John C. McGinley

Seven (1995, David Fincher)

Seven is a gorgeous film. It’s often a really stupid film, but it’s a gorgeous film. Even when it’s being stupid, it’s usually gorgeous. Director Fincher has a beautiful precision to his composition; he works great with photographer Darius Khondji, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and composer Howard Shore (about half the time with Shore). Seven is a visually harrowing experience. Shame the narrative breaks down halfway through when Andrew Kevin Walker’s already problematic script shifts leading man duties to Brad Pitt (from Morgan Freeman). It’s not just Pitt’s inability to lead the film, it also gets really dumb once they use the secret FBI database to find their bad guy. Fincher spends a lot of time setting up the authenticity of his hellish American city. When Seven starts flushing that verisimilitude down the proverbial toilet, well… it splatters on everyone, most unfortunately Freeman.

Freeman’s great in the film. He can’t do much in the scenes where he inexplicably plays sidekick to Pitt, who’s really bad at this particular role. While Pitt doesn’t have any chemistry with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone. Sure, her part is horrifically thin, but she’s still not good. Her scenes bonding with Freeman are painful. It’s good production designer Arthur Max went out of his way to include frequent interesting signage in the backgrounds because otherwise Paltrow’s big monologue wouldn’t be as tolerable. Even Freeman can’t make that scene work.

There’s some decent acting from R. Lee Ermey. It’s strange how well Fincher and editor Francis-Bruce do with some performances and how badly they do with others. Especially since the second half is just a star vehicle for the completely underwhelming Pitt. But there’s also this interrogation sequence (a very, very stupid one as far as cop movie logic goes, but Seven laughs at reasonable cop movie logic time and again) where Pitt’s interrogating Michael Massee and Freeman’s interrogating Leland Orser. Orser’s awful, but clearly going for what Fincher and Walker want. Massee’s great in his few moments, the editing on his side. Sure, Massee’s acting opposite Pitt, but the editing lets him have his scene, it doesn’t give it to Pitt.

Later on in the film, when Pitt’s having his big intellectual showdown with Kevin Spacey (who does wonders with a terribly written part), Fincher and Francis-Bruce let Pitt have the scene. They really should. One feels bad for Spacey, acting opposite such a vacuum. Pitt’s far better in the first half of the film, whining about being Freeman’s subordinate; he lets his hair do a lot of the acting in those scenes. His frosted blond tips give the better performance.

It’s a beautifully directed film. Fincher’s excellent at whatever the film needs–Freeman sulking around because he’s a lonely old cop and it’s what lonely old cops do, Pitt doing a chase sequence, even John C. McGinley’s glorified cameo as the SWAT commander has some good procedural sequences–but he doesn’t actually have a real vision for it. He takes a little here, takes a little there. It ends with an inexplicable nod to film noir and Casablanca. It’s dumb. Because Walker’s script, in addition to often being bad, is often dumb. It needed a good rewrite and far better performances in Pitt and Paltrow’s roles.

Oh, and the nameless American city bit? That choice was stupid too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by Andrew Kevin Walker; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Brad Pitt (Mills), Morgan Freeman (Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy), Kevin Spacey (John), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), John C. McGinley (California), Richard Schiff (Mark Swarr) and Richard Roundtree (District Attorney Martin Talbot).


RELATED

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

Highlander II: The Quickening has had a reputation as a sequel disaster since its release. Outside of “Starlog” write-ups, did anyone ever pretend to be excited about this film? But since its initial release (and multiple home video re-releases with different editing), The Quickening has actually gotten to be a wonderful time capsule of its era and situation.

The film is desperate. It goes all out. People like hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II, let’s have hoverboards. The ladies liked stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery with long hair in the first one, let’s do all long hair in the second one. Highlander 2 ought to be subtitled Big Hair and Big Swords because it’s desperate enough to give villain Michael Ironside long hair, presumably to make him… sexy?

Now. Ironside. Real quick. He ought to look embarrassed and he doesn’t. He gets through. John C. McGinley not so much, but Ironside gets through. He’s the lamest early nineties movie villain–a mix of the savage punk villain from the previous Highlander and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman–but Ironside does get through it.

Sean Connery’s actually okay enough. Lambert’s bad but how could anyone be good. He’s so bad he’s better under the old age make-up at the beginning than when he’s young again.

Virginia Madsen is not good as the love interest. It’s a terrible part, but she’s still not good. Oh, look, a metaphor for the entire film. It’s terrible for multiple reasons, but it could never be good. Even when Highlander 2 does something right for a little while, it gets screwed up. Director Mulcahy has a handful of decent concepts, but they’re either too short or ultimately fail. And when it seems like a perfect Mulcahy moment–many of the sets are enormous so Mulcahy can do his swinging crane shots–he never takes advantage. It’s puzzling and disconcerting.

Weird score from Stewart Copeland, weirder pop soundtrack. Both are bad, but interesting in their weirdness. Like everything else, they’re desperate to appear hip. Peter Bellwood’s lousy script apes corporations as bad guys from Robocop and Total Recall, bringing along poor Ironside from that latter as well. Highlander 2 is a sequel to a cable and home video hit desperately trying to be a cable and home video hit.

I suppose it’s oddly appropriate a film about immortality is also such a perfect time capsule of a popular filmmaking era. It’s such a perfect example of it, I’m only moderately embarrassed to have written over 400 words about it right now.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


Office Space (1999, Mike Judge)

Office Space is the model of efficiency. Judge never races through things, he just tells them really fast or implies them. There’s the fantastic opening montage of everyone going to work, which ought to be a clue to who is and isn’t going to be important in the film, and then things just breeze along as he establishes the ground situation.

I’ve seen the film multiple times and never remembered Ron Livingston–the lead–has a girlfriend when it starts. I also didn’t realize the girlfriend (Alexandra Wentworth) never even speaks to him onscreen.

Judge clearly cut this thing a lot and the result is one of those outstanding examples of how post production can make something shine.

The film has the perfect comedy recipe–great cast, great lines, great plotting. The film only stumbles during the end of the second act, but Judge moves it along as fast as he can, almost like he knew he was in bumpy territory.

Livingston’s great in the lead, with excellent support from David Herman and Ajay Naidu as his sidekicks. Diedrich Bader’s hilarious. All the work boobs are great–the outtakes of Gary Cole, John C. McGinley and Paul Willson must be amazing.

Jennifer Aniston sadly gets nothing to do. She’s the likable love interest. She’s good at it but so what.

Obviously, Stephen Root runs off with the picture. Or, more appropriately, shuffles off with it. He’s got a really tough role and he nails it.

Judge cooks a great comedy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Judge; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by David Rennie; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Edward T. McAvoy; produced by Daniel Rappaport, Michael Rotenberg and Judge; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ron Livingston (Peter Gibbons), David Herman (Michael Bolton), Ajay Naidu (Samir Nagheenanajar), Greg Pitts (Drew), Stephen Root (Milton Waddams), Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh), Richard Riehle (Tom Smykowski), Diedrich Bader (Lawrence), John C. McGinley (Bob Slydell), Paul Willson (Bob Porter), Todd Duffey (Brian), Orlando Jones (Steve), Joe Bays (Dom Portwood) and Jennifer Aniston (Joanna).


On Deadly Ground (1994, Steven Seagal)

On Deadly Ground is about a presumably Inuit (it’s never clear) special forces guy (also never clear) killing, maiming and beating up oil company goons in a number of creative ways.

Strangely, Seagal makes the audience wait to discover the film’s true nature. The first scene is an exceptionally lame and poorly acted explosion sequence. It gets fun almost immediately following, when Seagal beats up a bunch of redneck oil workers who are assaulting a Native American. Besides a really bad spiritual journey thing in the middle, the movie’s otherwise just Seagal versus the oil company goons (led by a somewhat restrained Michael Caine).

Apparently, critics at the time dismissed the film as a vanity project, but I’m having a hard time thinking of another movie icon at the height of his or her career who’s made something along the lines of this film. There’s even a line comparing Alaska to a third world oil producing country… presumably since the governments are so easy to buy.

As a director, Seagal’s bad. His composition is on par with any other crappy action movie director and he’s awful with actors–though he apparently recognized Billy Bob Thornton’s abilities and showcased him–but he’s not so bad there’s any point in vilifying him.

Joan Chen is weak as the sidekick (her character is along so Seagal can tell her all the “MacGyver” stuff he’s doing) and John C. McGinley is awful.

It’s too long, but it’s vicariously fulfilling so it passes reasonably fast.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Seagal; written by Ed Horowitz and Robin U. Russin; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Ladd Skinner; produced by A. Kitman Ho, Julius R. Nasso and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Forrest Taft), Michael Caine (Michael Jennings), Joan Chen (Masu), John C. McGinley (MacGruder), R. Lee Ermey (Stone), Billy Bob Thornton (Homer Carlton), Richard Hamilton (Hugh Palmer), Mike Starr (Big Mike) and Sven-Ole Thorsen (Otto).


Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy), the international version

When subjecting myself to Highlander II, I wanted to find the worst version possible. Over the years, the director and then the producers have returned to the film and tried to edit the footage into something more palatable. Of course, these attempts are not just hampered by the use of existing footage (it’s not like there’s some great version lost out there), but also by the fact the film’s one of the worst acted motion pictures in the medium (at least by professional actors).

So the version I watched has all the alien planet references, which contradict the first movie, among other assaults on the intellect. Given I don’t like the first one–it’s far better than this one though–I don’t really care about the continuity. I care more about things like Christopher Lambert essentially forcing himself on Virginia Madsen. One of his new magical powers is Love Potion #9… or she just got Stockholm Syndrome super fast.

Madsen might give the best performance. Either her or Sean Connery. Both are pretty bad by regular standards, but when they’re giving these performances amid Lambert, Michael Ironside (who might give a worse performance than Lambert, which is extraordinary) and John C. McGinley (did he ever work again after this one?)….

I spent about half the movie wondering what a well-budgeted, well-scripted Russell Mulcahy effort would be like–then remembered the Shadow (which is superb). Even though he’s shooting idiotic material and bad performances, Mulcahy’s talent is clearly visible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009, Sam Liu)

I’m sure there are some hardcore gay comics less homoerotic than Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, so the prospect of seeing it as a cartoon was irresistible. While Warner Premiere ostensibly intends their latest line of animated DC Comics adaptations for “adults” (i.e. men in their twenties and thirties with the discretionary income to waste it on a Blu-Ray of a poorly illustrated cartoon), these films are timed for eventual Cartoon Network airing–seventy minutes or less.

And Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is just as gloriously homoerotic as an animated movie as it was as a comic book. It’s a shame there’s no make-out scene.

The comic book also directly equated George W. Bush to a homicidal, drug-addicted maniac. Maybe the movie doesn’t go as far–Clancy Brown sounds way too smart–but it comes close. It’s something to see something geared, essentially, towards kids portray the President of the United States as a power mad psychopath, out to ruin the world for his own profit. It’s a little problematic (there’s no Dick Cheney analog in the movie), but it’s something.

Between the politics and the super-gay superheroes, the countless defects are almost forgotten. But not really.

Based on Ed McGuinness’s art, Public Enemies looks cheaper than an advertisement for Hostess fruit pies on afternoon television. It’s got some awful CG, but the composition is generally all right.

Brown is good, Tim Daly is good–Kevin Conroy is lost.

It’s a decent conversation piece, not a movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Stan Berkowitz, based on a comic book by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness and characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, C.C. Beck and Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bobbie Page; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Allison Mack (Power Girl), John C. McGinley (Metallo), Xander Berkeley (Captain Atom), LeVar Burton (Black Lightning), Ricardo Chavira (Major Force), Jerry O’Connell (Captain Marvel), Robert Patrick (Hawkman) and CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller).


The Pentagon Wars (1998, Richard Benjamin)

I can’t remember why I queued The Pentagon Wars. When it started, I kept waiting for the writing credits because I figured it must have been for the writers (it wasn’t). The Pentagon Wars chronicles a colonel’s efforts to get the Pentagon to responsibly develop an armored personnel carrier. It’s also an absurdist comedy. Kelsey Grammer’s the bad guy, the general who can’t answer a straight question and is just waiting for his cushy defense industry job post-retirement. The film alternates between being laugh out-loud funny (Grammer’s fantastic) and depressing. The military-industrial complex shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and the film actually skirts over that issue quite a bit. Instead, it concentrates on just how much the Pentagon brass is willing to sacrifice troop safety for fashionable accouterments.

The Pentagon Wars was an HBO movie (produced by Jersey Films, which explains some of the quality) and director Richard Benjamin never quite makes it anything more than a televised film. There’s no real character development, no real character arcs, no real character relationships. There’s a bunch of good acting–Grammer, Richard Schiff, John C. McGinley, and Tom Wright (actually, Benjamin’s fine in his cameo too)–and the film’s scenically constructed to allow these actors to amuse. As the straight man, Cary Elwes gives his standard wooden performance. While the script doesn’t involve itself too much with the depth of Elwes’s character, he’s still entirely incapable of giving it any. That arrangement works out, because no matter how many times Elwes fails, the film isn’t requiring him to do anything.

The film, though it never actually quite earns that descriptor, manages to endear itself (mostly due to Benjamin’s amiable handling and the performances). Watching the film–even appreciating it and its humor and its successes (it’s a safe quirky)–I kept wanting it to take itself seriously, as its subject is not a particularly frivolous one. When the seriousness finally did arrive, it came too late–and then the film called upon Elwes… and he couldn’t handle it (surprise, surprise). Still, the attempt was enough to hinder the experience.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Benjamin; screenplay by Jamie Malanowski and Marytn Burke, based on the book by James Burton; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Jacqueline Cambas; music by Joseph Vitarelli; production designer, Vincent M. Cresciman; produced by Howard Meltzer; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Kelsey Grammer (Maj. Gen. Partridge), Cary Elwes (Lt. Col. James Burton), Viola Davis (Platoon Sgt. Fanning), John C. McGinley (Col. J.D. Bock), Tom Wright (Maj. William Sayers), Clifton Powell (Sgt. Benjamn Dalton), Dewey Weber (Sp4 Ganger), Richard Schiff (Col. / Brig. Gen. Robert Laurel Smith), J.C. MacKenzie (Jones), Richard Benjamin (Caspar Weinberger) and Olympia Dukakis (Madam Chairwoman, Armed Services Committee).


Shakedown (1988, James Glickenhaus)

Shakedown is such a terrible film, I’d have to go through it line by line to adequately catalog its deficiencies. The big action climax features Sam Elliot hanging onto landing gear of a jet flying over the World Trade Center, then dropping into a river. This climax–from take-off to dropping into the river to the plane landing–takes about thirty-seven seconds and features some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. So why did I sit through Shakedown? A few reasons. First, it’s Peter Weller from his “prime.” I’m not sure Weller’s any good in Shakedown, but the role’s different for him–it’s a poorly conceived character, but Weller brings some respectability to it (enough you occasionally forget the quality of the film, then the dialogue reminds you). Second, I’ll probably never see another James Glickenhaus movie and the guy has a great name. His movie’s absolute trash, but he’s got a great name. Finally, Shakedown was filmed on location in New York City. Today, there are a few blocks in Los Angeles where movies set in New York do most of their filming. Back in the 1980s, movies like Shakedown could afford to film in the city and today, eighty million dollar superhero movies cannot. Fourth–I know I said finally, but I wasn’t sure I was going to admit to this one–Shakedown is a document of an era past and, to some degree, forgotten. An era I mostly missed.

I know little about the cheap action film genre. Something happened in the late 1980s, when big companies (Warner and Fox) started producing this dreak. While I never saw that crap… well, some of the Seagal’s, but never the Van Damme’s (until he hooked up with Peter Hyams and, wow, had Hyams ever nose-dived). Had I seen Shakedown growing up, before I could just dismiss it out of hand, maybe I’d feel different about it. It’s an awful film. Its ideas are kind of scary–it’s offensive to women, blacks, intellectual whites, ignorant whites–the only real people of merit are Texans and Jimi Hendrix devotees. I certainly wouldn’t want to know anyone who thought it was good, but it is so absurd it was mildly amusing. I didn’t have a bad ninety-six minutes, especially not after the Universal logo at the beginning took up a whole minute as they tried to stretch it above the ninety minute mark.

There are also a lot of familiar faces in the film. There’s one scene with a parking lot attendant who has a very familiar voice and it turned out to be Harold Perrineau. Richard Brooks has a decent-sized supporting role and he’s actually pretty good. He probably gives the best performance in the film.

But seeing it on location was the most compelling aspect of the film. Not even movies shot in New York today use it to the extent Shakedown used it. Otherwise, it’s a piece of garbage. It’s so stupid, one would have to watch it to believe it. But, somehow, as a film, it’s not offensive. It’s not poorly made–besides those end special effects–though Glickenhaus does love low-angle shots. The writing’s awful. Maybe because it wasn’t a hit. But Weller, coming off Robocop, couldn’t find anything better to do?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Glickenhaus; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Paul Fried; music by Jonathan Elias; production designer, Charles Bennett; produced by J. Boyce Harman Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Roland Dalton), Sam Elliott (Richie Marks), George Loros (Officer Varelli), Thomas G. Waites (Officer Kelly), Daryl Edwards (Dr. Watson), Jos Laniado (Ruben), Richard Brooks (Michael Jones), Blanche Baker (Gail Feinberger), Shirley Stoler (Irma), John C. McGinley (Sean Phillips) and Patricia Charbonneau (Susan Cantrell).

Scroll to Top