Val Kilmer

The Saint (1997, Phillip Noyce)

The Saint is a delightful mess of a film. Director Noyce toggles between doing a Bond knock-off while a romantic adventure picture. Val Kilmer’s international, high-tech cat burglar falls for one of his marks, Elisabeth Shue’s genius scientist. Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick’s script, even when it puts Shue in distress, never actually treats her like a damsel. She’s in her own movie, one where she’s this genius scientist and she falls for the international, high-tech cat burglar who rips off her science thing.

It’s not just any science thing, The Saint is from the late nineties, so it’s cold fusion. So Shue gets to play this oddball scientist, full of eccentric behavior, only somewhat contained. Shue’s so excited by her adventure in the film–she’s so full of energy during the extended chase sequence in the second act, it’s almost like Kilmer has to hold her back. He gets to do makeup and voices, but he doesn’t have the thrill for it. She does. He’s got the thrill for her. It’s just lovely. I mean, it’s the thing Noyce never lets get screwed up–the romance. And the comedy, though the comedy is an afterthought for too much of the film. It probably would’ve been better to embrace it a lot earlier but there’s all the Bond knocking off to do.

And it’s fine international chase and action intrigue. It’s a fine Bond knock-off. Terry Rawlings’s editing could be better, but Phil Meheux’s photography is always solid, sometimes something more. The film’s enamored with Shue. Kilmer can easily handle this international thief thing. It’s not a tough part. The tough stuff is the accents and stage makeup and he excels at it. But the weight of the film’s conceit falls on Shue. She has to be a genius, she has to be a practical slapstick romantic interest, she has to be the damsel in distress. And her performance embraces the first two and rejects the third. Noyce and Kilmer just have to catch up with her. It’s gleeful.

Graeme Revell’s music is sometimes really good, sometimes really not. Again, he never screws it up for the romance.

Awesome supporting turns from villains Rade Serbedzija and Valeriy Nikolaev. Serbedzija and Kilmer only get a couple scenes together but they’re fantastic ones. They both want to chew on the scenery but they’re not willing to step on the other’s toes. And Nikolaev, as Serbedzija’s son and chief thug, doesn’t get many lines, he just gets to be mean. He’s excellent at it.

I’ve been putting off watching The Saint again for at least a decade. I can’t get that time loving it back. It’s a really special film. It’s not a success because it’s way too confused as a production, but Noyce sees what Shue and Kilmer are doing and he throws in with them, concept be damned.

The Saint’s lovely. And Shue is amazing. Kilmer’s got some really outstanding moments and he’s real strong doing this intentionally ill-defined lead, but Shue is better. It’s a truly singular performance.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Hensleigh and a character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by David Brown, Robert Evans, William J. MacDonald and Mace Neufeld; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Simon Templar), Elisabeth Shue (Dr. Emma Russell), Rade Serbedzija (Ivan Tretiak), Valeriy Nikolaev (Ilya Tretiak), Michael Byrne (Vereshagi), Henry Goodman (Dr. Lev Botvin), Evgeniy Lazarev (President Karpov), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Teal), Charlotte Cornwell (Inspector Rabineau), Lev Prygunov (General Sklarov) and Irina Apeksimova (Frankie).


True Romance (1993, Tony Scott), the director’s cut

The best thing about True Romance is some of the acting. The biggest problem with the film is who’s doing that great acting. It’s not leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who the film eventually just ignores in order to further its supporting cast (which is sort of fine, as they’re better–especially than Slater–but it doesn’t do the film any favors).

Instead of it being Slater and Arquette amid this awesome supporting cast, instead it’s Slater and Arquette moving from place to place to encounter further awesome supporting cast members. Eventually, the film’s just bringing them in without the leads. At that point, however, it’s stopped being about Slater and Arquette, if it ever was about them.

The film opens with Slater, then immediately goes to a voice over from Arquette. Her narration, which suggests a far better character than she gets to play and a far better film, comes back at the end. In between, Dennis Hopper, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, and Chris Penn all get great scenes. Supposedly Gary Oldman gets one too, but not really. If there’s not material for the actor to connect with, it’s not like director Scott helps make the performance. He doesn’t do much of anything, except not know how to direct this movie. Not its action, not its cast, none of it.

All of the aforementioned actors have excellent scenes. Sometimes two, at least one. Arquette almost gets a few good scenes, but not really. After beating her up, in an exceptionally violent sequence (Scott’s got no subtext to his action, he’s painfully oblivious to questions of genre and viewer expectation), her character pretty much stops speaking. It’s weird.

The script’s oddly paced–an hour build-up, thirty minutes of play (not counting Arquette and Gandolfini’s vicious scene), thirty minutes of violent wrap-up. That front heaviness needs to define Slater and Arquette and it doesn’t. Slater, for example, can’t hold up against Hopper. The film goes off its rails, something even Scott seems to get. Of course, he just keeps going with it instead of making any adjustments, leading to a lot of humorous moments, some decent dialogue, but a really lame story.

It isn’t until the finish everything collapses under its own weight. Maybe if Michael Tronick and Christian Wagner did anything with the editing, or if Hans Zimmer’s music was any good (though he does rip off the Badlands theme to some success), but the film’s a technical yawn. Jeffrey L. Kimball’s photography is more than competent, Scott just doesn’t do anything with it.

Still, even if Scott were better, the script’s got problems with how it treats the leads. Especially Slater, who becomes less and less sympathetic as times goes on. Just like Romance itself.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Michael Tropic and Christian Wagner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Gary Barber, Samuel Hadida, Steve Perry and Bill Unger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Slater (Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Michael Rapaport (Dick Ritchie), Bronson Pinchot (Elliot Blitzer), Saul Rubinek (Lee Donowitz), Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley), James Gandolfini (Virgil), Gary Oldman (Drexl Spivey), Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti), Chris Penn (Nicky Dimes), Tom Sizemore (Cody Nicholson), Brad Pitt (Floyd) and Val Kilmer (Mentor).


Heat (1995, Michael Mann)

Until the final scene, director Mann is still carefully plotting out Heat. The film’s narrative construction–when he introduces a character, when he returns to a character, how he transitions from one character to another–is magnificent. Heat is a delicate film, with Mann never letting a single element carry a scene. He’s always working in combination–sound and actor, photography and sound, editing and actors. All of these elements should cause distance between the viewer and the film; instead they bring the viewer in closer.

Much of the film deals with the relationship between the various men and their suffering women. Even if one of the male characters’ women doesn’t know she’s suffering, she’s going be soon. Mann posits his driven male characters are unable to function in relationships, then he explores the relationship between the driven male characters.

With crooks Val Kilmer and Robert De Niro, Mann sets up something near a protege and mentor relationship. With De Niro and cop Al Pacino, Mann goes with an alter ego. The scene between Pacino and De Niro, where Pacino finally gets to let down his guard–up almost entirely in the rest of the film–is startling. It’s an island in the chaos.

Great supporting performances from Amy Brenneman, Diane Venora, Dennis Haysbert, Mykelti Williamson and Kevin Gage. Brenneman’s the closest thing Heat has to a sympathetic character. Everyone else is just extant.

Nearly three hours, Heat never gets unwieldy. Mann’s deliberateness keeps it painfully, depressingly, beautifully, devastatingly subdued.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Mann; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig, Pasquale Buba, William Goldenberg and Tom Rolf; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Art Linson and Mann; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Lt. Vincent Hanna), Robert De Niro (Neil McCauley), Val Kilmer (Chris Shiherlis), Tom Sizemore (Michael Cheritto), Diane Venora (Justine Hanna), Amy Brenneman (Eady), Dennis Haysbert (Donald Breedan), Ashley Judd (Charlene Shiherlis), Mykelti Williamson (Sergeant Drucker), Wes Studi (Detective Casals), Ted Levine (Bosko), William Fichtner (Roger Van Zant), Natalie Portman (Lauren Gustafson), Tom Noonan (Kelso), Kevin Gage (Waingro), Hank Azaria (Alan Marciano), Susan Traylor (Elaine Cheritto), Kim Staunton (Lillian) and Jon Voight (Nate).


Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman)

Red Planet is an awful film. It’s got decent performances from Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, awful ones from Carrie-Anne Moss, Terence Stamp and Benjamin Bratt and a mediocre one from Simon Baker. The script fails Baker, who actually has what should be the film’s most interesting character arc, so it’s not entirely his fault.

Moss, Stamp and Bratt have terrible writing too–Moss gets stuck with the atrocious expository narration–but not so bad it excuses their performances. Of the three, Bratt’s probably the best as the jerk astronaut.

So besides bad writing, lots of bad acting and terrible direction from Hoffman (almost thirteen years after Planet’s release, he still hasn’t gotten another film job–thank goodness), what’s wrong with Red Planet? Well, it’s fundamentally unsound. It’s a big budget action sci-fi movie about a fictional science problem. It pretends to be a real story (Apollo 13 is a major influence) and never acknowledges the artifice. That disconnect–and the awful acting–makes it hard to care about the characters.

Except Kilmer, who’s very appealing in a comedic performance.

The terrible music from Graeme Revell and shockingly bad editing from Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett don’t help things either.

Worse, there are a couple really good scenes in the film–Kilmer’s instrumental to both; Sizemore and Baker help out for one of them–and Hoffman doesn’t know how to make them. They succeed because of the acting.

The 2001 references are sad.

Planet’s real bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antony Hoffman; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, based on a story by Pfarrer; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Mark Canton, Bruce Berman and Jorge Saralegui; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Val Kilmer (Gallagher), Carrie-Anne Moss (Bowman), Tom Sizemore (Burchenal), Benjamin Bratt (Santen), Simon Baker (Pettengill) and Terence Stamp (Chantilas).


Real Genius (1985, Martha Coolidge)

It’s hard to know where to start with Real Genius. It runs just over a hundred minutes, but gets so much done in the first forty, then so much different stuff done in the next thirty, the remainder is almost entirely separate.

The plot evolves, expanding as events unfold. Genius isn’t its concept or MacGuffin. Instead, it’s something wholly original, maybe because it doesn’t worry about the audience identifying with the characters. But director Coolidge never treats them as subjects; they’re always the film’s driving force.

Gabriel Jarret plays the lead–a fifteen year-old genius off to a science school–and brings the viewer into the film. Until he passes it off to Val Kilmer, a slightly older genius. But while Kilmer’s character confronts personal accountability, Jarret’s busy having a touching romance with Michelle Meyrink.

While all this character development is going on, Kilmer and Jarret are also dealing with William Atherton’s deceptive prick of a professor and Robert Prescott (as his lackey).

The juxtaposing of Kilmer and Jarret’s characters is one of Genius‘s strongest elements, especially since the actors do so well with it. Kilmer gets to give an absurd, rock star type performance (and excels), while Jarret is introverted but also more mature.

Meyrink’s great, as is Prescott. Atherton, in the type of role he’d quickly become typecast for, is perfect. Jon Gries is also excellent in a small role.

Coolidge uses her Panavision frame well and there’s beautiful Vilmos Zsigmond photography.

Real Genius is really good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martha Coolidge; screenplay by Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei, based on a story by Israel and Proft; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Richard Chew; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Josan F. Russo; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Chris Knight), Gabriel Jarret (Mitch Taylor), Michelle Meyrink (Jordan), William Atherton (Prof. Jerry Hathaway), Jon Gries (Lazlo Hollyfeld), Robert Prescott (Kent), Ed Lauter (David Decker), Patti D’Arbanville (Sherry Nugil), Stacy Peralta (Shuttle Pilot), Beau Billingslea (George), Joanne Baron (Mrs. Taylor), Sandy Martin (Mrs. Meredith), Dean Devlin (Milton), Yuji Okumoto (Fenton) and Deborah Foreman (Susan Decker).


The Ghost and the Darkness (1996, Stephen Hopkins)

There are two significant problems with The Ghost and the Darkness. Its other primary problem corrects itself over time.

The score–from Jerry Goldsmith–is awful (he basically repeats his terrible Congo score). It makes the film silly, like a commercial. A great deal of the film is about the wonderment of Africa, something Hopkins and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond certainly capture… only to have Goldsmith ruin it.

Second, writer William Goldman thinks it needs narration. It doesn’t. Goldman’s able to get away with a dream sequence here (Hopkins and Val Kilmer sell it) but the narration’s too much. It brings the viewer out of the film, especially at the end; the credits are a disconnect from the film’s final narration.

The third problem is Michael Douglas. When he shows up, he’s basically doing Romancing the Stone, only with an occasional Southern accent. He gets better, but it takes about fifteen minutes and some of it is rough going.

The real draw–besides Hopkins and Zsigmond–is Kilmer (he never screws up his accent). He has an epic character arc in this film and his performance is brilliant. It’s especially interesting to see how he acts opposite Douglas, whose initially bombastic, silly presence should derail Kilmer’s performance. But it doesn’t. Again, some of it has to do with Hopkins, who knows how to shoot these scenes.

Good supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson, John Kani and Om Puri.

The film has some problems, but they don’t come close to overshadowing its achievements.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Roger Bondelli, Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Col. John Henry Patterson), Michael Douglas (Charles Remington), Tom Wilkinson (Robert Beaumont), John Kani (Samuel), Bernard Hill (Dr. David Hawthorne), Brian McCardie (Angus Starling), Emily Mortimer (Helena Patterson) and Om Puri (Abdullah).


Willow (1988, Ron Howard)

I wonder if Willow’s lack of popularity has anything to do with the protagonist not fitting the regular sci-fi and fantasy and magic standard. Not because Warwick Davis is a dwarf, but because his character is so non-traditional. He’s not an idealistic youth, or a hidden prince… he’s a farmer with a wife, two kids and money problems. He’s some normal guy. It (along with the physical characteristics) block some of the idealizing.

Unrelated, Willow’s not very good. There’s a lot of blame to go around and, if the film weren’t from George Lucas’s conception, the responsibility would fall on screenwriter Bob Dolman. The dialogue is bad and he doesn’t have many good characters (only three, in fact). He doesn’t have any good villains—actually, they’re all quiet bad—and the action is poorly spread out. The biggest action sequence comes before the finale.

However, it’s a Lucas production (and he’s credited with the story), so I imagine many of those problems are Lucas’s fault.

But director Ron Howard isn’t without reproach. His composition is okay, but his direction of actors is terrible. He’s lucky to have Val Kilmer (in the Han Solo part) because Kilmer’s at least able to have fun without direction. Joanne Whalley is good (before she disappears) and Jean Marsh is an effective villain. But the acting’s otherwise mediocre or lame.

Another problem is the special effects. They’re too ambitious for composite shots, even with masterful stop motion.

Still, Willow’s not an abject failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Bob Dolman, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill and Richard Hiscott; music by James Horner; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Nigel Wooll; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Warwick Davis (Willow Ufgood), Val Kilmer (Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (Sorsha), Jean Marsh (Queen Bavmorda), Patricia Hayes (Fin Raziel), Billy Barty (High Aldwin), Pat Roach (Gen. Kael), Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk Thaughbaer), Kevin Pollak (Rool), Rick Overton (Franjean), David Steinberg (Meegosh), Mark Northover (Burglekutt), Phil Fondacaro (Vohnkar) and Julie Peters (Kiaya Ufgood).


The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986, Jeannot Szwarc)

If it weren’t for director Szwarc actually being French, The Murders in the Rue Morgue might be the perfect post-modern adaptation.

It’s Americans pretending (without accents, thankfully) to be French. Poe, an American, had never been to France when he wrote the original story. So there’s an artificiality to it, which really fits the story as it turns out.

Unfortunately, Poe’s short story was an earnest attempt. This film version–produced for television–is not. It appears to be an American attempt to capture the ambience of the Granada Television’s “Sherlock Holmes” television series. Rue Morgue‘s producers fail.

The biggest problem is the script; screenwriter Epstein pads the adaptation with rote melodrama (Dupin, played by George C. Scott, not only has a daughter–Rebecca De Mornay–with romance troubles, he’s also got a professional adversary in Ian McShane). Most of the additions play as to Scott being a grumpy old man. I assume aging Dupin was to fit Scott, as a bit of stunt casting.

As far as the acting goes, I suppose McShane gives the film’s only good performance. He’s a slimy politician and he enjoys it. Kilmer and De Mornay are both earnest, but not any good in poorly written roles. Kilmer has these wild, theatrical arm gestures in his scenes with Scott… almost as though he’s trying to get Scott’s attention.

Scott’s performance is lifeless, somewhat appealing out of respect for his ability, but utterly empty.

Szwarc’s direction is similarly limp.

It’s a trying ninety minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; teleplay by David Epstein, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe; director of photography, Bruno de Keyzer; edited by Eric Albertson; music by Charles Gross; produced by Robert Halmi Jr.; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring George C. Scott (Auguste Dupin), Val Kilmer (Phillipe Huron), Rebecca De Mornay (Claire Dupin), Ian McShane (Prefect of Police), Neil Dickson (Adolphe Le Bon), Maud Rayer (Melle L’Espanaye), Maxence Mailfort (Inspector Alphonse), Fernand Guiot (Dupar) and Patrick Floersheim (The Sailor).


The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog)

At some point during this response, I’m going to say nice things about Eva Mendes. Just a warning.

I used to hate on CG, starting in around 1996 and ending about six years later, when I just gave up caring. It wasn’t ever going to stop and it had gotten to a point where there was good CG (Star Trek is a fine example). I rail against digital video a lot too. I think it’s now, with Port of Call New Orleans, gotten to the point where I need to give up that fight too.

It’s an ugly looking film. It looks cheap, it looks amateurish. There’s absolutely nothing scenic to its setting, nothing picturesque. It’s not even visually horrific in the way other post-Katrina stories are done. It’s simply disinterested.

It’s also brilliant. Herzog’s made maybe the finest American cop movie a German’s ever made, but I’m sure having William Finkelstein (veteran of many a fine cop show) write it helps. Nicolas Cage turns in an amazing performance, an irredeemable bad guy surrounded by worse guys, and shows why he’s such a waste most of the time.

It’s a shame he doesn’t get these good of scripts more often.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Val Kilmer and Mendes. Kilmer isn’t in it much but he’s great when he is present, but Mendes is always around. The quality of her performance’s shocking. Brad Dourif’s great. Xzibit and Jennifer Coolidge too. Not enough Fairuza Balk though.

It’s amazing stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Werner Herzog; screenplay by William M. Finkelstein, based on a film written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrera and Zoë Lund; director of photography, Peter Zeitlinger; edited by Joe Bini; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Toby Corbett; produced by Stephen Belafonte, Nicolas Cage, Randall Emmett, Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky, Edward R. Pressman and John Thompson; released by First Look Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Terence McDonagh), Val Kilmer (Stevie Pruit), Eva Mendes (Frankie Donnenfeld), Jennifer Coolidge (Genevieve), Fairuza Balk (Heidi), Brad Dourif (Ned Schoenholtz), Michael Shannon (Mundt), Shawn Hatosy (Armand Benoit), Denzel Whitaker (Daryl), Shea Whigham (Justin), Xzibit (Big Fate), Katie Chonacas (Tina), Tom Bower (Pat McDonough), Irma P. Hall (Binnie Rogers) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (James Brasser).


Mindhunters (2004, Renny Harlin)

Want to see an amazing, can’t-believe-I-haven’t-heard-of-him performance by Eion Bailey? See Mindhunters. Want to see a goofy, affable Val Kilmer performance (maybe the first of its kind since Real Genius)? See Mindhunters. Want to see Christian Slater’s possibly best performance since Pump Up the Volume? See Mindhunters.

Want to see a terrible Jonny Lee Miller performance, where he tries a Southern accent? Mindhunters. Or LL Cool J totally failing in a major role (since he established himself as the likable but possibly tough supporting character)? Mindhunters again. Want to see something where you’re shocked to remember Renny Harlin directed Die Hard 2? Not kidding, Mindhunters.

I didn’t fit Clifton Collins Jr. giving a bad performance (the first I’ve seen from him) in that last paragraph. Oops.

Mindhunters appears to be Dimension’s attempt to turn Kathryn Morris into its Julia Roberts (and Patricia Valesquez, in maybe the film’s most absurdly awful performance, into its Angelina Jolie).

The film’s a considerable disaster, if only because the pacing is so idiotic–it didn’t get a theatrical release and it’s easy to see why. Unlike some of the other atrocious (but theatrically released) Dimension efforts, Mindhunters doesn’t even have a compelling cast. While there are good actors and good performances (the two are not corollary, however), Mindhunters would have been better served as a network miniseries. The script’s weak characterizations and Harlin’s laughable direction do the film no favors.

Though, I suppose, Charles Wood’s production design is good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin, based on a story by Kramer; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Neil Farrell and Paul Martin Smith; music by Tuomas Kantelinen; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Cary Brokaw, Akiva Goldsman, Jeffrey Silver and Rebecca Spikings; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Eion Bailey (Bobby Whitman), Clifton Collins Jr. (Vince Sherman), Will Kemp (Rafe Perry), Val Kilmer (Jake Harris), Jonny Lee Miller (Lucas Harper), Kathryn Morris (Sara Moore), Christian Slater (J.D. Reston), LL Cool J (Gabe Jensen) and Patricia Velasquez (Nicole Willis).


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