Ian Holm

Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director’s cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

Can you even watch Alien if you have epilepsy?

After about a hundred minutes of elegant direction, Scott relies on this strobe effect for the remainder of the film’s running time. Yes, it makes a disquieting effect, but it gets old in a few minutes and he uses it for at least fifteen. And, strobe effect or not, it does not disguise the strange inadequacy of the climatic threat resolution shot. The special effects—after two hours of great ones—are all of a sudden pedestrian. It’s like Scott gave up.

Luckily, Jerry Goldsmith saves the day with a lift from Howard Hanson and all is reasonably well.

The first hour of Alien is very different from the second. It’s a group film, with Scott not really concentrating on any one actor more than another (except Veronica Cartwright, who’s clearly at the back of the line). In fact, traditionally speaking, the filmmaking implies John Hurt is going to be the lead from his introduction. But the background activity—what the cast members who aren’t the focus of scenes are doing—is what makes the film so striking. Whether it’s “real” or not, Alien’s supporting cast gives the impression of being deep characters. It’s something of an illusion, but it doesn’t much matter. The unsuccessful finish saves them.

While Sigourney Weaver is really strong, Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm might be stronger. She’s best with the other actors. And Tom Skerritt can’t be discounted.

Alien’s mostly masterful, which counts for something.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash) and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


From Hell (2001, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I had no idea Heather Graham was ever a lead in such a high profile project. I knew she was in From Hell, but she’s got a lot to do–and with an Irish accent. I suppose it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen her give, maybe because her character isn’t a twit and Graham tends to play morons. She does a decent job, even if her hair coloring looks unnatural, not to mention her general appearance not seeming very realistic for a Victorian era streetwalker.

From Hell‘s a solid Jack the Ripper thriller. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about it–the graphic violence, which I guess caused a stir, is somewhat tame (it’s a Jack the Ripper movie after all), but it’s solid. Johnny Depp has a fine accent and he’s a dependable lead in this one. It’s hardly a showy role–regardless of him being psychic, which doesn’t seem to help with with the case at all. Robbie Coltrane gets all the good lines as Depp’s sidekick.

The star of the film is really the production values. It looks and feels like one thinks the 1880s London would look and feel. When the Hughes brothers do sequences with visual flourishes, well… it doesn’t exactly work. Depp’s opium-fueled fantasies look a whole lot like someone running film through iMovie filters. They’re effective due to their content, not their presentation.

Again, it’s fine. It might be too hard to really get involved with a Jack the Ripper thriller; no point.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; screenplay by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Dan Lebental and George Bowers; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Martin Childs; produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Johnny Depp (Fred Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Jason Flemyng (Netley), Robbie Coltrane (Peter Godley), Lesley Sharp (Kate Eddowes), Susan Lynch (Liz Stride), Terence Harvey (Ben Kidney), Katrin Cartlidge (Dark Annie Chapman) and Ian Richardson (Sir Charles Warren).


Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984, Hugh Hudson), the extended version

Greystoke ought to work. From the opening, it really seems like it might. It survives a massive narrative hiccup–switching perspective from young Tarzan to explorer Ian Holm. It establishes people in ape costumes as believable, sympathetic, feeling characters. It’s got beautiful cinematography, Hugh Hudson’s a fine director, and John Scott’s got one great score for the film. But it fails in the end. It doesn’t sputter out–the second half of the film, the return to civilization, is lengthy and problematic, but it isn’t failing–the film fails in the third act. It becomes contrived and trite, something the entire civilization half always teeters on anyway.

The script’s constantly reminding the viewer of previous scenes (death is a big thing, all the major death scenes are the same) and it’s unclear why the screenwriters went the hackneyed route. There’s a lot of aversion in Greystoke–the film avoids addressing both Christopher Lambert’s loincloth and lack of facial hair–but the film’s straight-forward attempt at telling its story, with the beautifully produced ape scenes, is creative. The problem seems to be a storytelling one (there are some production problems I’ll get to in a minute) and it has to do with perspective. The film’s not comfortable making grown Tarzan (Lambert) the protagonist. He’s always the subject. When Tarzan’s a kid, he can be the dialogue-free protagonist… but as an adult capable of speech, the film abandons him. Instead, it’s all about Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and John Wells observing him.

The Ralph Richardson scenes are fine. He and Lambert have a definite chemistry, and so do Lambert and Holm. The Holm scenes aren’t as good, because the film avoids the most interesting part–how he and Lambert get from Africa to England–but whatever. As soon as they leave the jungle, Greystoke‘s on the path toward being a BBC winter fiasco. The constant voiceovers (both Lambert and Richardson think of previous conversations in the film, to show the viewer what they’re thinking) don’t help at all.

The film doesn’t even stay with Lambert at the end, instead going with Andie MacDowell. MacDowell’s performance is poor, even with the obvious hurdle–the poorly synced dub by Glenn Close–because it’s clear MacDowell isn’t taking the film’s events seriously. Occasionally, when she’s silent and looking around, she’s fine. But mostly she’s just bad.

Lambert is good. He isn’t silly in the jungle scenes and he’s genuinely effecting in the civilization half. Some of it comes from his lack of affected accent–and lack of dialogue–but I was pleasantly surprised with his performance. It’s too bad he doesn’t get to be the main character. Again, whatever.

The film is long, though the jungle scenes are really well paced, and rather jejune. Even with Richardson’s good performance, it only goes so far. If the script is repetitive, Hudson is obvious and the combination leads to a rather unrewarding experience.

Given the film has quite a few excellent scenes, it’s a strange it isn’t a cohesive experience. Hudson doesn’t bring much unified vision to it though and that lack might be the missing glue. The film’s last scene looks entirely different from any of the previous scenes, which makes the conclusion disconnect even more.

But with John Alcott’s photography, John Scott’s score, the wonderful Rick Baker ape make-up… it should have worked.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Hugh Hudson; screenplay by Robert Towne and Michael Austin, based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, John Alcott; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Scott; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Stanley S. Canter and Hudson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ralph Richardson (The Sixth Earl of Greystoke), Ian Holm (Capitaine Phillippe D’Arnot), James Fox (Lord Charles Esker), Christopher Lambert (John Clayton), Andie MacDowell (Miss Jane Porter), Cheryl Campbell (Lady Alice Clayton), Ian Charleson (Jeffson Brown), Nigel Davenport (Major Jack Downing), Nicholas Farrell (Sir Hugh Belcher), Paul Geoffrey (Lord John Clayton), Richard Griffiths (Captain Billings), Hilton McRae (Willy), David Suchet (Buller) and John Wells (Sir Evelyn Blount).


Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

While Ratatouille features Pixar’s finest three-dimensional CG, it also features their worst two dimensional characters. The problem’s apparent from the start–the main character has one conflict and it turns out to resolve itself quite easily in the end. There are other conflicts in the film, but they’re all external to the main character, Remy–whose name is easy to forget because he doesn’t really interact with anyone for the majority of the second act. Ratatouille bored me for most of the film, only really engaging me once it got incredibly manipulative towards the end.

There’s a lot to keep busy with… like I said, the CG is phenomenal and there are some okay gags, but there’s very little content because there are no real character relationships. Brad Bird does some really nice things with composition–and, wow, can he ever fill a movie with lengthy action sequences to hide the lack of substance–he does a really nice focus thing, so nice, combined with the Pixar CG, I had to remind myself they really did nothing more than apply some blur filters in Photoshop or whatever the Pixar rendering program is called.

Bird’s writing does Ratatouille in… he doesn’t create engaging characters, certainly not compelling character relationships–Remy spends most of his time talking to an imaginary friend. In many ways, I felt like I was watching an old Disney formula movie, competently pulled off–disingenuous as all hell.

It’s sad when Pixar movies–which used to mean something, but obviously peaked with Monsters, Inc.–are fake and fluff. It’s all so slight, none of the voice actors stood out. The lead, Patton Oswalt–thanks to Bird’s ineffective characterizations–leaves no impression. The whole thing relies on rats being cute and doing cute things, like having little ladders.

Hey, it worked for “Tom and Jerry,” no reason it won’t work for Ratatouille.

There’s also an odd–and apparent, as a little girl asked about it in the row behind me–absence of female rats in the film… in fact, there’s only one woman in the whole thing, human or rodent. The little girl was asking where Remy’s mother was (while I was asking where the female rats were)… but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Bird wouldn’t have done anything good with her.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; written by Bird, with additional material by Emily Cook and Kathy Greenberg, based on a story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Bird; director of photography, lighting, Sharon Calahan; director of photography, camera, Robert Anderson; supervising animators, Dylan Brown and Mark Walsh; edited by Darren Holmes; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Harley Jessup; produced by Brad Lewis; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Linguini), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette) and Peter O’Toole (Anton Ego).


Lord of War (2005, Andrew Niccol)

Lord of War fails on quite a few levels–I suppose some of the direction is interesting and some of the puns are funny–but it still surprised me when it attempted to be civic-minded in the end. I should have seen it coming, but I was a little distracted by the end. The last scene and one of the first scenes are pretty much it for actual scenes in Lord of War. The present action takes place over nineteen years so most of the storytelling is done in summary or half-scene. A more imaginative director would have had Cage narrate it to the camera throughout, but instead we just get to hear him tell the story instead. Lord of War breaks that cardinal rule of voiceover narration–without Cage’s narration, the film would not make any sense. It would be a loose collection of scenes tied together. The viewer might not even know he was an arms dealer.

I was going to delay the flailing, but I think I’ll end the post on a positive note. Where to start. How about the names… Cage and Jared Leto (Leto plays his brother) play Ukrainian immigrants with Ukrainian names–except when Cage calls Leto “V” (for Vitaly), because “V” just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, the reason for the Ukrainian heritage is for a later event–Cage plays a composite of five arms dealers, so calling it factual is a bit of a stretch. As the arms dealer, Cage is occasionally appealing, but he isn’t operating with any depth. The screenplay is shallow (Niccol made Gattaca, which is deep, so he seems to have burnt-out right away). The dialogue–when it’s not trying to be funny, of course–is bad. Jared Leto still acts with his hair. A flop to the right means his angry, a flop to the left means addicted to cocaine. Ethan Hawke has a crew cut (playing an inexplicably authorized Interpol agent) so he doesn’t get any acting help from his hair. He’s real bad. I mean, it’s a tossup who’s worst in this film, between Leto, Hawke, Bridget Moynahan as the wife or Ian Holm. Moynahan is terrible in a funny way–it’s funny hear her say her lines. It’s absurdly amusing, but poor Holm. Holm is so bad–and so visibly bad, Niccol does nothing but put him out there to embarrass himself–he’s so bad, you’d think he’d won an Oscar in the early 1980s either as Indian independence leader or as composer who had it in for Mozart. He’s awful.

It’s a cheap film too. Niccol’s got a lot CG-aided shots (the opening credits are a bullet going from manufacture to use and it looks like Pixar did it) and they’re cheap and glossy. They look fake, so maybe Niccol’s trying bring films back to the old days when the audience was meant to be aware they were watching a false reality–and I like that kind of thinking and I like those movies–but I don’t think he was going for it.

It rips off Goodfellas. The helicopter from Goodfellas. There’s something really sleazy about ripping Goodfellas.

Now for the good part. Eamonn Walker plays a Liberian warlord. He’s great. This guy ought to be in everything. He should be the new Superman. He’s great.

He almost makes the film worth watching.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Antonio Pinto; production designer, Jean Vincent Puzos; produced by Philippe Rousselet, Niccol, Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, Andy Grosch and Chris Roberts; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov), Jared Leto (Vitali Orlov), Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine), Ian Holm (Simeon Weisz), Eamonn Walker (Baptiste Senior), Sammi Rotibi (Baptiste Junior) and Ethan Hawke (Valentine).


Kafka (1991, Steven Soderbergh)

I wonder how the producers sold Jeremy Irons on the film. It was his first major role after his Oscar and it immediately followed, so he probably hadn’t won when he started filming Kafka… however, imagine if they’d advertised the film as “Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons running through the empty streets of Prague.”

Kafka’s Soderbergh’s first film after Sex, Lies, and Videotape and it’s an exceptional disappointment. All Soderbergh has to do in Kafka is set-up German impressionist shots to match the script’s built-in references–there’s a doctor named Murnau, a town called Orloc (from Murnau’s Nosferatu) and I think I saw a Metropolis poster. Soderbergh is a filmmaker concerned with the human condition and it’s entirely absent from Kafka. Kafka is a gimmick within a gimmick… There’s a certain cuteness–wink-wink–of Kafka in a Kafkaesque adventure, but the adventure is so incredibly lame–and derivative–watching the film is a chore. I suppose it did lead to Dark City–writer Lem Dobbs took whole ideas from Kafka and put them in that one–but it’s a lot like The Element of Crime.

Kafka did remind me–in its aloof and blatant humanity–a lot of Soderbergh’s Traffic. There’s a visible disconnect in some of Soderbergh’s films, when it’s obvious the material isn’t engaging him, so he just busies himself with the camera. Kafka has a lot of such busying. It does have some nice performances–Jeroen Krabbé is excellent, Joel Grey is mildly amusing, it’s one of Armin Mueller-Stahl’s good performances. Jeremy Irons is fine too (he doesn’t have to do an accent). Still, I knew there was major trouble from the beginning… Theresa Russell is the female lead and she’s terrible from her first scene.

I wonder if Kafka would have gotten a better critical response if it had come out before Barton Fink instead of after it. Lem Dobbs’s script–with its goofy characters and particular humor–is an obvious Coen mimic. It’s just a useless film… and, while I realize it’s not supposed to be a historically accurate portrayal of Kafka’s life, apparently, in the film’s world, the First World War never happened. That historical omission is much more interesting than anything else going on and it really shouldn’t be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Harry Benn and Stuart Cornfeld; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jeremy Irons (Kafka), Theresa Russell (Gabriela), Joel Grey (Burgel), Ian Holm (Doctor Murnau), Jeroen Krabbé (Bizzlebek), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Grubach), Alec Guinness (The Chief Clerk), Brian Glover (Castle Henchman), Keith Allen (Assistant Ludwig), Simon McBurney (Assistant Oscar), and Robert Flemyng (The Keeper of the Files).


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