R. Lee Ermey

Seven (1995, David Fincher)

Seven is a gorgeous film. It’s often a really stupid film, but it’s a gorgeous film. Even when it’s being stupid, it’s usually gorgeous. Director Fincher has a beautiful precision to his composition; he works great with photographer Darius Khondji, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and composer Howard Shore (about half the time with Shore). Seven is a visually harrowing experience. Shame the narrative breaks down halfway through when Andrew Kevin Walker’s already problematic script shifts leading man duties to Brad Pitt (from Morgan Freeman). It’s not just Pitt’s inability to lead the film, it also gets really dumb once they use the secret FBI database to find their bad guy. Fincher spends a lot of time setting up the authenticity of his hellish American city. When Seven starts flushing that verisimilitude down the proverbial toilet, well… it splatters on everyone, most unfortunately Freeman.

Freeman’s great in the film. He can’t do much in the scenes where he inexplicably plays sidekick to Pitt, who’s really bad at this particular role. While Pitt doesn’t have any chemistry with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone. Sure, her part is horrifically thin, but she’s still not good. Her scenes bonding with Freeman are painful. It’s good production designer Arthur Max went out of his way to include frequent interesting signage in the backgrounds because otherwise Paltrow’s big monologue wouldn’t be as tolerable. Even Freeman can’t make that scene work.

There’s some decent acting from R. Lee Ermey. It’s strange how well Fincher and editor Francis-Bruce do with some performances and how badly they do with others. Especially since the second half is just a star vehicle for the completely underwhelming Pitt. But there’s also this interrogation sequence (a very, very stupid one as far as cop movie logic goes, but Seven laughs at reasonable cop movie logic time and again) where Pitt’s interrogating Michael Massee and Freeman’s interrogating Leland Orser. Orser’s awful, but clearly going for what Fincher and Walker want. Massee’s great in his few moments, the editing on his side. Sure, Massee’s acting opposite Pitt, but the editing lets him have his scene, it doesn’t give it to Pitt.

Later on in the film, when Pitt’s having his big intellectual showdown with Kevin Spacey (who does wonders with a terribly written part), Fincher and Francis-Bruce let Pitt have the scene. They really should. One feels bad for Spacey, acting opposite such a vacuum. Pitt’s far better in the first half of the film, whining about being Freeman’s subordinate; he lets his hair do a lot of the acting in those scenes. His frosted blond tips give the better performance.

It’s a beautifully directed film. Fincher’s excellent at whatever the film needs–Freeman sulking around because he’s a lonely old cop and it’s what lonely old cops do, Pitt doing a chase sequence, even John C. McGinley’s glorified cameo as the SWAT commander has some good procedural sequences–but he doesn’t actually have a real vision for it. He takes a little here, takes a little there. It ends with an inexplicable nod to film noir and Casablanca. It’s dumb. Because Walker’s script, in addition to often being bad, is often dumb. It needed a good rewrite and far better performances in Pitt and Paltrow’s roles.

Oh, and the nameless American city bit? That choice was stupid too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by Andrew Kevin Walker; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Brad Pitt (Mills), Morgan Freeman (Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy), Kevin Spacey (John), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), John C. McGinley (California), Richard Schiff (Mark Swarr) and Richard Roundtree (District Attorney Martin Talbot).


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Fletch Lives (1989, Michael Ritchie)

Fletch Lives is a dreadful motion picture. Typing out its title, I remember–once again–the filmmakers weren’t even creative enough to come up with a good title. There’s no pun in it, no reference to the film’s narrative–no one ever thinks the character has died only to come back in a surprise. Maybe it’s a newspaper headline reference, but I doubt it. Leon Capetanos’s script is exceptionally dumb and there’s no emphasis on the newspaper the character (played by Chevy Chase) works for.

What’s even more infuriating about Lives is the failure of repeat players. If Chase were the only returning member of the first film’s cast and crew, it might make sense. But the same producers and same director return. They just are incompetent this time around. Director Ritchie in particular fails at transplanting Chase to Louisiana from Los Angeles. There’s nothing Ritchie could have done about the costumes being used too much to mask a lack of story, but he could have made the setting work better. Some of it is bad back drops, but not much.

In the lead, Chase has lost his charm. His character’s mean and cheap and somewhat unintelligent. The supporting cast is awful–Hal Holbrook embarrasses himself, love interests Patricia Kalember and Julianne Phillips are atrocious, returning players Richard Libertini and George Wyner stink. The only good supporting performances are Cleavon Little and R. Lee Ermey.

Lives often feels like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch of Fletch.

Terrible music too.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Leon Capetanos, based on characters created by Gregory McDonald; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Harold Faltermeyer; produced by Alan Greisman and Peter Douglas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chevy Chase (Fletch), Hal Holbrook (Hamilton Johnson), Julianne Phillips (Becky Culpepper), R. Lee Ermey (Jimmy Lee Farnsworth), Richard Libertini (Frank Walker), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Ben Dover), Cleavon Little (Calculus Entropy), George Wyner (Marvin Gillet), Patricia Kalember (Amanda Ray Ross), Geoffrey Lewis (KKK Leader), Richard Belzer (Phil) and Phil Hartman (Bly Manager).


Toy Soldiers (1991, Daniel Petrie Jr.)

While Petrie’s a decent director, it’d probably be hard to screw up Toy Soldiers. The movie mostly relies on Sean Astin, who’s more than capable of carrying it, so long as one likes Astin.

So, if you like Astin and think Keith Coogan’s funny… it works. I’m not sure how one’s supposed to respond to Wil Wheaton. Probably like him. Though when Wheaton tries to do an Italian accent, it’s problematic to say the least.

The supporting cast is very solid–Mason Adams, Denholm Elliot, Andrew Divoff.

Robert Folk’s musical score is excellent, which his filmography doesn’t suggest.

It’s difficult to talk about the film as it’s just Die Hard at a prep school. It’s one of the first “Die Hard at” pictures, but Astin has sidekicks so it’s not exact.

The bad guys are South Americans who don’t approve of Hispanic Americans assimilating into white culture, which is interesting. Not sure if Koepp and Petrie came up with that detail themselves or if it’s in the novel. The Mafia and the U.S. Army are the good guys here (the FBI are sort of good guys).

After Astin, the film rests on Lou Gossett. Gossett’s perfect here. This film really showcases his ability–even though he’s a character actor with a persona, he adapts it for any role. It works beautifully here as the tough… but caring dean. Gossett and Elliot only have one scene, but it’s great.

Toy Soldiers is a competent film. It’s just not really any good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr.; screenplay by Petrie and David Koepp, based on the novel by William P. Kennedy; director of photography, Thomas Burstyn; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Robert Folk; production designer, Chester Kaczenski; produced by Jack E. Freedman and Wayne S. Williams; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sean Astin (William ‘Billy’ Tepper), Wil Wheaton (Joseph ‘Joey’ Trotta), Keith Coogan (Jonathan ‘Snuffy’ Bradberry), Andrew Divoff (Luis Cali), R. Lee Ermey (General Kramer), Mason Adams (FBI Dep. Asst. Dir. Otis Brown), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Robert Gould – Headmaster), George Perez (Ricardo Montoya), T.E. Russell (Henry ‘Hank’ Giles III), Shawn Phelan (Derek ‘Yogurt’), Michael Champion (Jack Thorpe) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Dean Edward Parker).


On Deadly Ground (1994, Steven Seagal)

On Deadly Ground is about a presumably Inuit (it’s never clear) special forces guy (also never clear) killing, maiming and beating up oil company goons in a number of creative ways.

Strangely, Seagal makes the audience wait to discover the film’s true nature. The first scene is an exceptionally lame and poorly acted explosion sequence. It gets fun almost immediately following, when Seagal beats up a bunch of redneck oil workers who are assaulting a Native American. Besides a really bad spiritual journey thing in the middle, the movie’s otherwise just Seagal versus the oil company goons (led by a somewhat restrained Michael Caine).

Apparently, critics at the time dismissed the film as a vanity project, but I’m having a hard time thinking of another movie icon at the height of his or her career who’s made something along the lines of this film. There’s even a line comparing Alaska to a third world oil producing country… presumably since the governments are so easy to buy.

As a director, Seagal’s bad. His composition is on par with any other crappy action movie director and he’s awful with actors–though he apparently recognized Billy Bob Thornton’s abilities and showcased him–but he’s not so bad there’s any point in vilifying him.

Joan Chen is weak as the sidekick (her character is along so Seagal can tell her all the “MacGyver” stuff he’s doing) and John C. McGinley is awful.

It’s too long, but it’s vicariously fulfilling so it passes reasonably fast.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Seagal; written by Ed Horowitz and Robin U. Russin; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Ladd Skinner; produced by A. Kitman Ho, Julius R. Nasso and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Forrest Taft), Michael Caine (Michael Jennings), Joan Chen (Masu), John C. McGinley (MacGruder), R. Lee Ermey (Stone), Billy Bob Thornton (Homer Carlton), Richard Hamilton (Hugh Palmer), Mike Starr (Big Mike) and Sven-Ole Thorsen (Otto).


Switchback (1997, Jeb Stuart)

I’m having a hard time understanding certain aspects of Switchback. Primarily, Dennis Quaid’s terrible performance. I’m wondering if Jeb Stuart instructed him to imitate a log or if it was just Quaid’s read on the character. To be fair (to Stuart, not to Quaid), the character is a pretend protagonist. Stuart’s more interested in his Texas county sheriff election or the men working the railroad than he is in his main characters. Switchback has four main characters–Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto and R. Lee Ermey. In many ways, even though it’s part of the 1990s serial killer boom (ruined by Dino De Laurentiis turning Hannibal Lector into a superhero–I’m using ‘ruined’ lightly), it’s a 1970s road movie.

I mean, Stuart is so interested in Ermey’s election and Glover’s railroad stories, Quaid’s renegade FBI agent and Leto’s medical school dropout are essentially ignored. Both characters get speeches to other characters (big shock, Glover and Ermey) and I suppose one could read a juxtapose between the two duets (Quaid and Ermey, Leto and Glover). I hesitate to even suggest Stuart was going for it–past his somewhat neat plotting, his ambitions seem to run very low–except there is a lot of careful attention played to the changes in the killer’s behavior, his motives and his general cognitive reasoning. It’s real interesting stuff because Stuart plays it so casual.

Glover’s great, Ermey’s good, Ted Levine’s great–Leto’s better than I expected but probably because Quaid is worse than I could have imagined.

A big feature of the film, which was originally called Going West in America, is the lack of women. In fact, the film could be called… Men Without Women. The women in the film are either victims, secretaries or unheard voices on telephones (who are absolutely supportive of their rogue FBI agent husbands). Stuart’s just fascinated by these men who work only with men, who rely only on other men… and he seems somewhat aware of it, as there’s a scene with a waitress wondering why Leto’s so weird around her.

There might be something in Leto’s missing back-story about it.

But Switchback isn’t terrible–the election stuff is somewhat engaging and Glover carries his scenes wonderfully. He’s having a lot of fun. Stuart is not a bad director–he seems a wee bit uncomfortable with a Panavision frame however–and his composition and setting go a long way toward that 1970s feel….

Even if the whole thing feels like a movie Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford would have made.

And the end, surprisingly, is rather effective, even though it leaves lots unresolved and there’s an unbelievable character there–and a rather significant one missing (is that obscure enough–I mean, it is a serial killer movie).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jeb Stuart; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Conrad Buff; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Jeff Howard; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Danny Glover (Bob Goodall), Dennis Quaid (Frank LaCrosse), Jared Leto (Lane Dixon), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Buck Olmstead), Ted Levine (Nate), William Fichtner (McGinnis) and Leo Burmester (Shorty).


The Frighteners (1996, Peter Jackson), the director’s cut

The Frighteners came right after (well, two years) Heavenly Creatures, so I assume–and sort of remember from 1996–it was supposed to be Jackson’s big break. Instead, it bombed. So, obviously, it’s his best work. The Frighteners is a Universal Pictures Michael J. Fox star vehicle (following Greedy and For Love or Money and The Hard Way) and it’s Fox at his best, when he finally shrugged off the trying-too-hard attitude that ruined his 1980s work. The film plays to Fox’s comedic, self-referencing traits, but without forcing references to earlier work. The scenes where he’s not being funny, fail. It’s not all Fox’s fault, the script fails there too. The Frighteners is best when it’s being silly. (However, as “Boston Legal” further confirms, Fox does well as a romantic leading man).

I wasn’t expecting much from The Frighteners. I haven’t seen it since the late 1990s, probably when the laserdisc came out. I missed the much-eBayed director’s cut laserdisc and waited to watch the film again until it became available in whatever format. I remember Jackson once referred to the version as “The Director’s Fun Cut,” as opposed to anything else, and it is quite a bit of fun. The Frighteners is so well-cast, has so many good jokes and performances (Dee Wallace-Stone is particularly good), it’s rather disappointing when it falls apart. The added footage does the film no harm, it just has a bad third act….

Throughout the entire film, Jeffrey Combs irritates as a wacko FBI agent, but he once disappears only to reappear, it becomes obvious how little he brought to the film. When he returns, the heart sinks and the eyes roll… He’s actually doing a Jim Carrey impression in the role, stealing mannerisms and expressions from Carrey’s early work–most visibly Ace Ventura and Dumb & Dumber. I kept wondering if they’d wanted Carrey (he and Combs share a resemblance), but couldn’t afford him or something. Even the initials are the same. It’s not just Combs who ruins the third act, it’s just heavy-handed and poorly written… but not so much it spoils the film.

Oh, lastly, the awful CG special effects. They don’t really affect the film’s quality, but many of these shots could have been achieved without CG, just with a minuscule amount of imagination and they would have actually looked good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh and Jackson; directors of photography, Alun Bollinger and John Blick; edited by Jamie Selkirk; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Selkirk and Jackson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Frank Bannister), Trini Alvarado (Lucy Lynskey), Peter Dobson (Ray Lynskey), John Astin (the Judge), Jeffrey Combs (Milton Dammers), Dee Wallace-Stone (Patricia Ann Bradley), Jake Busey (Bartlett), Chi McBride (Cyrus), Jim Fyfe (Stuart), Troy Evans (Sheriff Perry), Julianna McCarthy (Old Lady Bradley) and R. Lee Ermey (Sgt. Hiles).


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