Kurt Russell

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, James Gunn)

I’m going to start by saying some positive things about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It has fantastic CG. Wow is cinematographer Henry Braham truly inept at compositing it with live footage, but the CG is fantastic. Whether it’s the exploding spaceships or exploding planets or the genetically engineered, bipedal racoon, the CG is fantastic. It’s not exceptional with the other CG characters, the micro-sized plant toddler or de-aging Kurt Russell, but, dang, is there some good CG. And James Gunn is usually good with the shot composition for it. So long as he’s in medium long shot or long shot and they shots don’t involve Chris Pratt. Especially not when they involve Pratt and Zoe Saldana. But otherwise, pretty good with the composition.

Other good things? Bradley Cooper’s great voicing the racoon. Yes, it’s a Gilbert Gottfried impression, but… given the amount of dialogue Cooper gets, he’s so much better at delivering than anyone else in the movie, he deserves a lot of credit. He’s got more vocal inflection in four words than Pratt manages in his entire performance. Saldana, well, like Dave Bautista, their lack of affect is part of their characters. There’s an excuse. Maybe not a good one, but there’s an excuse. And Bautista’s fine. He gives one of the film’s better performances. Though, technically, Saldana doesn’t even give one of it’s bad ones. Because she’s always opposite Pratt–who’s downright laughable when he’s got to pretend to emote–or Karen Gillan. Technically, Gillan has one of the film’s more thoughtful character arcs… unfortunately, she’s terrible.

And it’s not like Gunn (who also scripts) can make the family relationship between Saldana and Gillan work. The daughters of an intergalactic would-be despot who spent childhood trying to murder one another in combat for his amusement then reconciling as adults? Given Gunn rejects the idea of taking the setting seriously–you know, the Galaxy–and is downright hostile the idea of doing so (apparently no civilization in the known universe except Earth has come up with iPhones or similar personal technologies), he’s probably the right one to crack it. But he sure does better at it than Pratt finding out his deadbeat dad is Kurt Russell, who’s an interstellar being with the power to create life. Their relationship is a series of terrible scenes punctuated by Pratt’s terrible deliveries and emoting.

How Russell was able to keep a straight face through the film… well, professionalism. Pass it on.

I did not dedicate all the bad and stupid things in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to memory. I gave up somewhere before the first act finished, but a lot of the problem is Pratt. And Gunn. Both as a writer and director. As a director, Gunn could give a crap about performances. Everyone mugs through bad jokes. Or pop culture references. The pop culture references are concerning, not just because Gunn uses them instead of giving Pratt’s character any interiority, but also because they imply some really dumb things about the character. Pratt’s got an arc in Vol. 2. It’s one of the many concerning things about the film, if you give the film any thought, which Gunn doesn’t want you to do and you don’t want to do because it just reminds you of the very, very long two hours plus you’ve already put in.

Needless to say, Pratt’s “finding his father” arc–involving Russell and intergalactic mercenary Michael Rooker (who speaks entirely in B-movie colloquialisms even though he’s an alien)–is pretty weak. Rooker does better than the other two, but… only because he’s not godawful. Pratt’s bad, Russell’s not good, but the writing for both of them is lousy. Rooker’s got dumb dialogue, but Gunn definitely gives him the best male arc. Again, Rooker’s professional. It helps. A lot.

The chaste romance between Pratt and Saldana is terrible. It only gets one real big scene and it’s one of Pratt’s worst, which is something because it comes after his previous low of the “Dad? You wanna have a catch?” scene. There’s no floor to Pratt’s inability to essay, you know, sincerity in this film. He’s not good mugging through the jokes but at least then it’s only not funny, not a crime against filmed dramatics.

Other macro terrible things… oh. Yeah. Pom Klementieff as Russell’s empathic pet. She’s around to give Bautista someone to talk with for much of the second act and to engender suspicion regarding Russell’s true intentions. Gunn’s writing for her character is frankly hostile. He uses her as the butt of jokes, he emotionally manipulates her (usually only to objectify her–or not objectify her), and to act as… well, he needs someone to mock and particularly redeem. He makes fun of his brother (Sean Gunn plays Rooker’s sidekick) but eventually redeems the character. Klementieff’s treatment just gets worse as her character “development” progresses.

It’s truly astounding Bautista is able to rise above the material in his scenes with her, since he’s usually the one crapping all over her. The joke is, she doesn’t know better because Russell’s keeping as a combination of pet and slave. It’s fine. He’s got cool hair. Though, maybe in one of the most telling plot holes, Russell has absolutely no interaction with Klementieff after their introduction. Her name might as well be Malcolm Crowe as far as Russell’s concerned… though, wait, Russell doesn’t really interact with anyone except Pratt–maybe he wasn’t available for filming. On one hand, it’s narratively nonsensical, on the other, it saves from (different) bad scenes.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is ostentatious, self-congratulatory dreck. It’s impressively executed on its scale in terms of set pieces. The editing of them is bad. Gunn and editors Fred Raskin and Craig Wood choke through every single action sequence in the film, whether it’s a space battle or fist fight. There’s a lot of emphasis on the soundtrack, which has some great songs, terribly set to scene. Of course, Tyler Bates’s score–with a couple actual good tracks–is lousy too. It’s a lose-lose. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lose-lose.

Even when the third act is so impressively executed (though not in terms of dramatic tension); there’s a lot going on, some of it dumb, sure, but still a lot and Gunn is able to play it through. Shame none of the acting is good, outside maybe Rooker. Cooper’s “arc” doesn’t amount to much in the end, other than him still giving a better performance with his voice than anyone else in the movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hostile to even momentary thoughtfulness, critical thinking, or–god forbid–actually being able to contextualize what the pop culture references would actually mean… It’s not even tripe. Regardless of the technical competence of the third act (I mean, where was it in the first). It’s not fluff. It’s not popcorn. It’s a $200 million rubber dog poop gag.

With bad cinematography and terrible acting. Like. The most interesting question the film raises is how did they get the tears in Pratt’s emotion-free eyes? Visine or CG?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Gunn; screenplay by Gunn, based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; director of photography, Henry Braham; edited by Fred Raskin and Craig Wood; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Sean Gunn (Kraglin), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Chris Sullivan (Taserface), and Kurt Russell (Ego).


The Mean Season (1985, Phillip Borsos)

Somewhere in the second act of The Mean Season, the film just starts slipping and it never corrects. The opening titles, set against stormy Miami weather and a vicious (though not graphic) murder, establish the film’s momentum. Everything moves fast, whether it’s establishing unsatisfied reporter Kurt Russell and his newsroom sidekicks, his girlfriend Mariel Hemingway, even when the serial killer starts calling Russell–director Borsos and screenwriter Leon Piedmont keep things moving. Frank Tidy’s photography, the Florida locations, and Lalo Schifrin’s gentle but intense score help a lot.

There’s also Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford as the cops investigating the case. Garcia likes Russell, Bradford doesn’t. Like almost everything else in the movie, Borsos seems to think implying character motivation is the same as having character motivation. But Borsos and Piedmont aren’t particularly good at subtlety and Borsos isn’t great at directing his actors. He apparently gets Bradford’s world-weary, slightly fascist cop is the best character in the picture, since Bradford’s the only actor who gets any material to chew on. Though maybe it’s Bradford stepping up and chewing on his otherwise pointless role.

Getting a little ahead of myself–the salad days of Mean Season are the first half. The newspaper stuff is interesting, Borsos is good at the investigation, Russell and Hemingway are appealing. Then the movie gets into this whole juxtaposition of Russell’s media ambitions and the killer’s media ambitions and the stumbling starts. Russell and Hemingway try, but neither brings much weight to their roles. Once Borsos is done doing jump scares involving them, he and then Piedmont have nothing more for Hemingway. She’s just around to argue with Russell. Then Russell apologizes and scene.

There’s no character development, particularly for Russell. Piedmont’s script relies on thriller more than drama. Borsos’s direction eventually veers to action, which is a big mistake because he’s exceptionally inept at it. The second half of the film, as Russell finds himself in danger and not just from manipulative jump scares, is ragged and somewhat unpleasant. Russell burns through the charm and likability he’s built up and Borsos isn’t there with anything else for him. He ends the picture a husk.

Mean Season also skips the opportunity to look at the reporter becoming news, even though there are occasional details suggesting someone thought it might be a good idea to focus on that angle.

Hemingway gets a lot of help from Schifrin’s score. It’s problematic–she’s the damsel so she needs good damsel music–but also effective. And she’s trying. And her character does try to talk some sense, building up her likability. So she’s slight, but gets a pass.

Russell’s pass is a little different, almost more of an incomplete. It’s not his fault though. It’d be hard to make the last third silliness of Mean Season work. The film’s desperately in need of a better resolution to the mystery of the serial killer. Borsos overestimates where’s gotten the film in terms of suspension of disbelief as well as general interest.

The supporting cast is solid. Besides the awesome Bradford performance, Garcia is fine with little to do as a too young police lieutenant. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, and Rose Portillo all ably staff the newsroom scenes. They eventually disappear from the A plot, reduced to background as Piedmont’s script loses focus. At least Borsos kept them around.

Richard Jordan and William Smith are good as witnesses who prove essential to the case. Borsos fails Jordan after a while, but he’s still got some fine moments.

The Mean Season wraps up with an unsatisfying, hurried, manipulative conclusion. By the end, the whole movie is on Hemingway, Russell, Schifrin, Tidy, and Florida’s collective shoulders. They manage to keep it afloat, but only just.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Borsos; screenplay by Leon Piedmont, based on a novel by John Katzenbach; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Duwayne Dunham; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Philip M. Jeffries; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Malcolm Anderson), Mariel Hemingway (Christine Connelly), Andy Garcia (Ray Martinez), Richard Bradford (Phil Wilson), Richard Masur (Bill Nolan), Joe Pantoliano (Andy Porter), Rose Portillo (Kathy Vasquez), William Smith (Albert O’Shaughnessy), and Richard Jordan (Mike Hilson).


The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

Although Big Trouble in Little China takes place in modern day San Francisco and has a whole bunch of awesome special effects, it’s really just John Carpenter doing another Western. This time he’s doing a light comedy Western and he’s got the perfect script for it. W.D. Richter (credited with an adaptation no less) has some great rapid fire expository dialogue. Practically everything Kim Cattrall says in the film until halfway through is exposition, but Cattrall and Carpenter sell it.

It works because Carpenter’s already established Big Trouble’s tone with star Kurt Russell. Russell’s doing a John Wayne impression, but John Wayne as a goofball who can’t figure anything out. He ends up playing sidekick to Dennis Dun. Carpenter, Russell and Richter take every opportunity to use the character for laughs. But Russell’s able to play the obnoxiousness as likability. It makes for a constantly entertaining film.

There’s also the James Hong situation. Hong plays the villain, both as a seven-foot tall sorcerer and as a wizened old man. Even though the villain’s obviously dangerous–something the film establishes right off–most of his scenes are played for outlandish humor. Carpenter’s big on getting physical humor out of his cast. Cattrall’s especially good in those scenes.

The film’s got excellent production values–particularly the editing. Dean Cundey’s photography is nice, but the fight scene editing is just phenomenal. Also essential is the frantic and playful score from Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth.

Trouble’s a lot of fun.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by W.D. Richter, based on a story by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Steve Mirkovich, Mark Warner and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Kurt Russell (Jack Burton), Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law), Dennis Dun (Wang Chi), James Hong (David Lo Pan), Victor Wong (Egg Shen), Kate Burton (Margo), Donald Li (Eddie Lee), Carter Wong (Thunder), Peter Kwong (Rain), James Pax (Lightning), Suzee Pai (Miao Yin), Chao Li Chi (Uncle Chu), Jeff Imada (Needles), Rummel Mor (Joe Lucky) and Craig Ng (One Ear).


Escape from L.A. (1996, John Carpenter)

Escape from L.A. is an action movie without any real action until the final set piece. And that final set piece is excellent–lots of hang gliders and practical effects. But the rest of the action? It’s terrible CG. Instead of imagining real set pieces, director Carpenter (and co-writers Kurt Russell and Debra Hill) fall back on digital effects.

As a result, there’s almost nothing distinctive about L.A. Until the finish, anyway. The last ten minutes or so are really good.

The film has a number of big problems, but the primary ones are the setup and the geography. As a delayed sequel to Escape from New York, L.A. is a disaster. The opening establishes almost the exact same situation as the first film, which seems unlikely but also reeks of a lack of imagination.

Then there’s the geography. The film’s setting is so big and so varied, it’s hard to imagine Russell’s anti-hero having any trouble escaping from it. So the script has to confine him with a rapidly decreasing countdown.

There aren’t any good supporting characters–though a lot of the supporting performances are good–because L.A. never takes time to enjoy itself. It feels like a chore for the filmmakers.

The best supporting turns are from Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Stacy Keach and Georges Corraface. Corraface and Golino are shockingly good; Fonda has lots of fun.

Also unimaginative is Lawrence G. Paull’s production design.

L.A. is a pointless, disappointing but vaguely inoffensive trip.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, based on characters created by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Shirley Walker and Carpenter; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Hill and Russell; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Stacy Keach (Cmdr. Malloy), Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie), Valeria Golino (Taslima), Peter Fonda (Pipeline), Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas), Michelle Forbes (Brazen), Georges Corraface (Cuervo Jones), Bruce Campbell (The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills), A.J. Langer (Utopia), Leland Orser (Test Tube) and Cliff Robertson (The President).


Captain Ron (1992, Thom E. Eberhardt)

For an innocuous Touchstone family comedy, Captain Ron isn’t bad. Like most Touchstone movies, it lacks any real personality–Daryn Okada’s photography, for example, should be full of lush Caribbean visuals but it isn’t. Part of the blame goes to director Eberhardt, who doesn’t know how to open up his shots, and Okada’s no help. Ron feels too artificially controlled.

The movie still has some very amusing moments and it’s well-acted by the principals. More accurately, the adult principals. Martin Short inherits a boat and brings along wife Mary Kay Place and kids Benjamin Salisbury and Meadow Sisto. Salisbury is annoying, Sisto’s bad.

Place easily gives the film’s best performance, while Russell manages to be charming with the illusion of edginess. That Touchstone touch. Short’s wrong for his role as a neurotic control freak; his best scenes are when Eberhardt’s stuck using him as a physical comedian. Short’s good enough to sell the non-physical stuff, but he’s in the way of his own movie. Eberhardt and co-screenwriter John Dwyer don’t have a particularly good script and their character arcs are even worse.

Those writing problems aside, Eberhardt has five principal cast members and barely any significant supporting cast and he paces the scenes exceedingly well. His problem’s his weak composition. The short set-up–a walking, exposition-filled argument between Short and Place–still feels natural and complete, even though it’s manipulative.

William F. Matthews’s production design is better than Ron deserves. Nicholas Pike’s music is worse.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; screenplay by John Dwyer and Eberhardt, based on a story by Dwyer; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Tina Hirsch; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, William F. Matthews; produced by David Permut and Paige Simpson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Captain Ron), Martin Short (Martin Harvey), Mary Kay Place (Katherine Harvey), Benjamin Salisbury (Benjamin Harvey), Meadow Sisto (Caroline Harvey), Sunshine Logroño (General Armando), Jorge Luis Ramos (The General’s Translator), J.A. Preston (Magistrate), Tanya Soler (Angeline), Raúl Estela (Roscoe), Jainardo Batista (Mamba), Dan Butler (Zachery) and Tom McGowan (Bill).


Soldier (1998, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Someone must have realized Soldier had a lot of problems because there’s a terribly edited montage showing how Kurt Russell’s socially engineered future soldier is crushing on Connie Nielsen while her husband Sean Pertwee looks on in concern.

It gives Soldier a Shane feel, something the rest of the film doesn’t have. Like I said, it’s an awful montage–mixing footage from previous scenes and future ones with no sense of time–but all of Martin Hunter’s editing for Soldier is awful so it’s not a surprise.

Soldier‘s about Russell being replaced by genetically engineered future soldiers, who are “better”, and protecting a bunch of colonists whose spaceship crashed on the way to paradise. It’s a garbage planet too, which means it’s not really a Western in space… it’s a Western on a space garbage planet.

Anderson’s direction is occasionally mediocre, but mostly bad. He can’t figure out how to direct a fight scene, which is bad for the big finale between Russell and muscle-bound grotesque Jason Scott Lee. He also can’t direct his actors, so Gary Busey just embarrasses himself and Jason Isaacs is more cartoonish than Elmer Fudd.

There’s also a lot of slow motion and bad zooms and godawful music from Joel McNeely. Worse, the slow motion and worst music coincide; Anderson doesn’t trust his viewer to pick up on anything.

Russell’s not bad, though he can’t compete with the idiotic production. Sean Pertwee’s pretty good as Van Heflin, though his highlights are inexplicable.

Soldier‘s ghastly.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by David Webb Peoples; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Joel McNeely; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kurt Russell (Todd 3465), Jason Scott Lee (Caine 607), Jason Isaacs (Colonel Mekum), Connie Nielsen (Sandra), Sean Pertwee (Mace), Jared Thorne & Taylor Thorne (Nathan), Mark Bringelsorn (Rubrick), Gary Busey (Church), K.K. Dodds (Sloan), James Black (Riley), Mark De Alessandro (Goines), Vladimir Orlov (Romero), Carsten Norgaard (Green), Duffy Gaver (Chelsey), Brenda Wehle (Hawkins), Michael Chiklis (Jimmy Pig), Elizabeth Dennehy (Mrs. Pig) and Paul Dillon (Slade).


Poseidon (2006, Wolfgang Petersen)

Almost all of Poseidon is extremely predictable. Even if it didn’t rip off every blockbuster since 1995 for one detail or plot twist or another, it would be extremely predictable. There is one big departure into unpredictability and it’s so jarring, for a while I maintained interested hoping screenwriter Mark Protosevich would try it again. Unfortunately, he does not.

It’s nearly impossible to find anything nice to say about Poseidon. Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is nowhere near as bad as it was in Air Force One or Outbreak. I suppose that statement is complementary.

But all of the acting is awful and a disaster movie can’t have awful acting. You can’t be rooting for the characters to die off just to be rid of them and, in Poseidon, it’s about all one can do to keep interested. Obviously, the annoying cameo from Stacy Ferguson makes her a prime target, but I never thought I’d be wanting less Andre Braugher in a movie. He plays the ship’s captain. He’s awful.

The film’s worst performances, in no particular order, come from Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum, Mike Vogel and Kevin Dillon. Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett and Mía Maestro are all awful too, but they’re not as bad as the others. Though it is mildly amusing to try to guess how many pounds of makeup Russell’s wearing.

Freddy Rodríguez easily gives the film’s only “good” performance.

Even with its short run time (about a hundred minutes), Poseidon is an exceptionally trying viewing experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Mark Protosevich, based on a novel by Paul Gallico; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Peter Honess; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Mike Fleiss, Akiva Goldsman, Duncan Henderson and Petersen; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Josh Lucas (Dylan Johns), Kurt Russell (Robert Ramsey), Jacinda Barrett (Maggie James), Richard Dreyfuss (Richard Nelson), Emmy Rossum (Jennifer Ramsey), Mía Maestro (Elena Morales), Mike Vogel (Christian), Kevin Dillon (Lucky Larry), Freddy Rodríguez (Marco Valentin), Jimmy Bennett (Conor James), Stacy Ferguson (Gloria) and Andre Braugher (Captain Bradford).


Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter)

Man and boy, I’ve probably seen Escape from New York ten times. This viewing might be the first where I noticed the film’s quietness. Carpenter uses the relative silence to make the first third (even before Isaac Hayes shows up), the most memorable parts of the film.

Some of that memorable quality has more to do with Carpenter’s approach than the script. The flying sequence is phenomenal. The deliberate cuts between Kurt Russell, delicately lighted in the cockpit, and the glider silently moving through the New York streets, the music barely audible… it’s one of Carpenter’s more “beautiful” moments as a director.

That sequence also showcases how Carpenter and his crew were able to take a lower budgeted picture like New York and make it more impressive than most big releases of the day. Carpenter sets up a dystopian future, but make the futuristic aspects imaginative and thrilling to the audience.

Lots of seventies Carpenter regulars show up–Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens (not to mention Donald Pleasence and Adrienne Barbeau)–but the additional supporting cast members are iconic. Obviously, Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York is a flashy role, but Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine are great too.

In a very Altman fashion, suggests these complex relationships–particularly Barbeau and Stanton, but also Russell and Van Cleef–and lets the viewer decide for him or herself. He does something similar with Pleasence’s finish.

The film is a significant masterpiece, something I’m not vocal enough about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef (Hauk), Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), Donald Pleasence (The President), Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Tom Atkins (Rehme), Charles Cyphers (The Secretary of State), Season Hubley (Girl in Chock Full O’Nuts) and Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie).


Executive Decision (1996, Stuart Baird)

What the heck was my problem with Executive Decision the last time I watched it? I saw it about eight years ago and, according to my notes, was unimpressed. It’s a fantastic action movie–just the combination of editors–director Baird, Dallas Puett, Frank J. Urioste–might make it one of the tightest action movies ever made. I suppose it’s an action thriller, since the film–after a certain point–ratchets up the tension and never lets it down at all. It might be producer Joel Silver’s finest b-movie, just because it’s such a solid, intense ride. It opened in March–I remember seeing a sneak preview, then going back to see it again–but it’s a perfect summer movie.

Maybe the presence of Steven Seagal throws it a little, but he’s so inconsequential and so incongruous–the supporting cast is the best he’s ever worked with–John Leguizamo’s all right, but Oliver Platt and Joe Morton are fantastic. B.D. Wong’s really good too. This discrepancy doesn’t even get to Kurt Russell showing up in the movie… it’s like Seagal’s this little cameo thing, one without a purpose. It’s the kind of role they really should have gotten Bruce Willis to do, because he wouldn’t have brought any baggage (or Danny Glover). Seagal’s actually fine, he’s even funny at times–while never believable as an Army officer. But he gets a pass, because his parts in the movie are so disconnected from what it becomes… it’s hard to really think about him in the end.

Executive Decision is the only real Die Hard on a plane I think anyone’s made (it’s also bit of a revision on The Delta Force). The script even follows the Die Hard outline, down to J.T. Walsh offering to help negotiate and David Suchet sitting quietly. Silver knew what he was doing when he put this movie together and it’s a shame he doesn’t get appreciated for it. Baird’s a good action director, knows how to use the Panavision frame–it’s got Alex Thomson shooting some of it, so it all looks great–and the cutting is, like I said before, peerless. Maybe the Jerry Goldsmith music gets a little goofy, but it really doesn’t matter (it gets way too loud at times).

The acting’s all solid. Whip Hubley probably gives the film’s worst performance (except Halle Berry and Marla Maples and I think Maples is just there to make Berry seem like a better actress–oh, I guess Walsh is pretty lame too) but he’s okay. Russell gives one of his sturdy lead performances (I know it wasn’t a big hit, but I can’t believe they didn’t try to get a sequel into production), he’s totally believable as the Ph.D. who wants to be a pilot–I think knowing Russell is really a pilot is part of the film’s agreement with the audience, which might hinder its chance for a broad viewership–and can handle guns when he needs to… he’s Kurt Russell, after all.

The lack of chemistry between him and Berry is almost palpable and only the tightly edited, beautifully plotted climax carries the film through their scenes together. Then there’s a lull and it’s Frank Sinatra singing–much like Vaughn Monroe closes the first two (the Joel Silver) Die Hard entries–who makes everything all right.

Executive Decision is a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Baird; written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Baird, Dallas Puett and Frank J. Urioste; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kurt Russell (Dr. David Grant), David Suchet (Nagi Hassan), Halle Berry (Jean), John Leguizamo (Rat), Oliver Platt (Dennis Cahill), Joe Morton (Cappy), B.D. Wong (Louie), Len Cariou (Secretary of Defense Charles White), Whip Hubley (Baker), Andreas Katsulas (El Sayed Jaffa), Mary Ellen Trainor (Allison), Marla Maples (Nancy), J.T. Walsh (Senator Mavros) and Steven Seagal (Lt. Colonel Austin Travis).


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