Tag Archives: Steven Berkoff

The Passenger (1975, Michelangelo Antonioni)

The Passenger is an odd mix of existential crisis and globe-trotting thriller. Director Antonioni does far better with the former than the latter, which has Jenny Runacre trying to discover what happened to husband Jack Nicholson. What happened to Nicholson is he assumes a dead man’s identity for no particular purpose in the film’s otherworldly first act. Then the film stalls, then Maria Schneider shows up and it gets back on track, then the stupid thriller stuff comes in.

Schneider initially inhabits the film as a non sequitur, which is far better than how she ends up (explaining Nicholson’s reasoning to him); she saves the picture just as Antonioni runs out of goodwill from the opening sequence. Well, just a few minutes after. Just enough to appreciate her presence.

Unfortunately, Runacre’s storyline–she’s trying to save Nicholson–is too big for the amount of character she’s got. And Antonioni tells her story flat. Everything else gets this beautiful visual lyricism, with amazing editing from Franco Arcalli and Antonioni, with some gorgeous and accomplished photography from Luciano Tovoli. Great sound design too.

Nicholson doesn’t get much to do once the real chase begins. While he’s got some good scenes with Schneider, Antonioni tries too hard to keep the magic once they get talking. It results in well-acted, problematic dialogue sequences.

The ending, which is technically magnificent, falls flat once the story has to come in just because Antonioni clearly doesn’t care about it.

But it’s definitely got its moments.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni; screenplay by Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen and Antonioni; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Antonioni and Franco Arcalli; music by Ivan Vandor; produced by Carlo Ponti; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Jack Nicholson (David Locke), Maria Schneider (Girl), Jenny Runacre (Rachel Locke), Ian Hendry (Martin Knight), Steven Berkoff (Stephen), Ambroise Bia (Achebe) and Charles Mulvehill (David Robertson).


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Outland (1981, Peter Hyams)

What Peter Hyams does at the end of Outland–cutting away from Sean Connery to a shot of the mining station with a superimposed message from the character to his wife–ought to be a crime. Hyams gets one of Connery’s better performances out of him and then cheats both Connery and the viewer from giving the character a proper sendoff. Instead, the superimposed message and some really sentimental Jerry Goldsmith music. It’s particularly unfortunate, as Hyams makes very few mistakes in Outland and Goldsmith’s score is otherwise excellent. It’s even excellent two seconds before the cut to the exterior.

One could dismiss Outland as High Noon in space, but, in actuality, only the last third is High Noon in space. The rest is an effective, if derivative (from Alien in a lot of ways, particularly Goldsmith’s score), cop fighting corruption (in space) movie. There are a lot of Western elements, but Hyams nicely adjusts everything for the future setting. Strangely, his greatest strength is the human element, whether it’s Kika Markham as Connery’s fed-up wife (most of her scenes are video messages, in which she’s excellent, but Connery’s also good watching them), James Sikking as his shady assistant or–and here’s where Hyams really excels–with station doctor Frances Sternhagen. Connery and Sternhagen have maybe six scenes together and every one of them is fantastic. They’re Connery’s best moments, so maybe Sternhagen somehow got him to act. There’s this one scene, where Connery explains himself to her–short, maybe thirty seconds, forty-five, and he stunned me. Hyams’s dialogue is fine, but Connery’s delivery and Hyams’s composition make it a gold star moment.

Hyams has gone on to shoot his own films, usually poorly (with some excuse about natural light), but here he’s got Stephen Goldblatt, who makes Hyams’s shots look wonderful. Hyams knows how to compose for Panavision and he knows how to make the most out of a limited effects budget. When there finally are a bunch of sets at the end, Hyams concentrates on the enormity and the surrounding emptiness and pulls off a great concluding action scene.

The acting is all good–except Nicholas Barnes as Connery and Markham’s kid, he’s terrible–though Peter Boyle really doesn’t have enough to do as the bad guy.

A lot of the exteriors in space are excellent. Goldsmith’s score is great. Connery’s good, sometimes better. Sternhagen’s a joy. Shame about the last thirty-five seconds though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Peter Hyams; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Richard A. Roth; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sean Connery (O’Niel), Peter Boyle (Sheppard), Frances Sternhagen (Lazarus), James Sikking (Montone), Kika Markham (Carol), Clarke Peters (Ballard), Steven Berkoff (Sagan), John Ratzenberger (Tarlow) and Nicholas Barnes (Paul O’Niel).


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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, George P. Cosmatos)

Rambo‘s pretty awful. It’s not terrible–not too terrible to watch anyway (at least once, though New York Times critic A.O. Scott should probably be fired for supporting it to any degree). The main technical fault lies with George P. Cosmatos, who somehow managed to stock the crew with capable people (editor Mark Goldblatt is no slouch and Jack Cardiff–you know, the Archer’s cinematographer–shot it), but can’t shoot an action scene, establishing shot, anything. The second unit stuff of the helicopters is the best composition in the movie. The next big problem, then, lies with the script. And not even Stallone’s political commentary, which I’ll save for its own paragraph. No, the problem with the script is the movie’s mostly action after fifty minutes. Forty or so minutes of chase scenes and shooting and explosions. None of these things, of course, look good. Cosmatos is awful at shooting them.

Next problem, the cast. Richard Crenna’s terrible, Charles Napier’s terrible, Martin Kove’s terrible, Julia Nickson-Soul is terrible. Steven Berkoff’s poorly directed but he at least appears to be having fun. Stallone’s okay for some of it… not when he’s talking, not when he’s romancing Nickson-Soul. But when he’s running around, he’s okay. Not when he’s got the big gun either. It just looks too absurd.

As for the film’s politics, they’re incredibly confused (if strangely well-meaning). So confused–and the movie is such an absurd vehicle for political commentary–it’s hard to take them seriously. Stallone pushes and pulls in every direction. Each one of Rambo’s painful moments of political insight is invalidated by the next and it’s somewhat offensive–given the whole movie is about POWs still in Vietnam–Stallone takes the spotlight for himself at the end, instead of acknowledging–in the movie’s reality–there are a dozen or so men about to go home after twenty years in a prison camp.

Luckily, Rambo’s final speech is so dumb and brother Frank Stallone’s song is so awful, it’s impossible to dwell much on Rambo: First Blood Part II… thinking too hard about it, trying to unravel Stallone’s contradictory ideas, trying to understand why Rambo falls in love with Nickson-Soul in four and a half seconds… it hurts the brain.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George P. Cosmatos; screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and James Cameron, based on a story by Kevin Jarre and on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Mark Helfrich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Charles Napier (Marshall Murdock), Steven Berkoff (Lt. Col. Podovsky), Julia Nickson-Soul (Co Bao), Martin Kove (Ericson), George Cheung (Tay), Andy Wood (Banks), William Ghent (Capt. Vinh) and Voyo Goric (Sgt. Yushin).


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