Archive for 1994

Mad Dog & Glory

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on November 8, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John McNaughton.
Screenplay: Richard Price.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Bill Murray, Uma Thurman, David Caruso, Kathy Baker, Mike Starr, Richard Belzer, Tom Towles, Jack Wallace.

“Women, you can’t live with them and you can’t kill ‘em.”

Whatever happened to director John McNaughton? Not since the Matt Dillon/Kevin Bacon neo-noir, “Wild Things” in 1998 have I heard his name mentioned. Apparently he’s still making stuff but he seems to have fallen into television obscurity despite showing some early potential with his brilliant, yet brutal and violent debut, “Henry: Portrait of a serial killer” in 1990.

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In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Leon: The Professional * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Drama, thriller with tags on October 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Luc Besson.
Screenplay: Luc Besson.
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Elizabeth Regen, Frank Senger.

After some successful and highly creative films in his native France, director Luc Besson turned his hand to American cinema in 1994 with “Leon“. He had already covered the story of a lethal assassin in his 1990 film “La Femme Nikita“, which also featured Jean Reno in a small role as a “cleaner”. This time he focuses more on Reno and gives him the lead as a similar hitman for hire. It may be set in New York – with English speakers – but this is still very much an artistic French film.

Leon (Reno) is a contract killer and is seemingly content with his minimal social life. However, when his young and impressionable 12 year old neighbour Matilda (Natalie Portman) comes home to find her family has been killed by corrupt cop and drug dealer Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), she runs to him for help. The closer they become, the sooner she discovers Leon’s profession and asks him to teach her the skills so that she can have revenge on her family’s killer.

From the off-set, Besson’s visual style is clearly apparent and he makes wonderful use of New York locations with regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. He also allows the characters to blossom and creates and endearing friendship that serves as the heart of the film. Both Reno and especially a young Portman (in her film debut) are marvellous as the unlikely pairing but while they share some genuinely heartfelt moments, the boundaries are blurred with an uncomfortable, sexual subtext between them. Granted, this is formed through the romanticised eyes of a 12 year old and Leon is entirely innocent but it adds a different edge to their sentimental relationship. On the periphery, is the inclusion of a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman that adds a real sense of danger to the proceedings. His performance has been criticised for over-acting but personal I thought he was superb and it’s ranks as one of my favourites from him.
What’s most impressive about the film is Besson’s assured hand and his ability in framing a scene; seemingly insignificant details play a massive part in the sheer beauty of this film while the dynamic music score by Eric Serra is a perfect accompaniment for Besson’s sumptuous attention to detail and deliberate approach. Action movies rarely have such style but this is one that starts and ends with a bang and delivers a warm and affecting emotional core in-between.

A stylish, captivating and emotionally complex film that could comfortably be described as an art-house thriller.

(This post forms part of a “Double-Take” that I done with Eric who runs The IPC blog. Please check out the post in full by going here.)

Mark Walker

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Shallow Grave * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, thriller with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Danny Boyle.
Screenplay: John Hodge.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Keith Allen, Ken Stott, Colin McCredie, Peter Mullan, Gary Lewis, Tony Curran, John Hodge.

Before moving on to work with such lucrative film stars as Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Beach” or reaching the Oscar winning heights of “Slumdog Millionaire“, director Danny Boyle cut his teeth on this low-budget Scottish crime thriller – which still remains one of his finest films to this day.

Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Alex (Ewan McGregor) are a sardonic trio of roommates in Edinburgh, who take in enigmatic lodger Hugo (Keith Allen). When they find him dead, and a suitcase full of money in his possession, their worst instincts rise to the surface and involve them in a snowballing scheme to keep the cash.

A tightly constructed Hitchcockian thriller that with a shoestring budget only serves to force the hand of the talented cast and crew. The script by John Hodge is vice-like, the music by Simon Boswell is perfectly pitched and Danny Boyle’s direction is flawless. The performances from the three leads are also entirely convincing; Kerry Fox delivers a reserved and competent turn but she is overshadowed by an excellent Christopher Eccleston who, with ease, goes from mild mannered to dangerously psychotic. As good as Eccleston is, I would love to have seen Robert Carlyle’s take on it (a role which was offered to him originally). The real heart and fun of the film though, is an irritating and energetic Ewan McGregor in his breakout role. With these committed and highly believable performances we are allowed to invest in the characters and the predicament they find themselves in. Identifying with the trio is the films hook and it works a treat. Of course, Boyle and Hodge know this and it’s not long before they have the audience eating out of their hands, wringing out every bit of suspense they can.

The budget may be low but it doesn’t matter because everything else is in place. It has tension in spades and effortlessly shifts from black comedy to dark thriller. It’s reminiscent of early Coen Brothers and their achievements in “Blood Simple“. Also, like that film, it’s so good on such a cheap budget that it’s a crime in itself.

Mark Walker

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Searching For Bobby Fischer * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steven Zaillian.
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian.
Starring: Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, David Paymer, Michael Nirenberg, Robert Stephens, Hal Scardino, Dan Hedaya, Anthony Heald, Austin Pendleton, Tony Shalhoub, Laura Linney.

Films that have their titles changed tend to be trying to market something else and normally raise alarm bells as to why the change was even neccessary. Where I come from, this is known as “Innocent Moves” (maybe because most people don’t know who Bobby Fischer is) but thankfully the film itself doesn’t suffer from this title change.

Sports writer Fred Waitzkin (Joe Mantegna) discovers that his 7 year old son Josh (Max Pomeranc) has a genius for chess, and enters him in competition, losing sight of what this does to the boy’s psyche – and his pure enjoyment of the game.

Over the years we’ve had numerous films depicting the competitive nature in people. These have mainly been through sports films like Baseball, Football and most successfully Boxing. This time however, director Steven Zaillain uses the game of Chess as his triumph of the human spirit. What makes this all the more enjoyable though, is that it’s based on a real life story and Josh Waitzkin was a genuine chess genius at a very young age. With him struggling to fulfill his own potential we are also given a running commentary on the career and odd disappearance of one time Chess champion Bobby Fischer. Zaillian handles the material sensitively and Max Pomeranc is absolutely superb as young Waitzkin. It’s a shame Pomeranc never furthered his acting career, as here he shows a maturity beyond his years and manages to be very expressive with just a glance and very few words. There’s also plenty of fine support by Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as his loving and supportive parents and his two teachers Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne are perfectly contrasted in their characters and different approaches to the game. The real star of the show though, is the game itself. Despite the often slow, ruminative appearance of a Chess game, it is in fact, a very exciting and thought provoking pastime. This excitement is perfectly captured by the late great cinematographer Conrad Hall, with close-up shots of the ebony and ivory pieces slamming onto the board. Chess has never looked so good and anyone with a great respect for the game – like myself – will find lots to enjoy here.

Despite a few melodramatic and cliched moments, this is still an emotional and heartfelt drama, helped by an impressive ensemble of actors. A confident directorial debut by screenwriter Steven Zaillian.

Mark Walker

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