The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)

Now here’s an interesting Stop Button pick. (It was the fiancée’s choice, actually). Most of what I know about Wallace’s 1998 adaptation. It knocked Titanic out of the top spot in the weekend box office… That’s it. And the preview was bad, playing up DiCaprio as… a bad guy?

The bad king and the good twin present a difficulty to turning the novel into a film (I have no idea what Dumas did, but I’ve only read The Three Musketeers and I was fifteen). The ideal, of course, would to do something similar to what Boyle did in World’s End. Wallace doesn’t do that, however. This film is also interesting because it’s from the writer of Braveheart, before he became the writer of Pearl Harbor. Oddly, for all the (undeserved) shit Pearl gets, no one ever points the finger at Wallace.

Watching Man in the Iron Mask, it’s obvious MGM didn’t do anything to it in light of DiCaprio’s Titanic success. He’s barely in the damn thing and he ranges from inoffensively bad to decent, or maybe I just got used to him as the film moved along. I cared about the character (the good twin, of course), which means he accomplished something.

But, really, besides the first and third acts, it’s all the Musketeers’ show. Played by Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu, one almost thinks Wallace intended it that way (given that DiCaprio’s most commercial venture to this point was probably The Quick and the Dead). All three are excellent and Gabriel Byrne has a few nice moments as D’Artagnan (but he’s not one of the original Musketeers, which I do remember from Dumas’ novel, which was the perception of the three through his eyes).

The Man in the Iron Mask offers no depth in the end. There are some nice moments about growing old, I suppose, but no more than something like Space Cowboys. Instead of a message, instead of any solidity, Wallace offers us the Three (Four) Musketeers kicking ass. Wallace got a really naive composer for the film, so the music sounds like the Salkind productions from the 1970s… hmm, maybe that was the point.

It’s fun to watch. Irons and Malkovich hover on hamming, but never take it up fully, and it was nice to see them resisting it in this one. Mostly, however, the film reassured me that the Salkind films might be all right, as I was planning on watching them soon.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Wallace; screenplay by Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by William Hoy; music by Nick Glennie-Smith; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Wallace and Russell Smith; released by United Artists.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (King Louis XIV/ Philippe), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan), Anne Parillaud (Queen Anne), Judith Godrèche (Christine) and Peter Sarsgaard (Raoul).


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28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)

Why is Hollywood making Cillian Murphy the bad guy? He’s got to be the best everyman Hollywood’s seen since–who, Roy Scheider or something, except a better actor? No offense to Roy, I love Roy, but Roy’s a little bit of a movie star. Cillian Murphy’s not a movie star….

It’s impossible to really talk about 28 Days Later without talking about the ending. I could give a shit about the three alternate endings, by the way. I figure, a DVD release, Boyle could have thrown one in and labeled it director’s preferred and been done with it. So we’re talking about the one that’s on the DVD. It’s the only ending the film could have had for me to give it the four too. That last shot, that last breath. It’s a beautiful moment in an unexpected place.

A friend compared 28 Days to Winterbottom’s Wonderland while talking about digital video. 28 Days doesn’t even look like video. It looks like film with really neat rain effects (which are probably only possible with video). Incidentally, Wonderland doesn’t look like video, it looks like a hi-res 16 millimeter.

I can’t explain how happy I am following this film, how elated. It’s under two hours, takes place over a handful of days, and it manages to have six distinct parts to it. Six distinct “stories.” Well, no, five distinct stories. The last two are rather linked… though wouldn’t necessarily need to be.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened after the last time I watched Trainspotting is happening again. I’m falling in love with Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. It won’t last, of course, all I need for a cure is Shallow Grave or, ugh, A Life Less Ordinary, but I still haven’t seen The Beach, though I have been warned… Maybe Millions. Boyle’s not a young Turk, either. I think he was at least in his forties when he made Trainspotting, so he’s probably in his fifties now. (Miramax always seemed to present Trainspotting as a young Turk film). Trainspotting is better, I suppose, though Boyle’s a better filmmaker now than he was then. He’s less reliant on dialogue to move things, much more comfortable with the effect of his visuals.

Making a shot empty of people matter is difficult. It puts a lot of weight on the fellow going through the whole experience. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really count as an example and The Pianist failed miserably (I was terrified when I started 28 Days Later, fearful it would be a zombie movie like The Pianist, the lead going around, running, exploring ruins, all without any real emotional impact, hiding behind a calamity). So, now’s when I could rain praise on Murphy, who’ll maybe someday find a good role in Hollywood, but until then I need to track down that friggin’ one of his Nicheflix cares. I don’t know the female lead’s name, but she’s really good. So’s the girl. So’s Christopher Eccleston, which surprised me, especially since he was so bad in Shallow Grave.

28 Days Later, while definitely delivering a good “horror” film, a good “zombie” film, one ups even Romero’s best. While his Dawn of the Dead was about people and their struggles in a situation created by zombies, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (do I have to see Halo now?) tell a story about some guy. (Romero tends to let his commentary overwhelm the story, no matter how effective the story–or commentary–might be, Martin for example). So now The Stop Button is all about 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy and shit….

At least until I see The Beach.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew MacDonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. Henry West), Megan Burns (Hannah) and Brendan Gleeson (Frank).

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Blade: Trinity (2004, David S. Goyer)

I imagine you’re thinking, why would he watch that? And I agree, Blade: Trinity is hardly Stop Button material. Except… I have been insulting David S. Goyer a lot lately (because he sucks) and I wanted my insults to be more informed and, also, because I enjoyed Blade II. I’ve never seen more than fifteen minutes of Blade and I’ll never see more than an hour of Blade: Trinity, but Blade II is fine. It’s Guillermo Del Toro, who’s never worthless. Also, we’re house/dog-sitting and they had Blade: Trinity. I’m reading its source material, Tomb of Dracula, and I had time to kill… And, honestly, I never thought I’d get through it.

Oddly, Blade: Trinity starts out fine. Well, almost. It starts with Parker Posey waking up Dracula, except he’s not called Dracula because that’s not cool enough. So he’s called Drake. David S. Goyer has a lot of machismo issues to work out, further evidenced in Drake’s open shirt and gold chains apparel. Posey, who was recently so good in Personal Velocity, seems to have taken some rather naughty pictures that Goyer has gotten his hands on.

But, really, the scenes after that–at least the ones starring Blade and Kris Kristofferson, are all right. The style keeps Del Toro’s cinematography from the last film, but in a 1970s cheap police movie. It’s fine. In fact, I sat thinking, “Maybe I was wrong about this one.” But, no, thank goodness, soon enough, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds arrived.

As bad, as unbelievably terrible, as Reynolds is in this film, Jessica Biel is two or three times worse. You have to have more presence to work a drive-through. She’s really the pits.

Reynolds, the object of Goyer’s man-love, is bad. And the man-love is pretty clear–Reynolds, idiotically, narrates the prologue. The character is written as Brodie, from Mallrats. Amusingly, Mallrats bombs, but Brodie becomes the archetype for all future twenty-something male characters. Reynolds even plays the character like Jason Lee would–except without being funny or being a good actor.

I can understand why Wesley Snipes sued Goyer. Blade: Trinity is not about Blade, it’s about Goyer’s little teeny-boopers. What’s incredibly sad is that Blade: Trinity has the best Snipes acting in years. Snipes is an amazing actor–One Night Stand. All this action movie crap, action comedy crap, does a real disservice to the quality of film. More apparently, Blade was about a kick-ass black guy. It was a movie black guys could go to–black men are the great lost comic book reader. I just listened to former “New York Times” film critic Elvis Mitchell go on and on about his love for the Thing in the 1970s Marvel comics. Comic books have lost black males (probably because they eschewed the newsstand for the direct market). Blade: Trinity is a movie for fanboys. Fanboys tend to be white. I imagine Wesley Snipes was a little distraught over appearing in American Pie 4….

It’d be nice if I could avoid Goyer, just ignore him, but he’s the guy non-Marvel comic books go to. Besides (following Batman Begins) being DC’s golden movie boy, a couple really good comic book writers have film projects going through him. I find that particularly amusing since, in Blade: Trinity, the characters frequently deride the source material, Tomb of Dracula, at one point tosses an issue aside as trash.

This twit writes “song and dance” in his dialogue. He makes James Remar a cop and has him say “song and dance.” That’s Dante’s fifth ring of Hell right there. Check your copy of Inferno, right there. “The fifth ring was filled with suck-ass filmmakers who made James Remar a cop that says ‘song and dance.'” Obviously, it sounds a lot nicer in the Italian. “Il quinto anello è stato riempito di criminali che hanno reso a James Remar un poliziotto che dice la canzone ed il ballo.

I certainly hope Remar used his paycheck to take a Tuscan vacation….

Anyway, Goyer isn’t some harmless twit. He’s going to ruin some good writers’ works. I keep thinking about the 1990s, pre-Independence Day and post. In and of himself, Emmerich isn’t even that bad (no, I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow), but the film revolution he birthed with ID4–the feckless blockbuster–has ruined American cinema. So, although no one really takes Goyer seriously (only internet sites interviewed him as co-writer of Batman Begins), he’s here to stay… and he’s going to make film worse and, eventually, I’m going to feel it.

Just wait….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David S. Goyer; written by Goyer, based on the Blade character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Howard E. Smith and Conrad Smart; music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Goyer and Lynn Harris; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Jessica Biel (Abigail Whistler), Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King), Parker Posey (Danica Talos), Dominic Purcell (Drake), John Michael Higgins (Dr. Edgar Vance), Natasha Lyonne (Sommerfield) and James Remar (Cumberland).


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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 awhile 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 quite 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).


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