Tag Archives: Polygram

Body Count (1998, Robert Patton-Spruill)

Body Count is unexceptionally bad. Theodore Witcher’s script is poorly plotted and stagy; Patton-Spruill’s direction is simply lame. He’s got no personality; it’s a heist gone wrong picture and it’s clear Witcher’s seen Reservoir Dogs, but Patton-Spruill’s apparently incapable of directing scenes with any tension whatsoever. Oddly Curt Sobel’s musical score reminds of seventies American New Wave so… maybe someone else made that decision? With an eighty-five minute run time and no theatrical release, Body Count obviously had its post-production issues.

Still, the acting’s good. Donnie Wahlberg’s probably the best, followed by David Caruso, then John Leguizamo. Body Count has the added problem of having no redeemable characters whatsoever–Ving Rhames is revealed as a religious man late in the picture as a way to endear him. Without a sympathetic lead and with Patton-Spruill’s vapid direction, Count‘s often tedious to watch. But then Witcher will come up with a great line or two (usually for Caruso) and it engages a little again.

Rhames is all right as the de facto lead. There’s not enough to his character (the religion thing is inane) and his arc is unbelievable, but he’s solid.

The film’s about a bunch of robbers on a lousy road trip, with Linda Fiorentino as a hitchhiker who tags along. She’s surprisingly mediocre. It’s not her fault, of course. Witcher’s script frequently reviles in its misogyny.

Good photography from Charles Mills. It could be a lot worse. Like if it were eighty-six minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Patton-Spruill; written by Theodore Witcher; director of photography, Charles Mills; edited by Joseph Gutowski and Richard Nord; music by Curt Sobel; production designer, Tim Eckel; produced by Mark Burg, George Jackson and Doug McHenry; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Ving Rhames (Pike), David Caruso (Hobbs), John Leguizamo (Chino), Linda Fiorentino (Natalie), Donnie Wahlberg (Booker) and Forest Whitaker (Crane).


Advertisements

Wonderland (1999, Michael Winterbottom)

From a description–not even from a few minutes–Wonderland might appear to fit into (or create again) the British realism movement. It’s shot on video, natural lighting, natural make-up, no visible tripod shots, all hand-held, all very cinema verite. There’s no artificiality to it. Except the artificiality of being a filmed narrative.

Wonderland even visibly bucks against the idea of cinema standards–the easy comic scene of an expectant father encountering a troublesome newborn is instead everyday, one of the things Eddie (John Simm) sees as a kitchen salesman. Lawrence Coriat’s script is set on a weekend, starting with Thursday night–the weekend’s special, by the end of the film, because of the events transpired during the running time, but initially, it’s special–and Wonderland is presented as the slice of these characters’ lives to present to an audience–because of absent brother Darren (Enzo Cilenti), his birthday and his visit to London.

He’s not there to visit his sisters, Debbie (Shirley Henderson), Nadia (Gina McKee) or Molly (Molly Parker)–though it’s seriously implied the only one he had any sort of significant relationship with is Nadia. Nor is he there to see his parents, Bill (Jack Shepherd) or Eileen (Kika Markham). He’s there with his girlfriend Melanie (Sarah-Jane Potts), who’s apparently in the financial position to throw him a great birthday weekend.

There’s no glorious family reunion. There are no tearful, heartfelt moments where Darren and Bill talk. Winterbottom and Coriat enjoy dangling possible cinematic melodramas in front of the viewer, only to dismiss such events, sometimes not unkindly–like when Debbie’s son, Jack (Peter Marfleet), gets mugged. It’s a huge moment, the culmination of everyone concerned’s fears, yet it’s barely shown. The villains are not emphasized and if one were to look away for a moment, he or she could miss it.

But there is glory to Wonderland and that glory is where the film doesn’t just earn its title, but its place alongside Tati’s Play Time. Wonderland is a celebration of Londoners and an exquisitely discrete one. Winterbottom’s London doesn’t come alive until after dark, when it’s awash with lights. Though he’s shooting with digital cameras and using natural light, Winterbottom emphasizes how the artificial lights of the landscape–whether cars’ headlights or shopfronts’ fluorescents–create the vibrant backdrop for the wonderment.

One of the things Tati did with Play Time and, to a somewhat lesser extent, M. Hulot’s Holiday, was draw attention to the generic beauty of people through music. There’s a compilation of Tati’s film’s themes out and if one listens to it when observing the common–people playing frisbee in a park, people walking through an urban center–everything becomes beautiful. To some degree–and it’s a little measured, because Winterbottom and composer Michael Nyman are conservative with it–Wonderland does the same thing. It shows the viewer how beautiful life can be, how wondrous it can be, all while acknowledging its subjects might only be experiencing this beauty and wonder for a moment.

Wonderland‘s interpretation of beauty and wonderment in the common world–because there’s nothing fantastic about the plot, about the setting–even the “melodramatic” moments are completely reasonable, whether it’s Nadia meeting ex-brother-in-law Dan (Ian Hart) on a blind, dating service date or Molly and missing husband Eddie meeting up in the metropolitan hospital–these moments play out without melodrama, without acknowledgment of the possibility of Coriat contriving them. Instead, they’re part of the tapestry, part of the web–they’re part of these characters’ lives. That coincidence–without Coriat or Winterbottom ever drawing attention it or the general artificiality of the motion picture scenario–is one of Wonderland‘s greatest beauties. As the events pass in the running time, as people argue or people cry, it immediately becomes something in the memory of the characters experiencing the events. It’s a crazy idea–if the film doesn’t slow down to acknowledge contrivance or melodrama, do the characters themselves experience it?

But if Wonderland is moving too fast to let its characters catch on, it’s also moving so fast it begs to have the viewer slow it down, to consider each day (separated by title card) or even further–to look at how Winterbottom and Coriat juxtapose the characters with one another. Nadia and Eileen, who have no scenes, don’t even talk about each other–one of the stranger and more realistic facets of Wonderland is how the daughters’ stories, with the exception of Molly, could be separated from the parents and they’d be narratively sound–have this stunning juxtaposition in terms of camera placement. And camera placement means more in Wonderland, something where camera placement and composition should seemingly be more environment defined. When Winterbottom places an actor in the same place as another actor, it isn’t a cute transition, it’s a silent, telling comment on the relationship between the family members, between the people.

And Wonderland really does–like all great stories–bring Faulkner’s point about literature discussing people, not characters, to the fore. It’s impossible to think of Nadia as Gina McKee, even though–at the time–she was the most famous (at least to American audiences) actor in the film. Nadia, with her goofy hair and dating problems, is definitely the protagonist for a lot of the film, but it’s all so fluid, the film moves away from her. Her story is the most cinematic… but not really. All of the sisters–Debbie, Nadia, Molly–go through an incredibly cinematic story during Wonderland‘s running time. How Coriat found time to include Debbie’s son or Molly’s husband or their parents in this story–which only runs an hour and fifty minutes–is incredible. Wonderland begs for narrative deconstruction, not just for Coriat’s plotting, but for how Winterbottom films it.

The last sibling, Darren, is different from the rest. He’s living–with girlfriend Melanie (I’m not sure Potts’s character ever gets named in the film)–the life his family dreams of. He’s out in that exciting, Technicolor, neon London nighttime landscape his sisters only can look at. Molly doesn’t even realize she has anything to do with it, which makes her both sympathetic and sad. Her husband, Eddie, can clearly see what they’re missing and longs for it. Debbie tries to straddle it and being a single mother, but finds both difficult. Nadia, who should move through it with the greatest ease, stumbles. The scene where Nadia falls for a guy–the first time–is devastating, because it reveals this character, this protagonist, in a way the viewer never before saw.

Like I said before, Wonderland begs a certain amount of analysis–why do the colors of Eddie and Molly’s apartment match the colors of the title cards, why does London only come to life on film at night, why does the viewer get a closer look into Nadia’s life than any of the other sisters–but it resists any analysis. It’s a distant film–there’s not a single pay-off moment in the whole thing; it’s populated with unhappy people struggling.

In the end, not everyone gets a reward, nor should they.

But some do and they deserve it.

And so does the viewer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Winterbottom; written by Laurence Coriat; director of photography, Sean Bobbitt; edited by Trevor Waite; music by Michael Nyman; production designer, Mark Tildesley; released by PolyGram.

Starring Shirley Henderson (Debbie), Gina McKee (Nadia), Molly Parker (Molly), Ian Hart (Dan), John Simm (Eddie), Stuart Townsend (Tim), Kika Markham (Eileen), Jack Shepherd (Bill), Enzo Cilenti (Darren), Sarah-Jane Potts (Melanie), David Fahm (Franklyn), Ellen Thomas (Donna) and Peter Marfleet (Jack).


RELATED

The Gingerbread Man (1998, Robert Altman)

Somehow Altman lets The Gingerbread Man get away from him. Never the direction, which holds up until the end–and seeing Robert Altman direct a fight scene is something to behold–but the plotting. The film starts high, thanks to the compelling plot and the performances, but then the plot gets more and more… not convoluted, but desensitizing. Once Kenneth Branagh’s kids are in danger, it’s clear there’s nothing special about the plot, since it’s such a genre standard. The film also loses, around that section, as the storytelling becomes more set piece oriented, the strange texture Gingerbread Man had before. It was clearly, both through style and script, a Robert Altman movie. Branagh, always the protagonist, was not the whole show. Then he becomes the whole show and the movie loses something.

It never regains it either. Even with one nice moment or two, there’s the epical storytelling key turn and then it’s liftoff and it’s Branagh racing to discover the truth, just like every other thriller involving a lawyer who gets involved with a client. At that point, it’s sort of clear the story came from John Grisham. Or maybe I’d just like to think Altman wouldn’t have made a pedestrian conclusion. It’s possible, since it is Altman, he was pandering to see what it was like to pander (Altman’s disinterest in his finished product, good or bad, is always a little stunning).

The acting is, with one and a half exceptions, fantastic. Branagh’s performance (as a Southerner) is excellent. Embeth Davidtz makes a great white trash femme fatale, Daryl Hannah is good as Branagh’s (long suffering) associate. Robert Downey Jr. has a great time in a flashy private investigator role–not spinning Downey off into his own movie is probably Gingerbread‘s greatest tragedy (as is not sticking with him as much as possible). Even Tom Berenger is good in a small part. The two exceptions? Well, the half is Robert Duvall, who does his crazy thing again here. Duvall looks the part and I suppose he’s fine, but it’s a lame casting choice and a poorly written character. Then there’s Famke Janssen, who’s less convincing as a parent than as a Southern belle (her accent is less convincing than Marge Simpson as Blanche). Luckily, Branagh is frequently around to save Janssen’s scenes.

The Gingerbread Man is a fine filmmaking exercise from Altman, has some great acting, and has some great cinematography. But its production quality is not matched by the rote plot. Altman, had he taken the film at all seriously, could have done a lot more with it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; written by Clyde Hayes, based on an original story by John Grisham; director of photography, Gu Changwei; edited by Geraldine Peroni; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Stephen Altman; produced by Jeremy Tannenbaum; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (Rick Magruder), Embeth Davidtz (Mallory Doss), Robert Downey Jr. (Clyde Pell), Daryl Hannah (Lois Harlan), Tom Berenger (Pete Randle), Famke Janssen (Leeanne Magruder), Mae Whitman (Libby Magruder), Jesse James (Jeff Magruder) and Robert Duvall (Dixon Doss).


RELATED

The Game (1997, David Fincher)

I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Game again, probably my access to the DVD, but even so, I don’t know what possessed me to finish watching it. It’s fairly atrocious early on, once it becomes obvious that no reasonable human being could identify with Michael Douglas’s character. He’s playing a lonely, depressed multimillionaire who lives in a big house and is good for absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even have fun. I was opined–and still do–that the rich cannot produce good art because there’s no real conflict in their lives. Similarly, the rich make difficult subjects for fiction. Something like Sabrina notwithstanding….

But, really, I was trying to figure out–as The Game went from mediocre to bad to mediocre again to worse than ever (the only good moment comes in the last few scenes, not surprisingly, it’s all Sean Penn)–I was trying to figure out why I used to love David Fincher. I saw The Game in the theater and I can’t believe it didn’t cure me. Fincher is shockingly incapable of recognizing good material and not just the script. I mean, Douglas turns in what must be his worst performance, since all it does is rehash his previous stuff (Wall Street and maybe Disclosure specifically). When Douglas does show some humanity, it comes across like someone else wrote the scene and Fincher stuck it in.

The Game also–and I hate to gripe about this one, because I usually advise against it–has logic holes the size of the Grand Canyon. I advise against surveying such holes because they aren’t the piece’s point and when you interact with a work, you have to give it some leeway. There’s nothing to interact with in The Game, so all that’s left is to point out how incredibly stupid it is. Still, Fincher’s composition isn’t bad–though it’s poorly edited and the cinematography begs for someone better–and a lot of the supporting cast is fun… James Rebhorn in particular, love the Rebhorn.

For some reason, I thought I had something else to say about this film, some other way to close it–besides that it’s a piece of horrendous shit. Oh, I remember: Howard Shore’s score is good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by James Haygood; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Steve Golin and Cean Chaffin; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Michael Douglas (Nicholas Van Orton), Sean Penn (Conrad), James Rebhorn (Jim Feingold), Deborah Kara Unger (Christine), Peter Donat (Samuel Sutherland), Carroll Baker (Ilsa) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Anson Baer).


RELATED