Diane Venora

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).


Wolfen (1981, Michael Wadleigh)

Even with Albert Finney’s hair style, which seems to be inspired by a drag queen who just doesn’t care, Wolfen is a beautifully made film. The big action sequence at the end (the film’s genre progresses from police procedural to horror to thriller–Finney’s investigation leads the way) is a fantastic sequence. I’d actually forgotten it was in the film; I haven’t seen it in ten years.

Wadleigh hasn’t directed anything else since Wolfen and it’s too bad. The film falls apart at the end when the “truth” is revealed in an obnoxious expositional scene instead of action (it’d be hard for it to be shown in action, since it’s a “the world is a lie” truth, but they needed something better), but he’s still a great director. He somehow makes the Panavision essential, something I questioned from the start. His instincts are solid and he even overcomes the assault rifle scene.

Okay, no, he doesn’t overcome the assault rifle scene, but he certainly exhibits enough talent it would have been possible for him to overcome it.

Wolfen‘s a small picture, not a lot of actors. There are the primaries, maybe three supporting, and then no more. There’s no awesome scene where Finney goes to pick up the assault rifles, to give one to his sidekick, coroner Hines.

Finney’s performance is problematic. He’s phoning it in, but with some of the script, there’s nothing else he could do.

Hines, Diane Venora and Dick O’Neill are good in this disappointing picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Wadleigh; screen story and screenplay by David Eyre and Wadleigh, based on the novel by Whitley Strieber; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Marshall M. Borden, Martin J. Bram, Dennis Dolan and Chris Lebenzon; music by James Horner; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Rupert Hitzig; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Albert Finney (Dewey Wilson), Diane Venora (Rebecca Neff), Edward James Olmos (Eddie Holt), Gregory Hines (Whittington), Tom Noonan (Ferguson), Dick O’Neill (Warren), Dehl Berti (Old Indian), Peter Michael Goetz (Ross) and Sam Gray as the mayor.


F/X (1986, Robert Mandel)

About ten minutes in to F/X, I got wondering how the film was going to deal with being a special effects-filled film about a guy doing special effects for films. I suppose they didn’t have to deal with that relationship, but it kept seeming more and more like they were going to need to address it. Then, at the end, rather simply, they did. It’s a quick “thank you” at the end of the film to the audience. Movies tend not to do the ending “thank you” anymore (Ocean’s Twelve coming the closest in recent memory) because it’s an acknowledgment of the film’s unreality… it probably has a lot to do with films being more centered towards the eventual home video market as opposed to the theatrical experience. An ending “thank you” for watching is definitely a theatrical consideration (I mean, doesn’t Predator even thank its audience?).

Anyway, the ending brings F/X up a little bit, because the film’s a narrative mess (it also has the most obvious stuntmen I can remember seeing in a long time). It has a solid opening, great first twenty minutes, maybe even twenty-five, then the narrative splits between Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy. Brown goes from being the protagonist to the subject for half his scenes and the others are action scenes–and good action scenes–so he’s sort of lost. The Dennehy arc is great stuff (though incredibly unrealistic), with Joe Grifasi as his sidekick.

The film’s really well-paced, given all those narrative difficulties, and it’s a constant pleasure to watch. The experience stems from three things, audio and visual. First, Robert Mandel is a good director. He knows how to frame a shot, he knows how to have it lighted and he knows how to have scenes put together (Terry Rawlings’s editing has some outstanding moments–there’s also some scenes where it appears he cut too early, like the dialogue was interrupted for running time, but then I realized it was a stylistic choice and a fine one). F/X looks great from that department, but also because it’s an on location New York movie. Lots of great stuff to show off why New York is the best city to shoot a movie in. Third, and probably most important tying together points one and two: Bill Conti’s score. From the opening credits, Conti establishes his importance to the film and he keeps it up throughout. Conti’s filmography is spotty in terms of film quality, but he does amazing work here.

While Brown is good as the lead, his character–after the story’s moving–rarely has any time to reflect on what’s happened. It’s a little off-putting, but F/X actually has some wonderful subtle moments to take care of those deficiencies. Dennehy’s great. Brian Dennehy could sell real estate on Jupiter and make it believable. Supporting wise… Grifasi’s okay, Cliff De Young’s real good–particularly in the first twenty minutes, which appear to have had tighter revisions–Jerry Orbach’s funny, Jossie DeGuzman’s scenes are all good… The real acting champ, besides Dennehy, is Diane Venora. Her role’s relatively small, but she’s fantastic.

However long the laundry list of problems, F/X is still a fine diversion. And an exceptionally effective one, thanks to the fine production values.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mandel; written by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman; director of photography, Miroslav Ondricek; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Bill Conti; produced by Dodi Fayed and Jack Wiener; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Bryan Brown (Rollie Tyler), Brian Dennehy (Leo McCarthy), Diane Venora (Ellen), Cliff De Young (Lipton), Mason Adams (Col. Mason), Jerry Orbach (Nicholas DeFranco), Joe Grifasi (Mickey), Martha Gehman (Andy), Roscoe Orman (Capt. Wallenger), Trey Wilson (Lt. Murdoch), Tom Noonan (Varrick), Paul D’Amato (Gallagher) and Jossie DeGuzman (Marisa Velez).


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