Tag Archives: alicia witt

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes

It takes less than 88 Minutes into Jon Avnet’s aptly titled Al Pacino thriller vehicle to realize you’ve kind of waded into a mess, but the viciously bad reputation this one has is kind of overblown, at least for me. Yes it’s a big implausible house of mirrors but instead of mirrors there’s cliches and WTF plot turns, there’s absolutely way too many characters running about and the pace is all across the board, but I enjoyed it anyways, in a fun TV movie kind of way.

Pacino and his pacemaker play Jack Gramm, an FBI profiling guru who is forced to marathon run around Seattle (naturally Vancouver, cue eye roll) overturning stones, under which there may be murder suspects. There’s a nasty serial killer (the always awesome Neal McDonough) who is sitting on death row, days away from execution. He proclaims himself innocent and whaddya know, an hour or so after that some incredibly convenient copycat murders start happening, giving him the seeds of reprieve. It’s up to ol’ Al, his tough guy Bureau boss (William Forsythe, again always an awesome familiar face to see) and others to smoke out this co-conspiracy… or something like that.

Pacino is still trying to do the ladies man shtick here with a shock of grey hair and a leather coat hide, but if you ask me it never really worked for him anyways, at least not in the traditional sense. Take Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate for example, where he naturally plays The Devil. There’s a scary, untrustworthy glint in this actor’s eye that makes him most at home in arch villain and sort of renegade roles, but when he tries to play the straight arrow type thing, it feels off. He’s serviceable here though, doing a lot of running, shouting and gun waving and mugging for the camera like a curb-side mine. McDonough does most of his mugging from behind a newsroom camera as some network does a special on his last few days and he barks thinly veiled threats to the masses. Forsythe does his stalwart G-Man thing and the rest of the roster is actually pretty impressive and includes Benjamin Mackenzie, Amy Brenneman, Stephen Moyer, Alicia Witt, the great Deborah Kara Unger and eternally babyfaced Leelee Sobieski as one of Pacino’s students who, inexplicably, has the hots for him.

Speaking of all things inexplicable, the plot traffics in them like currency and by the end we wonder just how long the writers can manipulate these chess piece suspects around the board before we begin to call bullshit on this bonkers narrative. All silliness aside though I had fun with this one, it’s like Agatha Christie by way of Criminal Minds with so much extra gobbledygook thrown at the wall that I couldn’t help have fun despite not following the plot at any given minute. Give it a go on beer night.

-Nate Hill

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David Lynch’s Dune

David Lynch’s Dune is a great film despite what critics, moviegoers, the general consensus and Lynch himself would have you believe. It’s obvious that heavy editing turned it into something of a pacing quagmire, scenes are truncated, oddly conceived voiceovers are added, and yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. This is still an exquisitely crafted, beautifully atmospheric space opera that takes full advantage of production design, casting, special effects and music, I loved every damn minute of it. I’ve recently been reading Lynch’s semi autobiography and it seems clear that that money shark producer Dino De Laurentiis had final cut and just couldn’t reconcile letting the runtime go past two and a quarter hours. Shame, as there was no doubt way more that we could have seen, but what’s left is still magnificent. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak for any lapses as far as that goes, but what we have here is a sweeping science fiction fantasy saga about warring royal families, shifting alliances and metaphysical forces all revolving around the desert planet Arrakis, where an invaluable spice is mined and fought over by all. Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow), his wife Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle Maclachlan) travel far across the universe from their home world of Caladan to oversee Spice harvesting and production. Buoyant, herpes afflicted fatso Baron Harkonnen (the inimitable Kenneth McMillan takes scenery chewing to a whole new level) seeks to usurp and steal the operation for his house. So begins a series of wars, betrayals and no end of staggeringly staged set pieces and baroque, abstractly conceived production design that Lynch & Co. slaved over for years to bring us. The sand worms are a visual marvel, as are the gold and silver spaceships, the interiors of which feel both lushly industrial and gleamingly regal. Maclachlan and Lynch had their first team up here, the first of many, and the young actor is a magnetic lead, handling the arc well from a naive prince to a desert outlaw who wins over the leader (Everett McGill) of the indigenous tribe of Arrakis and falls in love with their princess (Sean Young, somehow *even* sexier here than she was in Blade Runner). Lynch has amassed an unbelievable cast here, an epic laundry list of names including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Virginia Madsen, Alicia Witt, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance and more, all excellent. Sting is in it too and I have to say that his is the only performance that’s campy in a bad way instead of good, you should see him leering at the camera like he’s in a second grade play. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the original score by Toto, who dial back their trademark rock vibe and produce something atmospheric and elemental in the vein of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. Their main theme is distinct and oddly melancholic and the rest is synthesis style, beautiful work. I don’t know what to tell you about the whole editing debacle, I mean I guess if De Laurentiis hadn’t have had to swing his dick around Lynch may have had his three plus hour cut, but would that really have been better, or would there have then been a complete lack of pacing and progression ? Who knows, but the way it is now, admittedly there’s a lack of complete coherency and one can tell certain scenes are missing while others languish and take up too much running time, but the issues are nowhere close to as disastrous as the swirling reputation around this film suggest. I’m just so stoked on it now because I avoided it for years thinking it was some giant cinematic mistake a lá Battlefield Earth. Not a chance, and I think many people are just being a bit dramatic, because this is a showstopper of a fantasy epic and I loved it to bits. Just bought the Blu Ray off Amazon a minute ago, excited for many revisits.

-Nate Hill

Urban Legend

Urban Legend is pretty much like Scream, but a lot less meta and a bit more atmosphere, unfolding as you’d expect it to, with a group of college kids getting killed in bizarre circumstances that all relate to half whispered local myths. One of their professors is Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and who better to lay down the tongue in cheek groundwork than such a familiar face and expressive, dynamic presence like him. Looking back on this it’s fairly shocking how terrific of a cast it has and how it’s been mostly forgotten in the annals of slasher archives. Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Natasha Gregson Warner and Danielle Harris headline as the varied campus rats, with Harris a standout as the obnoxious bitchy goth stereotype, far from her timid Jamie Lloyd in the Halloween films. There’s a prologue cameo from horror vet Brad Dourif as well as appearances from Loretta Devine, Julian Richings, Michael Rosenbaum and a priceless John Neville, getting all the best lines as the college’s salty Dean. The kills are all done in high 90’s style, the story takes a Scream-esque twisty turn in the third act and as far as atmosphere goes, it pretty much outdoes the ol’ ghostface franchise. Spooky good time. 

-Nate Hill

Four Rooms


Four Rooms is an anthology film of sorts, segmented into four episodes, two of which are pretty inspired as they just happened to be helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The other two outings… well, let’s just say they kind of bring the whole film down. As solid as Robert and Quentin’s efforts are, they’re two quarters of a whole that needs to be engaging all the time to work as a cohesive package, and sadly that’s not the case. These four tales all take place in one hectic and seedy L.A. hotel, in various rooms that showcase a host of troubled weirdos just trying to get through the night. This quartet of nocturnal misadventures is tied together by one central character, Ted The Bellhop (a peppy Tim Roth). In the first, which is also the weakest, a goofy coven of witches carry out some asinine ritual. This is a well casted bit as we see the likes of Madonna, Ioan Skye, Valeria Golino, Lilli Taylor and Alicia Witt, but the tone comes off as grade school level shenanigans and there’s many a cringe to be had. The second is an oddly placed noirish bit that finds Ted caught between an unhinged gun wielding whacko (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, David Proval is criminally underrated) and his femme fatale wife (Jennifer Beals). This one isn’t as awful as the first, yet feels a little off putting and claustrophobic. The third sees Robert Rodriguez step up to bat with ‘The Misbehavers’ a riotous black comedy concerning an upper class couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) who leave Ted in charge of their troublemaker kids for the night as they go out dancing. Anything can and does go wrong here, as the youngsters get into all kinds of shit including finding a half decomposed hooker (Patricia Vonne) stuffed in a mattress. Rodriguez shows comedic flair in fits and starts in the pulpy action side of his oeuvre, but here he’s purely having fun and the result is a sleazy hoot of a good time. The fourth and best is by Tarantino, and as such is mostly talking. But what talking it is; Ted stumbles into the penthouse suite which is home to a string out Hollywood film crew, and they’ve decided to place a dangerous bet that involves bodily dismemberment. Quentin is usually a fairly awful actor, but he’s not bad here as the motor mouthed ringleader of this insane posse, while Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei and a very stressed out Bruce Willis chime in as well. This segment is pure gold, with an abrupt, trademark Tarantino payoff that leaves you chuckling darkly. All kinds of folks have cameos, so watch for the recently disgraced, supremely ugly Kathy Griffin, Lawrence Bender, Salma Hayek and others. There’s always stronger and weaker entries in an anthology film, competition is par for the course. This one has quite the ups and downs though, and would have been far better off being just a Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, but oh well. 

-Nate Hill