Tag Archives: TriStar Pictures

DeepStar Six (1989, Sean S. Cunningham)

DeepStar Six is a bad looking movie. There’s maybe one decent special effects moment–very limited, slightly gory–and it comes at the end, after the film has flubbed bigger effects sequences and other gore moments. Director Cunningham pretends he’s doing “Jaws at the ocean floor” for a while, though it’s never even clear if there’s one monster or multiple ones. Because it’s not a shark, it’s some prehistoric crab thing.

Except the prehistoric crab thing looks like a fifties sci-fi alien mixed with Audrey II. And really cheap. Cunningham and editor David Handman do try to hide the cheapness, but they can’t. Worse, they cut away from the monster so often, it’d be preferable for them to just embrace the cheap and have the thing onscreen. Action sequences might make more sense.

The film takes place at an experimental ocean floor Navy installation. There’s a staff of Navy personnel and civilian scientists. The scientists are Russian Elya Baskin and South African Marius Weyers. It’s not clear why the Navy’s got foreign nationals installing underwater nuclear warhead launch platforms but whatever. None of the Navy personnel wears uniforms or has ranks (other than captain Taurean Blacque) and John Krenz Reinhart Jr.’s production design harkens back to those fifties sci-fi cheapies, not state-of-the-art eighties Navy stuff.

The sets are way too big too. No one’s cramped. There’s always plenty of room, especially in the submersibles. Or Cunningham and photographer Mac Ahlberg are just shooting through walls and it’s not clear because the direction’s so bad it doesn’t matter. Cunningham does nothing good in DeepStar Six. Sometimes he composes for the eventual pan-and-scan (the film’s an utter waste of a Panavision frame), sometimes he doesn’t. In the times he doesn’t, usually because there are just too many cast members in the shot, it’s slightly better. Not the direction, the experience of watching the film. It makes a little more sense, having all those people crammed into a frame. The shots having action taking place at different distances from the camera.

It’s a terribly directed film. Anything helps.

Because the special effects sequences don’t help either. The undersea exteriors are bad. There’s a dullness to them to “hide” them not being shot underwater. Of course, any of those bad underwater special effects are nothing compared when there are shots on the water. Then the composites are just hideous. And the mattes are awful.

Maybe the only surprise–which sadly isn’t Harry Manfredini having a good score (it’s not awful and it’s better than the film deserves, but it’s not good)–so a bigger surprise, actually, is the acting. Greg Evigan gives a better performance than Miguel Ferrer. Evigan’s the enlisted man, working class submarine pilot. Ferrer’s the working class mechanic. Ferrer freaks out at everything and dooms the cast on multiple occasions. Evigan’s romancing pseudo-Ripley Nancy Everhard. She’s the first woman to go through Navy Seal training and, for whatever reason, she wants to manage annoying civilians on the ocean floor.

Matt McCoy is the other submarine pilot. Nia Peeples is a scientist. She’s more convincing than Weyers, who just plays his part like an asshole. Peeples at least has some intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately she also gets the bulk of the objectifying and an unlikely romance with McCoy.

Cindy Pickett is the doctor. By the end of the movie, she’s probably turned in the best overall performance. She’s got nothing to do at the start and a weak finish, but once the monster attacks, she’s always active.

Everhard’s occasionally likable but not good.

Ferrer’s terrible. It’s not entirely his fault–Cunningham’s got a hands-off approach to directing the actors and Ferrer’s got some really bad writing. Lewis Abernathy and Geof Miller’s script is risible.

Given the bad script and the bad direction, the cast being at all likable is an accomplishment. Especially since it’s an And Then There Were None burn through the cast. Most of them don’t even get cool monster deaths–none of them do, not even when it’s a monster death because the special effects are so bad–but usually the movie doesn’t even try. It’s a disaster movie about the least prepared undersea operation in history. They’re not prepared for any problems. It’s stupefying.

So there’s the one good effects sequence, the curiosity of the adequate against the odds performances (he, Everhard, and Pickett are all extremely earnest, which helps), and the final jump scare. That one got me, even though I was waiting for it.

With a bigger budget, a better script, a better director, a better cinematographer, a better production designer… DeepStar Six might be downright mediocre. Instead, it’s pretty bad. If Cunningham had just embraced the cheapness though–gone for the fifties sci-fi–it might have worked out close to as is.

But of course Cunningham didn’t, because he makes bad choices leading to bad movies. He sinks DeepStar Six.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham; screenplay by Lewis Abernathy and Geof Miller, story by Abernathy; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by David Handman; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, John Krenz Reinhart Jr.; produced by Cunningham and Patrick Markey; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Nancy Everhard (Collins), Greg Evigan (McBride), Miguel Ferrer (Snyder), Nia Peeples (Scarpelli), Matt McCoy (Richardson), Cindy Pickett (Norris), Marius Weyers (Van Gelder), Elya Baskin (Burciaga), Thom Bray (Hodges), Ronn Carroll (Osborne), and Taurean Blacque (Captain Laidlaw).


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Devil in a Blue Dress (1995, Carl Franklin)

Devil in a Blue Dress is almost so much better. Director Franklin gets easily distracted and follows tangents, both in the script and the directing. The latter makes sense–he’s always too enthuastic about the (excellent) production design, recreating late 1940s Black Los Angeles. With Tak Fujimoto’s warm but vibrant photography, the “regular life” part of the film is breathtaking. Sadly, Franklin’s too loose on the mystery side and he can’t bind the two.

The script’s the same way. Franklin has devices for lead Denzel Washington, including the narration, but also just how Franklin directs the scene. How he visualizes the space Washington occupies with the people he comes across. Washington’s a Black WWII vet turned amateur P.I. tracking down missing rich white guy’s white girlfriend Jennifer Beals. Franklin and Washington pay a lot of attention to personal space and what it reveals about character relationships, race relationships. But when they get the most ambitious, the narration fails. Or just isn’t present.

And Washington’s biggest character development arc is out of nowhere, introduced over halfway into the movie, with Don Cheadle’s arrival. Franklin desperately tries to forecast Cheadle through dialogue, narration, even one of the film’s ill-implied flashbacks. Yet when it comes time for Cheadle to get called up, Franklin botches the narration. Franklin sets up Devil in a Blue Dress to need narration–even though he and Washington could easily get away without it, Washington’s great and Franklin’s great with his actors–but he sets it up as an essential, then botches it.

It’s really unfortunate.

There are stops and starts throughout the film–scenes transitions are usually awkward, either too heavy or too light. Fujimoto’s photography on the investigation stuff is bad, which is an additional problem given the first act visual tone doesn’t match the rest of the film. But Franklin doesn’t know what to do with those scenes either. Devil in a Blue Dress tries to avoid film noir tropes so bad it ends up putting its back out.

The acting is either good or great. Washington is great. His performance has a sadness Franklin the director focus on, but Franklin the screenwriter ignores. Cheadle’s phenomenal as Washington’s loyal, unrepentent murderer sidekick. Tom Sizemore’s good as Washington’s mysterious client turned nemesis. Mel Winkler and Jernard Burks are real good in smaller parts. Lisa Nicole Carson’s good.

But then there’s Beals, who’s just okay. Some of it is Franklin’s direction; she’s supposed to be a femme fatale, but Devil in a Blue Dress doesn’t believe in femme fatales and she’s written as one. She’s another victim to Franklin’s indecision.

And Maury Chaykin is just bad. He’s only in a couple scenes, but they’re important ones, and he’s just too much. Same thing. Written as a noir villain, but Franklin doesn’t want to engage it.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is oddly half on, half off. Either way, it lacks personality, which is a no-no for Devil in a Blue Dress; everything else about it exudes personality. Except, obviously, Fujimoto’s “noir” shots.

Devil in a Blue Dress features some wonderful possibilities, some great photography, some great direction, some great performances. It should be amazing. It’s sad it isn’t.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Franklin; screenplay by Franklin, based on the novel by Walter Mosley; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Carole Kravetz Aykanian; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Jesse Beaton and Gary Goetzman; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Easy Rawlins), Jennifer Beals (Daphne Monet), Don Cheadle (Mouse Alexander), Tom Sizemore (Dewitt Albright), Terry Kinney (Todd Carter), Mel Winkler (Joppy), Jernard Burks (Dupree Brouchard), Lisa Nicole Carson (Coretta James), and Maury Chaykin (Matthew Terell).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE COLOURS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THOUGHTS ALL SORTS.


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T2 Trainspotting (2017, Danny Boyle)

T2 Trainspotting is a victory lap. John Hodge’s screenplay is thorough, thoughtful, cheap, and effective. It goes so far as to integrate unused portions of the original Trainspotting novel to try to get build up some character relationships. Because T2 is an expansive sequel. It’s got a contrived inciting action, which Hodge and director Boyle don’t even try to cover. The contrived nature of it is charming, after all. A slightly twisted kind of charming, but still charming.

Boyle’s a little too comfortable and a little too mature of a director to try much with the film’s visual aesthetic. There’s newly created Super 8 flashback footage–revealing the gang’s childhood friendships–and there’s even cleaned up footage from the original film. Only all the actors are creating new characters and have little connection to either set of flashbacks. Hodge and Boyle try to cover the inconsistency with the charming.

The film starts with Ewan McGregor returning to Edinburgh after twenty years in exile. He used to be a junkie and awesome narrator, now he’s got the Dutch equivalent of associate’s degree in accounting, he loves to jog, and he’s dissatisfied. Ewen Bremner is still a junkie. He’s trying to improve because he really loves his girlfriend and kid, even though they’ve written him off. Jonny Lee Miller is a failing bar-owner and an aspiring blackmailer who’s crushing hard on his sex worker partner (Anjela Nedyalkova). Robert Carlyle is an escaped convict and his son doesn’t want to go into the home invasion trade with him. Son wants to go to college for hotel management.

There are jokes about iPhones, gentrification, modern music, lots more. They’re solid enough jokes, but it’s a Trainspotting cast reuniting the original cast, original director, original screenwriter, original producer and there are no James Bond jokes. It’s like Hodge and Boyle forgot what people enjoyed about the first film’s energy. It’s not an apology, but it’s indifferent. McGregor has one good rant and it could change the movie and it doesn’t. Because McGregor’s not narrating. Because T2 meanders too much for a narrator.

Everyone–except poor Miller–is a protagonist. It starts with McGregor, but then transfers to Bremner through Nedyalkova. Nedyalkova is T2’s secret weapon, even though the film does absolutely nothing for her. She holds the second act together because Hodge and Boyle never figure out the right balance for McGregor, Miller, and Bremner. Carlyle’s on his own for most of the picture, in this dark, dangerous family drama. Carlyle’s story might be where Boyle shows the most interest, actually.

Except he seems to acknowledge Bremner’s giving the film’s far and away best performance, even when he’s actively ditching Bremner for McGregor and Miller’s silly bromance. Hodge’s script is all about personal growth, only he’s also got these goony character twists.

While Bremner and Carlyle have strong characterizations, Miller and McGregor don’t. Miller gets to be black comedy comic relief and McGregor is doing this coming home thing. Only no one wants to commit to a character, not McGregor, not Boyle, not Hodge. They probably should’ve brought him in later.

But they didn’t. Because McGregor’s no one’s favorite protagonist. Except maybe McGregor. Hodge favors Nedyalkova, Boyle likes Carlyle. Everything McGregor gets outside his one rant is thin.

It’s technically superior–great editing from Jon Harris, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is spot-on. Boyle’s really in love with the locations. Adds to the charm or something. Sadly the characters have no connection to the locations and neither does Hodge’s script.

Bremner’s great, Nedyalkova’s great, Carlyle’s quite good with a thin character and a lot to do. McGregor’s fine. Miller’s got some good moments, but Hodge doesn’t do him any favors.

T2 is good. It’s expertly made, solidly written, confident; it’s occasionally accomplished; it’s also a really safe drama about male bonding. The movie doesn’t take a single chance. Any time it even flirts with the idea, Boyle unfortunately reins it in. Usually via another charming, manipulative, and narratively pliable sequence.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; screenplay by John Hodge, based on novels by Irvine Welsh; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Jon Harris; production designers, Patrick Rolfe and Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew Macdonald, Boyle, Bernard Bellew, and Christian Colson; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Mark), Ewen Bremner (Daniel), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon), Anjela Nedyalkova (Veronika), and Robert Carlyle (Frank).


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Heaven Help Us (1985, Michael Dinner)

In its hundred minute run time, Heaven Help Us does a number of things well. It’s beautifully edited, photographed, directed, acted. Charles Purpura’s screenplay offers a number of fantastic scenes, which director Dinner does a great job with. Overall, however, the screenplay is where there’s a significant problem. The film doesn’t have an ending and its lack of an ending just draws attention to the (easily overlooked) previous plotting deficiencies.

The film is so beautifully constructed in the first act, it gets by on that narrative goodwill and the performances all the way until the finale. Andrew McCarthy is the ostensible lead, the new kid at a Catholic high school in 1965 Brooklyn. His parents have died, he’s living with his sympathetic but awkward grandparents and his understandably upset little sister (Jennifer Dundas). He meets all the kids at school, then he meets a girl (Mary Stuart Masterson). They have a wonderfully dreary teen romance. Masterson is phenomenal, McCarthy is good.

Except it’s like Dinner realized McCarthy was too passive, so he gives Kevin Dillon a lot to do as the lovable bully. Dillon has all the Catholic school shenanigans (bullying, talking back to the priests, confession consulting, trying to corrupt a girl). Dinner and photographer Miroslav Ondríce give the school location enough personality the occasional diversions are all right. But, narratively speaking, Heaven Help Us points at Chekov’s gun only to reveal Greedo shoots first–it’s unclear if the film is hurrying to wrap up or if they just didn’t know what else to do with it.

Because part of the film’s charm is its scope. Dinner and Ondríce do a lot with a limited number of locations, a limited number of angles. They recreate 1965 Brooklyn through intelligent framing, with Stephen A. Rotter’s editing implying a lot of the rest. Rotter’s editing is excellent throughout the film, from the very first sequence.

The film isn’t happy. It’s often funny–there are the hijinks after all and McCarthy and John Heard (as the new priest at the school, which seems like a great narrative device but just gets lost) are great at deadpan–but it’s sad. There’s a weight to it all. Heaven Help Us isn’t just about McCarthy and Dillon finding themselves (they don’t even have to do it themselves–the abrupt deus ex machina takes care of their problems), it really is about Catholic high school. It’s about Heard’s relationship with the headmaster (Donald Sutherland in a fun performance) and the other teachers (specifically an outstanding Jay Patterson as a vicious, cruel one). It’s about the boys growing up in this environment. Dinner takes it very seriously.

Except he’s got too much, because he’s supposed to be making this movie about Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson (who actually has the best story in the film). Instead, he wants to make one about pro-hippie priest John Heard bucking the system. But then he goes ahead and makes one about Dillon.

It’s a mess, but a successful one. Until the third act, all of Dinner and Purpura’s tangential moments work out, like Wallace Shawn’s hilarious monologue on lust.

Heaven Help Us is a fine film, but Dinner had all the pieces–Masterson, McCarthy, Heard, Ondrícek, Rotter, composer James Horner–to make a truly excellent one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Dinner; written by Charles Purpura; director of photography, Miroslav Ondrícek; edited by Stephen A. Rotter; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Molly; produced by Dan Wigutow and Mark Carliner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Michael Dunn), Mary Stuart Masterson (Danni), Kevin Dillon (Rooney), Donald Sutherland (Brother Thadeus), John Heard (Brother Timothy), Jay Patterson (Brother Constance), Malcolm Danare (Caesar), Stephen Geoffreys (Williams), Christopher Durang (Priest), Dana Barron (Janine), Yeardley Smith (Cathleen), Jennifer Dundas (Boo), Kate Reid (Grandma) and Wallace Shawn (Father Abruzzi).


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