Rating: The Ugly – 64.5 Genre: Thriller Duration: 99 mins Director: Tom Holland Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Faye Dunaway
Daft as a brush but forgivably sardonic, Tom Holland’s The Temp is a fast and loose thriller about an executive’s beautiful but sinister assistant whose recent arrival coincides with a number of accidents that move both her and her increasingly suspicious boss up the ladder. Timothy Hutton is the beleaguered exec, Laura Flynn Boyle, his self-appointed but apparently unstable cat’s paw while Faye Dunaway and Oliver Platt play their cut throat co-workers. With its unpredictable plot and outlandish progression, The Temp scores for its sheer uniqueness but with the writer-director of the quirky Fright Night pulling the strings, it’s also a riot of rather well disguised black comedy too. Contrasting dark tones of paranoia with over the top villainy, there’s barely a scene that won’t elicit a crooked smile. However, so unorthodox is its execution that the sarcasm is perhaps too well disguised. As often as not, the movie comes across as a tad unsure of itself and even erratic. In these moments, it can let the audience slip through its fingers despite the best efforts of Hutton and co. In the end, it all unravels rather resoundingly but, at the very least, it maintains its eccentricity.
Rating: The Good – 64.3 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 124 mins Director: Mimi Leder Stars: George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Marcel Iures
Run of the mill action thriller by the 1990’s standards that still managed to distinguish itself with a couple of neatly staged and exhilarating set pieces and a classy performance from Nicole Kidman. George Clooney stars as a special forces colonel assigned to help Kidman’s civilian advisor locate and retrieve some stolen nuclear weapons before they can be used in a terrorist attack. Outside of a severely protracted opening, Mimi Leder sets a jaunty pace and Clooney and Kidman match that pep with a somewhat edgy dynamic that the latter very much controls. Clooney was still a head-bobbing up-and-comer but was on the verge of honing his screen presence and he quite professionally follows Kidman’s lead during the slower scenes while cutting a dashing action man during the more kinetic moments. Unfortunately, Michael Schiffer’s screenplay adapted from Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s article “One Point Safe” is rather ordinary and beyond it serving the plot adequately it does little to build on the leading pair’s chemistry. The Peacemaker was the debut production for DreamWorks SKG so Leder found herself with a fair budget to play with and, for the most part, she spends it well. That said, a rather significant but cheaply attended subplot concerning an aggrieved Eastern European terrorist feels flimsy at best and more often intrudes on the more exciting manhunt narrative. More the pity because The Peacemaker solely succeeds as an action movie.
Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Drama Duration: 138 mins Director: Rob Reiner Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore
One of the most quoted movies in recent decades, Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s legal drama pits Tom Cruise’s talented young JAG Corps officer against Jack Nicholson’s tyrannical Marine Corps division commander. Cruise excels as the plucky lawyer faced with the task of defending two marines on trial for murder. However, this one will always be remembered for his co-star’s scenery-chewing turn as the defendants’ base commander and the man behind their illicit orders to “train” the soon-to-be victim. A host of top names fill out the rest of the bill with both Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak (as Cruiser’s legal team) playing more grounded roles than was typical of their careers at that point. Kevin Bacon is his usual safe pair of hands as the prosecutor while a nasty Kiefer Sutherland and the late great J.T. Walsh offer strong support as Nicholson’s underlings. Sorkin’s sharp script is best remembered for its relentless courtroom dialogue but it’s laced with subtleties that augment the drama from all angles. From its nods to the various character’s backgrounds to the unspoken enmity between the Marines and the Navy, they provide a rich subtext to the plot. From the director’s chair, Reiner generates a palpable tension and swift pace from the screenplay with much help from composer Marc Shaiman’s exciting score and, of course, his two leads. Though “Colonel Nathan Jessup” has probably gone down as Nicholson’s most famous role and though he certainly provides the lion’s share of the movie’s dramatic thump, it’s not the most nuanced piece of acting we’ve seen from the screen legend. Playing up to a caricature of his own celebrity, he never attempts to escape his “Big Jack” persona and is content to let his famous sneering delivery and scathing smile do most of the work. Not that it hurts the movie in the slightest but it seems a relevant footnote when discussing one of modern cinema’s most memorable characters.
Rating: The Good – 66.7 Genre: Action, Adventure Duration: 113 mins Director: Jan de Bont Stars: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes
Jan de Bont’s second directorial effort after the smash hit Speed upped the ante on the action by following a bunch of storm-chasing scientists through tornado country as they attempt to figure out the secrets of the twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton lead the ragtag pack of adrenaline junkies as the estranged married couple competing with a highly financed rival scientist (a slithery Cary Elwes) who stole their methodology. The action is everything you’d expect from the man who shot Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and the relatively early CGI effects still hold up to this day. The tornado sequences themselves range between formidable and unlikely as writer Michael Crichton takes his usual liberties in adapting science for the screen. Hunt and Paxton are more than comfortable with each other and add an understated charm to the movie while a young Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a memorable shift as the “crazy guy”. There’s plenty of humour courtesy of his and everyone else’s antics and a neatly developed assortment of characters (an often ignored strength of Crichton’s screenplays) ensure it blends seamlessly with the plot’s progression. Incidentally, Twister was the first movie released in DVD format and so it not only scores as an enjoyable action adventure but it also holds a position of some significance among the geekiest of movie fans.
Wolfgang Peterson’s star-studded thriller proves yet another mainstream success for 1990’s cinema as Dustin Hoffman’s USAMRID Colonel attempts to stay ahead of a lethal virus which is laying waste to a small California town. With former wife and CDC big-wig (Rene Russo) in tow alongside his own team (an Oscar-laden Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go about town disobeying orders from their shadowy superiors, breaking quarantine, and any number of other drastic measures in the hope of manufacturing an antibody before Donald Sutherland’s nasty General destroys the whole town – simply to keep the virus for his own biological weapons programme! It’s a sweeping popcorn movie expertly crafted to draw every bit of tension out of an old plot and infused with all manner of personality, chemistry, and light humour by that glittering cast. Hoffman, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself no end while Russo shows yet again that she can not only hold her own next to any A-Lister in the business but enhance both of their performances with that endearing rapport she seems to so easily generate. Sutherland is the straight bad guy but Morgan Freeman gets his teeth into an altogether more textured role as the General who discovers that duty and honour make for poor bedfellows. Throw in a couple of cracking helicopter chases and a last minute dash to stop the town’s imminent destruction and you’ve got a decent night in front of the box.
Rating: The Good – 87.7 Genre: Crime Duration: 115 mins Director: Joel & Ethan Coen Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
A rare gem of a film that has remained relatively unacknowledged (when compared to more commercially successful Coen films), Miller’s Crossing stands alongside The Big Lebowski as the Coen brothers’ best film to date. Based loosely on an often forgotten film-noir, The Glass Key, the film is set during the prohibition era and follows kingmaker Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne) in his attempts to play two rival gangs against the middle for reasons that are never entirely clear. This is a film that boasts perfection from all quarters from the casting, the acting, the writing, the directing, the cinematography, to the scoring. The cast is loaded with heavy hitters with Albert Finney and J.E. Freeman (as the terrifying Eddie Dane) doing particularly well alongside Gabriel Byrne who is in the form of his career. The directing is textbook as the brothers create a flawless synthesis of Dennis Gassner’s production design, Roger Deacons’ cinematography, and Carter Burwell’s score, all of which are stunning.
Of course, the standout strength of Miller’s Crossing is the dialogue which is not only the best example of Coen dialogue but perhaps the most powerful use of dialogue in modern film. The main thrust of the film’s quick and steady pace comes from the lyrical and relentless back and forth between the film’s characters and in typical noir fashion, this is usually between Tom and someone else. The story is the usual rubix cube of crosses and double-crosses which we have come to expect from the Coens but the payoff is perhaps more sharply realised here than in any of their other movies. In fact, the manner in which it all comes together is so sublime that Miller’s Crossing isn’t just one of the Coen’s best films, it’s also one of the best gangster noirs – period!
Rating: The Good – 63.3 Genre: Crime Duration: 104 mins Director: Steven Soderbergh Stars: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren
Steven Soderbergh’s film about a British gangster who travels to LA to kill the rich music producer who killed his daughter is edited in a supremely frustrating style akin to that which Soderbergh used in the key romantic scene in Out of Sight – when Clooney and Lopez meet in the hotel bar. Dialogue and shots are desynchronised as time is stretched out and condensed simultaneously. It works wonderfully in Out of Sight because it came at a transitory point in the movie, lasted only a couple of minutes, and was accompanied by David Holmes’ lovely score. In the Limey, all it does is irritate because it is employed recurrently throughout the movie and almost entirely for the first 20 minutes. On top of that, having Terrance Stamp stopping to translate his cockney wide boy slang to the various Americans is nauseating, unrealistic (surely he just wouldn’t use it to save time), and suggests that the inclusion of said slang was merely a gimmick.
Having said that, about 50 mins in this film rights itself and the story becomes more viewer friendly. The main characters are finally established and the remaining 50 mins is really entertaining. Stamp is decent as the grieving tough guy, Luis Guzmán is good support, Peter Fonda amuses, and that man Nicky Katt pops up (as he typically does) in an interesting if under-exploited cameo. If you’re in the mood for a revenge story with a twist this is worth sticking with.
Rating: The Good – 72.2 Genre: Romantic Comedy Duration: 117 mins Director: Reginald Hudlin Stars: Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, Halle Berry
Eddie Murphy blew hot and cold during the 1990’s but when he got it right, he usually nailed it. This smart and unusually wise romantic comedy is perhaps the best example of him doing just that. Murphy stars as the soft cracking lady-killer who gets knocked off his stride when he falls for his new boss, a stunning Robin Givens, and sees his caddish ways thrown back in his face by the alpha female. One tends to pigeon hole Murphy as nothing more than a comic but this guy could act (and probably still can) and in Boomerang he mixes this with quintessential humour and bags of presence. He’s excels in both sides to his dual role, from the charming ladies’ man to the charmed boss-lady’s man-slave. Wright is pitch perfect as his ringmaster and the watching him jump through her hoops is genuinely amusing. A radiant Halle Berry is just as good as Murphy’s girl-next-door type love interest and, as his best friends, Martin Lawrence and In Living Color’s David Alan Grier play off each other to hilarious effect. There are so many standout moments here that it’s two hours running time flies by and with a (finally) properly used Grace Jones as a ramped up version of well…herself, most of them will stay with you well past the close of the movie. That said, despite the wealth of comedy talent, the funniest moments involve a man-servant grinning at Murphy as he’s being forcibly seduced by Eartha Kitt’s man-eating 80 year old. Reginald Hudlin gives the whole thing a softly polished vibe that gently evokes early 90’s New York without smacking of it but it’s Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield’s mature and witty screenplay and the manner in which the cast deliver it that allows Boomerang to stand so tall amid the several other rom-coms of the era.
Rating: The Ugly – 66.5 Genre: Action Duration: 112 mins Director: Renny Harlin Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker
A truly awful screenplay meets some of the hammiest acting straight on in this entertaining action romp about a group of mercenaries who co-opt a couple of mountain climbers into their attempt to locate briefcases full of money lost in a mountain wilderness. John Lithgow adds yet another impossibly over the top turn to his catalogue as the merciless leader of the bad guys, Stallone is actually a little better than usual as the burly yet modest climbing expert, Michael Rooker offers sound presence to the mix but Janine Turner is much too bland to matter. Where Cliffhanger succeeds is in giving us a veritable kaleidoscope of nastiness in the bad guy department. From Rex Linn’s crooked treasury agent and 24 carat asshole to Caroline Goodall’s murderous vixen and with a couple/three very punchable faces thrown in between, these guys are the best bunch of venom spitting henchmen since Die Hard. Alas, without much of a script to harness the interesting personalities which the actors bring to the party, that’s all they remain and whatever fun there is to be had, is at watching these world class bastards get their well deserved comeuppances.
Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: Martial Arts Duration: 134 mins Director: Hark Tsui Stars: Jet Li, Biao Yuen, Rosamund Kwan
Epic martial arts adventure starring Jet Li as the famous warrior Wong Fei-Hung who becomes embroiled in the intrigue of foreign powers and local corruption as he attempts to protect his homeland and traditions from their destructive influence. The outright strength of this magnificent piece of cinema is the tapestry of plots and stories it weaves into the central narrative not to mention the chorus of martial artists that intermittently set the screen alight. The result is a sprawling extravaganza of martial art drama. Hark Tsui brings an unabashed grandiosity to the film with striking cinematography and balletically choreographed action. James Wong’s magnificent score tells the story on its own level while Marco Mak’s editing whisks the audience along to the melodically unfolded action. As imaginative as the wire-work action sequences are there’s a slightly anaemic quality to their thrust which is a common problem with the flying style of fight movies. But what is lacking in oomph is made up for in artistry as Li, Biao Yuen, and company put on a masterly exhibition of on-screen action gymnastics. Within this, Li makes for a strong lead and catches the dramatic qualities of the famous leader admirably. Like the life and personality that Hark breathes into his epic saga from behind the camera, his lead actor and the remainder of the cast ensured that Once Upon a Time in China became much more than just another Kung-Fu flick.
Rating: The Ugly – 63.1 Genre: Horror Duration: 186 mins Director: Jeff Bleckner Stars: William Petersen, Karen Sillas, Charles Martin Smith
It’s one of the most overploughed terrains in B-movie cinema but, when the mood strikes, you could do worse than this TV adapted version of Peter Benchley’s “Beast”. William Peterson plays an old school fisherman trying to make a living in fished out waters who begins to suspect that a giant squid with a taste for people has staked a claim off his peaceful island. Joining up with local coast guard lieutenant Karen Sillas, he sets about proving it but a local business man in the form of Charles Martin Smith thinks he sees a profit to be made. As was often the case for a TV miniseries back in the 1990’s, the production values are low and so any thrills The Beast delivers are largely a function of Benchley’s concept which, on the scale of marine monsters, features quite highly. The cast are solid so, beyond the production quality, you won’t be constantly reminded that you’re in the “bargain basement” of movies and with an always watchable and safe pair of hands in the lead, there’s even a bit of charm there too. There are some originally conceived action sequences that director Jeff Bleckner takes his time to buildup and J.B. White’s teleplay contextualises the entire thing with some modestly engaging sub plots. Sure, a lack of expertise behind the camera ensures that the movie isn’t the sleek thrill-delivering device that Jaws was (despite borrowing heavily from its tool-shed), or even Jaws 2 for that matter, but it chugs its way comfortably over the finish line. As is often the case, there are a few versions of this movie floating around on DVD so be sure to get the full extended version rather than the abridged one as a significant amount of good stuff has been omitted in the truncated cuts.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 115 mins Director: Mike Figgis Stars: Richard Gere, Andy Garcia, Nancy Travis
One of the more underrated crime thrillers of its era sees Andy Garcia taking on the role of the high-strung Raymond, a driven Internal Affairs detective who gets drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with nasty LAPD veteran Dennis Peck (in a thrilling turn from Richard Gere). As Raymond works hand in glove with his no-nonsense partner, played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf, Garcia’s relationship with his wife (Nancy Travis) begins to unravel as Peck uses the young detective’s insecurities against him.
Henry Bean’s story has all the hallmarks of the great cop dramas and Mike Figgis proves more than capable in teasing out all the latent tension of its earlier stages and the troubled psychology of its latter scenes. A sophisticated touch reveals itself in the soft lit photography and edgy composition but, most of all, it’s the manner in which the film is sewn together that gives the movie its more seductive qualities. Figgis and editor Robert Estrin throw a hazy vibe over the proceedings that seems coded to the humidity of the LA streets and imparting a grittiness that graced the likes of To Live and Die in LA and Colors (which Estrin also edited). Within this aesthetic, Bean’s dialogue seems all the more subjective and the cast almost universally rise to its level. Garcia strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and intensity and Metcalf is a rock of supporting class by his side. Actually they serve each other rather well and share a wry chemistry. Travis has her moments of misjudgment but, in the main, she seems to ably represent the ambiguity that Figgis wanted from her. William Baldwin is surprisingly engaging as Peck’s burnout partner and it’s nice to see Faye Grant get a big screen run out worthy of her talent as Baldwin’s beleaguered but not so innocent wife (a small few will remember her as Julie in V). Gere is the unquestionable star of the show, however, and it’s an insidiously menacing turn that rivals any bad guy from the genre. It’s his sly streak that runs most clearly through the movie and backdrops its overall dark tone. An interesting if ultimately one sided sexual politics adds even more nuance to his character before Figgis overplays that particular hand in the final act.
Though serving up some tidy action sequences amid this thick dramatic soup, Internal Affairs still manages to just fall short of its ambitions. Bean attempts to draw an interesting parallel between Raymond and Dennis’ antagonists which the actors do their best with but there’s just not enough meat on the story to do it justice. A few less moments of pensive reflection and a few more subplots accented towards their complicated rivalry would’ve gone a long way in giving us the type of central confrontation that marked The French Connection or Heat.