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 Ugly – 66.3 Genre: Crime Duration: 107mins Director: Bill Duke Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Lira Angel
The early 90’s was an interesting time for the US crime thriller. The rise of Hip Hop had seen a growing interest in LA street culture which became increasingly reflected in the genre. East coast Italian-American mob bosses were replaced by West coast African-American drug lords and to maintain conflict in the central characters, the cops’ racial background was changed accordingly. Given that this new inspiration was coming from a fringe culture, the earliest movies were not hugely bankable and so they were made with relatively little money. This served to heighten the gritty vibe the subject matter naturally called for but also gave lesser known actors and filmmakers a chance to make their mark. Some turned out to be really quite good but others were not and the result was a series of flawed but interesting films. Deep Cover is a perfect example of such.
Starring a pre-stardom Laurence Fishburn and a wilderness flirting Jeff Goldblum and directed by Bill Duke (a familiar face of 80’s action movies like Predator and Commando), Deep Cover was blessed with some genuine but also raw talent and it did the best it could with little or no budget. Fishburn plays a deep cover operative recruited by a self serving superior (played with gusto by Charles Martin Smith) to infiltrate a drug racket from the ground up. Goldblum is the crooked lawyer turned financier whom Fishburn hooks up with and through a combination of the latter’s street skills and the former’s business savvy, the two rise up the ranks.
Duke brings a competent yet somewhat derivative style to the movie but he was clearly limited with location and production design possibilities. At times, the understanding between director and cast gets lost (such as that strangely acted limousine scene) but for the most part he gets the best out of Fishburn’s burly presence and Goldblum’s idiosyncratic manner. For their part, they make a good duo even though the sometimes wooden script could’ve done them more favours in that respect. The remainder of the cast range from good to goofy. Smith is in top form and the always splendid Clarence Williams III puts in a great turn as the one properly decent cop. Victoria Dillard, as the love interest, unfortunately counts as one of the poorer performances but again the script fails to properly integrate her character.
Deep Cover is an interesting crime movie garnished with two tidy central performances and steeped in the style of the early 90’s. It’s by no means perfect and it’s often realised in clunky fashion but for the most part, it holds up as an enjoyable thriller.
Of all Brian De Palma’s forays into mainstream cinema this is perhaps the story that best met his overt style. Kevin Costner plays Elliot Ness, Sean Connery the tough Irish cop (questionable accent and all) and Robert De Niro toplines as Al Capone. At the time of release, Costner was entering the highpoint of his career and was doing a good job in very interesting movies. The Untouchables was no different as he gives Ness some nice depth and just enough personality. Connery may have got the Oscar for his entertaining supporting role but it’s De Niro who strips the paint off the walls with a searing performance as Capone.
The Untouchables was De Palma at his most extravagant and Ennio Morricone met him head on with an equally opulent (and when not opulent – thrilling) score. Thankfully (and not surprisingly) both the style and score work a treat and indeed, they really elevate the famed story to something altogether more interesting. As you’d expect from De Palma, the set pieces as are exquisite with the shoot-out in the train station standing out in particular. The chemistry between Costner, Connery, Andy Garcia, and Charles Martin Smith (with the latter two rounding off Ness’ unit as the gun hand and accountant respectively) is spot on and enjoyably to watch and overall this is a damn good treatment of one of America’s great legends.