Gary Oldman

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

On one hand, with the Wojciech Kilar score, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can get away with just about anything. On the other, with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves playing leads… well, it needs something to help it get away with anything.

It helps neither Ryder or Reeves are the actual star of the film. Neither is top-billed Gary Oldman (as the Count). The star is director Coppola and his crew—cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, costume designer Eiko Ishioka (for better and worse), editors Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith. And Kilar, of course. And whoever did all the amazing practical special effects; Bram Stoker’s is a very audiovisual experience. As the story itself belies reality, why should the film itself be any different an experience. Lots of inventive transitions, lots of creative composite shots to show Oldman’s faraway yet so close impact on the world of his victims. Shame James V. Hart’s screenplay isn’t anywhere near as experimental or imaginative. The script’s big deviation from the novel—in addition to Anthony Hopkins’s Van Helsing being crude—is Ryder falling in love with Oldman because she’s his reincarnated fifteenth century wife, who killed herself thinking he’d died in battle, which caused him to renounce God and become… a vampire.

The most interesting thing about Bram Stoker’s is how any of it would make sense. Like, Oldman’s castle is full of paintings done after Ryder’s death—Ryder the queen, not the young British woman with the questionable accent. Did he pay the painters or eat them? Because even though the film “humanizes” Oldman a little, it never makes him particularly reasonable as a character. Why, for instance, does he regrow a mustache when he de-ages himself and then shed it when he gets old again. Also, why does he get old again so often. Why did he get old in the first place? Wasn’t he eating enough villager? Seems like he was eating plenty of them.

Anyway.

None of those details matter because Bram Stoker’s looks great and has that Kilar score. Ryder can be bombing a questionably written scene—though, to be fair, it’s not like there are any strong performances in the film. Oldman’s got a few strong moments, a lot of okay ones, and some piddly ones too. But Kilar’s score can save the heck out of a scene. Given the lack of chemistry from Oldman towards Ryder and the lack of chemistry, accent, and acting from Ryder towards… everyone (save, maybe, best friend Sadie Frost), the melodramatic nineteenth century romance but kind of saucy scenes where Oldman has to remind himself to keep the fangs in are all mesmerizing thanks to how the music compliments the image. Bram Stoker’s is masterfully made. It’s far from a cinematic masterpiece, but Coppola does provide a solid facsimile of one. As long as you ignore the acting and the writing.

Whether Ryder would be better if the character were better—she falls in love with Oldman while fiancé Reeves is being held captive in faraway Oldman’s castle (it’s kind of hilarious how easily Reeves slips her mind—the film utilizes the novel’s epistolary format, turning the diary entries into narration from cast so we know she’s not thinking about Reeves); the falling in love while the dude’s away is literally her only thing. Ryder’s not even worried about Frost, who Oldman’s attacking every night because she’s slutty and Ryder’s virginal. Or something. It’s unclear why Oldman targets Frost in the first place, though maybe there was a scene explaining it… along with his London base being right next door to Richard E. Grant’s sanitarium, which is important but not really thanks to Hart’s script. It’s like Coppola came up with all the visual machinations to distract from Hart not having the best narrative.

Of course, it’d be disingenuous to the source material if Bram Stoker’s had a solid narrative.

And at least Ryder and Reeves are failing with questionable (at best) accents. Actual Brits Grant, Frost, and Cary Elwes all have extremely bad moments where you wish they’d just be screwing up accents. Grant can’t seem to take the thing seriously, Frost is out of her depth, and Elwes always seems like he’s just coming into the film for the first time, scene after scene. He makes no impression. Neither does Billy Campbell (as a very Texan Texan). In an extremely odd case of stunt-casting, Tom Waits disappoints as Oldman’s first solicitor, who’s gone mad and been committed and now eats bugs. Waits’s eccentric take seems more appropriate for a TV commercial than drama.

As for Hopkins… he could be worse. He’s not good, he doesn’t take the part seriously (how could he), but he could be worse.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gorgeous exercise in technical filmmaking. And not much else.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by James V. Hart, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith; music by Wojciech Kilar; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing), Keanu Reeves (Harker), Richard E. Grant (Seward), Cary Elwes (Holmwood), Billy Campbell (Morris), Sadie Frost (Lucy), and Tom Waits (Renfield).


Sid and Nancy (1986, Alex Cox)

It takes a while for anyone in Sid & Nancy to be likable. Even after they’re likable, it’s not like they’re particularly sympathetic. They’re tragic, sure, which is director Cox and cowriter Abbe Wool’s point, but entirely unpleasant to spend time with. The film has a bookend–Sid (Gary Oldman) being taken into police custody for murdering–at that point an unseen–Nancy (Chloe Webb). Oldman makes a visual impression, but kind of gets overshadowed by Cox’s New York cops. They’re all outlandish caricatures, including their costuming, which clashes with Oldman’s punk rock chic.

After the bookend, the action goes back in time to London, with Oldman hanging out with Andrew Schofield (as Sex Pistol’s vocalist Johnny Rotten–the film doesn’t offer any exposition to set up a viewer not at least somewhat familiar with The Sex Pistols) and meeting Webb. Webb’s an American punk rock enthusiast–and heroin addict–with a grating voice and an obnoxious demeanor. But she’s being obnoxious to Oldman and Schofield, so it’s hard to fault her. Oldman’s a moron, arguably–as the film starts–Schofield’s flunky. Meanwhile Schofield comes off as a pretentious poser (needless to say no one thought much of Sid & Nancy’s historical accuracy, not its surviving subjects or even the filmmakers).

But Oldman soon becomes sympathetic to Webb and ends up, after some misadventures, getting high with her. From then on, they’re always together. Much to everyone else’s displeasure; well, not band manager David Hayman, who encourages Oldman’s behavior for the media attention. But much to Schofield’s. Sex is anti-punk so Schofield is anti-sex. Until they’re strung out too long, Webb and Oldman like the sex.

Most of the first half of Sid & Nancy is Oldman and Webb getting high, trying to find money for getting high, getting mad about not finding money to get high (Hayman apparently has Oldman on an allowance without a heroin allotment), Oldman messing up band obligations, Webb pissing off Schofield and others with her demands (which become Oldman’s demands, only he’s way too high most of the time to put much force behind them), Webb and Oldman fighting (usually over drugs, sometimes over the band). The dramatic result comes from the actors in scene more than anything in the script. The intensity, which sometimes means Oldman being almost completely inert, or Webb hitting a new level of annoying, propels the film. As a director, Cox oscillates between indifference and dislike for his protagonists; friction keeps the film in motion.

Until the Sex Pistols go on their U.S. tour–leaving Webb in London–and Cox gets a jumpstart, starting with the first shot of the U.S. tour. He finally finds something cinematic to chew on. The U.S. tour itself, the visual juxtaposing of English punk and cowboy hat wearing Americans, Oldman freaking out on payphone in the middle of Americana… it all becomes visual foreshadowing of the second half. The band breaks up on tour; Oldman and Webb head to Paris for a bit, back to London for a bit, then end up in New York. She becomes his manager. They visit her family. Sid & Nancy gets these moments of absurd hilarity, a pressure release as it tracks its protagonists’ descent. Cox doesn’t glamorize their heroin dependency (he does very little exploring it). As it becomes more and more clear Oldman and Webb can’t survive–they quite clearly can’t take care of themselves–Cox focuses in tighter on the two characters and their relationship. It’s always in a nightmarish setting, but often dreamy.

Oldman’s performance gets better and better as the film progresses. At the start, thanks to the narrative, Schofield overshadows him, then Webb overshadows him. After the tour sequence, when Oldman appears to get some agency, he’s always the narrative’s driving force. If not in scene, than in performance. Even when it’s Webb’s scene, like when they visit her grandparents and extended family and are way too punk rock for the late seventies suburbs. Webb gets to be flashy in those scenes, but they’re all built around Oldman’s eventual contribution.

The second half descent also has the film’s most beautifully edited and realized cinematic sequences, always set to music, sometimes (apparently) diegetic music, sometimes not. Roger Deakins’s photography is always phenomenal, but it’s often phenomenal in its dreariness. In the grand cinema sequences, Deakins never changes the film’s visual tone, he, Cox, and editor David Martin just find a way to hold the moment long enough the intensity burns through the dreary. But not visually, obviously. Cox and Martin are aware, the whole time, how to control the mood (and Deakins’s photography’s affect on it) through length of scene, length of shot. They just don’t start doing much with that knowledge until the second half.

And once Sid & Nancy opens itself ot cinematic splendor, there’s always a subtle impatience until the next sequence. The first half is so light on them (and so frequently narratively unpleasant), it causes some de facto resentment. Cox could’ve done more with the film and didn’t.

Oldman’s great, Webb’s (annoying as all hell and) great, Schofield’s great (regardless of historical accuracy). None of the supporting performances are bad and there’s a large supporting cast, but they just don’t have much to do. Or they don’t have much to do for long. Sometimes getting out faster is better. Sy Richardson, for instance, has a great scene as Oldman and Webb’s methadone caseworker. But it’s a scene. Meanwhile, Hayman’s around so much without any character development, he suffers. Ditto Xander Berkeley (as Oldman and Webb’s New York drug dealer) and Courtney Love. The more scenes they have, the more it matters they’re caricatures.

Transfixing lead performances, excellent direction, great cinematography, sublime music (original score and soundtrack)… Sid & Nancy is a technical marvel. It just should’ve been more of one, which matters since Cox isn’t invested in the narrative.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alex Cox; written by Cox and Abbe Wool; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by David Martin; music by Dan Wool; production designers, Lynda Burbank, J. Rae Fox, and Andrew McAlpine; produced by Eric Fellner; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Gary Oldman (Sid), Chloe Webb (Nancy), Andrew Schofield (John), David Hayman (Malcolm), Anne Lambton (Linda), Perry Benson (Paul), Tony London (Steve), Debby Bishop (Phoebe), Courtney Love (Gretchen), Xander Berkeley (Bowery Snax), and Sy Richardson (Methadone Caseworker).


JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

JFK is a protracted experience. It runs over three hours, it has no real narrative structure–the film opens with the Kennedy assassination and an introduction to the principal characters (and some of the possible conspirators, always played quite well by a guest star), then jumps ahead three years where it starts chronicling lead Kevin Costner’s investigation into the assassination. He’s the New Orleans District Attorney (there’s a reason for him to get involved–presumably true, JFK is based on the real life DA) and the film does culminate in a trial, but it’s not a courtroom thriller and it’s not a mystery. It’s a lecture. Director Stone delivers the lecture through endless–yet always well-acted–expository dialogue, beautifully filmed flashback scenes (cinematographer Robert Richardson does breathtaking work) and then lead Costner. Stone’s not good at the courtroom stuff. It’s about an hour of Costner talking. Costner does really well in it, but it’s just too much. Overall, JFK is just too much.

There’s lots of good acting, lots of great acting. Even Joe Pesci’s weird portrayal of one of the possible conspirators–Stone doesn’t assign much malice to the “villains” because he doesn’t want to get too bogged down in actual politics. JFK is simultaneously for the informed and the ignorant. Stone nods at respecting the informed, but he doesn’t care about the ignorant at all. There’s nothing but exposition in the film and never any to get the viewer into the ground situation. It ought to come with a viewer’s guide explaining the historical authenticity of each assassination detail. So while Pesci is a little much, he’s a wonderful contrast to too serious Costner.

The great acting comes from bigger name guest stars like Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman. The parts are sort of thin–caricatures again–but the actors figure out a reality to the scene and their character in it. It’s Stone’s direction. These people aren’t people, they’re subjects to be examined. The good acting is from the big name players in cameo parts–Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Donald Sutherland and John Candy don’t have great parts, but there’s some humanity to them because they’re supposedly real people so there’s some implied backstory. Stone leans a lot on what the viewer should be understanding. It’s annoying. Then there are some great smaller parts. The “regular” folk, like Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight. Rooker and Sanders both get a lot of material–Metcalf and Wayne Knight do not. Stone doesn’t give these actors real roles, just great scenes opposite Costner and each other. They’re on exposition duty. Stone clearly appreciates having such a good supporting cast.

The film follows the following general structure. 1963 assassination sadness, fast forward to 1966 for Costner to start his investigation. Then big final courtroom sequence. It’s well-acted but not a good courtroom sequence. And the film’s already shaky as the narrative drops guest star opportunities and filling in with Costner’s marital problems, which does give Sissy Spacek something to do as the wife, just makes it drag more. Costner might be playing a real person, but he’s doing it through caricature.

JFK sort of works out. Also has a rather outstanding John Williams score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia; music by John Williams; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by A. Kitman Ho; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Jim Garrison), Tommy Lee Jones (Clay Shaw), Kevin Bacon (Willie O’Keefe), Gary Oldman (Lee Harvey Oswald), Sissy Spacek (Liz Garrison), Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), Michael Rooker (Bill Broussard), Jay O. Sanders (Lou Ivon), Laurie Metcalf (Susie Cox), Wayne Knight (Numa Bertel), Brian Doyle-Murray (Jack Ruby), Beata Pozniak Daniels (Marina Oswald), Edward Asner (Guy Bannister), Jack Lemmon (Jack Martin), Walter Matthau (Senator Long), John Candy (Dean Andrews), Sally Kirkland (Rose Cheramie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill Newman) and Donald Sutherland (X).


True Romance (1993, Tony Scott), the director’s cut

The best thing about True Romance is some of the acting. The biggest problem with the film is who’s doing that great acting. It’s not leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who the film eventually just ignores in order to further its supporting cast (which is sort of fine, as they’re better–especially than Slater–but it doesn’t do the film any favors).

Instead of it being Slater and Arquette amid this awesome supporting cast, instead it’s Slater and Arquette moving from place to place to encounter further awesome supporting cast members. Eventually, the film’s just bringing them in without the leads. At that point, however, it’s stopped being about Slater and Arquette, if it ever was about them.

The film opens with Slater, then immediately goes to a voice over from Arquette. Her narration, which suggests a far better character than she gets to play and a far better film, comes back at the end. In between, Dennis Hopper, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, and Chris Penn all get great scenes. Supposedly Gary Oldman gets one too, but not really. If there’s not material for the actor to connect with, it’s not like director Scott helps make the performance. He doesn’t do much of anything, except not know how to direct this movie. Not its action, not its cast, none of it.

All of the aforementioned actors have excellent scenes. Sometimes two, at least one. Arquette almost gets a few good scenes, but not really. After beating her up, in an exceptionally violent sequence (Scott’s got no subtext to his action, he’s painfully oblivious to questions of genre and viewer expectation), her character pretty much stops speaking. It’s weird.

The script’s oddly paced–an hour build-up, thirty minutes of play (not counting Arquette and Gandolfini’s vicious scene), thirty minutes of violent wrap-up. That front heaviness needs to define Slater and Arquette and it doesn’t. Slater, for example, can’t hold up against Hopper. The film goes off its rails, something even Scott seems to get. Of course, he just keeps going with it instead of making any adjustments, leading to a lot of humorous moments, some decent dialogue, but a really lame story.

It isn’t until the finish everything collapses under its own weight. Maybe if Michael Tronick and Christian Wagner did anything with the editing, or if Hans Zimmer’s music was any good (though he does rip off the Badlands theme to some success), but the film’s a technical yawn. Jeffrey L. Kimball’s photography is more than competent, Scott just doesn’t do anything with it.

Still, even if Scott were better, the script’s got problems with how it treats the leads. Especially Slater, who becomes less and less sympathetic as times goes on. Just like Romance itself.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Michael Tropic and Christian Wagner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Gary Barber, Samuel Hadida, Steve Perry and Bill Unger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Slater (Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Michael Rapaport (Dick Ritchie), Bronson Pinchot (Elliot Blitzer), Saul Rubinek (Lee Donowitz), Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley), James Gandolfini (Virgil), Gary Oldman (Drexl Spivey), Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti), Chris Penn (Nicky Dimes), Tom Sizemore (Cody Nicholson), Brad Pitt (Floyd) and Val Kilmer (Mentor).


RoboCop (2014, José Padilha)

RoboCop is terrible. It’s long, it’s poorly directed, it’s badly acted. One almost doesn’t want to acknowledge it because then it has to be discussed. At least in how it does contain some subjects ripe for discussion. Like how a badly doctored script can create frustration at missed potential. Missed potential, however, being a euphemism for “a little better than excruciatingly bad.”

Because RoboCop manages to outdo itself. It’s worse in its whole than in its parts, which is quite an accomplishment given the fractured script styles. The film is so disjointed, so cobbled together, it’s like no one bothered writing bridging scenes. Because it can’t be a stylistic choice of director Padilha; he’s got zero personality (unless he’s the unlikely reason for the film’s multiple Tron and Tron 2 nods). The action scenes in the film are exceptionally unimaginative. It’s like Padilha is directing video game cut scenes; he’s entirely divested in the film’s sets. Though a lot of it appears to be green screens, which doesn’t help any of the actors.

The film has a lot of actors I like. Michael Keaton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Ehle, Zach Grenier, Jay Baruchel. Yes, Jay Baruchel. With the exception of Ehle, all of them are terrible. The film’s script, as far as dialogue goes (because it does have better plotted sequences), is awful. All of it. There’s not a single good moment. It’s Keaton as Steve Jobs and they fumble it because the script with the political stuff doesn’t get to overshadow the script with the “man wakes up a robot cop” script. It’s like watching multiple television pilots, all shot with the same cast and the same bored director, cut together.

It’d be hilarious if there really was a tortured history to the RoboCop remake, full of reshoots and weird test screenings, but there isn’t (at least not according to IMDb). Someone intentionally made a movie this crappy. Here we go. Let’s do a synopsis.

Joel Kinnaman plays a Detroit cop, he talks like he thinks he’s Vin Diesel and struts like he thinks he’s Paul Walker. Yes, I just made that statement. I just referenced The Fast and the Furious and my unlikely familiarity with the franchise. Does Orson Welles get a lot of callouts? No. I just called out Fast and Furious. RoboCop: The New Movie has brought me to that low point. But RoboCop rides a lightcycle from Tron in this movie. How can anyone possibly take it seriously? It’s a guy in a rubber suit. The RoboCop suit is inept. It doesn’t just look like rubber, when Abbie Cornish hugs RoboCop (she’s his wife), her head leaves an impression on the rubber. It’s all so incredibly lazy.

Though if Luc Besson had made it with Bruce Willis as RoboCop, Gary Oldman playing his role with some enthusiasm and camp (it couldn’t be worse than his Robin Williams impression here), Milla Jovovich as Jackie Early Haley, Chris Tucker as Samuel L. Jackson (he’s awful), maybe Ian Holm as Williams (I’m starting to stretch) and Luke Perry as Keaton’s tech visionary… well, it’d be awesome. If Besson had turned a RoboCop remake into a Fifth Element rehash, it’d be awesome.

But RoboCop isn’t sort of a success where you can see the potential for more success. It’s a zero. Paul W.S. Anderson would’ve turned this thing down. It’s not even competent enough to be a Lifetime movie (and a Lifetime movie about a woman who signs away her husband’s rights so he can become a man-cop robot, but who the film treats like he’s not just a few chunks on the coroner’s table, except one hand so he can touch his family and really feel again, would be amazing).

Kinnaman and Cornish are terrible. Padilha’s direction of them is terrible, but their performances are terrible too. Kinnaman’s entirely miscast, entirely out of his depth. Cornish doesn’t have a good part, can’t even do the scenes she does get.

RoboCop is that wonderful, rare animal. It’s so commercial, it won’t try anything. It thinks doing Samuel L. Jackson as Bill O’Reilly as Samuel L. Jackson will be seen as edgy. It’s not even committed enough to try to be edgy.

I can’t even say I “hate watched” it; it’s immediately not worth any investment whatsoever.

Oh, and one more thing. Guns, guns, guns. Action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states can’t be action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states without loving guns. It’s true. You can do a war movie without loving guns and many have, but you can’t do a movie about “super cops” shooting up the bad guys without gun fetishization.

It’s a no brainer and Padilha drops the ball on it, just like everything else in the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Padilha; screenplay by Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, based on the film written by Neumeier and Miner; director of photography, Lula Carvalho; edited by Peter McNulty and Daniel Rezende; music by Pedro Bromfman; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy), Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy), Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), Michael Kenneth Williams (Jack Lewis), Jennifer Ehle (Liz Kline), Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Chief Karen Dean), Zach Grenier (Senator Hubert Dreyfus), Aimee Garcia (Jae Kim), Douglas Urbanski (Mayor Durant) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak).


Dead-End for Delia (1993, Phil Joanou)

Director Joanou definitely familiarized himself with film noir before directing Dead-End for Delia (an episode of noir anthology “Fallen Angels”) but apparently didn’t realized doing it in color would break the shots. Especially since cinematographer Declan Quinn often just boosts the contrast to hide modern background elements.

But Scott Frank’s script is also a problem. He and Joanou play up the film noir homage to an absurd level, with Gary Oldman walking around in a coat too big for him like it’s a B noir from the fifties and not something with a budget. Frank’s script (it’s based on a short story) has a couple nice moments, but the twist is obvious and weak.

Ditto the acting. Gabrielle Anwar’s terrible as the titular character and Oldman ranges from mediocre to bored. Meg Tilly, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Paul Guilfoyle do provide nice supporting work though.

Besides them, there’s nothing here.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; teleplay by Scott Frank, based on the story by William Campbell Gault; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Stan Salfas; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Gary Oldman (Pat Keiley), Meg Tilly (Lois Weldon), Paul Guilfoyle (Steve Prokowski), Vondie Curtis-Hall (David O’Connor), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Calender), Wayne Knight (Leo Cunningham), Patrick Masset (Joe Helgeson), John Putch (Officer Barnes) and Gabrielle Anwar (Delia).


Lost in Space (1998, Stephen Hopkins)

For maybe forty minutes–from twenty minutes in to the hour mark–Lost in Space is actually rather engaging. It’s not any good as a narrative, but Hopkins’s direction of the space sequences is phenomenal. The film opens with something familiar, a dogfight out of Star Wars, but the later sequences are not. They aren’t original, but they’re the first time such a budget had been expended on them.

Overall, Hopkins does an excellent job with the film. The last hour, featuring an alien planet and time travel, falls apart because Akiva Goldsman’s script collapses under its own idiocy. The first hour, when Goldsman is still setting up the plot, only has awful dialogue and can survive.

The CG is sometimes excellent, sometimes not. Lost in Space tries a lot with the technology. Hopkins is able to get good performances opposite the CG–especially from Lacey Chabert and Heather Graham.

Chabert is good throughout (she’s inexplicably underused, having nothing to do) while Graham occasionally runs into some problems. Her flirting scenes with Matt LeBlanc are terrible, but she’s otherwise good. LeBlanc’s terrible the whole time. Often laughably so.

William Hurt is excellent (though one wonders why he said yes to Lost in Space and not Jurassic Park). Gary Oldman is hammy, but the character’s terribly underwritten. Mimi Rogers, Jack Johnson and Jared Harris are all awful. Watching Rogers act opposite Hurt is painful.

The film’s bad, but there are some amazing sequences in it. Nice score from Bruce Broughton too.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the television series created by Irwin Allen; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Norman Garwood; produced by Carla Fry, Goldsman, Hopkins and Mark W. Koch; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dr. Zachary Smith), William Hurt (Prof. John Robinson), Matt LeBlanc (Maj. Don West), Mimi Rogers (Dr. Maureen Robinson), Heather Graham (Dr. Judy Robinson), Lacey Chabert (Penny Robinson), Jack Johnson (Will Robinson) and Jared Harris (Older Will Robinson).


Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


The Book of Eli (2010, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I guess if The Book of Eli were a bigger hit, someone would have told Nick Cave composers Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne ripped off the beginning of his “In the Ghetto” cover and turned it into the musical score’s theme.

Someone else might let Kevin Costner know about the… ahem… similarities between Eli and The Postman, but… those are the only good parts of Eli, so maybe don’t.

For about half the movie–it’s so split there should be a title card reading “End of Part One”–The Book of Eli is real good. It’s Denzel Washington doing an action movie, but one where he gets to play his age, and also a samurai. There’s Gary Oldman playing the boss of an Old West town, only in a post-apocalyptic future. It’s solid. It’s good.

I mean, the Hughes Brothers can direct. Their action sequences in this film, undoubtedly tied together with CG, are astoundingly good.

So what goes wrong? A couple things. First, Mila Kunis. She’s more convincing as a voice on “Family Guy” than actually giving a full performance. She’s incredibly weak and it’s not believable Washington’s hardened road warrior would have let her tag along, much less become emotionally attached to her.

Second, it’s got a moronic, “affecting,” “real” ending. I’m sure the filmmakers thought it was honest or something.

But it’s not honest to the good parts of this film, so it must be being honest to something else.

Total waste of time.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; written by Gary Whitta; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Cindy Mollo; music by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne; production designer, Gae Buckley; produced by Joel Silver, Denzel Washington, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Denzel Washington (Eli), Gary Oldman (Carnegie), Mila Kunis (Solara), Ray Stevenson (Redridge), Jennifer Beals (Claudia), Tom Waits (Engineer), Frances de la Tour (Martha) and Michael Gambon (George).


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990, Tom Stoppard)

I’d heard of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, of course. I’d probably even meant to see it at one point, probably around the time of Branagh’s Hamlet, which is when I first got big into Shakespeare. But it was only available on VHS and I was already addicted to widescreen. Oddly, this viewing–at the wife’s request–was widescreen. I thought all the DVD releases were pan and scan. So waiting worked out.

More, it worked out because I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the film as much ten years ago as I am able today. The characters trapped in the confines of a narrative, realizing they’re free of agency–well, I’m familiar with it from Breakfast of Champions. But Rosencrantz & Guildenstern goes a little further in discussing the drama as a whole.

It took me a while, I’ll admit, to realize what Stoppard was doing (at the beginning, I just figured they were dead and reliving the experience of Hamlet in some afterlife). Once I did, I appreciated it.

But, honestly, not as much as I appreciated the updating of “Who’s on first?”

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are both fantastic. It’s stunning to see Oldman in such a well-written role. It’s been a long time since he’s been concerned with acting (kids, swimming pools, et cetera, I imagine).

Stoppard’s direction is excellent. It’s understated and profound.

Richard Dreyfuss is great in a somewhat unexplainable role. Iain Glen and Ian Richardson are good in the Hamlet sections.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Stoppard; screenplay by Stoppard, based on his play and a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Nicolas Gaster; music by Stanley Myers; production designer, Vaughan Edwards; produced by Michael Brandman and Emanuel Azenberg; released by Cinecom Entertainment Group.

Starring Gary Oldman (Rosencrantz), Tim Roth (Guildenstern), Richard Dreyfuss (The Player), Joanna Roth (Ophelia), Iain Glen (Hamlet), Donald Sumpter (Claudius), Joanna Miles (Gertrude), Ljubo Zecevic (Osric), Ian Richardson (Polonius), Sven Medvesek (Laertes), Vili Matula (Horatio) and John Burgess (Ambassador from England).


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