Michael Madsen

Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The least violent part of Reservoir Dogs is the bloodiest. One of the characters is in a pool of blood, slipping on it as he delivers his dialogue. Director Tarantino finds a moment of Shakespearian tragedy and builds a film to it. He uses stylish ultra-violence, Dogs is visceral with the blood, but the action itself implies a far more frugal production. He uses seventies music, but not the trendy stuff. His somewhat fractured narrative, which owes something to classic film noir, wants to be an updated version of seventies crime. And he succeeds with it. Tarantino would never be able to get away with Dogs having actual tragedy if he weren’t able to sell everything else he packages with that tragedy.

Dogs acknowledges the idea of being outlandish exploitation but the film’s so tightly constructed, Tarantino never lets anything get wild. The film’s most “uncontrolled” sequence, as Michael Madsen does a freestyle torture dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You,” turns out to be Tarantino’s most controlled sequence in the film’s primary location, where everything is controlled. But with Madsen’s dance, Tarantino takes the time to acknowledge the various realities of the situation. He breaks the movie magic, not because he wants to offer commentary or deconstruct genre, but because the film needs reality. The tragedy doesn’t work with reality. Without the reality, Dogs wouldn’t be difficult. It’d be amusing, sure, but it wouldn’t require the viewer to mentally engage with the film.

And Tarantino starts with those demands on the viewer right off. The first scene of the film demands the viewer make some value judgements on the cast. Harvey Keitel has to be likable, same goes for Tim Roth, even Lawrence Tierney a little. Certain actors just get to be actors, certain actors have to do a bit of a feint, but the scene has a whole bunch to do. It’s the hook. And it’s not in Tarantino’s monologues, it’s how the characters talk to one another, how they react to one another. The rhythm isn’t in one actor’s voice, but in how the banter works.

Many of the actors do get great scenes, some even get great monologues–Harvey Keitel, for instance, just gets tons of great stuff to do in the film. Right from the start, he gets the hardest work opposite Tim Roth and then Steve Buscemi. When Keitel and Madsen finally get around to facing off, there’s so much built up energy, anything seems possible. Of course, anything is not possible, because Tarantino is trying to get things somewhere specific.

Most of the film’s runtime takes place in a warehouse. Most of the film’s present action, once the flashback structure establishes, takes place in various locations. Tarantino takes forever to open up the film. It takes Dogs forever to get to a daytime scene without violence. Tarantino puts off letting the viewer identify with any of the characters. Because Dogs, for the viewer and for the characters, is about sympathy with the devil, taking responsibility for that sympathy and even requesting for that sympathy. It’s really, really good.

Andrzej Sekula’s photography is fine. Sally Menke’s editing is phenomenal. The sets are the real star. David Wasco’s production design. Tarantino shoots on cheap but Dogs never looks it. Wasco and Tarantino make it look like there’s no other way to see this film, no other angles. Tarantino holds his shots, making the hanging clothes or the wash basins extremely important–they burn into the viewer’s mind. Especially in the first act. The film implies a larger world outside itself, in no small part thanks to the set design and decoration; Tarantino asks a lot of the viewer.

And he does reward it. He promises it right off with the actors. Keitel, Buscemi, Chris Penn. They’re doing dynamic, sensational work. Even though the introduction of these characters and their development throughout the film might make them less sympathetic characters, the performances are magnificent. Especially Keitel and Buscemi. And Michael Madsen’s really good. Everyone’s really good. Except Tarantino. He’s really bad at acting. He gives himself a bad part, which is kind of good. Kind of. He’s still bad.

Tim Roth’s great.

Nice support from Randy Brooks and Kirk Baltz. Stephen Wright’s unseen DJ is almost an essential compenent.

Reservoir Dogs is never startling. Tarantino isn’t trying to exploit his viewer, he’s trying to tell a story. It’s not a big story. It’s not a grand story. It’s something of a tragic anecdote. Something tragic that happened to these guys when they were doing a job.

It’s an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown), Randy Brooks (Holdaway), Kirk Baltz (Marvin) and Steven Wright (K-Billy DJ).


Diner (1983, Barry Levinson)

What a difference a cast makes. Barry Levinson’s pilot for a “Diner” television series reunites some of the film crew–editor Stu Linder does a wonderful job–but the only returning actors are Paul Reiser and Jessica James. Both are good–and Alison La Placa and Mady Kaplan are great as the wives (Levinson’s best writing is for them)–but they don’t offset the new leads.

Worst is Max Cantor (in for Daniel Stern), then Michael Madsen (for Mickey Rourke) and finally Mike Binder (for Steve Guttenberg). Levinson’s script’s part of the problem. He writes Cantor and Binder’s parts for the original actors. Binder might’ve with better dialogue.

Madsen’s awful, but Levinson inexplicably writes the character as a dimwit.

James Spader’s okay (in for Kevin Bacon).

It’s interesting–especially since it’s a direct sequel to the movie–very well directed and written in parts, but the male leads sink it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Dominic Palmieri; edited by Stu Linder; produced by Mark Johnson.

Starring Paul Reiser (Modell), James Spader (Fenwick), Mike Binder (Eddie), Max Cantor (Shrevie), Michael Madsen (Boogie), Mady Kaplan (Beth), Alison La Placa (Elyse), Robert Pastorelli (Turko), Arnie Mazer (The Gripper), Ted Bafaloukos (George) and Jessica James (Eddie’s Mother).


Species (1995, Roger Donaldson)

Roger Donaldson has these great sweeping camera shots in Species. He doesn’t restrict them to the action scenes, but uses them to dynamically bring his five principals into the frame together. It’s always beautifully done and, if one could separate Donaldson’s work from the film’s content, Species would seem a lot more impressive.

Unfortunately, the fine work of Donaldson—and editor Conrad Buff IV—is nowhere near enough to forgive the film’s problems.

First and foremost, the script is dumb. An alien civilization dupes the American government into creating an emissary and that emissary will try to wipe out the human race. Now, that idea isn’t dumb, it’s just an idea. Writer Dennis Feldman’s execution of that idea is awful though. The guy can’t write. Though I might just be blaming him more so I don’t have to be so negative about the actors.

Alfred Molina gives a good performance. Marg Helgenberger isn’t bad. Michael Madsen’s awful most of the time, but fine when he and Helgenberger are flirting. It makes one wonder what she’d have been able to do with a better costar.

Ben Kingsley and Forest Whitaker make up the rest of the principal cast. Both are terrible. Kingsley’s unimaginably bad; he’s trying a Southern accent and it fails over and over again. He’s just awful. Whitaker’s problem is the script. His character’s writing is particularly bad.

Speaking of bad, there’s some lame nineties CG in Species too.

Species is a weak film. Great direction, terrible result overall.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Dennis Feldman; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by Christopher Young; production designer, John Muto; produced by Feldman and Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ben Kingsley (Xavier Fitch), Michael Madsen (Preston Lennox), Alfred Molina (Dr. Stephen Arden), Forest Whitaker (Dan Smithson), Marg Helgenberger (Dr. Laura Baker), Natasha Henstridge (Sil) and Michelle Williams (Young Sil).


A House in the Hills (1993, Ken Wiederhorn)

A House in the Hills is, for the majority of its running time, pretty darn funny. It’s a romance novel run through a black comedy filter, with Helen Slater playing the lead. The film takes place in LA; Slater’s an actress and ends up being the one character the film never actually explains. It’s one of the many surprisingly subtle nuances to the script.

The mysterious stranger is Michael Madsen, who gives one of his best performances, who breaks into the house where she’s housesitting. In some ways, the script could be a play—it’s mostly the two of them sitting around for forty or fifty minutes, but there are these little comic moments, even when Slater’s ostensibly in danger.

It turns out, of course, there’s more than meets the eye to the situation they both find themselves in. One of the great parts of director Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores’s script is how they get more and more backstory into the film as the action progresses.

As a director, Wiederhorn gets how to balance the humor and the reality of Slater’s character. The first ten minutes are excellent working actor moments. Richard Einhorn’s score, revealing the comedy, helps the film immeasurably.

The supporting cast—Jeffrey Tambor, James Laurenson and Elyssa Davalos—is strong, but Hills really depends on Slater and, to a lesser degree, Madsen. While they’re both good, she’s the essential component. She makes the role—able to be flustered but still calculating—believable.

It’s a smart comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn; written by Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores; director of photography, Josep M. Civit; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Richard Einhorn; production designer, Morley Smith; produced by Wiederhorn and Patricia Foulkrod; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring Michael Madsen (Mickey), Helen Slater (Alex Weaver), Jeffrey Tambor (Willie), James Laurenson (Ronald Rankin), Elyssa Davalos (Sondra Rankin), Taylor Lee (Patty Neubauer) and Toni Barry (Susie).


Green Lantern: First Flight (2009, Lauren Montgomery)

There’s a certain amount of competence to the plotting in Green Lantern: First Flight. It’s too bad the filmmakers didn’t pay the same attention to the characters. The film basically lifts the plot structure from any number of established sources–Star Wars, The Matrix, a little Superman here and there–to tell this origin story about a superhero who isn’t so much a superhero as a intergalactic cop; why isn’t he a superhero? Well, superhero sort of suggests he isn’t doing things because it’s his job.

The story barely has any scenes on Earth, so a lot of time is wasted showcasing interesting looking–I think they’re supposed to be interesting looking, the animation isn’t particularly detailed oriented–aliens. The design owes a lot to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, those unexplained law of physics breaking architectural creations. There’s also a huge disregard for human–sorry–alien life and it feels immature, even before the silly ending, where screenwriter Burnett’s experience from writing “The Smurfs” must have come in handy.

There are also these strange CG-aided sequences, which are just idiotic. I’m guessing they included them to look cool or something, but it just draws attention to the difference in animation methods.

The voice acting is okay. Christopher Meloni lacks any personality as the lead, but the character isn’t written with any so it fits. Michael Madsen isn’t awful. John Larroquette and Kurtwood Smith are decent. Victor Garber, however, is a weak villain.

It’s a nearly acceptable seventy minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Alan Burnett, based on the DC Comics character created by John Broome and Gil Kane; edited by Rob Desales; music by Robert J. Kral; produced by Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Christopher Meloni (Hal Jordan), Victor Garber (Sinestro), Tricia Helfer (Boodikka), Michael Madsen (Kilowog), John Larroquette (Tomar Re), Kurtwood Smith (Kanjar Ro), Larry Drake (Ganthet), William Schallert (Appa Ali Apsa), Malachi Throne (Ranakar) and Olivia d’Abo (Carol Ferris).


The Natural (1984, Barry Levinson), the director’s cut

The Natural is a strange one. It’s a cheap success. The story is incredibly simple–you have the golden-haired hero and the evil monster who lives in the dark–and looking for anything more will leave one wanting. Even though the film taps into the baseball mythos, it’s superficial. The Natural is the superhero movie Robert Redford never made… there’s no question of his morality, his loyalty, his ability. Watching the movie is about enjoying what the movie does. The scenes of Redford knocking the ball out of the park aren’t supposed to come as surprises, they’re supposed to be Hollywood magic. And for the most part, they are.

For his second feature, Barry Levinson is perfect–just like his first–capturing the film’s era. He’s not so perfect at capturing or creating the wonderment. There are some problems. The biggest is the opening, with Redford playing twenty at fifty (or forty-nine)–only two years younger than co-star Wilford Brimley–while Redford playing thirty-six is digestible (he has had a bullet in his stomach for sixteen years), the opening flashbacks are distracting and might have done better just as voiceovers. But Levinson also isn’t able to direct those scenes, the mythic scenes. He lacks the visual imagination for it. Levinson is, always–no matter how much gloss he puts on it–a realistic director and mythic scenes are beyond him here. Randy Newman’s score doesn’t help in these scenes either and really should. Newman’s score is half perfect and half off. It’s good throughout, but he’s supposed to be whacking the viewer in the ears, filling he or she with a double serving of wonderment, richer than any cheesecake. And he comes close enough to show he could have, but doesn’t.

Some of those problems–the Newman score–suggest the filmmakers were going for something a little deeper. There are certainly suggestions of it. The scene where, when talking about his father, all Redford can say is, “I love baseball,” or the scenes with Glenn Close. In some ways, the most ambitious–as a real film–The Natural gets is when it’s deliberating on these two people picking up with each other after so long. It’s great stuff, it just doesn’t pay off in the end. What pays off in the end is sparkling rain and the hero victorious.

All the performances are good (except, obviously, Michael Madsen). Redford in particular, though Brimley and Richard Farnsworth are both excellent as well. As the nefarious villains, Robert Prosky, Darren McGavin and Kim Basinger show why being campy isn’t always a bad thing. Robert Duvall is a little disappointing too, I guess, playing a far too two-dimensional character. Close manages to play a grown-up dream girl, which was probably either a lot easier or a lot harder than it looks.

The film’s a little too clean, a little too long in places and a little too short in others, but when it works it works beautifully.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Levinson; screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Stu Linder and Christopher Holmes; music by Randy Newman; production designers, Mel Bourne and Angelo P. Graham; produced by Mark Johnson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Roy Hobbs), Robert Duvall (Max Mercy), Glenn Close (Iris Gaines), Kim Basinger (Memo Paris), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher), Barbara Hershey (Harriet Bird), Robert Prosky (The Judge), Darren McGavin (Gus Sands), Richard Farnsworth (Red Blow), Joe Don Baker (The Whammer), John Finnegan (Sam Simpson), Alan Fudge (Ed Hobbs), Paul Sullivan Jr. (Young Roy), Rachel Hall (Young Iris), Robert Rich III (Ted Hobbs), Michael Madsen (Bartholomew ‘Bump’ Bailey), Jon Van Ness (John Olsen), Mickey Treanor (Doc Dizzy) and George Wilkosz (Bobby Savoy).


Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori)

Fun. I’m trying to think–besides the Ocean series–of fun Hollywood blockbusters these days. It seems like fun is out. Certainly with James Bond. Die Another Day is a lot of fun. In fact, unlike some of the other Bond movies–the ones I can remember well–it seems to be more concentrated on being fun than anything else. I avoided it when it first came out for a couple reasons. Halle Berry and the title. It’s one of Berry’s best performances because, well, she’s supposed to be having fun and apparently she can (or can emulate it). As for the title… I mean, if Sony is going with Quantum of Solace… I don’t think I can hold Die Another Day against the now-gone MGM.

So, anyway, I tried it out….

The movie opens with James Bond surfing, which I thought was going to be too much, but wasn’t. Even though Lee Tamahori has some minor problems with hipster editing, for the most part he does a fantastic job. Die Another Day is a special effects extravaganza and the CG and practical mix very well. The film’s long and packed–the action moves from North Korea to China to Cuba to England to Iceland to North Korea again and there’s a decent action sequence in each location. In fact, I don’t think Tamahori even started messing with the editing until Iceland.

I suppose the movie’s a fine enough close for the original series (I mean, the pre-Sony series) and it’s a decent one for Brosnan. He’s having a good time and he and Berry work very well together. The rest of the cast is so-so. Toby Stephens is fine, but Rosamund Pike is lame. As the bad guy, Rick Yune leaves a lot to be desired… and the less said about Madonna and Michael Madsen, the better. Brosnan and Judi Dench work really well together in this one. As usual, the rest of office staff is good… Colin Salmon has nothing to do, but he’s good. Samantha Bond has one of the best Moneypenny moments.

Oh, the song. Madonna’s opening credits song is dreadful. One of the worst, maybe even the worst. It’s just terrible.

But it’s an incredibly fun outing, original song and lame supporting cast aside.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lee Tamahori; written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Christian Wagner; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Zao), Judi Dench (M), John Cleese (Q), Michael Madsen (Damian Falco), Will Yun Lee (Colonel Moon), Kenneth Tsang (General Moon), Emilio Echevarría (Raoul), Mikhail Gorevoy (Vlad), Lawrence Makoare (Mr. Kil), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson) and Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny).


Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan), the expanded edition

Thirty-nine years old when Wyatt Earp was released, all Kevin Costner needed to do to de-age himself twenty years was smile. During the young Earp days, Costner looks younger than costar Annabeth Gish, not to mention Linden Ashby (playing his younger brother).

The extended version of Wyatt Earp clocks in at three and a half hours. It’s not available on DVD, which is a shame, since it’s the only way to watch the film. Wyatt Earp is a tragedy, spending an hour setting up the character as an affable, hopeful (and a little simple) young man, then destroys him. If he weren’t destroyed, of course, he wouldn’t be much of a main character but I’d forgotten how affecting his destruction is to watch. The film is unique in its lack of acts–first, second and third–it follows the character from youth and, while it must skip some boring parts, contains little in the way of rising action. For example, there’s every indication Joanna Going is going to be as insignificant to the film overall as Téa Leoni. In fact, Leoni’s got more potential as a romantic interest than Going.

The romance between Costner and Going, the emotional reconstruction of his character, is one of the more singular things about the film, as is the friendship with Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. For the first hour and a half, the strong emphasis on the Earp brothers (for someone who constantly derides the film, Michael Madsen has never been as good as he is in this film). The scenes with the brothers rarely allow for emotion in the first half (family being pre-decided) but the relationship with Holliday allows for not just wonderful scenes, but also a striking rumination on friendship.

Those scenes, the romantic ones and the friendship ones, allow Costner to act. After the first hour, he quickly becomes the uncompromising Wyatt Earp of legend. Only Going and Quaid provide an outlet for the emotion left behind. Except for when the film makes its big final change–the film goes through three major moods, which I guess could be used to mark act changes, but not really–and these moods are marked gradually. They’re the sum of what’s come before in the story… the last one is the best, because it allows Costner to visualize it for the audience, something the first one doesn’t provide.

Before I forget–a major aspect of Wyatt Earp is its condemnation of the West and its settlers. Not just the Indians, which is only barely suggested–the contrast between the scenes in civilized Missouri, the untouched West and the “settled” West are striking. It’s a lot like High Noon in its portrayal of (the majority) of the townspeople throughout.

The acting is uniformly excellent, though I suppose Quaid gives the best performance. I’d sort of forgotten he was going to be in it, since he doesn’t show up for an hour and twenty and then he has his first scene and I remembered what an exceptional performance he gives. Gene Hackman is the Earp family father for the first hour and he’s good (his performance might be what makes Costner’s as a twenty-two year-old more work). Like I said, Michael Madsen’s actually good for once and Linden Ashby’s great. JoBeth Williams, David Andrews and Lewis Smith all have some good scenes. Bill Pullman too. But I really could just list the majority of the cast, all of them have good scenes.

Kasdan’s direction is fantastic, both in the scenes between characters and the more epical, Western-type shots. Wyatt Earp is one of the last biopics I’ve seen–the genre seems to have petered out, but maybe I’ve just stopped seeing them because they all look terrible or something. Most are terrible, but there are some great films like this one. Still, even the good ones are often simple, and Wyatt Earp is exceptionally complex.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Kasdan; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Carol Littleton; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Kasdan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp), Dennis Quaid (Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman (Nicholas Earp), David Andrews (James Earp), Linden Ashby (Morgan Earp), Jeff Fahey (Ike Clanton), Joanna Going (Josie Marcus), Mark Harmon (Johnny Behan), Michael Madsen (Virgil Earp), Catherine O’Hara (Allie Earp), Bill Pullman (Ed Masterson), Isabella Rossellini (Big Nose Kate), Tom Sizemore (Bat Masterson), JoBeth Williams (Bessie Earp), Mare Winningham (Mattie Blaylock), James Gammon (Mr. Sutherland), Rex Linn (Frank McLaury), Randle Mell (John Clum), Annabeth Gish (Urilla Sutherland), Lewis Smith (Curly Bill Brocius), Betty Buckley (Virginia Earp), Alison Elliott (Lou Earp), Todd Allen (Sherm McMasters), Mackenzie Astin (Young Man on Boat), Jim Caviezel (Warren Earp), Karen Grassle (Mrs. Sutherland), John Dennis Johnston (Frank Stillwell), Téa Leoni (Sally), Martin Kove (Ed Ross), Kirk Fox (Pete Spence), Boots Southerland (Marshall White), Scotty Augare (Indian Charlie), Gabriel Folse (Billy Clanton), John Lawlor (Judge Spicer), Michael McGrady (John Shanssey), Mary Jo Niedzielski (Martha Earp) and Ian Bohen (Young Wyatt).


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