Ron Perlman

Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro), the U.S. theatrical version

Cronos opens with an English-narrated prologue about a sixteenth century alchemist making a device to prolong his life. The uncredited narrator is wanting, the music isn’t good—it doesn’t seem like the rest of Javier Álvarez’s score, but who knows (well, the distributor would); it’s a change for the U.S. theaters and a bad one.

So it’s great when the film’s able to overcome that awkward opening—given the difference in tone, it’s hard to say if the original Spanish version would make much difference… some of the problem is the prologue content itself. But once writer and director del Toro gets Cronos settled in the present action, with a patient, deliberate introduction to lovable grandparents Federico Luppi and Margarita Isabel and their almost always silent granddaughter, Tamara Shanath, the iffy opening is an immediately distant memory. Cronos has MacGuffins in its MacGuffins, especially considering where the film ends up; the prologue is one of them. Or two of them.

The first act is mostly Luppi and Shanath hanging out at his antique shop—he’s an antiques dealer, grandma Isabel teaches dance, Shanath’s parents seem to both be deceased, she’s their paternal grandchild. There’s a cute little story Luppi eventually tells Shanath about her dad, who once tried to get Luppi to stop smoking by hiding Luppi’s cigarettes. Shanath’s doing the same thing, sort of; she’s hiding Luppi’s Cronos device.

Getting ahead of myself here.

So Luppi and Shanath are in the shop and they discover a statue with a hollow base. They discover it because some tweaker-type shuffles into the antique shop, looking at some of Luppi’s still wrapped pieces. Luppi gets curious, unwraps the statue, finds the hollow base, opens it, takes out a golden scarab looking thing. Pretty soon it latches on to Luppi’s arm and pokes him with its six legs. Inside the device—the biggest effects sequences in the film are the interiors, close ups of miniature gears—is an unidentified insect. It acts as a filter, presumably putting its own antibodies into the user’s blood, then distributing it back into the body.

The actual process of the device never gets too much attention, partially because there probably aren’t any bugs out there able to turn people into vampires—getting ahead again, sorry—but also because del Toro avoids painting himself and the film into any corners. It’s going to have shades of comedic absurdity in the second act, whereas the first just has echoes of magical realism (via the mechanical). Del Toro needs to keep things relatively loose.

Luppi becomes immediately addicted to the device, something he hides from wife Isabel but granddaughter Shanath finds out right away. Shanath’s not in favor of the Cronos device, but eventually relents enough to allow Luppi to keep it (as opposed to her hiding the device from him). Unfortunately, bad guys Claudio Brook and Ron Perlman also want the device and they’re willing to get violent about it.

Brook’s an old rich guy living in a sterile room in an industrial district with only American nephew Perlman to care for him. Perlman’s an errand boy, waiting for Brook to die for some inheritance. Brook doesn’t even tell Perlman why they’re looking for the device; besides the opening narration, all the exposition about the device comes from Brook, who never tells Luppi quite enough to make informed decisions.

Because pretty soon, Luppi starts noticing he’s lusting for human blood. He’s also lusting for Isabel, reinvigorated, clean-shaven, horny. Shanath really doesn’t like the amorous grandad, though Isabel doesn’t seem to notice the severity of the change.

At this point in the film, however, Cronos completely shifts gears as it prepares for the third act, which is all about Shanath having a grandfather who’s a vampire. There’s a lot of cute stuff with Shanath having a grandfather who’s a vampire, even though Luppi’s face is literally molding off. Isabel, who’s always a distant fifth in the film, disappears for the most of the last thirty minutes. It’s all about Luppi and Shanath trying to get things sorted out with Brook and Perlman, which seems like it’s the most important thing in the third act, but really isn’t. Despite being murderous, Brook and Perlman aren’t particularly threatening.

Probably because del Toro plays them for laughs a lot. Perlman’s doing a mostly comedic part. Brook’s doing a Mr. Big thing, only his performance is weak and his moments are where Cronos feels a tad cheap.

The film’s got a low budget and del Toro’s inventive with compensating for it, often successfully, but the cartoon villains are a mistake. Though as Cronos winds down, it seems like everything’s gotten to be a mistake, even Álvarez’s usually excellent score. Del Toro tries for something with the finale and misses, ending the already run down, deus ex machina’d Cronos on a shrug. Some of it’s the composition, with del Toro going in too tight on some of the shots—again, might just be budgetary, he and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro have some need cost-saving tricks throughout—but even so qualified, it’s a miss. The wandering narrative distance doesn’t do the film any favors.

There’s some great color palette stuff throughout from Navarro—the blue nights, the colors on the costumes, especially Shanath’s, then Shanath’s green glow stick, which becomes a familiar visual trope—but also some bland photography.

Cronos isn’t a failure by any means, but it’s also not the success it ought to be. Perlman’s bold comic villain turn, for example, is never as successful as it should be. Luppi’s turning into a vampire takes away all the subtext in his performance, replacing it with the inevitable inevitable blood lust. Isabel’s good but barely in it. Shanath’s in a similar situation. She’s always around but rarely the focus, even though it’s her story.

Del Toro does a great job stretching the budget, which is where Cronos is the most impressive. But that success really shouldn’t be the film’s most impressive feat.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Raúl Dávalos; music by Javier Álvarez; production designer, Tolita Figuero; costumer designer, Genoveva Petitpierre; produced by Arthur Gorson and Bertha Navarro; released by Ventana Films.

Starring Federico Luppi (Jesús), Tamara Shanath (Aurora), Ron Perlman (Angel), Margarita Isabel (Mercedes), and Claudio Brook (De la Guardia).


Blade II (2002, Guillermo del Toro)

There’s a legitimately great sword fight scene in Blade II, after some really solid ones—the film’s CG assists never help it but director del Toro does understand how a fight sequence is like a dance sequence (particularly in the great sword fight) and star Wesley Snipes is always ready to show off his fight choreography abilities. The sword fight is so good you spend almost the entire rest of the film waiting for del Toro to execute something superior. Why open with such a stunning sequence if you don’t have something even better later on.

But with Blade II, there is no better later on, not for swords, fists, or anything else. None of the fight scenes following the sword fight get anywhere near the ones in the first act, which were Matrix-ripoffs but still well-executed Matrix-ripoffs. There’s a “this would be confusing if it mattered” sequence where Snipes and his newfound team of vampire super-vampire hunters each fight the super-vampires and the focus moves from character to character. The super-vampires all look like Nosferatu as homaged in Salem’s Lot, only their faces open up like a Predator and they shoot out tentacles and an inner mouthes of Aliens. It’s not a bad design but it’s nowhere near as terrifying as it would be if the CG weren’t middling. A lot of Blade II fails thanks to its bad CG, particularly in the third act, which isn’t good. It’s like del Toro knows the right shot, the technology just isn’t there to execute it.

Of course, Blade II having piddly CG is the least of its problems. It’s got a lousy script (courtesy David S. Goyer) and some really, really bad acting. And costumes. The costumes are terrible. At some point the vampire super-vampire hunters put on this glossy black body armor and look like the stormtroopers from Masters of the Universe: The Movie. It’s also not clear how the body armor helps them? Or would help them against the super-vampires or Snipes—see, Snipes has to take over this team of elite vampire commandos who trained to take him out but now have to deal with the more dangerous super-vampires. About the only way to make the shiny body armor sense would be if Snipes had them wear it to embarrass them.

But the shiny body armor is nothing compare to main villain Luke Goss’s ratty clothes. He’s got this intricately choreographed fight scenes but thanks to the costume he looks lumbering and artificially sped up. Blade II has a bunch of slowdown and speedup editing techniques. They’re all terrible. Not sure if they’re editor Peter Amundson’s fault or del Toro’s.

The film is a particularly frustrating tug of war between attentions—it’s a Snipes star vehicle, only Goyer’s script gives way too much to the supporting cast (almost to snipe Snipes), and then del Toro’s just trying to show off what he can do. At least del Toro doesn’t actively work against Snipes, who easily gives the film’s best performance but only because he’s not terrible like almost everyone else. Goss ends up giving the second best performance by default; he’s at least trying. If the rest of the cast is trying and Blade II is the best they give… shivers.

The worst performance is probably Norman Reedus as Snipes’s new sidekick. The film opens with Snipes rescuing his old sidekick, Kris Kristofferson, who’s also bad, but not as bad as Reedus. Kristofferson’s still really bad, but at least he’s committed to the performance. He was nowhere near as physical in the first movie as in this one, crawling all around as Snipes and Reedus worry the vampires secretly turned him before Snipes could rescue him. Is Leonor Varela worse than Kristofferson? Maybe. She’s really bad. But she and Kristofferson are better than Thomas Kretschmann, as the head vampire (and Varela’s father; the film never explains if its vampire father or father father). The more Kretschmann gets to do, the worse Kretschmann’s performance. Blade II doesn’t even get a good performance out of Ron Perlman, partially because—even though Goyer’s script doesn’t want to give Snipes too much to do, it also features him frequently pwning his uneasy vampire allies at every turn.

The rest of the supporting cast is low middling, with Danny John-Jules’s being the most acceptable. Matt Schulze is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting; possibly because Perlman not being good draws attention away from him.

Gabriel Beristain’s photography runs mostly cold. Despite that awesome sword fight scene, which is shot entirely in blue light except for the spotlights—it’s so gorgeous it’s hard to say the film’s not worth seeing just for it; maybe the sequence is on YouTube—but other than that scene, Beristain and del Toro shoot the nighttime exteriors through a sort of piss yellow filter. There’s some okay lighting throughout, but mostly piss yellow. Not sure if it’s a budgetary choice or a stylistic one but the result is… pissy. The action choreography deserves better.

The second best thing—after the good or better fight scenes—is Marco Beltrami’s score. Sure, it’s derivative of other famous film scores, but it comes together fairly well. Except when the action is cutting between all the “good guys” fighting the Max Schrecks… there’s no flow between the action focuses in the score. Benefit of the doubt is Beltrami scored each character’s sequence separately and then Amundson screwed it up in the cutting but it’s just as probable Beltrami couldn’t figure out how to go between sequences. Like, it’s a surprisingly good score for Beltrami. The heavier lifting might’ve escaped him. Fixing a poorly conceived action sequence is a lot for a score to do.

Anyway. Blade II. It’s a disappointment. It’s a testament to Del Tori the film’s a disappointment, given the crappy script and the bad acting and the goofy visual effects. As for poor Snipes, who has to fight for relevancy in his own vehicle… he gets a pass. He’s able to sell the potential for the franchise, even if the film doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Tomas Krejci, Patrick J. Palmer, Peter Frankfurt, and Wesley Snipes; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Leonor Varela (Nyssa), Luke Goss (Nomak), Norman Reedus (Scud), Thomas Kretschmann (Damaskinos), Danny John-Jules (Asad), Matt Schulze (Chupa), Donnie Yen (Snowman), Karel Roden (Kounen), and Ron Perlman (Reinhardt).


Sleepwalkers (1992, Mick Garris)

Sleepwalkers is a very peculiar motion picture. Director Garris never quite composes the shot right, even though he’s really close. Maybe he needs a wider frame or just to zoom out a bit. Instead it always looks like he’s shooting for the home video pan and scan. Rodney Charters’s photography is totally fine, unless they’re trying to do an insert then he never matches and there’s only so much he can do for the CGI morphing scenes.

Sleepwalkers opens with dictionary text setting it all up–Sleepwalkers are these monsters who suck on the life force of female virgins. Cats hate them. Then the action starts. Mark Hamill in a “really? why?” cameo. Then the opening titles. And cut to small-town Indiana–but that Southern California smalltown Indiana with the mountains and all–where teenager Brian Krause is sitting around shirtless and cutting himself.

But, oh, isn’t he kind of a dish. Because it’s weird. Sleepwalkers is always weird, but it actually starts ickier than it finishes because even though the film–mostly writer Stephen King–wants to be really explicit about Krause’s love affair with mother Alice Krige because it’s sensational… and then never does anything with the attention it brings. It’s just icky, then tedious, then annoying because Krige’s performance gets worse as the film goes along.

She’s Mama Monster, which means she stays at home while Krause goes to high school and finds a target. He’s going to feed on the target, then share with Krige. Sleepwalkers is a mix of bad thriller, not great gore, weird monster-based sci-fi, and the incest thing. If Garris and King weren’t making a terrible movie, who knows, maybe they’d have created a new sub-genre. Or at least not made this godawful thing.

But it’s really interesting to see how these disjointed pieces all fight together. Ingenue Mädchen Amick starts the film with Garris trying to make her seem like a slutty virgin. She’s at work at the movie theater, listening to fifties rock on her Walkman, dancing seductively as she sweeps up popcorn. It’s weird. And a little icky but nothing compared to Krause and Krige’s sex scenes; Sleepwalkers’s icky spectrum is long. So then Amick meets Krause and he’s kind of creepy then he’s not, even though the film thinks him reading his story about him and his mom to his English class is a good scene. It’s really bad. But kicks off a “is Krause going to be redeemed” subplot, which doesn’t really matter because Sleepwalkers ends up being a monster movie for most of its run time. Like people running from monsters.

Somehow I’ve missed the part how the first act is also about Krige and Krause torturing cats. Krige’s homebound because she’s deathly afraid of cats. Maybe. It’s unclear. But it sure seems like it. For such a long movie–Sleepwalkers is a long ninety minutes, not in a good way because Garris is astoundingly uninventive–King’s script doesn’t really do character development. Even as scenes often go on way too long. Like the ones with Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Amick’s parents, in a tedious “is this a Ferris Bueller reference” or isn’t it subplot. Everything in Sleepwalkers is tedious.

Some really bad acting throughout. Including the King cameo. Krige’s terrible, though it’s hard to say how much of it is her fault. Though she did take the role. So. Krause kind of has an interesting arc but his performance starts bad, gets worse, gets better, gets worse than worse.

Ward and Pickett aren’t good. Pickett’s worse but only because she’s in it more. Ron Perlman’s really bad as a state trooper. Glenn Shadix is the pervert school teacher out to blackmail Krause. He’s really bad.

Amick makes it through. She’s never good, she’s never terrible, she’s occasionally sympathetic. She’s not trying. Amidst all the trying aspects of Sleepwalkers, Amick weathers the storm. She never seems like she’s in such a bad movie. Krause and Krige always do.

Interesting music from Nicholas Pike. Not terrible. Uses Enya well, even if it does make Sleepwalkers seem like a Cat People ’84 rip-off, eight years too late. Sleepwalkers is in a hurry to get to the monster stuff and then the monster stuff isn’t even cool. They can make objects disappear and change appearance–Krige and Krause–but their reflections in the mirror are of their monster forms. The monster forms are more gross and awkward than scary. And they’re annoying, because they’re not very good. Sleepwalkers is this mish-mash of tone, narrative distance, genre–and it never lets up. Sleepwalkers consistently makes unique and bad choices through its runtime. Including the ending. And it never does anything right. Garris and King don’t pull off a single thing.

It’s the type of movie where the monster woman in her hippie disguise trying to find a virgin to feed her son and lover shoots a car and it blows up. Sleepwalkers is either accidentally ambitious or wholly incompetent. If they’d pulled it off, the film would’ve been amazing. Instead, it’s astounding. And bewildering. And frequently icky bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Garris; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Rodney Charters; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, John DeCuir Jr.; produced by Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Nabeel Zahid; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brian Krause (Charles Brady), Alice Krige (Mary Brady), Mädchen Amick (Tanya Robertson), Dan Martin (Andy Simpson), Cindy Pickett (Mrs. Robertson), Lyman Ward (Mr. Robertson), Jim Haynie (Sheriff Ira), Ron Perlman (Captain Soames), Cynthia Garris (Laurie), Monty Bane (Horace), and Glenn Shadix (Mr. Fallows).


Star Trek: Nemesis (2002, Stuart Baird)

Even though Star Trek: Nemesis is pretty dumb–and it is dumb, not just as a Star Trek movie, but as a movie in and of itself–and it has a lot of problems, the cast gets it through. The cast, the vague “train wreck” quality to some of its missteps (like Jerry Goldsmith either recycling his score from the not “Next Generation” Motion Picture or doing bland action movie music), some surprising pacing competency from otherwise inept director Baird and editor Dallas Puett (Puett’s no good at cutting the action scenes though, which is awkward), it all comes together to be occasionally painful, but ultimately watchable.

The problem with John Logan’s script is the stupidity. There are no good ideas in Nemesis, not Patrick Stewart having a young clone (played, poorly, by Tom Hardy–but, really, he’s acting opposite a bunch of vampires in Dune costume homages), not Brent Spiner discovering a “beta” version of his android character; maybe Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis playing newlyweds is cute, but only because of their chemistry, not because of the writing.

Oddly, Nemesis looks really good. The CG is excellent. Baird’s one attempt at a planetary action sequence–involving dune buggies–is awful, with shockingly bad photography from Jeffrey L. Kimball (who does fine otherwise). The space battle stuff is good. The space establishing shot stuff is terrible.

All the acting is good. From the regular cast, anyway. Stewart’s excellent, Spiner’s good, LeVar Burton’s got a few rather good moments. Even when no one gets anything to do, like Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden. I think Whoopi Goldberg gets more to do in her cameo than McFadden gets to do in the entire picture.

It’s a weird movie, simultaneously hostile to the Star Trek franchise while entirely dependent on the viewer being interested in that franchise (and its characters). And, even though it’s bad, it’s not all bad. Stewart’s perseverance is admirable.

It’d just have been nice if the director had any idea how to shoot any of it, with the exception of the space battles, which were probably all done by the special effects people.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Baird; screenplay by John Logan, based on a story by Logan, Rick Berman and Brent Spiner and on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Dallas Puett; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geord), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Tom Hardy (Shinzon), Ron Perlman (Viceroy) and Dina Meyer (Commander Donatra).


Pacific Rim (2013, Guillermo del Toro)

Guillermo del Toro’s dedication to his vision of Pacific Rim is absolute. He never wavers, he’s absolutely committed.

Unfortunately, it’s not the vision for a good movie. Rim suffers from endless problems–except maybe the special effects. The constant CG was all competently rendered. It’s so prevalent del Toro used it to solve even the slightest problem. As a result, there’s not a single imaginative moment from him. Sure, some of the visuals are awesome, but no more awesome than some production art would be.

The script is predictable and weak. del Toro and Travis Beacham write some truly awful dialogue for the actors and then del Toro turns around and can’t direct them. Ron Perlman’s bad because of the script; Charlie Hunnam is bad because of del Toro’s direction. Hunnam can’t hold his American accent, which is hilarious as Max Martini can hold his Australian one. del Toro doesn’t know how to use Hunnam as a lead so he fills out the cast with five or six others. But basically only five or six.

Apparently the special effects cost so much, they didn’t want more than ten speaking roles in the picture… even though there are always crowds whose cheering is obviously dubbed in.

Mediocre acting is the norm, except terrible performances from Robert Kazinsky and Clifton Collins Jr. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are awful too, but for them it’s definitely the script.

Bad music from Ramin Djawadi… very bad.

Rim is a shockingly lame motion picture. Shockingly.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by Travis Beacham and del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Peter Amundson and John Gilroy; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designers, Andrew Neskoromny and Carol Spier; produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Mary Parent; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket), Diego Klattenhoff (Yancy Becket), Idris Elba (Stacker Pentecost), Kikuchi Rinko (Mako Mori), Charlie Day (Dr. Newton Geiszler), Burn Gorman (Gottlieb), Max Martini (Herc Hansen), Robert Kazinsky (Chuck Hansen), Clifton Collins Jr. (Ops Tendo Choi) and Ron Perlman (Hannibal Chau).


Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013, Jay Oliva)

You know what would have been nice? If the makers of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox had any idea what they were doing. In the last act, there’s all this Flash action–he’s running around, fighting at super speed–and it’s all fantastic. Even with a cruddy director like Oliva. But there’s none of it before the third act and, worse, Justin Chambers’s voice acting in the role is hideous. He nearly ruins Flashpoint before it even gets going.

Then Kevin McKidd as a tougher, meaner Batman shows up and he’s good. Michael B. Jordan’s really good (earnest goes a long way). Sure, Cary Elwes is laughable as Aquaman (an evil warlord) and Vanessa Marshall is lame as Wonder Woman (another evil warlord), but a lot of the other supporting actors make up for them.

James Krieg’s script isn’t any great shakes either. All of the cartoon hinges on something Oliva and Krieg hide from the viewer, something they should have divulged. But, had they, Flashpoint would have needed to be judged on its scene to scene merits and–in their only self-aware move–the filmmakers realized it couldn’t. They needed to rely on a third act gimmick.

Fantastic little turns from Dana Delany (who should have been the protagonist) and C. Thomas Howell. Howell has a great time. Natahn Fillion’s good too.

Flashpoint’s dumb, Oliva’s a bad director and Krieg’s writing is lame, but it still could have been okay. Chambers–and the weak animation–bury it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by James Krieg, based on comic books by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Frederik Wiedmann; produced by James Tucker; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Justin Chambers (The Flash / Barry Allen), Kevin McKidd (Batman / Thomas Wayne), Michael B. Jordan (Cyborg / Victor Stone), C. Thomas Howell (Professor Zoom / Eobard Thawne), Cary Elwes (Aquaman), Vanessa Marshall (Wonder Woman), Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Sam Daly (Superman), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern / Hal Jordan), Steve Blum (Lex Luthor), Ron Perlman (Slade Wilson), Jennifer Hale (Iris), Dana Delany (Lois Lane), Danny Jacobs (Grifter), Danny Huston (General Lane) and Grey DeLisle (Nora Allen).


Dirty Laundry (2012, Phil Joanou)

Dirty Laundry might be the first of its kind. It’s Thomas Jane returning to a role he (somewhat) famously quit in an unofficial, self-financed short sequel.

Well, a sequel without any copyright or trademark infringements, which makes it all the better.

In many ways, Laundry is a proof of concept for adapting Marvel Comics’s Punisher character into a viable film. The previous adaptations were often disastrous or incompetent. In ten minutes, Jane and director Joanou show they can make it ultra-violent, extremely self-aware and morally ambiguous… yet Jane can remain likable.

It’s indescribably fantastic. There are a couple questionable lines of dialogue, but the authenticity immediately returns after them.

As for Jane? He takes it seriously regardless of budget and possible copyright violations. His performance, down to facial ticks, is great.

Joanou shoots wide–wider than 2.40:1–amplifying the reality.

Laundry is unexpected and awesome.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Chad St. John, based on a Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; produced by Adi Shankar; released by Raw Studios.

Starring Thomas Jane (Frank), Sammi Rotibi (Goldtooth), Brandee Tucker (The Girl), Karlin Walker (The Kid) and Ron Perlman (The Shopkeeper).


Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn)

It’s amazing how much mileage Drive gets out of its soundtrack–not Cliff Martinez, though he does a great Tangerine Dream impression, but the licensed songs from Kavinsky and College. They deserve opening titles billing.

Drive is an eighties L.A. crime thriller with a slight seventies sensibility and some ultra-violence. It’s unclear why director Winding Refn thought it needed ultra-violence because, after the first instance, everything else pales. He even goes too far with a later scene of Carey Mulligan discovering the violence her Romeo, Ryan Gosling, is capable of. Otherwise, Winding Refn does an excellent job. He’s aping eighties Michael Mann (Drive was better when it was called Thief and starred Jimmy Cann) along with some John Woo, not to mention Walter Hill’s The Driver.

While there are some slightly unpredictable details, Drive is utterly predictable. There’s one question to the entire film–is Gosling going to make it? He’s a precise, successful criminal who breaks the rules because of his emotions. Of course things go wrong. Of course he turns out to be tougher than John Rambo.

Since it’s not an exercise in originality, Drive‘s mostly just a good excuse to be impressed with Gosling and Albert Brooks. Ron Perlman’s great in it, but he’s playing Ron Perlman. Mulligan’s okay, though somewhat unbelievable as the wife of a dumb criminal. She’s too delicate. Bryan Cranston is utterly wasted.

But Gosling and Brooks? They’re both outstanding.

Drive‘s not bad, but Winding Refn has nothing original to say.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; screenplay by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by James Sallis; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Matthew Newman; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Beth Mickle; produced by Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker and Adam Siegel; released by FilmDistrict.

Starring Ryan Gosling (Driver), Carey Mulligan (Irene), Bryan Cranston (Shannon), Albert Brooks (Bernie Rose), Oscar Isaac (Standard), Christina Hendricks (Blanche), Kaden Leos (Benicio) and Ron Perlman (Nino).


Bunraku (2010, Guy Moshe)

Even with the annoying narration from Mike Patton (maybe director Moshe cast him because he’s a big Faith No More fan because Patton doesn’t narrate well), Bunraku is seamless. Moshe’s initial artistic impulse carries through. Things sometimes don’t work—Josh Hartnett’s character is supposed to be a drifter in the Western tradition, but his wardrobe seems more appropriate for film noir. And there are quirks with that character in particular. But Moshe carries them through and doesn’t give up on them.

The film is he and Gackt seeking revenge on the town bad guy, played by Ron Perlman. The film’s a mix of post-apocalyptic, Western, Japanese samurai and… Soviet propaganda films. It’s visually stunning. There’s no sky in Bunraku, just papier-mâché. The outdoor scenes are mesmerizing, even the simple ones, because Moshe creates something so distinct.

But Moshe’s approach isn’t just Western or samurai… Sometimes he embraces the absurdity of the film. With Terrence Blanchard’s fantastic, fluid score going, Bunraku at times seems like an episode of the “Batman” TV show (during the fight scenes), only magnificently choreographed.

The relationship between Hartnett and Gackt works—though it needs a third, whether it’s Woody Harrelson’s bartender mentor, or (in Moshe’s most subtle stroke) Gackt’s cousin, played by Emily Kaiho.

Perlman’s good as the villain, but can’t compete with Kevin McKidd as his vicious subordinate. McKidd transfixes.

While not good, Demi Moore’s not terrible.

Besides that annoying narration, Bunraku is an excellent film. Moshe’s enthusiasm for the film is infectious.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Moshe; screenplay by Moshe, based on a story by Boaz Davidson; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Glenn Garland and Zach Staenberg; music by Terrence Blanchard; production designer, Chris Farmer; produced by Ram Bergman, Keith Calder, Nava Levin and Jessica Wu; released by Arc Entertainment.

Starring Josh Hartnett (The Drifter), Gackt (Yoshi), Woody Harrelson (The Bartender), Kevin McKidd (Killer #2), Jordi Mollà (Valentine), Emily Kaiho (Momoko), Sugata Shun (Uncle), Ron Perlman (Nicola) and Demi Moore (Alexandra). Narrated by Mike Patton.


The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996, John Frankenheimer), the director’s cut

Looking over his filmography, one could argue John Frankenheimer stopped making significant films at some point in the late sixties or early seventies (I haven’t seen Black Sunday so I don’t know about that one). But by the eighties, he was already someone whose best work was clearly behind him. By the nineties… well, it’s hard to believe he got jobs. Especially on something like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Obviously, being quickly brought in after the studio fired the original director might have something to do with it. It’s not like Frankenheimer was busy and, if it did anything, all his experience did make him a guy who could get a movie finished.

Dr. Moreau, as I recall, wasn’t supposed to be a bomb or a piece of crap. It was supposed to have rising stars Val Kilmer (following Batman Forever) and Rob Morrow (who had left “Northern Exposure” to do movies). Morrow dropped out. It was also Marlon Brando, earning a buck. Brando’s incredible in the film, because there’s so little left. He’s so unconnected to it–you can see some of the talent in his gestures–but he’s delivering this dialogue, this terrible dialogue, and he’s just not connecting to any of it.

Kilmer’s a different story. He’s fantastic–the scenes were he’s imitating Brando are hilarious–and he manages to turn this underwritten mess of a character into someone who, well, is at least consistently amusing.

David Thewlis (who took over for Morrow) turns in a fine performance. His character is dreadfully underwritten, but Thewlis overcomes. He’s not a good guy, which is interesting, and it gives the film the air of complexity.

Who I realized I really missed, thanks to the film, is Fairuza Balk. She holds her own with Thewlis and when she does scenes with Brando, it’s too bad he isn’t delivering on her level.

The script doesn’t do anyone in the film any favors. Thewlis comes off as a twit and a jerk, one of the worst protagonists I can think of. Kilmer’s character sets off the film’s chain of events, but it’s never clear why, since it’s all so predictable. Brando… jeez. The less said about that disastrous character the better. Balk gets the shaft too, though her character really is just a love interest.

Stan Winston’s make-up is good and the scenes with the crazed animal people are a little creepy. But it’s a piece of garbage and it’s impossible to care what happens next because there’s no one in the film to really care about.

Gary Chang’s music is surprisingly decent.

Technically, Frankenheimer can fill a Panavision screen. With constantly interesting content, no, he cannot.

The best part of the movie is the beginning, when it’s Thewlis and Kilmer, because it gives Kilmer the chance to be really crazy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, William A. Franker; edited by Paul Rubell and Adam P. Scott; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Edward R. Pressman; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Marlon Brando (Dr. Moreau), Val Kilmer (Montgomery), David Thewlis (Edward Douglas), Fairuza Balk (Aissa), Ron Perlman (Sayer of the Law), Marco Hofschneider (M’Ling), Temuera Morrison (Azazello) and William Hootkins (Kiril).


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