1990

Marked for Death (1990, Dwight H. Little)

The beginning of Marked for Death is nearly all right. It’s a prologue, with lead Steven Seagal–as a DEA agent–in Mexico, doing an undercover drug buy. Things go wrong. Until things go wrong, it’s not bad. Director Little has a lot of motion (which is fine when people are moving around, much less when he’s zooming in to try to keep conversations interesting) and it’s effectively tense. Then the action starts and it all goes to pot, because Little can’t direct an action scene, much less a martial arts scene for Seagal. Marked for Death just never clicks, even though it has most of the required pieces. A sense of humor would have made all the difference.

Seagal has some bad acting in the film, but not too much. He’s opposite actual good actors a lot of the time–Keith David, Tom Wright, Kevin Dunn–and they help the film. They don’t help Seagal’s performance. There’s not much one can do with the part–his DEA agent resigns only to get into a fight with a Jamaican drug lord. To make matters worse, the drug lord (Basil Wallace, who over-acts in the part), goes after Seagall’s family.

Along the way, Seagal drafts high school teacher David as his sidekick in vigilante mission. He also meets a girl–an awful Joanna Pacula–before heading to Jamaica for the showdown. The best parts in the film are some second unit establishing shots in Jamaica, amid palm tress.

Speaking of palm trees, the unbelievably inept chase scene–set in the Chicago suburbs–is littered with palm trees. After the film goes out of its way to establish the Chicagoland connection. Seagal just loves being a soulful Catholic Chicago dude. He should’ve remade the Blues Brothers.

If you look past how the film demonizes Jamaicans (they’re not characters or caricatures even, they’re boring monsters), Marked for Death is just goofy bad, with a lame score from James Newton Howard (who actually appears to be mocking the scenes he’s scoring at times), the crappy script from Michael Grais and Mark Victor, inept action editing. But, through it all, Little still manages to fail everyone else involved. His direction is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dwight H. Little; written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Grais, Victor and Steven Seagal; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Steven Seagal (John Hatcher), Joanna Pacula (Leslie), Keith David (Max), Tom Wright (Charles), Kevin Dunn (Lt. Sal Roselli), Elizabeth Gracen (Melissa), Bette Ford (Kate Hatcher), Al Israel (Tito Barco), Arlen Dean Snyder (Duvall), Victor Romero Evans (Nesta) and Basil Wallace (Screwface).


Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai)

Director Wong crafts Days of Being Wild as a series of vignettes, only with the film’s principal character never the protagonist of any of these vignettes. Wong and editors Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam go for lyrical transitions (or none at all); combined with the emptiness of Wild’s Hong Kong (busy places at times they aren’t busy), there’s palpable mood. Terry Chan’s music, which evokes sixties pop (only desperate), is also essential.

That main character who never gets to be protagonist is Leslie Cheung. He’s a lothario–the film opens with his seduction of shopgirl Maggie Cheung before he moves on to dancer Carina Lau. The first act of the film, which establishes all the characters, is the most unlike the rest. Wong makes verbal reference to off-screen characters who later become important, he makes sure the viewer understands all the relationships. The vignettes don’t start until the second act (so I guess Leslie Cheung does get to be the protagonist for a bit in the first act).

But once the vignettes start, beginning with Maggie Cheung’s return to the film and her friendship with Andy Lau (as the police officer whose beat includes Leslie Cheung’s building). Then it’s Carina Lau’s turn. She sort of shares her time with Rebecca Pan (as Leslie Cheung’s adoptive mother).

Wong isn’t concerned with making his characters likable. No one likes Leslie Cheung, not even his friends–Jacky Cheung, as his sidekick, is just as much a conquest as any of the women–but Carina Lau’s pretty awful too. Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau could both be read as saints, but Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle don’t much go for sainthood. There’s darkness and fuzziness to everyone, with the possible exception of Pan. Even though she should be despicable (she bought Leslie Cheung from his birth mother), she’s still extremely sympathetic. Maybe because she’s so self-aware.

Great performances from Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung. Leslie Cheung and Jacky Cheung are both effective, but–until the third act–the real problem with Wild is Leslie Cheung’s far from the most interesting character Wong’s got going here. Even though Andy Lau’s got a bland role to play (sturdy guy), he potentially has a lot more depth than Leslie Cheung.

Then the third act comes along and Wong decides he wants to try out an entirely different kind of film (stylistically, each vignette has its own feel) and it doesn’t work out. Maybe because it’s Andy Lau’s vignette about how he runs into Leslie Cheung later on and they have a misadventure. It feels forced. Everything else is organic. That final vignette, with its melodramatic action, just doesn’t work out.

By the time Wong brings everyone else back in for the wrap-up, it feels like he’s trying to cover. He can’t.

Days of Being Wild is still a beautifully made film, beautifully constructed narrative. It’s just the plotting (and perspective) where Wong is off.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Jeffrey Lau; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam; music by Terry Chan; production designer, William Chang; produced by Rover Tang; released by In-Gear Films.

Starring Leslie Cheung (Yuddy), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Andy Lau (Tide), Carina Lau (Leung Fung-ying), Jacky Cheung (Zeb) and Rebecca Pan (Rebecca).


Hard to Kill (1990, Bruce Malmuth)

The best thing about Hard to Kill is how hard supporting player Frederick Coffin tries. He doesn’t have much of a part, but it’s got some soap opera dramatics to it and Coffin goes for it. There’s nothing to the script and there’s no support from director Malmuth, so Coffin flops. Quite literally skidding on pavement. But the trying is obvious and it shows a level of dedication no one else has about the film.

Except star Steven Seagal, as Hard to Kill is a commercial for the concept of Steven Seagal as a movie star. It’s a vanity project. Only director Malmuth stubbornly refuses to engage with that fact. Malmuth does a terrible job directing the film and its actors. It isn’t like Malmuth is trying to direct it differently either. He’s not trying to do some serious cop drama or even visceral action picture while Seagal’s strutting around, showing off real-life wife Kelly LeBrock as love interest–after doing a family values hard sell with some praying–no, Malmuth doesn’t do anything. He lets LeBrock embarrass herself (though he does what he can to protect Bonnie Burroughs as the other female character–there are really only two in Hard to Kill). He doesn’t do Seagal any favors.

Terrible William Sadler performance in one of the worst roles of the twentieth century. You just feel sorry for him, especially with what he eventually has to go through. He’s surrounded by a bunch of despicable cronies. Not a single decent performance among them. The bad guys in Police Academy movies are better written.

Hard to Kill isn’t even paced well; at ninety minutes, it drags all over the place. It’s a bad movie. It’s never going to be much better, but Malmuth could’ve at least let it be fun. Even worse, Malmuth’s direction doesn’t let anyone exhibit competence–his composition’s so bad, who cares how Matthew F. Leonetti lights the shot or how John F. Link edits the scene–though David Michael Frank’s awful score is awful all on its own.

The whole thing is just awful. Good exterior lighting from Leonetti though, I guess. Not at night, but during daylight scenes. He does okay.

The rest is still crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Malmuth; written by Steven McKay; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John F. Link; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Gary Adelson, Joel Simon and Bill Todman Jr.; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Mason Storm), Kelly LeBrock (Andy Stewart), William Sadler (Vernon Trent), Frederick Coffin (O’Malley), Bonnie Burroughs (Felicia Storm), Zachary Rosencrantz (Sonny Storm), Andrew Bloch (Capt. Hulland), Branscombe Richmond (Quentero) and Charles Boswell (Axel).


The Exorcist III (1990, William Peter Blatty)

The Exorcist III is a weird movie. It’s a somewhat surreal detective story–one seeped in Exorcist continuity, only without the original cast (mostly) returning. That disconnect from the original, along with its incredibly uneven tone (the opening titles cut between a big action sequence with helicopters and some scary church imagery), actually helps the film.

The film has some infamous post-production tampering; as stands, the film spends its first third as an almost boring character study of George C. Scott’s angry old policeman and his best friend, priest Ed Flanders. Both Scott and Flanders find some really good moments in this opening section of the film. Not actually having been in the original film, their scenes discussing its infamous events play peculiarly. Even though there are spooky, evil goings-on, Flanders and Scott are in this separate world from it. Director Blatty carefully compartmentalizes. To usually good result.

Then the second section of the film is a confined murder mystery at a hospital. Until Scott discovers Brad Dourif locked in a cell–along with someone familiar to fans of the first film–and Exorcist III enters its really strange third act. Gerry Fisher’s photography is a little flat throughout the film–though he does well with the first act location shooting–but the flatness never looks cheap. Even when a sequence is entirely misguided, like when Scott all of a sudden becomes Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead.

The film’s editing, from Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay, is awesome. It’s never a scary or even gross movie; it might never even be creepy. But Lee-Thompson and Ramsay cut it in such a way to keep the viewer on edge. By the end, when it toggles between a bad action movie and Scott and Dourif doing dueling monologues, there’s absolutely no reason for the narrative to keep one on edge. The big twist–part of that troubled post–is so narratively incomprehensible, it just lends to the movie’s oddness.

Some good supporting performances–Grand L. Bush, Nancy Fish, Lee Richardson–help. Don Gordon and George DiCenzo play Scott’s dimwit police sidekicks and go for stereotypical laughs. Odd. But definitely engaging.

Sadly, Nicol Williamson and Scott Wilson, both in somewhat important supporting roles, aren’t particularly good. Scott never makes the film believable, but he’s still trying, though one can’t help but wonder what kind of swimming pool he had installed with his paycheck. Flanders, however, manages to keep it all on the level. And Dourif’s good.

Problems aside, Blatty and company present a film where Patrick Ewing and Fabio can cameo as angels and it can be done entirely straight-faced. It’s almost like Exorcist III is a parody of the idea of a third Exorcist movie but done earnestly, possibly because Blatty didn’t get it. But it’s why the film’s watchable, even though it’s a complete mess.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Peter Blatty; screenplay by Blatty, based on his novel; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay; music by Barry De Vorzon; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Carter DeHaven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Grand L. Bush (Sergeant Atkins), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Harry Carey Jr. (Father Kanavan), Nicol Williamson (Father Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr. Temple), Nancy Fish (Nurse Allerton), George DiCenzo (Stedman), Don Gordon (Ryan), Zohra Lampert (Mary Kinderman), Lee Richardson (University President) and Jason Miller (Patient X).


The Decalogue: Nine (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

With Nine, writers Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski have finally figured out how to parody themselves and the rest of The Decalogue. This entry, overwrought from the opening titles, is awful, but Piesiewicz and Kieslowski never quite commit to the more melodramatic, soap opera plotting they could. And Nine suffers for it.

Piotr Machalica is a successful surgeon who finds out he’s impotent. He dreads telling his wife (played by Ewa Blaszczyk in one of the more thankless roles in film history) because she obviously won’t love him anymore. Kieslowski’s direction hammers in all the symbolism–it becomes absurdist by the end (Nine actually plays far better as a comedy)–but he’s never able to establish any chemistry whatsoever between Machalica and Blaszczyk.

And why would there be any? She’s an awful, heartless woman; he’s a martyr for manhood.

Nine’s really lame. I’m actually surprised how bad it gets.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Piotr Sobocinski; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Piotr Machalica (Roman), Ewa Blaszczyk (Hanka), Jolanta Pietek-Górecka (Ola) and Jan Jankowski (Mariusz).


The Decalogue: Eight (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Eight is, unquestionably, great. At a certain point, it got good. And then Kieslowski didn’t screw up it being good. It started with problems, of course. The episode opens with Maria Koscialkowska as a lonely old college professor. Until Teresa Marczewska, a younger woman, shows up out of the blue to observe a class, it’s boring. It’s an ethics class. Where Kieslowski makes a reference to another episode of The Decalogue and all of a sudden he lets off some steam. For the first time ever.

That release of pressure, along with Koscialkowska’s fantastic performance, lets Kieslowski and co-writer Piesiewicz make the fantastical real and solid. And that reference to the other episode helps with it.

Then it keeps going and it keeps getting better and better. After twenty-two minutes, Kieslowski hits every note. Though it’s because Koscialkowska and Marczewska are great. Their performances make Eight something spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Andrzej Jaroszewicz; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Maria Koscialkowska (Zofia), Teresa Marczewska (Elzbieta) and Tadeusz Lomnicki (the tailor).


The Decalogue: Seven (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Seven is definitely one of the stronger Decalogue films, but Kieslowski can’t figure out what his best angle is into the story. The story is the thing of melodrama and soap opera–Maja Barelkowska’s character had a secret baby (fathered by her young teacher, Boguslaw Linda); her mother (Anna Polony) raised her granddaughter as her daughter. Barelkowska wants her back.

Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz’s script has way too much exposition–there are two or three scenes where everything stops so the characters talk about the past–but it’s pretty good when it comes to the characters acting in the present. And Kieslowski’s foreshadowing is mostly successful.

What isn’t successful is how Kieslowski and Piesiewicz treat Barelkowska. They can’t decide if she’s the victim or the villain. Never do they make her the protagonist. As a result, her performance’s weak. Everyone else is great though. Especially Katarzyna Piwowarczyk as the child.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Dariusz Kuc; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Anna Polony (Ewa), Maja Barelkowska (Majka), Wladyslaw Kowalski (Stefan), Boguslaw Linda (Wojtek) and Katarzyna Piwowarczyk (Ania).


The Decalogue: Six (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Six is a mess and it shouldn’t be, because at the center of it director Kieslowski has this phenomenal performance from Grazyna Szapolowska. He opens with her (doing some hippy thing where she “blesses” her food), then moves the story to her stalker, played by Olaf Lubaszenko.

Now, what eventually happens is Janet Leigh comes on to Norman Bates and he tries to kill himself and she realizes her wanton slutty modern woman ways have taken away her chance for godly happiness.

Along the way, there’s some truly amazing acting from Szapolowska and all these missed opportunities in Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski’s script. Half the film goes to Lubaszenko peeping on her (it’d have been more effective, after all the melodramatics, if it had just been this odd stalking movie), then everything else is rushed. Including, unfortunately, when Szapolowska starts stalking him back.

Szapolowska’s performance deserved a far better script.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Witold Adamek; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Grazyna Szapolowska (Magda), Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek), Stefania Iwinska (Godmother), Artur Barcis (Young Man), Stanislaw Gawlik (Postman) and Piotr Machalica (Roman).


The Decalogue: Five (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

One has to admire Kieslowski’s dedication to his goal. Sure, Five–which is the “Thou shall not kill” episode of “The Decalogue”–is a terrible rumination on the death penalty, but Kieslowski is all in. For his flashback, he does a whole sepia tone filter thing. It’s not good in terms of how it shapes the film, but it’s competently executed by Slawomir Idziak. Sometimes even really well executed.

The sepia tone isn’t enough, however. The foreshadowing explaining why Miroslaw Baka just has to plot to murder a taxi driver (after causing a traffic accident from an overpass because he’s bored) gets repeated in the conclusion, in painfully bad exposition. For most of Five, Baka is a disaffected, sullen sociopathic punk rock kid. At the end, he’s the pleading Catholic who has lost his way.

And Kieslowski really misses the boat with Krzysztof Globisz’s crusading attorney.

Five’s a dreadful hour.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Miroslaw Baka (Lazar Jacek), Krzysztof Globisz (Piotr), Jan Tesarz (Taxi Driver), Zbigniew Zapasiewicz (Police Inspector) and Barbara Dziekan (Cashier).


The Decalogue: Four (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

With Four, Kieslowski engages with the television format of “The Decalogue” more than he has done before. No pun intended.

Four has a young woman discovering her father might not be her father, a fact he isn’t aware of either. Kieslowski and co-writer Piesiewicz don’t go so much for thought-provoking as discussion-provoking. Each moment in the episode is begging to be discussed, not analyzed.

Why not analyzed? Because Kieslowski and Piesiewicz create a closed system; they quarantine the sensational plot developments.

Playing the daughter, Adrianna Biedrzynska is okay. Kieslowski and editor Ewa Smal make sure to leave the viewer hints at where things are going. It’s more roadside billboards than ominous foreshadowing, particularly because the script’s structure is so soggy. Four stops and goes, stops and goes.

As a filmed play, it’s nearly successful (thanks to Biedrzynska and understated Janusz Gajos as the father).

As is? No.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Krzysztof Pakulski; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrianna Biedrzynska (Anka), Janusz Gajos (Michal), Tomasz Kozlowicz (Jarek), Andrzej Blumenfeld (Michal’s Friend), Elzbieta Kilarska (Jarek’s Mother), Adam Hanuszkiewicz (Professor) and Helena Norowicz (Doctor).


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