1994

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

There’s a lot of great moments in Pulp Fiction. There’s not a lot of great filmmaking–the taxi ride conversation between Bruce Willis and Angela Jones is about as close as director Tarantino gets to it–but there are definitely a lot of great moments. There’s the chemistry between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s the Christopher Walken monologue, which is hilarious.

It’s also beyond problematic in terms of Tarantino’s force-feeding of racism to the audience; at a certain point, very, very early on, the viewer either has to accept Tarantino’s conceit racist language doesn’t make one a racist or just stop watching the film. Because the real racists are actually literal monsters, something the criminals of Pulp Fiction usually aren’t (at least on screen). Oh, and Tarantino’s wife in the film is black. So his slur-laden monologue–terribly delivered, of course, as Tarantino’s a horrific actor–means he really isn’t racist. It’s just supposed to be funny. You know, agree with him about it.

There’s probably lots written about Tarantino and racism. Lots excusing him, I’m sure. But Pulp Fiction doesn’t want to talk about racism or much else. It’s another stool Tarantino steps on to deliver the film. It’s not about the real world or real people, it’s about Tarantino’s version of “pulp fiction,” which involves magic and so on. Anyway, I’m off topic. A look at the film’s place in mainstreaming “post-racial” racist humor deserves a serious discussion, which I’m going to do here.

Wow, after that lede, how do I get back on track with saying a lot of nice things about the film and Tarantino’s writing….

He gets phenomenal performances from Travolta and Willis. Travolta somewhat more than Willis, even though Willis gets better material to himself. Travolta’s good solo, but nothing compared to when he’s with Jackson and Jackson gets the only real character role in the film. Everyone else plays a caricature or worse, but Jackson gets to stop and look around at the world and figure out how to live in it. He’s amazing, whether he’s delivering Tarantino’s comical expository dialogue, the tough guy threatening, the soul searching; Jackson does it all.

There’s some solid support from Maria de Medeiros as Willis’s girlfriend. The film’s in three sections–Travolta goes on a date with crime boss Ving Rhames’s wife, Uma Thurman in the first, Willis rips off Rhames and is on the run in the second, then the third part is just an amusement chapter for Jackson and Travolta. de Medeiros is barely in the film, doesn’t get to leave a crappy motel room set, yet she still makes more of the character than Thurman makes of hers.

You can say Thurman’s got a well-written role, but you’re wrong. Sorry. Tarantino doesn’t want to ruminate on masculinity, but he gets in the ballpark (Willis as the classic Hollywood hero). The female characters, Thurman in particular, get thin material. You need to think about it. Pulp Fiction is, like I said, rather problematic. It doesn’t help Thurman her wig has to do most of the acting with the way Tarantino directs her. His direction of her talking heads scenes with Travolta is his worst work as a director in the entire film. Like I said, problematic. It’s a good, very problematic motion picture.

Would it be better if cinematographer Andrzej Sekula weren’t really boring? Maybe. Sekula lights the picture to emphasize the performances, which is fine, only it’s not all close-ups or medium shots where it’d be appropriate. The solid, but not startling, editing from Sally Menke helps things a little though. There’s an energy to the film and when it goes slack, Fiction gets a little too long in the tooth. Since it’s three separate chapters, it’s particularly annoying when it goes slack right off with Thurman and Travolta’s date. Willis and Rhames’s story immediately saves the picture. Jackson and Travolta basically coast through on the last one.

Oh, and Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer aren’t good enough. Some of it’s the writing, some of it’s the directing, but quite a bit of it is their performances. It’s a strange misstep too, since Tarantino’s attention to narrative tone is one of the best things about the film.

Pulp Fiction is a solid, often troubling film. Tarantino doesn’t bite off more than he can chew, however–it’s assured, but not ambitious in anything but its length and bravado–because he doesn’t chew off much of anything with it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Tarantino, based on a story by Tarantino and Roger Avary; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Harvey Keitel (The Wolf), Tim Roth (Pumpkin), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Rosanna Arquette (Jody) and Christopher Walken (Captain Koons).


Clerks (1994, Kevin Smith)

Clerks operates on intensity. But it’s mostly dialogue and there’s not a lot of action. So director Smith relies on surprises, whether visual, in dialogue, in plot. At its best, Clerks is creative with its constraints. At its worst, Clerks is lead Brian O’Halloran whining (badly, I might add). There’s a lot of whining. Only O’Halloran is supposed to be the viewer’s POV; Smith structures the narrative from this negative place. That POV allows for a lot of the humor–and it gives Jeff Anderson’s sidekick character more implied depth than O’Halloran gets–but it does get annoying at times. As Clerks progresses, Smith gets a lot less inventive and not just with the filmmaking, but with the narrative.

The film ends up being about O’Halloran and his place in the universe. While it does start with O’Halloran, it’s more about his juvenile behavior in his relationship with his girlfriend, Marilyn Ghigliotti in the film’s best performance. O’Halloran isn’t good and Smith doesn’t know how to direct him to be better. The script requires a lot of charm for the part to work and O’Halloran doesn’t have it. He even gets less likable as the movie goes on and he becomes less and less imposing a protagonist.

Maybe if O’Halloran were actually structured to have everything go on around him, but Smith doesn’t set things up well. Clerks is a lot of solid creative impulses running out of steam before they’re anywhere near finished. Same goes for Smith’s script–he’s got some interesting questions but the answers never surpass mediocre.

Anderson’s fantastic, O’Halloran isn’t. There’s amusing support from Jason Mewes, problematic–but earnest–support from Lisa Spoonauer (in the film’s most problematic role).

Great photography from David Klein, great editing (for the most part) from Smith and Scott Mosier.

Clerks goes from better to worse to a little bit better, but having a strong sense of itself for the finale doesn’t make up for all the time it spends floundering.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kevin Smith; director of photography, David Klein; edited and produced by Scott Mosier and Smith; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Brian O’Halloran (Dante Hicks), Jeff Anderson (Randal Graves), Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica), Lisa Spoonauer (Caitlin Bree), Jason Mewes (Jay), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob) and Scott Mosier (Willam the Idiot Manchild).


Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994, Andrew Morahan), the European version

About the only complementary thing in Highlander: The Final Dimension is Steven Chivers’s photography. The film’s got a terrible color palette, which isn’t a surprise since all of director Morahan’s decisions are bad, but Chivers never lets the film look cheap. It’s clearly cheap, but Chivers refuses to acknowledge it. It’s kind of cool. But only with a qualifier or two, because the crappy color palettes are a real problem. Most of Morahan’s direction is bad and Chivers does nothing to alleviate its damage on the film.

Well, I suppose there really isn’t much you could do for Final Dimension. A better director would have helped, but only so much. It’s one of those pictures not just without anything going for it, but without anything good in it. Deborah Kara Unger arguably gives the film’s best performance, but only because it’s the least worst. Unless you count Mako, who stands in for Sean Connery in this entry. He manages to keep a straight face opposite Christopher Lambert.

Final Dimension is one of those too craven sequels. It borrows story beat after story beat from the first film–though Unger doesn’t even get to be the damsel in distress, Lambert’s got a little kid to threaten in this entry. As that little kid, Gabriel Kakon is atrocious. No surprise, but Morahan can’t direct actors either. So it’s like watching all the action from the first film done in Panavision by a bad director shooting it in Canada. With photographer Chivers trying so hard to distract from its lack of domestic shooting locations, he just makes the film look terrible to hide it. Like I said, it’s kind of admirable. Chivers can clearly do a better job–lighting this terrible palette takes skills–but he doesn’t. There’s no excelling in the Final Dimension.

As the villain, Mario Van Peebles is almost funny. He’s just strange enough not to be sad, but he’s not strange enough to be interesting. A lot of it is an objectively bad performance. Some of it has the promise of a better performance. Again, Morahan. Also, it’s a terrible script. What is anyone going to do with a terrible script? Unger tries with her crusading archeologist bit but once the film gets her clothes off, it stops giving her anything to do.

Really bad performance from Martin Neufeld as the angry cop who’s after Lambert. Final Dimension fails on every level. It can’t even do bit parts well. It doesn’t have a script going for it, doesn’t have a director, doesn’t have production values (awful music from J. Peter Robinson, bad editing from Yves Langlois), but it doesn’t even have a good casting director. Maybe because there’s no credited casting director.

It’s a movie with a terrible Christopher Lambert performance I don’t even want to pick on. It’s such a bad script, turning Lambert into a nineties action hero dad while more T–800 than Highlander… it’s not a fair fight. Amid all the crappy work in Highlander: The Final Dimension, there apparently can be only one to do the crappiest work and it’s screenwriter Paul Ohl.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Morahan; screenplay by Paul Ohl, based on a story by Brad Mirman and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Steven Chivers; edited by Yves Langlois; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designers, Gilles Aird and Ben Morahan; produced by Claude Léger; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Mario Van Peebles (Kane), Deborah Kara Unger (Alex Johnson), Gabriel Kakon (John MacLeod), Martin Neufeld (Lt. John Stenn), Daniel Do (Dr. Fuji Takamura), Michael Jayston (Jack Donovan) and Mako (Nakano).


In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

In the Mouth of Madness is a rarity. It’s a film with some terrible, terrible parts, yet it needs to be longer. There needs to be more terribleness for it to be better. And it can’t even be much better, because those terrible parts break it, but it would be somewhat better. It would definitely be a better viewing experience.

Here are the film’s problems, in no particular order. Gary B. Kibbe’s photography. Madness is Panavision aspect and Kibbe shoots everything spherically distorted. Well, not everything, but the most visually distinctive parts. One of the film’s more conceptual problems is what visually compels. Kibbe screws up the compelling visual narrative pacing. Maybe Carpenter told him to do it, in which case it’s Carpenter’s bad. But Kibbe’s photography is never great. With the sets, it sometimes looks like a shoddy attempt at a Shining rip-off and Madness isn’t that thing at all.

Next problem. Sam Neill. Fourth-rate Harrison Ford who everyone thought was just a second-rate Harrison Ford. He can’t hold his accent, which would be a hilarious bit for the film to acknowledge, but of course it doesn’t. Even though Madness eventually wants to be meta, it’s like Carpenter doesn’t really have any interest in it, which brings me to the next problem. The script. The script is awful.

Even though Carpenter goes for his traditional possessive titling on Madness, it’s not his vanity project. It’s writer and executive producer Michael De Luca’s vanity project. So while Carpenter can do a nod to this Quatermass here, that Corman there, this Lovecraft adaptation here, that whatever there, he’s still got this disastrous script. De Luca’s doing zeitgeist–Neill is hunting down Jürgen Prochnow’s Stephen King-esque author, not Prochnow’s Lovecraft-esque author. The script wants to be pop culture, the narrative needs literary musing, Carpenter’s doing this Lovecraft movie homage thing. Not to mention De Luca also models the structure after a film noir (Double Indemnity in particular) and Carpenter couldn’t, frankly, give less of a shit about that narrative structure. He goes out of his way not to acknowledge it.

And if you’re not going to acknowledge your femme fatale, maybe you shouldn’t have a femme fatale. Madness’s femme fatale is Julie Carmen. She’s Prochnow’s editor and Neill’s sidekick. Carmen and Neill have no chemistry, which isn’t really surprising since she’s awful. He’s awful too, but she’s awful in a different way. She doesn’t have a part. He’s just bad at his part. The film also breaks its narrative device to run off with her adventures; if the movie were a little better, it might be annoying but it’s not. The script’s already been inept at that point.

Prochnow’s bad, but it isn’t his fault. He’s just doing his schtick. It’s why he’s in the movie.

Stylistically, the front is stronger than the back. Once Neill and Carmen find Prochnow, Edward A. Warschilka’s editing starts to falter. It was one of the few excellent things about the beginning. By the end, Carpenter relies heavily on jump scares. They aren’t scary, they’re occasionally desperate, but at least he’s enthusiastic about them. There are some okay visual ideas but there’s no time for Madness to make them stick. It isn’t just the film needing another ten or fifteen minutes of visual presence to make an impression, it’s the order of the shots. Part of the film’s gimmick (Prochnow writing reality) means visual trickery. Carpenter, Kibbe and Warschilka just blaze through instead of making anything distinct.

Charlton Heston’s in a “guest starring” role and he gives one of the film’s better performances. If you’ve got a hackneyed Heston cameo and he gives the best performance, you know the film’s got problems. Bernie Casey’s good, Peter Jason’s got a nice scene. John Glover. He’s fine. Frances Bay should have a great small role and she doesn’t. Because the script’s crap and Carpenter never pushes against it.

Oh, and who thought giving Wilhelm von Homburg the film’s most important part would be a good idea? He’s awful, but of course he’s awful, he’s obviously awful and no one should’ve kept him in. You feel bad for him. But only him. Everyone else who’s awful, you blame them.

Just because it’s an apocalyptic downer doesn’t mean the entire thing should feel like a surrender, yet it does. Madness is a defeat.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Michael De Luca; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter and Jim Lang; production designer, Jeff Ginn; produced by Sandy King; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Sam Neill (John Trent), Julie Carmen (Linda Styles), Jürgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane), David Warner (Dr. Wrenn), John Glover (Saperstein), Bernie Casey (Robinson), Peter Jason (Mr. Paul), Wilhelm von Homburg (Simon), Frances Bay (Mrs. Pickman) and Charlton Heston (Jackson Harglow).


Star Trek: Generations (1994, David Carson)

Star Trek: Generations has one good sequence in it. The Enterprise has a space battle with the Klingons. It’s too short, paced wrong, but it’s good. Peter E. Berger’s editing for the film is never better and director Carson manages to shoot it well. He doesn’t manage to shoot a lot of Generations well (he’s clearly uncomfortable with Panavision), but that sequence–the film’s biggest in terms of effects–is good.

The rest of Generations? It’s usually inoffensive. Except for John A. Alonzo’s “sad times” photography. Whenever someone is supposed to be sad, there aren’t any lights on in the Enterprise and instead there’s natural lighting. From the nearest sun, I suppose. It sure does make Patrick Stewart look extra sad.

Stewart’s story arc involves him being sad and running across original “Star Trek” captain William Shatner, who is also sad, but for different reasons. Stewart’s performance is okay. Shatner’s is likable, but not very good. His writing is awful–even worse than Stewart’s sad arc–so it’s impossible to blame him. Even though Generations has a lot of strong production values (the effects are quite good), Carson never gives the film a tone. He’s not trying to grow the Star Trek audience, he’s trying to placate the existing one.

Of the supporting cast, Brent Spiner gets the most to do, but only as far as his range goes. He gets to be a silly and stupid android. It’s occasionally fun, occasionally endearing, but it’s just another plot contrivance from Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, who don’t really have a story for anyone.

Except Stewart’s sad story.

Another big problem is Dennis McCarthy’s score. Generations never seems grand enough.

Still, it’s passable. Everyone in the “Next Generation” crew is (intentionally) likable. Malcolm McDowell’s uncommitted to the villain role, which is underwritten; it’s not like Carson could direct him to greatness anyway.

A better script and a better director would have helped a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Carson; screenplay by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, based on a story by Rick Berman, Moore and Braga and “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Dennis McCarthy; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Malcolm McDowell (Soran), Barbara March (Lursa), Gwynyth Walsh (B’Etor), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Alan Ruck (Capt. Harriman), Jacqueline Kim (Demora), Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) and William Shatner (Kirk).


New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

New Nightmare should be a little bit better. The film has this fantastic second act and goes into the third strong but director Craven’s resolution is tone deaf. He’s making a movie about movies he was involved with, incredibly popular movies he was involved with, and he sacrifices the actual good work he’d been doing to further the commercialist ambitions of the film.

After relying on her for almost the entire film, Craven sells out Heather Langenkamp. And he doesn’t sell her out for Robert Englund or the Freddy Kruger character; he sells her out for himself, because Craven’s a character in the film. And Craven plays himself very, very badly. He and Langenkamp have this incredibly awkward scene where he’s revealing the whole concept of the film (the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies entrapped an ancient nightmare demon who’s now free); it’s way too much exposition, Craven can’t do, but Langenkamp manages to make her side of the scene work. It’s a rough sequence, but it gets a pass because immediately following, the film’s working again.

Watching New Nightmare this time–probably my fourth or fifth time (since the theater)–I kept thinking about how it’s not just Craven’s best work as a director, it’s some of his most enthusiastic. He’s doing a moderate budget action movie, not a horror film. Even when the “monster” finally does appear, Craven finds a balance between danger and accessible “horror.” Putting Miko Hughes, who plays Langenkamp’s nightmare plagued son, in danger–the child in danger trope–is a bold move for Nightmare. Craven acknowledges genre conventions just long enough to ignore them.

J. Peter Robinson’s score is another good example of those ignored conventions. It’s big, epical adventure music, never actually scary or unsettling. Well, until the end credits, when it’s self-aggrandizing, which is appropriate given how Craven closes the picture.

Nightmare’s frustrating; Craven couldn’t make the film–even with his strong direction, particularly of actors–without Langenkamp and he abandons her at the end. It doesn’t seem to be malicious, but it does do disservice to her excellent work in the film. She turns a candyland caricature of “herself” into a person.

Good support from Robert Englund (more as himself than the monster), Tracy Middendorf, Fran Bennett. New Line Cinema executive Robert Shaye’s pretty bad too. John Saxon’s fun though. And Hughes is pretty good, especially given the character arc.

Mark Irwin’s photography is strong. He maintains Craven’s accessibility, but with ominous presence.

The film’s more than worthwhile for Langenkamp’s performance and Craven’s direction. His storytelling choices are what knock over the cards.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Cynthia Kay Charette; produced by Marianne Maddalena; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Heather Langenkamp), Miko Hughes (Dylan Porter), David Newsom (Chase Porter), Tracy Middendorf (Julie), Fran Bennett (Dr. Heffner), Robert Englund (Robert Englund), John Saxon (John Saxon), Wes Craven (Wes Craven) and Robert Shaye (Robert Shaye).


Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)

Quiz Show is a story about pride and envy. The film’s main plot is about the quiz show scandals in the fifties–big media taking the American public for a ride–and I suppose it could be seen as a loss of innocence thing. But it isn’t.

It’s about pride and envy.

John Turturro’s working class Jewish guy doesn’t have much pride (though he’s gloriously proud of it) and he’s got lots of envy. But not so much for the WASPs, but for more successful Jewish guys. So Rob Morrow’s middle class Jewish guy. Morrow’s character has pride and envy; in this case, it’s envy for the WASPs. Like Ralph Fiennes, who’s got not so much pride but envy. In his case, it’s for his dad–Paul Scofield in a wonderful performance.

There’s a lot about class, there’s a lot about masculinity (the women get what’s going on and try to get their husbands to recognize it to disappointment), there’s a lot about the time period. And screenwriter Paul Attanasio brings it all together beautifully. Quiz Show has an incredibly complex structure, something director Redford and editor Stu Linder fully embrace. Even in its stillest moments, the film is always in motion.

Gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography too.

The leads–Turturro, Morrow and Fiennes–are all excellent. Nice support from David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Allan Rich. Ditto Johann Carlo and Mira Sorvino. Redford’s use of prominent actors and filmmakers in cameo roles works great.

Quiz Show is a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on a book by Richard N. Goodwin; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stu Linder; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, Michael Nozik and Redford; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Mira Sorvino (Sandra Goodwin), Johann Carlo (Toby Stempel) and Allan Rich (Robert Kintner).


Shallow Grave (1994, Danny Boyle)

Shallow Grave has bold colors. The production design–by Kave Quinn–isn’t particularly good. Over ninety percent of the film takes place in a rather boring apartment. But that boring apartment has a lot of bold colors. Sure, photographer Brian Tufano doesn’t know how to shoot those bold colors to make them effective, but he doesn’t know how to light any of the other scenes either. Grave is slick and economical, but no one–not the actors, not director Boyle, certainly not writer John Hodge–ever makes it feel particularly creative. It’s got a low budget so they shoot it like a play. With occasionally interesting, but inert, visuals.

As far as the actors, of the three principals–Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston–only McGregor shows any life. None of them have much character depth to work with, which obviously doesn’t help. Eccleston eventually gets the biggest part of the film, but he’s so poorly handled through the first act, he doesn’t do anything interesting. It’s not his fault, there’s just nothing interesting in that script of Hodges’s.

The film, ostensibly a thriller, is often tedious. The script has some funny dialogue exchanges–the trio live in that boldly color apartment and mock prospective tenants they do not like–but not enough to even temporarily disguise the logic holes.

Boyle’s composition is often excellent and Masahiro Hirakubo’s editing is outstanding. But there’s just not enough to the film. It’s trite, cynical, forcibly amusing. Grave’s one controlled misstep after another.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by John Hodge; director of photography, Brian Tufano; edited by Masahiro Hirakubo; music by Simon Boswell; production designer, Kave Quinn; produced by Andrew Macdonald; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Kerry Fox (Juliet Miller), Christopher Eccleston (David Stephens), Ewan McGregor (Alex Law), Ken Stott (Detective Inspector McCall), Keith Allen (Hugo), Peter Mullan (Andy), Leonard O’Malley (Tim) and Colin McCredie (Cameron).


Bullets Over Broadway (1994, Woody Allen)

Bullets Over Broadway has a lot going for it. Between Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly and Dianne Wiest, there’s a lot of great acting and great moments. There are a decided lack of great scenes, however, thanks to director Allen’s choice of John Cusack as leading man. Cusack doesn’t so much give a performance as imitate Woody Allen, though not all of the time. Occasionally he gives an overly affected performance and comes off as mocking the material. As opposed to Wiest, who gives an overly affected performance and embraces the material.

There are also some big writing problems, like the narration. For whatever reason, Allen and co-writer Douglas McGrath go with some useless narration from Cusack to show time progressing. There are a half dozen better devices they could have used, but if Cusack’s performance of the narration weren’t terrible, it might work a little better. But a lot of it is on Allen, especially the moronic ending, which relies entirely on the nonexistent chemistry between Cusack and girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker.

There’s some really nice supporting work from Jim Broadbent. Some okay support from Joe Viterelli and Tracey Ullman. Not so good supporting work from Jack Warden. He and Cusack’s scenes together are particularly bad.

The best thing about Bullets is Allen’s matter-of-fact presentation of violence. It’s simultaneously shocking and mundane, as opposed to the film itself, which oscillates between mundane and annoying. It does move pretty well though. The good acting moves it right along.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Woody Allen; written by Allen and Douglas McGrath; director of photography, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Susan E. Morse; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Robert Greenhut; released by Miramax Films.

Starring John Cusack (David Shayne), Chazz Palminteri (Cheech), Dianne Wiest (Helen Sinclair), Jennifer Tilly (Olive Neal), Tracey Ullman (Eden Brent), Jim Broadbent (Warner Purcell), Jack Warden (Julian Marx), Joe Viterelli (Nick Valenti), Mary-Louise Parker (Ellen), Harvey Fierstein (Sid Loomis) and Rob Reiner (Sheldon Flender).


Captives (1994, Angela Pope)

Nearly seventy percent of Captives is a fantastic romantic drama. Julia Ormond is a newly divorced dentist who starts working part-time at a minimum security prison, where she begins a liaison with inmate Tim Roth. Frank Deasy's script concentrates primarily on Ormond and her experiences–with occasions scenes for Roth amongst the inmates, but that first seventy minutes of the film is from Ormond's perspective.

Director Pope carefully, meticulously presents Ormond's story, from her experiences with her ex-husband, her friends, her family, herself. The romance with Roth is an otherworldly occurrence, much different from the noise and movement of Ormond's regular life. Most of their initial scenes–he's on a release program so he can attend college (the film establishes him as an okay guy real fast)–are in static environments. It's actually after that seventy minute mark, when Ormond disappears for a week of the present action and Roth becomes the protagonist, where Pope finally brings Roth into Ormond's motion-filled world.

It's a terrible scene too; they're arguing on a busy roadway. The acting's great, but the scene's bad, because after the seventy minute mark, when Captives all of a sudden becomes a thriller and no longer a quiet mediation on class and marriage and other such things, the movie falls apart.

Ormond's work here is indescribably fantastic. Roth's great and everything, but Ormond's performance is singular.

Pope's direction is solid; good supporting turns from Keith Allen and Colin Salmon.

Excellent photography from Remi Adefarasin.

Captives misfires, Ormond and Roth do not.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Angela Pope; written by Frank Deasy; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Dave King; music by Colin Towns; production designer, Stuart Walker; produced by David M. Thompson; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Julia Ormond (Rachel Clifford), Tim Roth (Philip Chaney), Keith Allen (Lenny), Siobhan Redmond (Sue), Peter Capaldi (Simon), Richard Hawley (Sexton), Annette Badland (Maggie), Mark Strong (Kenny) and Colin Salmon (Towler).


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