Gabriel Byrne

Ghost Ship (2002, Steve Beck)

I am going to set a goal for myself with this post about Ghost Ship; I’m going to try to make it entertaining, which is going to be a challenge because there’s nothing entertaining about Ghost Ship. It’s badly directed and badly written. The actors are bad. They’re good actors and okay actors and mediocre actors but none of them are good, okay, or mediocre in the movie. They’re all varying degrees of bad. Some are embarrassed (Gabriel Byrne), some should be embarrassed and aren’t (Desmond Harrington), some aren’t embarrassed but also aren’t any better for it (Ron Eldard and Karl Urban), some are completely flat (Julianna Margulies), and some literally have to embarrass themselves as part of the movie, in character (Isaiah Washington and Alex Dimitriades, though Dimitriades is bad and Washington is… not always bad).

Now, at the time Ghost Ship came out before many of the cast had their greatest career successes. 2002… Byrne had peaked and maybe Eldard had too, but everyone else (not Dimitriades) had some high profile TV and film work in their near futures. Margulies had “Good Wife,” Urban had Star Trek, Washington had “Grey’s Anatomy,” Harrington had… getting another job after being so godawful in this movie. And “Dexter” and whatever. You know Ghost Ship is going to be bad in some strange way because no one’s ever talking about it, despite it having eventually successful stars. No one talks about it because it’s unspectacularly crappy. The opening’s almost good, but then quickly goes to pot because after implying the movie’s going to have a sense of humor it turns out it won’t. But real quick. Like, before we get to the present day from the Italian ocean liner in the opening sequence.

Present day is the above-mentioned cast members. Besides some ghosts, they’re it for the cast. Ghost Ship tries to be economical but it’s bad at it. Because it’s not just bad dialogue in the film, it’s the structure of the conversations. The writers don’t have an ear for dialogue in general, much less what the actors bring to it. Though the latter is more director Beck’s fault, but it’s hard to blame him because he’s so obviously incompetent it’s not his fault. No one should’ve let him drive this… car; it was irresponsible of producers Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilbert Adler and the studio to allow this movie to happen with Beck. Whatever happened, they had it coming.

Because nothing in Ghost Ship works even though nothing’s exceptionally incompetent. Not even the CGI is incompetent. It’s not good, but it’d be a lot better if the shot composition didn’t suck. There’s no aspect of direction Beck’s good at or passing at or not offensive at; he does a real bad job. The whole movie I was waiting for one decent close-up shot of a character, any character, anyone—Beck can’t do it. He just can’t figure it out; he’s not responsible for his actions. His numerous failings as a director are often unrelated to the movie’s problems at any given time. Beck’s incompetencies don’t interact with the script’s incompetencies. There are these two tracks of bad without crossover. Ghost Ship’s greatest success is in showing how various types of badness—writing, directing, casting—don’t necessarily need to interact with one another outside coexisting.

Some of Ghost Ship is see-it-to-believe-it mundane bad. The soundtrack is quite bad, though John Frizzell’s score is one of the least unsuccessful things in the film. The songs they play are bad and poorly cut into the film. Crew-wise Gale Tattersall is a perfectly competent cinematographer, but Roger Barton’s editing is pretty janky stuff. Ghost Ship ought to move better, visually. Beck’s the big problem, Barton’s one of the smaller ones.

The end seems like it was meant to be a little more pompous in its grandiosity—grandiosity with not good CGI—but no matter how the effect would play, it’d still be on the end of Beck’s visually disinteresting movie. Would Beck being good at integrating visual effects improve the movie? No. Nothing would.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Beck; screenplay by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue, based on a story by Hanlon; director of photography, Gale Tattersall; edited by Roger Barton; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Gilbert Adler, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Murphy), Julianna Margulies (Epps), Ron Eldard (Dodge), Desmond Harrington (Ferriman), Isaiah Washington (Greer), Alex Dimitriades (Santos), Karl Urban (Munder), and Emily Browning (Katie Harwood).


Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel Coen)

A lot of Miller’s Crossing is left unsaid. Between the hard boiled dialogue disguising character motivations and the lengthy shots of Gabriel Byrne silently reflecting, the Coen Brothers invite examination and rumination. They invite it a little too much.

The film’s a perfect object, whether it’s how the opening titles figure into revealing conversation and to the finish or how the frequent fades to black control the viewer’s consumption of the film. All of the performances are outstanding. Every single moment is supports the whole.

So what’s wrong with it? Too much control. Even the craziness–the film examines violence and the men who perform it–is choreographed. It’s an amazing example of filmmaking, but it’s all surface. All of the layers in Miller’s are baked in, not organic. The story’s too tight. A couple cameos in the second half, along with nods to other Coen pictures, offer some calculated relief.

It’s actually kind of stagy.

There’s also a vague homophobic quality… the closeted (it’s the thirties) gay guys are all misogynist psychopaths to one degree or another.

But it’s a beautifully made, beautifully acted film. Byrne’s great in the lead, Marcia Gay Harden is excellent as the girl who comes between him and friend Albert Finney. Finney gives the film’s boldest performance, having to play a dim tough guy.

Jon Polito’s awesome, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro–like I said before, it’s perfect. It’s confident, it’s thorough.

It just doesn’t add up to as much as if it were messy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Tom Reagan), Marcia Gay Harden (Verna), John Turturro (Bernie Bernbaum), Jon Polito (Johnny Caspar), J.E. Freeman (Eddie Dane), Albert Finney (Leo), Mike Starr (Frankie), Al Mancini (Tic-Tac), Richard Woods (Mayor Dale Levander), Thomas Toner (O’Doole) and Steve Buscemi (Mink).


The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

For almost fifty percent of its run time, every shot one of Michael Mann and Alex Thomson’s shots in The Keep is extraordinary. Mann’s seems more concerned with precise composition than he does narrative and Thomson’s photography perfectly complements it. So, while the film isn’t much good in its first half, at least it’s wondrous to watch.

Then there’s the second half, after Ian McKellen (as a sickly historian) and Alberta Watson (as his daughter) show up. Maybe The Keep is supposed to be a metaphor for Watson losing her virginity and abandonment and loss or something, but it’s not. It’s a complete mess and a soap opera between Watson and Scott Glenn (as a savior figure) doesn’t help simplify it. Worse, their romance–and McKellen’s decision to, as a Jew, to side with a demonic evil against the Nazis–confuses the things Mann’s able to do right in The Keep.

Except the German army is about all Mann does right. He’s ripping off Das Boot–with Jürgen Prochnow as the sympathetic Wehrmacht commander who doesn’t care for the Nazi stuff. It’s a decent enough rip-off and not uninteresting (Nazis versus demons). Gabriel Byrne shows up as the S.S. guy and bickers with Prochnow before they both disappear so Mann can focus on McKellen.

Prochnow’s okay, Byrne’s great, McKellen’s awful, Watson’s weak, Glenn’s unintentionally hilarious. Mann’s dialogue and plotting is terrible. There’s nothing good about the film except the special effects and Thomson’s photography.

At least it’s relatively short.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; produced by Gene Kirkwood and Hawk Koch; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Scott Glenn (Glaeken Trismegestus), Alberta Watson (Eva Cuza), Jürgen Prochnow (Captain Klaus Woermann), Robert Prosky (Father Mihail Fonescu), Gabriel Byrne (Major Kaempffer), William Morgan Sheppard (Alexandru) and Ian McKellen (Dr. Theodore Cuza).


Cool World (1992, Ralph Bakshi)

What does it say about a performance when the actor is better voicing a cartoon than giving a full performance? I think it says the actor’s performance is godawful, but I’m not sure that adjective is strong enough to describe Kim Basinger in Cool World.

And Cool World is not a film with good performances, so for Basinger to come out so far ahead (or is it behind?) the pack is true atrociousness. If it weren’t already terrible, she’d ruin it. She does. She makes a terrible movie even worse.

Second-billed Gabriel Byrne is pretty bad too. He has the benefit of having an awful character though. The screenplay only totally fails Basinger’s character once the cartoon vixen becomes real. Before that change, it’s up in the air–the real problem’s the handling of Byrne’s character though. He’s even supposed to be the protagonist, which is a laugh.

Brad Pitt’s more the protagonist than Byrne or Basinger and he’s fairly bad. He has occasional moments, but all the acting by himself established some bad habits. His finish in the movie is actually worse than anyone else’s.

There are some good performances, but they’re all voice ones–Candi Milo, Charles Adler and Maurice LaMarche are all good.

Bakshi’s direction is a mixed bag. His real world sequences are lousy. His cartoon ones are okay, though Cool World‘s way too cheap for its ambitions.

Mark Isham’s score is occasionally good.

It’s a truly lousy movie, with Basinger making it worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ralph Bakshi; written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Steve Mirkovich and Annamaria Szanto; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kim Basinger (Holli Would), Gabriel Byrne (Jack Deebs), Brad Pitt (Frank Harris), Charles Adler (Nails), Candi Milo (Lonette), Michele Abrams (Jennifer Malley) and Maurice LaMarche (Dr. Whiskers).


Stigmata (1999, Rupert Wainwright)

From the director of MC Hammer’s greatest hits. Seriously.

I wasn’t even going to open mocking Rupert Wainwright, but then I saw his filmography. Instead, I was going to open wondering how, with two people credited with the score (Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral), it could be so terrible. Not really, I knew when the titles rolled the Smashing Pumpkins guy wasn’t going to turn in a good score. It’s actually okay in a few parts, for about twenty seconds, but I assume it was the other guy, Cmiral.

One of the problems with Stigmata is knowing what to mock… first. There are easy targets–the script, which features dialogue exchanges plagiarized from the worst episodes of “One Life to Live,” the acting, where Nia Long and Jonathan Pryce go mano-a-mano for worst supporting actor, or the direction, Wainwright’s extreme close-ups and his three second shots.

I suppose I could start with Patricia Arquette. It isn’t her worst performance–but it’s one where I forgot she’s actually good. I mean, she did Bringing Out the Dead the same year. Maybe she just needs a good director. Or a good script. She’s only atrocious during some of the lamer dialogue exchanges with Gabriel Byrne and, well, all of her scenes with Long. But those scenes are so poorly written, no one could have pulled through on them.

As for Byrne, he maintains. It’s kind of amazing, given the circumstances, but Byrne’s scenes emphasize the movie’s two–relative–strongpoints. First, the conspiratorial Catholic Church (headed by the evil Pryce, who apparently doesn’t understand he’s incapable of chewing scenery) out to silence to truth–does the Catholic Church ever do anything else? I feel like I need to watch Heaven Help Us or something. Second, the quasi-romance between Byrne and Arquette is okay. Even though Byrne being attracted to goof-ball club junkie Arquette as about as believable as her playing a twenty-three year-old, there are a couple decent scenes involving it. It doesn’t involve the movie’s silliest elements, so Byrne handles it well enough for both of them.

I never did get around to discussing Nia Long. It’s an incredible performance. She’s absolutely incapable of making believe–I just realized she’s the only black person in the entire movie… in Pittsburgh… anyway–she’s playing Arquette’s best friend. That description sums up her entire character. At least she disappears from the plot once Byrne comes in (which doesn’t make any sense, Arquette’s best friend would just forget about her… but maybe it was magic).

There’s also an incredibly annoying soundtrack. I forgot about movies–even crappy low-budget MGM tripe from the late 1990s–tried to make money selling soundtracks. I guess they still do, but I see enough of those finely cross-promoted motion pictures. The use of the soundtrack is terrible. The songs are crap–MC Hammer would have been a better choice.

The real problem with Stigmata is the end. There’s no resolution to the story but worse, the whole thing is illogical. It requires extreme maliciousness from someone who doesn’t give any indication of being a bad person. It’s like a Care Bear suffocating a puppy. It’s ludicrous.

Oh, I suppose Rade Serbedzija was fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rupert Wainwright; written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage, based on a story by Lazarus; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Michael R. Miller and Michael J. Duthie; music by Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Patricia Arquette (Frankie Paige), Gabriel Byrne (Father Kiernan), Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal Houseman), Nia Long (Donna Chadway), Enrico Colantoni (Father Dario), Dick Latessa (Father Delmonico), Thomas Kopache (Father Durning), Ann Cusack (Dr. Reston), Portia de Rossi (Jennifer Kelliho), Patrick Muldoon (Steven) and Rade Serbedzija (Marion Petrocelli).


The Usual Suspects (1995, Bryan Singer)

Seeing as how The Usual Suspects popularized the major twist ending–that contrivance having now plagued American cinema for the last dozen years–it’s interesting to see it again. I haven’t seen the film in years (probably ten, at least nine), but I remember the last time I watched it, I thought about what was true and what probably wasn’t. Most twist ending (or late revelation and eureka moment endings)–it’s stunning how Shyamalan stole his standard part and parcel from Singer’s approach here–have clues, easter eggs, whatever. The Usual Suspects has a couple, but given the narrative’s layering, it’s impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t. So The Usual Suspects becomes the crash test dummy for whether a twist ending narrative can survive after countless viewings (well, not countless… I’m almost positive this viewing was my fourth).

And it can. At least, The Usual Suspects can.

There’s that beautiful combination of script and direction here, there’s Kevin Pollak’s jokes and Giancarlo Esposito’s hat. There’s the film’s roaming protagonist (Gabriel Bryne, Chazz Palminteri and Kevin Spacey all wear the hat). Singer’s composition is precise, each shot–in no small part due to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel–has a unpretentious gravitas. The Usual Suspects‘s greatest achievement is Singer’s direction. He makes the film interesting to watch no matter what the content may be, which is where the script becomes so important.

There are “clues” throughout the film as to the twist ending, but the clues are only for to spin the viewer’s wheels (there’s no truth in any of them), making the relationship between the film and the viewer analogous to the relationship between Spacey and Palminteri. Storyteller and listener. Taken on its own, The Usual Suspects would suggest the possibilities for films with twist endings, the freedoms they can have, their advantages over traditional narratives. Unfortunately, even with good films with twist endings, no one’s really had the same success (Singer certainly did not with his subsequent feature, Apt Pupil).

Christopher McQuarrie’s script, which is so lauded for putting in the clues, is far more successful in its successful use of narration on a modern film and dialogue. McQuarrie’s dialogue is at times both stylized and not, with the title softening the informed viewer to it. Actually, the thing about the title in relation to the film is Humphrey Bogart could have, at different points in his career, played every one of the five main characters.

The long-term effect of The Usual Suspects, besides kicking off the big twist ending (and the handling of the revelation) phenomenon, is the actors. While Stephen Baldwin never did anything good again (his fine performance here is nothing but a–willful–imitation of brother Alec) and Suspects is one of Gabriel Byrne’s finest hours in his hit and miss career, it did introduce popular audiences to Kevin Spacey and everyone to Benicio Del Toro. Spacey immediately took off while Del Toro had to make it through a some bad pictures. Spacey’s excellent, not yet even aware he’d someday have a best actor rote; his delivery of McQuarrie’s narration is what makes it work. He has the hardest job, because he has to sell the twist ending’s revelation throughout. He has to make it seem possible. Kevin Pollak turns in the second strongest performance (after Spacey).

The Usual Suspects is about to turn thirteen (a few days before I turn thirty) and, while I can lament how Singer went nowhere artistically (the possessive use of his credit in the titles is strangely spectacular), it’s not a film to be discounted or dismissed as fanboy fodder. There’s just too much cinematic substance.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Michael McDonnell and Singer; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Baldwin (McManus), Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton), Benicio Del Toro (Fenster), Kevin Pollak (Todd Hockney), Kevin Spacey (Verbal Kint), Chazz Palminteri (Dave Kujan, US Customs), Pete Postlethwaite (Kobayashi), Giancarlo Esposito (Jack Baer, FBI), Suzy Amis (Edie Finneran), Dan Hedaya (Sgt. Jeffrey Rabin), Paul Bartel (the smuggler) and Peter Greene (Redfoot).


Defence of the Realm (1985, David Drury)

Defence of the Realm starts–and spends about a half hour being–a British variation of the Hollywood newspaper reporter story. There’s the story and the reporter’s dilemma about his morality–there’s even the wise old mentor (Denholm Elliot) for the young reporter getting his first big break (Gabriel Byrne). It’s not particularly good, it’s not particularly bad. Never good enough to care about what’s happening, never bad enough to stop watching–even though Richard Harvey’s musical score has got to be one of the worst I’ve heard in recent memory.

Then it turns in to a British variation on the conspiracy thriller, which is problematic, because Gabriel Byrne’s reporter is the stupidest reporter on to a big case in the cinematic history. He knows he’s being watched, so he hides his notes in full view of the people watching him (checking before and after and seeing they’re watching) and is then upset when they’re gone.

I’m trying to remember what happens in between… bad investigative reporting and general stupidity mostly. It seemed less a film and more a bad TV movie–one trying to mimic more popular films (All the President’s Men) and failing. There’s one amazing scene hinging entirely on Byrne’s lack of hand-eye coordination. Second-billed Greta Scacchi (in essentially a cameo role) tries to help, but she too is unable to accurately control her limbs. It’s such a dumb sequence (precipitated by Bryne being a terrible reporter even), it’s marvelous to watch. There’s the pounding, synthesizer music and the stars trying desperately to manipulate their arms in simple motions.

As it nears conclusion, ripping off Murder by Decree, it almost just goes away painlessly… until the ludicrous ending montage, meant to lionize the free press. Amusingly, these heroes were previously shown as cruel, corrupt and generally unlikable.

The acting is questionable all around. Byrne isn’t particularly believable, Scacchi less. Denholm Elliot’s fine until the script turns against him. Roger Deakins shot the film, but it’s plain, like a TV movie… and director David Drury soon ended up in that industry. But the film could have survived all of the previous defects if it weren’t for writer Martin Stillman’s idiotic script, which just gets stupider and stupider as it goes along.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Drury; written by Martin Stellman; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Richard Harvey; production designer, Roger Murray-Leach; produced by Robin Douet and Lynda Myles; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Nick Mullen), Greta Scacchi (Nina Beckman), Denholm Elliott (Vernon Bayliss), Ian Bannen (Dennis Markham), Fulton Mackay (Victor Kingsbrook), Bill Paterson (Jack Macleod), David Calder (Harry Champion), Frederick Treves (Arnold Reece) and Robbie Coltrane (Leo McAskey).


The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)

Now here’s an interesting Stop Button pick. (It was the fiancée’s choice, actually). Most of what I know about Wallace’s 1998 adaptation. It knocked Titanic out of the top spot in the weekend box office… That’s it. And the preview was bad, playing up DiCaprio as… a bad guy?

The bad king and the good twin present a difficulty to turning the novel into a film (I have no idea what Dumas did, but I’ve only read The Three Musketeers and I was fifteen). The ideal, of course, would to do something similar to what Boyle did in World’s End. Wallace doesn’t do that, however. This film is also interesting because it’s from the writer of Braveheart, before he became the writer of Pearl Harbor. Oddly, for all the (undeserved) shit Pearl gets, no one ever points the finger at Wallace.

Watching Man in the Iron Mask, it’s obvious MGM didn’t do anything to it in light of DiCaprio’s Titanic success. He’s barely in the damn thing and he ranges from inoffensively bad to decent, or maybe I just got used to him as the film moved along. I cared about the character (the good twin, of course), which means he accomplished something.

But, really, besides the first and third acts, it’s all the Musketeers’ show. Played by Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu, one almost thinks Wallace intended it that way (given that DiCaprio’s most commercial venture to this point was probably The Quick and the Dead). All three are excellent and Gabriel Byrne has a few nice moments as D’Artagnan (but he’s not one of the original Musketeers, which I do remember from Dumas’ novel, which was the perception of the three through his eyes).

The Man in the Iron Mask offers no depth in the end. There are some nice moments about growing old, I suppose, but no more than something like Space Cowboys. Instead of a message, instead of any solidity, Wallace offers us the Three (Four) Musketeers kicking ass. Wallace got a really naive composer for the film, so the music sounds like the Salkind productions from the 1970s… hmm, maybe that was the point.

It’s fun to watch. Irons and Malkovich hover on hamming, but never take it up fully, and it was nice to see them resisting it in this one. Mostly, however, the film reassured me that the Salkind films might be all right, as I was planning on watching them soon.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Wallace; screenplay by Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by William Hoy; music by Nick Glennie-Smith; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Wallace and Russell Smith; released by United Artists.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (King Louis XIV/ Philippe), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan), Anne Parillaud (Queen Anne), Judith Godrèche (Christine) and Peter Sarsgaard (Raoul).


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