Tag Archives: Cliff Curtis

Three Kings (1999, David O. Russell)

Three Kings ought to appeal to every one of my liberal affections–director Russell very seriously wants to look at the Gulf War and how it failed the people it should have been protecting. Over and over, Russell goes out of his way to make the American soldiers take responsibility. Not for the war itself, but for their personal involvement with it and the Iraqis. Not just Iraqi civilians, but the army too. It’s very deliberate and precisely executed. It’s just not enough to drive the entire film; nothing in Three Kings is compelling enough overall.

Political statement aside, there’s a lot of other distinct elements to the film. There’s the writing–Russell’s script is quite funny–lots of inane and mundane details. But it’s also rather responsible, at least while Russell’s establishing the ground situation. Russell sets up an excellent tone and structure to the characters and their relationships. Even though some of the film takes place on an army base, it always feels very small. Maybe because Russell has title overlays identifying the main characters. With amusing commentary, of course.

Then there’s the style. Three Kings is very stylized; high contrast Newton Thomas Sigel photography, very quick cuts, some very slow cuts, some slow motion. Russell directs his actors for this exaggerated style, but with only marginal success. Ice Cube and George Clooney, for instance, have nothing parts. Russell gives all the character material to Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze. Neither of them is bad, though Jonze can’t handle the transition between being an uneducated racist redneck to a soulful world traveller. He doesn’t really need to do much after that change because Russell’s moved on to focusing on Wahlberg. Wahlberg’s all right for the first act, but has this big subplot to himself and he can’t hack it. So Jonze and Wahlberg getting the most outlandish direction makes sense. They need the most cover.

By the third act, however, Russell has given in to the comedy a little much. He has Nora Dunn and Jamie Kennedy for the comic relief but he takes it even further. It starts to get absurd, which–were Three Kings more successful–should raise some issues about Russell’s political statements.

Great supporting performances. Cliff Curtis, Dunn, Saïd Taghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Holt McCallany. Kennedy’s annoying and probably should signal Russell’s eventual tone problems, but he’s good with Dunn. Williamson is awesome opposite Clooney. Then ppor Taghmaoui has to carry Wahlberg in their important (and informative) showdowns.

Decent music from Carter Burwell. Robert K. Lambert’s editing is probably exactly what Russell wanted, though some of the cuts aren’t graceful enough. Three Kings takes place in all of us, Russell demands the audience engage. Three Kings needs more script busywork and far less technical busywork. It also needs a director more concerned about his actors.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David O. Russell; screenplay by Russell, based on a story by John Ridley; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Catherine Hardwicke; produced by Charles Roven, Paul Junger Witt and Edward McDonnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief Elgin), Spike Jonze (Conrad Vig), Cliff Curtis (Amir Abdulah), Nora Dunn (Adriana Cruz), Jamie Kennedy (Walter Wogaman), Saïd Taghmaoui (Captain Said), Mykelti Williamson (Colonel Horn), Holt McCallany (Captain Van Meter) and Judy Greer (Cathy Daitch).


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Push (2009, Paul McGuigan)

It’s understandable Push bombed at the box office. It’s hard to find a film so with much intelligence in the filmmaking, casting and acting applied to such a subpar script. Strangely, David Bourla’s script isn’t bad in regard to dialogue—there are some great exchanges between Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans—or in how it’s plotted—the narrative twists and turns resemble those in a heist movie. Where it fails is in creating an engaging setting—Push is a superhero movie where everyone has boring superpowers (it sort of feels like Summit wanted a teen superhero franchise to go along with Twilight).

Director McGuigan picked the film’s Hong Kong setting because he wanted something exotic a la Casablanca… and it does work. Fanning and Evans are basically Bogart and Rains here—a mildly abrasive, endearing chemistry. But maybe McGuigan worrying about bringing that sensibility to a superpowers movie just can’t truly work with the silly concept. In fact, McGuigan constantly works against the superpowers element.

I’d never seen Fanning in anything; I was shocked how good her performance is in this film. She and Evans are fantastic together. It’s distressing Bourla could write this great relationship between them, but couldn’t not be goofy when writing the script in general. Push shows why an established mythology is easier to adapt than to create.

Push might be better if you’re a fifteen year-old, albeit one who wants to see a superhero movie more like Casablanca than Iron Man.

Still, it’s okay.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by David Bourla; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Neil Davidge; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Bruce Davey, William Vince and Glenn Williamson; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Nick Gant), Dakota Fanning (Cassie Holmes), Camilla Belle (Kira Hudson), Djimon Hounsou (Henry Carver), Ming-Na (Emily Hu) and Cliff Curtis (Hook Waters).


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The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky)

If you were to tell me I was going to react the way I did to The Fountain, Aronofsky’s dream project, I wouldn’t have believed you. While The Wrestler succeeded, Aronofsky didn’t write it. All my experience with his screenplays is negative.

In terms of how the film works, The Fountain is somewhat singular. It’s a rather straightforward narrative masquerading as a sci-fi event picture. It’s insane to think anyone would have given Aronofsky seventy-five million dollars to make this picture (with Brad Pitt, no less, who couldn’t have handled the acting). Hugh Jackman has to be three different people who are occasionally the same person, but don’t know about the other people, but are aware of the other people. It’s probably Jackman’s best performance.

I sat and waited for The Fountain‘s ending to fail, since the whole thing is about the ending. It never does.

Aronofsky’s direction is fantastic, as he incorporates special effects into his shots and to the way Jackman’s character experiences those special effects. Simply because what happens to Dave Bowman doesn’t matter to anyone but Dave Bowman and the viewer, The Fountain and its treatment of Jackman’s experiences is the first film to do it in this manner since 2001.

It seems like a great waste of budget to have these big space scenes with only one character experiencing them.

The Fountain is an experience for the character and the individual viewer. It’s hostile to the idea of an audience or communal reaction.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; screenplay by Aronofsky, based on a story by Aronofsky and Ari Handel; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, James Chinlund; produced by Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith and Eric Watson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Tommy), Rachel Weisz (Izzi), Ellen Burstyn (Dr. Lillian Guzetti), Mark Margolis (Father Avila), Stephen McHattie (Grand Inquisitor Silecio), Fernando Hernandez (Lord of Xibalba), Cliff Curtis (Captain Ariel), Sean Patrick Thomas (Antonio), Donna Murphy (Betty), Ethan Suplee (Manny), Richard McMillan (Henry) and Lorne Brass (Dr. Alan Lipper).


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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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