Wolfgang Petersen is known for directing some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters over the years including Air Force One, The Neverending Story, The Perfect Storm and Troy. One thing he hasn’t done much of is writing, other than the melodramatic, Hitchockian 1991 thriller Shattered, which is kind of a mess. Whether it’s the source novel by Richard Neely that’s dodgy or Petersen’s screenplay that dropped the ball, this film doesn’t quite clearly delineate it’s plot points, many of which are so far beyond plausible it’s hard to really get a grip on the story or keep a straight face. Tom Berenger plays a powerful businessman who accidentally launches his car off a highway outcrop into a spectacular swan dive that leaves his face looking like a dirt bike track and his memory more absent than of Jason Bourne’s. After some facial reconstruction he’s back on his feet and in the arms of his wife (Greta Scacchi), but something just doesn’t quite seem right. The memories she tells him of before the accident don’t seem real to him, he starts gathering clues relating to some kind of infidelity or cover up and his intuition just tells him he’s being thrown for a loop. This is where the film’s narrative sort of imitates that car and drives right over the edge of comprehension; The serpentine twists and turns employed are sort of fun but have absolutely no place in the real world, let alone even a hard boiled thriller like this. Bob Hoskins is fun as a snarky veterinarian who moonlights as a PI, trying to help Berenger fit the pieces together. Corbin Bernsen listlessly plays yet another smarmy role as his ex business partner, I sometimes wonder if they’ve ever given that guy a role worth his salt or if his career is cursed with playing the annoyingly extroverted debonair who has zero depth. Joanne Whalley Kilmer shows up as some psychic who throws around vague threats and acts like she knows something but isn’t even sure herself what it is, which is the feeling the script gives you. By the time the final revelations make themselves known and we see what really happened after the accident it’s kind of fun but also just riddled with inconsistencies and eye roll moments. It isn’t a bad film though, and has a few moments. There’s great cinematography of Oregon and San Francisco as well as a foggy shipwreck that holds a few secrets and gives off spooky ambience. The score by Alan Silvestri is steamy in places, rousing in others and gets the job done. It’s just the story that sort of treats us like we’re idiots, and as if we not only haven’t seen this story done before, but seen it done better.
How to even approach Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. For a guy whose career has spanned decades from golden age Hollywood to contemporary and etched out a few mile markers that have practically defined the medium, this is definitely both the odd duck and black sheep of the man’s career. There’s no way around it either so I’ll be blunt: it’s kind of a mess. But it’s an intermittently breathtaking mess, like someone spilt a can of turgid motor oil in their garage, but a few gold and silver flakes of airbrush paint snuck into the oozing puddle. There’s a noticeable Stephen King vibe here, with flippant Val Kilmer as horror novelist Hall Baltimore, struck with writer’s block and hiding out in a creepy Midwest town to try and get the creative juices flowing. There’s murder afoot there, in more ways than one, and soon he’s visited by the ghost of a girl (Elle Fanning, darkly ethereal) who guides him along a chain of memories that recall missing children from the past. The town’s gruff, obnoxious Sheriff (Bruce Dern) doesn’t appreciate Hall nosing around his neck of the woods and harasses him at every turn. There’s Skype seasons with his wife (Joanne Whalley, Killer’s real life ex) that feel suspiciously improvised, an appearance by Edgar Allen Poe himself (Ben Chaplin) and creaky narration from none other than Tom Waits. Ultimately it doesn’t really connect, and feels so fascinated by itself that it fails to coherently tell us the tale in a way that sticks. What does take hold, however, are some truly gorgeous and striking visuals, lit by stark silver moonlight, accented by crimson blood and brought to unholy life by tactile, riveting slow motion, like a dream sequence in which Kilmer observes a group of ghost children frolicking on an eerie riverbank. Much of it feels subconscious and free form or lifted out of an Evanescence music video, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It just needs the focus of the script to properly come across as a whole story, which, sadly, it mostly doesn’t have. Fanning makes the biggest impression as the ghostly waif, peering off the film’s poster and promising a poetic spook show, which… we kind of get. This has been seen as a shrill blast of emptiness by many critics, but there’s some fun to be had, and plenty of gothic eye candy to feast on, even if the brain goes hungry.
Who doesn’t love Ron Howard’s Willow? Hopefully nobody, because it’s a brilliant fantasy classic that’s aged like the finest wine. From a story by George Lucas (vague Ewok vibes abound), it’s just a rollicking picture, oriented towards the little ones whose sense of wonder hasn’t dimmed, yet eager to include a very real sense of danger and darkness, the perfect recipe to make a film like this noteworthy and nostalgic. In a village inhabited solely by dwarf-like creatures, a secret has been unearthed by the family of young would-be sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). In their little Hobbitsville of a town on the edge of a vast fantastical realm, a human infant has floated down river like Moses, a special child with the power to defeat a nefariously evil witch (Jean Smart) who has terrorized the land for ages. After the baby attracts danger to their village, the council gives Willow the task of bringing the child out into the world so it can fulfill it’s potential and bring goodness back to the realm. So begins a dazzling big budget journey into the heart of sword and sorcery darkness, a well woven blend of humour, heart and magic that is never short of thrills or visual splendour. Val Kilmer steals the show as rambunctious Madmartigan, a fiercely funny rogue of a warrior who protects and guides Willow through a harsh, threatening world, while Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton score comic relief points as two pint size little pixie things with vaguely European accents, which they use to hurl many a colourful insult in Kilmer’s general direction. Val’s real life wife Joanne Whalley plays sultry Sorshia, daughter to the villainous queen and badass beautiful warrior princess with dark sex appeal for days. There’s just so much to love about this film, from the wildly boisterous score by James Horner that gets our pulses up, the gorgeous production design and attention to detail, the story itself full of wondrous magic and peril, to the reliance on practical effects as per the times. It’s adorable that the filmmakers went out of their way to cast hordes of actual little people as opposed to relying on camera trickery, right down to Willow’s tiny, impossibly cute dwarf children. Highlights I will always remember from this one are the impressively staged sled race down a snowy peak using shields as careening vehicles and the surprisingly gory attack from giant worm/gorilla hybrid creatures that seriously disturbed seven year old Nate for years after. You simply can’t go wrong with this one.
44 Inch Chest is packed full of bloated, preening masculinity, cold hard chauvinism and dense, wordy exchanges that seem pulled right off the stage, an intense bit of British pseudo-gangster quirk with two writers who seem intent on heightening every syllable to near surreal levels of style. The same scribes are responsible for the glorious verbal stew that can be found in Paul McGuigan’s brutal Gangster No. 1 as well as Sexy Beast, and while the level of viciousness here is left almost entirely to the spoken word alone, the elliptical sting of their script still hits home, and even ramps up a bit from those films. A mopey, consistently weepy Ray Winstone stars as boorish Colin Diamond, an gent whose wife (Joanne Whalley Kilmer) has been caught in an affair with a chiseled french pretty boy (Melvil Poupoud). He resorts to a melancholy, comatose state as his perceived manliness visibly circles the drain. His circle of friends arrives, each with their own flamboyant ideas for resolving the situation. Velvety Meredith (Ian McShane, cool as a cucumber) looks on in snooty amusement. Violent guttersnipe Mal (Stephen Dillane, replacing Tim Roth) has the brawn but neither the brains nor ambition to act. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is the bewildered everyman. Old Man Peanut (a fire and brimstone John Hurt who devours the script like a lion feasting on a gazelle) is a bible thumping, crusty old pot of fury who suggests that wifey should be stoned to death for her indecency and betrayal. They spend the better part of the film pontificating like a babbling senate, whilst Winstone languishes in despair. One wonders what the point of it all is and where it’s going, until we arrive at an oddly satisfying third act that somehow negates almost everything we’ve seen before it. Strangely enough, though, it works, if only to give us something we’ve never quite seen before, pulling the rug of genre convention out from under us and giving us a piece that almost could resemble a spoof of other works, if it weren’t so damned straight faced and persistent in its execution. In any case, I could watch this group of actors assemble ikea furniture and it would still be transfixing. It’s just a room full of talent shooting the shit for most of the running time, and in a genre where one can scarcely here the performers talk over the gunfire and cheekily referential soundtrack a lot of the time, I’ll damn well take something a bit more paced, quiet and stately. Winstone smears over his usual seething anger with a morose depression would almost be endearing if it weren’t so pathetic. Wilkinson brings his usual studious nature. McShane is pure class in anything (even a few B movies I’m sure he’d love to forget) and he swaggers through this one like a regal peacock, getting some of the best lines to chew on. Dillane is detached and indifferently cruel, with seldom a word uttered, his lack of mannerism contrasted by the vibrant animosity of his three peers. Hurt is pure gold as the closest the film comes to caricature, just a vile old coot who belongs in the loony bin raving to the walls about awful things that happened ‘back in his day’. Different is the key word for this one, and one might be easily fooled by the poster and synopses into assuming this is a revenge flick populated by action and violence. Not so much. Although a lot of the time that is my cup of tea, it’s nice to get a welcome deviation once in a while, and this one is a real treat.