Craig Bierko

The Thirteenth Floor (1999, Josef Rusnak)

It’d be hard to call The Thirteenth Floor a missed opportunity because that statement suggests there was some promise to it. There’s no promise anywhere near Thirteenth Floor. But it does have some gorgeous set decoration and, presumably, production design from Kirk M. Petruccelli. The presumably qualifier because even though Petruccelli does excellent work on the 1930s and 1990s (the present day has some of the same art deco themes), there’s terrible second unit stuff of modern day L.A. and it just breaks the tone. If that decision was Petruccelli’s and not director Rusnak’s, it’s on him. It’s terrible and breaks the visual tone of the film every time there’s an establishing shot of the city. There’s nothing to enjoy in the film, save the occasionally interesting bit of design. Even if Rusnak and cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff usually screw it up.

The film’s got a lousy script–real, real lousy–by director Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez. Rusnak can’t direct the actors either. They’re all bad, though Vincent D’Onofrio does betray having some ability at one point or another. No one else does. Not even poor Dennis Haysbert, who I was hoping would be a surprisingly great performance. He’s not; he’s really bad, just like most everyone else. Craig Bierko’s the lead. He’s awful. Gretchen Mol’s his love interest. She’s just bad, not awful. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a little better than Mol, only because the plotting. It’s bad plotting, but it still sames Mueller-Stahl some face. No one else gets anywhere near as lucky.

It’s a dumb movie with dumb ideas in a bad script. It’s a poorly acted, poorly directed dumb movie. Any competency is rare–basically just the score’s not bad. If it were a different movie, Harald Kloser would be doing a perfectly acceptable score. It just can’t do what Floor needs its score to do, which is cover plot holes or performance holes. Worse, Kloser seems to get it–only he can improve the film’s quality; it’s impossible. Rusnak is just too bad at his job of directing this film. The Thirteenth Floor is terrible.



Directed by Josef Rusnak; screenplay by Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez, based on a novel by Daniel F. Galouye; director of photography, Wedigo von Schultzendorff; edited by Henry Richardson; music by Harald Kloser; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich and Marco Weber; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Craig Bierko (Douglas Hall), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Hannon Fuller), Gretchen Mol (Jane Fuller), Vincent D’Onofrio (Jason Whitney), Dennis Haysbert (Detective Larry McBain), Steven Schub (Detective Zev Bernstein) and Jeremy Roberts (Tom Jones).

Sour Grapes (1998, Larry David)

Sour Grapes has its moments, unfortunately all the funny ones belong to Orlando Jones. Jones is one of the peripheral characters, maybe the only successful peripheral character in the film actually. As a precursor to David’s far more successful “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Grapes shows how necessary a proper delivery method is for David’s humor. Here, with Steven Weber and Craig Bierko both essentially playing variations on the David genial misanthrope–Weber to a lesser degree, but Bierko is playing George Costanza–it’s clear something isn’t working. (Weber’s excellent. He should do more movies).

What David doesn’t have in Grapes is any grounding in reality. The only person with any semblance of grounding is Bierko’s wife, played by Robyn Peterman, and she disappears for long stretches of the running time. The film only runs ninety minutes, which just furthers the feeling it’s an elongated sitcom.

Oddly, had David really stretched it out, maybe turned it into a spoof of a mini-series, Grapes would have been a far greater success. While he introduces these characters with great humor potential, they never have time to do anything. Karen Sillas, for example, shows signs of giving a good performance, but her character is never interesting. She’s not developed enough to be funny.

A lot could have been resolved with a stronger director. David’s composition is adequate, but he doesn’t bring any ingenuity to it. Grapes‘s narrative structure is more like an early thirties comedy than anything modern–the morality play for laughs–and he can’t properly present it.



Written and directed by Larry David; director of photography, Victor Hammer; edited by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; production designer, Charles Rosen; produced by Laurie Lennard; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Steven Weber (Evan Maxwell), Craig Bierko (Richie Maxwell), Viola Harris (Selma Maxwell), Karen Sillas (Joan), Robyn Peterman (Roberta), Matt Keeslar (Danny Pepper), Jennifer Leigh Warren (Millie), Orlando Jones (Digby), John Toles-Bey (Lee), Deidre Lovejoy (Nurse Wells), Richard Gant (Det. Crouch), Philip Baker Hall (Mr. Bell) and Kristin Davis (Riggs).

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