Tag Archives: Wilford Brimley

Hard Target (1993, John Woo), the unrated version

There’s nothing spectacularly wrong with Hard Target. It’s a competently executed early nineties action movie. There’s a lot of good stunt work and some amazing pyrotechnics. Lance Henriksen is great as the villain. Wilford Brimley is in it as a Cajun assault archer. Almost everything about it is absurd, but not really out of the ordinary for the genre. It even tries for serious with a little bit of social consciousness–Henriksen is playing the most dangerous game with homeless veterans.

Director Woo is fantastic at making the perfunctory plot points seem sincere. He’ll slow down the close-up, leaving the viewer to inspect the actor’s reaction to something. Usually it’s Butler seeing lead Jean-Claude Van Damme do some amazing feat. One time he’s just standing there and it’s Butler in awe of the standing Van Damme. That scene is an example of something else wrong–but not spectacularly so–with Hard Target. No one’s willing to have any fun. Not even Brimley, when he finally shows up.

There’s no humor in Chuck Pfarrer’s script–at least no successful humor–but Van Damme’s character is particularly thin. He’s a man of mystery. So Woo’s impulse is to go for charming man of mystery and Van Damme botches it. Van Damme can’t even wink. He’ll make these single rapid eye movements towards a character and everyone pretends it’s a wink. He’s without charm.

But Van Damme’s not unbearable. His pseudo-Cajun accent needs work and he looks like a romance cover hero, not a down-on-his-luck street fighting merchant seaman. His stringy mullet is funny, especially once all the stunts start up and you have to wonder if Van Damme had to have the mullet because his mullet-wearing stuntmen aren’t willing to cut theirs off. And Woo’s direction of a couple Van Damme fight scenes is excellent. The fist fight isn’t Woo’s interest though; even when there are fisticuffs in post-first act fight scenes, Woo rushes to get guns in those hands. Van Damme’s not great at the gunfights, but then he starts doing somersaults through the air and seems happy again. Lots of flips in Hard Target. None of them convincing and they get old fast.

Luckily, they’re in the finale so it doesn’t matter. It’s all almost over.

There are some good performances. Henriksen, most of Arnold Vosloo (as Henriksen’s sidekick), Willie C. Carpenter; Kasi Lemmons is okay as the one cop. There’s a strike going on, which seems like it might be a subplot but isn’t. Hard Target doesn’t do subplots.

Leading lady Yancy Butler is pretty slight. Woo wants a lot of emoting. Butler emotes a little less than Van Damme, who’s got the emotional range of a rock pile. Thanks to Bob Murawski’s editing, occasionally Woo can imply something from Butler for a moment or two. It’s not like Chuck Pfarrer’s script gives her any depth either. Thank goodness for Woo.

Nice photography from Russell Carpenter. Nice editing from Murawski. Awful music from Graeme Revell.

Despite Woo’s direction, Henriksen’s villainy, the New Orleans locations, and the strong technical competence, Hard Target doesn’t click. The major action set pieces of the second half disappoint. Because the movie needs a sense of humor. Not Brimley drying gnawing at the scenery.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Chuck Pfarrer; director of photography, Russell Carpenter; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Phil Dagort; produced by Sean Daniel and James Jacks; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Chance Boudreaux), Lance Henriksen (Fouchon), Yancy Butler (Nat), Arnold Vosloo (Van Cleef), Kasi Lemmons (Mitchell), Willie C. Carpenter (Elijah), and Wilford Brimley (Uncle Douvee).


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High Road to China (1983, Brian G. Hutton)

Upon hearing John Barry’s beautiful opening titles music, I realized it was unlikely High Road to China would live up to its score. It does not. It does, however, at times, come rather close.

The film takes place in the twenties, with Bess Armstrong as a flapper who hires WWI veteran Tom Selleck to fly her to Afghanistan to find her father. Selleck’s rough and tumble, Armstrong’s perky and assured; they don’t get along. But unfortunately, Road isn’t a travel picture. The 1,200 mile part of their journey is done completely between scenes. It cuts down on the bantering between the two–but also cuts down on their expected romance.

About thirty minutes in, after they reach Afghanistan, the plotting becomes more predictable. They encounter a warlord–Brian Blessed camping it up in brown-face–and have to escape. Then they get another passenger (Cassandra Gava, in the film’s worst performance) and discover they have to keep going. It should be a quest picture… but it’s not.

Jack Weston is excellent as Selleck’s sidekick. For most of the runtime, the film’s salient character relationship is between the two men; both are broken down and marking time. None of the other actors make an impression–except Robert Morley. He’s awful.

Armstrong and Selleck are both fantastic; Armstrong gets a little more to do.

Besides the weak plotting, the film’s real drawback is director Hutton. Even when he’s competent, his work is never good enough for the actors.

Still, it’s not bad.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian G. Hutton; screenplay by Sandra Weintraub and S. Lee Pogostin, based on the novel by Jon Cleary; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by John Jympson; music by John Barry; production designer, Robert W. Laing; produced by Fred Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bess Armstrong (Eve), Tom Selleck (O’Malley), Jack Weston (Struts), Wilford Brimley (Bradley Tozer), Robert Morley (Bentik), Brian Blessed (Suleman Khan), Cassandra Gava (Alessa), Michael Sheard (Charlie), Lynda La Plante (Lina), Timothy Carlton (Officer), Shayur Mehta (Ahmed), Terry Richards (Ginger), Robert Lee (Zura), Anthony Chinn (General Wong), Ric Young (Kim Su Lee), Timothy Bateson (Alec Wedgeworth) and Wolf Kahler (Von Hess).


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The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

I always say John Carpenter needs to direct something else, something non-genre. A romantic comedy perhaps or a family drama. I guess it never occurred to me, but with The Thing, Carpenter is directing something else. It’s kind of too bad, his best film is the one–in some ways–least like his others. In The Thing, Carpenter maintains his exquisite (there’s really no other word for it) Panavision composition, but he introduces a couple new elements. First, the suspense angle. It could just be Ennio Morricone’s score, but Carpenter takes a far more Hitchcockian approach to suspense in The Thing than he’s done before or since. I watched the film with my wife, who’d seen some of it, but forgot the dog’s importance, so I watched it with that first time experience in the back of my head (I guess with The Thing, which I’ve only seen six or seven times, it’s still possible). Carpenter doesn’t offer any hints, just makes almost everything suspicious (except Kurt Russell–does that make him Jimmy Stewart?). That suspense goes on for over an hour, even after the story revelations, until the beautiful blood test scene.

The blood test scene is probably the best example of the second element (like the segue?). The quietness. The fade-outs. The Thing‘s script, just due to the limited locations, inevitably reminds of a play, but one with an excellent adaptation. Carpenter’s infrequent (I think there are around six) fade-outs, which sometimes emphasize, sometimes silence, are kind of peculiar for him. He’s not known for his gentleness, but with the exception of the special effects sequences and some (not all) of the arguments, The Thing is an incredible gentle film. In some respects, it’s even passive. This second element is the parts working for the whole–Carpenter’s composition, Dean Cundey’s photography, the script, Todd C. Ramsay’s editing–it all comes together in these parts and makes The Thing something different.

As for the actors, who I haven’t mentioned. The Thing is one of those perfectly cast films where it’s pointless to go through and list all the good actors because they’re all good. They’re all perfect, no one else could do a better job in the film’s roles. For Russell, it’s a solid leading man role, but one of those special leading man roles where he’s leading others. He manages to command attention, even though the character’s rather understated. Other singular performances, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Donald Moffat and Thomas G. Waites. Dysart has a lot of screen time in the beginning and is great for all of it. David’s–I have no idea what his job is in the film–a perfect foil for Russell. Moffat and Waites both have small outstanding moments in their otherwise good performances.

Carpenter’s made a lot of great films and he’s made a few of cinematic importance, but The Thing is the one of the greatest artistic importance. It’s something totally different (and totally ignored–I’ll never forget seeing it as a fourteen-year-old after reading Leonard Maltin’s one-and-a-half star dismissive capsule), not just from what Carpenter tends to make, but from Hollywood films and genre films as well. By not rambling on in exposition until the details make some kind of sense (I just discovered overexplain is not a real word), which is a serious genre pitfall, The Thing is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Bill Lancaster, based on novella by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (MacReady), Wilford Brimley (Blair), T.K. Carter (Nauls), David Clennon (Palmer), Keith David (Childs), Richard Dysart (Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Peter Maloney (Bennings), Richard Masur (Clark), Donald Moffat (Garry), Joel Polis (Fuchs) and Thomas G. Waites (Windows).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 2: THE STUDIO QUARTET.

The China Syndrome (1979, James Bridges)

Silly attempt at a Pakula-style paranoid thriller collapses under its own importance. Michael Douglas stars in the film–probably one of his first high profile roles–and produces it too. China Syndrome proves who’s responsible for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (if it wasn’t Kesey) and it isn’t Douglas. Syndrome doesn’t have a firm protagonist, it starts focused on Jane Fonda’s reporter (who exists in a situation not dissimilar to Anchorman, down to the parties) and then moves over to Jack Lemmon. Lemmon does a good job, but he’s hardly got anything to work with. He eats sandwiches a lot. At least Fonda has a pet turtle.

Since the film’s so heavy–and not even in a misdirected way, it’s all about the evils of big business–that it needs some humanity and doesn’t have any. Why bother saving Southern California from a nuclear disaster if it’s only filled with corporate heels and terrible Michael Douglas performances. I should have had some idea, of course, since I’ve seen Bridges’ most famous film, The Paper Chase. It too is full of shit, but almost nothing can describe how full of shit The China Syndrome truly gets. The end is laugh out loud funny.

However, Wilford Brimley shows up and does a great job. It’s his first movie, actually. Or one of them. Wow, poor guy. He was only fifty-one in Cocoon. Talk about getting type-cast early.

Oh, reading on IMDb. Richard Dreyfuss was originally going to be in it, then common sense intruded. The China Syndrome is really a case of too many writers being involved in a project and none of them being good. Bridges is a decent enough director, just can’t write compelling human conflicts.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bridges; written by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook and Bridges; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by David Rawlins; production design, George Jenkins; produced by Michael Douglas; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich) and Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler).