Linda Fiorentino and Matthew Modine star in VISION QUEST, directed by Harold Becker for Warner Bros.

Vision Quest (1985, Harold Becker)

Linda Fiorentino might be a year older than Matthew Modine back she's supposed to be playing a worldly twenty-one year-old to his eighteen year-old high school senior in Vision Quest and they sure don't look it. Modine looks about twenty-four, his age at the time of filming. Fiorentino looks twenty-one. She isn't the problem with the film (she nearly makes it worth a look on her own).

The problem isn't even Modine, who's very earnest, just physically unable to portray his character. The problem's Darryl Ponicsan's awkward script. The film's technically perfect–great photography from Owen Roizman, great editing from Maury Winetrobe–and Becker does compose his shots well, he just can't make the script work. It's superficial and set back; Modine's barely got a character to play. All of his character relationships are a joke–Ponicsan implies people other than Modine having stories, but Fiorentino's the only one to pull it off–even though the supporting cast is superb.

Wait, Michael Schoeffling gets an impossible role. A better script would juxtapose Schoeffling and Modine, both growing up without mothers, except Ponicsan wants to fixate on Modine's asinine crush on Fiorentino. Even more inexplicable is why Fiorentino would go for Modine.

But Ronny Cox, Harold Sylvester, Charles Hallahan and J.C. Quinn are all really good as the adults around Modine. His obvious not-teenage age isn't their fault.

The approach–focusing on Modine, letting everything else be background–would work if the background were well-done. It isn't.

The soundtrack–top forties, lame Tangerine Dream–doesn't help.

Fiorentino's fantastic, however.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan, based on the novel by Terry Davis; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Maury Winetrobe; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Bill Malley; produced by Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matthew Modine (Louden Swain), Linda Fiorentino (Carla), Michael Schoeffling (Kuch), Ronny Cox (Louden’s Dad), Harold Sylvester (Tanneran), Charles Hallahan (Coach), Daphne Zuniga (Margie Epstein) and J.C. Quinn (Elmo).


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Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson star in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo for Walt Disney Pictures.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn't add up to much. Those fine scenes don't have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans's second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film's only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don't really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson's are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don't have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn't chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film's already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It's too bad though, it should've been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


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William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy star in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, directed by Nicholas Meyer for Paramount Pictures.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991, Nicholas Meyer)

From the second scene of the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it's clear director Meyer is going to be somewhat merciless in how he presents the film. It's not just a story about a sea change in the franchise's mythology or about the familiar cast members retiring, it's also about it being the final Star Trek movie.

Meyer gets phenomenal performances out of his cast; there's the light stuff, usually with DeForest Kelley or Walter Koenig, but he also goes dark with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Somehow, Meyer manages to balance the film between serious–it's about violent bigotry, after all–and a dark gray genial. The film opens with space disaster followed with a jolting dose of that bigotry.

Playing a new crew member, Kim Cattrall gets the most comedic relief moments. Not as the target of them, but as the perpetrator. Meyer relies on her to be the audience's entry into some of the picture; she's the regular person among the titans. It's a nice narrative trick and one of the more successful ones. There are some less successful ones, which mostly get by due to the abilities of the actors. The big example is Shatner's character arc. It doesn't work because Shatner can't play it bigoted enough; Meyer tries to edit around it but still. Also less successful is Christopher Plummer's character. Plummer's great, but the part's too thin.

At the same time, lots of subtle narrative moves work out great.

The film's problematic, but incredibly successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn, based on a story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by William Hoy and Ronald Roose; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, Herman F. Zimmermann; produced by Ralph Winter and Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru), George Takei (Sulu), Mark Lenard (Sarek), David Warner (Chancellor Gorkon), Kim Cattrall (Lt. Valeris), Rosanna DeSoto (Azetbur), Christopher Plummer (Chang), Kurtwood Smith (Federation President), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright), Paul Rossilli (Kerla), John Schuck (Klingon Ambassador), Iman (Martia), Leon Russom (Chief in Command) and Michael Dorn (Klingon Defense Attorney).


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William Shatner, Laurence Luckinbill, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley star in STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, directed by William Shatner for Paramount Pictures.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)

In some ways, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is an ambitious movie pretending to be popcorn entertainment pretending to be an ambitious movie. There's a lot of nonsense about self-help, not to mention the whole God thing, and none of it works. Partially, it doesn't work because David Loughery's script is too thin, but it also doesn't work because Final Frontier is paced as an action movie, not a self-reflective sci-fi outing.

But there's a definite subtext–not quite subplot, the film ignores any subplots it starts–regarding the continued bond between William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. About the only thing the movie does really well is the character stuff, not just for those three principals (it's often a comedy showcase for Kelley), but also for the rest of the regular cast. Of course, the script forgets about developing these good character moments, but they're nice to have around.

There's also a good performance from Laurence Luckinbill as the film's de facto antagonist. The handling of his character is another positive about the film. He gets more of a character arc than any of the regular cast.

As far as directing, Shatner does a fine enough job. The action's fast-paced, with excellent editing from Peter E. Berger. Andrew Laszlo's photography is decent too. A lot of the special effects are fantastic. Except the end when it really needs them.

The Jerry Goldsmith score's trying.

The Final Frontier's about as good as any "Star Trek finds God" picture could be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Shatner; screenplay by David Loughery, based on a story by Shatner, Harve Bennett and Loughery and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Peter S. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), Laurence Luckinbill (Sybok), Charles Cooper (Korrd), Cynthia Gouw (Caithlin Dar), Spice Williams-Crosby (Vixis), Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa) and David Warner (St. John Talbot).


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Gabriel Byrne stars in MILLER'S CROSSING, directed by Joel Coen for 20th Century Fox.

Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel Coen)

A lot of Miller’s Crossing is left unsaid. Between the hard boiled dialogue disguising character motivations and the lengthy shots of Gabriel Byrne silently reflecting, the Coen Brothers invite examination and rumination. They invite it a little too much.

The film’s a perfect object, whether it’s how the opening titles figure into revealing conversation and to the finish or how the frequent fades to black control the viewer’s consumption of the film. All of the performances are outstanding. Every single moment is supports the whole.

So what’s wrong with it? Too much control. Even the craziness–the film examines violence and the men who perform it–is choreographed. It’s an amazing example of filmmaking, but it’s all surface. All of the layers in Miller’s are baked in, not organic. The story’s too tight. A couple cameos in the second half, along with nods to other Coen pictures, offer some calculated relief.

It’s actually kind of stagy.

There’s also a vague homophobic quality… the closeted (it’s the thirties) gay guys are all misogynist psychopaths to one degree or another.

But it’s a beautifully made, beautifully acted film. Byrne’s great in the lead, Marcia Gay Harden is excellent as the girl who comes between him and friend Albert Finney. Finney gives the film’s boldest performance, having to play a dim tough guy.

Jon Polito’s awesome, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro–like I said before, it’s perfect. It’s confident, it’s thorough.

It just doesn’t add up to as much as if it were messy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Tom Reagan), Marcia Gay Harden (Verna), John Turturro (Bernie Bernbaum), Jon Polito (Johnny Caspar), J.E. Freeman (Eddie Dane), Albert Finney (Leo), Mike Starr (Frankie), Al Mancini (Tic-Tac), Richard Woods (Mayor Dale Levander), Thomas Toner (O’Doole) and Steve Buscemi (Mink).


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Jared Rushton, Robert Oliveri, Amy O'Neill and Thomas Wilson Brown get small in HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, directed by Joe Johnston for Walt Disney Pictures.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989, Joe Johnston)

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a constant battle between trite and sincere. Except the special effects stuff; the special effects are astounding, especially the sequences where there's a mix of styles, between practical and optical, and a mix of sizes. Director Johnston does such an exceptional job making the fantastic palatable, it's too bad the script isn't less banal when it comes to the character work.

Oddly, some of the character stuff is great. The relationship between the kids–Thomas Wilson Brown and Amy O'Neill are the teens, Jared Rushton and Robert Oliveri are their annoying little brothers–develops wonderfully once they're in crisis and have shared traumatic experiences. Brown, O'Neill and Rushton all give outstanding performances. Oliveri oscillates between grating and sympathetic. Unfortunately, the script decides to encourage the grating, which is one of Shrunk's many third act problems.

Then there are the adults. Rick Moranis phones it in as the scientist dad of O'Neill and Oliveri, Marcia Strassman is effective as his suffering wife. Matt Frewer and Kristine Sutherland play Brown and Rushton's parents. Sutherland's great. Frewer's likable; he gets an actual character arc.

Screenwriters Ed Naha and Tom Schulman bring a tone-deafness not just to how kids interact with their parents, but also how Strassman deals with Moranis. Makes one wonder if a script doctor handled the miniaturized kids versus the great outdoors while bonding. Not to mention the nice romance.

Regardless of the bad finish, Shrunk's beautifully made and does have some very good stuff in it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Ed Naha and Tom Schulman, based on a story by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Naha; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by James Horner; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Penney Finkelman Cox; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Thomas Wilson Brown (Little Russ Thompson), Amy O’Neill (Amy Szalinski), Robert Oliveri (Nick Szalinski), Jared Rushton (Ron Thompson)Rick Moranis (Wayne Szalinski), Marcia Strassman (Diane Szalinski), Kristine Sutherland (Mae Thompson) and Matt Frewer (Big Russ Thompson).


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Rachel Ward and Jeff Bridges are on the run in AGAINST ALL ODDS, directed by Taylor Hackford for Columbia Pictures.

Against All Odds (1984, Taylor Hackford)

If Against All Odds had just a few more things going for it, the film might qualify as a glorious disaster. There are a lot of glorious elements to it, even if there aren't quite enough to make it worthwhile. Or even passable.

Hackford's direction is outstanding. He's fully committed to Eric Hughes's terrible script. It doesn't matter if it's plotting, logic or characters, Hughes can't do any of them. Odds is three films stuck together–Jeff Bridges as an injured football player (an absurdly old one) who has to figure out what to do with his life, Bridges and Rachel Ward's travelogue romance in scenic Mexico, and then a good old fashioned L.A. city corruption story. Actually, the first and last tie together somewhat; it's the lengthy Mexican sojourn where Odds uses up most of its goodwill.

It gets that goodwill partially from Hackford, who's got great photography from Donald E. Thorin and outstanding music from Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton. Odds always looks good and sounds good. But there's an excellent supporting cast–James Woods is phenomenal, Richard Widmark's great, Jane Greer, Swoosie Kurtz, Saul Rubinek–they're all good. The problem's the leads. Ward is awful. Sure, Hughes writes her as an object and can't figure out her character motivation, but she's still awful. Bridges isn't any good for similar reasons; silly writing, nonsense story arc. But at least he's likable.

There are a couple moments where all the good things collide and Odds is sublime.

There needed to be more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Eric Hughes, based on a film written by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton; production designer, Richard Lawrence; produced by William S. Gilmore and Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Terry Brogan), Rachel Ward (Jessie Wyler), James Woods (Jake Wise), Alex Karras (Hank Sully), Jane Greer (Mrs. Wyler), Richard Widmark (Ben Caxton), Dorian Harewood (Tommy), Swoosie Kurtz (Edie) and Saul Rubinek (Steve Kirsch).


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Lyman Ward, Stan Ivar, and Wendy Schaal find hunting space monsters tiring work in CREATURE, directed by William Malone for Trans World Entertainment.

Creature (1985, William Malone)

I'm hesitant to pay Creature any compliments, but it does have some unexpected plot developments. Not regarding the space monster, which rips off Alien comprehensively–though stoutly–but in how director Malone and co-writer Alan Reed plot the film. They have a large cast to work through as alien food and eventually move away from the Ten Indians style. It doesn't make the film much better, but it does make certain plot developments unexpected.

They also give some of the characters actual arcs. The actors don't do anything with these opportunities, but they do have them.

The easiest place to jab at Creature is Malone's direction. He's got a nice wide Panavision frame and no idea what to put in it. If the photography were more competent–either Harry Mathias can't light or the film stock was atrocious–some of the more awkward shots would be interesting. Low budget filmmaking sometimes leads to lots of innovation. Not so in the case of Creature.

Really, the only good thing about the film is Klaus Kinski's ludicrous, scenery chewing–literally–turn as a horny West German guy. He brings a nice amount of derision for the material but also acceptance of his place in it.

The rest of the acting is awful. Leading man Stan Ivar and his erstwhile sidekick, Lyman Ward, are astounding calm for being hunted by a monster. Diane Salinger and Wendy Schaal are weak, if somewhat less lethargic. The other cast members are indistinctly bad.

Malone plays Creature with a straight face. Big mistake.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Malone; written by Malone and Alan Reed; director of photography, Harry Mathias; edited by Bette Jane Cohen; music by Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker; produced by Malone and William G. Dunn; released by Trans World Entertainment.

Starring Stan Ivar (Mike Davison), Wendy Schaal (Beth Sladen), Lyman Ward (David Perkins), Robert Jaffe (Jon Fennel), Diane Salinger (Melanie Bryce), Annette McCarthy (Dr. Wendy H. Oliver), Marie Laurin (Susan Delambre) and Klaus Kinski (Hans Rudy Hofner).


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Shawn Hatosy, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall and Elijah Wood star in THE FACULTY, directed by Robert Rodriguez for Dimension FIlms.

The Faculty (1998, Robert Rodriguez)

Robert Rodriguez gives his actors a lot of time in The Faculty. The supporting cast–mostly the titular faculty of a high school (albeit one suffering an alien invasion)–gets to be showy. The film opens with a great showcase for Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie. The main cast of kids trying not to be assimilated, they get a lot of quiet time.

There's a lot of listening, a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting. All amid this tightly paced teenage Body Snatchers. Kevin Williamson's script is careful to take the time to set up the characters. Rodriguez doesn't really use montage, instead of lets the camera dreamily float through the high school. He edits the film too; it's hard to imagine anyone else getting it right. Rodriguez cuts the film perfectly.

All of the principals–Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Shawn Hatosy, Josh Hartnett–are excellent. Every one of them gets at least five great moments in the film; the script allows the characters self-awareness, Rodriguez gives the actors room to essay it.

The standouts are DuVall, Hatosy and Hartnett. Their complexities are more omnipresent. DuVall's probably the best.

And the supporting cast is excellent too. Patrick, Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Daniel von Bargen. Rodriguez doesn't have a bad performance in the lot of them. They make the fantastical not mundane, but vicious in context.

Thanks to the thoughtful verisimilitude on the part of all involved, The Faculty excels. It's a superior film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Robert Rodriguez; screenplay by Kevin Williamson, based on a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Cary White; produced by Elizabeth Avellan; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Elijah Wood (Casey), Clea DuVall (Stokely), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Shawn Hatosy (Stan), Laura Harris (Marybeth), Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Salma Hayek (Nurse Harper), Famke Janssen (Miss Burke), Piper Laurie (Mrs. Olson), Christopher McDonald (Mr. Connor), Bebe Neuwirth (Principal Drake), Robert Patrick (Coach Willis), Usher Raymond (Gabe), Jon Stewart (Prof. Furlong), Daniel von Bargen (Mr. Tate), Jon Abrahams (F’%# You Boy) and Summer Phoenix (F’%# You Girl).


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Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker star in SCARAMOUCHE, directed by George Sidney for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney)

Scaramouche is a deliberately constructed film. I’m curious if screenwriters Ronald Millar and George Froeschel followed the source novel’s plot structure, because it’s a very peculiar series of events. It doesn’t open with the leading man, instead starting out with villain Mel Ferrer. Janet Leigh, as his love interest, gets introduced long before Eleanor Parker–who’s second-billed and leading man Stewart Granger’s love interest.

Except, of course, Ferrer and Granger are Frenchmen so the idea of them having one love interest is… against their character. But there’s also the matter of Richard Anderson, who sort of sets off the big plot–Granger’s want for vengeance–and on and on.

Director Sidney does a beautiful job focusing the viewers attention where it needs to be in each scene, but also where it’s going to need to be in the next scene. A couple huge details–maybe even three–only come up in dialogue. Scaramouche isn’t a film for the disinterested viewer.

But it’d be hard not to be enraptured with the picture. Charles Rosher’s lush color cinematography–which equally showcases the fantastic location action sequences but also the eyeshadow they’ve got on Parker–makes for a transfixing experience.

All the acting is good. Granger’s an able leading man, Ferrer’s fantastic as the villain, Parker’s outstanding in the most complicated role. In the second most complicated (the men aren’t complicated though so it’s not much), Leigh occasionally wavers but is still quite strong.

Wonderful Victor Young too.

Scaramouche is delightfully thrilling.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Sidney; screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel, based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini; director of photography, Charles Rosher; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Victor Young; produced by Carey Wilson; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stewart Granger (Andre Moreau), Eleanor Parker (Lenore), Janet Leigh (Aline de Gavrillac), Mel Ferrer (Noel, Marquis de Maynes), Henry Wilcoxon (Chevalier de Chabrillaine), Nina Foch (Marie Antoinette), Richard Anderson (Philippe de Valmorin), Robert Coote (Gaston Binet) and Lewis Stone (Georges de Valmorin).


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