Mark Warner

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).


Like Minds (2006, Gregory J. Read)

If Like Minds weren’t shot in Panavision and it didn’t star Toni Collette (just because she hadn’t fallen off the radar far enough yet), it’d be the pilot for an Australian crime drama. Collette would be the criminal psychologist with Richard Roxburgh as the brutish but noble cop who had to put up with her (they’re ex-lovers no less). Well, and for the plotting, which casts Collette and Roxburgh aside, telling most of the story in flashback, as she tries to discover just what happened to a dead teenager. The prime suspect? His friend.

The whole thing is–down to the Hitchcock reference, but sadly not Rope–a cheap attempt to turn that TV episode script into a feature. As a director, Gregory J. Read isn’t terrible. His Panavision is not geared for 4:3 (or even 16:9); a not insignificant compliment. However, as a writer, he’s an idiot. Like Minds is astoundingly predictable–one of the major reasons for finishing it is the assumption an accomplished actor like Collette wouldn’t sign on to a project with a cheesier ending than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan… but she apparently did. What’s more criminal is how interesting, with Roxburgh a solid copper and Collette capable of so much more, a barely competent screenwriter could have made Like Minds.

Had the film been about Collette and her ambition, it would have been… well, maybe not stunning, but pretty good and at least a decent thriller and not a stupid one.

Nigel Bluck’s cinematography is rather nice and he gives the pseudo-British countryside (why make an Australian movie look like a British one) a rather widescreen scope. It’s rather nice and sometimes succeeds in distracting from Read’s script’s more glaring illiteracies.

As the two teenagers, Eddie Redmayne is better as the suspect. He’s questionable at times, but decent. Tom Sturridge is competent–sometimes–as a creep, but most of the time he’s just awful. Read also misses the big gay theme in his “yes it is, no it’s not” Leopold and Loeb modernizing–occasionally, as Sturridge runs around in a wet t-shirt, I thought he’d get around to the homoeroticism… but he never does. Why? Because it’d make sense and be competent. And Read’s anything but.

As for Collette, she ought to be embarrassed. Another one like Like Minds, she’ll be to Australia what Val Kilmer is to New Mexico.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gregory J. Read; director of photography, Nigel Bluck; edited by Mark Warner; music by Carlo Giacco; production designer, Steven Jones-Evans; produced by Jonathan Shteinman and Piers Tempest; released by Becker Films.

Starring Eddie Redmayne (Alex), Tom Sturridge (Nigel Colbie), Toni Collette (Sally), Richard Roxburgh (McKenzie), Patrick Malahide (Headmaster), Jon Overton (Josh), Amit Shah (Raj), David Threlfall (John Colbie), Cathryn Bradshaw (Helen Colbie) and Kate Maberly (Susan Mueller).


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