Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990, Brian De Palma)

It’s amazing anyone could screw up The Bonfire of the Vanities–and I’m only making that statement based on the movie and the material in it (never having read the book)–but if anyone was going to do it, adapter Michael Cristofer is the one to do it. When the movie started–it has a beautiful opening title sequence, followed by a wonderful De Palma steady-cam shot (the following seventeen million steady-cam shots are not, unfortunately, wonderful)–I thought David Mamet wrote the screenplay and the worst I was really in for was a bad Melanie Griffith performance.

Was I wrong.

Blaming Cristofer for all the film’s problems–even the majority of them–is a mistake. The producer–oh, it’s De Palma, how convenient–or the executive producer who didn’t realize making Bruce Willis’s reporter the main character would create a fantastic black comedy are the ones who made the biggest mistake. Whoever saw Tom Hanks’s performance the first day of shooting and didn’t realize he had to go (Hanks essentially plays the same character he did in Volunteers, only without the humor… it’s painful), that person made the second biggest mistake. The film’s potential as a black comedy, the media circus version of Wag the Dog (there’s a second Mamet reference), set in New York City, with Willis’s detached, smug performance (perfect for the role), and a Dave Grusin score. It’s a shame De Palma got a hold of this picture. It’s from Warner, so I’m going to guess Cristofer was set for the project regardless of director (Cristofer just coming off Witches of Eastwick), which is a still serious defect but a good director for the project would have known to eighty-six him.

De Palma tries real hard to make Vanities visually interesting; he’s got Vilmos Zsigmond wasting time with those endless steady-cam shots I mentioned earlier and I guess they’re supposed to substitute for creativity. De Palma simply cannot direct much of the script, the human scenes between people, the comedic scenes. He just can’t do it. When he does, it looks like a UHF commercial for carpet-cleaning. The movie’s also atrociously edited.

Like I said, Willis is good and if he’d run the whole show, the movie would have been good. Hanks is bad, though he gets a little betterå towards the end. Griffith isn’t good, isn’t bad. She’s occasionally funny (but, of course, De Palma doesn’t know what to do with it). Kim Cattrall is awful (again, De Palma’s fault for not understanding comedy). Kevin Dunn is really good… Morgan Freeman is wasting time. Saul Rubinek starts good, ends bad (again, has more to do with direction and lack of script–I was stunned to read Rubinek’s character was one of the novel’s central figures).

I think there’s some other stuff I really liked in the movie, but I can’t remember it right now. The Bonfire of the Vanities has got to be De Palma’s biggest failure, artistically speaking, since he didn’t approach it with anything but contrived, bestseller-to-blockbuster mentality… it’s unfortunate.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Michael Cristofer, based on the novel by Tom Wolfe; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by David Ray and Bill Pankow; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Richard Sylbert; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tom Hanks (Sherman McCoy), Bruce Willis (Peter Fallow), Melanie Griffith (Maria Ruskin), Kim Cattrall (Judy McCoy), Saul Rubinek (Jed Kramer), Morgan Freeman (Judge Leonard White), John Hancock (Reverend Bacon), Kevin Dunn (Tom Killian), Clifton James (Albert Fox), Louis Giambalvo (Ray Andruitti), Barton Heyman (Detective Martin), Norman Parker (Detective Goldberg) and Donald Moffat (Mr. McCoy).


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The Fifth Element (1997, Luc Besson)

The last time I saw a Luc Besson movie and thought it was really good, I tried watching Joan of Arc. Then I stopped exploring his filmography. This time, therefore, I’m prepared. I haven’t seen The Fifth Element in years and I’m not sure why. Considering its cast, it’s something of a breath of fresh air. Ian Holm has either disappeared from cinema in the last five years or I’m just no longer seeing movies he acts in anymore, which is entirely possible. So it was really nice to see him (I feel terrible, like I’m suggesting he’s turned in to Brian Cox or someone–I’m sure he hasn’t). Bt the film also features Chris Tucker’s incredibly annoying, which is the point, performance and I remember it made me wish he’d do other supporting roles like it. then he got really big so it’ll never happen. Too bad.

But the film also features a great Bruce Willis performance. It’s so much fun–Willis has his action hero schtick, but Fifth Element finally lets him do it in a comedy and a good one. The most impressive thing about the film, besides Eric Serra’s music maybe, is Besson’s understanding of timing. for a film with major pacing issues (more in a second), The Fifth Element is perfectly timed. Willis and Milla Jovovich really work well together in the film because Willis is able to alternate from a caring, paternal figure (gee, wonder if the age difference has anything to do with it?) and the romantic interest and because Jovovich’s character is an alien, his concern works. I don’t think he’s ever done so much work as a romantic lead as he does in this one and he’s great. Jovovich is also quite good–and not for the female action star reasons she’s good today, which suggests Besson just directed her well and maybe the role wasn’t very hard. But she’s good.

Now for the two problems. First, whoever they got to do the voice of Bruce Willis’s mother on the phone was the wrong choice. His character doesn’t work with an annoying mother. Maybe if he had an Uncle Leo, but not a mother. every time it comes up (three times, I think) it wallops the film with an aluminum baseball bat.

The second problem has to do with the pacing. Like I said, the film is perfectly timed–it’s one of those “hang out” movies Tarantino says he wants to make and never seems quite able to pull off–but it’s too slight. It’s too fast for everything going on and needs another fifteen minutes throughout. The ending is great in a way I’d see more Luc Besson films if I didn’t know better, but it’s not as good as it could be… the material before it doesn’t deserve it.

Willis… Jovovich… Holm… Tucker… I need to say something about Gary Oldman. Oldman’s gotten to be something of a punch-line (well, not really something of one) in the last ten years, but he’s fantastic as a villainous French (?) industrialist who speaks with a Texas accent. Either he had a great time doing it or he faked it really well. He is fun to watch in the film, just to see what he’s going to do next, which no longer describes his acting at all.

Maybe I’m just in the mood for long films right now, but I didn’t want The Fifth Element to end. I was enjoying it too much (Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who write terrible action movies together, somehow turned in a fantastic script).

But, still… I must remember… never, ever try to watch Joan of Arc.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Luc Besson; written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas), Gary Oldman (Zorg), Ian Holm (Cornelius), Milla Jovovich (Leeloo), Chris Tucker (Ruby Rhod), Luke Perry (Billy), Brion James (General Munro), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (President Lindberg), Lee Evans (Fog), Charlie Creed-Miles (David), Tricky (Right Arm), John Neville (General Staedert), John Bluthal (Professor Pacoli) and Mathieu Kassovitz (Mugger).


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Twelve Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam)

Twelve Monkeys is one of the more unhappy films. Unhappy films are difficult to pull off–The Godfather Part II is the finest example–but Monkeys does it. When I say unhappy, I don’t mean a sad ending or an unpleasing one or an unrewarding one. Not even a cynical or downbeat one. An unhappy film, if it does its job, sucks the empathy from the viewer and chucks it in an incinerator. The unhappy film leaves the viewer spent and unwilling to try again. They’re tragedies in the truest form and films, being the most commercial form of fiction–in a reasonable sense, I’m not counting television (with some notable exceptions, of course)–tend not to go too far in to real tragedy. A person wouldn’t want to see it again or, more modernly, double-dip on the DVD releases. To do it right is to make an experience worth the draining effect. These films are not infrequent (at least not during the period Monkeys was made), but they are somewhat occasional.

Monkeys has something else to make it a rarity, anyway. It has a script from David Webb Peoples, who hasn’t had a new script produced since Monkeys came out in 1995. While Gilliam might bring the mood of the film, the sets, the warped technology (and, according to IMDb, Willis and Pitt’s excellent performances), the Peoples (and Peoples, written with his wife) script brings the perfect plot structure–including a fantastic, three-act structured forty minute first act–and the romance.

If Gilliam is responsible for getting Willis’s great performance out of him, the Peoples got the stunning work out of Madeleine Stowe. I’m a big Stowe fan, lamenting her absence from cinema on a weekly basis, but I’d forgotten her performance in this film. It’s easily one of the finest performances in the 1990s, but probably since then too. Stowe’s function in the film is to convince the audience and she takes it to a level beyond, the one where it’s possible for Twelve Monkeys to be so depressing, but also so rewarding.

The film moves through time and frequent settings–whether the future or mental hospitals–the first act definitely establishes some common grounds. Then Stowe and Willis go on the road–the only defect has got to be some of the blue-screened driving composites, I was hoping they were some homage to Hitchcock, but I don’t think so–even though the settings still repeat and become the familiar, the terrain the film crosses in to is new. There’s a scene in the woods with Stowe and Willis fighting–she’s kicking him–and I realized I was watching a wholly unique moment of cinema. The best moment in the film, direction-wise, is that scene in the woods (as well as the scene returning to the woods). Gilliam is showing the viewer something he or she cannot see anywhere else; more, it’s impossible to incapsulate–to get the most from that scene, one has to watch what comes before and what comes after, regardless of how it turns out–which is what makes Twelve Monkeys one of those films. The rewards are in appreciating it.

Sometimes I think I’m remembering wrong and the 1990s wasn’t such a superior decade for filmmaking. Then I watch a film like Twelve Monkeys.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terry Gilliam; written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, based on the film La Jetée by Chris Marker; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Mick Audsley; music by Paul Buckmaster; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Charles Roven; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (James Cole), Madeleine Stowe (Kathryn Railly), Brad Pitt (Jeffrey Goines), Christopher Plummer (Dr. Goines), David Morse (Dr. Peters), Frank Gorshin (Dr. Fletcher), Jon Seda (Jose) and Joseph Melito (Young James).


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Live Free or Die Hard (2007, Len Wiseman)

Remember the “Simpsons” episode where Bart watches ‘Die Hard’ jump out the window? Live Free or Die Hard–the title, incidentally, has nothing to do with the film’s content–is the first one where I expected McClane’s nickname to be ‘Die Hard.’ They come close in terms of self-reference….

Still, as a Die Hard movie, it’s about as good as a Die Hard movie featuring Bruce Willis versus a fighter jet is going to get. It’s really well cast, which carries a lot of the film. Much like the third one, it follows the short codas of the first two–which are fine for those (i.e. with Bonnie Bedelia–has everyone else forgotten the first two Die Hard movies are like a Thin Man on angel dust?)–but the movie doesn’t have a closed narrative. It has a fake ending, not going on long enough. The immediate action is resolved, then it just stops.

That good casting is necessary–and Len Wiseman’s enthusiastic direction is helpful–because the writing is terrible. Willis has some good lines and he and Justin Long have some good scenes, but it’s incredibly stupid. The Die Hard movies kept their predicaments small and manageable–even the third one kept it within reason–but Live Free is crazy big: it’s the end of the world as we know it (something left unresolved).

For half the movie, I felt like the script came from John Carpenter’s unmade Escape from Earth.

It isn’t just the dumb ideas, but a lot of the setups. McClane’s stalking his daughter in this one, which makes little sense (especially since the image of him alone, his heroism costing him everything–conjured by a discussion–is so much more striking). Luckily, there’s a lot of decently executed action. Die Hard movies always create an aura of reality, usually because of Willis’s performance and the production design–and he makes the unbelievable Live Free palatable.

As a director, Wiseman has no personality, but he incorporates CG well enough. As a Die Hard movie with CG, which means it’s fundamentally broken but it is what it is and it’s fine.

Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Timothy Olyphant are all fine. Curtis is sturdy, Winstead is fiesty and Olyphant is hissable (if a little foppish).

As for McClane versus the fighter jet… it’s the kind of ‘too much’ even Willis can’t ground. Combined with that flimsy ending… There’s also the issue of Wiseman’s blue filters, which I won’t expand on, since I want to end on a high note:

Live Free or Die Hard isn’t the best it could be, but it’s far from the worst. It’s fine.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback, based on a story by Bomback and David Marconi; director of photography, Simon Duggan; edited by Nicolas de Toth; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Michael Fottrell; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Cliff Curtis (Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane).


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