Catherine Zeta-Jones

The Phantom (1996, Simon Wincer)

The Phantom has three distinct visual spaces, more or less corresponding to the three acts. First act is in the remote jungle, second act is modern age–New York City–third act is evil villain pirate stronghold. Underground evil villain pirate stronghold. The last half hour of the movie is the cast running around a “slightly better than dinner theatre” pirate set, not a great way to go out.

Because The Phantom does have some excellent actions sequences, usually involving horses, sometimes involving wolves and horses communicating. The Phantom works best when it’s just going with the absurdity. Director Wincer has no sense of humor, which explains James Remar’s performance, but also very little sense with his actors, which explains Kristy Swanson’s. Wincer just wants to do the action, everything else is treading water.

So there are a couple fine action sequences, nicely cut by editors O. Nicholas Brown and Bryan H. Carroll, who don’t really impress at all otherwise. They improve–the first act has some jagged cuts–but they don’t impress other than the two horse sequences.

After the second horse sequence, when it seems like there might not be anything to match in absurdity, Treat Williams finally just becomes utterly consumable by the material and transfixes. Even when the film can’t keep up–either in terms of Wincer or just the special effects budget–Williams just barrels on. He gets The Phantom to the third act; the film then ingloriously dumps him until the last fight.

The terrible last fight on an underground pirate ship. It looks like a theme restaurant. Paul Peters’s production design is always a little questionable in the jungle sequence, but it’s supposed to be too much. The pirate ship isn’t too much, it’s way too little. The New York stuff is all interesting and sometimes successful. The budget gets in the way, but Peters and Wincer try to work it.

The music doesn’t help. Let’s just get the music out of the way. David Newman’s score is shockingly tepid. There’s no more lukewarm music for a dressed-in-purple bodysuit thirties adventurer picture than Newman’s score. It’s not even exciting enough for a movie trailer.

The film does have a good “star” in Billy Zane. Wincer doesn’t really want to use him–The Phantom is the star of the movie. It’s a bad move, hiding what an asset Zane’s likability is going to be, particularly since the only initial time Zane gets out of mask is bickering with ghost dad Patrick McGoohan. But after it becomes clear Swanson is a wash–and before Williams steps up–Zane’s strange, sweet, goof makes it all work. It does start when he’s in costume, however; he flirts with Swanson after rescuing her. Swanson doesn’t give much back, but Zane’s showing off, trying to hold The Phantom together. He’s the hero of the movie not just because of the purple tights.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is great as one of Williams’s cronies. It ends up being a better part than Swanson’s would-be adventurer, partially because Swanson doesn’t have the skills or enthusiasm, but also because Swanson’s part sucks. She starts out playing second-fiddle to crusading newspaper uncle Bill Smitrovich and annoying admirer Jon Tenney. And Smitrovich is badly presented–the script, the direction–but Tenney’s almost all right. He’s cloying but he’s trying hard. Swanson doesn’t take advantage of any of it and Wincer’s not paying attention. He’s not doing thirties screwball, he’s doing thirties serial.

McGoohan’s annoying, but it might not be his fault. Regardless, he’s entirely miscast. John Capodice is good though. Casey Siemaszko’s not. David Proval’s almost good half the time; script gets him good in the end.

The Phantom is a competently executed, poorly conceived mess of a motion picture. Though Williams, Zeta-Jones, and Zane certainly deserve some kudos.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Simon Wincer; screenplay by Jeffrey Boam, based on the comic strip by Lee Falk; director of photography, David Burr; edited by O. Nicholas Brown and Bryan H. Carroll; music by David Newman; production designer, Paul Peters; produced by Robert Evans and Alan Ladd Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Billy Zane (The Phantom), Kristy Swanson (Diana Palmer), Treat Williams (Xander Drax), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Sala), James Remar (Quill), Jon Tenney (Jimmy Wells), Robert Coleby (Capt. Philip Horton), David Proval (Charlie), Bill Smitrovich (Uncle Dave Palmer), Patrick McGoohan (Phantom’s Dad), and John Capodice (Al the Cabby).


Red 2 (2013, Dean Parisot)

Red 2 is a lot of fun. It’s so much fun, in fact, most of its problems are never obvious during the actual film, only on later reflection.

The film opens quickly–Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker going shopping seems to be very fast, but turns out to be one of the slowest sections of the movie–and never stops. Towards the finish, the film hits a lot of unexpected twists and every pause eventually becomes suspect. Director Parisot and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber are stunningly confident in the film, its script and primarily its cast.

Red 2 wouldn’t work without two components… its female actors, Helen Mirren and Parker. Even though the cast is respectable, Mirren makes the thing regal. And Parker brings humanity to the film, which often plays its sexagenarian ultra-violence for laughs. They’re the glue of the film.

Parisot and the Hoeber brothers actually trust the viewer quite a bit throughout. John Malkovich and Willis have a lot of friendship establishing scenes at the front, then less and less as the picture moves on. But the later scenes rely on the viewer’s recall.

Malkovich is utterly fantastic. His background ticks alone make the film worth seeing.

Willis’s role is easy and he’s good; he and Parker have a lovely chemistry.

Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones are adequate as far as the cast additions; Lee Byung-hun is the strongest.

Red 2 has some not insignificant problems, but it’s a definite, assured success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Dean Parisot; screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on characters created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis (Frank), John Malkovich (Marvin), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Anthony Hopkins (Bailey), Lee Byung-hun (Han Cho Bai), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Katja), Neal McDonough (Jack Horton), David Thewlis (The Frog), Garrick Hagon (Davis), Tim Pigott-Smith (Director Philips) and Brian Cox (Ivan).


Rock of Ages (2012, Adam Shankman)

Rock of Ages is middling. With a better script and better lead actors, it would likely be much improved. Female lead Julianne Hough gives an okay performance, but her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Male lead Diego Boneta can sing, he just can’t act. Their romance, the ostensible central story of Ages, is annoying.

The film’s salient feature is Tom Cruise. Playing a has-been rock star who finds a little redemption, Cruise is fantastic. He finds the humor of the persona, but also the humanity behind it. Once he shows up, Ages becomes about waiting for him to show up again.

The film also tracks the story of club owner Alec Baldwin and his Friday, Russell Brand. The script writes them a bunch of bad jokes, but they still succeed. They’re clearly having a lot of fun.

Also having fun is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, out to shut Baldwin down. She does a great job; even though her character’s intentionally unlikable (Ages probably won’t play well in Oklahoma, for instance), she’s a delight.

As Cruise’s agent, Paul Giamatti is good, but he’s not trying very hard. He lets his fake ponytail do the heavy lifting. Malin Akerman manages to be lifeless, but not bad. The only other bad performance is Mary J. Blige; her singing’s great though.

Director Shankman does all right. Emma E. Hickox’s editing is lousy, which doesn’t help things.

Ages is often a lot of fun. The great Cruise performance helps.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Shankman; screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, based on the musical book by D’Arienzo; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Emma E. Hickox; music by Adam Anders and Peer Åström; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant, Carl Levin, Tobey Maguire, Scott Prisand, Shankman and Matt Weaver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Julianne Hough (Sherrie Christian), Diego Boneta (Drew Boley), Russell Brand (Lonny), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree), Paul Giamatti (Paul Gill), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Patricia Whitmore), Bryan Cranston (Mike Whitmore), Malin Akerman (Constance Sack), Mary J. Blige (Justice Charlier) and Tom Cruise (Stacee Jaxx).


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).


Ocean’s Twelve (2004, Steven Soderbergh)

The amusement factor. Does that term even make any sense? Ocean’s Twelve is, in case anyone watching it was confused (which I find hard to believe, but of the principals, only George Clooney makes exclusively smart movies so Brad Pitt and Matt Damon fans are suspect), about enjoying itself. It throws itself a party no less. If a person doesn’t like having a good time, they aren’t going to like Ocean’s Twelve (and I’ve heard from plenty of people who don’t), because it’s all about having a good time. Nothing else. There’s other stuff in it–Steven Soderbergh treats the whole thing as an in-joke. From the editing, the music, the photography, there’s a lot of reference to European films (well, French and Italian, no one references many British films) of the 1950s and 1960s. And Ocean’s Twelve is very in-jokey. Almost everyone beyond the principals (and then, even some of them) come straight from other Soderbergh films. While the first film was a real movie–with a real narrative–this one eschews all that nonsense to give the viewer two entertaining hours.

What’s most exciting about a Soderbergh film is seeing what he’s learned since last time. For instance, Ocean’s Twelve is directly informed by his work on Full Frontal. The stuff Soderbergh does in this film–this Hollywood blockbuster–is unbelievable. Trying to imagine a theater-full of people watching this film might have given me more pleasure than it should have. Half the technical aspects of it are Soderbergh mocking the movie-going audience. He’s not slowly introducing people to new ideas or giving them an opportunity to discover foreign-language films they might not have seen. He’s making fun, but he’s also having fun and, as a result, many of the performances in Ocean’s Twelve are among its cast’s best. I’m thinking primarily of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who always takes herself (as a superstar-in-the-making) so seriously to middling effect; she’s fantastic in this film. She and Brad Pitt ought to do about six more movies together. Pitt, in his comedic mode, is so obviously good I wasn’t even going to mention him. Pitt should only do comedies. Matt Damon, however, has a lot to do in Twelve–definitely more than George Clooney, who disappears for a large portion of the film–and Damon’s good. I barely remember him from the first one and while the rest of the cast play outlandish enough characters they establish themselves immediately, Damon actually has to do some work… and he does an excellent job.

I quickly queued Ocean’s Twelve after a friend said he couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, in that hushed, “You haven’t seen Paths of Glory?” tone, but then he went on to explain it was just such a wonderful experience to watch the film. I didn’t just feel bad when it was over, I felt bad when I was twenty-two minutes in and I realized I only had another hundred minutes to go. It’s a delight.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by George Nolfi; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Vincent Cassel (François Toulour), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Shaobo Qin (Yen) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


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