Tag Archives: Keith David

Marked for Death (1990, Dwight H. Little)

The beginning of Marked for Death is nearly all right. It’s a prologue, with lead Steven Seagal–as a DEA agent–in Mexico, doing an undercover drug buy. Things go wrong. Until things go wrong, it’s not bad. Director Little has a lot of motion (which is fine when people are moving around, much less when he’s zooming in to try to keep conversations interesting) and it’s effectively tense. Then the action starts and it all goes to pot, because Little can’t direct an action scene, much less a martial arts scene for Seagal. Marked for Death just never clicks, even though it has most of the required pieces. A sense of humor would have made all the difference.

Seagal has some bad acting in the film, but not too much. He’s opposite actual good actors a lot of the time–Keith David, Tom Wright, Kevin Dunn–and they help the film. They don’t help Seagal’s performance. There’s not much one can do with the part–his DEA agent resigns only to get into a fight with a Jamaican drug lord. To make matters worse, the drug lord (Basil Wallace, who over-acts in the part), goes after Seagall’s family.

Along the way, Seagal drafts high school teacher David as his sidekick in vigilante mission. He also meets a girl–an awful Joanna Pacula–before heading to Jamaica for the showdown. The best parts in the film are some second unit establishing shots in Jamaica, amid palm tress.

Speaking of palm trees, the unbelievably inept chase scene–set in the Chicago suburbs–is littered with palm trees. After the film goes out of its way to establish the Chicagoland connection. Seagal just loves being a soulful Catholic Chicago dude. He should’ve remade the Blues Brothers.

If you look past how the film demonizes Jamaicans (they’re not characters or caricatures even, they’re boring monsters), Marked for Death is just goofy bad, with a lame score from James Newton Howard (who actually appears to be mocking the scenes he’s scoring at times), the crappy script from Michael Grais and Mark Victor, inept action editing. But, through it all, Little still manages to fail everyone else involved. His direction is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dwight H. Little; written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Grais, Victor and Steven Seagal; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Steven Seagal (John Hatcher), Joanna Pacula (Leslie), Keith David (Max), Tom Wright (Charles), Kevin Dunn (Lt. Sal Roselli), Elizabeth Gracen (Melissa), Bette Ford (Kate Hatcher), Al Israel (Tito Barco), Arlen Dean Snyder (Duvall), Victor Romero Evans (Nesta) and Basil Wallace (Screwface).


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They Live (1988, John Carpenter)

Maybe a third of They Live is amazing. The film has three distinct parts. The first, where Roddy Piper arrives in L.A.–Piper never gets a name and L.A. never gets identified, though director Carpenter obviously expects the viewer to recognize it and understand its use–is the best. It’s a Western, sort of. Piper’s the Man With No Name, only he’s not a bounty killer or a homesteader, he’s an unemployed construction worker. Carpenter’s screenplay quickly establishes him, establishes the ground situation; it’s a sensitive look at the working homeless with matter-of-fact presentation from Carpenter. Keith David quickly shows up as Piper’s sidekick. Carpenter has a good time with the bromance. Both Piper and David’s performances are the best in this part of the film.

The second part of the film is when They Live becomes a fifties sci-fi movie set in the eighties. Thirty minutes in, Piper discovers aliens out to subjugate the human race through the all mighty dollar. Carpenter goes big with the anti-commercialism sentiment and it works. There’s also just a strange vibe to the film during this part. Gary B. Kibbe’s flat but intricate photography–which works beautifully in the first third for juxtaposing paradise against squalor–does okay for Piper’s odyssey through the “real world” but doesn’t work when cut against the black and white “sci-fi world” shots. They Live’s budget is frequently a problem, particularly in the final third, but Carpenter never embraces the visuals of the fifties sci-fi paranoia.

Then Meg Foster shows up and there’s this shaky bridge to the final third of the film, which starts as hard sci-fi (well, as hard of sci-fi as a scene out of “V”) and descends quickly into lame action movie theatrics. Carpenter’s direction is weak during this part of the picture. He doesn’t have any of the interest he had in the beginning (or the middle).

Piper does okay for most of the film. He’s likable. He can’t handle the poorly written monologues but no one could. David’s better, but he too gets some weak lines. Foster’s mostly weak. The film takes place over a few days–it’s unclear–and her character’s sort of pointless. George ‘Buck’ Flower has an amusing small part.

They Live simultaneously has too much of a budget and not enough of one. Carpenter seems somewhat disinterested in what the film could do and busies himself with chunks of it, whether it’s the opening’s Reaganomics commentary or the middle’s L.A.-bound action thrills (and an awesome, exceptionally long fist fight between Piper and David). By the finish, there’s just nothing for Carpenter to do except end the movie. The postscript gags are better than anything else in the last thirty minutes, which is a big problem.

But there’s a lot of good stuff in They Live. Enough Carpenter should’ve taken it more seriously.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter, based on a short story by Ray Nelson; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Frank E. Jimenez and Gib Jaffe; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Roddy Piper (Nada), Keith David (Frank), Meg Foster (Holly), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Drifter), Peter Jason (Gilbert) and Raymond St. Jacques (The Street Preacher).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 3: THE ALIVE DUET.

Clockers (1995, Spike Lee)

Clockers opens with actual crime scene photos juxtaposed against filmed sequences of a crowd gathering to watch as the police arrive. Lee is dealing with a lot in the film and opening with that startling sequence—against a beautiful song—at least shocks the viewer into paying attention. Though the film is too apolitical to be “about” anything, it does require undivided attention.

What Lee does do, very carefully and very clearly, is dismiss notions of simple characters. At times, the cops—with the exception of Harvey Keitel—appear the simplest, only to eventually reveal their internal strife in conversational asides. Keitel, top-billed, acts on that strife, though he does not describe it.

The film’s protagonist, a young drug dealer played by Mekhi Phifer (who’s amazing in his first performance), very clearly shows contradictions. But even Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s vicious, heroin-addled psychopath has these moments where he’s showing real concern, just unable to express it. Delroy Lindo’s similarly vicious drug lord has them too, but even Phifer’s gang of subordinate dealers are full of the contradictions. Lee never draws attention to it, instead just presenting reality.

Of course, with Malik Hassan Sayeed’s high contrast photography and Terence Blanchard’s emotive score, the Brooklyn projects become as lush and green as a tropical paradise.

All of the performances are amazing—there’s not a good one or a mediocre one. Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor… everyone’s spectacular.

Instead of simplifying a novel adaptation, Lee furthered complicated it, creating something remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Richard Price and Lee, based on the novel by Price; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Samuel D. Pollard; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Jon Kilik, Lee and Martin Scorsese; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mekhi Phifer (Ronald ‘Strike’ Dunham), Harvey Keitel (Det. Rocco Klein), Delroy Lindo (Rodney Little), Isaiah Washington (Victor Dunham), John Turturro (Det. Larry Mazilli), Keith David (André the Giant), Peewee Love (Tyrone ‘Shorty’ Jeeter), Regina Taylor (Iris Jeeter), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Errol Barnes), Sticky Fingaz (Scientific), Fredro Starr (Go), Elvis Nolasco (Horace), Lawrence B. Adisa (Stan), Hassan Johnson (Skills), Frances Foster (Gloria) and Michael Imperioli (Detective Jo-Jo).


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Meet Monica Velour (2010, Keith Bearden)

In the listless younger man, experienced older woman genre, Meet Monica Velour is a painfully obvious modernization (the older woman is a former porn star, the younger man is an… avid fan). I use the ellipses because Meet Monica Velour’s protagonist is the finest example of the stalkers of the eighties growing up to be the leading men of today (which There’s Something About Mary proudly started).

The lead of Monica Velour is Dustin Ingram who does not look seventeen, even if he was nineteen shooting the film. He’s also not very good. When the film’s about him being this awkward youth (he lives with grandfather Brian Dennehy), the film’s really weak. Bearden fails to properly establish Dennehy as the grandfather, instead making one wonder why the kid’s calling his dad “Pop Pop.” It’s also unclear the kid’s a kid. The high school graduation scene seems out of place.

But Bearden’s casting of Jee Young Han as the object of Ingram’s affection is interesting, as she’s not a skinny beauty queen.

Velour gets consequential once Kim Cattrall arrives (as the titular character). She gives a stunning performance; I never thought Cattrall had the ability she shows here. Every line delivery is revelatory.

Great supporting (glorified cameo) from Keith David, who should have been in it more. The same goes for Dennehy.

Bearden doesn’t seem to have realized the lead role needed to be someone besides a boring kid (especially one played by Ingram).

But Cattrall’s performance makes Velour significant.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Keith Bearden; director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Andrew Hollander; production designer, Lou A. Trabbie III; produced by Gary Gilbert and Jordan Horowitz; released by Anchor Bay Films.

Starring Kim Cattrall (Linda), Dustin Ingram (Tobe), Sam McMurray (Ronnie), Tony Cox (Club Owner), Jee Young Han (Amanda), Daniel Yelsky (Kenny), Keith David (Claude) and Brian Dennehy (Pop Pop).


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