Tag Archives: Sam Neill

In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

In the Mouth of Madness is a rarity. It’s a film with some terrible, terrible parts, yet it needs to be longer. There needs to be more terribleness for it to be better. And it can’t even be much better, because those terrible parts break it, but it would be somewhat better. It would definitely be a better viewing experience.

Here are the film’s problems, in no particular order. Gary B. Kibbe’s photography. Madness is Panavision aspect and Kibbe shoots everything spherically distorted. Well, not everything, but the most visually distinctive parts. One of the film’s more conceptual problems is what visually compels. Kibbe screws up the compelling visual narrative pacing. Maybe Carpenter told him to do it, in which case it’s Carpenter’s bad. But Kibbe’s photography is never great. With the sets, it sometimes looks like a shoddy attempt at a Shining rip-off and Madness isn’t that thing at all.

Next problem. Sam Neill. Fourth-rate Harrison Ford who everyone thought was just a second-rate Harrison Ford. He can’t hold his accent, which would be a hilarious bit for the film to acknowledge, but of course it doesn’t. Even though Madness eventually wants to be meta, it’s like Carpenter doesn’t really have any interest in it, which brings me to the next problem. The script. The script is awful.

Even though Carpenter goes for his traditional possessive titling on Madness, it’s not his vanity project. It’s writer and executive producer Michael De Luca’s vanity project. So while Carpenter can do a nod to this Quatermass here, that Corman there, this Lovecraft adaptation here, that whatever there, he’s still got this disastrous script. De Luca’s doing zeitgeist–Neill is hunting down Jürgen Prochnow’s Stephen King-esque author, not Prochnow’s Lovecraft-esque author. The script wants to be pop culture, the narrative needs literary musing, Carpenter’s doing this Lovecraft movie homage thing. Not to mention De Luca also models the structure after a film noir (Double Indemnity in particular) and Carpenter couldn’t, frankly, give less of a shit about that narrative structure. He goes out of his way not to acknowledge it.

And if you’re not going to acknowledge your femme fatale, maybe you shouldn’t have a femme fatale. Madness’s femme fatale is Julie Carmen. She’s Prochnow’s editor and Neill’s sidekick. Carmen and Neill have no chemistry, which isn’t really surprising since she’s awful. He’s awful too, but she’s awful in a different way. She doesn’t have a part. He’s just bad at his part. The film also breaks its narrative device to run off with her adventures; if the movie were a little better, it might be annoying but it’s not. The script’s already been inept at that point.

Prochnow’s bad, but it isn’t his fault. He’s just doing his schtick. It’s why he’s in the movie.

Stylistically, the front is stronger than the back. Once Neill and Carmen find Prochnow, Edward A. Warschilka’s editing starts to falter. It was one of the few excellent things about the beginning. By the end, Carpenter relies heavily on jump scares. They aren’t scary, they’re occasionally desperate, but at least he’s enthusiastic about them. There are some okay visual ideas but there’s no time for Madness to make them stick. It isn’t just the film needing another ten or fifteen minutes of visual presence to make an impression, it’s the order of the shots. Part of the film’s gimmick (Prochnow writing reality) means visual trickery. Carpenter, Kibbe and Warschilka just blaze through instead of making anything distinct.

Charlton Heston’s in a “guest starring” role and he gives one of the film’s better performances. If you’ve got a hackneyed Heston cameo and he gives the best performance, you know the film’s got problems. Bernie Casey’s good, Peter Jason’s got a nice scene. John Glover. He’s fine. Frances Bay should have a great small role and she doesn’t. Because the script’s crap and Carpenter never pushes against it.

Oh, and who thought giving Wilhelm von Homburg the film’s most important part would be a good idea? He’s awful, but of course he’s awful, he’s obviously awful and no one should’ve kept him in. You feel bad for him. But only him. Everyone else who’s awful, you blame them.

Just because it’s an apocalyptic downer doesn’t mean the entire thing should feel like a surrender, yet it does. Madness is a defeat.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Michael De Luca; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter and Jim Lang; production designer, Jeff Ginn; produced by Sandy King; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Sam Neill (John Trent), Julie Carmen (Linda Styles), Jürgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane), David Warner (Dr. Wrenn), John Glover (Saperstein), Bernie Casey (Robinson), Peter Jason (Mr. Paul), Wilhelm von Homburg (Simon), Frances Bay (Mrs. Pickman) and Charlton Heston (Jackson Harglow).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 4: THE MUNDANE YEARS.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992, John Carpenter)

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is pointless. Most of its problems stem from the film’s lack of focus–in some ways, given Chevy Chase is a stockbroker and leads a life of extreme comfort, it ought to be an examination of eighties yuppies. Only a few years late. Except it’s obvious director Carpenter doesn’t want to do that story; he’s less engaged in those scenes than any of the others.

Carpenter does surprisingly well with the romantic comedy angle. The sequence where Chase meets Daryl Hannah is beautifully shot.

The film’s also not about Chase being disconnected from the world before he becomes invisible–that aspect comes up in some terrible dialogue, very poorly presented by Sam Neill. Neill plays the film’s villain, a ruthless CIA operative who has a gang of poorly defined sidekicks and an asinine boss (Stephen Tobolowsky). If it weren’t for Tobolowsky’s terrible performance, Neill would give the worst one in the film.

A lot of Memoirs relies on Chase’s charm and, in some ways, he does deliver. Not often enough and not with enough quantity, however. The script’s really bad when it comes to defining his character; the first act is a particularly mess, then though Rosalind Chao is excellent as his secretary for two minutes.

Michael McKean plays his friend. He’s ineffectual, but not bad.

Another big problem is the narration. Memoirs is desperate for Fletch appeal; it doesn’t have it.

It moves quickly, the special effects are great, but it’s a stinker otherwise.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen and William Goldman, based on the novel by H.F. Saint; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Shirley Walker; production designer, Laurence G. Paull; produced by Bruce Bodner and Dan Kolsrud; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Nick Halloway), Daryl Hannah (Alice Monroe), Sam Neill (David Jenkins), Stephen Tobolowsky (Warren Singleton), Michael McKean (George Talbot), Gregory Paul Martin (Richard), Patricia Heaton (Ellen), Rosalind Chao (Cathy DiTolla), Jay Gerber (Roger Whitman) and Jim Norton (Dr. Bernard Wachs).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 4: THE MUNDANE YEARS.

Escape Plan (2013, Mikael Håfström)

Given how much fun the actors have in Escape Plan, there are a couple big unfortunates. First is director Håfström; he isn’t able to direct the actors through the poorly scripted parts and he also can’t direct the one-liners. Plan is the first time Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have ever done a buddy picture together. For a ten minute stretch, it’s like there’s nothing but one-liners.

The second problem is the script. It flounders when setting up Stallone’s character. He works with Curtis Jackson, Amy Ryan and Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio has a lot of fun in a tiny part–these three characters only show up for maybe five or six minutes of runtime–but he completely overshadows Ryan and Jackson. They’re just doing the script, D’Onofrio turns the weak script into loads of entertainment.

Another person having fun in an underwritten role is Jim Caviezel as the warden. The film concerns Stallone (as a prison break specialist) and Schwarzenegger (as a lackey for a Julian Assange type) breaking out of a prison. Caviezel turns the part into a whirlwind of overcompensation, meanness and pure fun. He’s like Willy Wonka at times.

Of the two leads, Schwarzenegger’s better. He didn’t suffer through the lame setup with Ryan and Jackson.

Faran Tahir is really good as another inmate.

Plan is really entertaining for the bulk of it, just not the beginning or the end. It needed a better script doctor.

It also needed better music. Alex Heffes’s score’s atrocious.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mikael Håfström; screenplay by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, based on a story by Chapman; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Elliot Greenberg; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Robbie Brenner, Mark Canton, Randall Emmett, George Furla and Kevin King Templeton; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Breslin), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Rottmayer), Jim Caviezel (Hobbes), Faran Tahir (Javed), Sam Neill (Dr. Kyrie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Lester Clark), Vinnie Jones (Drake), Matt Gerald (Roag), Curtis Jackson (Hush), Caitriona Balfe (Jessica Miller), Christian Stokes (Babcock), Graham Beckel (Brims) and Amy Ryan (Abigail).


RELATED

Jurassic Park III (2001, Joe Johnston)

Jurassic Park III is about a third of a movie. Even though it runs ninety minutes (minus however many minutes in end credits), there aren’t any characters and the running time is mostly spent on the action beats of a better movie. Instead of being a movie about genetically engineered dinosaurs left to their own devices and intruded upon, it’s a monster movie. And it’s a pretty boring one at that.

Johnston occasionally has moments of directorial flare, but few of them have to do with the action sequences. For the most part, the dinosaur action looks cheap and poorly conceived. I was shocked to read the film actually filmed in Hawaii. The terrible composite shots suggest it’s a soundstage creation.

It’s more a sequel to the second entry and references to the first seem inappropriate, regardless of Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s presences. None of the characters are likable—why do all these Jurassic Park movies need annoying kids? Trevor Morgan isn’t bad, but he’s useless. Unfortunately, many of the adults are useless; Alessandro Nivola is probably the prime example.

Why Johnston casted John Diehl and Bruce A. Young and wasted them is beyond me.

Neill’s not terrible, but he’s barely in it so who cares… I guess Téa Leoni gives the film’s “best” performance. Her or Dern in her cameo. And it’s hard to hate a film with Taylor Nichols in a bit part.

But why hire Don Davis, who composes fine scores, just to rearrange John Williams?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Robert Dalva; music by Don Davis; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sam Neill (Dr. Alan Grant), William H. Macy (Paul Kirby), Téa Leoni (Amanda Kirby), Alessandro Nivola (Billy Brennan), Trevor Morgan (Erik Kirby), Michael Jeter (Mr. Udesky), John Diehl (Cooper), Bruce A. Young (M.B. Nash), Taylor Nichols (Mark Degler), Mark Harelik (Ben Hildebrand), Julio Oscar Mechoso (Enrique Cardoso) and Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler).


RELATED