Alien³ (1992) [the assembly cut] ⭑⭑½ D: David Fincher. Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Paul McGann, Pete Postlethwaite, Lance Henriksen. Official but not director-involved expanded version adds a half hour of run time to the film, substantially changing plot and flow. Unfortunately the added half hour mostly just gives the picture a full hour of pointless, tedious red herrings. Director Fincher’s “original” version–he walked out of the editing room hence quotation marks–long had a wholly undeserved Holy Grail reputation. Streaming version is called “Special Edition,” not “Assembly Cut.”
Batman Begins (2005) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Christopher Nolan. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson. Not entirely awful BATMAN origin story mostly cribbed (uncredited) from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s “Batman: Year One” comic. Good performances from Bale and Holmes (despite bad dialogue) and lousy ones from almost everyone else, including Neeson, Caine, Oldman, Murphy, and Wilkinson. Nolan’s epic takes on the material are silly, but he directs Bat-action well enough. Really bad music.
Blade: Trinity (2004) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: David S. Goyer. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Dominic Purcell, James Remar. Third (and final) entry is ostensibly about vampire hunter Snipes taking on Purcell’s Jersey Trash version of Dracula, but is really a vehicle to launch Biel and Reynolds as young, hip, white vampire hunters. Snipes sued Goyer over something related the film (whatever it was, Goyer deserved it). Just awful. Biel and Reynolds’s performances are nauseatingly bad. Followed by a single season, Snipes-free TV series (created by Goyer).
Clean (2004) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Olivier Assayas. Maggie Cheung, Nick Nolte, James Dennis, Béatrice Dalle, Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, Martha Henry. Dreadful, condescending drama about addict Cheung trying to clean up to reclaim son Dennis from disapproving in-laws Nolte and Henry. Visual stunning direction from Assayas, terrible writing from him too. Cheung’s bad, Nolte’s okay.
Cold Comfort Farm (1995) ⭑ D: John Schlesinger. Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro, Roland Blanche, Patrice Chéreau, Emmanuelle Debever, Krzysztof Globisz. Flat comedy has posh London girl (Kate Beckinsale) going to to title farm and causing a ruckus. Beckinsale’s miscast in a thin role; ditto Rufus Sewell as her love interest. Ian McKellen has a lot of fun though. There are some decent supporting performances, but weak narrative and middling direction are big problems.
Danton (1983) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Andrzej Wajda. Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro, Roland Blanche, Patrice Chéreau, Emmanuelle Debever, Krzysztof Globisz. Devastating look at Danton (Depardieu) and Robespierre (Pszoniak) during a couple fateful weeks of the French Revolution, telling the story in scene not summary. Great performances from Depardieu and Pszoniak; director Wajda pulls out all the stops, filmmaking-wise, right up until very end. If not the finest film about the French Revolution, a serious contender.
The Eagle Has Landed (1976) [the extended version] ⭑ D: John Sturges. Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence, Anthony Quayle, Jean Marsh. World War II espionage thriller about a (fictional) Nazi plot to kidnap Winston Churchill. Caine and Duvall are the Nazi officers, Sutherland is the Irish revolutionary they recruit. Good enough performances from Caine and Sutherland, great one from Duvall. Agutter–as Sutherland’s romantic interest–almost ruins the whole thing. Strong direction from Sturges; EAGLE was his last film. Extended version includes a number of scenes cut from an even longer European theatrical version.
Japón (2002) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Carlos Reygadas. Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalena Flores, Yolanda Villa, Martín Serrano, Rolando Hernández, Bernabe Pérez, Fernando Benítez. Suicidal Ferretis–he’s got a bad leg–travels to a rural area to do the deed, then meets an older woman (Flores) and decides life’s worth living so long as she gets jiggy with him. Pretentious, self-indulgent, long. So long. Reygadas’s uneven direction is at least better than the script; the all-amateur cast is far from impressive.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) ⭑⭑ D: Randall Wallace. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud, Judith Godrèche. Fun adventure has DiCaprio as twins–one good, one bad–but really it’s just an excuse to do OLD MAN THREE MUSKETEERS with Irons, Malkovich, and Depardieu (Byrne’s fourth wheel D’Artagnan). Excellent performances from the Musketeers–with Irons and Malkovich always erring on the right side of ham–and Byrne’s got some good moments. DiCaprio’s okay enough; it helps he’s not in the movie very much.
Matewan (1987) ⭑½ D: John Sayles. Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, Will Oldham, David Strathairn, Ken Jenkins, Gordon Clapp. Strangely simplistic take on a 1920s West Virginia coal miners work stoppage. The film’s jumbo scale gets away from director Sayles in the script so he relies way too heavily on caricature. Great performances from Cooper, McDonnell, and Strathairn. Very disappointing.
Melinda and Melinda (2004) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Woody Allen. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Will Ferrell, Jonny Lee Miller, Radha Mitchell, Amanda Peet, Chloë Sevigny, Wallace Shawn. Playwrights Shawn and Al Pepe amuse their dinner party with differing versions of a story starring Mitchell, one a comedy, one a tragedy. The results lack dramatic impact, but the film’s got numerous great performances, particularly Sevigny and Miller. Mitchell’s good, but isn’t the protagonist in either story. It’s Sevigny in the tragedy, Ferrell in the comedy. And, yes, Ferrell does do a Woody Allen impression.
Olga’s Chignon (2002) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Jérôme Bonnell. Hubert Benhamdine, Nathalie Boutefeu, Florence Loiret, Serge Riaboukine, Marc Citti, Antoine Goldet, Valérie Stroh. Patient, deliberate drama about a family coping with the mother’s death. Only the wrap-up is uneven; an excellent debut from writer-director Bonnell.
Over the Rainbow (2002) ⭑⭑½ D: Ahn Jin-woo. Lee Jung-jae, Jang Jin-young, Kong Hyeong-jin, Jung Chan, Uhm Ji-won. Romantic drama about a weather guy (Lee) trying to rediscover his past after a car accident leaves him with partial amnesia. Part of that rediscovery involves old friend (Jang). Good performances from Lee and Jang–an outstanding one from Jang–make up for the third act problems and some general confusion involving the film’s extensive flashbacks.
Safety Last! (1923) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke. Outstanding comedy has Lloyd going from store clerk to “Human Fly” as he tries to make it in New York City. Superb physical antics from Lloyd; the film ends with his breathtaking attempt to scale as twelve-story building. Also a very accessible silent film for newbies.
Sea of Love (1989) ⭑⭑⭑⭑ D: Harold Becker. Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, Michael Rooker, William Hickey, Richard Jenkins, Paul Calderon. Beautifully written (by Richard Price) mystery has Pacino as a bachelor cop who tries to catch a killer who picks his victims through a dating service. Barkin is the date who becomes more than part of the job. Phenomenal performances from Pacino, Barkin, and Goodman; great use of the New York City locations.
The Shadow (1994) ⭑⭑⭑ D: Russell Mulcahy. Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters. After a silly opening, this 1930s-set adaptation of the 1930s pulp vigilante gets real good, real fast. Masterful script (from David Koepp), great cast (save Winters), and some strong direction from Mulcahy. Lovebirds Baldwin and Miller have plenty of chemistry, as do Baldwin and nemesis Lone.
Speaking of Sex (2001) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: John McNaughton. James Spader, Melora Walters, Jay Mohr, Megan Mullally, Lara Flynn Boyle, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Murray. Awful comedy; it’s the script and acting, particularly Spader, Walters, and Boyle. McNaughton’s direction is tepid and unimaginative but fine. Mohr’s not as bad as anyone else. It took the film a number of years to get a domestic DVD release; now it’s available streaming for anyone who wants to see often excellent actors doing bad work.
The Spies (1957) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Henri-Georges Clouzot. Gérard Séty, Curd Jürgens, Peter Ustinov, O.E. Hasse, Sam Jaffe, Paul Carpenter, Véra Clouzot. Séty runs a failing psychiatric hospital and agrees to hide mysterious Jürgens (for a fee). The hospital is then overrun by spies from both East and West, complicating things. All the acting is good; Séty is excellent. Very complex script, superiorly navigated by Clouzot’s direction.
Superman II (1980) [the restored international cut] ⭑ D: Richard Lester. Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, Jackie Cooper. Fan attempt to recreate foreign television version, which includes multiple scenes directed by original SUPERMAN director Richard Donner (the films were initially shot back-to-back). There are wildly different tones, including Lester–presumably–doing sequences laughing at people in disaster scenes. The version does offer some good Lex Luthor (Hackman) and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) interaction (the only in the series) along with fleshing out of the Lois and Clark romance. But it doesn’t fix any of the narrative’s outstanding problems. The original R.I.C. was traded online until Warner Bros. shut it down–after corporate sibling “Entertainment Weekly” did an article praising the fan effort–so no home video availability.
The Three Musketeers (1993) ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Stephen Herek. Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Michael Wincott. Graphically violent–but still PG–Disney adaptation boasts a shockingly good performance from Sheen, an appealing one from Platt, and a good villain turn from Wincott but it’s otherwise fairly dreadful. Bad direction and a bad script (from David Loughery); awful performance from O’Donnell (as D’Artagnan). Sutherland tries and fails. Curry’s a caricature of himself. It’s the pits.
Triple Cross (1966) ⭑⭑ D: Terence Young. Christopher Plummer, Romy Schneider, Trevor Howard, Gert Fröbe, Claudine Auger, Yul Brynner, Harry Meyen. WWII espionage thriller has English thief Plummer convincing German captors wants to spy for them so he can go back to the UK and become a double agent for the British. Good performances compensate for a shallow script and mediocre direction from Young.
Turn (2001) ⭑ D: Hirayama Hideyuki. Makise Riho, Nakamura Kankurô, Emoto Akira, Kawahara Ayako, Kitamura Kazuki, Baishô Mitsuko. A young woman (Makise) gets in a car accident and, when she wakes up, finds she’s the only person in an otherwise empty world. Or is she? Oh, she also repeats the same day over and over again. Likable performances, but the film concentrates way too hard on its fantastic situation and not its characters.
28 Days Later (2002) ⭑⭑⭑⭑ D: Danny Boyle. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson. Murphy wakes up from a coma to discover the world overrun by zombies and has to try to survive. Not just from the zombies, but also from the military. Visually stunning, with Boyle shooting on DV; great script by Alex Garland; excellent performances. Murphy makes an outstanding Everyman. The film has at least one alternate ending version; rating is for whatever is on the U.S. DVD release.
Versus (2000) ⭑ D: Kitamura Ryuhei. Sakaguchi Tak, Sakaki Hideo, Misaka Chieko, Matsuda Kenji, Arai Yuichiro, Matsumoto Minoru, Ohba Kazuhito. Technically magnificent action/horror picture has Sakaguchi fighting zombies with a samurai sword while wearing an ultra cool black leather trench coat. The writing is always iffy, but Kitamura’s direction tends to compensate enough.
Volcano (1997) ⭑ D: Mick Jackson. Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Jacqueline Kim, Keith David, John Carroll Lynch. Nicely paced disaster movie about a volcano growing out the La Brea Tar Pits. Heche is the scientist, Jones is the city guy, Gaby Hoffman’s his daughter. It’s occasionally annoying, with bad dialogue, but the cast is great. Heche and Cheadle are outstanding; Jones is fine. The film takes itself just seriously enough, which is not much.
White Dog (1982) ⭑⭑⭑½ D: Samuel Fuller. Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives, Jameson Parker, Parley Baer. Somewhat infamous film–studio Paramount shelved it before release due to controversy about the subject (cutesy star MacNichol adopts an awesome new dog, only to discover he’s been trained to attack Black people) and director Fuller stole a print and bounced to Europe to get it released somewhere at least. The film runs short, leaving a few too many plot threads untied, but it’s real good. It’s deliberative and thoughtful, nicely directed by Fuller, with strong performances from the four principals. Nice to see Winfield lead a movie. Finally available officially on home video (but from Criterion, not Paramount).
White Nights (1985) ⭑⭑½ D: Taylor Hackford. Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Isabella Rossellini, Helen Mirren, Geraldine Page, John Glover. Not entirely ludicrous tale of defector ballet dancer Baryshnikov (played by defector ballet dancer Baryshnikov) crash-landing in the Soviet Union and being forced into a cover-up involving Vietnam-era, tap dancing defector Hines. Phenomenal dance sequences occasionally get a little long (with Baryshnikov the more impressive). But Hines’s performance is easily the best. The Lionel Ritchie Oscar-winning song is a little much.