Paul Verhoeven

Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven), the director’s cut

There are a lot of acknowledged accomplishments to Robocop. Pretty much everyone identifies Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Bottin handled the startling makeup, Tippett did the awesome stop motion. Director Verhoeven gets a lot of credit–rightly so–and Basil Poledouris’s score is essential. Big scene or small, whenever Poledouris’s music kicks in, the film hits every note better.

One scene in particular is the Robocop in his old house sequence–which is just after Peter Weller starts to get the role as a character and not an automation; seeing Weller make that transition is amazing because he can’t do it with expressions, only pause.

That scene’s also fantastic for the unacknowledged Robocop accomplishment–Jost Vacano’s photography. He’s the one who makes the film feel real. Well, along with Verhoeven and the writers distaste for the cool-looking future they create. The writers are able to get in some great observations, but they never let the future get too real. It focuses the story’s attention unexpectedly well.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s perfectly acted. Easy examples are Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, but everyone’s great. Nancy Allen is the perfect sidekick for Weller. Given how fast their characters get established in the film, they have to work well together immediately and they do.

Verhoeven’s the real star–he, Weller and Bottin, actually. Without Bottin and Weller, Robocop wouldn’t seem real, but without Verhoeven the film wouldn’t work. His approach to the violence–and the quiet–are essential to Robocop’s success.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Arne Schmidt; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Officer Alex J. Murphy), Nancy Allen (Officer Anne Lewis), Dan O’Herlihy (The Old Man), Ronny Cox (Dick Jones), Kurtwood Smith (Clarence J. Boddicker), Miguel Ferrer (Bob Morton), Robert DoQui (Sergeant Warren Reed), Ray Wise (Leon C. Nash), Felton Perry (Johnson), Paul McCrane (Emil M. Antonowsky), Jesse D. Goins (Joe P. Cox), Del Zamora (Kaplan), Calvin Jung (Steve Minh), Rick Lieberman (Walker) and Lee de Broux (Sal).


Basic Instinct (1992, Paul Verhoeven), the unrated version

Basic Instinct somehow manages to be smart and stupid at the same time. The direction and the production are impeccable. Verhoeven sort of does a nouveau Hitchcock thing–ably aided by Jerry Goldsmith’s score–while mixing in a bit of film noir. He does this thing with establishing shots; the focus is always on character, never the setting (with a costal highway being the exception). Jan de Bont’s photography, Frank J. Urioste’s editing, these guys are at the top of their game. It’s a brilliantly made film.

It’s also frequently dumb. Verhoeven coats over most of the stupidity in Joe Eszterhas’s script with ease. There’ll be a dumb cop scene but it plays great, usually thanks to Verhoeven’s composition, his direction of the cast and the actors in the film. Instinct has great supporting turns from George Dzundza and Denis Arndt, but also excellent bit support from Bruce A. Young, Chelcie Ross, Wayne Knight, Daniel von Bargen and Stephen Tobolowsky. Verhoeven uses actors with immediate gravitas. Works beautifully.

The leads aren’t as simple an equation. Sharon Stone’s performance is integral to the film and all of her scenes–except one, where Eszterhas can’t come up with any motivation for her so tries to be sensational–are great. Michael Douglas, not so much. Both he and Stone are unlikable, the mystery is supposed to be the hook. It’s a decent hook, but Douglas can’t sell his character.

Jeanne Tripplehorn’s okay in the third biggest part.

Instinct’s beautifully made, utter nonsense.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Frank J. Urisote; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Alan Marshall; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Michael Douglas (Detective Nick Curran), Sharon Stone (Catherine Tramell), George Dzundza (Gus), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Dr. Beth Garner), Denis Arndt (Lieutenant Walker), Leilani Sarelle (Roxy), Bruce A. Young (Andrews), Chelcie Ross (Captain Talcott), Dorothy Malone (Hazel Dobkins), Wayne Knight (John Correli), Daniel von Bargen (Lieutenant Nilsen), Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Lamott) and Benjamin Mouton (Harrigan).


Hollow Man (2000, Paul Verhoeven), the director’s cut

Is Hollow Man the last of the “for CGs’ sake” blockbuster attempts? In the nineties, post-Jurassic Park Hollywood assumed doing genre standards over with CG would get big grosses. Hollow Man feels like one of those.

There’s nothing nice to say about the film, except one has a lot to mock. Incompetent screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe doesn’t just write insipid dialogue, he also doesn’t know the difference between MDs and PhDs. Apparently neither does director Verhoeven since he let the line pass.

Speaking of Verhoeven (to get it over with), Hollow Man lacks any personality. Sure, Elisabeth Shue acts a little trampier than one would expect, but in her only good acting move, she never lets it get explorative. Verhoeven’s composition is competent, I suppose, but boring. He really likes CG-assisted helicopter establishing shots. Not exactly an exciting directorial flourish.

Watching the film, which does have some good special effects and inventive uses of invisibility, one can just marvel at Kevin Bacon’s terrible performance. While both he and Shue are bad (so are Greg Grunberg and Joey Slotnick), Bacon has to be seen to be believed. Marlowe’s dialogue is atrocious, but William Devane can manage it. Bacon’s attempts at scenery chewing are disastrous.

Only Josh Brolin and Kim Dickens escape with some dignity (besides Devane, of course).

Jerry Goldsmith recycles a lot of his old stuff for the score; it’s not terrible though, just redundant.

Hollow Man would be loathsome if it were competent. Instead, it’s immediately dismissible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Andrew W. Marlowe, based on a story by Gary Scott Thompson and Marlowe; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Ron Vignone; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Douglas Wick and Alan Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Linda McKay), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Caine), Josh Brolin (Matthew Kensington), Kim Dickens (Sarah Kennedy), Greg Grunberg (Carter Abbey), Joey Slotnick (Frank Chase), Mary Randle (Janice Walton) and William Devane (Dr. Howard Kramer).


Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)

Black Book is a film of convenience; whether it’s a negative to further the plot or a simple positive like there being a nonsensical chute to allow easy entry into a basement, the film keeps oiling its gears. It’s not predictable—in fact, it hinges on being unpredictable (Black Book owes a lot to the heist genre)—but it is smooth. It’s so smooth, it doesn’t feel much like a Paul Verhoeven film. But maybe that lack of identity was his point. He wanted to show he was capable of being a journeyman.

Part of that journeyman approach is shooting the film in Panavision, but framing his shots for TV. Black Book would have played great as a three or four part television mini-series. While the film eventually turns into a conspiracy thriller (one or two questions go unanswered), some back story on the non-suspect characters would have been great.

Verhoeven has bookends, making Book another member of this odd new Holocaust genre. He sets up the film as an object of great importance and it isn’t. It’s a mildly boring, competent World War II thriller with some decent surprises and great performances. The surprises aren’t just narrative twists; Verhoeven makes some great observations about the winners of wars being no better than the losers.

Carice van Houten is a good lead, not great. Sebastian Koch is excellent as her lover; costars Thom Hoffman and Derek de Lint have their moments too.

It’s okay, just way too long.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven, based on a story by Soeteman; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Job ter Burg and James Herbert; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Wilbert Van Dorp; produced by Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, San Fu Maltha, Jens Meurer, Jos van der Linden and Frans van Gestel; released by A-Film Distribution.

Starring Carice van Houten (Rachel Stein), Sebastian Koch (Ludwig Müntze), Thom Hoffman (Hans Akkermans), Halina Reijn (Ronnie), Waldemar Kobus (Günther Franken) and Derek de Lint (Gerben Kuipers).


Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

Total Recall opens with some of the best music Jerry Goldsmith has ever scored. It then moves on to a sci-fi sequence, set on Mars, and Verhoeven soon gets in his first animatronic head. There are a lot of animatronic heads, which get exposed to atmosphere and explode or get turned into grenades and so on. Some of these sequences are entirely unnecessary and it’s just Verhoeven showing off.

Most of Recall is along those lines. It’s Verhoeven showing off. He mixes a rough, violent action picture with a high-minded sci-fi story and the result is rather successful. There are a handful of bad performances, but Schwarzenegger’s fine in the lead and the movie’s mostly him so it works out. There are also a bunch of good performances; while they can’t overcome the bad ones, they help.

Worst are Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside. Stone’s just plain bad, nothing special, but Ironside’s in a spot in Recall. He’s this big heavy (supposedly) but he’s opposite Ronny Cox, who knows how to play a big heavy. Ironside gets chewed up in their scenes together.

Mel Johnson Jr. is fairly awful, but Rachel Ticotin is all right. Marshall Bell and Ray Baker are great.

The film’s greatest asset is Verhoeven. He manages to make it a slyly absurdist comedy. With editors Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente, he constructs these wonderful tight scenes. His composition isn’t particularly thoughtful; he’s utilizing forceful action in the shots.

It’s pretty darned good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, based on a screen story by Shusett, O’Bannon and Jon Povill and a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Shusett and Buzz Feitshans; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid), Rachel Ticotin (Melina), Sharon Stone (Lori), Ronny Cox (Vilos Cohaagen), Michael Ironside (Richter), Marshall Bell (George), Mel Johnson Jr. (Benny), Michael Champion (Helm), Roy Brocksmith (Dr. Edgemar) and Ray Baker (Bob McClane).


Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven)

The only “real” pro-war movie I can think of is The Green Berets. But Starship Troopers is also pro-war, even if it’s, well, startlingly so. I mean, the scene where Casper Van Dien grins after getting his battlefield promotion, following a colleague’s horrific death, is a fine example.

What Verhoeven does here, in Starship Troopers, is directed the finest made “science fiction” film–and those quotations just generalize, meaning a film set in the future in space with spaceships–since 2001. Really. No one else has ever done as competent of space scenes since Kubrick. It’s stunning. Verhoeven’s no innovator here–he borrows liberally from 2001, the Star Wars movies (a little) and the Star Trek movies (a lot)–but he mixes them together into something astounding. I once called, without being familiar with the novel, Starship Troopers the sci-fi hit (i.e. the Star Wars) if the Nazis had won. And it is–not just in terms of setting (the gloriously fascist future), but in terms of its approach to narrative. Neumeier and Verhoeven do an amazing job with this film’s structure–it’s impossible not to cheer at the end and never to once question what one’s cheering.

Even the cardboard acting from “90210” and “Melrose Place” guest stars (Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards and Patrick Muldoon all appeared on those Shakespearian actor spawning grounds) is somehow perfect–Starship Troopers is certainly Verhoeven’s best film since Robocop and the most deceptively postmodern blockbuster film ever made.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Edward Neumeier, based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Caroline Ross; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Alan Marshall and Jon Davison; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Casper Van Dien (Johnny Rico), Dina Meyer (Dizzy Flores), Denise Richards (Carmen Ibanez), Jake Busey (Ace Levy), Neil Patrick Harris (Carl Jenkins), Clancy Brown (Sgt. Zim), Seth Gilliam (Sugar Watkins), Patrick Muldoon (Zander Barcalow), Michael Ironside (Jean Rasczak), Rue McClanahan (Biology Teacher), Marshall Bell (General Owen) and Brenda Strong (Captain Deladier).


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