Category Archives: 1994

This Unfamiliar Place (1994, Eva Ilona Brzeski)

This Unfamiliar Place is content in search of presentation. Director Brzeski’s father survived the Nazi attack and occupation of Poland. He never talked about it. Then there’s an unspecified earthquake (maybe the San Francisco-Oakland one of 1989, but it’s sort of immaterial because Brzeski’s not living there at the time). She thinks somehow this place she once lived having an earthquake means she can now understand her father’s experience in Poland.

Her father, who answers unheard interview questions both on camera and in voiceover, doesn’t think she can ever understand. Sadly Brzeski’s wordy, obtuse narration never reflects enough on those statements.

Then there’s a bunch of footage from Poland when Brzeski goes with her father; just people living in Poland in the early nineties. Kids staring at the camera, a cow, all sorts of stuff. It’s like a travelogue with way too much context.

But instead of just ending when it’s only a misfire, Brzeski keeps going–with a lot of that meandering narration–before getting to her father and he’s got so much, both as a visual presence and as a interviewee, well, it becomes clear there’s definitely enough material for This Unfamiliar Place to be something… only Brzeski doesn’t know what. It’s not what she thought it would be, so it’s therefor nothing. Only it’s not nothing.

Brzeski’s technical filmmaking–she directed, edited, photographed–is all good. The short’s not wanting in those regards. Scott Starrett’s music is decent too. Its thesis and the exploration of that thesis… not successful. Way too narrow, way too constrained, way too closed.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, produced, and directed by Eva Ilona Brzeski; music by Scott Starrett.

Starring Andrzej Brzeski.


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Puppet Master 5 (1994, Jeff Burr)

Puppet Master 5 opens with the series’s (unfortunately) standard lengthy opening title sequences. There’s nothing exciting about it, just white text on black and Richard Band’s theme in the background. The film’s single surprise in the titles is Band just getting an “original music by” credit. Michael Wetherwax is here to adapt it. He’s the Ken Thorne of Puppet Master movies.

He actually does a great job. Puppet Master 5’s music sounds different. It’s got more energy during the slasher sequences. It gets so weird during one of the chase scenes, it sounds like the wrong music track was laid down. But it works. It’s lively.

A lot of Puppet Master 5 is lively. But the film does a lot to delay that energy. After the opening titles, there’s a scene with Ron O’Neal as a police detective interrogating lead Gordon Currie. Puppet Master 5 takes place right after 4. Currie is a genius scientist who gets chosen to be puppet master to an assortment of sentient, animate puppets. They’re all being hunted by an evil Egyptian demon. O’Neal doesn’t believe Currie’s story. Lawyer Diane McBain makes concerned faces. For a moment, Puppet Master 5 seems like it’s at least going to be a little different. The actors will be better. O’Neal might not have great lines and his part might be mispelled in the end credits, but he gives a professional performance. Same with McBain. She has maybe one line. It all feels strangely competent.

Then, of course, the movie fumbles and flashbacks back. A five minute flashback of the last movie’s events. For all those people who thought Puppet Master 5 would be a good jumping on point for the series.

The first puppet sequence doesn’t impress. A puppet escaping from the police lock-up while the officer-in-charge listens to musak. In fact, it’s an ominous sign for the film’s music, so it’s rather cool it turns out to be okay.

But then Ian Ogilvy shows up. He’s playing Currie’s boss. Not of the animate killer (but only bad people) puppets but of the science thing. Ogilvy’s kind of great. He’s hamming it through, the stuck-up British guy who’s actually not entirely proper. Turns out Ogilvy’s in league with the Pentagon to weaponize the puppets. “Holy shit that WAS Clu Gulager” Clu Gulager cameos for a scene as one of the Pentagon suits.

Anyway. Ogilvy hires these three idiots to help him steal the puppets. Nicholas Guest is the boss of the other two idiots. He’s no fun. Willard E. Pugh is fun and nearly good, certainly the best of the three. But Duane Whitaker is more fun, though not actually good. Even if you remove the “Holy shit that’s Maynard; is he going to go get the gimp” factor from Whitaker, he’s still more fun. Because the good puppets spend some time beating him up for being a jerk. They can’t kill him, because they’re good, but giving him a solid beatdown is something else. It even leads to an amusing moment when the puppets hide Whitaker’s unconscious body from female “lead” Chandra West.

All the killing from the puppets is the little demon monster. The big demon humps–literally–his life force into a little demon monster. It’s the same model as the last movie’s little demon monsters, which look like the little Lost World: Jurassic Park dinosaurs but without tails. And done with puppets, not CGI.

And it’s also supposed to be a puppet. Because there’s a long scene with the big demon–presumably a larger than life puppet, but terribly designed and detailed (though the hand effects are amazing)–talking to the little demon monster and it sounds like he too is a “puppet master.” Or at least he really likes to talk to his action figures.

The little demon monster is different from last movie’s because it’s got bling. It starts hunting down Ogilvy and the three idiots.

Those scenes, played equally for humor and suspense, work out well. They take up a lot of Puppet Master 5’s second act and, even when it’s Guest and there’s even not a unspecific bemusement quality, the scenes work. Adolfo Bartoli’s lighting actually has personality. He and Burr all of a sudden decide to have some style. And with Whitaker dressed as a cowboy, Pugh as a Shaft knockoff, Guest as a sports fan, and Ogilvy as a British square–it’s a lot. In the right way.

Sadly, Puppet Master 5 isn’t just these four idiots getting in the middle of the little demon hunting the puppets. There’s still Currie and West. And Teresa Hill, who plays West’s friend who the demon monsters attacked last movie. She’s in the hospital–not one of the film’s more convincing sets–but she can see the big demon and his plans. Like the one where he stands behind the little demon and tells the toy he’s going to hump his life force into it.

That footage is repeated at least twice in the movie.

So at first it seems like Currie and West might have a storyline together. Currie has this sex dream about West being all sultry in a bath tub full of blood; see, the puppets are bleeding her out and she feels all naughty for Currie.

It’s weird. Unpleasantly so. It also goes nowhere. Because once Currie and West get to the closed hotel (along with the long opening titles, another series standard), West gets nothing to do beyond scream and try to save Currie. Currie meanwhile gets to do his computer magic to communicate with Hill. She’s projecting her consciousness into the computer. Oddly, there’s not a lot she can do because the computer’s DOS, after all.

Eventually the little demon comes for West and Currie and the puppets get involved and Guy Rolfe is back. He’s the original puppet master. Now he shows up with his head superimposed over one of the puppets so he can give words of wisdom to Currie.

Currie starts the film a lot better than he ends it. He’s intolerable by the third act; somehow him being knocked out and West trying to save him is more annoying than when he’s pretending to read the computer screen and it’s hard to imagine anything more annoying than that one. Except maybe his inability to deliver one-liners.

Ogilvy’s kind of great. Though his glasses change lenses. Or sometimes appear not to have lenses at all. It’s distracting.

The movie would’ve been a lot better with just Ogilvy and the idiots getting hunted by puppets. The more Currie, the more West, the worse Puppet Master 5 gets. It’s unfortunate. Director Burr, cinematographer Bartoli, editor Margeret-Anne Smith, and composer Wetherwax (sorry, adapter)–they push through the budget restrictions and deliver some actually horrific little demon kills. When it’s not going well, they just keep going until it works. It’s impressive (and unexpected).

Shame about the rest of the movie, which can’t even get a good voice performance out of Jake McKinnon as the big demon. Movie knows to cameo Clu Gulager but not get a good voice performance for the villain. Of course it doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Burr; screenplay by Steven E. Carr, Jo Duffy, Todd Henschell, Douglas Aarniokoski, and Keith Payson, based on characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Michael Wetherwax; production designer, Milo; produced by Charles Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Gordon Currie (Rick Myers), Chandra West (Susie), Ian Ogilvy (Jennings), Nicholas Guest (Hendy), Duane Whitaker (Scott), Willard E. Pugh (Jason), Teresa Hill (Lauren), and Guy Rolfe (Toulon).


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Timecop (1994, Peter Hyams)

Timecop is deceptively competent. Sort of. There’s often something off about it, but then director Hyams will do something else decent and distract. Hyams also manages to get a perfectly serviceable performance out of lead Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme’s unsure, cautious performance–he tries to understate his terrible attempts at one-liners–is a great counter to Ron Silver’s bad guy.

Silver’s all over the place, the evil senator out to use time travel to win the presidental election and go after “special interests.” Who knew Timecop would be so prescient. Anyway, Silver’s a caricature playing a caricature. He’s definitely evil; he’s just nothing more.

Some of what’s wrong is the plotting. Timecop has a full plot, it just doesn’t have any character development. It’s like someone went through and chucked it. Van Damme’s wife dies mysterious. He’s haunted. And he’s a timecop. Even though he doesn’t do much as a timecop. The movie apparently doesn’t have the budget for multiple jaunts, just a couple before Van Damme is only jumping back to 1994.

You know it’s the past because there aren’t the future cars of 2004. They’re bulky self-driving things. Their design is unfortunate, but there’s a certain dedication to the special effects and design work. It’s like Hyams refused to be dismissive of the concept and he was going to do whatever he could.

Mia Sara’s okay as Van Damme’s wife, though she’s only around to be a damsel in distress and to beg Van Damme for nookie. Screenwriter Mark Verheiden does caricature, never anything more. When he gets around to a contradictory character, someone who can’t just be a thin caricature, he dumps the character as soon as possible.

It’s what happens to Gloria Rueben. She’s not good, but she’s kind of likable. She’s not as likable as Bruce McGill, who has to pretend to give a crap about time travel exposition. He’s Van Damme’s gritty boss who’s really just a softie.

The rest of the cast is the seemingly endless group of thugs Silver sends after Van Damme. Some of the resulting fight scenes are good, but Hyams drags it out too long. The movie’s not even a hundred minutes and the last third has multiple slowdowns. There’s an action set piece on a Victorian house’s roof. First, how does Van Damme afford such a big house in the DC area. Second, it’s boring. Van Damme can’t high kick or do the splits while he’s crawling around the roof–in a rainstorm–trying to save Sara (again). Hyams’s direction of the sequence doesn’t suggest any great interest in doing an action scene on a Victorian house’s roof. Nothing about the architecture actually lends itself to the sequence. Someone must have really wanted an action scene on a house roof.

By the third act, the absence of character development and transitional scenes have caught up with Timecop. Even the time travel-related story twists get tired. The movie’s hook isn’t Van Damme’s fighting, it isn’t the time travel, it isn’t the special effects. So what’s the hook supposed to be? Ron Silver ostensibly slumming only to be revealed as a perfect B-movie villain? Sloane Peterson? Certainly not Hyam’s cinematography (he’ll compose a perfectly good shot then screw it up with the lighting). Not Mark Isham’s simultaneously derivative and generic sci-fi movie score.

Timecop’s a disappointment. Hyams appears to know better, but doesn’t do better. I mean, Sam Raimi produced Timecop. He must have know the lighting was a big problem in the dailies.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Mark Verheiden, based on a story by Mike Richardson and Verheiden and a comic book by Richardson and Verheiden; edited by Steven Kemper; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Moshe Diamant, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Max), Mia Sara (Melissa), Ron Silver (McComb), Bruce McGill (Matuzak), Gloria Reuben (Fielding), Scott Bellis (Ricky), and Jason Schombing (Atwood).


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Muriel's Wedding (1994, P.J. Hogan)

There are a lot of things going on in Muriel’s Wedding, so many writer-director Hogan’s script gets to the point he’s constantly raveling and unraveling foreground and background threads. The threads are all wrapped around the film’s center–lead Toni Collette’s complicated desire to change herself. She mostly accomplishes it through various lies, though cheque fraud plays a big part. Her lying becomes, as the film goes on, a compulsion, one the viewer can identify even when it’s unclear how Collette is processing the situation. Despite her various wrongdoings and insensitivites, Collette is a sympathetic protagonist; she’s ill-equipped for the world, which the first act explores in detail.

Collette lives in a useless Australian tourist town. She’s a high school dropout with few career prospects, unemployed, living at home. Her father (Bill Hunter) is a mildly corrupt local politician who verbally demeans Collette, her siblings, and wife Jeanie Drynan at every opportunity. He’s also a little too friendly with local beauty supply maven Gennie Nevinson. All of Collette’s friends are insipid, shallow beauty queens who mock Collette about her physical appearance.

Everything changes when Collette runs into former high school classmate Rachel Griffiths, who could care less what Collette’s faux friends think of her and thinks Collette is doing just fine. Unfortunately, quite a bit of Griffiths’s opinion is based on Collette’s lies. Many of the lies involve Collette’s desire to get married, which would–in Collette’s eyes–undoubtedly result in her becoming a new, improved person. At the same time, Collette and Griffiths build this otherwise sincere friendship, with Griffiths the booster Collette never had.

Hogan’s script has a lot of laughs in the first half, which has Collette and Griffiths meeting on a tropical vacation, as well as during their move to the big city. The present action is rather fast in Muriel’s Wedding; Hogan and editor Jill Bilcock sometimes identifying don’t slow down to identify how much time has passed between scenes. Rarely in the next subsequent scene and usually in the one after. It keeps the film, which almost two hours, sailing.

Despite some rather bleak circumstances, Muriel’s Wedding is never a black comedy. Tragedies and hardships aren’t for laughs. The characters can be funny–or just plain mocked–but not their circumstances. As funny as the film gets, Hogan always relies on the actors to bring grounding, particularly Collette, Griffiths, Drynan, and Hunter. The laughs often come from how uncomfortable moments can get, whether through Collette’s deceptions (or naiveté) or Hunter’s willful mistreatment of his family.

As the characters react to the plot’s various curveballs during the second act, Hogan narrows the film to Collette. It also changes the pace of things. Hogan has more content in summary scene exposition than in his non-summary sequences. It fits in great with the slightly fantastical characters.

Great supporting performances from Hunter and Drynan. Griffiths is wonderful, ably essaying a part bouncing between comedy and drama. But Collette is the whole show. Even when Griffiths is being hilarious, Collette commands the attention. Hogan exquisitely juggles the dynamic of their relationship, with Martin McGrath’s moody but pragmatic photography playing a big part.

The only problem is the rushed third act, where Hogan speeds a tad fast through all the right notes.

Muriel’s Wedding is magnificent.

Oh, and a big part of the film is Collette’s healthiest obsession–ABBA. So lots of great ABBA music, sometimes for comic effect, sometimes for emotional.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by P.J. Hogan; director of photography, Martin McGrath; edited by Jill Bilcock; music by Peter Best; production designer, Paddy Reardon; produced by Lynda House and Jocelyn Moorhouse; released by Roadshow Film Distributors.

Starring Toni Collette (Muriel Heslop), Rachel Griffiths (Rhonda Epinstall), Bill Hunter (Bill Heslop), Jeanie Drynan (Betty Heslop), Gennie Nevinson (Deidre Chambers), Daniel Lapaine (David Van Arkle), and Matt Day (Brice Nobes).


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