Tag Archives: Michael Ironside

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE O CANADA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RUTH OF SILVER SCREENINGS and KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY


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Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

Highlander II: The Quickening has had a reputation as a sequel disaster since its release. Outside of “Starlog” write-ups, did anyone ever pretend to be excited about this film? But since its initial release (and multiple home video re-releases with different editing), The Quickening has actually gotten to be a wonderful time capsule of its era and situation.

The film is desperate. It goes all out. People like hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II, let’s have hoverboards. The ladies liked stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery with long hair in the first one, let’s do all long hair in the second one. Highlander 2 ought to be subtitled Big Hair and Big Swords because it’s desperate enough to give villain Michael Ironside long hair, presumably to make him… sexy?

Now. Ironside. Real quick. He ought to look embarrassed and he doesn’t. He gets through. John C. McGinley not so much, but Ironside gets through. He’s the lamest early nineties movie villain–a mix of the savage punk villain from the previous Highlander and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman–but Ironside does get through it.

Sean Connery’s actually okay enough. Lambert’s bad but how could anyone be good. He’s so bad he’s better under the old age make-up at the beginning than when he’s young again.

Virginia Madsen is not good as the love interest. It’s a terrible part, but she’s still not good. Oh, look, a metaphor for the entire film. It’s terrible for multiple reasons, but it could never be good. Even when Highlander 2 does something right for a little while, it gets screwed up. Director Mulcahy has a handful of decent concepts, but they’re either too short or ultimately fail. And when it seems like a perfect Mulcahy moment–many of the sets are enormous so Mulcahy can do his swinging crane shots–he never takes advantage. It’s puzzling and disconcerting.

Weird score from Stewart Copeland, weirder pop soundtrack. Both are bad, but interesting in their weirdness. Like everything else, they’re desperate to appear hip. Peter Bellwood’s lousy script apes corporations as bad guys from Robocop and Total Recall, bringing along poor Ironside from that latter as well. Highlander 2 is a sequel to a cable and home video hit desperately trying to be a cable and home video hit.

I suppose it’s oddly appropriate a film about immortality is also such a perfect time capsule of a popular filmmaking era. It’s such a perfect example of it, I’m only moderately embarrassed to have written over 400 words about it right now.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


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Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

Total Recall opens with some of the best music Jerry Goldsmith has ever scored. It then moves on to a sci-fi sequence, set on Mars, and Verhoeven soon gets in his first animatronic head. There are a lot of animatronic heads, which get exposed to atmosphere and explode or get turned into grenades and so on. Some of these sequences are entirely unnecessary and it’s just Verhoeven showing off.

Most of Recall is along those lines. It’s Verhoeven showing off. He mixes a rough, violent action picture with a high-minded sci-fi story and the result is rather successful. There are a handful of bad performances, but Schwarzenegger’s fine in the lead and the movie’s mostly him so it works out. There are also a bunch of good performances; while they can’t overcome the bad ones, they help.

Worst are Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside. Stone’s just plain bad, nothing special, but Ironside’s in a spot in Recall. He’s this big heavy (supposedly) but he’s opposite Ronny Cox, who knows how to play a big heavy. Ironside gets chewed up in their scenes together.

Mel Johnson Jr. is fairly awful, but Rachel Ticotin is all right. Marshall Bell and Ray Baker are great.

The film’s greatest asset is Verhoeven. He manages to make it a slyly absurdist comedy. With editors Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente, he constructs these wonderful tight scenes. His composition isn’t particularly thoughtful; he’s utilizing forceful action in the shots.

It’s pretty darned good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, based on a screen story by Shusett, O’Bannon and Jon Povill and a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Shusett and Buzz Feitshans; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid), Rachel Ticotin (Melina), Sharon Stone (Lori), Ronny Cox (Vilos Cohaagen), Michael Ironside (Richter), Marshall Bell (George), Mel Johnson Jr. (Benny), Michael Champion (Helm), Roy Brocksmith (Dr. Edgemar) and Ray Baker (Bob McClane).


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Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy), the international version

When subjecting myself to Highlander II, I wanted to find the worst version possible. Over the years, the director and then the producers have returned to the film and tried to edit the footage into something more palatable. Of course, these attempts are not just hampered by the use of existing footage (it’s not like there’s some great version lost out there), but also by the fact the film’s one of the worst acted motion pictures in the medium (at least by professional actors).

So the version I watched has all the alien planet references, which contradict the first movie, among other assaults on the intellect. Given I don’t like the first one–it’s far better than this one though–I don’t really care about the continuity. I care more about things like Christopher Lambert essentially forcing himself on Virginia Madsen. One of his new magical powers is Love Potion #9… or she just got Stockholm Syndrome super fast.

Madsen might give the best performance. Either her or Sean Connery. Both are pretty bad by regular standards, but when they’re giving these performances amid Lambert, Michael Ironside (who might give a worse performance than Lambert, which is extraordinary) and John C. McGinley (did he ever work again after this one?)….

I spent about half the movie wondering what a well-budgeted, well-scripted Russell Mulcahy effort would be like–then remembered the Shadow (which is superb). Even though he’s shooting idiotic material and bad performances, Mulcahy’s talent is clearly visible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


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