Tag Archives: Shane West

Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).


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The Westing Game (1997, Terence H. Winkless)

The Westing Game might be the perfect example of why a novel should never be turned into a movie. There are a lot of examples of the inverse, but watching Westing Game… it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to see a book adapted into a film again.

There are no redeeming qualities to the film, unless one wants to count Lewis Arquette not being atrocious like everyone else. Dylan Kelsey Hadley’s script is so bad, not even Ray Walston can deliver his lines well. Watching the movie, there’s not much to do besides pick out the worst performances.

What’s extraordinary about the film is how often director Winkless invites the viewer to laugh at the characters. Jim Lau’s Chinese restauranteur is a stereotype from the forties, Sally Kirkland’s neurotic, spinster secretary plays like… wait, I figured it out. Winkless and Hadley aren’t so much interested in adapting a novel as they are turning an episode of “Scooby Doo” into a movie.

A really bad episode of “Scooby Doo.”

The source novel is technically a kids’ book–it won the Newbery Medal, which is for juvenile fiction–so I assume the adaptation’s target audience is kids. Really dumb kids. The movie follows around Ashley Peldon, who’s tragically precocious and wise beyond her years.

It’s a big mistake, as Peldon’s awful. Though she’s not as bad as June Christopher, Diane Nadeau or Sandy Faison. The less said about Shane West–who plays a surprisingly fit disabled kid–the better.

Westing is atrocious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence H. Winkless; screenplay by Dylan Kelsey Hadley, based on the novel by Ellen Raskin; director of photography, Kurt Brabbee; edited by Jim Makiej; music by Pamela Fuller; production designer, Stuart Blatt; produced by Julie Corman; released by Showtime.

Starring Ashley Peldon (Turtle Wexler), Diane Ladd (Berthe Erica Crow), Sally Kirkland (Sydelle Pulaski), Cliff De Young (Jake Wexler), Sandy Faison (Grace Wexler), June Christopher (Judge J.J. Ford), Lewis Arquette (Otis Amber), Diane Nadeau (Angela Wexler), Billy Morrissette (Edgar Plum), Jim Lau (James Shin Hoo), Shane West (Chris Theodorakis), Ernest Liu (Doug Hoo) and Ray Walston (Sandy McSouthers).


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, Stephen Norrington)

There’s no doubt Stephen Norrington’s a lousy director but he’s not atrocious enough someone should retire from acting because he or she had to work with him–and Sean Connery didn’t even get the worst scenes in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s a stunt casting of Connery and, when compared to the source material–it’s no surprise, but he’s really against good character work. He refused to let them write the character as anything other than an aged Indiana Jones.

The scenes with him and Shane West–West isn’t bad, but he’s not charismatic enough for the role; he’s sturdy and unexciting–play like a May-September bromance. In fact, when West shows romantic interest in Peta Wilson, it’s almost strange, because his character is so asexual.

Besides the two of them, Tony Curran and Jason Flemyng, the acting’s pretty atrocious in the film. Wilson’s awful, Stuart Townsend seems to be doing a (really bad) Johnny Depp impression, Naseeruddin Shah–and it’s not clear if it’s intentional–totally lacks personality.

The special effects range from bad video game quality–the car chase through Venice is awful and almost comical, it must have looked hilarious on a big screen–to tolerable. For whatever reason, the film has more success with Flemyng’s Dr. Hyde than, say, Ang Lee’s Hulk had with its CG creation.

And while Norrington is British, it feels like he doesn’t really get the possibilities of the concept. Worst, I suppose, are James Robinson’s one liners. They bomb.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Norrington; screenplay by James Robinson, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Paul Rubell; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Don Murphy and Trevor Albert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sean Connery (Allan Quatermain), Naseeruddin Shah (Captain Nemo), Peta Wilson (Mina Harker), Tony Curran (Rodney Skinner), Stuart Townsend (Dorian Gray), Shane West (Tom Sawyer), Jason Flemyng (Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde), Richard Roxburgh (M) and Tom Goodman-Hill (Sanderson Reed).


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The Lodger (2009, David Ondaatje)

Okay, I thought Lodger auteur David Ondaatje was really his uncle (English Patient author) Michael Ondaatje. I wished I’d checked before starting the movie… even with Hope Davis in it, I’m not sure I would have watched it. It really changes my impression of it. All of the stupid zooming and fast-forwarding and post-production nonsense, I was going to give Michael Ondaatje, author, the benefit of the doubt. Like he was trying to do something with film one can only do in fiction, with pacing and choice description. It doesn’t work in The Lodger, but at least I thought I knew where Michael Ondaatje was going with it. Where’s David Ondaatje, filmmaker (of no other features), going with it in The Lodger?

On the express train to Crapsville. (Oh, how is Crapsville not a real word, Apple spell check… you don’t think lollygag is a real word either and it is). David Ondaatje doesn’t even have a good reason for making The Lodger, a Jack the Ripper novel adapted four times before. Michael Ondaatje got the benefit out the doubt, again, for trying to do a post-modern adaptation (it doesn’t work, but then I assumed Michael Ondaatje, who writes novels I’d probably never read–Miramax fiction should be a genre–was bound to fail). Is David Ondaatje writing a post-modern Jack the Ripper serial killer movie?

No, he’s not. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you, the person reading this response, what Ondaatje is doing. But I’ll give you a clue. He references, rather well, actually, The Matrix in some dialogue. What Ondaatje is doing with The Lodger is very similar to what another 1999 big studio release (but not a successful one) did. Why’s he doing it? Because he doesn’t really have much of a story. I just figured Michael Ondaatje wrote a couple outlines for short stories and turned them into a movie… You know, I could at least understand how Michael Ondaatje would get a green light to make this film, but I can’t figure out how David Ondaatje did.

Davis is good. She doesn’t deserve these kinds of roles. Watching The Lodger, I kept remembering all the great work she’s done through her career and how she’s never gotten the respect an actor of her stature deserves. Similarly, what’s Alfred Molina doing in this kind of a movie? His harried cop slash suspect isn’t a great character, but Molina brings some real professionalism to the role. He’s great. The two cast members who kind of belong in this movie, which is very similar to USA original movies from the mid-1990s, are Shane West and Donal Logue. Logue’s a lout. Whoop dee doo, Logue’s always playing a lout. Slightly more interesting is West, who showed a lot of promise at some point in his career; he isn’t terrible, but he isn’t any good. Philip Baker Hall shows up to cash a paycheck in what might be the laziest performance I’ve ever seen him give. Rachael Leigh Cook has gotten less terrible over the years.

And Simon Baker, as the titular Lodger… he’s not in it enough. Baker’s basically playing a cipher, but Davis works well with him and it would have been nice for the film to have better scenes throughout.

Ondaatje’s plot actually isn’t terrible. It’s a pointless mystery running ninety-some minutes… you know, just like a USA original movie.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Ondaatje; screenplay by Ondaatje, based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes; director of photography, David A. Armstrong; edited by William Flicker; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Michael Mailer and Ondaatje; released by Stage 6 Films.

Starring Alfred Molina (Chandler Manning), Hope Davis (Ellen Bunting), Shane West (Street Wilkenson), Donal Logue (Bunting), Philip Baker Hall (Captain Smith), Rachael Leigh Cook (Amanda), Rebecca Pidgeon (Dr. Jessica Westmin), Simon Baker (Malcolm), François Chau (Sam) and Mel Harris (Margaret).


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