Tag Archives: Neal McDonough

Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

First Contact works out well for a number of reasons. The script’s structured beautifully, it’s well-cast, Frakes knows how to direct for both humor and action… but also because it’s not a possessive picture. The film involves time travel, sending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew into the past (but still the future) and introduces James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard as locals. In the third act, I realized they’re the only ones with anything at stake. The Enterprise crew… well, sure, the franchise could be in jeopardy, but not the actual characters. Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore obscure that situation quite well.

The film also gives Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner a lot to do. After some lengthy exposition at the open, the script splits into three parts–Stewart and Woodard on the Enterprise, Spiner and villain Alice Krige on the Enterprise, Frakes and Cromwell on Earth. It might even be fun to sit down and time how the film handles passing from one subplot to the next. It’s always rather well done, possibly because the pairings are so good.

Frakes–the director–doesn’t give Frakes–the actor–much to do. He just gets to be amused at Cromwell’s fun performance as a drunken, reluctant genius. Meanwhile, even though Stewart’s great, it’s because Woodard’s there to act off him. She’s wonderful. Krige’s good, Spiner’s pretty good.

The special effects are good in space, less so in the action scenes.

Contact is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, based on a story by Rick Berman, Braga and Moore and on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), Neal McDonough (Lt. Hawk), Robert Picardo (Holographic Doctor), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay) and Alfre Woodard (Lily).


RELATED

Advertisements

Traitor (2008, Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

Traitor is the Superman IV of terrorism movies. I suppose I need to explain. I think Tom Mankiewicz once told Christopher Reeve you couldn’t have Superman messing around with the real world. Traitor is a Hollywood terrorism movie–in the vein of Telefon, The Assignment, Nighthawks or even The Jackal–except it takes 9/11 into account. The result is a goofy concoction–one I’m sure the filmmakers think is well-intentioned, but comes off as one of the most xenophobic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Simply put, in the world of Traitor, all Muslims–except one or two–are terrorists ready to kill innocent children, even if they have innocent children of their own. These Muslims tend to be Middle Eastern–Traitor has a ludicrous sleeper cell plot point with a female suicide bomber who would have been inserted long before women became suicide bombers–but there’s also a couple Africans. Not African-Americans, who the film has an awkward relationship with, but African immigrants. Not to be pointing fingers at writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, but I think Louis Farrakhan would have done a much more even-handed tale of a black American Muslim who discovers himself (working for the U.S. in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Osama Bin Laden no less) and finds his Middle Eastern brothers a little confused when it comes to the articles of faith.

As for the film’s approach to religion… another pitfall. It really tries hard in some ways, but it can’t escape its active contention (i.e. ninety-three percent of Muslims are heartless, unthinking mass murderers–worse, they all dream of some day getting to be mass murderers), so it’s laughable in the end. But there’s a lot to laugh at in Traitor, starting with its handling of the FBI.

Since 9/11, common knowledge of what American intelligence agencies do has skyrocketed. So when FBI agents Guy Pearce (he’s an Arabic languages PhD who couldn’t find another job… really) and Neal McDonough (he’s a big tough mean agent, who doesn’t know his partner is a PhD) wing around the world–Yemen, France, Canada, maybe England–it seems somewhat unrealistic. They don’t appear to have a boss, either.

Pearce’s performance is somehow good and somehow not. Technically, it’s a great performance, but the character’s so insanely stupid it’s hard to take him seriously. McDonough is bad. Cheadle’s decent–I kept wondering what the filmmakers would have done if they hadn’t signed him–if bland. As the only Arab terrorist with any elements of humanity, Saïd Taghmaoui is amazing–he gives the film’s best performance and if it’d been about him, it would have been something. As the heartless terrorist–who doesn’t even follow Islam’s basic tenets–Alyy Khan is awful. The rest of the cast is, generally, fine.

The first twenty or thirty minutes of Traitor is good. Until the last couple scenes, it’s on a steady decline but it takes a huge plunge at the end.

Nachmanoff’s direction is better than his writing–it’s fun to see them work cross-purpose. Nachmanoff goes the steady-cam route here (for realism, I’m sure), but he’s got tons of goofy Hollywood dialogue.

And Mark Kilian’s music is good. So good I’m surprised I don’t know his name.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenplay by Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman, Todd Lieberman, Chris McGurk, Danny Rosett and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films.

Starring Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Alyy Khan (Fareed Mansour), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).


RELATED

88 Minutes (2007, Jon Avnet)

Al Pacino has reached the point William Forsythe has supporting roles in his movies. That facet just about sums up 88 Minutes, which would have been a great late 1990s Dimension movie, maybe even with Pacino, and all those young actors Miramax had on call (I’m thinking it would have been most effective with Neve Campbell in the Alicia Witt role, throw a young Josh Hartnett in Ben McKenzie’s role, hey, there’s even room for Skeet Ulrich). As a late 2000s movie, however, it’s real silly. It’s Pacino in a real time thriller–shot in Vancouver, which does a fine Seattle impression; it’s depressing. As a thriller, it’s okay… it never gives the viewer enough information to spoil the conclusion, so it’s somewhat surprising.

It’s also very cheap. Not just because it shot in Canada, but because lots of the scenes are set-based and dialogue heavy. It’s not exactly real time, it cheats a little, so tightening up the dialogue wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Gary Scott Thompson is a bad writer and the dialogue and plot resemble a TV episode from the 1980s. It’s not terrible though, because Pacino runs with what he can. His character is problematic–he doesn’t really have a story or a subtext, the womanizer bit plays more on Pacino’s image than anything else–and the movie avoids becoming a real movie about psychiatrists who sell their testimony. Pacino’s sort of a maverick cop psychiatrist also–he can handle a gun, he lectures state’s attorneys–watching it, one imagines Avnet told him to “do the Heat thing,” but quieter. There’s nothing to the character or any of his relationships. It’s a narrative only because it’s Pacino. He fools the viewer into caring when the script is actually failing.

The supporting cast is so-so. Amy Brenneman is pretty good as Pacino’s assistant, as is Deborah Kara Unger as his boss. Leelee Sobieski (Rose McGowan in the Miramax version?) is bad, kind of goofy really. As the bad guy, Neal McDonough is lousy. Alicia Witt holds her own during some of it, not during other parts. Forsythe is Forsythe playing an FBI agent.

88 Minutes could have been–I realized as Pacino runs across a deserted campus (deserted campuses are cheaper to shoot on, I imagine, even in Canada)–a decent academic thriller, juxtaposing Pacino’s role as an educator with his testifying for cash. There’s no sensitivity to the movie, which I guess was heading straight to video until recently (it wrapped in late 2005). It’s a fine enough serial killer programmer (good ones are extraordinary exceptions), but it’s Al Pacino. He shouldn’t have to do movies like this one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Avnet; written by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Denis Lenoir; edited by Larry Webster; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Tracey Gallacher; produced by Avnet, Thompson, Randell Emmett, Michael P. Flannigan, George Furla and Avi Lerner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Dr. Jack Gramm), Alicia Witt (Kim Cummings), Leelee Sobieski (Lauren Douglas), Amy Brenneman (Shelly Barnes), William Forsythe (Special Agent Frank Parks), Deborah Kara Unger (Carol Johnson), Ben McKenzie (Mike Stempt), Neal McDonough (Jon Forster), Leah Cairns (Sara Pollard) and Stephen Moyer (Guy LaForge).


RELATED