Category Archives: 1994

Men of War (1994, Perry Lang)

Given Men of War’s blind earnestness, the daddy issues, and John Sayles being one of the credited screenwriters, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it was going to be Steven Spielberg’s first war movie. I first read about Men of War when IMDb came around and I looked up Sayles. A John Sayles written Dolph Lundgren movie seemed unbelievable and I never got around to seeing it (I didn’t always have a video store carrying the Lundgren oeuvre available). Men of War is pre-Lone Star so Sayles’s connection could be anything, but the film does try to look like a “real” film, not the straight-to-video one it turned out to be. Ah ha, just looked at the ‘trivia’ at IMDb. It was originally going to be directed by John Frankenheimer, who had apparently decided to find a project with the same opening as Friedkin’s Sorcerer. I’m kidding, but Frankenheimer and Friedkin are reasonably interchangeable.

Failed actor turned director Perry Lang tries real hard with Men of War. He stretches the anamorphic image in moments of great intensity and he also does a lot of slow motion and has a lot of obnoxious fade-outs. His battle scenes are awful, but so’s the rest of it, evening out the experience. Men of War is not a good film. I could only spot one scene with any Sayles style to it and then it was Sayles-lite, like it got rewritten or was just a coincidence (if Sayles’s work was not actually on the produced screenplay). The music’s similarly awful, but worse. It’s a rip-off mostly of the Predator score (Lang would have done better if he’d been ripping someone off).

Men of War does have a few things to offer, however, which is an achievement considering it’s worse than the last bad film I saw (Battle for the Planet of the Apes). B.D. Wong is fantastic. Dolph Lundgren has visibly–in the film–become a good actor, but his role’s so flatly written, it’s not really a good performance. Tim Guinee is good, so’s Tom Wright, both as some of Lundgren’s mercenaries (oh, the film’s about a mercenary who decides to help the innocent people he’s been paid to hurt). Don Harvey, who isn’t in it enough, is decent and would be better if his role were better written. Same situation for Tony Denison. Men of War’s biggest failing, besides the direction and writing and some of the other acting (Catherine Bell is unspeakably bad and there are a number of other lame performances), is it’s lack of sense of humor. If it knew how to laugh, it’d probably be a little better. It’d be hard though, since it’s so visually uninteresting. But I’ve finally seen it… even though I’m no longer trying to see all Sayles’s produced screenplays.

But B.D. Wong is great.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Perry Lang; screenplay by John Sayles, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, based on a story by Stan Rogow; director of photography, Ronn Schmidt; edited by Jeffrey Reiner; music by Gerald Gouriet and Paul Rabjohns; production designers, James William Newport and Steve Spence; produced by Arthur Goldblatt and Andrew Pfeffer; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (Nick Gunar), Charlotte Lewis (Loki), B.D. Wong (Po), Tony Denison (Jimmy G), Tim Guinee (Ocker), Don Harvey (Nolan), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Blades), Tom Wright (Jamaal), Catherine Bell (Grace Lashield), Trevor Goddard (Keefer), Kevin Tighe (Colonel Merrick), Thomas Gibson (Warren) and Perry Lang (Lyle).


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Stargate (1994, Roland Emmerich), the director's cut

When I was sixteen, I wrote a review of Stargate for my school newspaper and I gave it four stars. Out of four. Since watching it for the first time since then–though I might have seen it on VHS pan and scanned, which isn’t the same film, Emmerich does use his whole frame–I’m not experiencing the embarrassment I thought I would. Sure, it’s probably atrociously written, but whatever… This review came out a pre-Enlightenment period–maybe I was just applying the film quality qualifications others instilled in me (such as the unapproachable goodness of John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, and True Romance) and, (while Stargate is certainly better than most of those films just through lack of insult, I wouldn’t have known it then) by comparison, I came to the conclusion it must be a film of great import. This theory is a bunch of malarky–sixteen year-olds simply are not reasoning readers yet–but it would at least pass the buck to some degree.

The 1980s had their share of science fiction/fantasy films, but as time passed (and Dune proved just not anyone could do it), they became lower budget and foreign-funded until they practically disappeared. Carolco put together Stargate, so it probably did have a lot of foreign money in it, but special effects had changed by the time Stargate came along… there was CG. Stargate hardly uses it, but, at the time, morphing was still big. Watching the film, I realized Stargate is one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. It’s content-less adventure (albeit, without the pop culture references now a cornerstone of blockbusters–thanks to Pulp Fiction of all things), it’s a blockbuster without integrity. Before Stargate, with the exception of Rocky IV, blockbusters tended to have some integrity. Stargate wasn’t even a blockbuster, but it was the prototype for the blockbusters immediately following–when Spielberg, in a sense, lost the blockbuster. The film’s legacy–and it does have one–is integrity-free CG. Computer generation imagery would not be a special special effect, it would be mundane. This legacy didn’t play out immediately (Dragonheart failed, for instance), but by 1996 and 1997, it was in full effect–and it’s produced absolutely nothing of value.

Again, Stargate isn’t too bad. It’s so bland–though one can amuse oneself by recognizing the Spielberg “homages,” there are plenty from Raiders of the Lost Ark–it just passes the time. Emmerich’s direction is okay. The film is very pretty and his shot composition is fine, uninteresting but fine. While the writing is incredibly stupid, since Devlin and Emmerich hadn’t yet hit the big time, it’s not offensive. I rented it because I’ve been watching Spader so much on “Boston Legal” I was curious and he’s fine. I’d forgotten Kurt Russell was in it (I think Stargate actually relaunched his brief mid-1990s film career, Kurt Russell has a lot of career relaunches). He’s awful when he’s supposed to be mourning (his son died playing with one of his guns, which I think Devlin probably lifted from “Beverly Hills, 90210”), but there are moments when he can’t help smiling. He’s good in those moments and he and Spader actually have a couple good scenes together. John Diehl shows up, getting more lines than usual. I won’t even discuss Jaye Davidson, though Emmerich and Devlin did always interestingly cast and miscast. For example, French Stewart is in Stargate. As a soldier no less.

Stargate isn’t worth getting virulent about. I suppose in recognizing its terrible aftereffects, one could easily rant (and I do realize I talked about the film for one paragraph of four–there’s just not enough in the movie to talk about it’s so shallow). Hollywood rarely produces–anymore–free dumb movies. Today (and immediately following Stargate practically) dumb movies come at a cost–the realization of sitting through the dumb movie and feeling stupid for it. In fact, I think film audiences have passed through that phase and now, they no longer expect to engage with filmic narratives… nor do they particularly want such engagement. As it works out, Stargate is, by default, a lot better tripe than today’s tripe.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Derek Brechin and Michael J. Duthie; music by David Arnold; production designer, Holger Gross; produced by Devlin, Oliver Eberle and Joel B. Michaels; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Col. Jack O’Neil), James Spader (Dr. Daniel Jackson), Viveca Lindfors (Catherine Langford, Ph.D.), Alexis Cruz (Skaara), Mili Avital (Sha’uri), Leon Rippy (General West), John Diehl (Lieutenant Kawalsky), Carlos Lauchu (Anubis), Djimon Hounsou (Horus), Erick Avari (‘Good Father’ Kasuf), French Stewart (Lieutenant Ferretti), Gianin Loffler (Nabeh) and Jaye Davidson (Ra).


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Blink (1994, Michael Apted)

Do you know how much a romantic, early morning mist, Brad Fiedel-music scored ending costs? More than Blink‘s got. What’s up with Fiedel never getting jobs? Guy’s great.

What’s funny (sad) is that I really thought Aidan Quinn was good in the film. He’s good in one scene, when his irritating “Chicago” accent isn’t going. James Remar’s in it a bit and he’s good, though he needs a haircut.

Oddly, I should have known how Blink was going to be… just looking at Dana Stevens’ excellent filmography, City of Angels and For Love of the Game. Bleech.

Michael Apted does an excellent job, particularly after the film gets into the last forty minutes. The first forty minutes are very concerned with making it a “Chicago” movie. This attention requires not only Michael Jordan footage, but a Cubs game as well. Apted being English, I can’t imagine who set the film in Chicago.

As for Madeleine Stowe.

Every once in a while here at the Stop Button, I lament the state of film. I complain that certain actors have disappeared, that certain actors have gone unappreciated. James Remar is a good example of that. Stowe took a four year break from film following Twelve Monkeys and she’s never recovered. She took another three year break after her first comeback in 1999. Now she’s doing DTV… Stowe’s absence from major film is a great loss. She really needs to do a Woody Allen picture. I think Woody would know how to use her. Woody or Clint. One of the two….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Dana Stevens; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Dan Bishop; produced by David Blocker; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Madeleine Stowe (Emma Brody), Aidan Quinn (Detective John Hallstrom), James Remar (Thomas Ridgely), Peter Friedman (Dr. Ryan Pierce), Bruce A. Young (Lieutenant Mitchell), Laurie Metcalf (Candice) and Paul Dillon (Neal Book).


The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)

The Shadow is not a perfect film, but there’s so much good about it. Besides that its great cast–Jonathan Winters is the only weak link–besides that its beautifully constructed screenplay–the best constructed one I can think of… I haven’t seen this film since the theater, so I was sixteen. I don’t remember liking it. I didn’t like Alec Baldwin back then. Actually, my opinion of him has only changed with his recent work, but he’s good. I do have to dislike The Shadow a little, since its commercial and critical failure ended Penelope Ann Miller’s career….

Russell Mulcahy always gets a measure of respect from film people. Even film snobs. Well, the film snobs I used to work with, anyway. Highlander is a terrible film with bad writing and Christopher Lambert. However, Mulcahy did a great job directing (and Clancy Brown was great). If anyone deserves a $150 million movie, it’s Mulcahy, or at least the Mulcahy of the 1990s. The Shadow is a textbook example of good, engaging filmmaking. Mulcahy has a number of long-shots of Baldwin and Miller on darkened sidewalks. Sure, Steven Spielberg used to be a better director and maybe–maybe–he still is, but I can’t remember the last time Spielberg’s composition engaged my brain. Oh, wait. Yeah, no, I do. Close Encounters.

About halfway through The Shadow, I realized my post was going to be a lot more positive than I originally thought. The film starts with silly scene of Baldwin going native in 1920s China as a warlord and I spent a while wishing that scene away. A half hour later, I wasn’t thinking of that scene or its failings at all. The Shadow moves. There are a lot of characters and a lot of scenes–but the most memorable scenes are still quiet ones, except the finale, when Baldwin looks more like Howard Chaykin’s ultra-violent Shadow from the 1980s DC Comics revival. The memorable scenes are the ones between Miller and Baldwin–the romantic ones–and Baldwin and John Lone, who is the bad guy. The screenplay is exciting to experience. It’s why I went into Panic Room thinking it would be good. Because I loved David Koepp in the 1990s. I’m going to rewatch Carlito’s Way again, I loved this screenplay so much.

As frightening as it sounds (even to me)–The Shadow has reinvigorated my interest in film, I’m adding DVD after DVD to both Netflix and Blockbuster queues. It’s amazing storytelling….

I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to sit down and watch this film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the character created by Walter B. Gibson; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Peter Honess and Beth Jochem Besterveld; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Martin Bregman, Willi Baer and Michael S. Bregman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston / The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Peter Boyle (Moe), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Ian McKellen (Dr. Reinhardt Lane) and Jonathan Winters (Wainwright Barth).