Sharon Stone

Above the Law (1988, Andrew Davis)

Above the Law is just about as slick as a film can be. It’s all thanks to director Davis. Even though Davis and star Steven Seagal co-produced, Davis has to overcome Seagal’s acting inability. So all credit to Davis. It isn’t just about maximizing the action, but about getting the plot to provide some interest, so it doesn’t all feel like a commercial for Steven Seagal.

But it is a commercial; Above the Law is an amazing star vehicle. Everything is weighed to make the viewer more and more sympathetic to Seagal’s character. Oh, look, his suffering wife (Sharon Stone in a terribly directed performance) doesn’t want Seagal to battle the CIA task force blowing up Chicago to get Seagal. Oddly enough, the film was released overseas as Nico (Seagal’s character), which suggests some understanding of the egomania on display. But on beautiful display, because even though Davis significantly fumbles almost every action sequence, he’s got these great Chicago locations and he has a great sense of how to use them (which does lead to a rather good foot chase sequence), and he’s got photographer Robert Steadman, who is fabulous.

Unfortunately, editor Michael Brown is awful. He misses visual beats. It doesn’t matter, of course, because Above the Law isn’t actually an action movie, not in a traditional sense. It’s a prototypical mid-to-low budget major studio action movie. Something to not embarrass itself in the theater and do surprisingly well on video.

A slick commercial. Not so much visually slick, but almost pathologically manipulative in making a Seagal a serious movie star. Not an actor; Above the Law never asks Seagal to act. Davis does try to make him likable and is even able to get slight success with Pam Grier (though Davis fumbles directing their scenes; Brown being no help), but it’s not much. It’s never a good performance.

And I don’t even want to look at the Frank Silva villain, which leads to Seagal figuratively throwing away the previous standard–the more exploitative, lower budgeted action movie.

Inoffensive, likable performances from Grier and Ron Dean help a lot. Though Davis is clearly indifferent to his actors’ performances; no one gets any favors. So, either Davis or the editor. Can’t give anyone too much time, otherwise it might not look like Seagal’s a big time movie star.

In the end, Davis is due a lot of respect for this film. He’d be due infinitely more if Above the Law were actually any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Davis, based on a story by Davis and Steven Seagal; director of photography, Robert Steadman; edited by Michael Brown; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Davis and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Nico), Pam Grier (Jacks), Henry Silva (Zagon), Ron Dean (Lukich), Sharon Stone (Sara), Daniel Faraldo (Salvano), Miguel Nino (Chi Chi), Nicholas Kusenko (Neeley), Joe Greco (Father Gennaro), Chelcie Ross (Fox), Gregory Alan Williams (FBI Agent Halloran) and Jack Wallace (Uncle Branca).


Sliver (1993, Phillip Noyce)

Sliver is a beautiful film. It’s got Vilmos Zsigmond photography, it’s got Phillip Noyce directing, it’s got a great score from Howard Shore–it’s just a bad movie. The story has two things going on. First is Sharon Stone’s recent divorcee moving into a high rise apartment building where she discovers there have been a bunch of suspicious deaths.

Now, if you remember that detail you’ll be doing more than the filmmakers do because when it gets to the point in the story where someone talks about the recent deaths in the building and there are only a couple. Sliver forgets about at least three of them, maybe four.

The second thing the film has going on is Stone discovering she’s a voyeur. I’ve got no idea if it’s in the source novel by Ira Levin, but Joe Eszterhas wrote the screenplay for Sliver so there’s got to be something slightly sleazy otherwise they would have presumably hired someone who can write.

Most of the film is Stone being courted by two losers. Tom Berenger’s a creepy writer, William Baldwin’s a creepy video game designer. She has zero chemistry with either of them. Berenger’s a little better just because Baldwin’s indescribably bad.

Sadly, Stone’s really good in most of the non-absurd scenes. Eszterhas and Noyce don’t give her a real story arc; instead, they hope the big thrills are enough. They aren’t.

With the production values and Stone’s performance, Sliver should be better. But not with Baldwin and Berenger.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce and William Hoy; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Robert Evans; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sharon Stone (Carly Norris), William Baldwin (Zeke Hawkins), Tom Berenger (Jack Landsford), Polly Walker (Vida Warren), Colleen Camp (Judy Marks), Amanda Foreman (Samantha Moore), Martin Landau (Alex Parsons), CCH Pounder (Lt. Victoria Hendrix), Nina Foch (Evelyn McEvoy), Keene Curtis (Gus Hale) and Nicholas Pryor (Peter Farrell).


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).


The Specialist (1994, Luis Llosa)

Technically speaking, the best thing about The Specialist is probably John Barry’s score. Except he ripped off his James Bond scores and threw in some of his Body Heat music. Neither mood fits The Specialist, which isn’t glamorous enough to be Bond and isn’t sexy. I would have liked to say “isn’t sexy enough to be Body Heat” but The Specialist just plain isn’t sexy.

It’s supposed to be sexy, given how much emphasis director Llosa puts on stars Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in various stages of undress (not to mention the two carry on some painful phone flirting), but it isn’t. While Llosa’s direction is lame and both Stallone and Stone are bad (Stone’s worse), Llosa simply doesn’t realize the picture right.

It might be sexy if it were about a broken-down ex-CIA assassin and a damaged woman who’s prostituting herself to avenge her dead parents (long story). But The Specialist treats Stallone and Stone as megastars, not people. The scenes where James Woods–in a great performance as the bad guy–berates her and Stone actually gets to show emotion, those scenes almost work. They suggest a film worthy of a good John Barry knock-off score.

Eric Roberts costars as her target and he’s nearly good. Alexandra Seros’s script is too laughable for anyone (save Woods, who mixes insanity and mocking contempt) to actually be good.

As for Rod Steiger’s Cuban gangster? He’d be funny if he weren’t such offensively bad.

The Specialist‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Luis Llosa; screenplay by Alexandra Seros, suggested by novels by John Shirley; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by John Barry; production designer, Walter P. Martishius; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Ray Quick), Sharon Stone (May Munro), James Woods (Ned Trent), Rod Steiger (Joe Leon) and Eric Roberts (Tomas Leon).


Bobby (2006, Emilio Estevez)

I knew Emilio Estevez directed Bobby, but I didn’t know he also wrote it. From the dialogue and the construction of conversations, I assumed it was a playwright. There’s a certain indulgence to the dialogue, which some actors utilize well (Anthony Hopkins) and some not (Elijah Wood).

Estevez’s an exceptionally confident filmmaker here. He changes the film’s premise in the final sequence, going from a Grand Hotel look at people in the hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot to an extremely topical, socially relevant picture about how little the world has improved between the shooting and the film’s production. He relies heavily on the audio of a Kennedy speech over the film’s action because there’s no other way it’d work. And it does work.

There are some great scenes in the film, particularly one between Demi Moore and Sharon Stone where the two former sex symbols discuss aging. Stone’s great throughout the film. Moore’s great in that scene (and okay in the rest).

Other great performances include Freddy Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jacob Vargas, Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are both good, just not exceptional. Similarly, Christian Slater’s impressively slimy without being fantastic. Hopkins is outstanding. Only Wood and Ashton Kutcher are bad. Kutcher’s worse. Much worse.

The real acting star is Rodriguez.

Estevez gets great work from cinematographer Michael Barrett and composer Mark Isham.

Bobby is impressive work; with Estevez establishing himself as an ambitious, thoughtful, if not wholly successful, filmmaker.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Richard Chew; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Edward Bass, Michel Litvak and Holly Wiersma; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Harry Belafonte (Nelson), Joy Bryant (Patricia), Nick Cannon (Dwayne), Emilio Estevez (Tim), Laurence Fishburne (Edward), Brian Geraghty (Jimmy), Heather Graham (Angela), Anthony Hopkins (John), Helen Hunt (Samantha), Joshua Jackson (Wade), David Krumholtz (Agent Phil), Ashton Kutcher (Fisher), Shia LaBeouf (Cooper), Lindsay Lohan (Diane), William H. Macy (Paul), Svetlana Metkina (Lenka), Demi Moore (Virginia), Freddy Rodríguez (Jose), Martin Sheen (Jack), Christian Slater (Daryl), Sharon Stone (Miriam Ebbers), Jacob Vargas (Miguel), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Susan) and Elijah Wood (William).


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).


Streets of Blood (2009, Charles Winkler)

Of all the crap Millennium Films has released theatrically, it’s shameful they let Streets of Blood go straight to DVD. Sure, there’s an absolutely ludicrous Sharon Stone (playing a faded Southern belle Ph.D., the worst Ph.D. casting since Will Smith), but it’s a solid cop thriller slash character study slash Katrina exploitation film. It’s even mildly subversive, with the federal government playing the bad guys. And there is some bad acting–besides Stone–Barry Shabaka Henley, for example, is awful and, even though his character’s arc is solid, Brian Presley is lacking.

But the film does feature, as far as I can tell, the best Val Kilmer performance in about ten years. Maybe a little less, but definitely his best since Spartan. It’s an amazing leading man performance–again, it’s a shame this one didn’t a) get a theatrical release and b) a lot more production money thrown at it once it was clear the caliber of Kilmer’s performance. Kilmer really should have been done the Dave Robicheaux adaptation instead of Tommy Lee Jones.

Curtis Jackson’s bad in the monologue sections but he does well with Kilmer. It’s impossible to think anyone could not do well with Kilmer (even Presley does and Henley doesn’t have any scenes with him) in this one.

Only Stone and Kilmer come off wrong, with her character being totally nonsensical.

Oh, and Jose Pablo Cantillo is excellent.

But the problem’s the script. It needed a capable rewrite.

Even so, Kilmer makes the film essential viewing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Winkler; screenplay by Eugene Hess, based on a story by Hess and Dennis Fanning; director of photography, Roy H. Wagner; edited by Clayton Halsey; music by Stephen Endelman; production designer, Gary Constable; produced by Randall Emmett, George Furla, Avi Lerner, Matthew O’Toole, John Thompson, Charles Winkler and Irwin Winkler; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Val Kilmer (Andy Devereaux), Curtis Jackson (Stan Green), Sharon Stone (Nina Ferraro), Michael Biehn (Agent Brown), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Pepe), Brian Presley (Barney), Barry Shabaka Henley (Capt. John Friendly), Luis Rolon (Fernando Chamorro), Defecio Stoglin (Jambalaya Jake), Davi Jay (Ray Delacroix), Pilar Sanders (Yolanda Green), Darcel White Moreno (Tanya) and Shirly Brener (Selina).


Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch)

If I had any foresight, I would have realized Broken Flowers wasn’t going to end well. Actually, most of the film is just a ruse to disguise that fact. Instead of thinking about how the film was going to turn out, I spent all my time marveling at Jarmusch. His composition, his dialogue, everything, just beautiful. The first hour of Broken Flowers is wondrous, to some degree because it’s the portion of the film most featuring Jeffrey Wright as Bill Murray’s detective novel-obsessed best friend. The relationship between Wright and Murray is the film’s high-point, with Jarmusch handling it… well, perfectly isn’t right, because it’s such a rare, fantastic relationship, there’s nothing available for comparison. The first twenty minutes of the film, featuring Murray and Wright going over to each other’s houses (they live next door to each other), set an expectation for Broken Flowers, one the next forty minutes do nothing to hinder.

Watching it transition from that friendship to the plot, Murray tracking down ex-girlfriends, I wondered how Jarmusch was going to manage. Basically, it’s all Murray, all the time. The viewer learns nothing about the girlfriends beyond the visible, certainly not the information Murray’s searching for, and each successive girlfriend is more mysterious than the last. So much so, when it finally gets to be Jessica Lange’s turn, she’s overshadowed by her character’s assistant, played by Chloë Sevigny. Sevigny’s hardly got any lines even, but something about the scene construction, she’s more active than Lange and more memorable. As the variety of the women’s lives takes over, some of Jarmusch’s construction techniques begin to show. The first visit, with Sharon Stone, is best. The last visit is worst, as it’s short and bored with itself, assuming the viewer is ready to get the film over with.

The end of the film would be infuriating if, like I mentioned, Jarmusch hadn’t fooled the viewer. There’s no good ending to certain films and Broken Flowers is one of those films. What Jarmusch manages to do, for the majority of the picture, is make the viewer not care what’s going to happen, because the scenic beauty is so great.

As far as actors, the most surprising performance was from Jeffrey Wright, just because I’ve never seen him act well (or even acceptably) before. Bill Murray’s good, best in those scenes with Wright and the ones with Sharon Stone, who’s good too. The rest of the performances are all fine, but no one really stands out. Christopher McDonald has a really restrained role and I’m used to him going a little nuts, so I spent that scene waiting for him to burst.

Broken Flowers is a spectacular disappointment, but whatever… most of it is excellent and all of it is beautifully made. Even the lame ending has some great camerawork.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Jarmusch; screenplay by Jarmusch, inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Mulatu Astatke; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Jon Kilik and Stacey Smith; released by Focus Features.

Starring Bill Murray (Don Johnston), Jeffrey Wright (Winston), Sharon Stone (Laura), Frances Conroy (Dora), Jessica Lange (Carmen), Tilda Swinton (Penny), Julie Delpy (Sherry), Chloe Sevigny (Carmen’s assistant) and Christopher McDonald (Ron).


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