Tag Archives: Josef Sommer

Harold Becker’s Malice

Aaron Sorkin gets a lot of props for his writing and the guy has done some good stuff but I can’t let him off the hook for Malice, a backwards ass psychosexual melodrama that’s so bad it isn’t even good, it’s just hot fucking mess, twice baked roadkill in summer bad. I wanted to love this because I’m a huge fan of melodramatic 90’s potboilers and also it stars Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman, three wicked sharp and always reliable stars. But man, this thing is just a fucking mess.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around three central characters: a college dean (Pullman), his wife (Nicole Kidman) and a hotshot surgeon (Baldwin) with a severely self proclaimed god complex and generally corrosive, unpleasant personality. After he’s sued big time for malpractice when he wrongfully removes her ovaries in an emergency procedure the plot just completely derails and descends into sleazy lifetime thriller territory. The twists contain zero logic, the characters are nondescript cardboard inserts save Baldwin who does his best to save it but eventually gets cornered by the silly narrative just like everyone else. Oh yeah and there’s a subplot about a serial rapist/killer on campus that’s thrown in there seemingly for the fuck of it as an afterthought, but you’ll guess who it is the moment he shows up just because he’s such a recognizably creepy dude. There’s supporting efforts from Josef Sommer, Bebe Neurith, Peter Gallagher, Tobin Bell, Anne Bancroft, an early Gwyneth Paltrow appearance and George C. Scott himself as a cantankerous old veteran doctor with a Santa beard. Wicked cast, right? Too bad they’re all mostly wasted.

I love a good deception/betrayal/psycho doctor potboiler but the gears all have to click together and come up with something that’s believable or you just end up in Eric Roberts two dollar bin material (sorry Eric but it’s true). This thing is ridiculously plotted right out the ass and what’s worse is we didn’t even care one ounce about these characters from the start so we don’t even get the masochistic rush of seeing people we’ve invested in get flushed down the drain of a bad script. This thing just flatlines, and even the scenes that provide some vague thrill seem episodic and detached from the story overall. The only halfway saving grace is Baldwin who really relishes the grade A asshole role enthusiastically, for the first half anyways until things really begin to disintegrate. I will say he gets one of the best lines of his whole career here though. When second guessed by one of his underlings in the OR, he later growls at them in in the locker room: “If you ever question me again in there I’ll take out your lungs with a fucking ice cream scoop” “I’m not gonna like you much, am I?” His colleague bemoans, to which he affably replies “What are you talkin’ about? Everybody likes me.” It’s a terrific moment and the only sign of life in an otherwise awful film.

-Nate Hill

Peter Weir’s Witness

Witness is one of those films that in the hands of a less inspired director could have turned out to be pretty run of the mill thriller stuff, but they gave the script to Peter Weir, and he’s made a career out of films that could be called just about anything but run of the mill. This is essentially a fairly grounded tale of big city detective Harrison Ford undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who accidentally saw a cabal of corrupt cops murder someone in cold blood. It’s a fish out of water tale, it’s got budding romance, hot blooded action and even some comedy here and there. But there’s also this lyrical, esoteric atmosphere Weir brings to every project that really makes it something special. There’s a danger present in the Amish community, or rather the threat of such as seen in the long grass of the fields or sensed on the fringes of their village where the tree line looms. There’s a blessed calm as Ford learns the ways and customs of these folk and gets close with the daughter (Kelly McGillis) of one of their elders (Jan Rubes, a scene stealer) but alongside that there’s this restless, inexorable foreboding that these evil officers of the law could turn up at anytime and turn the calmness into a storm to follow. They eventually do, of course, and are played by the fearsome likes of Josef Sommer and Danny Glover, arriving like phantoms to herald a showdown of stealth and gun violence that is Western to its core but still stings with the grit of an urban cop flick. I love this film not so much for the story or script (both of which are just fine) but for the *feeling* it evokes, the ambience spun onscreen by Weir and composer Maurice Jarre, whose work here is ecstatically beautiful. There’s an extended sequence where we see the Amish folk building a barn and it’s a simple enough task, but something about the dutiful way Weir films it coupled with an almost grandiose passage of Jarre’s music makes it come alive in a way that not many scenes of its nature do in film. And always, lurking in the background, is the fear that danger is on its way, a sustained distillation of unease that helps to make this a gorgeous, effective thriller and all round great film.

-Nate Hill