1992

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

On one hand, with the Wojciech Kilar score, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can get away with just about anything. On the other, with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves playing leads… well, it needs something to help it get away with anything.

It helps neither Ryder or Reeves are the actual star of the film. Neither is top-billed Gary Oldman (as the Count). The star is director Coppola and his crew—cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, costume designer Eiko Ishioka (for better and worse), editors Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith. And Kilar, of course. And whoever did all the amazing practical special effects; Bram Stoker’s is a very audiovisual experience. As the story itself belies reality, why should the film itself be any different an experience. Lots of inventive transitions, lots of creative composite shots to show Oldman’s faraway yet so close impact on the world of his victims. Shame James V. Hart’s screenplay isn’t anywhere near as experimental or imaginative. The script’s big deviation from the novel—in addition to Anthony Hopkins’s Van Helsing being crude—is Ryder falling in love with Oldman because she’s his reincarnated fifteenth century wife, who killed herself thinking he’d died in battle, which caused him to renounce God and become… a vampire.

The most interesting thing about Bram Stoker’s is how any of it would make sense. Like, Oldman’s castle is full of paintings done after Ryder’s death—Ryder the queen, not the young British woman with the questionable accent. Did he pay the painters or eat them? Because even though the film “humanizes” Oldman a little, it never makes him particularly reasonable as a character. Why, for instance, does he regrow a mustache when he de-ages himself and then shed it when he gets old again. Also, why does he get old again so often. Why did he get old in the first place? Wasn’t he eating enough villager? Seems like he was eating plenty of them.

Anyway.

None of those details matter because Bram Stoker’s looks great and has that Kilar score. Ryder can be bombing a questionably written scene—though, to be fair, it’s not like there are any strong performances in the film. Oldman’s got a few strong moments, a lot of okay ones, and some piddly ones too. But Kilar’s score can save the heck out of a scene. Given the lack of chemistry from Oldman towards Ryder and the lack of chemistry, accent, and acting from Ryder towards… everyone (save, maybe, best friend Sadie Frost), the melodramatic nineteenth century romance but kind of saucy scenes where Oldman has to remind himself to keep the fangs in are all mesmerizing thanks to how the music compliments the image. Bram Stoker’s is masterfully made. It’s far from a cinematic masterpiece, but Coppola does provide a solid facsimile of one. As long as you ignore the acting and the writing.

Whether Ryder would be better if the character were better—she falls in love with Oldman while fiancé Reeves is being held captive in faraway Oldman’s castle (it’s kind of hilarious how easily Reeves slips her mind—the film utilizes the novel’s epistolary format, turning the diary entries into narration from cast so we know she’s not thinking about Reeves); the falling in love while the dude’s away is literally her only thing. Ryder’s not even worried about Frost, who Oldman’s attacking every night because she’s slutty and Ryder’s virginal. Or something. It’s unclear why Oldman targets Frost in the first place, though maybe there was a scene explaining it… along with his London base being right next door to Richard E. Grant’s sanitarium, which is important but not really thanks to Hart’s script. It’s like Coppola came up with all the visual machinations to distract from Hart not having the best narrative.

Of course, it’d be disingenuous to the source material if Bram Stoker’s had a solid narrative.

And at least Ryder and Reeves are failing with questionable (at best) accents. Actual Brits Grant, Frost, and Cary Elwes all have extremely bad moments where you wish they’d just be screwing up accents. Grant can’t seem to take the thing seriously, Frost is out of her depth, and Elwes always seems like he’s just coming into the film for the first time, scene after scene. He makes no impression. Neither does Billy Campbell (as a very Texan Texan). In an extremely odd case of stunt-casting, Tom Waits disappoints as Oldman’s first solicitor, who’s gone mad and been committed and now eats bugs. Waits’s eccentric take seems more appropriate for a TV commercial than drama.

As for Hopkins… he could be worse. He’s not good, he doesn’t take the part seriously (how could he), but he could be worse.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gorgeous exercise in technical filmmaking. And not much else.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by James V. Hart, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith; music by Wojciech Kilar; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing), Keanu Reeves (Harker), Richard E. Grant (Seward), Cary Elwes (Holmwood), Billy Campbell (Morris), Sadie Frost (Lucy), and Tom Waits (Renfield).


Sleepwalkers (1992, Mick Garris)

Sleepwalkers is a very peculiar motion picture. Director Garris never quite composes the shot right, even though he’s really close. Maybe he needs a wider frame or just to zoom out a bit. Instead it always looks like he’s shooting for the home video pan and scan. Rodney Charters’s photography is totally fine, unless they’re trying to do an insert then he never matches and there’s only so much he can do for the CGI morphing scenes.

Sleepwalkers opens with dictionary text setting it all up–Sleepwalkers are these monsters who suck on the life force of female virgins. Cats hate them. Then the action starts. Mark Hamill in a “really? why?” cameo. Then the opening titles. And cut to small-town Indiana–but that Southern California smalltown Indiana with the mountains and all–where teenager Brian Krause is sitting around shirtless and cutting himself.

But, oh, isn’t he kind of a dish. Because it’s weird. Sleepwalkers is always weird, but it actually starts ickier than it finishes because even though the film–mostly writer Stephen King–wants to be really explicit about Krause’s love affair with mother Alice Krige because it’s sensational… and then never does anything with the attention it brings. It’s just icky, then tedious, then annoying because Krige’s performance gets worse as the film goes along.

She’s Mama Monster, which means she stays at home while Krause goes to high school and finds a target. He’s going to feed on the target, then share with Krige. Sleepwalkers is a mix of bad thriller, not great gore, weird monster-based sci-fi, and the incest thing. If Garris and King weren’t making a terrible movie, who knows, maybe they’d have created a new sub-genre. Or at least not made this godawful thing.

But it’s really interesting to see how these disjointed pieces all fight together. Ingenue Mädchen Amick starts the film with Garris trying to make her seem like a slutty virgin. She’s at work at the movie theater, listening to fifties rock on her Walkman, dancing seductively as she sweeps up popcorn. It’s weird. And a little icky but nothing compared to Krause and Krige’s sex scenes; Sleepwalkers’s icky spectrum is long. So then Amick meets Krause and he’s kind of creepy then he’s not, even though the film thinks him reading his story about him and his mom to his English class is a good scene. It’s really bad. But kicks off a “is Krause going to be redeemed” subplot, which doesn’t really matter because Sleepwalkers ends up being a monster movie for most of its run time. Like people running from monsters.

Somehow I’ve missed the part how the first act is also about Krige and Krause torturing cats. Krige’s homebound because she’s deathly afraid of cats. Maybe. It’s unclear. But it sure seems like it. For such a long movie–Sleepwalkers is a long ninety minutes, not in a good way because Garris is astoundingly uninventive–King’s script doesn’t really do character development. Even as scenes often go on way too long. Like the ones with Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Amick’s parents, in a tedious “is this a Ferris Bueller reference” or isn’t it subplot. Everything in Sleepwalkers is tedious.

Some really bad acting throughout. Including the King cameo. Krige’s terrible, though it’s hard to say how much of it is her fault. Though she did take the role. So. Krause kind of has an interesting arc but his performance starts bad, gets worse, gets better, gets worse than worse.

Ward and Pickett aren’t good. Pickett’s worse but only because she’s in it more. Ron Perlman’s really bad as a state trooper. Glenn Shadix is the pervert school teacher out to blackmail Krause. He’s really bad.

Amick makes it through. She’s never good, she’s never terrible, she’s occasionally sympathetic. She’s not trying. Amidst all the trying aspects of Sleepwalkers, Amick weathers the storm. She never seems like she’s in such a bad movie. Krause and Krige always do.

Interesting music from Nicholas Pike. Not terrible. Uses Enya well, even if it does make Sleepwalkers seem like a Cat People ’84 rip-off, eight years too late. Sleepwalkers is in a hurry to get to the monster stuff and then the monster stuff isn’t even cool. They can make objects disappear and change appearance–Krige and Krause–but their reflections in the mirror are of their monster forms. The monster forms are more gross and awkward than scary. And they’re annoying, because they’re not very good. Sleepwalkers is this mish-mash of tone, narrative distance, genre–and it never lets up. Sleepwalkers consistently makes unique and bad choices through its runtime. Including the ending. And it never does anything right. Garris and King don’t pull off a single thing.

It’s the type of movie where the monster woman in her hippie disguise trying to find a virgin to feed her son and lover shoots a car and it blows up. Sleepwalkers is either accidentally ambitious or wholly incompetent. If they’d pulled it off, the film would’ve been amazing. Instead, it’s astounding. And bewildering. And frequently icky bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Garris; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Rodney Charters; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, John DeCuir Jr.; produced by Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Nabeel Zahid; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brian Krause (Charles Brady), Alice Krige (Mary Brady), Mädchen Amick (Tanya Robertson), Dan Martin (Andy Simpson), Cindy Pickett (Mrs. Robertson), Lyman Ward (Mr. Robertson), Jim Haynie (Sheriff Ira), Ron Perlman (Captain Soames), Cynthia Garris (Laurie), Monty Bane (Horace), and Glenn Shadix (Mr. Fallows).


Vanilla Sex (1992, Cheryl Dunye)

Vanilla Sex is the combination of a short anecdote from director Dunye, which she recounts to someone else, set (mostly) to a series of photographs scrolling up the screen. Occasionally, the footage changes to what seems to be home movie of Dunye and some other people playing around, nude (until Dunye shows up, it almost seems like it’s historical nudist footage), in the great outdoors. Fun playing not sexy playing. Fun non-sexy playing.

The photographs are of Dunye and a couple other women. They appear to be process photographs–they’re trying to stage, presumably, another photograph or installation piece–but it’s not clear it doesn’t matter. What matters is how they relate to the anecdote, which is about a time Dunye went to California and heard the white California lesbian definition of “vanilla sex”–no toys–versus her own, East Coast, Black lesbian definition–a Black person with a white partner.

At least one of Dunye’s friends in the photographs is white–the other appears to be Gail Lloyd, because even when Dunye’s short subjects have no narrative (or even titles or credits), there are familiar faces–and the anecdote echoes off the imagery. Same with the home movie footage. It doesn’t directly relate, other than showing how Dunye’s community, but it does echo with that anecdote.

Vanilla Sex doesn’t have a narrative (at all, even as the series of photographs gets more and more interesting, they don’t have a conclusion); instead it’s a visualized musing, with its three elements–the monologue, the progression of photographs, the wilderness party footage–playing off one another, informing one another. Dunye’s got a superior sense of filmic narrative, even when she isn’t doing narrative.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Cheryl Dunye.


Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


Lethal Weapon 3 (1992, Richard Donner)

Lethal Weapon 3 is an expert action movie. Director Donner, cinematographer Jan de Bont, editors Robert Brown and Battle Davis do phenomenal work. Even though the cop action thriller plot of the film is its least compelling–dirty ex-cop Stuart Wilson is funding real estate development through arms dealing–those sequences are still good. The actors carry over everything from their stronger subplots into those scenes.

Mel Gibson gets the showier subplot, romancing a likeminded–and similarly martial arts trained–fellow detective, played by Rene Russo. The ever-about-to-retire Danny Glover has something of a family drama, but also a crisis of character arc. Joe Pesci is around to make plot contrivances a little more palatable. He’s also great for the other actors. Everyone reacts well to Pesci, even if they don’t have a lot of dialogue.

Because Donner is excellent at directing the actors in this film. The sequence where Gibson realizes Russo’s a little bit of a goofball (after the audience is already in on the joke) is beautifully done. Gibson and Glover do get their moments–lots of male-bonding, lots of man tears–but Gibson’s scenes with Russo are basically a showcase for her. She brings such a strong personality to the character right off the bat, the subsequent character reveals are basically mini-delights for the audience. And Gibson and Glover. It’s a phenomenal part and Russo’s fantastic.

Between the two leads, Glover gets the better personal story arc. He gets the harder material–he also gets some great comic material–while Gibson basically just toggles between fun and crazy. Gibson’s really good at the toggling and there’s a maturity to his performance–just because the beast looks upon the face of beauty, it doesn’t mean he’s as one dead, not in Lethal Weapon 3.

The score–one assumes Michael Kamen did all the Michael Kamen sounding action music while Eric Clapton and David Sanborn handled the soul-searching, but who knows–is omnipresent and occasionally too much. It’s too slick against that beautiful de Bont photography and Lethal Weapon 3 starts to feel plastic. But then the actors do something, something in their performance, something in the script, and the integrity comes through. Sometimes the music even ends up helping with it.

Solid supporting turns from Steve Kahan, Damon Hines and Gregory Millar. Glover’s family otherwise doesn’t have enough to do–Darlene Love’s in maybe three scenes, gets one good one. Ebonie Smith has zip. Traci Wolfe has a couple decent moments, but again, not enough. Lethal Weapon 3 is a strange picture in it having too many good things going on while it still needs to be an action movie. Going longer wouldn’t have helped either, the pacing is perfect.

Stuart Wilson’s villain is a bit of a liability. Donner uses him sparingly, or always with a better performance in the same scene. Except maybe two with chief henchman Nick Chinlund–the villains in Lethal Weapon 3 are really lame, thank goodness the rest of the film makes up for it.

Also want to mention the great production design from James H. Spencer.

Lethal Weapon 3 is a great time at the movies. Donner finds just the right mix of comedy, action, drama and suspense.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Boam and characters created by Shane Black; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Robert Brown and Battle Davis; music by Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Joel Silver and Donner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Martin Riggs), Danny Glover (Roger Murtaugh), Rene Russo (Lorna Cole), Stuart Wilson (Jack Travis), Joe Pesci (Leo Getz), Darlene Love (Trish Murtaugh), Steve Kahan (Captain Murphy), Damon Hines (Nick Murtaugh), Traci Wolfe (Rianne Murtaugh), Ebonie Smith (Carrie Murtaugh), Gregory Millar (Tyrone), Delores Hall (Delores), Nick Chinlund (Hatchett), Jason Rainwater (Edwards) and Mary Ellen Trainor (Stephanie Woods).


The Player (1992, Robert Altman)

Whatever his faults (and faulty films), Robert Altman never bought into what anyone said about him–not his critics, not his audience. The Player is an overtly hostile outing. Altman never had much nice to say about the film, as I recall, but he doesn’t try to say nice things with the film itself. He makes this unbelievably concise, unbelievably expository, unbelievably cynical film–the agreement for the viewer is unconditional capitulation to the film’s “dream.” Movies, now more than ever. The Player is a film for the film literate. It doesn’t come with a syllabus, but the references target a particular audience. Altman fans, actually. Altman makes The Player as indictment against those who like his work, yet went to go see The Player.

Hostility is one thing, indifference is another, but The Player is practically open warfare against the viewer. It’s amazing.

Of course, it is based on a novel. Presumably that novel had a similar plot; The Player tracks Tim Robbins’s somewhat successful, but not successful enough Hollywood executive through a murder investigation. The investigation’s into him. At the same time, the sharks are circling at the studio and darn if he just doesn’t want to romance the dead guy’s lady friend.

Altman sets everything up real fast. Not just the ground situation, but the film’s visual language. After an ambitious, self-aware lengthy opening shot, photographer Jean Lépine and Altman keep the moving camera. Only now there are lots of graceful cuts into the movement–Maysie Hoy and Geraldine Peroni’s editing of the film is a sublime achievement. Writer Michael Tolkin (adapting his novel) owes everything to them because Robbins’s romance with Greta Scacchi would never have worked without Hoy and Peroni. Altman doesn’t want the characters to be real because he doesn’t think they deserve it. Then he goes out of his way to make the viewer dislike the characters. But he directs the actors to play it less Hollywood and more real. And Hoy and Peroni cut it do make as emotionally effective as possible. Tolkin’s script’s plotting, especially of the relationship between Robbins and Scacchi, is phenomenal. Maybe his best move in the film, because with a different score, I’ll bet The Player could have been noir. But Altman didn’t want to do a noir, because he hates the characters.

It’s a real complex situation and expertly directed. Altman finds a way to mimic interview style for the many celebrity cameos. Even though The Player is a movie about real Hollywood, it’s clear who is a part of it and who isn’t. Altman’s so dismissive of it all, whether it’s the real Hollywood or the imagined. It’s kind of sad, really, as one of the film’s ideas is that older films were more sincere through their filmmaking. And Altman (and The Player) crap all over that idea. Twice. Like I said, it’s hostile.

Altman’s animosity aside, everything else about The Player is great. Sure, Tolkin’s script only works because of the filmmaking–which is another great meta commentary on the plot–but it does work and it works well. He’s got some great moments for actors and Altman has a phenomenal cast. Dina Merrill has a small but great part because Altman understands how an actor’s performance can resonant through a runtime. The Player is masterful work. Resentful, maybe, but more masterful for it.

Great supporting turns from Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Brion James, Lyle Lovett. Scacchi’s good as the love interest but it’s not a great part.

Excellent music from Thomas Newman. Breezy music. The Player is all about smooth movement, whether shots or narrative pace.

And then there’s Robbins. He makes the movie. Robbins makes the movie so much he gets to walk away from it for a while and it’s still his movie (maybe because it takes him so long to get introduced properly in the first place). But Altman gets it, he knows how to make this movie be great and he wants the viewer to know they’re awful for making him do it. We aren’t in on the joke, we are the joke.

Love it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Michael Tolkin, based on his novel; director of photography, Jean Lépine; edited by Maysie Hoy and Geraldine Peroni; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Stephen Altman; produced by David Brown, Nick Wechsler and Tolkin; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Tim Robbins (Griffin Mill), Greta Scacchi (June Gudmundsdottir), Cynthia Stevenson (Bonnie Sherow), Vincent D’Onofrio (David Kahane), Fred Ward (Walter Stuckel), Brion James (Joel Levison), Angela Hall (Jan), Peter Gallagher (Larry Levy), Whoopi Goldberg (Detective Avery), Lyle Lovett (Detective DeLongpre), Sydney Pollack (Dick Mellon) and Dina Merrill (Celia).


Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The least violent part of Reservoir Dogs is the bloodiest. One of the characters is in a pool of blood, slipping on it as he delivers his dialogue. Director Tarantino finds a moment of Shakespearian tragedy and builds a film to it. He uses stylish ultra-violence, Dogs is visceral with the blood, but the action itself implies a far more frugal production. He uses seventies music, but not the trendy stuff. His somewhat fractured narrative, which owes something to classic film noir, wants to be an updated version of seventies crime. And he succeeds with it. Tarantino would never be able to get away with Dogs having actual tragedy if he weren’t able to sell everything else he packages with that tragedy.

Dogs acknowledges the idea of being outlandish exploitation but the film’s so tightly constructed, Tarantino never lets anything get wild. The film’s most “uncontrolled” sequence, as Michael Madsen does a freestyle torture dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You,” turns out to be Tarantino’s most controlled sequence in the film’s primary location, where everything is controlled. But with Madsen’s dance, Tarantino takes the time to acknowledge the various realities of the situation. He breaks the movie magic, not because he wants to offer commentary or deconstruct genre, but because the film needs reality. The tragedy doesn’t work with reality. Without the reality, Dogs wouldn’t be difficult. It’d be amusing, sure, but it wouldn’t require the viewer to mentally engage with the film.

And Tarantino starts with those demands on the viewer right off. The first scene of the film demands the viewer make some value judgements on the cast. Harvey Keitel has to be likable, same goes for Tim Roth, even Lawrence Tierney a little. Certain actors just get to be actors, certain actors have to do a bit of a feint, but the scene has a whole bunch to do. It’s the hook. And it’s not in Tarantino’s monologues, it’s how the characters talk to one another, how they react to one another. The rhythm isn’t in one actor’s voice, but in how the banter works.

Many of the actors do get great scenes, some even get great monologues–Harvey Keitel, for instance, just gets tons of great stuff to do in the film. Right from the start, he gets the hardest work opposite Tim Roth and then Steve Buscemi. When Keitel and Madsen finally get around to facing off, there’s so much built up energy, anything seems possible. Of course, anything is not possible, because Tarantino is trying to get things somewhere specific.

Most of the film’s runtime takes place in a warehouse. Most of the film’s present action, once the flashback structure establishes, takes place in various locations. Tarantino takes forever to open up the film. It takes Dogs forever to get to a daytime scene without violence. Tarantino puts off letting the viewer identify with any of the characters. Because Dogs, for the viewer and for the characters, is about sympathy with the devil, taking responsibility for that sympathy and even requesting for that sympathy. It’s really, really good.

Andrzej Sekula’s photography is fine. Sally Menke’s editing is phenomenal. The sets are the real star. David Wasco’s production design. Tarantino shoots on cheap but Dogs never looks it. Wasco and Tarantino make it look like there’s no other way to see this film, no other angles. Tarantino holds his shots, making the hanging clothes or the wash basins extremely important–they burn into the viewer’s mind. Especially in the first act. The film implies a larger world outside itself, in no small part thanks to the set design and decoration; Tarantino asks a lot of the viewer.

And he does reward it. He promises it right off with the actors. Keitel, Buscemi, Chris Penn. They’re doing dynamic, sensational work. Even though the introduction of these characters and their development throughout the film might make them less sympathetic characters, the performances are magnificent. Especially Keitel and Buscemi. And Michael Madsen’s really good. Everyone’s really good. Except Tarantino. He’s really bad at acting. He gives himself a bad part, which is kind of good. Kind of. He’s still bad.

Tim Roth’s great.

Nice support from Randy Brooks and Kirk Baltz. Stephen Wright’s unseen DJ is almost an essential compenent.

Reservoir Dogs is never startling. Tarantino isn’t trying to exploit his viewer, he’s trying to tell a story. It’s not a big story. It’s not a grand story. It’s something of a tragic anecdote. Something tragic that happened to these guys when they were doing a job.

It’s an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown), Randy Brooks (Holdaway), Kirk Baltz (Marvin) and Steven Wright (K-Billy DJ).


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, Fran Rubel Kuzui)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so technically inept, not even Carter Burwell turns in a good score. Most scenes are just trying to decide who’s doing a worse job, director Kuzui, cinematographer James Hayman or editors Jill Savitt and Camilla Toniolo. Overall, it’s obviously Kuzui, but the editing in the first half by far worse than the photography. But the photography in the second half is so awful, it’s difficult to hold anything against the editing.

And then there’s Joss Whedon’s script. Regardless of whether or not someone rewrote it, it’s still awful.

But there’s a very likable quality to Buffy–Kristy Swanson. She does really well in the film. She has actual chemistry with Donald Sutherland and Luke Perry, even though Kuzui directs the actors terribly. Swanson weathers Kuzui’s direction best, Sutherland worst, Perry somewhere in between. Kuzui doesn’t have a sense of humor, which doesn’t help things. But Swanson gives a rather good performance. The film fails her over and over.

Perry manages to be likable whenever he’s around Swanson, until the film gets uncomfortable with her in the driver’s seat of their romance.

The vampires are lame. Paul Reubens is awful (Kuzui’s lack of humor fails him the most), Rutger Hauer isn’t much better. He and Swanson are awful together.

The movie runs eighty minutes and change. The first half, as Swanson trains to become the Vampire Slayer, moves pretty well. Kuzui and Hayman don’t do well, but they do okay. It’s trying to be a high school movie with vampire hunting. Swanson gets a great character arc and the script’s better one liners. Kuzui doesn’t seem to understand how the one liners work, but Swanson does. In contrast, Perry flops whenever he gets one of the one liners.

It ought to be a whole lot more entertaining, but the brisk pace of the first half and Swanson do get it to the finish. And, for what’s got to be the first time ever, I’ve got to single out the hair stylist–Barbara Olvera–she does a fantastic job with Swanson’s various styles.

I wish Buffy were better. It’s not, but I really wish it were. Swanson deserved it, Perry even deserved it. But really Swanson. She effortlessly goes from being likable to good. Shame the movie doesn’t even manage the former.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui; written by Joss Whedon; director of photography, James Hayman; edited by Jill Savitt and Camilla Toniolo; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Lawrence Miller; produced by Kaz Kuzui and Howard Rosenman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland (Merrick), Paul Reubens (Amilyn), Rutger Hauer (Lothos), Luke Perry (Pike), Michele Abrams (Jennifer), Hilary Swank (Kimberly), Paris Vaughan (Nicki), David Arquette (Benny), Randall Batinkoff (Jeffrey), Andrew Lowery (Andy), Sasha Jenson (Grueller), Stephen Root (Gary Murray), Natasha Gregson Wagner (Cassandra) and Candy Clark (Buffy’s Mom).


Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Mothra ain’t bad. It ain’t bad at all. While Ohmori Kazuki’s script leaves something to be desired in general, it doesn’t leave anything in specific to be desired. It doesn’t fail to do something. It sets forth its concept and fulfills it. I’m thinking mostly in terms of the human stories, which are contrived but genial enough to get through, as it’s director Okawara and the technical crew who desire the credit for the amazing giant monster battles.

Mothra already has something going for it just in how sincerely the film deals with the giant moth meant to protect the planet Earth from environmental dangers. It’s this gorgeous moth with very pretty theme music, how can you not like Mothra? Mothra is like the potpourri of Kaiju. Really, you don’t like pleasant smells? And Okawara and the effects team go all out on Mothra; she’s got flying battles with actual good matte work, she’s got multiple iconic shots. It’s a pilot for a Mothra spin-off. A really effective one.

The entire cast is strong. Even Bessho Tetsuya’s deadbeat dad Indiana Jones knock-off (he gets better once he’s out of the fedora and trying to make amends for kidnapping to pay alimony). Because Mothra’s actually from Yonezawa Shiori’s perspective. She’s Bessho’s daughter–Kobayashi Satomi, in a solid supporting lead performance, is the mother. It’s about the magic of Mothra getting Mom and Dad back together, but with strong enough special effects values for it not to seem condescending. Okawara doesn’t shortchange the human actors. They don’t have the best material, but he takes it seriously.

Except poor Odaka Megumi, of course, who’s just in the movie because it’s a Godzilla movie.

Great photography from Kishimoto Masahiro, especially with the effects work. Nice score from Ifukube Akira. Godzilla vs. Mothra is an entertaining, technically outstanding giant monster outing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Ohmori Kazuki; director of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Bessho Tetsuya (Fujita Takuya), Kobayashi Satomi (Tezuka Masako), Murata Takehiro (Andoh Kenji), Shinoda Saburô (Professor Fukazawa), Kobayashi Akiji (Tsuchiashi Yuzo), Takarada Akira (Minamino Jyoji), Ohtake Makoto (Tomokane Takeshi), Imamura Keiko (Cosmos #1), Osawa Sayaka (Cosmos #2) and Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki).


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