Antonio Banderas

The 13th Warrior (1999, John McTiernan)

No one in The 13th Warrior seems particularly thrilled to be participating in The 13th Warrior. Some people carry it better than others—Omar Sharif’s cameo is the only “good” acting in the film, as he translates and interprets events for lead Antonio Banderas, who can’t speak the common language with the Vikings they’ve come across. Vladimir Kulich, as Beowulf (13th Warrior is an adaptation of co-producer and shadow director Michael Crichton’s novel, Eaters of the Dead, which is a riff on Beowulf), is kind of fine. His presence is indicative of the problem with Warrior, which is no one wants to take it seriously and actually ask anyone to act, so they just get a handful of personable actors and a handful of romance novel cover models and put the band together. Kulich at least takes it seriously. Taking it seriously requires effort, which is on short supply.

And, really, on short demand. No one cares. William Wisher and Warren Lewis’s screenplay is not some poorly realized masterpiece. It’s a Viking movie with an Arabian guest star. With Antonio Banderas as a tenth century Muslim traveler—based on a real person, but the film… avoids treating Banderas as a real person. The script avoids Banderas as a person so much it isn’t until the last battle, which is a very noncommittal Seven Samurai homage because neither credited director McTiernan or uncredited Crichton are any good at the action. It’s particularly stunning from McTiernan considering he made Predator and the “monsters” in Warrior decapitate and camouflage too. Warrior’s almost willfully bad.

Anyway—the movie doesn’t show Muslim Banderas pray until the last battle scene. How Banderas is going to pray five times a day—at set times—while traveling with a bunch of Vikings on a mission to kill a monster and save a village? Exploring that culture clash would probably be interesting. But they can’t do it because it’s an action movie with what ought to be a pulpy premise but instead wants to get executed like a nerdy one and it’s not. Warrior either needs a compelling lead, compelling adversaries, or compelling cannon fodder (the Vikings slash samurai). It’s got none of those things. And it’s not even Banderas’s fault. He’s not good, but it’s very clearly not his fault. His biggest scene—outside that one prayer—is when he figures out how to speak Old Norse just from sitting around and listening to the Vikings talk for a couple hours. Now, if it’d been set over weeks and the journey had narrative weight, Warrior might have something going but of course it doesn’t because it’s terrible. And the whole translating thing really shouldn’t have been raised because initially it just makes you think Sharif’s going to be sticking around longer and he’s really just there to give the movie some actual Hollywood Middle Eastern star cred before turning it all over to not Middle Eastern Hollywood star Banderas.

Again, it’s a big shame as Sharif’s a lot of fun and he’s able to make Banderas likable in a way the film never repeats. Particularly not for Banderas’s romance with Viking woman Maria Bonnevie, which is one of those “in crisis” situation romances and lacks not just romance but any sense of humanity. Bonnevie’s not bad but you’re never happy to see her because the scenes are just bad and are somehow worse than the bad A plot.

The A plot never delivers. How two directors, cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr., and editor John Wright managed to so completely fumble the action sequences—the Vikings hunting the monsters, the monsters hunting the Vikings—is inexplicable when you consider the professional pedigree and production budget. No one wanted to spend any time figuring out how to make this movie and instead they rely on slow motion a bunch of times. Including slowing down Kulich’s battle cries at one point, which is just cringe-inducing.

If they’d done in serious, it’d have had a chance. Not with this cast, obviously, but with a serious take and a better script. Or if they’d just done it exploitation-y, maybe they couldn’t gotten some energy. The movie’s not even boring as much as it’s exhausting. It’s exhausted, it’s exhausting.

No one looks as miserable to be participating as Diane Venora, who’s got the thankless role of being a recognizable female name for the opening titles and maybe even the poster but nothing else.

The 13th Warrior is a stunning waste of time for everyone involved, viewer included.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by William Wisher and Warren Lewis, based on a novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by John Wright; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; costume designer, Kate Harrington; produced by Crichton, McTiernan, and Ned Dowd; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan), Dennis Storhøi (Herger), Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf), Maria Bonnevie (Olga), Richard Bremmer (Skeld), Tony Curran (Weath), Sven Wollter (King Hrothgar), Diane Venora (Queen Weilew), Anders T. Andersen (Prince Wigliff), and Omar Sharif (Melchisidek).


Haywire (2011, Steven Soderbergh)

Haywire’s plotting is meticulous and exquisite. And entirely a budgetary constraint. It’s a globe trotting, action-packed spy thriller with lots of name stars. The action in the globe trotted areas, for instance, is more chase scenes than explosions. Haywire doesn’t blow up Barcelona, lead Gina Carano chases someone down the streets. She doesn’t land a 747 in Dublin, she has a chase scene on the rooftops. And director Soderbergh does phenomenally with those sequences. While Carano’s in real danger and Soderbergh’s shooting realistic DV, David Holmes’s music riffs back to sixties spy movie music and contextualizes things. You still get to have fun watching the spy movie. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s just a different kind of spy movie.

One where the action set pieces are what Carano does, whether it’s stunts or fight scenes, she’s the action. Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs space out the action sequences, sometimes not actually going with a big Carano sequence in the situation. Sometimes the film focuses on her adversaries or allies. Soderbergh and Dobbs do a lot of action thriller without a lot of money.

The film starts with Carano–former Marine and spy-mercenary–is on the run. We don’t know from who, because when Channing Tatum shows up to bring her in, they don’t say the character’s name. It becomes obvious pretty soon, but Soderbergh and Dobbs go through all the motions to give Haywire a conspiracy thriller foundation. They don’t have time to engage with it–or, presumably, money–but it’s part of the film’s texture. Some creative decisions in Haywire just plump up the film. Soderbergh’s not trying to make a low budget spy thriller, he’s making a spy thriller with a low budget. He’s not… chintzing.

So after the first Carano action sequence, the film gets into flashback and explains Barcelona and Dublin, which keep coming up in dialogue. They seem less destinations for major spy intrigue and more stops on a tour group’s European vacation. Nicely, both sequences really pay off. They live up to the hype, even if the hype was really nonspecific so Dobbs and Soderbergh could up the mysteriousness.

Then it’s the flashback catching up to present and the film resolving. Ninety-three minutes of not entirely lean–though subplot-free–narrative. Carano works her way through various other spies and government officials. They’re sort of in glorified cameos, but it never feels like it. The magic of the pacing. Bill Paxton, for example, is in a cameo role. He’s in two scenes. One on the phone. But Dobbs and Soderbergh pace it where Paxton feels like an active supporting player. It’s impressive to see executed. Paxton’s fine–it’s a cameo, he’s got nothing to do–but the feat is how the filmmakers pull it off.

Paxton’s Carano’s dad. Ewan McGregor is her spies for hire boss, Tatum is a fellow spy for hire, Michael Fassbender is a fellow (but British) spy for hire. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas as government guys who hire spies for hire. Anthony Brandon Wong and Mathieu Kassovitz are the guys the spies for hire go after. No one trusts anyone else. Something Dobbs and Soderbergh take their time addressing, which shifts the film from spy action to spy thriller, both for the film itself and Carano’s understanding of her situation.

So Carano.

As dubbed by Laura San Giacomo.

Yes, really.

Physically she’s great. The stunts, the fighting. It’s all nearly silent–trained killers don’t exchange banter in the seedy international spy ring underbelly of Dublin–so it’s just the fight, just the choreographer, just Carano and the actors and the stunt fighters. The fights are excellent. Soderbergh’s editing and photography, the fighters, Carano–great.

Carano dramatically? She’s really likable. Sympathetic. But the performance is hinky; the dubbing explains it. Carano’s dialogue is already terse so San Giacomo doesn’t really build a character. And the comedy moments are a little off. But it’s fine. Carano does well. The physicality of her performance is spot on. Soderbergh builds the movie–tone-wise–around her action sequences. The chase in middle flashback informs how something in the first act present was done. Exquisite. Always exquisite.

The cameos are all good. Bandares and Douglas have the most fun, though different kinds of fun. Tatum’s good. McGregor’s good. Fassbender’s more just effective. He’s a glorified cameo too. The movie’s Carano, Tatum, and McGregor.

Under pseudonym, Soderbergh also shot and edited Haywire. Technically it’s great. There’s great editing, there’s great photography, seperate sometimes, together sometimes. He does some excellent work in Haywire. With Holmes’s music an essential support. Holmes gets to foreshadow the slight change in tone for Haywire; how the filmmaking, narrative, and music shift gears–the music goes first.

There’s a lot of awesome to Haywire. It’s just an action movie on a budget with a problematic lead performance. The film does well not drawing attention–or even acknowledging–its constraints. But they’re there nonetheless.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, and directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; music by David Holmes; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Gregory Jacobs; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Gina Carano (Mallory Kane), Ewan McGregor (Kenneth), Channing Tatum (Aaron), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Douglas (Alex Coblenz), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), Anthony Brandon Wong (Jiang), Mathieu Kassovitz (Studer), and Bill Paxton (John Kane).


Puss in Boots (2011, Chris Miller)

CG animation has, much to my surprise, gotten to the point of disquieting reality. In Puss in Boots, Zach Galifianakis’s Humpty Dumpty has such real facial expressions, it makes the entire experience uncomfortable. The face, on the alien form, is too real.

Galifianakis is Puss’s weakest casting choice. In fact, he might be the only weak casting choice. He doesn’t bring any, you know, acting to the part. He’s reading lines, maybe exaggerating his tone occasionally, but he’s not acting. Everyone else is good. Except Amy Sedaris, for the same reason.

Antonio Banderas is great—but Puss is kind of perfect… it’s a cat as Zorro. Who better to do the performance than Zorro? Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, both are strong.

The film’s constantly delightful, which seems to be everyone’s goal, so picking at it doesn’t seem fruitful. But it would also be difficult.

My biggest gripe, besides the two weak performances (which aren’t bad, just not up to the film’s standard), has to do with scale. When the cast goes from the spaghetti Western setting to fairy tale setting, the two cats and the giant egg-man aren’t around any recognizable size landmarks. In fact, they’re in a giant’s castle… so the scale gets disconcerting.

But it’s a very small gripe. Puss holds it together for a difficult finish too.

By not failing the narrative, director Miller succeeds. Though the lead and the amazing CG help.

Puss in Boots is a very charming, just smart enough amusement.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Miller; screenplay by Tom Wheeler, based on a story by Brian Lynch, Will Davies and Wheeler and a character created by Charles Perrault; edited by Eric Dapkewicz; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Guillaume Aretos; produced by Joe M. Aguilar and Latifa Ouaou; released by Dreamworks Animation.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws), Zach Galifianakis (Humpty Alexander Dumpty), Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Amy Sedaris (Jill), Constance Marie (Imelda) and Guillermo del Toro (Comandate).


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010, Woody Allen)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is an unexpected surprise. Allen mixes a very black comedy with this light, almost absurd relationship comedy. But he never goes too dark.

I’m trying to think of a example but will undoubtedly fail to explain. Anthony Hopkins marries his call girl, played by Lucy Punch. Funny situation. This marriage ruins Hopkins. It’s not quite a “just desserts” situation because Hopkins isn’t a terrible guy. No one, with one exception, really gets a deserved comeuppance. Instead, they just navigate these incredibly frustrating, dumb situations they’ve put themselves in….

Allen almost loses it all at the end–he’s using narration (from Zak Orth, who does a fine job) and it doesn’t feel quite right–but then he saves it. This save is immediately following another scene where he could have perfectly ended the film. But the save is better.

Every single performance in Stranger is outstanding, but Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin can do these types of roles. It’s Antonio Banderas who really surprised me. He’s this perfect Woody Allen leading man (even though he’s in a supporting role here). Seeing him bluster and think and speechless… it’s just fantastic.

Gemma Jones is the other principal cast member (she’s Hopkins’s ex-wife, they’re Watts’s parents, she’s married to Brolin). Allen treats her comically, until he establishes it’s her world and everyone else is living in it.

There’s some nice minor performances from Pauline Collins and Philip Glenister.

I expected something decent, but Stranger‘s great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Jaume Roures; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Josh Brolin (Roy), Naomi Watts (Sally), Gemma Jones (Helena), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie), Lucy Punch (Charmaine), Antonio Banderas (Greg), Freida Pinto (Dia), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Jonathan), Pauline Collins (Cristal), Anna Friel (Iris), Ewen Bremner (Henry Strangler) and Zak Orth (Narrator).


The Mask of Zorro (1998, Martin Campbell)

The last time I saw Zorro (which would have also been the first time), it didn’t impress me much. I don’t remember hating it, but I do remember disliking it. This time through, however, I find myself mellowed. It’s an enjoyable adventure picture, the kind Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. The amount of Zorro swashbuckling alone is more physical action than I’ve seen in years in recent action movie.

Before I forget, I have to mention the ending. Spielberg is credited as an executive producer and it is an Amblin production, so I assume he was aware of the Temple of Doom similarities–down to the James Horner score, which goes out of its way to sound like John Williams.

The film gets by on a few principles. First and foremost, it’s amusing to watch Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. While Banderas is charming enough, it’s not really an acting job. He’s never good and he doesn’t have an honest moment until the epilogue. Hopkins on the other hand… Zorro is one of his better performances. The script doesn’t allow for his usual hamming. He does get it in a few scenes, but considering he’s wearing about nine pounds of makeup, it’s not like one is taking him seriously anyway.

Stuart Wilson is fantastic as the villain. Catherine Zeta Jones, similar to Banderas, skates by on a certain charm… but she doesn’t get that epilogue reprieve.

Campbell’s direction is good without being exemplar; he makes Zorro a rather fun two hours.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by John Eskow, Ted Elliot and Terry Russo, based on a story by Elliot, Russo and Randall Jahnson and on the character created by Johnston McCulley; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Thom Noble; music by James Horner; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Doug Claybourne and David Foster; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Alejandro Murrieta), Anthony Hopkins (Don Diego de la Vega), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Elena Montero), Stuart Wilson (Don Rafael Montero), Matt Letscher (Capt. Harrison Love), Tony Amendola (Don Luiz), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Don Pedro), William Marquez (Fray Felipe), José Pérez (Cpl. Armando Garcia), Victor Rivers (Joaquín Murrieta) and L.Q. Jones (Three-Fingered Jack).


Desperado (1995, Robert Rodriguez)

Between Joaquim de Almeida and Carlos Gómez, it certainly appears Robert Rodriguez likes good actors. He even gets a great performance from Cheech Marin, but I suppose Marin didn’t need much direction.

So with those three good performances and two good actors–de Almeida even does well with Rodriguez’s atrocious dialogue, something not even Steve Buscemi can do–it makes one wonder what Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are doing in Desperado.

Banderas’s casting I can understand, he was a star on the rise at the time, but Rodriguez discovered Hayek and has been subjecting the world to her terrible acting ever since. Banderas is awful, comically strutting along like a supermodel acting butch, but Hayek is much, much worse. Banderas has three honest moments. Hayek doesn’t even blink honestly.

Hayek doesn’t show up until almost halfway in, so the first half is a lot better than the rest, even if Quentin Tarantino shows up for a terrible cameo. I was a big El Mariachi fan back before Desperado came out, but after seeing this one in the theater, I don’t think I’ve seen either.

Maybe if the only problem was the writing, it’d be more palatable, but Rodriguez is a rather mediocre action director here. The shoot-outs bore–Banderas isn’t some unstoppable killing machine, his opponents are just slow, stupid and overweight. His successes are always based on luck.

The last half takes forever, about thirty events a minute. If you like lame melodrama, it must be lovely.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Robert Rodriguez; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; music by Los Lobos; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Rodriguez and Bill Borden; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steve Buscemi (Buscemi), Carlos Gómez (Right Hand), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-Up Guy) and Danny Trejo (Navajas).


Thick as Thieves (2009, Mimi Leder)

Maybe ten years ago, Thick as Thieves wouldn’t be a direct-to-DVD release (it’s actually a hit, which is kind of scary). Ten years ago, Mimi Leder hadn’t bombed out with Pay It Forward, Antonio Banderas movies–most of them–were still opening in theaters. Morgan Freeman usually gets even a limited release out of his more vanity projects.

But Thick as Thieves (or The Code, the also inexplicable title for DVD) isn’t a vanity project. It’s an attempt at a heist movie with a couple film personalities in it, putting it in the same sub-genre as films like Desperate Measures and, I don’t know, something else with Andy Garcia in it after it was clear he wasn’t going to break through.

Leder’s a terrible director. She was always bad–her positive buzz was based entirely, as I recall, on her “ER” experience–but now she does fast-forwarded shots and all sorts of other malarky for a movie with seventy-two year-old Freeman and forty-nine year-old Banderas. The film doesn’t acknowledge their ages, but since one is supposed to watch it with them in mind as actors not characters, it’s inevitable.

The script’s dumb. Ted Humphrey’s script’s desperate for flavor and has none.

The acting’s fine. Freeman is solid (is he ever bad? I didn’t see those Ashley Judd movies), Banderas is fine. Radha Mitchell is okay. Rade Serbedzija and Robert Forster both pretend they’re in a real movie.

Still, an inoffensive time killer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mimi Leder; written by Ted Humphrey; director of photography, Julio Macat; edited by Martin Nicholson; music by Atli Örvarsson; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Johnny Martin, Lori McCreary and Les Weldon; released by First Look International.

Starring Morgan Freeman (Keith Ripley), Antonio Banderas (Gabriel Martin), Radha Mitchell (Alexandra Korolenko), Robert Forster (Weber) and Rade Serbedzija (Nicky).


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