Time travel is the biggest pain in the backside to comprehend. It can become circular logical trying to make sense of the contradictions, continuity resolutions, and potential paradoxes. Timecop certainly has these problems due to half thought-out ideas, but where these issues would normally sour the entire film to me, Timecop has just enough entertainment value to dwarf those concerns. Peter Hyams, who shot and directed this film, clearly deserves much credit for bringing the right talents and elements together to achieve a result that is satisfying on all other levels.
In 1994, time travel is made possible, and upon learning of this, the U.S. government forms a confidential agency called the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) to police time itself, and prevent changes in the past. Washington, D.C. police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) accepts an assignment to this new agency, but on this very day, he and his wife Melissa (Mia Sara) are attacked. This results in Melissa’s death and the destruction of their home. Ten years later, Max Walker grieves still, but has become a respected TEC Agent. Max ends up having to take in Atwood, his own ex-partner, for tampering with the past with the stock market. When coxed about who hired him to do this, the name Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) is named, but Atwood refuses to testify to this fearing for the lives of his family. McComb is a presidential candidate who has been stealing from the past to fund his campaign so that he can essentially buy the presidency. McComb quickly learns of Walker’s knowledge, and continually seeks to eliminate him and shut down the TEC entirely. Max becomes determined to expose the Senator’s criminal actions, which come to include multiple murders, but his TEC superior, Matuzak (Bruce McGill) keeps Max from going too far without evidence to support his claims. However, all things become interwoven as McCombs’ manipulative plans take Walker back to 1994 where his past and future come into peril. Can Max change history before it repeats itself?
There is just something about the old action heroes that is missing today. While Jean-Claude Van Damme has amazing physical ability with remarkable martial arts talent, he also has plenty of charisma and heart to really make his roles empathetic. He gives them enough dimension and charm to be someone an audience can thoroughly enjoy watching. The young Max Walker is a warm, light-hearted man with a lot of passion and love. The older Max Walker is more rough around the edges. He’s a lonelier man that is very dedicated to his job, and takes his commitment to it very seriously. He has a strong ethical and moral center that doesn’t allow him to back down from McComb. Still, he retains the charm and wit of his younger self, but with a tinge of conviction. Van Damme plays both versions nicely, and keeps an emotional connective tissue between them. He carries the film with plenty of heart, humor, and dramatic weight. He also has excellent chemistry with his co-stars.
Primarily among them is the late Ron Silver who made for an excellent cold blooded villain as McComb. His charisma is very sharp as he commands the screen with intelligence and conviction. He is very imposing and intimidating. McComb is a man driven by the need for power, and everyone in his path towards it is expendable. With the advantage of time travel, he can essentially prevent anyone from ever existing, but in some cases, he hardly sees a need to be so severe. He also doesn’t mind doing his own dirty work. He just can’t do it all himself. The younger Senator McComb has ambition and vision, but is not hardened, yet. His elder presidential candidate self is very cutthroat. Silver brings immense weight to the picture that fuels the dogged motivation in Van Damme’s performance. The two have very good chemistry playing off one another many times in the film. They have a very effective counterbalance that keeps the movie compelling and entertaining. They exchange several sharp, humorous remarks that entirely fit their characters, and maintain a tension between Walker and McComb that injects urgency into the plot.
I am continually impressed by Bruce McGill’s talent. I was first introduced to him on MacGyver as the humorous con man Jack Dalton, but since then, I have seen the vast range and depth he is capable of. From roles in The Insider, Collateral, The Last Boy Scout, Quantum Leap, and a very memorable episode of Miami Vice, I can seriously say that he is one of the best character actors around. As Matuzak, he holds his ground very easily as Walker’s boss with the weight of authority and a quick witted levity. He cares a good deal about Max, but he always keeps his priorities and responsibilities in check. He never lets his friendship compromise his position, at least, not until circumstances become desperate and Matuzak has to stretch his trust in Walker. McGill and Van Damme also have thoroughly entertaining chemistry that livens up the film, smartly. Walker and Matuzak are good, tusted friends with a lot of history behind them which adds to the depth of the story. Van Damme and McGill reflect that nicely giving the film some funny interactions that only a couple of good, long time friends could offer up.
Mia Sara is beautiful beyond just the physical. As Melissa, you have zero trouble believing in Max’s deep love for her. She’s compassionate, seductive, and lovely. The love for Max is always in her eyes, and definitely connects through to an audience. Mia Sara projects every emotion with heart-gripping depth. Her interactions with Jean-Claude are wonderful, as are all the relationships in the film. The whole cast really does a superb job playing off one another, hitting the right dramatic and tonal marks. The performances are very consistent and complementary. It’s almost surprising, but pleasantly so.
The visual effects are kind of mixed. The optical composites putting two Van Dammes or two Ron Silvers into the same frame at the same time are generally pretty good, and the time travel “ripple” effect is well done. There is also a wicked cool moment where Walker kicks the young McComb in the face, and then, the scar from it morphs onto the face of the older McComb. These little flourishes are exceptionally nice, and add some originality to the film. However, the more complex digital effects are rather primitive. I can only imagine this was due to budgetary constraints. CGI was likely still highly expensive in 1994 as only Steven Spielberg and James Cameron blockbusters got to make elaborate use of them. This wasn’t Industrial Light & Magic at work here. While there are only two such moments in the movie, one of which is a very critical moment that I cannot say how it will affect your enjoyment if you’re just watching Timecop now for the first time. I’ve known what to expect since Timecop originally hit VHS in the mid-1990s, and so, it doesn’t bother me at all. For a modern audience, it might be a sour note.
Finally discovering and getting my hands on the first ever widescreen release of this film on DVD, I can properly enjoy the wonderful cinematography by Peter Hyams (who also directed the feature). I can definitely tell it was shot by him due to the use of contrast through heavy light and shadow. The movie has plenty of visual atmosphere, but it never goes too far. There’s a certain noir aspect to much of Hyams’ lighting and cinematography in addition to my beloved 2.35:1 aspect ratio that give Timecop some solid production values. It also gives the film some distinctive identity and edgy dramatic weight. Hyams captures and directs the action very, very well. He has his pacing and composition crafted beautifully creating a very coherent string of action sequences that are thoroughly satisfying. Hyams puts Van Damme’s talent nicely on display. Jean-Claude has many awesome moments flexing his agility and ability. The shot of JCVD jumping and doing the splits on the countertop to avoid the stun gun was a memorable moment from the trailer, and remains as such within the film. His martial arts skills make for a unique and hard hitting style that really gives the film a lot of kick. The choreography is plotted out greatly to make the scenes develop logically and organically. The knife fight alone is a nice change of pace, adding to the creativity of the action.
Now, if it wasn’t for all this good talent elevating the quality of this film, it would not be a winner. Again, there are so many confusing issues that arise from the underdeveloped time travel concepts and plot turns in this, that you cannot hold the screenplay as a gold standard of the genre. The general story works very well supported by the acting talents involved, but analyzed at all and its mechanics fall apart. It’s too complicated to dissect here, but simply said, the space-time continuum should’ve imploded by the end of this movie. Paradoxes are abound with people being killed, partially erased from the timeline, resetting timelines, and people retaining knowledge of multiple timelines despite the continuity changing constantly with new incursions into the past. There’s never any constant in what makes for a good time travel story as there’s always some inherent technical complications. Even those that have a well stated theory of time travel can often fall apart, often with their sequels taking too many liberties with the plot. There’s no Doc Brown or Sam Beckett type characters present to really speak to the screenwriter’s theories of time travel. So, the film generally avoids getting too deep into it, and thus, it’s best to avoid rationalizing the logic of it all. In any case, for a little more insight into this matter you can visit an old favorite website of mine which takes a few moments to breakdown the basic flaws: Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies.
The production design is very good with some large sets that offer up some additional scope. The entire TEC facility has a slight futuristic quality, but retains a utilitarian mentality which grounds it. The control room, offices, and launch bay retain a purely functional design idea that would be akin to a secret government facility. It also allows Peter Hyams to create the aforementioned shadowy, noir inspired lighting schemes. The only area where the “futuristic” time of 2004 crashes and burns is the design of these butt ugly automobiles. I’ve never seen a concept car that took the armored, blocky design approach, and indeed, I’m glad that these filmmakers did not accurately foretell the future in this aspect. Aside from that, the art direction is very good, and maybe a little reflective of 1990s visual aesthetics (something that I have no problems with).
The good fortune of this film is that the filmmakers and cast worked hard to make it entertaining and enjoyable. The screenwriter abandoned any serious logic in the temporal mechanics so that the plot could work how he wanted it to. That’s never a good thing, but there’s enough quality put on screen to mostly cloud that shortcoming. Van Damme is great handling all the demands of the role smoothly from dramatic to humorous to emotional to the physical. The supporting cast is just as strong keeping the film consistently entertaining. The characters are well written, and even better realized with solid casting choices. Peter Hyams deserves a lot of credit for creating a film that features high production values with appealing performances and action sequences built on a script that didn’t make much sense, but was satisfying nonetheless.
Evil is everywhere, and in everybody. That is never truer than in this film. I saw Fallen in its original theatrical run fourteen years ago. I loved it then, and I still love it today. I owned in on VHS, and later, it was one of the earliest DVDs I saw. At the time of release, I stated it was one of the best suspense thrillers I had seen. Now, even after being exposed to a wider array of films in that genre, this still holds up strongly for me. The supernatural twist surely adds to that. Fallen really is an inspired film of its genre that is gripping and engaging on multiple levels from the awesome beginning to the masterful ending.
Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) has already arrested serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas). He’s been convicted, and is now awaiting his execution in the gas chamber. Although, for a man facing his inevitable and imminent death he’s remarkably upbeat. Is he psychotic or is he something else? Hobbes witnesses the execution, and sees Reese die in the chamber. The case is closed, and it’s on with life. That is until a new series of murders arise which eerily share characteristics with those of Reese’s, but Reese is dead – isn’t he? An ancient, unseen evil known as Azazel took control over the man known as Edgar Reese a long time ago, but where Reese died, it endured. Now, it’s set its sights on Hobbes to enact revenge on him. Hobbes’ partner Jonesy (John Goodman) is naturally creeped out over the apparent links between these latest murders and those Reese committed, and their commanding officer – Lieutenant Stanton (Donald Sutherland) – is very shady, eluding to knowing a lot more than he’s willing to divulge. Hobbes attempts to solve the puzzle of why there is a space between “Lyons and Spakowski” that Reese left for him – before and after his death. This clue leads Hobbes to the death of a police officer who is survived by his daughter Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz) who becomes Hobbes’ path to answers that he is not easily willing to accept. What this mystery drags Hobbes into is a dark and dangerous reality which may only end up in death for all those who stand between this fallen angel turn demonic spirit and John Hobbes.
Denzel Washington – as always – delivers a powerful and solid performance. His character of John Hobbes is very human with a wide range of emotions, but most importantly, he’s loyal and dedicated to those he trusts and cares for. In the start of the film, Hobbes is depicted as a solid professional and a confident detective. He’s no glory hound with the media – he’s just a cop with a job to be done, and is glad that Reese has been brought to justice. As the story becomes stranger and more unreal, Hobbes slowly unravels the mystery with great skill. Denzel carries the film with ease. He handles the subject matter in a very grounded way making it all relatable through his usual charm, heart, and humanity.
This brings us to Elias Koteas who, despite his relatively short screentime, retains the biggest impact of the entire film. He makes every second of his time on screen count. Elias put a lot of hard, hard work into this performance so that it would stay with an audience throughout the length of the film. I’ve seen Elias in many different roles, the first of which was as the crime-fighting Casey Jones in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie, and later, among the powerhouse cast in The Prophecy. No matter the film, whatever role he takes on, he makes it memorable. This one is no exception. Reese comes off as a very haunting and disturbing individual without rolling into Hannibal Lecter territory. Koteas brings an intelligence to the role that is hidden under layers of charisma, riddles, and supposed psychotic behavior. He entirely grasped the intent of the character in the story, and the depth of this evil entity.
Next, you’ve got John Goodman as the warm-hearted and emotionally supportive Jonesy. Goodman always amazes me with his natural talent. He can go from comedic and humorous to intense and dramatic at a moment’s notice. I thoroughly enjoyed his work on Roseanne as well as other movie roles, and in this film, he really puts it all out there. I don’t want to drop any major spoilers, but his performance at the film’s end is just everything he could ever pour into a performance and then some. Donald Sutherland does fine work – as always. His Lieutenant Stanton really offers a stricter and secretive counterweight to the more open relationship between Hobbes and Jonesy. He puts Hobbes at unease as he delves into this unsettling mystery. There’s also a smaller supporting role with James Gandolfini as a fellow Detective with a unique personae and attitude. Of course, he pulls it off with much charisma and energy that adds to the colorful nature of the cast.
How the supernatural aspects are handled add to the class and sophistication of this film. Fallen angles who were deprived of form that have lived on through the centuries possessing humans could have faltered if presented in the wrong way. Embeth Davidtz was given the task of conveying this exposition, and she hit it perfectly on target. As Gretta Milano, she offers up a strong, yet compassionate performance with a confident core set of beliefs that keep the film grounded, but allow for Hobbes and the audience to believe in there being something more out there. Something beyond what we can see that is still a very powerful threat. The film is set in Hobbes’ world of procedural police work where there is a simple explanation and tangible evidence. Gretta slowly convinces Hobbes to look beyond the obvious and open up his mind to the supernatural truth. Davidtz strikes up a good chemistry with Denzel that allows for a sense of trust to build between their characters. This, along with Davidtz’s strength of character, allows Hobbes and the audience to embrace the reality of Azazel.
Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography on this film is filled with fantastic depth and color temperature contrast. I still remember when I first watched this on DVD, and was highly captivated by the vibrant visual quality of the film. It is beautiful while remaining moody. The autumn setting is captured with gorgeous artistry. It is my favorite season of the year much due to how wonderfully colorful it becomes. They don’t just have it there because that’s the time of year they shot film, they make it an overall part of the film’s tone and color scheme. The “demon vision” look is effectively creepy and otherworldly. The score further adds to the haunting, mysterious atmosphere of the film. Of course, the use of the Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” was terrific and inspired. A great choice that fits the manic and peculiar sense of humor of Edgar Reese. The song is constantly sung by those possessed by Azazel throughout the film as a sort of playful tease from the demon to Hobbes. Of course, John Goodman puts in the best performance while mimicking some moves of Mick Jagger.
This all adds up to an exceptionally effective thriller. The suspense of the feature is very taut creating a haunting sense where, eventually, John Hobbes becomes deeply unsettled by. Being stalked by a supernatural killer that is generally intangible who can transfer itself from one person to another with a simple touch was brilliant. There is a chase scene with Gretta Milano which uses this one concept to great effect. The misdirection of the film is also ingenious, and the bookend scenes happen to be a storytelling method I’ve come to use in many of own independent films. This story is all told from a certain perspective that you will not put into alignment until the end. Denzel’s voice overs are excellently handled to be both ambiguous as to the truth the first time around, but also, be entirely perfect on repeat viewings fitting into what you already know. This is mainly a testament to the screenplay of Nicholas Kazan, and the direction of Gregory Hoblit. Voice overs can tend to be a little dry without the proper direction and context given to the actor. Denzel gives them the right tone which feeds into the detective noir investigative aspect of the story, and ultimately, as something much more.
Kazan’s screenplay alone seems excellent. The concepts and how they are handled are done with a fine depth of intelligence and emotional poignancy. The philosophical discussions amongst these characters show exceptional attention to well developed characters, relationships, and storytelling detail. The actors inhabit those roles, along with all their beliefs and attitudes, perfectly. These are essential elements to explore for John Hobbes to develop through the film. He doesn’t give into wild paranoia, but more of a cautious, weary mindset that drives him to a very clear perspective. Azazel’s actions throughout the film makes Hobbes a man with his back against the wall, but he doesn’t flinch or become desperate. He gets smart, and decides upon a course of action that is quite cunning and smart. That’s very telling of the film. There’s nothing cheap or dumb about it. Everyone involved works towards creating a very smart film that maintains a sense of humanity.
Checking wikipedia for some credits on the film, I see there were many mixed reviews of Fallen upon its initial release. There were critics describing it with words like “convoluted,” “far-fetched,” “recycled,” and “not very engaging.” As a friend of mine consistently remarks, what good are critics anyway? I can hardly understand where they come from myself most times. I personally believe too many have forgotten how to simply enjoy a film as a piece of art or entertainment instead of analyzing it like a science experiment. How they could not see the rich depth of this movie is beyond me. I find it entertaining on many levels with dimensional, enjoyable characters, incredible tension and suspense, a fine interwoven mystery, excellent performances all around, and clever storytelling. Again, I felt this way in 1998, and I feel the same now in 2012. I’m sure I will continue to feel that way forever. This partially follows in the mentality of 1990s crime films post-Se7en, but there’s so much more self-identity and humanity within this story that is not often found as much in this genre. Fallen is a definite must-see for anyone who enjoys suspenseful thrillers with supernatural elements. This is a highly satisfying, sophisticated thriller which receives my strongest endorsement!
Brilliance! That is what this film has always been to me. It had controversy surrounding it when it was made and released, but time resolves these issues. Films that take chances and tackle some explicit subject matter often polarize audiences, but all I ever saw from this was a hell of an entertaining, genius piece of cinema. A true twisted classic that introduced me to one of my favorite actors of all time.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is an empty man. He lacks emotion, he lacks a sense of reality, and seriously lacks a genuine sense of humanity. “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman…but I simply am not there.” For whatever perverse reason, Patrick Bateman is completely disassociated from the rest of humanity. He’s a Wall Street executive that really does nothing all day long, but earns loads of money despite it. He finds many people despicable from his girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) to his own co-workers to the random homeless man on the street. By night, he has a terrible bloodlust that he is slowly losing control of. But the question ends up being – what is reality and what is just pure fantasy? This is a dark, dark journey through the mind of one demented and empty individual – welcome to the life of Patrick Bateman.
Christian Bale is a marvel! I really was not familiar at all with Bale before this film, but afterwards, I took close notice of him. When I heard he was up for the role of Batman / Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins I was 100% in support of him, and he proved me and many others right. The man has brilliant acting abilities, and fully immerses himself within his roles, both mentally and physically. As Patrick Bateman, he plays the role with a lot of fun. The manic and maddening nature of Bateman is brought out fully under Bale’s talents, and it becomes a wholly satisfying performance that will disturb and entertain. Bateman is a seriously sick man, and honestly has no comfort zone in this world of ours – probably why he becomes lost in his own world of fantasy. Bale just plays it up like I believe no one else ever possibly could. His moments of introspection are unsettling as he knows that he’s a sociopath, but has no idea just how far off the deep end he will go.
The supporting cast is wonderful as well. They give quite the counter-balance to Bateman’s madness and hysteria. Reese Witherspoon has a small, yet pertinent role as Bateman’s girlfriend who is a regular materialistic, high society snob that’s rather oblivious to Patrick in general, and Bateman, in return, cannot stomach her. Willem Dafoe wonderfully portrays Detective Donald Kimball, who is hired to investigate the disappearance of one of Patrick’s co-workers – Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Through the brilliance of Dafoe’s acting and Mary Harron’s directing, you never quite know what Kimball does or doesn’t know. He keeps Bateman guessing – not to mention sweating. While much has been admittedly attributed to editing two different performances by Dafoe, he delivers both qualities with a great deal of skill. He has fantastic chemistry with Bale.
Jared Leto is also wonderfully hilarious as Paul Allen. There’s enough satire in what he does to make the character not simply a stuck-up moron. Leto plays stupid very intelligently. He holds up his end of the scenes with Bale equally well. He’s immensely entertaining, and an excellent encapsulation of this film’s satirical mindset. The entire cast is just great. They all play very intriguing characters, and they all do so extremely well. There’s not a negative note about any of it.
The music in this film plays up the off-balance mental state of Bateman. It goes between very high class music reflecting an affluent sensibility, and Bateman’s love of contemporary pop music. With this being set in the late 1980s, the soundtrack is rich with songs from Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, and Huey Lewis & The News. When this music is set against particular scenes, it accentuates Bateman’s dementia to an extreme. My favorite is with Lewis’ “Hip to be Square” where Bale engages in the lamest little dance which is actually a stroke of improvisational brilliance on Christian Bale’s part. If ever I were to meet Mr. Bale, I’d love to put this song on the stereo, and have him re-enact that moment. It cracks me up like crazy. The score is beautifully composed by John Cale, and it was an absolute stroke of genius to take this route.
This film is a dark satire on 1980s American capitalism in how the desire for wealth dominates everyone’s lives, and how it dwarfs their sense of humanity and morality. Most of the characters are so full of themselves that they can barely tell one person apart from another, or at least, don’t place enough worth on anyone else to care. Mistaken identities are abound in the film, which is an allegory to how Bateman has no real sense of self. Everything in the film reflects upon that since it is all told from his perspective. With Christian Bale being a Welshman, I’m sure that allowed him to bring an original perspective towards the satirical subject matter and Bateman himself.
American Psycho was mainly controversial for its use of explicit sex, violence, and twisted psychological subject matter. That means the film is not for everyone as these are all taken to generous extremes, especially in the highly satisfying unrated cut. There are a lot of great sequences in this film because of those elements, none that I will spoil for you, but many are there to reveal the fact that Patrick Bateman tries to emulate certain behaviors. From a pornographic video to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he integrates them into his twisted fantasies, but there remains the question – how real are they? The psychological ambiguity of this film is masterful. There is plenty of evidence to support whatever theory you choose, but you have to look at the subtleties to truly grasp all the possible meanings. Did Bateman actually do all these horrendous, violent acts, and the world is just so consumed with greed, self-importance, and indifference that it doesn’t matter? Or is Bateman so far out of his mind that he cannot separate his own sick fantasies from hard reality? Both theories are fascinating to explore, and neither can be entirely discounted. This is not one of those films which presents you all the evidence, and just leaves you blowing in the wind as the credits roll. That’s where Patrick Bateman’s internal monologues come in. They give you a perspective on these things, and allows you to see it all through his eyes. And even at the end, Bateman doesn’t know what to believe, but with that internal voice, an audience gains the only thing that matters – what it all means to Bateman.
American Psycho is a crazed psychological descent into a giant black void that is filled with immense entertainment values. You can indulge yourself in Bateman’s over-the-top manic madness, or get completely freaked out by it – or both. Whatever the case, director Mary Harron delivered a massively unique and fascinating adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. It gave Christian Bale what was most likely his breakout role. I absolutely love this film, and if that means I’m a bit strange, then I find that to be nothing new. I give American Psycho a perfect score and my strongest recommendation to whoever feels this is for them.
I will start this review out saying that I am a fan of Rob Zombie, the musician. I was interested in Rob Zombie as a filmmaker due to the immense controversy surrounding his first film House of 1000 Corpses, but once I got to see it, theatrically, I found it to be a rather unexciting, very unoriginal, and highly derivative movie. It just seemed like one ninety minute long Rob Zombie music video. The only thing that made me see it a second time was Sid Haig’s incredible charisma and dark, dark humor as Captain Spaulding. It cracked me up like few things do, but other than that, the film held little interest for me. Others felt differently, but I will get more into such things as I have many of the same gripes here as I did with Zombie’s first film.
Picking up six months after the events of House of 1000 Corpses, The Ruggsville County Sheriff’s Department, headed by John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), is storming the Firefly household, and some do not survive. Mother Firefly is captured, but Otis & Baby escape to meet up with the foul-mouthed mad clown Captain Spaulding (who is also Baby’s father). Along their twisted road trip, they encounter some strange folk, and leave them worse off than they found them….much, much worse. Sheriff Wydell, in the meantime, is deadset on bringing the entire clan down because they killed his brother George (as seen in House of 1000 Corpses). Sheriff John Wydell has nothing but vengeance on his mind, but in time, that will drive him to become exactly what he’s hunting. The trio’s road trip takes many bizarre twists and turns, leaving unresolved plot points along the way, and ultimately leads the film to a strange and unsatisfying ending.
First and foremost, this is one grizzly, brutal, and unrestrained movie. I rented the unrated director’s cut, and so, everything that was meant to be seen, was seen. And while all the gory effects are excellent, and the performances are amazing, this film just doesn’t deliver anything more. The story is far too simple to justify all the over bloated crap that flows through it, and the resolution is horrendously weak. It feels like the work of an untalented novice filmmaker who just does things because he thinks they are cool instead of crafting a tight, coherent, and straight forward feature. Possibly the film’s strongest, more poignant character is dispatched like a worthless camper in a Friday The 13th movie. The death has no meaning, no importance when this character probably should not have died at all. It simply goes to show that despite Rob Zombie’s ability to make an intense and disturbing film, he really has a long way to go in crafting solid storytelling skills. He tries, but he fails for two films in a row.
I think it’s even worse in this one because some characters and plot points simply drop off the map with no reason, no explanation. Plot points about the Groucho Marx’ aliases is dropped after two scenes, and was apparently only created for a weak comedic bit. As for vanishing characters, Zombie apparently decides that once they’ve served their purpose, they should vanish entirely with no reason or resolution. It is a shame because there is such a great cast to work with such as Michael Berryman, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, and the absolutely awesome William Forsythe. I was also rocked to see former WCW & WWE superstar “Diamond” Dallas Page featured as black-haired bounty hunter teamed with Trejo. Page does a fine job too, and having cameos from The Warrior‘s Deborah Van Valkenburg and Halloween‘s P.J. Soles was a unique touch. However, despite having such a rich cast, the story just does not offer up anything substantive for them to do anything with. There’s no ambition to do anything original with this concept which has been well treaded over the decades. We’ve seen movies with murder sprees before, and despite the extreme distance this one takes the violence and mayhem, such thrills are only momentary. Once the mayhem and gore is off screen, there’s not much to excite an audience or the film. The story is just three sick and twisted people on a killing spree running from the law and a vengeful lawman, period. Most films of this sort have some social commentary to offer amongst its grisly brutality. However, Zombie tries to throw all this frivolous, extraneous junk into it for his own amusement instead.
I can respect Rob Zombie for wanting to revitalize a forgotten genre of film, but by this time, it had already gotten back on its feet with numerous hardcore, edge-of-your-seat horror films that pushed the limits of disturbing imagery. Zombie churning out all these homage’s to 1970s exploitation films forces his films to be unoriginal and thin on story. It’s cool to give nods to your favorite films in your own feature, but only when done with the right skill and intellect. Otherwise, your film becomes blatantly derivative, watering it down to very weak levels. In fact, the entire premise is lifted directly from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but Zombie doesn’t do enough to make The Devil’s Rejects seem original to even the smallest degree. Plus, the main characters that carryover from House of 1000 Corpses only make themselves even more detestable and inhuman. It’s obvious that Zombie is trying to make them into some twisted band of anti-heroes, but frankly, these characters are not relatable, let alone sympathetic creatures – they’re sick, twisted, homicidal psychopaths. Why anyone would root for these demented maniacs is beyond me, let alone why Zombie believes anyone would want to. They have zero endearing qualities.
Now, the style of this film isn’t as oversaturated or surreal as House of 1000 Corpses, but Rob Zombie clearly needed more competent help in the editing department. The pacing and editing of certain sequences is all out of whack, and very inconsistent. The final scene of the film drags on and on and on and on to the point where it loses all impact. The use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” makes it quite the quirky and over-the-top sequence, but ultimately, this is a flat end to a film that seemed to have potential from time-to-time. Zombie’s attempt to make the murderous threesome go out in an amazing blaze of glory works against the entire film as these three deserve the harshest death possible for the horrific crimes they’ve committed. Instead, Zombie seems to want us to feel sorry that they’ve met their collective ends. The actual hero of the film gets a piss poor demise while the despicable villains get a grand, epic swan song. That’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this movie.
The moral compass of the film’s perspective is entirely flipped. Otis, Spaulding, & Baby are given the breadth of screentime so that their characters can be developed in depth. The hero in William Forsythe’s Sheriff John Quincey Wydell is a strong character that could carry the film entirely, but he’s not the one the movie wants us to be invested in. By the fact of how the film treats their final moments, it is clear that the Firefly gang are meant to be the central focus of the entire story, and are the ones you should be emotionally connected with. While audiences have been able to be entertained and intrigued by vile characters before like Hannibal Lecter, Khan Noonien Singh, and Freddy Krueger, you never want to see them ultimately defeat their adversaries, the heroes of the story. They should get what’s coming to them for the violence they have wrought upon the innocent. This film doesn’t share that moral viewpoint, and decides to side with the detestable, sadistic murderers. That doesn’t roll for me. If the film had some thematic element about society’s corrupted morality fueling the characters’ demented psychology, it would be justifiable, but as it is, it’s completely ass-backwards.
On a highly positive note, the make-up effects of The Devil’s Rejects give the film its grisly texture, and for some, might make it a difficult watch. Zombie made a specific point to not make this film pretty – it is definitely grounded in that 70s ugliness. Even the nudity is dirty and trashy. Some CGI work is here, but only for certain gunshots and other minor details. Nothing here looks fake, it all has a dense, gritty realism to it, and that is a refreshing plus.
Unfortunately, whatever score there is happens to be practically unnoticeable. Zombie packs this film with classic rock songs from the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Walsh, and so forth. It’s a much more era-appropriate soundtrack than the modern day heaviness of the previous film. The Devil’s Rejects soundtrack is probably quite a cool listen. Still, I would’ve preferred a stronger score to intensify the film further than using songs to remind people of the time period or using them to create quirky moments. I understand Rob Zombie comes from a music video world where he uses music to tell a story, but in the medium of feature films, music is used to enhance the story. It’s just one element of the overall structure of a movie. It punctuates particular moments in the story instead of bludgeoning you with an oversaturated soundtrack. Zombie really needs to adapt to the demands and standards of films instead of treating everything like a music video. House of 1000 Corpses was more guilty of that mentality with how everything was shot, lit, paced, and presented, but even though everything is more stripped down here, that mentality is still apparent.
When taking this film in as a whole, it’s really not much better than Rob Zombie’s feature film directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. While that film was more a true horror film in the sense that it was meant to scare and horrify you, this film just tries to freak you out through disturbing violence and sickening moments. It maybe darker and sicker, but it’s not really all that much better. I would’ve expected more of an improvement from Zombie, but I suppose a great deal more time would be needed for him to evolve as a filmmaker. However, for me, two strikes against him was enough for my interest to fully evaporate. Once I heard he was remaking Halloween, a great film from one of my favorite filmmakers as well as the review of mine that motivated me to create Forever Cinematic, I just couldn’t care anymore. Rob Zombie had great resources to work with in every aspect of filmmaking, but he couldn’t utilize it all to its highest potential. Frankly, I don’t recommend seeing or not seeing The Devil’s Rejects, I’m just rather indifferent. Just don’t expect anything all that original if you do plan to see it. If you liked House of 1000 Corpses, you’ll probably enjoy this film. If you hated House of 1000 Corpses, you probably won’t like this film either.
I have rarely done reviews on comedies because it’s difficult to analyze them very much. It’s either funny or its not. Of course, different things make different people laugh, and so, it’s far more subjective than a drama or action movie. However, there is this 1985 movie from John Landis that sparked my interest in the past year. The plot sounded like just my kind of thing. A wild, humorous adventure of people on the run from dangerous criminals through the night streets of Los Angeles. Sort of evoking the idea of a comedic Michael Mann film. Unfortunately, this movie shares a lot of problems with Mann’s underwhelming and momentum starved Miami Vice feature film, which I have previously reviewed here. There are a few bright spots, but the execution and pacing of this film are its greatest flaws.
Upon discovering that his wife is having an affair, depressed insomniac Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) drives to the airport on the suggestion of his friend and co-worker Herb (Dan Aykroyd), where he is abruptly ensnared by a beautiful Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) into her escape from four armed Iranians. Diana persuades Ed into driving her to various locations as he becomes entangled in her predicament. As their adventure spirals further out of control, Ed leverages the truth from Diana who reveals she has smuggled priceless emeralds from the Shah of Iran’s treasury into the country, and is being pursued by numerous foreign criminal elements. Ed and Diana cautiously navigate through this treacherous journey to where they become romantically connected.
Generally, I like the premise of this film. It has the potential to be very entertaining, if put into the right hands. However, this really wasn’t. Comedy is really about timing, rhythm, and personality. Into The Night has no momentum to carry the intended situational humor along at a necessary rhythm or pace. For a film about people on the run from violent criminals, it is a fairly slow paced feature. It is very unlike John Landis’ The Blues Brothers which had those high energy moments to keep the story exciting and funny. There are a few exciting action sequences in this film, but they are very scarce. The story also doesn’t have any quick witted personalities to reel a mass audience in.
I have enjoyed Jeff Goldblum’s talent since Jurassic Park playing some off-beat characters that add a different flavor to the story or cast. I don’t find any flaw with him in this movie. It plays to a more subdued version of his signature style. Being a guy with insomnia who has gone an unknown number of days without proper sleep, he can’t be highly charismatic and energetic. Ed has to be a more low key guy because of his fatigue and slowed wits. Many of us have gone without a proper night’s rest, and that alone impairs your mental capabilities. I, myself, have gone a full thirty-six hours without sleep, and even that is enough to muddle one’s synaptic sharpness. There is nothing wrong with what Goldblum did in this movie. Playing the straight man can make you the most hilarious person in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones in the Men in Black movies comes to mind, but it only works in contrast to something else.
Instead, all the other characters are very one note playing up a shallow characterization, and adding little to what should have been a cast of lively, eclectic characters. They are generally peculiar and diverse, but there are no strong or charismatic personalities to allow any humor to thrive through them. It’s all too low key, and too many people playing the straight man offering no overt humor. I feel it would’ve been better to have just Ed be the singular low key character surrounded by more verbose people to create a contrast. His drab and mundane life would be interrupted by all these vibrant, off-kilter characters that carry him along on a very bizarre adventure. I also find it hard to grasp is that none of the characters are even trying to be funny. They yell and argue with one another with no punch line, no humorous twist to create a laugh, or they drift through the movie playing it straight with a dull thud. Everything is far too underplayed to be funny. The fact is, I found very little about this film to be funny except for the physical comedy. A little of that comes from Goldblum, but mostly from the dialogue devoid group of Iranians (of which director John Landis is one of them). However, there is one excellent exception to all of this.
In the entire movie, the only person I feel hit the personality and charisma of what it needed was David Bowie. His British hitman character of Colin Morris really jumps in with the right subtle crazy tone and wit. He’s very proper and polite, but is clearly a psychopath that is both scary and amusing. Bowie has only two scenes, but he easily steals the show with a richly developed character that is a prime example of what this film should’ve offered in spades. Colin is both smartly humorous and lethally dangerous. That’s a dynamic rich with comedic potential. It really is Bowie’s charisma and delicate sense of tone that makes Colin Morris work. How he is able to shift from funny to fearsome creates it’s own comedy. Bowie clearly had a lot of fun playing this role, which is not something I saw much of from anyone else. A comedy should seem like everyone is enjoying themselves, getting into their characters and having a wonderfully amusing time at it. None of the other actors seemed to be having a great time on screen playing up their characters and finding their chemistry with the cast.
Fortunately, the musical score by blues legend B.B King is the true shining point of the movie. It surely gives the whole film a wonderful, unique feel that suits a mostly nighttime set story. With the right pacing and wit from the film itself, B.B. King’s music could’ve enhanced the rhythm and personality of the movie, but as it is, the blues tracks are just a cool listen that occasionally boost the film’s atmosphere.
As with most comedies of this time period, the cinematography is not much to speak of. It’s really just a point and shoot mentality, like a sitcom. So, it’s nothing I will hold against it. Comedy films today do a lot more with polishing up the visual flare and photography of the movie to enhance their production values, but in the bulk of the ‘80s, that approach did not often exist. If Into The Night had a little more vision and ambition behind it maybe it would have a little more visual style.
Again, the premise had promise. I surely believe a remake with modern pacing and filmmaking mentalities could potentially turn this around into a more effective comedy. Frankly, Into The Night needed more momentum, a faster pace to bring out the humor in the story instead of dragging along from one underwhelming scenario to the next. The villainous characters should’ve been larger than life and more over the top to bolster laughs. Goldblum plays his role well reacting to the few outrageous moments with subtle genius. Michelle Pfeifer was a nice female lead, but was not quite as endearing as I believe her character should’ve been. There could’ve been more chemistry sparked between Goldblum and Pfeifer, but like with everything else here, it’s not motivated strongly enough to create something special. I think the filmmakers believed this movie had wit, but they could never hit it on the mark. Some reviews have said it tried too hard for laughs. In a way, maybe that is correct. This film goes to great lengths to have an elaborate storyline filled with a large cast of characters. It tries hard to find a place and a moment for each of them, but it only comes off as overbloated. Comedy should never be complicated. It should be simple, or at least, streamlined. You throw too many elements into the joke, and you lose the effect of the punchline. I think that is a perfect way to sum up this movie. While the storyline is not confusing, it is overworked and a little self-indulgent. By evidence of the massive amount of filmmaker cameos, there is a self-indulgent mentality in the approach to this feature film. John Landis had a short window of inspired cinematic comedy brilliance, but it was more than twenty years ago. Into The Night was a definite misstep during that high point era, but movies like Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000 show just how far and hard his movie career has fallen.
There are films I enjoy because of their potential, and to some degree, this is one. A story that could’ve been made into an excellently hilarious film, but just achieved nearly nothing of that potential. The film has shown up regularly on HBO or Cinemax in the last several months. So, you shouldn’t need to spend money to check it out. Just program your DVR if you’re fortunate enough to get those premium channels. If not, it’s not a real loss. There are countless more successfully funny movies out there to give you a healthy laugh than this one.
There is a myth in Star Trek lore that the even numbered movies are good and the odds numbered ones are bad. That’s fairly simplistic, and not entirely a fair statement. Yes, the franchise has had poorly conceived and problematic films in its lineup, but that hardly means that all the lesser entries are terrible. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a lot going against it, but as evidence by it, the talents of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley have always been able to add redeeming qualities to all the original cast films. Their chemistry, charm, heart, charisma, and depth have always shone through. While there is a potential future review from me for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I wanted to delve into the follow-up to the franchise’s most critically successful film. I wanted to address Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. While the first and fifth films have very obvious problems that have been well vocalized, I feel Trek 3 gets too much of a bad wrap. I can pinpoint and agree with the reasons why, but I believe it’s been overly beat up because of it being in the shadow of The Wrath of Khan. Time for someone to give it a more fair viewpoint.
The starship Enterprise is heavily wounded in the aftermath of her battle against Khan, but her crew survives by way of the sacrifice of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy). His body is launched from the ship in a memorial ceremony, and crash lands on the Genesis planet. As the Enterprise and her crew arrive home to Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) finds his close friend and confidant Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelly) in Spock’s sealed quarters talking crazy, and eventually finds himself in lock-up after trying to charter passage to Genesis. The hits keeping coming as Kirk learns that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned as the Starfleet brass believe her day has passed. This is ever more apparent with the experimental new U.S.S. Excelsior ready to begin trial runs, ushering in a new era of Starfleet engineering. However, Kirk is soon paid a visit by Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard), who tells him that Spock’s katra (i.e. everything that is not of the body) still lives, and they determine that Spock mind-melded with McCoy before his death. This commits Jim Kirk to a course of action that could cost him his career by stealing the Enterprise to rescue Spock’s body from the newly formed Genesis planet, and reunite it what’s in Leonard McCoy’s mind. Meanwhile, a ship of rogue Klingons, headed up by the cunning and merciless Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), seek to learn the secrets of the Genesis Device for the protection of the Empire with the science team on U.S.S. Grissom, including Kirk’s son David (Merritt Butrick) and Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis), caught in the crossfire. The sacrifices of the crew of the starship Enterprise will be dire as they endeavor on their search for Spock.
I believe why this film is not as highly regarded as others is the lack of a strong theme. In The Wrath of Khan, there was a prominent exploration of age, life, and death. What they all mean in context to one another, and how someone like Jim Kirk dealt with them. Here, there was enough room left open for strong themes to be explored, such as sacrifice and rebirth, but the opportunities are not taken with much ambition. Considering all Kirk has battled through from Khan to the death of his friend, ship, and son, the story was ripe for deep resonance. Of course, The Voyage Home doesn’t have such dramatic elements to it, and it has been widely beloved. The Search For Spock is a segue between the tones of the films its sandwiched between. It has its strong, dramatic elements, but also a lot of fun and light-hearted charisma. One would think it would be praised for that fine blend, but it does lack the ambition that those other two films had. They took some chances, pushing themselves for higher standards, and they succeeded. While this second sequel doesn’t have much scope, I do gain enjoyment from it. There are many aspects that I find are worth commending.
I love how the film is able to show the loyalty of the Enterprise crew. Admiral Kirk gives them the opportunity to walk away before getting too deep into this rogue mission, but they have no hesitations in voicing their loyalties. They are willing to stand by Kirk, regardless of the repercussions, because of what they owe him, and ultimately, what they owe Spock for his sacrifice. That strong, indestructible bond is not something that all Star Trek casts have been able to achieve, and that history amongst the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 sells so much of Kirk’s motivations here. Even if the film doesn’t dig deep enough to show how it penetrates to his soul, a seasoned viewer already knows it. Tying into that is the always solid chemistry amongst the regular cast members. They work as an ensemble that is very cohesive, and always on the mark. Regardless of the quality of the film they are making, or how troubled the production may have been, the actors never get lazy or sloppy. They respect their characters and the legacy they leave behind. No pun intended, but Shatner puts in an admirable performance giving the film its constant pace through his wit and charisma. He adds in the right touches of humor, as do his co-stars, but focuses the drama of the screenplay when it’s needed.
This film was really the dawn of the revamped Klingons. The makeup redesign happened in the first film, but here, they finally explore the revised culture of the warrior race. The concepts of honor, guile, and glorious death are well explored through Christopher Lloyd’s excellent Commander Kruge. While the character himself is not explored with as much depth as he could have, Lloyd plays a surprisingly solid villain. He’s cunning, deceitful, intelligent, and treacherous. Lloyd has been known for a wide range of eclectic characters, but here, he delivers an excellent, calculated performance with a fine operatic screen presence. Essentially, all Klingon actors followed in his footsteps as he laid the foundation and template for them right here. I also enjoyed Kruge motives, which could have been the basis for fleshing the character out. Like with Khan, Kruge sees the potential for Genesis as a weapon, but instead of using it as an instrument of revenge or tyranny, the Klingon Commander seeks it to protect his people. He will not let the Federation have sole claim to something that could be used to commit genocide on his people, and he will stop at nothing to learn its secrets. It could almost be an allegory to the nuclear arms race if Genesis was created as a weapon instead of as a terraforming device. Kruge is calculating, and accepts nothing but the absolute best from his crew, lest they be met with fatal punishment. Lloyd as Kruge was also the first to use the fully realized Klingon language. It was great having the alien race’s culture more fleshed out and developed for this film to give the actors something solid and powerful to work off of. The always impressive John Larroquette is here as one of Kruge’s subordinates, Maltz. It’s a minor role, but he embraces it with his usual full commitment and high quality. This film also introduced one of my favorite Star Trek starships – the Klingon Bird of Prey. It’s an amazing design that is fierce and dangerous. The green paint job was a smart departure from all the dull grey ships we had seen until then. It gives the Klingons more personality from the moment the ship de-cloaks. It is given an imposing, threatening introduction that serves the Klingons thoroughly.
I have always held Mark Lenard as Sarek in high regard. You never get to meet the parents of the other Enterprise crew members, but for Spock, it has always been important to his character to see his family. Lenard has always been able to portray Sarek’s wisdom and logic with a touch of heart. While it’s hard to link emotional terms with the performance of a Vulcan, I would say that Sarek shows his soul in this film. Losing his son is like losing a part of himself, as is the same with Kirk. So, they share a rare moment which only Spock’s death could compel from them. While Sarek & Spock’s father-son relationship has had its conflicts, Sarek is still a fine father that cares for his son more than he can ever allow himself to express. No parent should see their child’s life end before their own, and Sarek sees a chance to reverse that tragedy. Any parent would take that chance, no matter the odds. Mark Lenard gave Sarek his wisdom, grace, conviction, and noble depth of character. He was an incredible, inspiring actor that forged a legacy in this franchise that will stand for all time.
A possible issue of contention with this movie is the recasting of Saavik. The role was originated by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, but financial demands from her agent prevented her reprisal. Instead, it went to Robin Curtis. Both actresses play the role differently, but it was necessary to keep Saavik to maintain the character and story threads from the previous movie. Both Alley and Curtis offer unique and admirable performances. Alley’s Saavik was decently Vulcan with a subtle emotive quality. She was a very untested Starfleet cadet with promise. She came to grow over the course of the adventure, earning her keep. Curtis’ Saavik is more confident and capable with a stronger Vulcan characterization and a sensitive nature that proves to be a strength. She has a stronger will and sharper intellect to create a more complex character. With the guidance of director Leonard Nimoy, she was given the freedom to make the character her own without the baggage of Kirstie Alley’s portrayal. In the Vulcan legacy of Spock and Sarek, she adds great depth to Saavik beneath the surface. Alley’s version entirely served the needs of The Wrath of Khan while Curtis’ portrayal suits the demands of The Search For Spock just as perfectly.
The visual effects are solidly up to the levels of the first two Star Trek films, as handled by Industrial Light & Magic. They are definite proud achievements that hold up excellently today. Model work and optical effects, when done by the master craftsman of the era, entirely stood the test of time, and should always remain available as milestones in cinematic history. What doesn’t quite stand up over time are the scenes on planet Genesis. The limitations of the budget are painfully evident with the obvious soundstage sets and painted backdrops. Because of the limited budget, the filmmakers obviously couldn’t fly their actors to exotic locales around the world to feature all the diverse climates of this manufactured planet. I can’t say that there was a feasible way to do this better at the time this movie was made, but even if it was the best solution, it’s still a detractor to the film’s production quality. This is not a constant for every scene on Genesis, but the evidence is frequently apparent, regularly reminding you of this fact.
Another thing that I don’t care for here is James Horner’s score. I’ve always been underwhelmed by his music for Star Trek. For me, Jerry Goldsmith will always be the one and only master when it comes to cinematic Trek. What John Williams is to Star Wars, Jerry Goldsmith was to Star Trek, in my view. He ultimately defined the vast, sprawling, epic musical landscape of the franchise for me on the big screen. Horner’s themes and cues are fine work, but they never became signature, identifiable themes for Star Trek. Evidence of this is that Goldsmith’s theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture became the theme music for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Jerry was brought in to score five total films in the series over thirty-four years. Horner was kept around for a total of three films, but I never cared all that much for the music he produced. It was never outright bad, but it just never lived up to the musical potential of what Star Trek demanded. It’s nicely arranged and gives the film some character, but it simply never does enough for me. In this film, I seriously miss one of my favorite Goldsmith themes – the Klingon theme. I can only imagine how awesome it would’ve been to see that Bird of Prey swooping around for the kill with that glorious fanfare in full orchestral breadth. Kruge surely deserved a verbose and powerful theme to accompany his commanding presence, but James Horner makes no attempt to give the Klingons any presence in the film’s score.
The screenplay was written by producer Harve Bennett who was more akin to writing for television (such as The Mod Squad and The Bionic Woman) which, at the time, didn’t explore big thematic storylines with strong emotional resonance. So, the scope of the film feels small for that reason. As I said before, the limits were not pushed here to be ambitious and reach for something bigger or deeper. That doesn’t mean the script is bad. It certainly has its moments. I truly like the part where the Excelsior’s Captain Styles tells Kirk that if he goes ahead with stealing the Enterprise, “You’ll never sit in the Captain’s seat again.” Kirk doesn’t even flinch as he just orders, “Warp speed.” The first two films made a definite point that Kirk’s worth in life is directly tied to being a starship captain, but there’s something far more important at stake here. He’d rather lose everything in his career if there’s a chance to bring Spock back to life, and restore McCoy’s mind to peace. The dialogue is good and entertaining while encapsulating the characters perfectly. The action scenes are nicely conceived, especially with the fight between the Enterprise and the Klingon Bird of Prey. Seeing how the old NCC-1701 is overmatched because it is wounded and undermanned being run on automation was a fine touch. It is entirely realistic that she can’t take the pounding. While it would have been a glorious moment to see Admiral Morrow proven wrong with his statements of how old and outdated the ship is by seeing it triumph against such steep odds, I think it better fuels how much Kirk has to sacrifice to get his friend back.
While, clearly, I’ve said much about what is sacrificed on Spock’s behalf, but McCoy is at risk as well. Jim Kirk has one friend dead and another in turmoil. These two men – Leonard McCoy & Spock – are pieces to the whole that is James T. Kirk. I always enjoyed the moment in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where Kirk drafts Bones back into service because he can’t do what he has to do alone. “Dammit, Bones! I need you!” says Kirk to McCoy. Only after he has the wisdom, perspective, heart, and soul of these two men at his side can he succeed. They bring balance to his ego, passion, guile, and intellect. They re-enforce and focus his confidence. They help him reflect upon himself. Leonard McCoy is a vital piece of that formula bringing passion and humanity to the table. Kirk can’t allow to see his friend’s mental state deteriorate, and lose him as well.
Regardless of anything else, ultimately, I have to praise Leonard Nimoy on his feature film directorial debut. It was both a tough and enviable position for him to be in. On one hand, he was unproven as a movie director, and had scrutinous limitations and supervision put on him in the shadow of a critically and commercially successful film. However, he was working largely with a cast he had known for over fifteen years who knew their characters thoroughly, and that could allow Nimoy to direct with a built-in sense of respect. I’m sure he had his difficulties, but his talent is clear to me. He surely was allowed to soar with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home based on his success here. It is a serious cinematic disservice that his career as a feature film director ended before it had a chance to soar. He started out with solid hits including Three Men and a Baby. However, he faced a crushing defeat, both critically and commercially, in 1994 with the comedy film Holy Matrimony which grossed less than $800,000 (less than 20% of its production budget). Leonard really appeared to be a wonderful filmmaker with a great handle on action, drama, and humor. I believe he would’ve had a lot to offer in a lengthy career had he gotten the right projects to his credit as a director. Here, he delivered a very consistently paced and well balanced film that keeps is story elements in focus. While there are likely plot holes in the reasoning of some characters here and there, they are minor bits and pieces that are relatively inconsequential.
At the end of this, I feel Star Trek III: The Search For Spock should not be viewed as a “bad movie.” It doesn’t live up to the thoroughly solid thematic work of the previous film or the fun adventurous spirit of its follow-up, but it’s a nicely enjoyable film that had potential to be more than it was. It has plenty of action, drama, and humorous moments to make it a consistent, satisfying and entertaining film. The screenplay could’ve benefited from getting in deeper to the soul of the story. It certainly touches upon it several times, but doesn’t stay there long enough to really develop the underlying themes in the story. As it is, there is no reason to rank it poorly in the franchise. It was commercially successful, and remains a fine classic Trek adventure for the original cast. It merely in contrast to the exceptional and vastly superior films it is sandwiched between that give it a perceived smaller stature, and that I can understand. But sometimes, you need to take things a little out of context to give them their proper due respect.
The Bourne Supremacy is one of the hardest hitting action films I have ever witnessed, and it has far more to offer than just action set pieces. There is no fat here like most action films have. All of its lean meat and muscle is reserved for its visceral action and dramatic emotional story. Supremacy was loosely based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, and whenever you’re basing a motion picture off of an international best-selling novel, chances are, you’re gonna have the potential for a very meaty story. This is definitely the truth here. This movie is very tight, very taut, deeply dramatic, and firmly rooted in reality. It takes everything that was built in The Bourne Identity and capitalizes on it.
It’s two years after the events of The Bourne Identity, and ex-CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still suffering from a broken mind. His memories are fractured, and is awakened in the middle of the night more frequently than not. Jason & Marie (Franka Potente) are now living in Goa, India, but meanwhile, Jason Bourne is about to be framed for two murders in Berlin, Germany. A CIA team, headed by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), is attempting to purchase classified Russian documents, but a Russian assassin named Kirill (Karl Urban) killed both men and stole the documents. A planted fingerprint implicates Jason Bourne for all this. Then, Kirill shows up in Goa, India to kill Bourne himself in order to erase any evidence to the contrary in framing Bourne. Kirill believes he has completed his mission, but unknowingly, Bourne still lives. However, Bourne believes that it is the CIA who sent a man to kill him, and this sends Jason on a dead set mission to find and take out those who he told to leave him alone. The trail of planted evidence leads Pamela Landy to Operation: Treadstone, the elite team of assassins lead by the late Alex Conklin (Chris Cooper) of which Jason Bourne was the top operative. Landy brings Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), Conklin’s boss, into the mix as she attempts to unravel the mystery of Jason Bourne, and why he has come out of hiding. Now, Jason Bourne is coming down hard and fast on the CIA while the Agency is attempting to hunt down Bourne.
To their dismay, Bourne has been trained too damn good, and when Landy and the CIA believe they are completely on top of the situation, Bourne shows them that they are MILES behind him. Bourne is like a mechanism – once you set it into motion, it cannot be stopped. He lives up to his threat from the first film that there would be no measure to just how hard and how fast he would come down on these people if he even felt someone coming down on him. Everything builds to explosive, intense levels to where the wrong move could get anybody killed.
All the action sequences top any of those in the first film. Although, I have to say that director Paul Greengrass has far too much favoritism towards the notorious “shaky-cam” style of shooting. I’ve never seen any of Greengrass’ previous work, and so, I can’t make any comparisons in that vein. I don’t believe any blame is to be set on director of photography Oliver Wood as he handled the cinematography on The Bourne Identity in a very different fashion. I’ve also seen numerous films he has shot including Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Face/Off, and TV’s Miami Vice. So, I have to say that it was mainly Greengrass’ creative direction to use so much of this style of shooting and editing. In some action sequences, between the shaky-cam photography and the fast-paced editing, it can become very difficult to discern what is happening. You can literally get confused what is happening to whom. You don’t know if that was Jason Bourne who’s getting smashed into walls or the other ex-Treadstone assassin. Bad lighting is also to blame as some sequence take place in backlit locales making the actors bleed together. This is my only gripe with the film, and despite its abundance, this film is just too intense and powerful to knock it down because of that.
This film’s car chase sequence is, at least, twice the sequence of the first film’s. Mainly because it is the climactic action sequence of the film as Jason Bourne & Kirill turn the streets of Moscow into a demolition derby the likes of which you have never seen! The car crashes are violent and visceral, and anyone who has ever been in a car crash – like myself – will be able to seriously feel it. This car chase is beyond any I have ever seen put to film. What makes the action in the Bourne films so impactful is just how grounded in gritty reality they are unlike how extravagant and fantastical the James Bond franchise had once become. These films are very adult in manner and context.
Jason Bourne still struggles with the remnants of his past life, and must deal with who he once was. He must come to terms with the pain and death he has inflicted upon others in order to move on with his new life, and to absolve those he has pained of the lies that have damaged their lives. It is powerful and dramatic. It’s the bigger, needed step towards the further evolution of the character of Jason Bourne. He can never live in peace with himself until he is able to come to terms with the blood he has shed. There’s just so much to say about this film that it’s difficult to find the right words to do so. When you see it and are able to absorb it all, you will surely understand. It’s a dramatic and painful journey of discovery for Jason Bourne. Whether redemption will ever come is unknown, but I believe Bourne certainly takes the hardest first step towards that end by the film’s conclusion. However, the film ends on a sly, upbeat note, and that is a sign of very fine and consistent storytelling. I also like the consistency and continuity here from the first film with the reuse of the same passports and identification photos of Jason Bourne to the reuse of Moby’s very catchy tune “Extreme Ways” for the end credits.
John Powell delivers another fantastic score here that tops everything he did in The Bourne Identity. That’s just about the decree with everything here (except for the aforementioned shaky-cam / editing gripes). Matt Damon really delivers like you’ve never seen. Until you see Damon in the role of Jason Bourne, you might have grossly underestimated his worth, ability, and quality as an actor. Until this point, I had only seen Damon in mostly comedic roles in films like Ocean’s Eleven and Dogma before watching The Bourne Identity shortly before the release of this sequel. In this film, however, Damon demonstrates just how powerful of a dramatic actor he can be. You can see emotion in his face, in his eyes, and in his body language. Simply put, his performance is deeply human, and will hit you deep within. As Bourne’s true nemesis, Karl Urban was very impressive. After seeing him in the latter two Lord of the Rings films and The Chronicles of Riddick, it was refreshing to see him in a more gritty, grounded film instead of a setting of fantasy. The character of Kirill does not have much dialogue, but Urban has a strong, intense presence that just leaves you hungering for more. The native New Zealander does nearly all of his dialogue in Russian, and even through a foreign language and subtitles, you still get a grim tone from him that is very potent. Both Bourne & Kirill are like ciphers when they’re in their element, but when the action gets intense, Bourne becomes more focused while Kirill becomes even more enraged. Regardless, they are both determined to burn the other into the ground.
I also have to say that I cannot get enough of Brian Cox. I have loved his wide range of roles in Manhunter, The Ring, Super Troopers, X-Men 2, The Bourne Identity, and now, The Bourne Supremacy. He’s a great actor with an abundance of natural charisma and always, at least, a hint of humor. Words just cannot explain how enthralled I am with him. He is tough to keep up with, and if you’re going to be sharing a scene with him, you’d best be on the very top of your game. Considering how great and engaging of an actor he is, I find it surprising that he’s said to not view any of his own work. Whatever the case, Brian Cox is absolute pure gold in my honest opinion.
Playing opposite Cox is Joan Allen, and she is strong and stern here. As Pamela Landy, she doesn’t allow Abbott (Brian Cox) to shovel any bull her way. She cuts through all the crap, and gets to the truth and the core of the matter. She takes firm control of this entire situation and handles it with confidence. Where others in her situation have faltered and fell, she holds strong. Even when things start to go awry, she still holds onto a degree of solidarity. You can write a character that way, but it takes a strong female talent to bring that sort of role up to its utmost potential. Joan Allen is that talent. Everyone else, up and down the line, puts in everything they’ve got here, and I could not find even one moment of weak acting. A very admirable job to everyone including those involved with the casting of the film.
The only dent in the chiseled armor of this film is the shaky-cam, fast editing style. I believe the same level of kinetic energy could have been sustained in these action sequences using more stable photography. If that’s how it had been shot, then I would have no problems with the editing, but when you can’t discern what’s happening in these shots, cutting quickly from one to another does not help you to comprehend the visual storytelling any better. Of course, with just how slam-bang amazing this movie is, I just can’t allow that to be much of a hindrance to my critique of it. Dramatically, on levels of storytelling and acting, I don’t see how anything can be topped here, but I highly encourage future filmmakers of the franchise to give it every effort.
If you loved or even just liked The Bourne Identity, I believe The Bourne Supremacy will easily exceed all of your expectations. In the context of the currently existing three films – Identity, Supremacy, & Ultimatum – this entry is the best! It entirely launches itself far above the potential of Doug Limon’s first film, which was an excellent film in its own right. While The Bourne Ultimatum was not a real down slope, Supremacy was such a massive step forward that the third film couldn’t achieve the same. Plus, Supremacy seemed more dogged and relentless in all its aspects to create a far more hard hitting film that never let up. Also, the ending of The Bourne Supremacy with Bourne and Landy had a lot of its meaning and character building strength diluted when it was revisited in The Bourne Ultimatum. To say it simply, this is one of the best action thrillers of the last decade, and it helped launch the genre into a grittier direction that was timely and very welcome.
DC Comics have certainly languished behind Marvel Studios in bringing their popular characters to the big screen in the last decade. At times, I had thought it was because Warner Bros. wanted to take their time to do things right, and make good movies instead of cheap, fast cash grabs. Marvel has had plenty of those. Of course, you need to have not just good talent, but the right talent behind a project to make it all it should be. With Batman firmly established and a Superman reboot rigorously in the works, Green Lantern would’ve been the springboard for other DC Comics film adaptations, but its box office performance was not what was hoped for.
There have been many Green Lanterns throughout the decades, but Hal Jordan has been the most popular one for over fifty years. I have some fond history with Hal Jordan originating back to the time of The Reign of the Supermen event which set him on a path from fallen hero to super villain to spirit of vengeance to redemption and resurrection. I enjoyed this journey which took a whole decade to see fulfilled. It has since made me a fan of Hal, and I became a supporter of having a Green Lantern movie made. We finally got one, but it wasn’t all I had hoped for. The resulting film has some serious flaws in it, but very satisfying elements do exist. Let’s set the stage, first.
Billions of years ago, the Guardians of the Universe divided the universe into 3,600 sectors to be policed by their Green Lantern Corps, assembled from the most fearless beings throughout the universe to maintain order and justice. When one of their finest, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is attacked by the yellow fear-essence entity Parallax, he is mortally wounded, and crash lands on Earth. He commands his ring to find a worthy successor here. That person is the reckless and cocky aircraft test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) who is no stranger to fear. As Jordan slowly learns to use his power ring when he is whisked off to the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps. Here, he is trained by the best Lanterns including Sinestro (Mark Strong) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), but also has his failings and fears brought to light. Meanwhile, Parallax creates death and destruction as it moves through the universe towards Oa. The Corps’ attempts to thwart this enemy fail with more casualties, and they consider harnessing the yellow power to fight fear with fear. On Earth, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is summoned by his father Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) to do an autopsy on Abin Sur’s body at a secret government facility, and is infected by the yellow fear entity developing telepathic and telekinetic powers. Hal returns home where he must combat Hector’s increasingly dangerous and villainous behavior, and confront his own insecurities before he can become a true Green Lantern. Soon, the fate of Earth and the entire universe will be in the hands of Hal Jordan.
What I need to say first is that I do not believe Ryan Reynolds was miscast as Hal Jordan. Yes, there could have been better choices, but Reynolds was not a bad choice. I have seen him in dramatic roles such as in Buried where he portrays a man buried alive in a coffin in the middle east. The raw, wide range of emotion he put on display in that film solidifies my faith in his acting abilities. The problems in this film that diminish his effectiveness here were far beyond his control.
The main problem here is how unbalanced the film is, and I can entirely pinpoint all the aspects. Fundamentally, the film is divided between the Earth-based scenes and the intergalactic ones. They both follow different plotlines and carry different tones and scopes. Everything involving the Green Lantern Corps on Oa or elsewhere in the universe has a serious urgency to it, and a vast wondrous visual landscape for an epic adventure to take place in. The Earth scenes have a lighter tone with no such urgency to the storytelling process and a fairly contained scope. Events in one setting do not have enough effect on those in another. It can feel like two different films meshed together with Hal Jordan as the only linking thread between them. There is no cohesion to bring the plotlines tightly together, and when they do converge at all, it’s done too late. To boil it down simply, everything that didn’t take place on Earth happened to be the best parts of the movie. Every time the film cuts away from the cosmic, intergalactic part of the story, I couldn’t wait to come back to it. I had no such anticipation for the Earth-based scenes.
The story involving the Green Lantern Corps and Parallax is so compelling because it deals with a threat on a large, epic scale. Billions could die, and so many have already perished in its wake. Therefore, every action and decision the Corps makes has the weight of that menace bearing down upon it. There are strong characters and fleshed out personalities in these extraterrestrials that easily dwarf those of the human characters. Sinestro stands out as the strongest and most compelling character in the entire film for me. I would’ve liked more time spent with him than anyone else to delve deeper into his psychology and emotions. Knowing that Sinestro becomes an enemy of the Green Lanterns in the comics, he would’ve been a deeply fascinating character to explore in detail before he became that enemy. Mark Strong does an amazing job with him reflecting many subtle nuances, and he does leave me wanting a hell of a lot more. It’s a wasted opportunity that more wasn’t done with such an excellent actor in this strongly written role. On the lighter side, I’m sure fans gained enjoyment from Kilowog, who is particularly entertaining. Michael Clarke Duncan has a good amount of fun playing this character that he is so much a fan of. The Guardians themselves have some gravitas to them because of their looming, stoic manner. They are mysterious, but much can be read into them, as Hal does late in the movie. They set a very ominous tone that is integral to building up the threat of Parallax.
The visual effects that create these alien landscapes are beyond gorgeous! In those respects, I can see where all those millions of dollars went in this inflated budget. They are breathtaking vistas filled with rich depth, color, and textures to create worlds that are enveloping. Green Lantern is given a strong cosmic sense to it with a universe filled with millions of years of deep history. The visuals offer a massive scope along with a perfect visual tone to compliment the story. I have not often seen interstellar science fiction cinema with this amount of extraordinary, beautiful detail. They surely put the CGI in the Star Wars prequels to shame, in most regards. All of the CGI aliens in the Corps are fantastic looking! They all have their own textures, body language, and unique character traits that give the film a wealth of visual personality. Although, the motion capture animation can tend to appear lacking in realism, mostly in wider shots. There is not enough weight (or mass) given to their movements in these instances is what I perceive. However, it’s only in brief, sparse moments. Conversely, when the shots get in close on Reynolds while wearing the energy suit, the effect is not very convincing. It can look cheap at these moments, and since Hal Jordan is the main character with a generous amount of close-ups, these moments are frequent.
Over on the Earth based story, so much feels like throwaway content. It might be necessary content to develop Hal’s character, in theory, but so much fails to have any worth. The girlfriend is the girlfriend. Carol Ferris provides the usual emotional support, and she has some amusing moments. However, I failed to see much depth in the character. She fulfills a role in the story, but there doesn’t appear to be much potential for her to be more than that. She’s also the damsel in distress that the hero must save because she must be used as a hostage for the useless villain in Hector Hammond. Peter Sarsgaard certainly does an excellent job with the quirky, bizarre, and twisted Hammond. Everything he does is great and dead on the mark, but Hector really has no purpose in the story. His sinister actions do add a certain dynamic to this part of the story as he slowly mutates into this whacked out super powered agent of Parallax. It creates conflict amongst a few ancillary characters, but his inclusion gives way to a bunch of unnecessary elements that get in the way of the main plot. There was no need for the covert organization Checkmate or Amanda Waller in this story. They exist here only as a conduit for Hammond to become accidentally infected by the yellow fear entity via an autopsy on Abin Sur. Waller herself is not presented well. Angela Bassett has all the skills to bring Waller to powerful life, but she’s not given enough meat to sink her teeth into. Pam Grier did a perfect job with Waller on Smallville, but Bassett could’ve given her an impeccable performance to rival. Still, what matters here is that the story of Hal Jordan becoming a hero and defeating Parallax requires neither the presence of Hector Hammond, Amanda Waller, or Checkmate. Hammond is there as a physical adversary for Hal to combat until Parallax actually arrives on Earth, but once that occurs, Hammond is disposed of promptly. While he does a serve a purpose in attracting Parallax to Earth, a creative screenwriter could’ve easily reworked plot elements to achieve that same result if Hammond were excised from the film. I feel it would’ve been wiser to save Hammond for a more focused story in a later sequel. Frankly, all of these extraneous elements only serve to chop up the story, creating more fundamental problems. There are too many subplots going on detracting from the potential streamlined flow of the main plot.
The unevenness of the movie is further attributed to the more lackadaisical pace of the Earth-based story. While there is impending doom tearing through the universe, Hal Jordan returns to Earth to talk with his jokey friend, deal with his girlfriend, and have some fun being a superhero. No dramatic pressure is put on Jordan until the final act when Parallax diverts to Earth because of its link to Hector Hammond calling him there. This should’ve happened much sooner in the film. If so, it would’ve put that needed pressure on Jordan to overcome his fears in face of an inevitable doom over a longer period of time, and thus, creating a correlating urgency with the rest of the film. As it is, the fear element in Hal’s character evolution is not well executed, and the ending feels weak and rushed.
I can’t help but compare Green Lantern to Batman Begins due to this similar theme of fear. Where Batman Begins explored the concept very thoroughly as both an internal conflict for Bruce Wayne to overcome, and then, an external element to be utilized and combated, Green Lantern just kind of talks about it over and over again. Nothing is really explored or exploited. You never see Hal actually be defeated by or struggle with fear. It is something talked about. He talks about being afraid, and others talk about him having the courage to overcome it. You don’t see the struggle he has to face to actually triumph over those things. It should have been a weakness that takes away his confidence while battling an enemy. It would force him to face a crushing defeat that would motivate Hal to rise back up as a confident hero by the end, but it hardly happens. There should be emotional conflict to punctuate this story element, considering it is fear. Batman Begins showed us, in many ways, how Bruce Wayne confronted fear, overcame it, and was able to turn it back around as a weapon against his foes. There is not enough adversity thrown at Hal Jordan either by his own internal struggles, or anything external to really build up dramatic suspense or tension in his ascension to superhero.
Breaking away from plot elements, I do want to credit the score by the always impressive James Newton Howard. It truly gives the film the big, epic scale it demanded with some strong and mysterious themes. Everything Howard seems to do is sure gold, and he truly reaches for the stars on this one. Like all great film composers, he is able to adapt himself to the needs of the picture pulling on all his diverse musical skills to create a unique experience. It is surely one constant throughout the film that did not falter.
Action sequences are nicely handled. Martin Campbell has done two James Bond films before along with other rousing action pictures, and so, he has the skills to put together coherent action sequences. Dion Beebe’s cinematography maintains an integrity throughout by not giving into clichés of the genre. His cameras hold to the grand scope of the story by giving us shots with depth and patience. This is a stark contrast to the work he did on the mostly handheld digital video-shot Michael Mann movies Collateral and Miami Vice. As with Howard, it seems Beebe is able to adapt his style to the needs of the picture.
Making my final story related notes, there is a lot of repetitive dialogue reiterating exposition as if we didn’t get it the first or second time. The script really could’ve been tighten up to make way for more poignant character or story elements to be fleshed out. Not to mention, tightening the script could’ve balanced out the urgency of the plot. The character stuff is very drawn out, and the plot elements are very short. The good things were really good, but too much of the film is too light and clunky for the good elements to win out. It was enjoyable, but it’s a little too forgettable. I don’t think it has anything to do with Ryan Reynolds. It’s all in the script and direction. Reynolds can pull off the kind of performance this film needed, but he either just wasn’t pushed into it or the script didn’t call for it. The movie needed more dramatic momentum to make itself work right. Director Martin Campbell has had many excellent and successful films to his credit including GoldenEye, Casino Royale, & The Mask of Zorro. Of course, he has the off-the-mark Mel Gibson revenge thriller Edge of Darkness more recently to his credit, but Green Lantern is even further from the mark. It really is a combination of an unrefined screenplay, loose editing of the various plotlines, and his direction that leave the movie feeling lopsided and ineffective.
Green Lantern had the makings of a really good movie, but it didn’t go deep enough with the characters to make Hal Jordan’s ascension and success epic enough. It had potential, but it was too uneven to succeed. There are other bits and pieces I could criticize, but they are pretty inconsequential when there are such larger problems to address.