effective recycling took place – the re-use of the venerable Klingon Bird of Prey miniature (from Treks III, IV and V), a dusted off and modified USS Excelsior(from Treks III and IV), the the veteran K'Tinga class cruiser and the USS Enterprise miniatures, which had been originally constructed back for the first movie back in 1978!
However this recycling would count for nothing if it wasn't for an interesting, solid, but not without its flaws storyline. The story idea, was at is heart, very good and typical Trek, but while it helps sustain an exciting journey, like some previous it glosses over some key plot holes. There are some excellent set pieces – the assassination sequence, and the Rura Pente break out sequence are well done, aided significantly by Hiro Narita's solid photography, and 2nd unit photographer Christopher Fante's work. Narita really brings some great atmosphere to the USS Enterprise bridge – which has not looked as good since Star Trek The Motion Picture. However, the limited budget does show and some of the sets do look, despite the strenuous efforts of Narita, cheap and cheerful and get dangerously close to pulling you out of the picture. This failing, together with some dubious plotting regarding the solving of the assassination crime, some decidedly uneven direction by Meyer (the action finale on-set scenes being very poorly choreographed) and uneven editing by Ron Roose, does mean the film feels a little cheap and dated compared with more slickly made original series cast films such as Star Trek IV and Star Trek The Motion Picture.
However, these flaws are more than compensated for by some great acting performances. Shatner's grounded, slyly amusing, introspective, and world- weary performance as Kirk sets a great tone for the movie, and both Nimoy and Deforest Kelley know exactly how to riff off him and are themselves both great. The guest cast interacts with these three very well: Michael Dorn in a charismatic if too brief role, Kim Cattrall as Vulcan Enterprise science officer Valeris, the returning David Warner as Klingon Chancellor Gorkon, a very interesting return performance by Star Trek IV's Brock Peters, replaying Admiral Carthwright, and a terrifically amusing and moustache twirling performance by Chris Plummer as Klingon Military leader Chang. It is the interplay between the core three Trek crew characters, and the guests that is the highlight of the film, and gets you to overlook the plot flaws, and some decidedly broad and OTT performances by the supporting Trek cast, and simply allows you to get drawn in and follow these characters through to the end of the film. This journey is hugely assisted by newcomer Cliff Eidelman's thunderous score. Like Horner's work on Trek II, this score is a real surprise and elevates the visceral impact of the film far above its relatively small budget. It is an entirely appropriate musical journey; complements the story brilliantly, and leads you through the climax and end credits leaving you with an overriding sense of nostalgia and a feeling of gratitude for Paramount allowing the original series actors to go out on a high. The music also invokes sense of completeness to the journey and a very subtle hint as to what the future (at the time) cinematic adventures of the USS Enterprise might hold.
In summary a solid and satisfying way to sign off this series with the original cast.
Very enjoyable and involving drama
This is a very enjoyable and involving movie. While the film borrows heavily from the "Return of Martin Guerre" it is entertaining enough to stand on its own, and introduces some new twists to the original story. The mystery of the Jack Sommersby character builds gradually throughout the film, and the role is ably performed by Richard Gere (who was also a producer on the film), and is brilliantly supported by Jodie Foster – in fact these two performances dominate in the film, and help keep the audience interested throughout the story.
The trial at the film's climax is someone theatrical and corny, and was the films only weak point - however the film does build to a emotionally satisfying climax and coda.
The film is put together with real polish, and Jon Amiel's direction is strong, Phillipe Rousselot's photography is excellent, Bruno Rubeo's production design is impressive and Danny Elfman's score absolutely spot on.
In summary this film is an effective mystery rolled into a slightly corny but enjoyable and entertaining romantic drama.
Flawed but a fun, charming and an emotional adventure
After the box office receipts of Star Trek The Motion Picture, while very large, were below studio expectations, Star Trek II was all about the studio deciding to go in a direction that was about making a fan-based, TV series inspired sequel that was a lot cheaper to make - $13 million against the first film's $35-$40 million – and would have low enough overheads to at least get some profit. While at a commercial level it more than succeeded, and certainly is a classic among the fan base – it is a rather over-rated movie. It is a fun adventure – but is in my view not up with the best science fiction and in many ways is inferior to the first film, which was a great deal more thoughtful and daring. This film, while having some great moments, is without doubt something of a cop-out to conventional Hollywood summer entertainment.
While the plot is actually fairly clever, it does gloss over a great deal of holes – while I won't go into them all by far and away the worst is the huge incompetence shown by the McCoy character's inability, with supposed 23rd century technology to do a basic medical on two previously kidnapped Starfleet officers – which would potentially have saved several people's lives, not to mention would have wrapped the story up much more quickly. It is the frequency of ignoring these quite key plot points that is the main failing of the film.
Also, director Nicholas Meyer approach to shoot the film very quickly leads to a somewhat weird visual look. When not shooting scenes in semi-darkness as a fast way to create a 'look' the film looks rather sterile and TV like. The director massively overuses close ups and gives it a decidedly television rather than cinematic look (something the previous film excelled in). Some of the sets (clearly reused from the previous film) now look cheap, and the blocking of actors and the camera with some of Khan's scenes in the climax of the film look and feel like filming of a stage play rather than a film. Costume design does feel overtly theatrical in places, certainly compared with the functional attire from the first film.
However despite the rather obvious flaws, the film succeeds on a number of other levels.
The films editing is first rate. Relative unknown editor Bill Dornish (who would go onto work with Meyer on the excellent The Day After) edits the film will a real pace and style, which allows the film to zip along so quickly is that you tend to initially overlook most of the flaws. It is a bit of a surprise that Dornish did not edit more pictures as his work on this movie is great.
The performances by the key players also succeed in involving the audience in the journey. In fact director Meyer seems a great deal more comfortable with directing performances than the technical aspects of film-making. Shatner, Nimoy and DeForest Kelley all give subtle, warm and genuinely human performances, and really convince you invest emotionally in this story – it is how these three characters relate to each other, and the journey each of them goes on in this film which is the movie's biggest success and is something that the first film, for understandable reasons, didn't go into at anything more than at a superficial, rather than a deep emotional level that is present in this outing. Ricardo Montalban has a great deal of fun and exudes huge charisma as the scenery chewing villain Khan, although I felt his psychotic need for revenge was slightly overdone. Other performances are solid, including good turns by both Bibi Besch and Paul Winfield in small supporting roles.
George Lucas's and Peter Kuran's visual effects companies ILM and VCE offered very impressive new visual effect shots, which complement nicely the effective and clearly cost conscious re-cutting of visual effects footage from the first film.
However, the biggest and most successful factor contributing to the film's success after the performances is the truly fabulous score by what was then a relative newcomer called James Horner. He really focused on telling the character's story with his music. The score is epic, fun and romantic and is a contrast for of the Avant-Garde style of Jerry Goldsmith of the first film. As a comparison, it is like comparing Stravinsky to Tchaikovsky. Both different but equally great.
Overall and flawed adventure that is redeemed by winning performances from the key characters, and a truly terrific score.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Not quite as good as its predecessors, but a fun action movie nevertheless
After a 12 year hiatus between this and Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane is back in a fun adventure. While the film lacks the hard edge of the three previous entries, is unnecessarily sanitised in an attempt to get a bigger audience; lacks the emotionally satisfying epilogues of 1 and 2, and the brutal fun of 3,it is an entertaining outing that does actually play well to McClane's character, with Bruce Willis wittily acknowledging is older years, including typical parental anxieties about his growing up daughter and as a result has a subtly amusing "I'm too old for this s***" vibe throughout the film.
Supporting players are good, Justin Long's and Kevin Smith hacker characters are pretty entertaining, as is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a feisty Lucy McClane. Maggie Q is the standout villain is a ruthless, focused and largely silent character – in fact her boss, head villain Thomas Gabriel (a seriously disgruntled ex-civil servant!) comes off not only weaker and less interesting compared to Maggie Q's character Mai Linh, but does not reach the heights of William Sadler's lead bad guy from Die Hard 2, and certainly is nowhere near the tension and power exuded by both Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman as the Grubers from the previous entries.
As a result of fewer interesting characters this time around, more of the burden falls on Willis, but he carries the film brilliantly, as usual. The plot is actually very clever, but as the film goes towards its climax, it begins to run out of steam somewhat, leading to a rather anti-climactic climax and not hugely satisfying epilogue. However the rest of the film is a lot of fun and very entertaining, with some great action set pieces and some funny wise-cracks. Pacing is very good and the film's interest never flags. Director Len Wiseman keeps the pace zipping along very nicely, and does try very hard to have the action set pieces as in camera rather than visual effects were possible. He also has a lot of reverence from the previous films, are there are some amusing nods to these if you pay attention. The climax with an F35B jet is typical Hollywood OTT and while fun doesn't have the finesse of the Harrier sequence from True Lies. Visual effects of are solid, Steven Duggan's photography is slick, as is Nicolas De Toth's editing . Marco Beltrami produces a very effective score, which stands up very well against Michael Kamen's work from the three previous outings, but brings a new fresh musical atmosphere to the proceedings.
Overall and entertaining and fun picture, and while not quite as good as the previous entries is a worthy sequel.
Solid if unmemorable procedural thriller
I hoped that with a dream team cast of John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson, who both tore up the screen on 'Pulp Fiction', that this film would be home run director John McTiernan.
However, the overall impact of the film is one that is reasonably entertaining, it does not come close to any of McTiernan's previous films and would be best described as 'solid, but could do better'.
The plot tries to be too clever, resulting in the impact that the climax feels a bit of a cheat. It is logical at one level, but feels like the audience is manipulated one step too far. You certainly have to pay attention to keep on top of what is going on, otherwise you'll get lost in the convolutions of twist after twist after twist. Also, because the experience of the film doesn't pull you along viscerally (for example Inception), you are forced into having to pay attention. This has the effect of making the viewer more detached and less involved with the characters, none of which you really empathise or connect with over the length of the story, as your brain is busy figuring out the machinations of the plot. This is despite some very charismatic performances by Jackson and Travolta, which for me were the only real strong positives in the film. It is just that the feel and atmosphere of the film doesn't allow you to connect with them on a deeper and more visceral level as the focus is on the journey of the plot, and not that of the characters within the story.
Technical credits are solid. Steve Mason's photography is much better this time round than it was on Rollerball, though I wonder if some of McTiernan's previous collaborators might have done a better job. Certainly McTiernan's directing this time around is much more assured, with the clever use of Ravel's Bolero in the music's soundtrack. Otherwise though, it is nowhere near engaging as any of his previous films with the obvious exception of the mess that was Rollerball.
Overall this a solid, unspectacular and unmemorable film. If you pay attention and persevere with the plot, you will get some enjoyment from watching it, even if the end feels a bit of a cheat. It clearly isn't the best movie in the procedural thriller genre, but neither is it a poor one - there have been plenty worse.
I hope that now released from prison, McTiernan will be able to get hold of projects that will be able to fully showcase his talents, and if someone like Terrence Malick is anything to go by, that a ten year plus hiatus from film-making should be no barrier to McTiernan producing films at the level of his past best.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Enjoyable Viking Adventure
A thoroughly enjoyable adventure film. While the film's production problems were well publicised, the final version fits together well, despite some jumps in the narrative and an ending the feels a bit rushed. Furthermore, it doesn't ensure that some genuinely interesting supporting character's development comes to a satisfying conclusion.
However, that doesn't overtly mar this story. The film generates a genuine atmosphere of adventure, suspense and fear, and some of the action sequences are thrilling. This is helped by Peter Menzies's photography and above all by Jerry Goldsmith's thunderous score. Greame Revell's original score is interesting, but in no way matches the power of Goldsmith's music, and it was definitely the right decision by producer and writer Michael Crichton to replace Revell's score with a new one by Goldsmith as part of his process of taking over the production and re-editing the film himself as a result of poor test screening results. It is an interesting to note however, what John McTiernan's vision of this film was bearing in mind he left the production before completion when Crichton took over.
The story is solid, and the journey is seen from the perspective of Arab poet turned diplomat played very well by Antonio Banderas. One of this films key strengths is the chemistry of the Viking group actors, in particular the towering performance from Vladimir Kulich the leader Buliwyf; the entertaining one from Dennis Storhoi as Herger, and a very engaging one from Daniel Southern as Edgtho. The antagonist is largely faceless and is a collective for most of the film. The device used to keep the audience interested is therefore the excellent interplay between the whole Viking group and Banderas's character.
Actions scenes are well done, and work brilliantly with the aforementioned score. But as is the case with these large profile action films, the ending is what lets the film down. This is due to a rush at the film's conclusion, so while the Buliwyf's character's arc is satisfyingly resolved, this isn't the case for the remaining characters. We don't see what the other Vikings motivations or plans are post climax, and even Banderas's character resolution feels rushed and isn't sufficiently built up to a level that is appropriately satisfying. A hint at a romantic interlude with a local Norse woman is never resolved and looks like a potentially studio driven intention to have a quick ending as the film runs quiet long. Audiences however, will accept a good story, even if the film runs longer (e.g. Dances With Wolves, Lord of the Rings, Avatar) and I felt that the film- makers should have taken their time to sign the characters off with satisfying and complete character arcs.
Overall though, an enjoyable and exciting adventure.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Great caper movie!
After a difficult experience with the 13th Warrior, director John McTiernan returns to his best form with this simple yet brilliantly entertaining romantically themed caper movie, that relies on the excellent interplay between the two main leads; some clever but simple dramatic set-pieces; clever dialogue; great chemistry between the actors, and stylishly photographed locations. This movie shows that the director can deliver a great film without resorting to action sequences or blowing things up!
This film is a clever and contemporary remake of the 1968 Norman Jewison directed, Steve McQueen starrer, and brings the themes very effectively up to date for a modern audience. Brosnan is perfect in the role, and shows that he can play a charismatic leading man that is different from James Bond, but no less interesting or entertaining. Due to circumstances early on in the film, he is pursued by insurance investigator Catherine Banning, also an outstanding performance by the charismatic Rene Russo, who flaunts her sexuality as a weapon to distract Brosnan's Crown character with a view to getting him arrested. However, this quickly develops into an very evenly balanced cat and mouse game between the characters, as each tries to outwit the other, yet at the same time they are becoming romantically more and more involved, which does leads to a major confrontation about three quarters of the way into the movie. This then allows a very clever climax to play out.
There are two enjoyably entertaining supporting roles. Dennis Leary and Frankie Faison are two down to earth and streetwise local detectives who work alongside Banning, and as the film goes on Leary's character, who starts off as a bit stereotypical, evolves cleverly into something more sophisticated, and ends up representing the most grown up and adult perspective on the chain of events that make up the film's plot.
McTiernan's directing is clever, whether it's the opening and closing set pieces, dialogue scenes or a refreshing and stylish (but not gratuitous) take on sex scenes he melds this film together with real style, bearing in mind that this his first attempt at this genre, and shows his versatility as a director given the right material.
Technical credits are all very good, but particular mention has to go to Tom Priestley's photography, which is stylish and with camera- work that has a very retro feel to it (steadicam and hand held cameras is almost entirely avoided in the film); John Wright's slick editing and Bill Conti's atmospheric score.
In short a great movie that clearly shows that director McTiernan can handle non-action films with great aplomb given the right script.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
Great fun summer buddy action film
Number three is this franchise continues to be hugely entertaining, albeit is closer in tone to Renny Harlin's Die Hard 2 than the original. It takes place throughout New York State, as well as having a climax on the Canadian Border. As a result, it lacks the vice like suspense and tension of the first film, and plays much more like a kick-ass crowd pleasing summer action film, which was very much the case with Die Hard 2.
This film very quickly pairs Bruce Willis's McClane character with a shop-keeper with 'chip on his shoulder', Zeus, brilliantly played by Samuel L Jackson. This buddying up of two characters who initially hate each other, and then evolve to support and respect each other is straight out of the Lethal Weapon play-book, and while not as quite as entertaining or as profound as that film, was certainly a much better 'buddy cop' that the Lethal Weapon sequels and most other films in this sub-genre.
The plot is straightforward but fairly clever, and departs from the previous two Die Hard films by massively expanding its scope, but adding tension through pervasive threat of potential bombs going off across this city that full of semi-permanent traffic jams. Unlike Die Hard 2, the references to the first film are far more subtle, except for the fact that the film's antagonist, "Simon", very well played by Jeremy Irons (albeit not at the level that Alan Rickman brought Has Gruber in the original) has a strong connection one of the characters in the original. It builds gradually towards a predictable but exciting climax with a very big explosion. However the visual effects around this explosion are surprisingly low budget and poor quality, albeit masked by quick-cut editing. The films actual ending feels rather tacked on and cheap after this previous climax, and sadly lets the film down as this sequence feels a little disjointed and the pace and feel of this sequence is very different from the rest of the film.
Bruce Willis as again great value as John McClane, and plays his in a surprisingly grounded and more gritty version compared to the more emotional and frightened character in the first one, and one that feels like bit like a working class James Bond super hero rip off in Die Hard 2. His character is the most accessible of the 3 films at this point, and his dry humour certainly bounces of Sam Jackson brilliantly. One wonders if there was improvisation here and the natural chemistry between these characters is fantastic and rivals the interplay between Rickman and Willis from the first film. It gives a humanity to the film which maybe was less emphasised in the previous two films. Certainly the fact that the McClane character has been through the wringer courtesy of the first two films means his character comes off less frightened and has a more jaded but grimly determined attitude this time around. Jackson's Zeus Carver is fascinating as his character is tough, streetwise, cynical, funny and also grimly determined. However is doesn't know how to use weapons, has no law enforcement or military training, yet as the story goes along is never intimidated by the protagonist or his henchman. Incidentally the films draws compelling villains for the rest of Simon Gruber's team, which is particularly effective has the group is much bigger than they key antagonists from the previous two films, and it could be easy to get lost within the plot, but this does not happen.
McTiernan tries to accomplish almost all the action in-camera with traditional stunt-work, and this further establishes the gritty atmosphere of the film. Veteran Hollywood stunt guy Terry Leonard second unit/stunt work deserves considerable credit for refreshing the look of the Die Hard franchise. Peter Menzies's Photography is gritty, though is use of 'shaky cam' in some sequences is quite extreme and yet again the late Michael Kamen's music adds to the proceedings. However the films visual effects are a bit of a mixed bag. They work best when they are at their most subtle (e.g. wire removal) and some of the more obvious visual effects, which was a combined effort by Sony Pictures Imageworks, Buena Vista Imaging, Pacfic Title Digital and Mass Illusion (who did some excellent work on Judge Dredd released the same year) don't always convince, but fortunately the rest of the film is do good it fortunately doesn't pull you out of the experience. To me it seemed like there were similar problems here that also had a similar effect on McTiernan's the Hunt for Red October.
In summary, an excellent and highly enjoyable fun summer film, refreshed by a suitably new gritty take on proceedings, but slightly flawed by a too abrupt and anticlimactic ending and some sub-par visual effects
Last Action Hero (1993)
As of 1991, it looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger was heading for world film domination after the multi-million dollar box office juggernauts that were Total Recall (worldwide box office of about $260 million from a $65-70 million dollar budget) and the humongous T2 (box office over half a billion dollars from a budget of about $90-100 million). It was inevitable that when he finally decided to do his next film it was going to be impossible to top this high water mark. It also didn't help that this film came out in the summer of 1993, one of the most crowded summer box office blockbuster seasons and had to compete against Steven Spielberg's truly stunning Jurassic Park. Unfortunately for this film this rather funny and very enjoyable attempt to satirise the Hollywood action genre was too clever for that summer's audience, who want summer blockbusters to be plain entertaining (particular those starring Schwarzenegger), and watching a satire of the genre implies also satirising the audience that watches that film, which is a very brave, if not slightly foolhardy decision when talking of a film costing around $60-65 million dollars. This is because an audience is either unlikely to get the joke (so don't enjoy the film) or get the joke but don't appreciate it (so don't enjoy the film at all, and actually hate it!) as opposed to the minority that got the joke, and enjoyed the film as a result (this reviewer and by the look of it at least some others!). It also didn't help that two out and out parodies, Hot Shots Part 2 and Loaded Weapon has already destroyed the novelty of an action movie send- up in 1993.
While the film does have is plot contrivances, it is these contrivances that are actually the point. In the alternate reality universe that the lead character Danny Madigan (a solid and entertaining Austin O'Brien, who currently seems to have left acting to become a professional photographer) finds himself in. There is also a rather good turn by Schwarzenegger himself. The supporting cast is universally good, but the standouts are Robert Prosky as a veteran cinema projectionist. Mercedes Ruehl as Danny's mother and the main antagonist Charles Dance who is a lot of fun as the assassin Benedict. There is also a great cameo from Ian McKellen as the Grim Reaper.
The film also tries to minimise is useful of visual effects photography, leading to some fun action sequences, which while deliberately stylised are a lot of fun as they are done as far as possible in camera. Miniature and digital effects are present, but service the story and are not there to draw attention to themselves. Due the films crazy 2-3 month post production period, a dozen different visual fx companies were drafted in to ensure the film's visual effects came together in time, and it's a tribute to both the film-makers and visual effects houses that this was pulled off as well as it was.
The film also benefits from great technical contributions. Great production design, stunt-work. editing, subtle visual effects, and solid and stylish direction from John McTiernan, who has actually created Arnold's most subversive film. However the real stand-outs are the superb photography by Oscar winner Dean Semler, who gets a subtly different look between the real work and the alternate reality, and the fantastic score by the late Michael Kamen. As someone who defined the action cop movie score with his themes for the first 3 Die Hard films, and the entire Lethal Weapon film series. Collaborating with Bucket-head the score works absolutely fantastically with the film and helps create a real sense of fun that permeates through the proceedings, but then turns surprisingly dramatic and serious for the film's climax and epilogue.
In summary, an interesting, funny and subversive satire with fun action sequences and good performances all round.
Medicine Man (1992)
Enjoyable and entertaining in an old fashioned way
While this film not a hugely profound experience, and has been sanitised for a mainstream audience, it is nevertheless enjoyable and entertaining. Action auteur John McTiernan tries his hand at a different genre, and for the most part, actually succeeds very well. He crafts an easy-going, stylish and witty film that while mainly dialogue driven is engrossing and well-paced right up to the films conclusion.
However, it is the conclusion that is the main weakness of the film. The film sets everything up plot wise very well, and I was expecting something more spectacular regarding the films climax. There was a great opportunity to have a much greater set piece as the audience never really sees that actual impact of the series of events that take place in the film's final act play out – too much is implied by jumping events forward to the aftermath of a major event.
Filmed on location in the Mexican jungle (doubling for the Amazon) McTiernan gets some very good performances from the Native American actors. While Lorraine Bracco in my view came in for too much criticism. Initially she does not seem to have a grip on her character and the performance comes off as forced – and is dangerously close to wooden. However, as the film goes along her character evolves well and gradually becomes more likable and warm. What probably complicates matters is she is up against the trenchant screen presence that is Sean Connery. Yet again he absolutely dominates the film by sheer charisma, and his flawed Robert Campbell character is truly engaging and carries the picture – but also makes Bracco's performance appear second rate for a large chunk of the film. However, Bracco getting a Razzie nomination was just an excuse for a bit of celebrity bashing.
Director McTiernan is ably supported by excellent technical contributions, most notable Don McAlpine's excellent photography, but particularly Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding score, which elevates the material and creates a terrific atmosphere. It is particularly effective in heightening the moments of tension towards the film's climax.
Overall, an enjoyable film that is marred only by Bracco's uneven performance at the start of the film, and a rushed in unsatisfying climax.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Slick political suspense thriller
After two seminal action films, director John McTiernan shifts towards political suspense thriller territory with very impressive results. The strength of this thriller is the a lot of the story and drama plays out through close ups and characters in confined spaces, and John McTiernan exploits this fully.
The plot, adapted from the Tom Clancy novel, is sophisticated and involving, and congratulations go to screenwriters Larry Ferguson, Donald Stewart and John Milius(who did some un-credited work) for crafting a clever, suspenseful, well informed screenplay, peppered with moments of dry humour. Acting performances are fairly broad, and it is no surprise that despite a Scottish accent, Sean Connery's sheer charisma leads to yet another commanding performance that anchors the film. He is ably supported by the cast that plays his submarine crew, albeit for me Sam Neill seemed an unusual choice and didn't quite work. While in small role, Peter Firth is ideal in the political officer role, and Tim Curry is rather amusing as the slightly naïve and sycophantic doctor. Alec Baldwin is surprisingly refreshing as the slightly out his depth analyst thrown into the front line, but his character rises to the challenge and becomes the reluctant hero in the end. He receives outstanding support from James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Courtney Vance, Anthony Peck, Richard Jordan and Joss Ackland. In fact all these performances are grounded and charismatic, albeit Richard Jordan's and Joss Ackland's diplomatic exchanges are the main vehicle for the film's humour, which plays out very cleverly in what is actually plot exposition for the audience.
The production is also expertly crafted by director John McTiernan. He makes full use of Jan de Bont's first rate photography (they had collaborated on Die Hard), and together with production designer Terence Marsh and co-operation from the US Navy, leads to some great in camera set pieces. This is fully realised by Basil Poledouris's excellent score, which creates a truly terrific atmosphere, and the Oscar winning sound effects, that also help bring the audience into the film's settings. Sound editor Cecelia Hall was already a very experienced sound effects editor, having worked on a variety of films including Star Treks 2 and 3, Airplane II, Staying Alive, Beverly Hills Cops 1 & 2,Terms of Endearment, Top Gun, The Golden Child and Action Jackson. After her success on Red October, she would on other high profile films such as Days of Thunder, The Adams Family Movies and Patriot Games. She went on to be Senior Vice-President of Post Production Sound at Paramount, and works as a Professor at UCLA. George Walters II is one of Hollywood's most successful sound editors. After starting work in Hollywood in the seventies, his CV prior to Red October included work on the first three Star Trek movies, Staying Alive, Flash-dance, Beverly Hills Cop 1 & 2, Critical Condition, Crocodile Dundee 2, Naked Gun. After Red October, he continues to rack up first rate work on yet more films including Naked Gun 2.5, Patriot Games, Star Trek VI, The War, Crimson Tide, Broken Arrow, The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Thomas Crown Affair, Pirates of the Caribbean 1 & 2, Enemy of the State including winning a second Oscar for best sound on Michael Bay's Pearl Harbour.
Unfortunately the one failing in the film, despite all the excellent other technical contributions is the visual effects. While not terrible they are clearly not at the level of the rest of the film. Disagreements between director McTiernan and original visual supervisor Richard Edlund, heading up the BOSS fx house, led to the company being removed from the project late in post-production, and George Lucas's ILM having to come in to do a rush job to get something in place for the films March 1990 release. They had to make do with the models that had been built when BOSS was running the visual effects; using a smoked studio with the miniatures hanging from wires, and some subtle digital effects to help sell the illusion of being underwater. They managed to do a reasonable if unremarkable job (albeit the films budget did mushroom). For example the visual fx do not come close to the outstanding work that was done on James Cameron's The Abyss, whose underwater visual fx was so much better, even though that film came out nearly a year earlier(and had its own production problems). Tony Scott's Crimson Tide, that came five years later showed what underwater submarine visual fx should look like. However the film-makers do mitigate the poor quality through editing the shots in quick cuts which means they don't have the opportunity to pull you out of the story. Another clever albeit cynical approach is to blur the footage. This helps sell "underwater", but sometimes makes it difficult to see what is going on, and is a way of potentially hiding imperfections in the actual shot.
Nevertheless, despite this the fact the rest of the film was so good allows the audience to still get a great deal of enjoyment out of an expertly crafted political thriller.
"Engage the Silent Drive"
Die Hard (1988)
A trenchant action film classic
John McTiernan's second mainstream film manages to amazingly top an outstanding previous effort, Predator. This even better film will resonate will audiences even more than Predator. While Predator was a superbly crafted and fairly straightforward sci-fi action thriller, this film takes the archetypal imperfect everyman loner, saddled with personal issues(in the form as an estranged relationship with is corporate high flying wife) and through a twist of fate has him battling, against the odds an international team of highly motivated and competent) bank robbers while trying to protect his wife, who is amongst the hostages these robbers have taken.
It differed from both Predator and other action-thriller films of the period in that the hero was more human in physique, rather than the physical super-men such as Stallone, Norris and Schwarzenegger. He survives through determination and his wits rather than on brute strength, and Bruce Willis was a refreshingly original casting choice.
The plot is cleverly structured and sets up all the characters seamlessly. There are good performances from most of the key players. The robbers are all interesting, but clearly most time is spent with Clarence Gilyard Jr. and the late Alexander Gudunov, who are both charismatic, albeit it is their boss, the relatively unknown at the time British actor Alan Rickman, who steals the show and is terrific in this film, and makes for a worthy rival and antagonist for Bruce Willis's John McClane. Bonnie Bedelia and Reginald Veljohnson are also good value, as is James Shigeta as Mr Takagi. However a couple of the characters do stray into caricatures, notably De'Voreaux White and Hart Bochner as Argyle and Ellis respectively. Fortunately the other performances and the film itself as so fast paced and involving you can overlook these slightly over the top performances, and they do not detract from the enjoyment of the picture.
The good performances are woven into an expertly crafted film. Technical credits are outstanding. Jan De Bont's photography is stylish, and makes fantastic use of the Fox Plaza Tower to double for the Nakatomi building. He also makes clever use, but not over use of lens flares to create an excellent mood and atmosphere. Frank J Urioste's stunning editing, Michael Kamen's great music and Richard Edlund's brilliant but incredibly subtle visual effects all work together with truly fantastic action sequences and stuntwork, and director John McTiernan deserves huge credit. He draws out entertaining performances from most of the cast, but mixes this brilliantly clever setting up of the characters, and then orchestrating some truly outstanding action sequences with a pervading atmosphere of growing tension and suspense. It has stood the test of time brilliantly, it still by some way the best of the series, and overall comes off as a truly outstanding and emotionally satisfying thriller.
Overall a terrific achievement that has not been bettered.
Compelling and timeless Sci-Fi Classic
This is one of the best sci-fi/horror science fiction films ever. In many ways it is like James Cameron's eighties films, Paul Verhoeven's Robocop and Total Recall, a real example of the emergence of the action auteur. Also like Cameron, director John McTiernan has come from basically no-where to make a real impact with a mainstream Hollywood film.
The film takes a fairly simple plot populated with stereotypical super-fit soldiers, puts subtly unique personalities on some of the characters, drops them in a jungle on a mission where they are the 'Predators', and then pulls a clever twist and makes them become the hunted by the titular 'Predator'. This works mainly down to an incredibly effective atmosphere and pace from director McTiernan, who patiently sets the plot up by taking the story in one direction, then cleverly working up to switching the genre from an action film to sci-fi horror, which plays out brilliantly for the rest of the film's running time. What is particularly impressive is the flowing camera-work in tricky jungle locations that strikes a balance between helping keep the films pace, dynamism and suspense without drawing attention to itself. Kudos have to go to both McTiernan and particular veteran Australian cinematographer Donald McAlpine.
The actors all give broad, theatrical performances with some corny one liners that nevertheless have amazingly become part of popular culture over the last twenty five years. All the characters are good value, and Arnie is entertaining as the leader of the soldiers. As the film's climax builds, his character has less and less to say and it is in this part of the film, which is pure suspense, sees Arnie delivering action through silent physical performance. This is his strongest part of the film.
However the best performance of the film is without doubt Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator. Together with truly fabulous and ingenious non digital visual effects by R. Greenberg and Associates, and Stan Winston's truly amazing costume design and animatronics and prosthetics work (the film has its gory moments, but doesn't dwell on them), his physical performance is remarkable and he brings life and an engrossing and compelling personality whose values are clearly otherworldly. This is all the more amazing as he was in a very difficult costume, working in oppressive conditions. He certainly displayed a great deal more commitment than a well known actor who was originally cast in the role! He also has a'blink and you will miss it' cameo as a human character!
The film hugely benefits from great technical support. Good production and costume design help contribute the a great atmosphere for the story to play out in, as of course does the aforementioned photography (The film's original cameraman was replaced by Don McAlpine a few weeks into production) and the visual effects (which also saw Stan Winston Studios replace another company after production has started). Editing is solid but the film also benefits from Alan Silvestri's fantastic score which create a fabulous atmosphere;it brilliantly accentuates the visceral impact of the action sequences and helps heighten the tension in the more suspenseful scenes. In fact Silvestri would follow this film with two further outstanding scores in The Abyss and Predator 2 in what has become a long and successful career for one of Hollywood's A list composers.
In summary a seminal action/sci-fi/horror film that is still great entertainment even today.
This Means War (2012)
Some funny scenes but nothing much else
After two extremely good films in We Are Marshall and the excellent Terminator Salvation, McG makes a rather big mistake with this occasionally funny but terrible mish-mash of a film. While his Charlie's Angels films were somewhat absurd at one level, they were funny, exciting, well- paced and thanks to their charismatic cast, had a great feel-good factor and energy level that permeated throughout the films. An attempt to replicate this factor totally fails in this film, and as a result scenes feel either hugely contrived or terribly disjointed as the tone of the film shifts radically from scene to scene, making the film difficult to get into and therefore leading to a hugely frustrating viewing experience.
While performances are competent on a technical level, they don't really gel together. Pine's character comes across as smug, arrogant, superficial, and someone dis-likable making it something of a puzzle how someone so successful yet unlucky in love as Reese Witherspoon's character would be attracted to such an individual. Tom Hardy's character actually comes across as charming and a lot more likable, but his back-story with an ex-partner and their child is criminally under-utilised. To make matters worse the main protagonist, played by Til Schweiger is not given enough screen time for the audience to get into the character, so he comes across as nothing more than a mechanical plot device rather than a character that you would be interested in.
As a result the film becomes filled with a series of gags, some admittedly very funny, others unsurprising and clichéd, and yet other cringe-worthingly awful. The style and look of these set pieces seems to be different, and there doesn't seem to be a consistent tone between each of these set pieces. The action seems to be framed too tightly and lit too brightly on the actors, as if it is being shot for television rather than film. This is a surprise when the photographer is Russell Carpenter, Oscar winner for Titanic. In fact, the style of the film reminded me of the TV series 'Chuck', and while bigger and grander than that episodic series, that series was a great deal more entertaining.
Overall, a big disappointment.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Very enjoyable and respectful sequel marred by a rushed ending
McG continues to show maturation as a director, with a very worthy follow up to his excellent We Are Marshall drama. Terminator Salvation is an excellent entry in the series. While still not on a level of the seminal Terminator, it is right up there with T2, and on many levels is more entertaining and interesting than the very good T3. However, like T2, and unlike T3 and the original Terminator, a really good film is marred by overtly abrupt and unsatisfying ending, that Salvation's case misses a great opportunity to do something really bold and daring with the film's coda, and instead comes out as a rushed cop-out due to the producers' aversion to trying something truly original.
Having said that, the film opens at a real clip, and the film never flags pace wise (a failing of the middle of T2) but with a wider span of characters in this story compared with previous outings, some characters have relatively little time to establish themselves in the fast moving plot. Bale is, as usual good value, and plays his character well in a surprisingly understated manner. However, it is interesting that the character's aversion to authority comes across well in this film, something seen throughout both T2 and T3. In fact, the casting of Bale is a better choice than Nick Stahl from the previous film. Other characters give good value in nothing more than glorified cameo's are Michael Ironside, Common and Bryce Dallas Howard. Helen Bonham Carter is very good in an interesting and pivotal, if brief role. However the most interesting characters in this film are Moon Bloodgood's Blair Williams, an idealistic pilot; Anton Yelchin in great form as a young Kyle Reese, and Sam Worthington, who steals the show as the mysterious Marcus Wright. These three characters are the best in the film as they come across as the most human and emotional characters, and I found me being drawn to them more than other performances.
The overall story is quite clever and interesting, and plays very well on the audience's prior knowledge of the story. The Marcus Wright character, whose actual identity can be deduced by the audience fairly quickly, is nevertheless a compelling character and is fabulously well realised by Sam Worthington (one can see why James Cameron and Russell Crowe recommended him to director McG) as the character tries to make sense of what is going on around him. In fact, the character's behaviour draws an interesting parallel with the Sarah Connor/Terminator character development from T2. While Sarah Connors character is trying to become ruthless and driven like a Terminator, the Terminator itself is on a journey of learning what it is to be human. Marcus Wright clearly has a streak of humanity in him, and is driven by a need for redemption through trying to locate Kyle Reese and Star (a mute companion to Kyle Reese well played by youngster Jadagrace). His humanity and this drive for redemption and caring for humanity's fate strengthens during the film, and is an interesting contrast with the more unemotional, single-minded , logical and world weary demeanour of Bale's Connor.
Unfortunately the downside of the plot is, like T2 a rushed and contrived ending. While the action climax at the end of the film is exciting and entirely appropriate, the film's coda missed a fantastic opportunity to do something really bold and daring. In my view, the John Connor character should have had a more terminal fate, and that what would have been really interesting would be for Marcus Wright to have, in some way, taken on the identity/role of John Connor, and this would have made an interesting 'second chance' for the Wright character. It would certainly have allowed the film to go in an interesting direction, as the actual ending is, in my view, a cop-out to conventionalism. This mars what was up to that point a terrific film. In terms of the look of the film, director McG goes for a 'Mad Max' type dystopia, which is a refreshing look for this franchise and works well. Shane Hurlbut, who had worked with McG on We Are Marshall, gives the film a stylish and slightly washed out look, and certainly the action scenes are very well handled, with a good balance between high quality ILM digital effects, and in-camera animatronics and special effects by the Stan Winston Studio and Kerner Optical. Martin Laing's production design in first rate, as is long time James Cameron and Oscar Winning editing by Conrad Buff. Danny Elfman's score is highly effective and creates an impressive mood. McG marshals everything with style and panache, and the film zips by brilliantly up until the final coda, when it falls slightly apart in having this rushed and boring ending.
In summary, an excellent science fiction film that falls just short of greatness down to a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
We Are Marshall (2006)
Excellent effort from director McG and the cast
After two Charlie's Angels movies, you would think a director you would NOT choose to do this film would be McG. Well all I can say is this film-maker has definitely scored a touchdown with this movie! His directing is restrained and he lets the excellent script (by Joe Linden) really shine through great performances from key members of the cast. The true standout is a terrifically charismatic but wonderfully accessible and empathic performance by Matthew McConaughey. He is ably supported by Lost's Matthew Fox, Anthony MacKie, David Strathairn and the rest of the cast who give intense but understated performances. McG wisely lets the performances shine in this movie, but brings strong filmmaking contributions, notably great filming of the football game sequences; the aftermath of a major event early on in the film; Christophe Beck's great musical score, and Shane Hurlbut's stylish but subtle photography.
The film's themes are powerful , yet accessible to a wide audience, and some of the emotional reaction comes across as genuine rather than overtly sentimental. Certainly the themes of never giving up, never accepting the status quo, never accepting the easy way out, as well as how people pull together in a crisis to overcome a tragedy, make this a very satisfying and enjoyable film.
Congratulations to both cast and crew.
Great fun returns in unoriginal but enjoyable and funny sequel!
Most of the cast are back, with the notable , but not surprising omission of Bill Murray, especially in light that he was allegedly involved in disagreements with some of the other cast members in the previous film.
The plot is more complete this time around. While this film is no way near serious drama, as a fun popcorn film it works very well. Barrymore, Diaz and Liu are yet again very good value and do work well together, giving the proceeding a jolly and fun feel, as they did in the previous film. Supporting players are fun again, including Crispin Glover in a mute role, but most notably Demi Moore, who is great as a former angel who crosses paths with the three leading ladies. She has certainly kept herself in shape! She plays well off the three, and the films winning of two Razzies was more a case of some celebrity bashing rather than it being a poor film. John Cleese also turns up in a very funny cameo.
There are some weaknesses, even for this sort of film. The most obvious is that some of the visual fx comes across as cartoonish and some poor digital effects do stand out like a sore thumb. This was a bit of a let-down as the quality in the first film was very good. Overall it holds up well enough, and includes more of the same in terms of super-slow motion shots and bullet time in key action sequences.
Despite this what passes for a plot moves along with gusto and leads to a fun and satisfying, if slightly surprising climax. Technical credits are again solid, and Russell's Carpenter's photography (he won an Oscar for his work on Titanic) again stands out, complemented by a good choice of songs.
Ignore most of the reviews on this. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!