Tag Archives: Simon Baker

Land of the Dead (2005, George A. Romero), the director’s cut

While Land of the Dead is almost always an unfortunate misfire, it’s also never an unmitigated disaster. It’s full of missed opportunities, but they’re usually missed because director Romero just can’t crack the scene. And when he doesn’t crack a set piece, he often goes in the entirely different direction; maybe it’s about the budget, which is way too small, maybe it’s not. But it seems like the budget. After the successful opening set piece, there’s no reason to think Romero isn’t going to be able to execute at least the same quality again. And he’s never able to do it, but he also never really tries to do it. Romero front loads the movie; it deflates just when it should be doing the opposite. The characters gradually lose personality and importance. Because it’s time for the adequate but bland zombie action.

The film takes place in the future… the zombies have won, people all grouped in the big cities, the rich people live well, the poor people do not. Romero is shooting Toronto for Pittsburgh with a cinematographer (Miroslaw Baszak) who lights it to look as Canadian as possible. Land lacks any visual personality; the mix of Romero’s composition, Baszak’s flat lighting, Michael Doherty’s fine but bland editing, and Arvinder Grewal’s production design looks less like a post (zombie) apocalyptic vision and more like a pitch reel for one. Same goes for the actors, save Dennis Hopper, who’s just plain terrible. Simon Baker, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy; at best their performances feel like stand-ins for better ones once the project gets the green light. At worst, it’s a charmless lead like Simon Baker, who is more than capable of being charming, Romero just doesn’t seem to realize it. Not in his direction or his script, which gives his actors really bad life stories purely for expository purposes. There’s not just no character development in Land, Romero doesn’t take the time to even establish the characters.

And it’d be fine if the film could have retained the first set piece energy. So Baker, Leguizamo, and Joy all work for Hopper. They leave the city to raid neighboring towns for supplies. Apparently there’s an almost endless amount of neighboring towns to raid; all you have to do is shoot fireworks and the zombies all look up and everything’s jim-dandy—the zombies don’t attack, they watch fireworks. It also allows Romero to set a lot of action at night, which was apparently less expensive and does nothing to help with that lack of personality thing. Only Baker and Joy discover there’s one zombie—Eugene Clark, in the film’s best performance—who doesn’t look up at the fireworks.

The movie ends up being about Clark leading a bunch of zombies to attack the city, where the rich people live in a ritzy skyscraper and Romero only has the money to establish it through a promotional video playing on a TV–Land of the Dead has both too little budget and too much. The tricks and devices Romero uses to cover for not having more money lack inventiveness; there’s a ton of bad CGI composites. Like, a static matte painting would’ve been much better bad. But you do bad CGI composites because they’re cheap. And it shows. And it hurts the movie.

Anyway, while Clark’s leading the slow-moving attack—see, he’s learned how to use objects and can teach other zombies how to use objects so it’s going to be a different kind of zombie attack (only, not really as it turns out but the attack’s immaterial)—Leguizamo has gone rogue and Baker has to track him down, bringing pals Joy and Argento.

Of the three, Argento’s probably best. She’s not good overall—the writing doesn’t allow for it—but she’s got some rather strong moments. She takes the job more seriously than anyone else. Though who knows what’s going through Hopper’s head as he woodenly delivers lines; who knows, maybe Romero did cast him to be a personality-free rich jackass with a goatee. Hopper’s reaction shots to zombies eating flesh look like someone told him to stand still for his picture to be taken. Romero would’ve done better to give Leguizamo that part. To do something to mix it up.

But there’s no mixing it up. Because outside a couple Romero-Dead nods and sufficiently revolting zombie feasting (though Baszak’s lighting makes it look… not fake, but not real), Land of the Dead has less of a pulse than its zombies.

It’s a shame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George A. Romero; director of photography, Miroslaw Baszak; edited by Michael Doherty; music by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek; production designer, Arvinder Grewal; produced by Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Peter Grunwald; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Dennis Hopper (Kaufman), Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy), Alan Van Sprang (Brubaker), Phil Fondacaro (Chihuahua), Sasha Roiz (Manolete), Krista Bridges (Motown), Pedro Miguel Arce (Pillsbury), and Eugene Clark (Big Daddy).


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Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman)

Red Planet is an awful film. It’s got decent performances from Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, awful ones from Carrie-Anne Moss, Terence Stamp and Benjamin Bratt and a mediocre one from Simon Baker. The script fails Baker, who actually has what should be the film’s most interesting character arc, so it’s not entirely his fault.

Moss, Stamp and Bratt have terrible writing too–Moss gets stuck with the atrocious expository narration–but not so bad it excuses their performances. Of the three, Bratt’s probably the best as the jerk astronaut.

So besides bad writing, lots of bad acting and terrible direction from Hoffman (almost thirteen years after Planet’s release, he still hasn’t gotten another film job–thank goodness), what’s wrong with Red Planet? Well, it’s fundamentally unsound. It’s a big budget action sci-fi movie about a fictional science problem. It pretends to be a real story (Apollo 13 is a major influence) and never acknowledges the artifice. That disconnect–and the awful acting–makes it hard to care about the characters.

Except Kilmer, who’s very appealing in a comedic performance.

The terrible music from Graeme Revell and shockingly bad editing from Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett don’t help things either.

Worse, there are a couple really good scenes in the film–Kilmer’s instrumental to both; Sizemore and Baker help out for one of them–and Hoffman doesn’t know how to make them. They succeed because of the acting.

The 2001 references are sad.

Planet’s real bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antony Hoffman; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, based on a story by Pfarrer; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Mark Canton, Bruce Berman and Jorge Saralegui; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Val Kilmer (Gallagher), Carrie-Anne Moss (Bowman), Tom Sizemore (Burchenal), Benjamin Bratt (Santen), Simon Baker (Pettengill) and Terence Stamp (Chantilas).


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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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