Tag Archives: Kiefer Sutherland

Dark City (1998, Alex Proyas), the director’s cut

I’m not sure if anything actually goes wrong with Dark City. There’s the significant music problem (Trevor Jones’s score seems more appropriate for a car commercial; it’s missing any subtext or delicacy), but there’s nothing else wrong. The acting is all fantastic–Richard O’Brien gives the best performance, making his evil alien human–and Alex Proyas composes fantastic shots.

The action-packed ending does seem a little off, both in terms of story and direction, I suppose. Proyas seems to be making a loud action picture instead of the quiet, peculiar one he was making a few minutes before. He’s got to visualize super-telepathy and it comes off poorly. Dark City‘s probably filled with references to other films–the one I noticed during the majority of the film was Metropolis, but the end mimics the Krypton destruction from Superman. The tone really doesn’t fit.

But where I wish Proyas had taken more time was with the characters. The last line implies the whole film’s been about characters, but it wasn’t. One of the major reveals (in this director’s cut, anyway… in the original version, there aren’t any reveals) makes the characters having great importance, overall, problematic if not impossible. And the end sort of ignores that condition, even though the end only exists because of that condition.

It’s very confusing… as is the problem of food in the film. No one seems to eat.

Proyas opens Dark City as a Panavision, vividly lighted film noir (or tries to) but there’s clearly something off. He loves the style though, as his introduction of Jennifer Connelly demonstrates. She’s a lounge singer and he goes through great lengths to bring that scene–an absolutely useless one, narratively–in as well as he can. But its narrative superfluousness is almost immediately apparent (Connelly subsequently has a real scene); tight as he is with his direction–until that last fight scene–Proyas is exceptionally loose with the script. He concentrates on the unimportant. There’s one particular scene–O’Brien and Rufus Sewell–where O’Brien tells Sewell his secret and it’s such a bad, expositional, needless line, I sat bewildered for the next thirty seconds.

The film’s very romantic–Sewell and Connelly, William Hurt’s solitary noir detective–but Proyas’s handling of the material is cynical. He’s not interested in the human component, except in minute doses. Sometimes, like O’Brien’s frequent ones, it works. Most times it simply isn’t enough.

Like I said before, all the acting’s good, with Sewell an excellent leading man, Connelly even better when she’s in the lead (but it doesn’t last long, only until Sewell can assume the protagonist role), and Hurt steady. Hurt’s performance is a fully competent, completely assured turn… but he seems the wrong choice for it. Of course he can do the performance, but it’s William Hurt–he can do a lot more. When it’s him and Connelly for the first third, it’s real good. Kiefer Sutherland’s fine as the mad scientist too. But towards the end he sort of becomes the lead character for a while and that approach might have been a better one for Proyas to take.

I haven’t seen Dark City for eight or nine years–about twenty minutes in, I remembered the original DVD was an early reference disc–and I’m not sure I watched it more than once initially. Its epical plot concerns itself so much with providing an intriguing journey–not to mention the visual sumptuousness–there’s something missing in terms of emotional engagement. The acting makes up for some of that absence, but given how often the script works intentionally and directly against such an engagement… it can only do so much.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alex Proyas; screenplay by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Proyas; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Trevor Jones; production designers, George Liddle and Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Andrew Mason and Proyas; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Rufus Sewell (John Murdoch), William Hurt (Inspector Frank Bumstead), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Daniel P. Schreber), Jennifer Connelly (Emma Murdoch), Richard O’Brien (Mr. Hand), Ian Richardson (Mr. Book), Bruce Spence (Mr. Wall), Colin Friels (Det. Eddie Walenski), John Bluthal (Karl Harris), Mitchell Butel (Officer Husselbeck), Melissa George (May) and Frank Gallacher (Chief Insp. Stromboli).


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Article 99 (1992, Howard Deutch)

Director of not one, not two, but three 1980s John Hughes movies, Howard Deutch applies those hard-earned skills to remaking M*A*S*H and, shockingly, doesn’t do too bad of a job. Sure, Article 99 is absurd and Lea Thompson as a doctor is a hoot, but its well-intentioned and sensitive to its characters. I’d heard of the movie before–I think I even have an Article 99 scrub shirt–but I thought it was a period piece, set either during Vietnam or just after. Instead, it’s set in modernity, which allows for the villains to be Republicans without military service who are trying to save a buck at the expense of veterans. Kind of eerie, isn’t it?

Even with a terrible opening–after a moderately classy, if way too forced Americana title sequence–pissed off vet Leo Burmester (nicknamed Shooter) tries to take the hospital hostage. It’s a loony sequence, but it introduces all of the characters pretty well and is one of the few times Article 99 is trying to be its own thing, instead of that M*A*S*H remake. It’s also the first time Danny Elfman reuses some of his more famous scores in Article 99 (though his love theme for the film, which seems to be an original, is nice). Following that sequence, Article 99 calms down a bit. There are hijinks, evil bureaucrats and so on, but it doesn’t jar the viewer’s suspension of disbelief until the end.

The reason Article 99 succeeds, even with the cartoonishness, is its actors. Kiefer Sutherland is earnest (even if his character making it through medical school seems unlikely) and likable. Forest Whitaker and John C. McGinley are good in supporting roles. I already mentioned the unbearably terrible Thompson, but Deutch seemed to realize it and only kept ten of her lines in the picture. But there’s Eli Wallach and Keith David to make up for it. Wallach has some great scenes with Sutherland and some great dialogue too (the script’s got a bunch of good one liners). David’s the all-knowing vet and even though the character’s goofy, David makes it work. John Mahoney’s villain is a solid John Mahoney villain, if a little less ruthless (he doesn’t get to kill anyone) than the usual.

I saved this paragraph just for Ray Liotta and Kathy Baker. Liotta’s performance–a leading man performance–is fantastic. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t make it as a lead, just because he’s so obvious great at it. Except then there’s the romance with Baker. Their courtship–and Elfman’s score for it–is one of the best things about Article 99, even if it seems totally out of place, both in terms of plot and quality.

Article 99 has its highs and lows, but wisely starts at its lowest point (the silly plot development at the end is more palatable after Burmester driving his car into the hospital in the opening). There’s a real sincerity to it, not just in the approach to the content, but also in the presentation of it. Liotta has a scene where he lectures amoral boss Mahoney on the duties of VA doctors and makes it work. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Ron Cutler; director of photography, Richard Bowen; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Virginia L. Randolph; produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Dr. Richard Sturgess), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Peter Morgan), Forest Whitaker (Dr. Sid Handleman), Lea Thompson (Dr. Robin Van Dorn), John C. McGinley (Dr. Rudy Bobrick), John Mahoney (Dr. Henry Dreyfoos), Keith David (Luther Jermoe), Kathy Baker (Dr. Diana Walton), Eli Wallach (Sam Abrams), Noble Willingham (Inspector General), Julie Bovasso (Amelia Sturdeyvant), Troy Evans (Pat Travis), Lynne Thigpen (Nurse White), Jeffrey Tambor (Dr. Leo Krutz), Leo Burmester (Shooter Polaski), Ernest Abuba (Ikiro Tenabe) and Rutanya Alda (Ann Travis).


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Crazy Moon (1987, Allan Eastman)

Crazy Moon appears to be a Canadian attempt at a John Hughes movie. In order to differentiate, they make the female lead deaf, which then makes Crazy Moon no longer in the Hughes vein–Kiefer Sutherland’s lead is also weird in a very non-Hughes way–and for much of the film then, they’re failing to meet that bad standard. Instead, Crazy Moon is charming. It’s too likable characters spending time together, with old standards playing a little too loud in the background. After the movie goes through its hurried plot-points–the third act takes up maybe six minutes–it all of a sudden becomes that terrible Canadian imitation of John Hughes it seemed ravenous to become. Sutherland’s character changes in a split second, but it turns out the big change wasn’t necessary because everything gets resolved real neat within a minute. Maybe two minutes, but short enough the song for the showdown with his brother is also the song for the end credits.

In terms of acting, Sutherland does a real good job throughout Crazy Moon. His essaying of the character does work the script should have done (like establishing off-screen emotional trauma). Peter Spence, who plays his brother, is rather bland, but his scenes with Sutherland do get a lot of work done. If the film had actual layers, instead of the illusion of layers, Spence’s performance would be more important, but as it stands, it’s fine. As the love interest, Vanessa Vaughan is good. At times though, she’s visibly bored. Maybe it’s just been a while since I’ve seen an eighties movie–with the stalking lead–but a lot of Crazy Moon works only because she’s hung up (something never really addressed) about being deaf.

Still, it’s just as pleasant of a viewing experience as it always was… though I can’t believe I never noticed the omnipresent boom mikes. The direction’s unremarkable throughout, never dipping up or down; the camera sits there and lets the action play out. Given Crazy Moon‘s finest assets are Sutherland and Vaughan’s appealing performances (not the choppy script), it’s a fine approach.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Allan Eastman; written and produced by Tom Berry and Stefan Wodoslawsky; director of photography, Savas Kalogeras; edited by Franco Battista; music by Lou Forestieri; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Kiefer Sutherland (Brooks), Vanessa Vaughan (Anne), Peter Spence (Cleveland), Ken Pogue (Alec), Eve Napier (Mimi), Sean McCann (Anne’s father) and Bronwen Mantel (Anne’s mother).


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The Three Musketeers (1993, Stephen Herek)

There’s a cruelty of home video. I can watch The Three Musketeers, which I liked as a fifteen year-old, and loathe myself for that previous affection.

What can I say about this film? A lot, actually. One, I had no idea Disney let so many people get killed quite so graphically. Two, Charlie Sheen is good. Who ever thought they’d type a sentence like that? Oliver Platt is appealing and Michael Wincott is a good villain.

The rest is crap. Terrible writing (by the half-wit who wrote Star Trek V) and direction, Kiefer Sutherland tries but at most times he’s trying to be Han Solo or something, Tim Curry is playing one hiss-able villain too many and Chris O’Donnell is a crime against art. Of course, O’Donnell is always a crime against art, so I was expecting that. But he’s bad in this one, even for him.

Since I watched Man in the Iron Mask yesterday, it’s impossible not to make a few comparisons. I’ll spare you those. But something occurred to me about heroism as portrayed in film. Why was it effective in Iron Mask but not in Three Musketeers? Because there’s a beauty to fatalistic heroism. Jumping around in a rip of Empire Strikes Back (though, in hindsight of the prequel trilogy, maybe Three Musketeers had a better conclusion to the son avenging his father scene) is not fatalistic heroism. These guys aren’t straining to do the impossible. This reasoning goes way, way back, to when I first (actually, the only time) saw Con Air and Nicolas Cage announces he’s going “to save the day.” Well, he could have done it the whole time, and the audience knew he could do it and succeed, so why give a shit? That’s what Three Musketeers is like….

Oh, and Rebecca De Mornay sucks too. A lot. But not as much as Chris O’Donnell.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Herek; written by David Loughery, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by John F. Link; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Charlie Sheen (Aramis), Kiefer Sutherland (Athos), Chris O’Donnell (D’Artagnan), Oliver Platt (Porthos), Tim Curry (Cardinal Richelieu), Rebecca De Mornay (Lady Sabine DeWinter), Gabrielle Anwar (Queen Anne), Michael Wincott (Rochefort), Paul McGann (Girard), Julie Delpy (Constance) and Hugh O’Conor (King Louis).