Tag Archives: Jenny Agutter

Darkman (1990, Sam Raimi)

The last twenty or so minutes of Darkman are when director Raimi finally lets loose. He’s been building to it, hinting at how wacky the movie’s going to get, but it doesn’t all come together until the end. And the end is when Darkman has the most standard action sequences. There are big set pieces. Before, it’s all very constrained. It all looks great–probably better than those last twenty minutes, when composite shots kind of do in Raimi’s imagination–but it’s limited.

The end is exciting, imaginative madness.

Darkman’s problem throughout is the script, but more because the movie’s too short for the story it needs to tell than anything the five screenwriters do wrong. Until the end of the second act, the movie hops and skips through its present action. There are way too many MacGuffins, way too many contrivances; Raimi’s fidgety and he creates momentum and Darkman needs it for those script lulls. Almost nothing in the middle of the movie actually matters by the end. The movie’s killing time before the set pieces.

More so the beginning of the second act than the end of it, but still… it’s too short.

So Liam Neeson is a scientist who is working on fake skin for burn victims. It disintegrates after ninety-nine minutes. Unless it’s in the dark, which you’d think might have something to do with the title, Darkman, because after Neeson is horribly burned and the doctors cut off his nerve receptors so he can’t feel pain (or any touch sensation) and he becomes super-strong, he needs the fake skin to exact vengeance. But he never uses it for extended periods of time in the dark.

He apparently uses the dark thing for storage purposes, but even the storage thing is just a sight gag.

Neeson’s girlfriend, Frances McDormand, is a lawyer who comes across a document bad guy Larry Drake wants. And he kills Neeson for it. Or so he thinks. Drake and his band of ultra-violent, but darkly comical goons blow up Neeson’s lab. His lab is also his apartment, which seems like a zoning problem, but whatever.

Added to the convolution is Colin Friels as McDormand’s… client? It’s unclear the professional relationship, but after Neeson “dies,” Friels puts the moves on McDormand. Though mostly offscreen apparently. Because McDormand disappears once Neeson starts his vengeance mission. Most of that mission is just killing off Drake’s goons. It seems like there might have been a plan in some cut scenes or a different draft of the script. It’s okay, eventually, because once McDormand comes back, Neeson’s character arc is more about how he’s going crazy from not having any touch sensation. And inventively and graphically killing the bad guys.

The visuals on Neeson losing his self-control are these fantastic montage sequences. There’s some montage to summarize his attempts at making his fake skin work too, but it’s function, not fervent. The madness montages are awesome. Inexplicably the last one, when Neeson needs to power up his adrenalin (he also has uncontrollable adrenalin for super-Darkman strength), is super short. It’s restrained, while everything else in the finale is outrageous. Raimi’s able to get away with a lot of bad composite shots just because the action’s so excessive. Not that montage, however.

But Neeson’s not just making fake skin faces of himself, he’s doing it of the bad guys to fool the other bad guys. So while Neeson’s performance is getting loopier and loopier, it only plays out when he’s opposite McDormand, which really isn’t much. They have three scenes together after she finds out he’s alive. Two of them really short. Otherwise, it’s Drake pretending he’s Neeson pretending his Drake or Nicholas Worth pretending he’s Neeson pretending he’s Nicholas Worth. There’s actually not a lot of the impersonation so Raimi never really figures out how to do them. The movie’s too short.

The movie dawdles through its first half, finally picking up in the second, and then getting really good in the finale. Only it’s too late. It’s not too little–there’s some awesome stuff in the third act–but it’s definitely too late.

Neeson’s good. He needs about ten more minutes to play the character after the “recovery” arc completes. Instead he basically gets a scene; it’s too bad, because his performance gets much more interesting as it goes along. McDormand’s fine. Her arc is similarly underwhelming. She does get a great visual cue for development in the first act, which Raimi sadly drops. The film’s not confident enough with his extravagances. Or more like the studio isn’t confident enough with his extravagances.

Drake’s good. He’s maybe in the movie too much. Friels’s isn’t in it enough, especially not after he gets to let loose. Friels and Neeson, who only have a scene together, both find ways to match the film’s peculiar intensities.

The goons are all fine. Though Rafael H. Robledo is in the film the most and has the least to do. Like, he’s just a goon. He’s not weird like the rest of them. He’s just got a scar and a ponytail.

Bill Pope’s photography, composites aside, is excellent. So is the editing–from Bud S. Smith and David Stiven.

Danny Elfman’s score is fine. It’s basically his Batman score from the year before, but it’s fine. It’s effective without being distinctive.

Darkman is seventy exceptionally competent, enthusiastic minutes before twenty minutes of sublime madness. It’s a shame Raimi couldn’t get the finale’s intensity through the whole thing. There are plenty of real, practical reasons he couldn’t, but he does hint at that intensity to come, so it’s still a damned shame.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, and Joshua Goldin, based on a story by Sam Raimi; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bud S. Smith and David Stiven; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Randy Ser; produced by Rob Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Liam Neeson (Peyton Westlake), Frances McDormand (Julie Hastings), Larry Drake (Robert G. Durant), Colin Friels (Louis Strack Jr.), Rafael H. Robledo (Rudy Guzman), Dan Bell (Smiley), Nicholas Worth (Pauly), Dan Hicks (Skip), Ted Raimi (Rick), Nelson Mashita (Yakitito), and Jenny Agutter (doctor).


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An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

There’s a lot of good stuff about An American Werewolf in London–for example, Landis doesn’t have a single joke fall flat–but something about it just doesn’t work.

Something Landis doesn’t do, as a director. I can’t quite put a label on it, since he does so many things well. Like the English setting.

With Robert Paynter’s photography, even when the English are acting stereotypically unfunny, it seems perfectly real. During these sequences, in the second half of the film, it also feels like Landis is doing a deliberate, thoughtful look at someone becoming a werewolf.

Only, he’s really not, because David Naughton’s wolf man is barely a character. Landis just thinks of good scenes and executes them mediocrely.

Maybe if Malcolm Campbell’s editing weren’t so disjointed and awful, Landis could get away with it better. The editing is rather awful–so bad I would forgive all the stupid dream sequences, if only they’d been well cut.

Without the dreams, Landis might have had time to create a real character for Naughton. He sort of coasts through the film, assuming he’s charming enough for it to work.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly John Woodvine and Brian Glover. Jenny Agutter is fine. Griffin Dunne is occasionally awful, usually due to script problems, but mostly good.

The special effects are similarly problematic. The transformation is neat and amazing, but the actual design for the werewolf is a complete yawn.

The film has a lot of potential… too bad most of it is unrealized.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Landis; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; produced by George Folsey Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Naughton (David Kessler), Jenny Agutter (Nurse Alex Price), Griffin Dunne (Jack Goodman), John Woodvine (Dr. J.S. Hirsch), Lila Kaye (Barmaid), Joe Belcher (Truck Driver), David Schofield (Dart Player) and Brian Glover (Chess Player).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) / AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997).

Burke & Hare (2010, John Landis)

I don’t know how Landis could have a more indistinct return to feature directing than Burke & Hare. The film manages to be completely professional in all aspects–though the use of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” so well identified with Benny & Joon, is questionable. There are occasional Landis touches, but nothing really approaching any personality for the film or its characters.

The script goes to rehabilitate the image of the historic murderers Burke and Hare by making them lovable, funny men, so there’s not much for the film to do. But it doesn’t even do what its conclusion implies. For a ninety minute film, there’s a lot going on–besides the titular characters murdering people to supply cadavers, there’s a competition between two surgeons (a wonderful Tom Wilkinson and a goofy Tim Curry) and then Burke’s romance of a dance hall girl (or whatever they were called in 1820s Scotland).

As Burke, Simon Pegg is a secondary character until the movie’s half over. The first half is spent mostly on Andy Serkis’s Hare. Pegg does well in his scenes with love interest Isla Fisher (who’s occasionally good and always genial) but his scenes with Serkis don’t work. Serkis isn’t a movie star, Pegg is. There’s something off in the chemistry.

Jessica Hynes is good as Serkis’s wife, Michael Smiley’s excellent as Wilkinson’s sidekick… there really aren’t any bad performances.

Landis shoots it Panavision, which seems a little much. The film is still cramped.

It’s inoffensively without any value.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Mark Everson; music by Joby Talbot; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Entertainment Film Distributors.

Starring Simon Pegg (William Burke), Andy Serkis (William Hare), Isla Fisher (Ginny), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Knox), Jessica Hynes (Lucky Hare), Tim Curry (Dr. Monroe), Michael Smiley (Patterson), Ronnie Corbett (Captain McLintock), David Schofield (Fergus), David Hayman (Danny McTavish), Allan Corduner (Nicephore), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Harrington), Bill Bailey (Hangman), with John Woodvine (Lord Provost), Jenny Agutter (Lucy) and Christopher Lee (Old Joseph).


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Child's Play 2 (1990, John Lafia)

When George Miller made the third Mad Max, he got someone else to direct the kids. John Lafia had directed one movie prior to Child’s Play 2—maybe someone should have made a similar suggestion. Under Lafia’s direction, ten-year old Alex Vincent’s performance is an abject disaster. The performance is so terrible, it isn’t even amusing. Lafia manages to suck the “so bad it’s good” right out from it.

I’ve seen some of Child’s Play 2 before. Years ago, it used to play a lot on some channel and I know I caught the end at least twice. The end is probably the best part of the movie, if only because the lapses in logic aren’t as pronounced and at least it’s going to be over soon. There are so many plot holes, one would have to watch the movie with a pen and paper ready. They’re usually just the stupid ones—like why does Christine Elise McCarthy, with the killer doll on her bumper, run into a pole when there’s a wall (the impact would crush the doll) about six feet away. Or, my personal favorite, how come no one ever discovers the murder victims? There are at least two who should be discovered—they have jobs, people will miss them—and nothing. It’s like Don Mancini couldn’t be bothered with any logic.

If I hadn’t seen the first one, I’d probably dismiss this movie as a failed concept, something without any possibilities. But the first one’s well-done so this sequel obviously has problems. Lafia’s probably the biggest. Well, no. I suppose the lack of budget is the biggest problem.

But Lafia can’t direct Vincent or McCarthy or Jenny Agutter or anyone else. He can’t even direct cinematographer Stefan Czapsky. The whole thing’s shot with this distorting lens—to show the world from Vincent’s perspective perhaps—and it’s silly. Czapsky can do the shot, but Lafia doesn’t seem to understand why he asked for it.

There’s lots of special acting too. Jenny Agutter’s performance is horrid. Grace Zabriskie is bad too. Greg Germann approaches all right in a small role. Gerrit Graham is good. McCarthy is bad but likable enough. She’s fine, compared to the rest of the cast.

Writer Mancini’s approach to the killer doll is different here. He’s more of a central character, but there’s no suspense. The movie completely fails to frighten, which instead leaves one to concentrate on the characters’ fear. Except none of the characters are smart enough to be afraid.

I’m real mad Agutter’s death scene was off screen. I think if they’d left it in, the experience would be rather cathartic. Besides her, the only character I really wished harm would befall is Vincent. The kid’s obnoxious and the role’s a writing disaster. However, Lafia doesn’t deliver. It’s weird to watch the deserving killer doll in trouble—Brad Dourif does a fine job with the voice work—and feel bad because it isn’t the innocent little kid.

And Graeme Revell’s music is okay too. Oh, and the big reveal when McCarthy discovers the doll is alive is well done.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Lafia; written by Don Mancini; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Graeme Ravell; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by David Kirschner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Jenny Agutter (Joanne Simpson), Gerrit Graham (Phil Simpson), Christine Elise McCarthy (Kyle), Brad Dourif (Chucky), Grace Zabriskie (Grace Poole), Peter Haskell (Sullivan), Beth Grant (Miss Kettlewell) and Greg Germann (Mattson).


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