Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Congo (1995, Frank Marshall)

At the end of Congo, after the heroes have found the lost expedition, the lost city, and the laser-pure diamonds but also run afoul of said lost city’s super-ape protectors and happened to find this place during a volcanic eruption, some of the super-apes jump into the lava flow. It’s a somewhat lengthy sequence, which with a better film might suggest the director was inviting contemplation but Congo’s direction is so bewilderingly bad it’s obviously not; it’s hard not to see the apes, the whole point of Congo, the pay-off to almost ninety minutes of globe-trotting nonsense… it’s hard not them seeing want to vaporize themselves to escape. The film’s an embarrassment for them.

The movie starts with a diamond-seeking expedition to the Congo going wrong. Bruce Campbell and Taylor Nichols, who aren’t in the movie enough, call home to their company, which is a communications company not a diamond company, and where their remote project supervisor is Laura Linney and the big boss is Joe Don Baker, who’s also Campbell’s dad. Oh, and Campbell used to be engaged to Linney. But he wanted to impress his dad too much so Linney dumped him. There’s a good movie in Congo, if someone else had written the script. John Patrick Shanley’s script is really bad. And since Linney’s the lead, though sometimes ostensibly and sometimes de facto, she loses the most potential from the script. She’s got to go to Africa to save Campbell after an unknown something attacks the camp. Thankfully it’s the movies so she’s able to find an expedition already going to Congo, even though it was thrown together immediately following Linney’s dramatic prologue.

Because the script’s dumb. Like, some of Congo’s big problems are just… well, the script’s dumb. Tim Curry’s absurd diamond hunter? Curry reins it in. The movie could handle him camping it up a whole lot more and Curry resists. He’s not good, because it’s a dumb part, but he’s nowhere near as bad as he could be. He gets sympathy. Linney gets sympathy. Male lead Dylan Walsh however… he doesn’t get much sympathy. Because Walsh isn’t even trying. Or, if he’s trying, he’s not trying as hard as uncredited cameo players (Delroy Lindo as an African military commander), much less main supporting player Ernie Hudson, who’s committed to running with it no matter where it takes him. It’s a great showcase for Hudson’s potential in the right role; that potential qualifier is because this role sure ain’t it.

Walsh is a primatologist who’s taught a gorilla to sign and then gotten her a souped up power glove; the glove “speaks” her signs aloud. Shayna Fox does the computer’s voice, the Stan Winston studio does the facial expressions and costume, two different women are in the suit at different times (Lola Noh and Misty Rosas). Is the gorilla, named Amy, successful? I mean, she’s a better character than Walsh, which isn’t saying much, but… the gorilla could be a lot worse. The gorilla could be a whole lot better—the whole hook of Congo, lost super-apes in a lost city of diamonds or whatever, hinges on the gorillas being impressive.

The gorillas are not impressive. The film manages to gin up sympathy for Amy, enough to overlook the technical limitations, but when the super-apes don’t pay off? It’s all over.

Though, really, the writing’s been on the wall for a while. Bad composite shots, the lost city sets being rather small-scale and wanting, the movie itself not being good; Congo’s not got much potential, but it does sort of assure it’s going to pull off the killer gorillas. It does not. Would it have been able to pull them off—same effects crew—if Marshall’s direction weren’t so tepid? Maybe? Possibly. Marshall pushes for as much gore as the PG-13 will let him get away with, but he doesn’t push for any actual suspense, much less horror, much less terror.

Eh photography from Allen Daviau, always at least competent editing from Anne V. Coates, plus a mediocre Jerry Goldsmith score. If it weren’t so blandly bad, Congo might be able to get by on solid technicals… it’s just Marshall. He’s particularly bad at directing this particular film. He’s obviously lost and completely unwilling to stop and ask for directions.

Joe Don Baker’s bad, Grant Heslov’s pointless as Walsh’s sidekick, Mary Ellen Trainor and Stuart Pankin get close-ups during the first act and some lines for absolutely no reason, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s good. You’re never happy to see Tim Curry, but he could be worse. The uncredited Delroy Lindo cameo is excellent Delroy Lindo cameoing. Linney and Walsh are both wanting, in different ways, Walsh much more. Hudson’s at least having a great time and working his butt off. Nice someone could bother in Congo.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Marshall; screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, based on the novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, J. Michael Riva; costume designer, Marilyn Matthews; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Sam Mercer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Laura Linney (Dr. Karen Ross), Dylan Walsh (Dr. Peter Elliot), Ernie Hudson (Captain Monroe Kelly), Tim Curry (Herkermer Homolka), Lola Noh & Misty Rosas & Shayna Fox (Amy the Gorilla), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Kahega), Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Ventro), Grant Heslov (Richard), Delroy Lindo (Captain Wanta), Joe Don Baker (R.B. Travis), Taylor Nichols (Jeffrey Weems), John Hawkes (Bob Driscoll), and Bruce Campbell (Charles Travis).


Bullet to the Head (2013, Walter Hill)

Bullet to the Head feels a little like an eighties buddy action movie. Between Sylvester Stallone in the lead and Walter Hill directing, it should feel more like one. But Stallone plays this one mature. He might not be playing his actual age (probably sixty-five at the time of filming), but he’s definitely supposed to be older. The film has Stallone narrating like it’s a noir–it’s not–and nicely uses pictures of him at younger ages as various mug shots.

Sarah Shahi plays his adult daughter, so there’s that maturity again. The relationship between Stallone and Shahi, mostly one or two of their scenes, is Bullet at its most sublime.

Where the film goes off the rails is Hill. The direction feels like generic modern action. Sure, the New Orleans locations give the picture some personality, but not enough to compensate for the lack of directorial presence.

While it resembles the buddy action movie genre, Bullet doesn’t actually belong. Stallone’s a hit man, his sidekick’s a moronic cop (played by Sung Kang). Kang’s bland but not unlikable; Stallone’s so mean it earns Kang sympathy. Stallone’s more likable because Kang’s an idiot.

And then there’s the jokes. The best writing in Bullet are Stallone’s Asian jokes. The one liners are leagues more inventive than anything else in the film.

As far as the supporting performances… Jason Momoa and Jon Seda stand out. Shahi’s undercooked.

Bullet’s fast, loud and not terrible. It could be better, but doesn’t need to be.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; screenplay by Alessandro Camon, based on the comic book by Matz and Colin Wilson; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by Steve Mazzaro; production designer, Toby Corbett; produced by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Alexandra Milchan and Kevin King Templeton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (James Bonomo), Sung Kang (Taylor Kwon), Sarah Shahi (Lisa Bonomo), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Robert Nkomo Morel), Jason Momoa (Keegan), Jon Seda (Louis Blanchard), Holt McCallany (Hank Greely), Dane Rhodes (Lt. Lebreton), Marcus Lyle Brown (Detective Towne), Brian Van Holt (Ronnie Earl) and Christian Slater (Marcus Baptiste).


The Thing (2011, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.)

The big problem with The Thing, besides it being pointless (though it needn’t be), is its stupidty. While van Heijningen is a perfectly mediocre director, he doesn’t know how to add mood or make something disturbing. Some of it probably isn’t his fault… I can’t see him caring about the addition of Eric Christian Olsen’s third wheel in the romantic chemistry between Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, for example. It’s just the filmmakers in general. They aren’t bright.

For example, who casted Olsen as a smart guy in the first place? He’s clearly not smart. Poor Winstead and Edgerton try–and Winstead can sell the scientist pretty well–but they’re stuck in a terrible cast. Ulrich Thomsen’s mad scientist belongs in a Roger Corman knockoff.

The filmmakers seem to understand they shouldn’t be telling the story of some Norwegians in English, but whenever the Norwegians panic, they speak English. That detail seems somewhat nonsensical.

If The Thing were a traditional sequel or prequel (i.e. coming within ten years of the original), it might concern developing the original’s mythology. But coming almost thirty years later, with zero participation from the original filmmakers, it’s not… it’s a potential (and thankfully failed) franchise starter.

It could have been neat though, since it’s essentially a remake of the original Thing from Another World in terms of plot. Sadly, it’s not neat. It’s terrible and cheap.

Eric Heisserer’s script is asinine.

Watching it, I just felt bad for Winstead. She’s too classy for it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.; screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Peter Boyle, Julian Clarke and Jono Griffith; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Sean Haworth; produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate Lloyd), Joel Edgerton (Sam Carter), Ulrich Thomsen (Dr. Sander Halvorson), Eric Christian Olsen (Adam Finch), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Derek Jameson), Paul Braunstein (Griggs), Trond Espen Seim (Edvard Wolner), Kim Bubbs (Juliette), Jørgen Langhelle (Lars), Jan Gunnar Røise (Olav), Stig Henrik Hoff (Peder), Kristofer Hivju (Jonas), Jo Adrian Haavind (Henrik), Carsten Bjørnlund (Karl), Jonathan Walker (Colin) and Ole Martin Aune Nilsen (Matias).


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