Tag Archives: John Malkovich

Changeling (2008, Clint Eastwood)

During the lousiest parts of Changeling–easily identifiable by Jeffrey Donovan’s increased presence–there should be a disclaimer running across the bottom of the screen: “It doesn’t stay this bad… promise.”

Changeling is the worst film Clint Eastwood’s made in years. It’s easily the worst of his serious films–afterwards, I realized his last film before this one was Letters from Iwo Jima, which is stunning. One film’s an artistic expression, the other is the most over-produced Oscar bait I’ve sat through in a long time.

Eastwood’s never been a director-for-hire, but maybe Changeling signals some kind of a change. There’s absolutely no personality to this film. Eastwood’s direction, his composition, is impeccable. His musical score, fantastic. It looks great. But it’s empty. True stories aren’t good because they’re true–and true stories meant to win Angelina Jolie her coveted Best Actress statuette–vehicles for highly paid actresses who don’t necessarily bring in the box office dollars… they’re the worst kind of true stories.

Eastwood does find material in Changeling he’s interested in, but none of it features Jolie. Once he gets done with the fetishistic approach to daily life in 1928, he’s done with her. There are occasional moments of interest, like when John Malkovich shows up, but there are also terrible stretches. The film’s interesting moments are the discovery of a crime, when Michael Kelly’s the protagonist. Kelly’s great in the film, one of the best performances, and he gets the entirely un-Academy part of enabling the discovery of truth. The Oscar desperate moments feature–really–Amy Ryan as a hooker with a heart of gold who gets ECT just to show off her twenty-four karats.

I don’t fault Ryan for taking the role–I’m sure it came with assurances of a Best Supporting campaign and all–but Clint Eastwood making a film so desperate to win Oscars it brings in a ringer? It’s painful to watch.

Jolie’s fine in the lead. She’s never great and never terrible. Her despair is believable (because it’s Angelina Jolie and we know she’s a mother), which is about all the role calls for. The most interesting parts of her character–going back to work while her son is missing, digging a little on her bald boss–are never explored. They wouldn’t look good in that Best Actress reel.

Malkovich is utterly solid in a role with nothing for him to do. It’s technically the second biggest role and I guess they needed another name for the poster. Jason Butler Harner and Eddie Alderson are both great, so is Geoffrey Pierson.

When I heard about Changeling, I thought the biggest problem would be J. Michael Straczynski’s script and I was right. The dialogue’s fine–never particularly good–and the plotting is okay. It’s boring, but okay. But Straczynski’s approach to characters might actually be Changeling‘s place in cinematic history (in addition to being a blot on Eastwood’s filmography). Straczynski’s characters are entirely one-note–every last one of them–and it exemplifies the difference between one-dimensional bad guys and one-dimensional good guys. The bad guys are unbelievable. The good guys… it’s sort of assumed they’re not always being white knights. But the bad guys? Donovan’s performance is atrocious–it’s one of the worst I can remember seeing in a film from such a good director–but his character is idiotic too. The guy’s always bad. Compared to Donovan’s cop, Milton treated the serpent like Mickey Mouse. It makes the film excruciating for long stretches.

I can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood would have made this movie. Sure, he got a bigger budget than usual and an interesting setting, but it’s crap. It’s well-made crap, but I felt embarrassed watching it. Worse, I felt bad for Eastwood… Changeling is the kind of malarky Ron Howard makes now, not Clint Eastwood.

And look who produced it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by J. Michael Straczynski; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Eastwood; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Robert Lorenz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Angelina Jolie (Christine Collins), John Malkovich (Reverand Briegleb), Jeffrey Donovan (Captain J.J. Jones), Michael Kelly (Detective Ybarra), Colm Feore (Chief Davis), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Stewart Northcott), Amy Ryan (Carol Dexter), Geoff Pierson (Hahn), Denis O’Hare (Dr. Steele), Frank Wood (Ben Harris), Peter Gerety (Dr. Tarr), Gattlin Griffith (Walter Collins) and Devon Conti (Arthur Hutchins).


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Mutant Chronicles (2008, Simon Hunter)

Mutant Chronicles should have been better. I’m not sure it should have been good, but it should have been better. The film’s all digital, which allows for some post-production touches. Ron Perlman’s red robe, for example, appears to be done in post. I think the movie uses miniatures in combination with practical (though not many) and CG. It works to some degree… though I wonder if it would have looked better in black and white.

The reason for that musing isn’t just Thomas Jane’s presence, but also the first act’s setup of the film as a World War I picture. The opening, with trench warfare, owes more to that genre than anything else. As the story picks up–after a very British end-of-the-world section (though most of the dialogue is from John Malkovich, who manages to maintain some credibility even here, and Perlman, who affects a semi-Irish accent to decent effect)–it abandons that genre, going into a strange mix of 28 Days Later (the monsters in this movies are a mix of that film’s zombies and the Borg from “Star Trek”), the second Planet of the Apes movie and… I don’t know… something else. Maybe Hellboy, just for the giant machines.

Lots of the film is interesting to look at, even if the effects are more workman-like than superior, because of the steampunk designs. The coal-powered airships are pretty darn cool. And the special effects aren’t bad. The monsters in this one look a lot better than the video game ones in I Am Legend. The end of this movie does feature a challenge out of a video game for its characters though (I couldn’t help but think of Galaxy Quest).

I find myself referencing a lot of other films in this post simply because Mutant Chronicles is so derivative. There are a couple moments of storytelling ingenuity. Well, maybe one. The other really good moment is just because of the filmmaking. But the one well-conceived scene–no one can hear anyone, in a crisis situation, because it’s so noisy–works really well, establishing Mutant Chronicles–along with the filmmaking creativity–as a film not to dismiss outright.

The acting from Perlman, Jane (who could do better, but is solid) and Sean Pertwee is good. Benno Fürmann seems very underused. Steve Toussaint and Luis Echegaray are both all right. Devon Aoki and Tom Wu are atrocious. They have lots of lines together and trying to figure out who is worse does provide some amusement through a bad CG period.

The problem with the movie is the approach. The filmmakers go with an expository narration from Perlman, who can deliver narration just fine, but it’s stupid. It treats the viewer like an idiot… the details of the setting and the political yada yada behind it are sci-fi genre nonsense. The story’s a film standard (group of assorted people go on a suicide mission) and doesn’t require a lot of malarky attached to it. Had director Hunter–who can definitely mix film tools to decent effect, even if his direction of actors is poor and his composition is mediocre–kept with that war tone of the first act… it would have been something interesting.

Instead, Mutant Chronicles plays like something one would watch in a motel in the middle of the night, ignoring it the first time through the channels as a “Sci-Fi Original Movie” only to stop on the second time through because there’s something compelling about it….

Compelling enough for insomnia at the La Quinta anyway.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Simon Hunter; screenplay by Philip Eisner, based on the game by Target Games; director of photography, Geoff Boyle; edited by Sean Barton and Alison Lewis; music by Richard Wells; production designer, Caroline Greville-Morris; produced by Stephen Belafonte, Tim Dennison, Peter La Terriere, Pras and Edward R. Pressman; released by Voltage Pictures.

Starring Thomas Jane (Maj. Mitch Hunter), Ron Perlman (Brother Samuel), Devon Aoki (Cpl. Valerie Duval), Sean Pertwee (Capt. Nathan Rooker), Benno Fürmann (Lt. Maximillian von Steiner), John Malkovich (Constantine), Anna Walton (Severian), Tom Wu (Cpl. Juba Kim Wu), Steve Toussaint (Capt. John McGuire), Luis Echegaray (Cpl. Jesus de Barrera), Pras (Captain Michaels) and Shauna Macdonald (Adelaide).


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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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