Pete Postlethwaite

In the Name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan)

In the Name of the Father falls into most true story adaptation traps. It has a really long present action, which is unevenly distributed through the runtime. There’s a framing device introducing Emma Thompson’s appeals lawyer first thing–with her popping in from time to time to remind the viewer of the device. That device helps orient Daniel Day-Lewis as a teenager at the beginning (or just a little older), but it’s still a true story adaptation issue.

And it wouldn’t work without Day-Lewis. Director Sheridan doesn’t seem to enjoy the courtroom moments in the film, making Thompson a side character. Not just a side character, but one without much depth. The role works thanks to Thompson’s sincerity and some effective writing from Sheridan and co-screenwriter Terry George.

The framing device doesn’t cover the film’s entire runtime; eventually the turntable needle catches up in the present action. The flashback is Day-Lewis’s personal growth throughout the film, something Sheridan and Day-Lewis are subtle about. There’s a big moment for changing him, sure (it’s a true story adaptation after all), but the groundwork is already there. Responsibly handling the narrative fallout is where Father distinguishes itself.

The film is always well-acted, whether good guys (Pete Postlethwaite is fantastic as Day-Lewis’s always upright father who ends up falsely imprisoned too) or bad guys (Don Baker and Corin Redgrave).

But Day-Lewis, and the true story, are the whole show. Sheridan expertly facilitates them to their successes.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jim Sheridan; screenplay by Sheridan and Terry George, based on a book by Gerry Conlon; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Gerry Hambling; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Caroline Amies; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Gerry Conlon), Pete Postlethwaite (Giuseppe Conlon), Emma Thompson (Gareth Peirce), John Lynch (Paul Hill), Corin Redgrave (Robert Dixon), Beatie Edney (Carole Richardson), John Benfield (Chief PO Barker), Paterson Joseph (Benbay), Marie Jones (Sarah Conlon), Gerard McSorley (Detective Pavis), Frank Harper (Ronnie Smalls), Mark Sheppard (Paddy Armstrong) and Don Baker (Joe McAndrew).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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Solomon Kane (2009, Michael J. Bassett)

I started Solomon Kane with a decidedly negative opinion of James Purefoy. The first twelve to fifteen minutes did nothing to change my mind. Then something happened. The script stopped being so expositive in its dialogue and all of a sudden Purefoy got really good. He kept it up until the end of the film and so did the script (for the most part–when it had problems again, they were of the predictable plotting variety).

I didn’t know where I was going to start with Kane. I thought I might start saying I spent the first eleven minutes ready to turn it off. It looks like, for those eleven minutes, a television movie from the 1990s, only with better CG backdrops. It’s an absurdly bad introduction to a character.

I question a lot of Bassett’s period dialogue but it ceases to matter once he makes it clear he’s making a Western set in 1600s England. It takes about fifteen minutes, maybe ten, because otherwise it could be about Purefoy defending Pete Postlethwaite’s family. But then it becomes a traditional Western.

It’s a problematic traditional Western, of course (Winchester ‘73, say no more), but it’s in a defined genre and it plays a little with setting and adds some zombies and mind-controlled bad guys (being faithful to the spirit of Howard and his ADHD plotting).

I loved Solomon Kane. I hope it rents well enough and Purefoy doesn’t have a real hit they make another (with Bassett back too).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael J. Bassett; screenplay by Bassett, based on a character created by Robert E. Howard; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Andrew MacRitchie; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Ricky Eyres; produced by Paul Berrow, Samual Hadida and Kevan Van Thompson; released by Metropolitan Filmexport.

Starring James Purefoy (Solomon Kane), Max Von Sydow (Josiah Kane), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Meredith), Patrick Hurd-Wood (Samuel), Pete Postlethwaite (William Crowthorn), Alice Krige (Katherine), Jason Flemyng (Malachi), Mackenzie Crook (Father Michael) and Philip Winchester (Telford).


Split Second (1992, Tony Maylam)

Rutger Hauer plays a rogue cop who needs big guns, smokes cigars, and has his Zippo lighter fixed for a three-inch flame. Amusingly, the character being some kind of poster child for overcompensation isn’t recognized, neither by Hauer or by the filmmakers. Hauer’s performance is something extraordinary. I mean, sure, the lines are awful, but Hauer’s gives an atrocious performance even when he isn’t talking. He can’t even manage to grimace convincingly.

What’s interesting about Split Second is how it got funding. It didn’t get much–it shot on location in London (future London has a raised sea level thanks to global warming, but it only comes up in the deceivingly competent opening credits and the occasional partially flooded streets), but almost everything is interiors. There’s also, with the exception of the British cast, no British flavor to the setting. Hauer isn’t supposed to be British, which begs the question of why he’s there (little of this future setting is explained–apparently, the U.S., through the U.N., runs the planet). Poor Pete Postlethwaite has a small, bad role. He’s not bad, but the character’s idiotic. Alun Armstrong’s better than the material–though his is a little less embarrassing than Postlethwaite’s–but he’s in bad stuff all the time (maybe not this bad), so he’s not as surprising to see. As Hauer’s sidekick, Alastair Duncan is only slightly better than Hauer.

Movies this bad must still be made, but I don’t think it’s with the same legitimacy. I mean, until I started watching it, I had no idea how bad Split Second was going to turn out (the hack of a writer has gone on to other things, after all). It’s a pre-direct to video movie, which does mean something. I’m just not sure whatever it means has anything to do with the possible quality of a film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Maylam; written by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Clive Tickner; edited by Dan Rae; music by Francis Haines and Stephen W. Parsons; production designer, Chris Edwards; produced by Laura Gregory; released by Interstar.

Starring Rutger Hauer (Harley Stone), Kim Cattrall (Michelle), Alastair Duncan (Dick Durkin), Michael J. Pollard (The Rat Catcher), Alun Armstrong (Thrasher), Pete Postlethwaite (Paulsen), Ian Dury (Jay Jay), Roberta Eaton (Robin), Tony Steedman (O’Donnell) and Steven Hartley (Foster).


The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles)

With two major exceptions, The Constant Gardener is defined by what it is not rather than what it is… It is not a thriller, it is not a mystery, it might not even be a narrative. It is a (justified) condemnation of Western pharmaceutical companies–with Western government’s express permission–treatment of sick African peoples. It’s also a masterfully made film; Fernando Meirelles probably makes two errors throughout. Besides the wonderful cinematography, the editing is exquisite (possibly the first time I’ve ever described editing with that word). But, mostly due to the presence of Ralph Fiennes and some physically realized daydreams, The Constant Gardener comes off a lot like The English Patient, only relevant.

The film, rather interestingly, so inhuman, so vile, a James Bond villain would be taking notes. These villains–played wonderfully by Danny Huston and Bill Nighy (Huston’s just magnificent)–are, of course, members of the British government. While the film could be an exploration of evil men who do evil things but still play cricket with their children in filmic moments meant to bring attention to that contradiction, it is not.

The first forty minutes are Rachel Weisz playing Joan of Arc. It’s possibly Weisz’s best (or only good) performance, but since she is playing the finest human being ever to walk (or possibly levitate above) the earth, Meirelles would have to be incompetent to not get such a performance out of her. And Meirelles is far from incompetent. He gets more humanity out of Fiennes, with his stylized cinéma vérité in domestic situations, than anyone else ever has. Following Weisz’s death (it’s not a spoiler, the film opens with it then awkwardly goes into flashback for forty minutes), Fiennes takes over on his investigation into her death. His investigation being the most boring investigation I can ever remember seeing in a film. It’s long and boring and predictable (there is no mystery to be solved really) and the film’s filled with scenes for edifying the audience in regards to what’s going on in Africa with drug companies.

I would have said it was a preaching-to-the-choir film, but then I remembered when it was out and I know a lot of dumb people who went to go see it, so hopefully it did inform. Hopefully it did make some really ignorant people realize what’s going on.

But as a film? As a story? Meirelles goes so far as to mimic a bunch of English Patient shots. Like shots from the poster.

Without the politics, The Constant Gardener would have been–well, it wouldn’t have been. But all there is to the film is the information and the emotional effect of seeing it. Weisz’s death, the supposed impetus, is as useless as the miscarriage her character suffers for no reason other than to introduce a character, a mystery, and kill some time, make the audience feel even sorry for Joan of Arc.

Pete Postlethwaite shows up for a bit and it’s nice to see him. Gerard McSorley is good.

The film does succeed (I mean, I’m referring to it as a film, aren’t I?) on some levels–and maybe it succeeds on all the ones it’s trying to succeed on–but it’s lack of narrative ambition is startling and somewhat distressing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Claire Simpson; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Focus Features.

Starring Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa Quayle), Danny Huston (Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Lorbeer), Hubert Koundé (Dr. Arnold Bluhm) and Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher), the assembly cut

So, I guess David Fincher wasn’t that upset about the “Assembly Cut” Fox did of Alien³ for their moronically-titled “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD set a few years ago, because he left his name on it. Fincher’s always badmouthing Alien³ but hasn’t got the balls needed to Alan Smithee a film (like Michael Mann has). Now, was Fincher smart not to reedit the film for DVD? Well, he couldn’t do anything to improve on the existing Alien³ theatrical cut (he’s simply not a capable enough artist), so I guess it doesn’t matter.

I’ve been hearing about this damn cut for years, probably since 1997. Everyone who loved Fincher (from Seven) and thought he was a genius (for Seven!) talked about this magic cut. Most of what’s in this “assembly cut” is in the novelization (I used to read novelizations, then I started listening to film school snobs. I’m not sure which was worse) and none of it helps the film. This cut runs about a half hour longer and includes some different scenes and shit, but mostly it just uses up the viewer’s patience. I need to watch Alien³ the regular version in a few weeks to properly grade it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t so poorly paced. There’s a full hour of red herring here, which the studio wisely cut the hell out of. Fox was not always a terrible, inhuman studio. That happened, I’m pretty sure, after NewsCorp bought it. According to IMDb, Fincher walked before editing began, which seems to be a good thing, because this “assembly” cut does little but show how much good editing can improve a film.

Now, this cut is and has been lauded around the internet and film snobs (how much of a film snob can you be if you like Panic Room, however) have spewed praise… The fans of this cut think that calling something a “quadrilogy” is an acceptable human practice. I’m not that upset watching this cut–the DVD set was a Christmas gift and it’s not that bad, in the two and a half range, but it was a complete waste of time and did nothing but make me doubt the folks who recommended it.

Alien³, the longer cut, was supposed to be the holy grail of DVD (much like folks hope Warner will do an official, expanded Superman II). Oddly, off the top of my head, I can only think of three or four films that benefit from an expanded cut. The Big Red One, Blade Runner, Touch of Evil (to some degree, it was always great), and then it gets murky. No, wait, Star Trek: The Motion Picture became watchable. Anyway, if anyone out there has the Aussie/UK version of The Last of the Mohicans without Mann’s 2000 tweaks, let me know….

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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