Michael Biehn

Puncture (2011, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen)

Puncture is a crusading attorney picture with a couple twists. First, there’s no trial and, specifically, no eureka moment in the trial. Second, the crusading attorney in question–played by Chris Evans–is haunted by more than demons or the bottle, he’s a rabid drug fiend. Oddly, Puncture never condemns the character’s drug use. In fact, he seems more with it high than not.

The film features technically wonderful performance, but no engaging character relationships. Co-director Mark Kassen plays Evans’s law partner–the responsible one–but their relationship never resonates. The film shows its most personality when it’s Evans, Kassen and Jesse L. Martin (as a mutual friend) hanging out. But Martin only shows up for two little scenes.

Brett Cullen is great as the bad guy attorney and he and Evans have a mildly interesting rapport. Puncture‘s problem is how the Kassen Brothers present Evans. They don’t really know what to do with the character; it might be a case where being accurate to history (it’s a true story) hobbles a film.

The only weak performance is probably Marshall Bell as Evans and Kassen’s client. He’s supposed to be fed up, vulgar and endearing. While Bell looks the part, he’s never believably earnest. On the other hand, Michael Biehn looks slicker than a used car salesman in Pomade but he still comes off as earnest.

The direction’s okay, though the wide frame is a mistake. The digital transitions are lame.

Puncture‘s plodding, but worth it for the acting.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen; screenplay by Chris Lopata, based on a story by Paul Danizger and Ela Thier; director of photography, Helge Gerull; edited by Chip Smith; music by Ryan Ross Smith; production designer, Christopher Stull; released by Millennium Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Mike Weiss), Mark Kassen (Paul Danziger), Michael Biehn (Red), Brett Cullen (Nathaniel Price), Marshall Bell (Jeffrey Dancort), Jesse L. Martin (Daryl King), Roxanna Hope (Sylvia), Jennifer Blanc (Stephany), Tess Parker (Jaime Weiss), Kate Burton (Senator O’Reilly) and Vinessa Shaw (Vicky Rogers).


Aliens (1986, James Cameron), the special edition

I always think of Aliens as a precisely choreographed ballet. Director Cameron moves his large cast–though it does winnow over time–around in these cramped sets and everyone has something to do; Cameron draws the viewer’s attention to one character, but the rest are in motion setting up the next moment in the scene.

Watching the film this time, I noticed how Cameron’s subtle introductions to each character later define them. Sure, there’s a handful of characters who don’t get much focus, but about nine do. It’s like a ballet on wires.

Cameron’s script is also able to keep up its urgency throughout. The titular aliens don’t even appear at the start of the second act; Cameron holds them off as long as possible, which later lets Aliens constantly break expectations. Cameron organically sets up and knocks down various possibilities for the film… all while following some definite horror genre standards.

Aliens is meticulous–Ray Lovejoy’s editing is truly astounding, whether he’s passing time with a fade or perfectly cutting the action scenes. Adrian Biddle’s photography’s excellent–as is the effects work–but Lovejoy’s editing is simply wow.

All of the principals are excellent. Obviously Sigourney Weaver, but Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser are great too. Carrie Henn is fantastic in her difficult, understated scream princess role. I love how the script implies character relationships developing offscreen. It’s wonderful.

Cameron achieves a major success. Aliens is exhilarating. Like most great films, it gets better with every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on a story by Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by James Horner; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt), Michael Biehn (Hicks), Paul Reiser (Burke), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez), William Hope (Lt. Gorman), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), Mark Rolston (Drake), Ricco Ross (Frost) and Paul Maxwell (Van Leuwen).


Streets of Blood (2009, Charles Winkler)

Of all the crap Millennium Films has released theatrically, it’s shameful they let Streets of Blood go straight to DVD. Sure, there’s an absolutely ludicrous Sharon Stone (playing a faded Southern belle Ph.D., the worst Ph.D. casting since Will Smith), but it’s a solid cop thriller slash character study slash Katrina exploitation film. It’s even mildly subversive, with the federal government playing the bad guys. And there is some bad acting–besides Stone–Barry Shabaka Henley, for example, is awful and, even though his character’s arc is solid, Brian Presley is lacking.

But the film does feature, as far as I can tell, the best Val Kilmer performance in about ten years. Maybe a little less, but definitely his best since Spartan. It’s an amazing leading man performance–again, it’s a shame this one didn’t a) get a theatrical release and b) a lot more production money thrown at it once it was clear the caliber of Kilmer’s performance. Kilmer really should have been done the Dave Robicheaux adaptation instead of Tommy Lee Jones.

Curtis Jackson’s bad in the monologue sections but he does well with Kilmer. It’s impossible to think anyone could not do well with Kilmer (even Presley does and Henley doesn’t have any scenes with him) in this one.

Only Stone and Kilmer come off wrong, with her character being totally nonsensical.

Oh, and Jose Pablo Cantillo is excellent.

But the problem’s the script. It needed a capable rewrite.

Even so, Kilmer makes the film essential viewing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Winkler; screenplay by Eugene Hess, based on a story by Hess and Dennis Fanning; director of photography, Roy H. Wagner; edited by Clayton Halsey; music by Stephen Endelman; production designer, Gary Constable; produced by Randall Emmett, George Furla, Avi Lerner, Matthew O’Toole, John Thompson, Charles Winkler and Irwin Winkler; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Val Kilmer (Andy Devereaux), Curtis Jackson (Stan Green), Sharon Stone (Nina Ferraro), Michael Biehn (Agent Brown), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Pepe), Brian Presley (Barney), Barry Shabaka Henley (Capt. John Friendly), Luis Rolon (Fernando Chamorro), Defecio Stoglin (Jambalaya Jake), Davi Jay (Ray Delacroix), Pilar Sanders (Yolanda Green), Darcel White Moreno (Tanya) and Shirly Brener (Selina).


The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

I remember The Terminator being a lot better. Even as it started–I think during the first chase sequence (Michael Biehn in the department store)–I thought about the great highway chase sequence at the end. Then, as things went sour during, I kept waiting for that sequence, sure it would bring things around.

But it doesn’t bring things around. It’s short and loud–maybe the only time in the movie Brad Fiedel’s score doesn’t work. The disappointment might also be because Linda Hamilton, during this sequence, goes from waitress who gets picked on by little kids (I guess her restaurant does not reserve the right to refuse service) to the full-on James Cameron super-woman. It’s an inexplicable character change, sort of like her romantic clinging to future stalker Biehn. Where Terminator has the most opportunity for real character development (does Hamilton cling to Biehn because of her previous and frequent rejections?), it doesn’t seem to notice them. It does try to show Biehn’s incapable of having a regular conversation, emotion scarring from the future, but Biehn’s terrible during these scenes. Actually, he’s terrible once he meets up with Hamilton. Before them meeting up, he’s fine… even if he only has two lines.

The first three-quarters (or half) of the movie–before the police station shoot out–is great. It’s some of Cameron’s finest work, just because it shows he can show people walking down the street or going to work. Even if Hamilton and Bess Motta give bad performances, them getting ready for their dates is a good scene. There’s a texture to the film, even if there isn’t one to the screenplay. Cameron’s become so enamored with the fantastic, he seems to have forgotten the effectiveness of the uncanny. It doesn’t take him five or ten years though, by the second half of The Terminator he’s made the transition.

The second part has all the stupid future stuff, the terrible romantic stuff and the unexciting ending (the movie’s really Biehn’s and the protagonist transition to Hamilton fails).

The movie starts so strong–down to Bill Paxton’s moron punk–and doesn’t let up for a long time. Most of the credit goes to Fiedel, the sound designer (The Terminator‘s most interesting, technically, for how Cameron uses sound and music to create mood) and Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. Winfield and Henriksen’s bickering cops brings a human element to the film–and real characters, something sorely missing with Hamilton and Biehn–and once they’re out of the story, it’s just a bunch of sci-fi tripe. The reality is gone.

As for Schwarzenegger, he’s fine. Though he’s interchangeable with a model head and a stop motion robot, so I’m not sure the performance is particularly successful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron with Gale Anne Hurd, with acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Brad Fiedel; produced by Hurd; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich), Bess Motta (Ginger Ventura), Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman), Rick Rossovich (Matt Buchanan), Dick Miller (Pawnshop Clerk), Shawn Schepps (Nancy), Bruce M. Kerner (Desk Sergeant), Franco Columbu (Future Terminator), Bill Paxton (Punk Leader), Brad Rearden (Punk) and Brian Thompson (Punk).


The Abyss (1989, James Cameron), the special edition

Running almost three hours, the special edition of The Abyss manages to be too long in an interesting way. It forgets its story. There’s about an hour there with the valiant undersea oil workers battling the psychotic military man–there’s fight scenes and chase scenes and drama scenes and all sorts of scenes… just nothing about the movie’s actual story, which is something to do with space aliens saving the human race from itself. Cameron’s thesis is incredibly naive and also a fantastic cop-out. Thanks to some newsreel footage of Americans being asked about being on the brink with the Soviets, its clear Cameron puts all the blame for xenophobia on the military. It’s a very, very goofy move… and wholly lifted from 2010 (I think from both the book and the movie).

But The Abyss is highly derivative. Cameron borrows storytelling techniques from all the finest sources (Irwin Allen mostly) and comes up with a rather amusing, well-acted undersea action melodrama. It’s perfectly fine. Well, except Michael Biehn. As the nutso Navy SEAL, Biehn’s supposed to be suffering from the bends and, therefore, not responsible for going insane. Except, with a few exceptions, Cameron never goes and makes Biehn anything but a nutso jerk even before the insanity sets in. And Biehn doesn’t even try to work it in as a subtext. He’s the movie villain. He’s not all together bad, but he’s not good.

Almost every performance is excellent, otherwise (except Christopher Murphy, who Cameron appears to have cast from a weightlifting advertisement). In particular, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Both are good throughout, but it’s really at the end when they excel, when they’re acting by themselves. Harris can’t talk and does everything with his eyes, Mastrantonio can’t move and does everything in close-up with her voice. Spectacular acting from the two of them, so much so, when they finally to get back to regular scenes… Cameron’s script is a real letdown. Supporting-wise, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, Leo Burmester are all great in the most vocal (and funny) roles. John Bedford Lloyd is also good, in a much quieter part.

Cameron’s direction of groups is impressive, even if the editing doesn’t always match. He gives everyone something to do and, as he has lots of group shots, it makes The Abyss a congenial experience (which is why it doesn’t feel like three hours).

But the movie fails–thanks to Cameron’s goofy ending–when it should succeed. For a few moments, Cameron gets close to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then manages to screw it all up with his pedestrian plotting. He cut two scripts together–Ed Harris vs. Rambo underwater, underwater aliens make their presence known–and somehow, in three hours, didn’t achieve either.

I need to take a moment to comment on Alan Silvestri’s highly derivative (of his own work) score. There’s a lot of good material, but then there’s a lot of mediocre. And maybe even some bad.

So it fits The Abyss well, I suppose.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Cameron; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Joel Goodman, Howard E. Smith and Steven Quale; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Van Ling; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ed Harris (Bud), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey), Michael Biehn (Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish), Todd Graff (Hippy), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer), J.C. Quinn (Sonny), Kimberly Scott (One Night), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wilhite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Dick Warlock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Kirkhill) and Chris Elliott (Bendix).


Jade (1995, William Friedkin), the director’s cut

Jade not only ended David Caruso’s leading man career, it also ended Chazz Palminteri’s mid-1990s upswing, and probably slowed down Linda Fiorentino’s post-Last Seduction career as it started (she never had a lead in a major studio production). Amusingly, when Paramount started making the film, back in 1995, they had no idea who to cast in the female lead, so they asked film critics, who, of course, were raving about Fiorentino at the time. All three of these actors–at times–do a lot of good work in Jade, but the film’s so poorly written, so poorly produced (by Robert Evans of all people, in his comeback attempt), it’s all for nothing.

The story could have been an update on Manhattan Melodrama, the love triangle with civic complications, but instead, Joe Eszterhas recycles Basic Instinct. There’s a lot of recycling going on in Jade–Friedkin fills it with chase scenes (I’d totally forgotten he’d done The French Connection, I thought it was Frankenheimer… I guess a good script does help, doesn’t it?) and James Horner recycles a lot of his older material in the score, including the end title from Aliens, which is cute since Michael Biehn is in Jade. Except Biehn turns in one of his incredibly bad performances. It’s hard to believe he was ever good (in Aliens) and I wonder if the continued exposure to Friedkin (starting in 1988) ruined his acting. Seeing Jade, it’s certainly a possibility.

I watched Jade because I remembered it a few weeks ago. Friedkin did a director’s cut for cable and VHS, which Paramount did not release on DVD, and I got it off eBay for a couple bucks. I remember when it came out–I probably saw it at a Suncoast, the release was so long ago I still went to Suncoast–the director’s cut was an improvement over the original version, which I had seen in the theater. Well, if the director’s cut truly is an improvement, the original must be really terrible. Besides Biehn, Angie Everhart turns up for a few minutes, starting her assault on the sanctity of acting, but Donna Murphy is really good. She and Caruso should do a family drama or something.

The last tidbit of Jade trivia I have is about the home video presentation. I wasn’t going to get it, but I remember talking to a Ken Crane’s LaserDisc operator on the phone about the laserdisc. Friedkin had Paramount release it pan and scan only–just like the VHS, just like the DVD. Now, Jade was not matted for theatrical release, so, apparently, Friedkin is a big supporter of pan and scan for the film (but none of the others in his oeuvre, even his eating tree classic, The Guardian, is available widescreen). Eszterhas amusingly blames the whole mess on Friedkin, who he says only got the directing gig because his wife was running Paramount at the time. It’s a load of crap–Eszterhas has never written a good line in his life–but it’s rare to see such hacks acting against each other to create a piece of garbage… all of it ruining some of Fiorentino’s best work… potentially best work… she was really good–unspeakably wonderful–for like a minute… in fifteen second sequences….

I can’t believe I just watched Jade. More, I can’t believe I just watched the whole thing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Augie Hess; music by James Horner; production designer, Alex Tavoularis; produced by Robert Evans, Craig Baumgarten and Gary Adelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Caruso (David Corelli), Linda Fiorentino (Trina Gavin), Chazz Palminteri (Matt Gavin), Richard Crenna (Gov. Lew Edwards), Michael Biehn (Bob Hargrove), Donna Murphy (Karen Heller), Ken King (Petey Vesko), Holt McCallany (Bill Barrett), David Hunt (Pat Callendar), Angie Everhart (Patrice Jacinto), Kevin Tighe (Dist. Atty. Arnold Clifford) and Robin Thomas (Mr. Green).


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