1991

She Don’t Fade (1991, Cheryl Dunye)

She Don’t Fade opens with Zoie Strauss sitting down in front of the camera and directly addresses the viewer. She talks about how we’re going to see a video from the director, Dunye, and then Fade cuts to a shot of Dunye cleaning up a sidewalk vending table. The title card gradually comes up.

Then director–and soon to be star–Dunye sits down and talks about the video, what it’s about and who she plays. She’s a woman a year out from a breakup who’s getting back into dating, but she’s got a new style she’s going to try out when meeting women.

Then either there’s another scene with her in character, or it’s photographer Paula Cronan appearing onscreen to talk about the video. And her character. Scenes play out, Dunye talks about them. Dunye meets a woman–Wanda Freeman–and they go on a date, which doesn’t get much interruption, only for the subsequent sex scene to just be raw footage of them shooting the sex scene and Cronan directing them.

Oh, I forgot: Dunye sometimes talks, in character, directly to the viewer. Sometimes she and Cronan will come up with scene ideas. For a while, Fade is very much about seeing the conceptual process behind the video. Though not the filmmaking itself.

Dunye soon meets another woman, Gail Lloyd, and starts pursuing her. But off-screen. In the first-person, looking in the camera narration about it, however, it’s never clear if Dunye’s in character or not. Not really.

And all the scenes with Dunye (in character) and Freeman and Lloyd are without diegetic sound. We never get to hear what Dunye’s new approach to dating sounds like.

The finale is just the narrative, no more talking about how the video is going to go or work. It’s well-executed, but nowhere near as engaging, confusing, or compelling as the earlier scenes. During the oscillating “reality” and narrative, Fade is urgent. It loses that urgency as it goes on.

Still quite good, Dunye just doesn’t go anywhere with the narrative format, which has been distinguishing Fade since the first shot.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and edited by Cheryl Dunye; director of photography, Paula Cronan; released by Third World Newsreel Film Collective.

Starring Cheryl Dunye (Shae Clarke), Paula Cronan (Paula), Wanda Freeman (Margo), Gail Lloyd (Vicki), and Zoie Strauss (Zoie).


Delicatessen (1991, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Delicatessen is often adorable. There’s a romance between Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac; they’re both adorable, so Delicatessen is often adorable. They’re star-crossed, though Pinon doesn’t know it (Dougnac does), living in a post-apocalyptic future where people eat people (though there are some vegetarians, but they’re considered terrorists).

I suppose they’d actually be vegan, give all the animals are gone.

Anyway, Pinon works for Dougnac’s father–Jean-Claude Dreyfus–as a handyman in Dreyfus’s building. Dreyfus is mainly a butcher. He hires handymen, kills them, sells their meat to his tenants. Delicatessen is rather dark, but never too dark. Darius Khondji shoots the film with a haze (mostly greenish) and directors Caro and Jeunet are extremely expressionistic with their composition. But even without that visual distance, the film never tries harder than farce. Peculiar farce to be sure, but farce.

Dougnac isn’t happy with her father–who doesn’t care his daughter’s falling for his next victim and is more than happy to foist her off to the gross postman (Chick Ortega). The mail service’s fascist, post-apocalypse. Ortega’s dimwit. Dougnac doesn’t welcome the dimwit fascist’s violent affections. She much prefers Pinon, who used to be a clown with a chimpanzee sidekick.

Delicatessen has a lot of style. But it never wants to talk too much about that style. For instance, it would appear the apocalypse happened sometime in the fifties, but it’s immaterial to the story. It does provide some mood–particularly for Pinon, who’s excellent and able to find a lot of nuance in the part. Of course, he does have the most thoroughly realized part in the script. But he’s just one of the many excellent performances.

Caro and Jeunet get some phenomenal performances of Delicatessen’s cast. Dougnac, for instance, is better than Pinon, even without as much nuance. She’s got the family problems with Dreyfus, but they don’t get anywhere near as much attention as Pinon’s backstory. His backstory crosses subplots, bringing in Dreyfus’s lover Karin Viard (she’s his lover for free meat), for example. Pinon’s the mystery to be discovered, even though he’s the one in danger from the mystery he has yet to discover.

Most of the first half deals with Pinon getting situated at the building and the film introducing the various other residents. Silvie Laguna, who keeps trying to kill herself with these Rube Goldberg contraptions, gets a lot to do even though she doesn’t really figure into the main plot. Delicatessen is always willing to meander, especially in the first half. In the second half, there’s just not enough time because it all of a sudden becomes very intense. Even with the film played for humor–the revolutionary force of de facto vegans are silly looking guys (all guys) in raincoats–once Dreyfus decides it’s time for Pinon to go, Delicatessen all of a sudden gets rather dangerous.

Because for all the cannibalism and post-apocalyptic whatnot, it’s always a lot of fun. Not even gross fun. There’s more hinted gore in the introduction than in the rest of the film. It primes the viewer, gets them on edge, but Caro and Jeunet use that attention for other things.

Like that touching love story between Pinon and Dougnac.

So Pinon, Dougnac, and Dreyfus are great. Viard’s good but she doesn’t have much of a part (she’s excellent in the situational stuff). Ortega’s good. Anne-Marie Pisani is real good. Laguna’s great. Rufus is great (he’s got a crush on married Laguna). All the revolutionaries are fine. They’re played a lot broader than anything else. How could they not be with the raincoats and headlamps.

Technically, the film’s marvelous. Caro and Jeunet’s composition, Khondji’s photography, Caro’s production design, the costumes, all of it. But then there’s Hervé Schneid’s editing, which is exquisite. And might be why the film can get away with what it gets away with. The cuts, especially in the third act action sequence, smoothly move between the contrary, exaggerated shots. It’s marvelous.

Delicatessen is beautifully acted, technically marvelous, imaginative but unfocused farce.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Jeunet, Caro, and Gilles Adrien; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Hervé Schneid; music by Carlos D’Alessio; production designer, Caro; produced by Claudie Ossard; released by Union Générale Cinématographique.

Starring Dominique Pinon (Louison), Marie-Laure Dougnac (Julie Clapet), Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Clapet), Karin Viard (Mademoiselle Plusse), Chick Ortega (Postman), Ticky Holgado (Marcel Tapioca), Anne-Marie Pisani (Madame Tapioca), Silvie Laguna (Aurore Interligator), Jean-François Perrier (Georges Interligator), Rufus (Robert Kube), Jacques Mathou (Roger), Boban Janevski (Young Rascal), Mikael Todde (Young Rascal), Edith Ker (Grandmother), Patrick Paroux (Puk), Maurice Lamy (Pank), Marc Caro (Fox), and Howard Vernon (Frog Man).


Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991, David DeCoteau)

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge is Puppet Master Origins. Set in WWII Berlin, Guy Rolfe is a concerned old man. He sees his neighbors in fear of the Nazis so he got some string and he got some wood, he did some carving and he was good. Anti-Nazi civilians–mostly kids–came running so they could hear the old German puppeteer. Except maybe Rolfe’s playing a French guy?

Doesn’t matter.

Rolfe’s puppets are living creatures, however. He constructs the puppets, then brings them to life through scientific means; the newly animate puppets hang out with Rolfe and wife Sarah Douglas.

Enter Nazi amateur puppeteer Kristopher Logan, who reports Rolfe’s apparently living puppets and his anti-Nazi sentiment to Gestapo major Richard Lynch. Lynch already has his own subplot going about he and scientist Ian Ambercrombie are trying to reanimate dead soldiers.

From the start of the film, it’s clear director DeCoteau is being thoughtful. Even with clear low budget trappings, DeCoteau is enthusiastic and inventive. He does extremely well with the empty Berlin streets–empty means less set decoration and no extras–creating this sandbox where the action can play out.

Because it turns out Rolfe’s puppets aren’t just made to entertain kids, they’re also made to kill Nazis. And they kill a lot of Nazis. Toulon’s Revenge actually turns the corner once it fully embraces being a Nazi-killing movie. It comes at the perfect time too.

C. Courtney Joyner’s script gives the actors a mixed bag as far as material. Rolfe’s better with the puppets than with other actors. The scenes with he and Douglas never quite connect. Douglas’s scenes aren’t well-directed. DeCoteau does much better away from Douglas. Even though the opening sweet scene between Rolfe and Douglas is a strong scene and an early sign Toulon’s Revenge mightn’t be predictable.

But Lynch and Ambercrombie are great together. They’ve got the same boss–general Walter Gotell–and they try to get one another in trouble. It’s juvenile; Lynch is this humorless Gestapo bastard, Ambercrombie is a kindly looking scientist. But they’re still Nazi bastards. The film never forgets no matter how likable any of the characters might get in a scene, they’re Nazis.

And the puppets are going to kill them.

DeCoteau has some excellent puppet set pieces. There’s this Old West shootist puppet with six arms (called Six-Shooter, I believe) and those sequences are particularly fun. The puppet does a dance with the arms (in stop motion) and it’s awesome. Sure, the Leech Woman puppet is gross, but… again, they’re killing Nazis. Like they don’t deserve to have a puppet spit leeches all over them. It’s a rather effective way to do a horror movie where you cheer the killers.

Technically, Toulon’s is fine. Adolfo Bartoli’s photography is fine. Editor Carol Oblath has some really well-cut scenes, but also not. Billy Jett’s production design is excellent.

Ambercrombie’s good, Lynch’s good. Rolfe’s great with the puppets. Logan’s not good–Joyner writes all the Nazis real thin and Logan’s the annoying, sweaty, snitch one. Gotell’s good. Douglas’s likable. Her scenes seem like they hadn’t been rehearsed or maybe even written before shooting. But she’s effective nonetheless.

The stop motion is often excellent. The composites are never good, but it’s excusable. Toulon’s Revenge gets away with a lot–like a rocky first act–thanks to Joyner’s plotting, Lynch, Ambercrombie, and the puppets. Rolfe’s usually fine too. At least after the first act.

It’s incredibly entertaining and shockingly effective.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David DeCoteau; screenplay by C. Courtney Joyner, based on an idea by Charles Band and characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Carol Oblath; music by Richard Band; production designer, Billy Jett; produced by DeCoteau and John Schouweiler; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Guy Rolfe (Andre Toulon), Sarah Douglas (Elsa Toulon), Richard Lynch (Major Kraus), Ian Abercrombie (Dr. Hess), Kristopher Logan (Lt. Eric Stein), Aron Eisenberg (Peter), Matthew Faison (Hertz), and Walter Gotell (General Mueller).


Doin’ Time in Times Square (1991, Charlie Ahearn)

Doin’ Time in Times Square is forty minutes of footage Ahearn shot out of his Times Square apartment building’s window. Shot over three years, Ahearn cuts the street scenes with home movie footage. Life inside the apartment. Ahearn’s adorable family growing, holidays, parties, sitcoms. Meanwhile, outside is urban blight.

Except it can’t all be urban blight. It’s not all urban blight when it starts. Before Ahearn establishes his editing pattern–adorable White family imprisoned in their apartment building, violent Black criminals outside–he’s got some great shots of just how people coexist in large numbers. Walking commuters flooding the sidewalks as they cross streets, spilling over. It’s amazing.

And then Ahearn starts cutting from his adorable son and lovely wife to Black people fighting. Then he cuts to adorable son and lovely wife and… Black people fighting. Maybe getting arrested. All Ahearn sees outside the window–until he gets to a municipal project and New Year’s Eve–is apparently scary Black people committing crimes.

Though he does catch footage of two cops harassing (and hitting) a Black teen while letting his two white friends off. There’s occasionally sound from the street, but it’s distant and muffled. There’s also occasionally sound from Ahearn as he watches, gasps and sighs. And telling his kid to stay away from the window.

But what Ahearn never shows is people like him. People like his family. There are no white families out on the street, even though someone in Ahearn’s household must have left at some point. I don’t think the second child was born inside the apartment, for example.

Ahearn never sees people. Sure, Doin’ Time is partially objective. What occurs is outside Ahearn’s creative control, but where he points the camera (and he does a great job shooting out his window) and especially how he edits is his control. Three years of footage and no interest in the mundane, only the “terrifying.”

Thousands of people appear in Doin’ Time and Ahearn manages to dehumanize every single one of them who isn’t inside his apartment.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charlie Ahearn.


Oscar (1991, John Landis)

Excluding prologue and epilogue, Oscar has a present action of roughly four hours. The movie runs just shy of two hours. A lot happens with a lot of characters. And, while the film’s based on a play–which explains the limited setting–and even though it’s not like director Landis does anything spectacular except keep the trains running, it never feels stagy. Sometimes Landis’s composition is a little strange, but it’s never stagy. Oscar is always in motion. It never gets to take a break.

The story is extremely, intentionally convoluted. Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who’s going straight at noon; it’s a big day and he’s going to get a suit. We know he’s going to get a suit because the movie opens with flunky Peter Riegert reading off the morning schedule. It’s quickly executed, but it’s a good forecast. Even though Oscar never really looks good, Landis packages it fairly well. Bill Kenney’s production design is one of the big stars. Stallone’s got a mansion, people coming and going, the cops watching from across the street.

Oscar’s also a period piece, set in the early thirties, which presents some performance problems. Can’t forget to talk about those.

So Stallone’s got a big day and his accountant, a likable but somewhat thin Vincent Spano, shows up and throws a wrench in it. Turns out Spano is carrying on with Stallone’s daughter–Marisa Tomei in a great role. Except maybe it ends up Tomei likes Stallone’s elocution coach, Tim Curry. Curry and Tomei flirting ought to be weird, but it actually works out gloriously. There’s an adorable quality to Oscar, maybe because it’s a thirties gangster picture without any violence. Just positive vibes. Stallone is trying to go straight, after all.

There’s a whole lot more. The film isn’t real time but is consecutive enough characters’ presences define sections–like when Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero show up as Stallone’s goofy Italian tailors. And Curry isn’t in the picture near the start, more like halfway, yet Landis and screenwriters Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland make it feel like Oscar can’t get on without him. Same with how Chazz Palminteri’s part grows. Initially, Riegert has a lot more to do, but eventually Palminteri ends up as the audience’s stand-in. He’s been watching the events unfold and the convolutions are driving him nuts.

It’s a great performance from Palminteri. There are a lot of great performances. Riegert, Tomei, Curry, Ferrero. And a lot of solid ones–Ornella Muti (who has way too little to do), Shearer, Joycelyn O’Brien, Elizabeth Barondes. Oscar is cast pretty well and Landis seems to know what do with the actors. At least those in orbit around Stallone.

The ones not in orbit? Like Kurtwood Smith’s doofus police lieutenant, the bankers hesitant to partner with Stallone–including William Atherton and Mark Metcalf, or rival gangster Richard Romanus–well, Landis has no idea. He goes for broad “hokey” comedy and it doesn’t work. Especially not with Eddie Bracken’s stuttering informant. What should be a nice cameo from Bracken is instead cringeworthy.

And how does Stallone do playing the relative straight man to all the lunacy? He does all right. He lets the better performances overshadow his own, which is great. He gets some funny stuff, but he never gets to goof. The goofing in Oscar is great; Ferrero and Shearer, Reigert and Palminteri–some finely executed comedy. Stallone’s good with Muti, good with Tomei, good with Barondes. And he’s good in the scenes with Spano.

Except Spano’s pretty thin. Landis shoots these over-the-shoulder shots down onto Stallone (Spano’s about four inches taller) and it seems like there should be something to it and there’s not. Here’s Spano trying to intellectually strong-arm Stallone for almost two hours, while never getting too unlikable, and Landis hasn’t got any ideas on how to visually jazz it up. It doesn’t do Spano any favors.

Nice score from Elmer Bernstein; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s nice. Mac Ahlberg’s photography is a yawn, though it’s not like Landis tasked him with anything ambitious or difficult. That mansion set is phenomenal. Great costumes too.

Oscar is a little quirky and the third act stumbles in large part thanks to Smith’s performance and Landis’s handling of the finale, but it’s a fine comedy with some excellent performances and sequences throughout.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, based on the play by Claude Magnier; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Leslie Belzberg; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Snaps Provolone), Ornella Muti (Sofia Provolone), Marisa Tomei (Lisa Provolone), Vincent Spano (Anthony Rossano, C.P.A.), Tim Curry (Dr. Poole), Peter Riegert (Aldo), Chazz Palminteri (Connie), Elizabeth Barondes (Theresa), Joycelyn O’Brien (Nora), Martin Ferrero (Luigi Finucci), Harry Shearer (Guido Finucci), William Atherton (Overton), Mark Metcalf (Milhous), Ken Howard (Kirkwood), Sam Chew Jr. (Van Leland), Don Ameche (Father Clemente), Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant Toomey), Richard Romanus (Vendetti), Robert Lesser (Officer Keough), Art LaFleur (Officer Quinn), Linda Gray (Roxanne), Yvonne De Carlo (Aunt Rosa), and Eddie Bracken (Five Spot Charlie).


JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

JFK is a protracted experience. It runs over three hours, it has no real narrative structure–the film opens with the Kennedy assassination and an introduction to the principal characters (and some of the possible conspirators, always played quite well by a guest star), then jumps ahead three years where it starts chronicling lead Kevin Costner’s investigation into the assassination. He’s the New Orleans District Attorney (there’s a reason for him to get involved–presumably true, JFK is based on the real life DA) and the film does culminate in a trial, but it’s not a courtroom thriller and it’s not a mystery. It’s a lecture. Director Stone delivers the lecture through endless–yet always well-acted–expository dialogue, beautifully filmed flashback scenes (cinematographer Robert Richardson does breathtaking work) and then lead Costner. Stone’s not good at the courtroom stuff. It’s about an hour of Costner talking. Costner does really well in it, but it’s just too much. Overall, JFK is just too much.

There’s lots of good acting, lots of great acting. Even Joe Pesci’s weird portrayal of one of the possible conspirators–Stone doesn’t assign much malice to the “villains” because he doesn’t want to get too bogged down in actual politics. JFK is simultaneously for the informed and the ignorant. Stone nods at respecting the informed, but he doesn’t care about the ignorant at all. There’s nothing but exposition in the film and never any to get the viewer into the ground situation. It ought to come with a viewer’s guide explaining the historical authenticity of each assassination detail. So while Pesci is a little much, he’s a wonderful contrast to too serious Costner.

The great acting comes from bigger name guest stars like Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman. The parts are sort of thin–caricatures again–but the actors figure out a reality to the scene and their character in it. It’s Stone’s direction. These people aren’t people, they’re subjects to be examined. The good acting is from the big name players in cameo parts–Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Donald Sutherland and John Candy don’t have great parts, but there’s some humanity to them because they’re supposedly real people so there’s some implied backstory. Stone leans a lot on what the viewer should be understanding. It’s annoying. Then there are some great smaller parts. The “regular” folk, like Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight. Rooker and Sanders both get a lot of material–Metcalf and Wayne Knight do not. Stone doesn’t give these actors real roles, just great scenes opposite Costner and each other. They’re on exposition duty. Stone clearly appreciates having such a good supporting cast.

The film follows the following general structure. 1963 assassination sadness, fast forward to 1966 for Costner to start his investigation. Then big final courtroom sequence. It’s well-acted but not a good courtroom sequence. And the film’s already shaky as the narrative drops guest star opportunities and filling in with Costner’s marital problems, which does give Sissy Spacek something to do as the wife, just makes it drag more. Costner might be playing a real person, but he’s doing it through caricature.

JFK sort of works out. Also has a rather outstanding John Williams score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia; music by John Williams; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by A. Kitman Ho; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Jim Garrison), Tommy Lee Jones (Clay Shaw), Kevin Bacon (Willie O’Keefe), Gary Oldman (Lee Harvey Oswald), Sissy Spacek (Liz Garrison), Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), Michael Rooker (Bill Broussard), Jay O. Sanders (Lou Ivon), Laurie Metcalf (Susie Cox), Wayne Knight (Numa Bertel), Brian Doyle-Murray (Jack Ruby), Beata Pozniak Daniels (Marina Oswald), Edward Asner (Guy Bannister), Jack Lemmon (Jack Martin), Walter Matthau (Senator Long), John Candy (Dean Andrews), Sally Kirkland (Rose Cheramie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill Newman) and Donald Sutherland (X).


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


Trancers II (1991, Charles Band)

Without its cast, Trancers II couldn’t possibly succeed. It’s an unfortunately limited success as is, but without everyone’s enthusiasm–regardless whether they have a good role or not–the film just couldn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of charm to Trancers II, but only the cast is actually able to deliver on any of its potential.

Jackson Barr’s screenplay, for example, is pretty solid. It’s not great, but it gives all the characters something to do–well, most of them. It’s director Band who screws up the execution of it; all of the film, he goes between this boring close-up one shots on each actor. It’s not editors Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou’s faults, it’s pretty obvious there’s just not the coverage. And it sucks because there’s a lot of good work and even more potential to Trancers II.

I mean, for a very cheap, awkwardly (in terms of acknowledging it) campy, sci-fi thriller, it’s got a lot of potential. Certainly for better parts for its cast, who do a lot with often very little. Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard are all good. Manard’s performance suffers because of Band’s direction. Thomerson and Hunt run into the limits of Barr’s screenplay–and how Band directs those scenes–but they’re good. Richard Lynch is good as the bad guy. Alyson Croft is good as future cop Thomerson’s partner’s teenage ancestor. Megan Ward is all right as Thomerson’s future wife (Hunt being his modern day wife). She tries. She doesn’t get the support she needs from Band, but Ward does try.

Phil Davies and Mark Ryder’s music is occasionally good, occasionally bad, often mediocre. But there are some definitely high points. Bland photography from Adolfo Bartoli doesn’t help matters. Not to mention Band wasting Jeffrey Combs.

Trancers II is this odd but great concept poorly executed.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; screenplay by Jackson Barr, based on a story by Barr and Band and characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Kathleen Coates; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena Deth), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Biff Manard (Hap Ashby), Art LaFleur (Old McNulty), Alyson Croft (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines), Martine Beswick (Nurse Trotter), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Pyle), Sonny Carl Davis (Rabbit) and Richard Lynch (Dr. Wardo).


Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

Highlander II: The Quickening has had a reputation as a sequel disaster since its release. Outside of “Starlog” write-ups, did anyone ever pretend to be excited about this film? But since its initial release (and multiple home video re-releases with different editing), The Quickening has actually gotten to be a wonderful time capsule of its era and situation.

The film is desperate. It goes all out. People like hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II, let’s have hoverboards. The ladies liked stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery with long hair in the first one, let’s do all long hair in the second one. Highlander 2 ought to be subtitled Big Hair and Big Swords because it’s desperate enough to give villain Michael Ironside long hair, presumably to make him… sexy?

Now. Ironside. Real quick. He ought to look embarrassed and he doesn’t. He gets through. John C. McGinley not so much, but Ironside gets through. He’s the lamest early nineties movie villain–a mix of the savage punk villain from the previous Highlander and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman–but Ironside does get through it.

Sean Connery’s actually okay enough. Lambert’s bad but how could anyone be good. He’s so bad he’s better under the old age make-up at the beginning than when he’s young again.

Virginia Madsen is not good as the love interest. It’s a terrible part, but she’s still not good. Oh, look, a metaphor for the entire film. It’s terrible for multiple reasons, but it could never be good. Even when Highlander 2 does something right for a little while, it gets screwed up. Director Mulcahy has a handful of decent concepts, but they’re either too short or ultimately fail. And when it seems like a perfect Mulcahy moment–many of the sets are enormous so Mulcahy can do his swinging crane shots–he never takes advantage. It’s puzzling and disconcerting.

Weird score from Stewart Copeland, weirder pop soundtrack. Both are bad, but interesting in their weirdness. Like everything else, they’re desperate to appear hip. Peter Bellwood’s lousy script apes corporations as bad guys from Robocop and Total Recall, bringing along poor Ironside from that latter as well. Highlander 2 is a sequel to a cable and home video hit desperately trying to be a cable and home video hit.

I suppose it’s oddly appropriate a film about immortality is also such a perfect time capsule of a popular filmmaking era. It’s such a perfect example of it, I’m only moderately embarrassed to have written over 400 words about it right now.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991, Ohmori Kazuki)

Not much goes right in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Director Ohmori has a strange way of being boastful about really lame ideas and even worse technical executions. He spends a lot of time–and the film’s not short, it runs an hour and forty-three–trying to show off the film’s big ideas. It’s a bunch of time travel nonsense involving a bunch of white dorks from the 23rd century who travel back in time to tell the Japanese how it’s going to be.

Seriously, it really is about white people being so jealous of Japan’s success they don’t just travel back in time, they create a giant monster to destroy Japan. It’s a film made under the assumption children are dumb, which is different than the assumption children like dumb things. What’s so strange about it is how vested Ohmori gets into the time travel nonsense since it’s terribly handled, both in the script and his direction. It’s not like there are any gem moments in Ghidorah; the monster fight scene is technically marvelous but dramatically inert–Ohmori blows through any goodwill on the nerd Terminator (Robert Scott Field) who terrorizes the good guys.

There’s a slight subplot about ostensible protagonist Toyohara Kosuke figuring out the true origin of Godzilla and investigating it. The time travel thing then directly effects everyone already involved in that subplot, which makes things real contrived. It’s one of the worst time travel movies. There’s nothing smart about it, it’s mostly all profoundly idiotic. And Ohmori does it to delay Godzilla’s appearance in a movie called Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Is it worth it?

No, not at all. Technical competency aside, that third act is a fail. It’s not like Ohmori asks much from his cast but he even short-changes them with the finale. Anna Nakagawa does okay as the sympathetic future person, but it’s all on goodwill Ohmori never delivers. Okada Megumi has nothing to do. She doesn’t even get to spout exposition. Still, just standing around, she’s better than Sasaki Katsuhiko. He’s the scientist advising the good guys. He’s comically bad. It’s a bad part and Ohmori doesn’t direct his cast well, but Sasaki’s still a weak link.

Occasionally, Nakagawa or Toyohara will have a good delivery and the movie won’t be in the middle of dumb exposition and Ghidorah will be all right. For a while, it seems like the film will coast through. It can’t make it through that disastrous third act though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ohmori Kazuki; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Toyohara Kosuke (Terasawa), Nakagawa Anna (Emmy), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Sasaki Katsuhiko (Professor Mazaki), Robert Scott Field (Android M-11), Kobayashi Akiji (Tsuchiashi Yuzo), Nishioka Tokuma (Fujio), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Shindo), Chuck Wilson (Chuck Wilson), Richard Berger (Grenchiko) and Ueda Kôichi (Ikehata).


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