Tag Archives: Xander Berkeley

Repo Chick (2009, Alex Cox)

If Repo Chick were a half hour short, it would work a lot better. Sadly, it’s an almost ninety minute feature–even as a seventy minute feature, it’d be a lot better.

The problem’s the front end. Cox has to introduce his cast, sure, but he never manages to give the film a real narrative. He opens establishing Jaclyn Jonet as the titular Repo Chick–she’s a Paris Hilton analog who needs a job–but the second, better half of the film involves some nonsense about Predator drones, runaway trains and Chloe Webb being hilarious as a televangelist.

The second half also has better acting overall, with Jonet’s three moronic sidekicks barely showing up. Cox had to know he was getting bad performances out of Danny Arroyo, Jenna Colby and Zahn McClarnon, but he doesn’t seem to care. Colby’s particularly incapable.

Miguel Sandoval and Robert Beltran are good throughout, but Beltran doesn’t get any good material until the second half. Also good in the second half are Jennifer Balgobin and, especially, Angela Sarafyan. Xander Berkeley’s really funny in the bad first half too.

Jonet’s never exactly good, but she certainly does get better as the film goes on. Cox doesn’t give her the promised character arc, but it’s no surprise. He doesn’t take Chick seriously. He’s got absurd digital backdrops, using miniature train sets with actors moving among them. It’s supposed to be unconvincing, he just doesn’t have a good story for that approach.

Still, it’s intentional ineptness somewhat succeeds.

1/4

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Alex Cox; director of photography, Steven Fierberg; music by Dan Wool; production designer, Nicolas Plotquin; produced by Cox, Eric Bassett, Bingo Gubelmann, Daren Hicks, Benji Kohn, Austin Stark and Simon Tams; released by Industrial Entertainment.

Starring Jaclyn Jonet (Pixxi), Miguel Sandoval (Arizona Gray), Del Zamora (Lorenzo), Alex Feldman (Marco), Chloe Webb (Sister Duncan), Xander Berkeley (Father de la Chasse), Rosanna Arquette (Lola), Robert Beltran (Aguas), Karen Black (Aunt de la Chasse), Zahn McClarnon (Savage), Jenna Colby (Eggi), Danny Arroyo (666), Jennifer Balgobin (Nevada), Zander Schloss (Doctor), Angela Sarafyan (Giggli), Eddie Velez (Justice Espinoza), Frances Bay (Grandma de la Chasse), Bennet Guillory (Rogers), Olivia Barash (Railroad Employee), Tom Finnegan (Senator Fletcher), Linda Callahan (Rikki Espinoza) and Karen E. Wright (Colonel).

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Apollo 13 (1995, Ron Howard)

While Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon’s characters are the only ones in danger in Apollo 13, they remain calm for almost the entire runtime. There’s no point to panicking, something Hanks points out in dialogue. Instead, director Howard focuses on an exceptional assortment of character actors–as the NASA Mission Control–for the dramatic parts. Even Kathleen Quinlan, as Hanks’s wife, has to keep it together for the most part.

Otherwise, regardless of how it actually happened, the film’s dramatics wouldn’t work. Apollo 13 isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a science and engineering drama. Howard creates a genre with the film; I don’t think anyone has attempted to follow in his footsteps.

There’s no history synopsis at the start, so unless an unknowing viewer paid attention to the opening titles, the finish might be a surprise. Howard has to keep up the tension for both kinds of viewers, informed and not. He and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill probably had a hell of a time putting the film together; they make it appear seamless and organically flowing

Wondrous photography from Dean Cundey and fine music from James Horner assist.

Hanks and Bacon have the most to do, with Paxton and the earthbound Gary Sinise providing sturdy support. Great work from Quinlan. Ed Harris binds the Mission Control scenes.

Of the outstanding character actors, Loren Dean, Clint Howard, Gabriel Jarret and Christian Clemenson stand out.

Apollo 13 is assured, masterful work all around… but especially from Howard.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, based on a book by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (Gene Kranz), Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Jean Speegle Howard (Blanch Lovell), Tracy Reiner (Mary Haise), David Andrews (Pete Conrad), Chris Ellis (Deke Slayton), Joe Spano (NASA Director), Xander Berkeley (Henry Hurt), Marc McClure (Glynn Lunney), Ben Marley (John Young), Clint Howard (EECOM White), Loren Dean (EECOM Arthur), Tom Wood (EECOM Gold), Googy Gress (RETRO White), Patrick Mickler (RETRO Gold), Ray McKinnon (FIDO White), Max Grodénchik (FIDO Gold), Christian Clemenson (Dr. Chuck), Brett Cullen (CAPCOM 1), Ned Vaughn (CAPCOM 2), Andy Milder (GUIDO White), Geoffrey Blake (GUIDO Gold), Wayne Duvall (LEM Controller White), Jim Meskimen (TELMU White), Joseph Culp (TELMU Gold), John Short (INCO White), Ben Bode (INCO Gold), Todd Louiso (FAO White), Gabriel Jarret (GNC White), Christopher John Fields (Booster White), Kenneth White (Grumman Rep), James Ritz (Ted) and Andrew Lipschultz (Launch Director).

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009, Sam Liu)

I’m sure there are some hardcore gay comics less homoerotic than Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, so the prospect of seeing it as a cartoon was irresistible. While Warner Premiere ostensibly intends their latest line of animated DC Comics adaptations for “adults” (i.e. men in their twenties and thirties with the discretionary income to waste it on a Blu-Ray of a poorly illustrated cartoon), these films are timed for eventual Cartoon Network airing–seventy minutes or less.

And Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is just as gloriously homoerotic as an animated movie as it was as a comic book. It’s a shame there’s no make-out scene.

The comic book also directly equated George W. Bush to a homicidal, drug-addicted maniac. Maybe the movie doesn’t go as far–Clancy Brown sounds way too smart–but it comes close. It’s something to see something geared, essentially, towards kids portray the President of the United States as a power mad psychopath, out to ruin the world for his own profit. It’s a little problematic (there’s no Dick Cheney analog in the movie), but it’s something.

Between the politics and the super-gay superheroes, the countless defects are almost forgotten. But not really.

Based on Ed McGuinness’s art, Public Enemies looks cheaper than an advertisement for Hostess fruit pies on afternoon television. It’s got some awful CG, but the composition is generally all right.

Brown is good, Tim Daly is good–Kevin Conroy is lost.

It’s a decent conversation piece, not a movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Stan Berkowitz, based on a comic book by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness and characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, C.C. Beck and Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bobbie Page; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Allison Mack (Power Girl), John C. McGinley (Metallo), Xander Berkeley (Captain Atom), LeVar Burton (Black Lightning), Ricardo Chavira (Major Force), Jerry O’Connell (Captain Marvel), Robert Patrick (Hawkman) and CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller).

Taken (2008, Pierre Morel)

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have been writing ninety minute and change action movies for about seven years. It’s the only thing Kamen–who at one time was a Hollywood action screenwriter–is known for these days. Besson’s written a lot more of these mindless action feasts on his own and I don’t think it ever occurred to me one of them might some day turn out good. I didn’t even know the duo was behind Taken (Besson also produces). I just thought Liam Neeson’s career as a leading man had gotten too tenuous. But maybe only a leading man on the outs could make Taken, because even though it’s good, it’s still a subplot-free, ninety minute action movie. There’s no character development, nor the pretense it would have any part in such a narrative.

Taken‘s story is simple–Neeson’s an action guy (in this case a former CIA operative) who’s daughter gets kidnapped in Paris. He goes to get her back. He beats up a lot of people. Every frame of film is utilized towards that story–even tangential sequences reveal themselves to be part of the main plot. The first act of the film, which runs a half hour (lengthy for a ninety minute movie), is actually rather boring.

There’s a lot of (as it turns out) necessary setting and character stuff; these quieter moments are where Taken is chubby and off-point. Without them, however, the movie would only run an hour, which means it’d never get a theatrical release in the United States. Also, the viewer wouldn’t get to find out Maggie Grace is fine (nothing more) playing a teenager at twenty-five. He or she also wouldn’t get to suffer through Famke Janssen’s latest attempt at essaying a harpy. She fails once again, no surprise.

But immediately–with the kidnapping scene–Taken becomes captivating. It’s cheap and manipulative and it works. It’s short enough not to outstay its welcome and its occasional incredulousness can’t surmount Neeson’s fine performance.

Neeson makes Taken seem like it isn’t a disposable action movie. As goofy as the film gets in its scenes (not the action ones, the buddy scenes at the beginning), Neeson always makes them work. The whole movie depends on him and he doesn’t fail it.

Taken is very obviously not a mainstream American action movie, simply because of the plot’s clearness. The bad guys are not techo-terrorists, they’re just human traffickers. As the film revealed that plot point, I wondered if Taken was going to inform on that situation (on average, American men laugh when told of human trafficking; American soldiers in Iraq frequent victims of human trafficking), but it does not. Taken doesn’t really have room to educate, doesn’t have room to linger. It slices quickly and directly, just like Neeson’s character.

Morel’s direction is similarly efficient. The fight scenes are well-cut (especially given how tall Neeson is compared to his co-stars) and Taken–thanks to the combination of acting, directing and editing–never feels as though it’s trying to hide Neeson not actually being a trained martial artist. There’s also no sped up film, which is a pleasant surprise.

Taken succeeds on a higher level than it should because Besson and Kamen have constructed it to be self-evident. Just as there aren’t any subplots, there aren’t any themes or metaphors. It’s an action movie and a good one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Pierre Morel; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Frédéric Thoraval; music by Nathaniel Mechaly; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; produced by Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam and India Osborne; released by EuropaCorp.

Starring Liam Neeson (Bryan), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean Claude), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), David Warshofsky (Bernie), Holly Valance (Diva), Nathan Rippy (Victor), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Nicolas Giraud (Peter) and Gérard Watkins (Saint Clair).


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