Tag Archives: Michael Madsen

Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The least violent part of Reservoir Dogs is the bloodiest. One of the characters is in a pool of blood, slipping on it as he delivers his dialogue. Director Tarantino finds a moment of Shakespearian tragedy and builds a film to it. He uses stylish ultra-violence, Dogs is visceral with the blood, but the action itself implies a far more frugal production. He uses seventies music, but not the trendy stuff. His somewhat fractured narrative, which owes something to classic film noir, wants to be an updated version of seventies crime. And he succeeds with it. Tarantino would never be able to get away with Dogs having actual tragedy if he weren’t able to sell everything else he packages with that tragedy.

Dogs acknowledges the idea of being outlandish exploitation but the film’s so tightly constructed, Tarantino never lets anything get wild. The film’s most “uncontrolled” sequence, as Michael Madsen does a freestyle torture dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You,” turns out to be Tarantino’s most controlled sequence in the film’s primary location, where everything is controlled. But with Madsen’s dance, Tarantino takes the time to acknowledge the various realities of the situation. He breaks the movie magic, not because he wants to offer commentary or deconstruct genre, but because the film needs reality. The tragedy doesn’t work with reality. Without the reality, Dogs wouldn’t be difficult. It’d be amusing, sure, but it wouldn’t require the viewer to mentally engage with the film.

And Tarantino starts with those demands on the viewer right off. The first scene of the film demands the viewer make some value judgements on the cast. Harvey Keitel has to be likable, same goes for Tim Roth, even Lawrence Tierney a little. Certain actors just get to be actors, certain actors have to do a bit of a feint, but the scene has a whole bunch to do. It’s the hook. And it’s not in Tarantino’s monologues, it’s how the characters talk to one another, how they react to one another. The rhythm isn’t in one actor’s voice, but in how the banter works.

Many of the actors do get great scenes, some even get great monologues–Harvey Keitel, for instance, just gets tons of great stuff to do in the film. Right from the start, he gets the hardest work opposite Tim Roth and then Steve Buscemi. When Keitel and Madsen finally get around to facing off, there’s so much built up energy, anything seems possible. Of course, anything is not possible, because Tarantino is trying to get things somewhere specific.

Most of the film’s runtime takes place in a warehouse. Most of the film’s present action, once the flashback structure establishes, takes place in various locations. Tarantino takes forever to open up the film. It takes Dogs forever to get to a daytime scene without violence. Tarantino puts off letting the viewer identify with any of the characters. Because Dogs, for the viewer and for the characters, is about sympathy with the devil, taking responsibility for that sympathy and even requesting for that sympathy. It’s really, really good.

Andrzej Sekula’s photography is fine. Sally Menke’s editing is phenomenal. The sets are the real star. David Wasco’s production design. Tarantino shoots on cheap but Dogs never looks it. Wasco and Tarantino make it look like there’s no other way to see this film, no other angles. Tarantino holds his shots, making the hanging clothes or the wash basins extremely important–they burn into the viewer’s mind. Especially in the first act. The film implies a larger world outside itself, in no small part thanks to the set design and decoration; Tarantino asks a lot of the viewer.

And he does reward it. He promises it right off with the actors. Keitel, Buscemi, Chris Penn. They’re doing dynamic, sensational work. Even though the introduction of these characters and their development throughout the film might make them less sympathetic characters, the performances are magnificent. Especially Keitel and Buscemi. And Michael Madsen’s really good. Everyone’s really good. Except Tarantino. He’s really bad at acting. He gives himself a bad part, which is kind of good. Kind of. He’s still bad.

Tim Roth’s great.

Nice support from Randy Brooks and Kirk Baltz. Stephen Wright’s unseen DJ is almost an essential compenent.

Reservoir Dogs is never startling. Tarantino isn’t trying to exploit his viewer, he’s trying to tell a story. It’s not a big story. It’s not a grand story. It’s something of a tragic anecdote. Something tragic that happened to these guys when they were doing a job.

It’s an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown), Randy Brooks (Holdaway), Kirk Baltz (Marvin) and Steven Wright (K-Billy DJ).


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Diner (1983, Barry Levinson)

What a difference a cast makes. Barry Levinson’s pilot for a “Diner” television series reunites some of the film crew–editor Stu Linder does a wonderful job–but the only returning actors are Paul Reiser and Jessica James. Both are good–and Alison La Placa and Mady Kaplan are great as the wives (Levinson’s best writing is for them)–but they don’t offset the new leads.

Worst is Max Cantor (in for Daniel Stern), then Michael Madsen (for Mickey Rourke) and finally Mike Binder (for Steve Guttenberg). Levinson’s script’s part of the problem. He writes Cantor and Binder’s parts for the original actors. Binder might’ve with better dialogue.

Madsen’s awful, but Levinson inexplicably writes the character as a dimwit.

James Spader’s okay (in for Kevin Bacon).

It’s interesting–especially since it’s a direct sequel to the movie–very well directed and written in parts, but the male leads sink it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Dominic Palmieri; edited by Stu Linder; produced by Mark Johnson.

Starring Paul Reiser (Modell), James Spader (Fenwick), Mike Binder (Eddie), Max Cantor (Shrevie), Michael Madsen (Boogie), Mady Kaplan (Beth), Alison La Placa (Elyse), Robert Pastorelli (Turko), Arnie Mazer (The Gripper), Ted Bafaloukos (George) and Jessica James (Eddie’s Mother).


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Species (1995, Roger Donaldson)

Roger Donaldson has these great sweeping camera shots in Species. He doesn’t restrict them to the action scenes, but uses them to dynamically bring his five principals into the frame together. It’s always beautifully done and, if one could separate Donaldson’s work from the film’s content, Species would seem a lot more impressive.

Unfortunately, the fine work of Donaldson—and editor Conrad Buff IV—is nowhere near enough to forgive the film’s problems.

First and foremost, the script is dumb. An alien civilization dupes the American government into creating an emissary and that emissary will try to wipe out the human race. Now, that idea isn’t dumb, it’s just an idea. Writer Dennis Feldman’s execution of that idea is awful though. The guy can’t write. Though I might just be blaming him more so I don’t have to be so negative about the actors.

Alfred Molina gives a good performance. Marg Helgenberger isn’t bad. Michael Madsen’s awful most of the time, but fine when he and Helgenberger are flirting. It makes one wonder what she’d have been able to do with a better costar.

Ben Kingsley and Forest Whitaker make up the rest of the principal cast. Both are terrible. Kingsley’s unimaginably bad; he’s trying a Southern accent and it fails over and over again. He’s just awful. Whitaker’s problem is the script. His character’s writing is particularly bad.

Speaking of bad, there’s some lame nineties CG in Species too.

Species is a weak film. Great direction, terrible result overall.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Dennis Feldman; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by Christopher Young; production designer, John Muto; produced by Feldman and Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ben Kingsley (Xavier Fitch), Michael Madsen (Preston Lennox), Alfred Molina (Dr. Stephen Arden), Forest Whitaker (Dan Smithson), Marg Helgenberger (Dr. Laura Baker), Natasha Henstridge (Sil) and Michelle Williams (Young Sil).


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A House in the Hills (1993, Ken Wiederhorn)

A House in the Hills is, for the majority of its running time, pretty darn funny. It’s a romance novel run through a black comedy filter, with Helen Slater playing the lead. The film takes place in LA; Slater’s an actress and ends up being the one character the film never actually explains. It’s one of the many surprisingly subtle nuances to the script.

The mysterious stranger is Michael Madsen, who gives one of his best performances, who breaks into the house where she’s housesitting. In some ways, the script could be a play—it’s mostly the two of them sitting around for forty or fifty minutes, but there are these little comic moments, even when Slater’s ostensibly in danger.

It turns out, of course, there’s more than meets the eye to the situation they both find themselves in. One of the great parts of director Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores’s script is how they get more and more backstory into the film as the action progresses.

As a director, Wiederhorn gets how to balance the humor and the reality of Slater’s character. The first ten minutes are excellent working actor moments. Richard Einhorn’s score, revealing the comedy, helps the film immeasurably.

The supporting cast—Jeffrey Tambor, James Laurenson and Elyssa Davalos—is strong, but Hills really depends on Slater and, to a lesser degree, Madsen. While they’re both good, she’s the essential component. She makes the role—able to be flustered but still calculating—believable.

It’s a smart comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn; written by Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores; director of photography, Josep M. Civit; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Richard Einhorn; production designer, Morley Smith; produced by Wiederhorn and Patricia Foulkrod; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring Michael Madsen (Mickey), Helen Slater (Alex Weaver), Jeffrey Tambor (Willie), James Laurenson (Ronald Rankin), Elyssa Davalos (Sondra Rankin), Taylor Lee (Patty Neubauer) and Toni Barry (Susie).


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