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Posts tagged “donald sutherland

Hollow Point (1996)

Hollow PointSo, this is the last film in my Thomas Ian Griffith triple feature, and it’s odd that in each successive movie his hair gets shorter and shorter.  Also, each of these films have some very impressive names attached to the cast.  This time, we’ve got John Lithgow and Donald Sutherland, so, there’s certainly talent on screen worth watching.  Hollow Point sees Griffith going pretty crazy with a full charge of charisma in a film I wasn’t expecting to be what it was.  Let’s see what it is that it happened to be.

FBI Agent Diane Norwood (Tia Carrere) is ready to do almost anything, even to spoil her own wedding, in order to bring down Livingston (John Lithgow), a major money launderer.  In the course of her dogged investigation she runs into the audacious DEA Agent Max Parish (Thomas Ian Griffith) who also wants Livingston.  After the two of them reluctantly join forces, they track down Garret Lawton (Donald Sutherland), one of Livingston’s disgruntled hitmen, to help bring him down.

After the conspiracy cop thriller and the Die Hard clone from Griffith, we now get something that tonally veers off in a wild direction.  I went into this expecting a fairly serious action movie, but right in the first fifteen minutes, you’ve both Griffith and Sutherland being all kinds of off-the-wall crazy.  A Russian Mafioso is smuggled around town, after slipping back into the country, in a casket, and the Max Parish character hijacks his hearse in an effort to interrogate him.  In a chase down a stairwell after this, Sutherland’s assassin character Lawton practically cackles and prances around like a nutjob chased by Agent Norwood while Parish rides a window washer’s harness down spouting out jokes.  I was laughing my ass off.  This is all just plain nuts based solely on Griffith and Sutherland, and this is them just getting warmed up.  This is a movie that just knows how to have fun with itself, and I was happy to indulge in it.

Hollow Point ultimately is a buddy cop movie where, absolutely, neither Parish nor Norwood like each other in the least.  They are adversarial to the point of sabotaging one another until they reluctantly agree to work together, but even then, they continually butt heads for many reasons.  Parish is practically certifiably nuts doing nothing but unorthodox stunts every step of the way, and Norwood feels very dedicated and straight arrow, up to a point.  So, it is the classic personality clash dynamic which stirs up friction and entertainment value.  Hollow Point is, by very far, no Lethal Weapon, but it’s certainly a whole lot of fun.

As I already touched upon, Thomas Ian Griffith really cuts loose with all of his charisma.  Max Parish is ultimately a guy working outside the bounds of the law to his own ends, and so, he’s going for broke at every turn.  Thus, he’s greatly unpredictable and spontaneous which facilitates Griffith to throw everything into this performance to make it endlessly fun and exciting.  There’s very little opportunity for drama to seep into the Max Parish character as the film really drives for the fun and laughs, but there are a few light, fleeting moments of seriousness that he slips in and out of smoothly.

Yet, as crazy as Griffith is here, Donald Sutherland is full blown whacky.  There is not a scene where he isn’t grinning like he’s gotten a snout full of Nitrous Oxide, and just being the nuttiest hitman you’ve ever seen.  Sutherland was clearly having an incredibly fun time playing this role with all the eccentricities and flare possible.  The flipside of that is John Lithgow doing a fairy straight villain performance, but it’s rather middle of the road.  He has lightly humorous moments along with grounded serious ones.  After seeing him in both Cliffhanger and Ricochet, I know he can do bad ass bad guy wickedly, but this outing here is nothing special, yet I was glad to have him there.  He made the character more interesting and entertaining just by him being in it, and goes the extra mile in the climax.

As you might expect, Tia Carrere is not the most convincing tough federal agent.  She certainly plays the role to the best of her ability, and is competent in all the action scenes.  However, despite her best efforts, I couldn’t be fully sold on the casting choice.  The Diane Norwood role was better suited for someone with more inherent toughness, charisma, and savvy.  Sandwiched in between Griffith and Sutherland chewing up scenery with full-tilt vibrancy, Carrere doesn’t really standout at all.  She has some decent moments that gain her some credibility, though.  Plus, she and Griffith have pretty good chemistry, and she handles the humorous moments sufficiently.  I just think there was a stronger casting choice available somewhere for this character, but Carrere’s sex appeal is mildly on display, answering some of the questions of why she was chosen.

The story here is almost unimportant as most of the screentime is really devoted to the buddy cop style antics of Parish, Norwood, and Lawton.  Lots of banter, silly moments, and mild scheming to plot against Livingston is all that’s really at play here.  Some people want his money for their own gain, and someone else just wants to see him locked up in a jail cell.  The movie does not intend to engage you with its story, and rightfully so.  Hollow Point is all about its crazy personalities, fun action, and humorous tone.

Even the editing of this movie, with all of its cheesy wipes, goes for the comedy aesthetic, and ultimately, that’s the way you need to take this movie.  It doesn’t really push for dramatic storytelling or really intense thrills.  It is designed to just have fun with it, and that’s not a surprise from the director of The Taking of Beverly Hills, another B-movie Die Hard clone.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t good action and plenty of explosions.  Griffith doesn’t get more than two brief moments of martial arts action as it’s all gunplay and car chases, but the action has some very good production values.  The climax really gives you a solid bang for your buck with a lot of fun scenarios, action-packed sequences, and a slightly quirky four-persona standoff.  Of the Thomas Ian Griffith movies I’ve now reviewed here with Excessive Force and Crackerjack, this one is the most lively fun, but also, the stupidest of the lot in all the best ways.

Hollow Point just ends up being purely dumb fun that you might enjoy on cable some night.  It’s good to have some laughs with and just enjoy the light-hearted action.  By no means would this have been a box office success, but it’s perfect direct-to-video entertainment.  Since this tightly focused look at Thomas Ian Griffith’s has been about assessing his action star potential, I think the only thing that kept him below the radar and mostly in the direct-to-video world was the quality of the scripts.  It would seem like, even with the screenplay he did for Excessive Force, there wasn’t anything strong enough to jump out and grab attention.  He also didn’t work with especially talented directors.  Van Damme worked with Peter Hyams and John Woo, Steven Seagal worked with Andrew Davis and Dwight Little, Bruce Willis had John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, and Tony Scott, and the list goes on.  Griffith got the director of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Iron Eagle I, II, & IV.  He undoubtedly had every talent needed to be that breakout action movie star with the great martial arts skills, the acting ability to do straight, dimensional drama, charismatic wit, and really light-hearted humor.  He had it all, but no one ever paired him up with the right filmmakers to encapsulate all of his potential in one explosive hit.  As for Hollow Point, it’s certainly not a good movie, but it entertained me greatly with plenty of laughs.  However, I’m eager to get back to reviewing some theatrically released action films.

‘Salem’s Lot (2004)

I watched the original telemovie of Salem’s Lot from director Tobe Hooper a long time ago, but for whatever reason it never made a lasting impression upon me.  In 2004, the TNT cable network produced and aired this re-adaptation of Stephen King’s popular novel, and it has been an October favorite of mine ever since.  That is, when I can find three hours to sit and watch this mini-series telemovie.  Most of the Stephen King film adaptations I’ve seen have not fared very well, but this one really hit the right tone and consistency to be successful, in my view.

Writer Ben Mears (Rob Lowe), returns to his childhood home of the small Maine town of Jerusalem’s Lot (also known as ‘Salem’s Lot), to research his new book, and to confront his haunted past.  As a child, inside the ominous Marsden House, he witnessed a horrific crime and a chilling, evil presence.  Little does he or the townsfolk realize that a couple of other new residents have just settled in that house.  They are Richard Straker (Donald Sutherland), a kindly, if slightly unsettling antiques dealer, and his partner and master Kurt Barlow (Rutger Hauer), a ancient and malevolent vampire bent on making Salem’s Lot his new home.  The story wraps around many of the town’s residents showing that dark secrets are abound even in the quaintest of towns, but for as much bad, there is a measure of good that can win out.  Ben Mears fights against his fears and skepticism as he and some of the locals battle to eradicate this heart-stopping force of evil that is destroying ‘Salem’s Lot.

What shines the brightest here is Rob Lowe.  He carries the film so very well, and inhabits the Ben Mears character comfortably.  Firstly, his voice over narrations have a perfect foreboding tone that demystifies the innocent charm of small town America.  It starts off the film reflecting on Mears’ nostalgia for things both pleasant and fearsome.  Lowe has enough subtle charm to bring levity to the right moments, but also, a haunted quality which casts a somber aura around him.  He does a fine job exploring Mears’ underlying fears.  That aspect brings more dimension to the character if he had just been a fearless, courageous protagonist.  He’s a very real person who has his demons to confront and overcome, and the journey to defeating them is a painful one.  By the end, you see Ben Mears’ soul break through in its purest form, and it can be heartbreaking.  Rob Lowe is a remarkable leading man in this mini-series.

Donald Sutherland is excellently creepy as Straker.  He walks the line between sweet, gentle old man, and shady, dangerous stranger.  The character makes me think back to Max von Sydow in Needful Things, but Sutherland puts his own unsettling mark on this style of character.  Rutger Hauer has played quite a few vampires in films on drastically varying tone.  As Barlow, he has an understated chilling quality.  He is a tempter of desires drawing people into the darkness by offering them what they most want, but repaying their surrender with blood.  He’s not there to scare you outright for the sake of scaring, but wishes to spread his brand of darkness into the very soul of this small town.  Straker insidiously works into that agenda with vile glee.  Hauer’s portrayed some amazing psychological characters from Blade Runner to The Hitcher, and while he has limited screentime here, he makes a striking impression as Barlow.

The supporting cast is very strong as well.  I’ve regularly enjoyed Andre Braugher since first witnessing his Homicide: Life On The Street character of Frank Pembleton.  That was a very intense role.  Matt Burke brings out a more vulnerable, yet sharply intelligent and perceptive performance.  Samantha Mathis is particularly strong willed and bright in the Susan Norton role, the aspiring writer that Ben connects with.  James Cromwell does a fine job as faith-filled Father Callahan who has a problem with alcohol.  Sheriff Parkins is given a strong depth of somber sadness later in the film by Steven Vidler.  He grapples with his ability and commitment to protecting this town until he feels it has slipped away from him.  Every cast member inhabits their roles with a lot of depth and strength making each character’s story evenly compelling.

I really, deeply love the look of ‘Salem’s Lot.  It has rich darkness and a strong contrast of shadows which create a beautiful atmosphere.  The blue tones and overcast skies create a cold wintry visual that compliments the story’s slightly grim tone.  A snowy landscape has its wonderful beauty that I very much appreciate, and that adds to the appeal of this movie for me.  There is also plenty of warmly lit scenes which accentuate the heart and humanity of these characters.  Overall, this is just a gorgeously shot mini-series that puts a lot of production value on screen.

While the film is mostly a character driven story establishing tone and atmosphere from their inner fears, it does have its fair share of creepy, scary, and suspenseful segments.  About halfway through it has a good series of such moments.  I particularly like Floyd Tibbits squeezing through the air vent trying to reach Ben Mears in the adjoining jail cell.  Maybe it’s just because it reminds me of an early episode or two of The X Files, but it’s sufficiently creepy and nightmarish.  Of course, since this was a basic cable network production there is not much gore to speak of, and while that certainly could’ve improved the film, it does artistically work around those constraints.  What make-up effects we do get from the vampires are very good.  It’s nothing elaborate like the Barlow of the original mini-series, instead holding more to Stephen King’s more subtle ideas.  However, the creepy yellow eyes gleam in the darkness, and the pale make-up on the vampires turned by Rutger Hauer’s Barlow is decently effective.  It certainly lacks a more ghastly quality that would have been more impactful.  I’ve praised the very original and striking vampire make-up designs all through this Vampire Week, and so, this vampire appearance hits a little lukewarm.  They just look more like walking corpses than fearsome creatures of the night, aside from the creepy eyes.  The digital effects are few, and are decent as well.  Not bad at all for a 2004 television movie budget, and I’ve certainly seen far worse from large budget theatrical release films.

Of course, I like the story very much.  It shows how the good and evil is tested in everyone, and how this darkness pushes them further towards one or the other.  Many succumb or embrace this darkness, but the few that fight to hold onto their humanity stand strong in the light.  How the town is slowly infested with vampires, turning the population into a band of bloodsuckers, is truly terrifying.  It’s like a sickness that swallows them whole.  The film starts out very domestic establishing these characters, their lives, and their little dark secrets.  It builds relationships, attitudes, and an emotional landscape for them to trudge through.  Jerusalem’s Lot has always had the dark looming presence of the Marsden house peering down upon them.  It’s a constant reminder that this town is not safe from evil, and that it lurks in every direction.  While some are skeptical about vampires stalking them, they all know something just as evil has been in their town for a long time.  It’s an underlying knowledge that they have put out of their minds, but it lingers in their thoughts.

The framing scenes for the flashbacks in the hospital are very good.  They create an unsettling, sad weight to the story knowing that things do not end well for Jerusalem’s Lot.  It’s just a matter of how this grim, frightening series of events affected these people, and what damage it inflicted upon their souls.  The ending surely has its hefty dose of pathos.  Peter Filardi put together a hell of a teleplay based off of Stephen King’s novel.  The characters are strongly fleshed out, and the various subplots are well balanced before converging into a singular main plot.  Everything flows together very evenly for a consistent, steady pace that is just right for a three hour mini-series telemovie.  Much praise to director Mikael Salomon for maintaining a solid atmosphere and elicit some equally strong performances from this cast.

‘Salem’s Lot is not a film that will jump out and scare the living hell out of you, but I feel it is an effectively suspenseful, atmospheric movie that invests you in the heart and soul of its characters above all else.  It’s shot as a high grade feature with the acting talent and production values to back it up.  With so many King film adaptations being horrendous failures, it’s special to find one that is a competent and artistically successful outing, and they didn’t need John Carpenter or David Cronenberg to do so.  I’ve seen that this is generally regarded as faithful adaptation with only a few liberties taken, but of course, opinions can vary on whether those liberties are favorable or not.  I know the Tobe Hooper original has its legion of fans, and I do not know what their general feelings are on this version.  Thus, on its own merits, I believe this is a very worthwhile watch when you have a good three hours set aside for a moody, horror movie afternoon.

Fallen (1998)

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!