Category Archives: ★½

Joe Bullet (1973, Louis de Witt)

Joe Bullet is a set in the corrupt, dangerous world of South African football. Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje and Sydney Chama play the star players for one team in competition for the Cup. The other team is apparently trying to kill off their teammates, their coach, and their club president in order to sway the result.

There’s only one man who can save them.

Ken Gampu’s Joe Bullet. He even has a theme song. It’s not a great theme song, it’s not a sensical theme song, but it’s a theme song. Because Gampu isn’t just a karate master or a knife master, he’s also a great football coach. And he’s going to save the day.

The film’s extremely cheap–Joe Bullet is a Black South African film made during apartheid and it’s clear director de Witt is cutting a lot of corners to get it made. The first half of the film, where there’s the most attempt at setup and plot progression, has almost no establishing shots. Interiors often appear to be the same set shot from different angles, with different decoration. de Witt tries to cover by using a lot of close-ups and tight two shots. It’s somewhat successful–his cast can handle it–but it kills any flow between the scenes. Oscar Burn tries to help with the editing.

Still, de Witt directs those close-ups and two shots pretty well. Once the film drops the pretense of exposition and goes into a series of action sequences staged at various locations (now outdoor ones), de Witt shows a real understanding of background and foreground action. There are some neat moves in Joe Bullet thanks to de Witt; he composes vertically, which is particularly interesting in 4:3 composition. He’s also got a fantastic sequence where Gansu listens to a bug recording of a room to figure out what happened in it. Very concise, very nicely executed.

The acting is all over the place. Gansu’s a good lead and he does the action scenes quite well. He’s a big guy and de Witt gets how cool it looks to make him move through enclosed spaces. Sadly, producer and writer Tonie van der Merwe doesn’t give Gansu a character. Everybody in town knows him. He’s Joe Bullet; the women want him and the men respect him, but Gansu doesn’t get any romance. When Abigail Kubeka–who gives the best all around performance–flirts heavy, he ignores it. Joe Bullet doesn’t have time for love. He does have time for a sidekick, Jimmy Sabe (in the film’s most enjoyable performance). But they just kind of goof off. Sabe doesn’t have a character either.

Maybe the only people with any characterization are Tlhotlhalemaje and Chama as the star players and Dan Poho as the club president. And only then because the lengthy first act spends so much time establishing how much they’re in danger from the other football team.

van der Merwe’s writing isn’t impressive, unlike his producing. Joe Bullet’s got quite a few problems, but it’s something of a success. The first half–which is basically the first act–is boring. At least until Matthew Molete’s evil karate master hitman arrives. Anyway, once he shows up and gets things moving, Joe Bullet doesn’t really slow down. There’s no time for football intrigue, there’s way too much admirably executed micro-budgeted action. All under de Witt’s peculiar eye.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by Louis de Witt; produced and written by Tonie van der Merwe; edited by Oscar Burn.

Starring Ken Gampu (Joe Bullet), Jimmy Sabe (Popeye), Dan Poho (Eagles’ President), Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje (Flash), Sydney Chama (Jerry), Abigail Kubeka (Beauty), and Matthew Molete (Spike).


RELATED

She’s the One (1996, Edward Burns)

She’s the One has a fantastic first act. Some of the banter doesn’t connect, but all of the performances are strong and when the banter does connect, it makes up for the rest. Director, writer, and star Burns relies a little too much on “gentle” homophobia for the banter between his character and Michael McGlone’s. They’re brothers–John Mahoney (easily giving the film’s best performance) is the dad. Mom never appears. I thought she was deceased, but no, Burns just doesn’t give her an onscreen presence, which is a big problem later on. Anyway, Burns’s reliance on the “sister” jokes for McGlone end up just being foreshadowing for the real problem with the film–Burns and McGlone are lousy leads.

But, wait, still being upbeat about the first act. Maxine Bahns is great as Burns’s new wife. They meet in his cab in the second or third scene and go off to get married. Jennifer Aniston is excellent as McGlone’s suffering wife. She gives the film’s second best performance. But she’s not just suffering because McGlone’s an alpha male jerk, but because he’s carrying on with Cameron Diaz.

Diaz, it turns out, is Burns’s ex-fiancee, who he left after she cheated on him. Eight million stories in New York City, of course it turns out everyone knows each other. Except they don’t, so Burns isn’t even trying to do an interconnected thing. Once the second act hits, Burns fully embraces the “movie about nothing.” Short scenes, usually in long shot, setting up what someone else says and then everyone else talking about it. Maybe if it were intentional, but it seems like Burns is trying to find the story. He never does. She’s the One has roughly thirty minutes of actual content. It runs over ninety minutes.

Along the way, there’s some fine acting from Mahoney and Aniston. Frank Vincent is hilarious as Aniston’s father. McGlone’s a funny jerk. The problem is he’s pretty much the lead, because Burns is exceptionally passive in his performance. He gives himself the shallowest character. Well, it’s between his character and Mahoney’s, but at least Mahoney gets an arc, at least Mahoney gets some agency.

Diaz is bad. She’s got a terrible part, which just gets worse for her along the way, but she’s not good in it. The film requires her to have exceptional chemistry with Burns. She has none. She ought to have some chemistry with McGlone too, since he wants to leave Aniston for her. But nope. Aniston and McGlone, when they’re with other people and not just in their own subplot, are great together. Bahns is best in the first act, then her part goes to crap too.

She’s the One is about Burns and McGlone having to accept some responsibility for themselves and doing whatever it takes to get out of it. Burns, as director, tries as hard as he can do get them out of it too. The women of She’s the One are all universally more interesting than the men; Burns just doesn’t want them to be. So there’s some internalized, “gentle” misogyny going on too.

The last act is a rush to save everything and, thanks to Mahoney and Bahns, Burns is almost able to pull it off. Almost.

Great songs and score from Tom Petty (though it’s usually just for Burns and Bahns, McGlone and Aniston don’t get music). Frank Prinzi’s photography is solid, even if a lot of Burns’s composition is questionable. When he finally gets around to letting characters talk and actors act–i.e. the third act–She’s the One shows some of the promise of the first act.

It’s just too little, too late.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Tom Petty; production designer, William Barclay; produced by Ted Hope, James Schamus, and Burns; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Mickey Fitzpatrick), Michael McGlone (Francis Fitzpatrick), Maxine Bahns (Hope), Jennifer Aniston (Renee), Cameron Diaz (Heather), John Mahoney (Mr. Fitzpatrick), Leslie Mann (Connie), Malachy McCourt (Tom), Amanda Peet (Molly), Anita Gillette (Carol) and Frank Vincent (Ron).


RELATED

The NeverEnding Story (1984, Wolfgang Petersen), the international version

For most of The NeverEnding Story, director Petersen’s ability, the special effects, and active lead Noah Hathaway keep the whole thing going. It’s a gorgeous looking film, with great photography from Jost Vacano and exceptional editing from Jane Seitz. Hathaway’s character, a boy warrior, gets a fantastic characterization–simultaneously sensitive and brave–he’s a fantastic protagonist.

Except he’s not the protagonist. The protagonist is Barret Oliver’s similarly aged character (the passive lead). He’s locked up reading the book, The NeverEnding Story, and experiencing the book’s events as they unfold for the viewer too. The only way Petersen and co-screenwriters Herman Weigel and Robert Easton come up with to integrate the two concurrent narratives is cutting to Oliver reacting to the book. Sure, Seitz cuts the scenes beautifully and the “real world” parts of the film are arguably the best directed, but Oliver’s a weak protagonist. He’s a weaker lead. Everything strong about the way Hathaway gets characterized is ignored when it comes to Oliver. He’s bullied–both by classmates and his jerk father (Gerald McRaney)–he’s mourning the death of his mother, but he’s got no depth. It ought to be fine because he’s not part of The NeverEnding Story.

Until the film ties the two narratives together, ingloriously shucking Hathaway, and generally collapsing under its own import. The film had already forecasted a shaky mythology regarding reading but hadn’t run out of goodwill at that point. It burns through it in the final act, with Petersen trying real hard but unable to pull it off. Not even the booming, sweeping score from Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder can save the finale. Probably shouldn’t be a surprise The NeverEnding Story can’t figure out a way to end well.

Some of the performances are wonderful, but there aren’t a lot of supporting parts. Hathaway just goes from person to person (or troll to troll) and has a scene or two, then moves on. Sydney Bromley and Patricia Hayes are great as a bickering gnome couple. Alan Oppenheimer voices most of the animatronic creatures, including the flying dragon. He’s great.

The special effects–and the fantasy scenery–are the real accomplishment of The NeverEnding Story. The composite shots are often awesome, same with the sets, same with the animatronics.

The NeverEnding Story disappoints. Petersen needed to be stronger when directing Oliver, needed to come up with a better finish. Both those elements were essential, both don’t work out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, Herman Weigel, and Robert Easton, based on the novel by Michael Ende; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Jane Seitz; music by Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Rolf Zehetbauer; produced by Bernd Eichinger and Dieter Geissler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Barret Oliver (Bastian), Noah Hathaway (Atreyu), Tami Stronach (The Empress), Moses Gunn (Cairon), Sydney Bromley (Engywook), Patricia Hayes (Urgl), Deep Roy (Teeny Weeny), Tilo Prückner (Night Hob), Gerald McRaney (Bastian’s Father), Thomas Hill (Carl Conrad Coreander) and Alan Oppenheimer (Falkor).


RELATED

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Jack Clayton)

Nothing connects with Something Wicked This Way Comes, though Jonathan Pryce’s performance is probably the closest thing to a complete success. Jason Robards is often quite good, but he’s both protagonist and subject of the film, which neither director Clayton nor writer Ray Bradbury (adapting his own novel) really seem to know how to transition between. Ostensibly, the leads of the film are young teens Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, who find their small town threatened by Pryce’s demonic carnival owner. But they’re just in distress; it’s up to Robards to save them.

Along the way–Something Wicked runs a long ninety-some minutes–strange things happen to the other townsfolk, at least the ones the film has time to introduce in the talky first act. Clayton’s direction is never scary enough, Stephen H. Burum’s photography is never atmospheric enough, and Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon’s editing is always problematic. Something Wicked’s target audience is teen boys but the script is about a fifty-something man coming to terms with waiting too long to have a child. If Clayton just went for creepy, it might have all worked out better.

Especially considering all the special effects until the finale are weak. The finale’s special effects are fantastic. They’re not on screen long enough–that editing is always problematic, like I said–but they’re fantastic.

Also unimpressive is James Horner’s score, which occasionally makes the film seem longer, even though it’s not bad. It just doesn’t work. Nothing in Something Wicked works. Except the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce.

The main supporting cast–Mary Grace Canfield, Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel, James Stacy–don’t help things. They’re too obviously contrived, too obviously pragmatic (except Canfield, all of them have shops in a row so it’s easy to introduce them all to both Peterson and Robards). Bradbury’s script treats everyone as a caricature, except maybe Peterson and Robards. Peterson’s performance isn’t good enough–he’s annoying–and Robards gets some lame material. Poor Diane Ladd has nothing to do, except go from being a tragic abandoned wife to a succubus, entertaining men while son Carson sleeps unawares upstairs.

Pam Grier shows up as one of Pryce’s minions and makes an impression thanks to some solid costumes and terrible special effects, but her few lines aren’t memorable. Same goes for Ellen Geer’s character, mother to Peterson, wife to Robards. Something Wicked’s characters ought to have some interesting backstory, but they just don’t. It doesn’t help whenever Bradbury tries to bring it up, he just goes with blocks of expository dialogue.

The film suffered studio tinkering, but it’s hard to imagine they broke things too much. Something Wicked’s pieces simply don’t add up to anything. It’s a shame, because the production values are great and there’s excellent potential for Robards’s performance. And Pryce’s good, regardless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon; music by James Horner; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Peter Douglas; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed) and Pam Grier (The Dust Witch).


RELATED