Tag Archives: Lance Henriksen

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) 2.71/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 64.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova

Sanaa Lathan stars as a crack mountain climber who agrees to shepherd Lance Henriksen’s “Mr. Weyland” and his team of scientists to a desolate corner of Antarctica to investigate a newly discovered pyramid. As they move deeper into the recesses of the structure, they trigger an age-old battle between the two seminal sci-fi monsters (a rivalry that first arose in a comic and then playfully alluded to in Predator 2). It may be considered sacrilege to fans of both the Alien and Predator franchises and the sight of Lathan and a fierce predator exploding into the night air on a shared sled may just be one of the silliest sci-fi images ever committed to screen. However, *if* you can forgive those indiscretions, AvP can be cracking fun. At its core, the movie was sold on the idea that an AvP showdown would be a cool thing to see and, in fairness to that other Paul “middle initial” Anderson, he achieves that goal in style. The battles, a series of impressive and slickly conceived duels between the heavyweight bad guys, are as epic as they deserve to be and as rousing as the best action sequences from either of their franchises. They’re bolstered by some superb creature effects too (not counting those lumbering, out of shape predators) and, to their periphery, is a decent array of reasonably fleshed out support characters. Lathan proves a worthy action heroine and carries the movie’s final act largely between her and her predatory comrade. But best of all, the movie is replete with some really nice touches such as the Predators’ disgust for the Aliens not to mention the oblique reveals of the former’s culture. Of course, the premise is the weak point. Though fine for a stand alone sci-fi, in the context of the two mythologies, it veers unavoidably towards the ridiculous. Sure, it’s exciting fun but it ultimately takes the sheen off both mythologies.

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Appaloosa (2008) 4.22/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.5
Genre: Western
Duration: 115 mins
Director: Ed Harris
Stars: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen

Written, directed, and starring Ed Harris, Appaloosa isn’t merely a revisiting of the quintessential American film genre nor is it exactly a revisioning (which is, in its own way, kind of refreshing). It’s more a slowly exhaled understanding of what makes it so damn special as a context for storytelling. A celebration of its principles like the restoration of a great art without the controversy of compromising any of its natural glory. Harris and Viggo Mortensen are the hired guns Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, brought into the town of Appaloosa to offer protection from Jeremy Irons’ ruthless rancher Randall Bragg, who killed the last sheriff when the latter attempted to arrest two of his men for rape. Recalling the rich and intriguing relationship of Fonda and Quinn in 1959’s Warlock, Harris and his faithful companion are a thoughtful yet hardened pair of lawmen who live by the gun and wield it like it comes naturally. The film’s broader comprehension of life on the frontier is reflected at a personal level within their dynamic, the edges and corners of which being exposed only when Rene Zwellweger’s woman of questionable motives enters the fray and attempts to destabilise it. Plot comes to the fore here in wonderfully unobtrusive manner and it offers a circuitous and totally understated testing of marrow and allegiances alike. Gnarly old Lance Henriksen pops up as a notorious colleague from Cole’s past and matters come to a head in blistering showdown that ups the ante on where the Unforgiven left off. Robert Knott and Harris penned the words that so adequately express the grizzled sentiment and honest wonderings of the men and women of this world and there’s plenty of perceptive and expertly timed humour to be discovered along the way. But it’s Harris and Mortensen who shine most bright under the prairie sun, the mutual respect shared by their characters translating fluently at the acting level. Characterisation helps mightily of course and you’d have to delve deep into the history of the western to find a couple of gun-slingers as intriguing not to mention as cool as these here guys. Harris shows a steady and considered touch behind the camera and lets it all play out with the ease of the era in which it was set. You won’t see anything new in Appaloosa but a visit every now and then will remind you of why the western has and always will be so cherished.

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princeofcity

Prince of the City (1981) 3.54/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.4
Genre: Crime, Drama
Duration: 167 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy

Sidney Lumet’s second instalment in his unofficial trilogy on NYPD corruption is his most excavating and downbeat – and that’s saying something given the first was Serpico! Treat Williams stars as a narcotics detective who volunteers to help a task force take down a litany of crooked cops by wearing a wire and acting as general go between. The only condition: they overlook any wrongdoing perpetrated by him and his partners. However, after the initial adrenaline rush, he starts to see the toll his work is taking on his family and partners and ultimately his own wellbeing. Things get worse when the federal government take over and draw him into a seemingly endless series of cases culminating in the prosecution of his old partners.

Prince of the City is a dark and pensive thriller that almost incidentally seems to serve up some of the best cop to cop drama this side of the French Connection. The gritty one-on-ones, the back-of-diner meets, the greasing of stoolies all reek of so much grimy reality that the audience would be forgiven for feeling like they were the ones putting themselves in the crosshairs. With so much wiretapping going on, it gets to feel like we ourselves are listening in on the dirty deals, the hits, and the extortion (a device Lumet had used before in The Anderson Tapes), where every conversation is a lesson in the actuality of crime. Shooting the movie in much the same style as he did with Serpico, Lumet uses his flat palette of colours to starkly enhance the inward loneliness of his central character’s existence. And armed with such material, Williams is stunning, the perfect embodiment of anxious inertia and frenzied exhaustion. Among others, Lindsey Crouse as his wife and Jerry Orbach as his partner pitch in with some terrific supporting turns but this is Williams’ vehicle from start to finish.

At over two and a half hours long, this one requires much investment but even a moderate love for the great crime dramas of the 70’s & 80’s will elicit that naturally. That it feels like a slog for the audience (albeit a welcomed one) is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement, however, for it mirrors profoundly the tortured commitment of his central protagonist.

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Network (1976) 4.33/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.8
Genre: Drama, Satire
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall

Surely one of the most complete and effective satires, Network is a delicious take on the business of television programming, human relationships, and how both feed and feed off the impartial narratives that so many shows are built around. Peter Finch stars as the disturbed news anchor who upon hearing that he’s been fired launches an attack on his network live on air. So good are the ratings that the executives (an emotionally vacant yet ruthless Faye Dunaway and an equally ambitious Robert Duvall) order head of the news division William Holden to build a show around his deteriorating friend’s rantings. The script is pure gold with some of cinema’s most subtly cutting and scathing commentary threaded throughout. The characters are all in different ways reflections of the greed and selfishness of the modern world and are as good as the actors inhabiting them. The film is genuinely hilarious with Finch’s outbursts being the highlights. Lumet’s delicate touch is all over this and it is he who allows Paddy Chayefsky’s searing script to come to life in as stimulating a fashion as it does. Watch out for Ned Beatty’s thunderous cameo which ultimately more than anything else sets the tone for this cinematic monument.

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Alien 3 (1992) 3.07/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 114 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen

Picking up where Aliens left off, the concluding part of the original trilogy, sees Ripley crash landing on a maximum security prison planet among murderers and rapists and yet another alien that has stowed away in her shuttle. An initially unsettling presence to the entirely male population “who have found God at the ass end of space”, she inevitably helps to organise the weaponless rabble against the alien.

Though never courting the same level of adoration as Scott’s Alien or Cameron’s Aliens, David Fincher’s film has a lot to recommend. There’s a coherent and focused story set within a context that gives the film a modest philosophical angle. Furthermore, stylistically speaking, it has a very strong sense of itself and no little amount of directorial class. The bridge between Aliens and this film is deftly constructed as credits are interrupted with snippets of the Sulaco’s ill fated return journey and of its face-hugging intruder. That style is stretched out more subtly throughout the remainder of the film reasserting itself fully only twice more. Once when Fincher and co. parallel the burial of Hicks and Newt with the birth of the mature alien (the “chest burster”) and again in the final scene. It’s this style that allows Fincher to crash the two ostensibly duelling themes of Alien 3 together, that of spiritualism and nihilism, while ultimately turning the entire film into a tome for a type of nihilistic spiritualism. It’s a clever conceit and one that is really quite effectively drawn out despite the director’s exit from the project before completion of post production.

Fincher’s withdrawal and his subsequent disowning of the movie was only one of several issues to arise during the production and the conveyor belt of script writers and treatments which ran through the project can be most clearly felt in how peripheral the actual alien becomes to the whole thing. There’s certainly an attempt to have the alien and Ripley define each other but the former pops up in such an understated manner that it inevitably drifts into the background. This leads us to the real problem with Alien 3, namely, that it never quite feels like it belongs to the same universe of the first two instalments. In addition to the alien playing second fiddle to Ripley, the production design, though rich and impressive, is exceptionally dreary and after a while, as the pessimism of the story bleeds through, it all begins to wear heavily. Moreover, whereas the first two films were strongly technological in their visual conception, the story here demands a technologically spare approach. All this makes Alien 3 the least visually interesting of the original trilogy and rather out on its own.

Of course, it could be argued that this distinction gives it a powerfully dark edge over the original films and the sinister manner in which “the company” is depicted in the final twenty minutes does support that. Nonetheless, there is one department where Alien 3 undeniably falls far short of its predecessors. The aforementioned disharmony in the last stages of post production ensured that the creature effects are inconsistent and often excruciatingly bad. Moreover, Alien 3 is a far less exciting movie as the action is restricted to the final act and with the restrictions in the story, it plays out in a comparatively flat manner when placed alongside Aliens and even Alien. That said, in the same way that Alien and Aliens were separable by genre (sci-fi horror vs action sci-fi respectively), Alien 3 can be simply understood to be maintaining that tradition by setting its stall out as a sci-fi drama. It certainly allows for greater exploration of the dramatic subplots and we see a new dimension to the well established character of Ripley as she and Charles Dance’s medical officer develop a brief but intriguing romantic partnership.

Dance is outstanding but this movie more so than any of the other movies in the franchise (four at this point not counting the recent Prometheus) is all about Sigourney Weaver. She hand picked writer David Giler and insisted Walter Hill be brought back on board to properly tease out Ripley’s potential and though the script was ultimately worked on by a troop of other writers, much of their contributions to her story were maintained. Weaver responded with a wonderful turn and one that is strong enough to shoulder the entire film. Ironic as it may appear, given she’s the only female cast member, that strength combined with some overarching themes of motherhood give the film a very feminine vibe. Fans of traditional horror won’t be too disappointed though because this, after all, is a David Fincher film and consequently there’s plenty of squirming scenes.

Overall, Alien 3 is a laudable effort to bring yet another layer to the franchise and indeed overcome the production issues which beset it from early on. It’ll always divide opinion among fans of that franchise and it’s the most independent in style but that just adds to its intrigue.

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Aliens (1986) 3.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.8
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Duration: 137 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill PaxtonLance Henriksen

The last survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is found drifting in space after 57 years of hypersleep. Her account of what happened naturally makes the powers that be curious so they quickly order the colonists of the now populated planet to check out the co-ordinates where Ripley reported to have located the crashed spacecraft. When things inevitably go bad, Ripley is sent to the planet with a team of hi-tech marines to exterminate the alien threat.

In taking on the unenviable task of creating a sequel to Ridely Scott’s original sci-fi classic, James Cameron pulls a masterstroke by bringing the premise firmly into the action genre. The result is a qualitatively different film to the original, allowing for a whole raft of new ideas to be explored. As is typical with all Cameron’s films, Aliens looks amazing. The set-design, the special effects, and the creature effects (Stan Winston – who else?) are extremely impressive and are as good as anything you’ll see today. The chemistry between the various actors is splendid as are the performances themselves. Cameron regulars Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Lance Henriksen are all present and in top form. So is Weaver who, in this film, confirmed Ripley as the most interesting and authentic of all screen heroines. The dialogue is tight and tech-savvy and the tension is built perfectly through Cameron’s expert direction.

Of course, the stand-out strength of this film is the action and Cameron again uses the science-fiction context to raise the stakes and create imaginative new ways to capture the audience’s fascination. He also takes his time building up to said action which makes it all the more rewarding when it finally gets going. It’s a testament to Cameron and co. that when all is said and done, Aliens will remain not just one of the best sci-fi films of all time, but also one of the best horror and action films of all time.

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Jagged Edge (1985) 2.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.9
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Richard Marquand
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Peter Coyote, Lance Henriksen

Classy thriller in which Glenn Close plays an attorney charged with defending a charming newspaper editor (Jeff Bridges) on trial for the murder of his wealthy wife. Jagged Edge is a solid traditional thriller driven by a clear story with a solid base and a wealth of acting talent who know how to build on it. Close was reaching the height of her popularity in the mid-80’s and she carries the film with ease. She allows her character’s personal background to constantly colour her courtroom demeanor to the detriment and advantage of her effectiveness as an attorney and it plays brilliantly with the various subplots. Bridges is as excellent as ever in the role of the uncomfortably composed suspect while the always steady Robert Loggia and Peter Coyote are on hand to provide some deeply engaging support. Director Richard Marquand (him who was behind Return of the Jedi) finds just the right balance between the tension and romance and at all times draws on this film’s greatest strength, its writing.

The script is an exercise in the basics of screenwriting as writer Joe Eszterhas (now much maligned but back then a guy with some potential) pillars the drama on a strong heroine, a charming but enigmatic suspect, the inevitable dangerous romance, and a murky history between the lead and the prosecuting district attorney. This sounds simple but in the modern climate of “all-concept-no-basics” film-making where the thriller as a distinct genre is disappearing, it serves as a timely reminder. The courtroom drama which blossoms from this delicious pretext became the textbook example for many subsequent courtroom thrillers from 1987’s Suspect to 1990’s Presumed Innocent while the tone and spirit of the writing came to define late 80′s mainstream cinema on a whole. This isn’t to say this little film was the sole progenitor for the great late 80’s/early 90’s thrillers but it was one of them. So whether you’ve an academic interest in the heyday of the Hollywood thriller or you’re simply in the mood for some entertaining courtroom drama, it’s fair to say Jagged Edge scores on both fronts.

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The Terminator (1984) 4.53/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 92.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 107 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is just a regular unassuming young woman living a normal life oblivious to the fact that her future son is destined to lead a human resistance against an army of sentient machines. When the machines send a seemingly unstoppable cyborg (Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill her and her unborn son, the resistance send back their own soldier (Michael Biehn) to protect her.

One of the very best science fiction films, The Terminator has it all: timeless special effects, an unforgettable score, sublime action, an excellent cast, and a story that re-defined what science fiction was all about. Hamilton and Biehn have never been better with the latter’s contribution often going underrated as the wily yet traumatised soldier whose performance is just unhinged enough to give us a terrifying sense of the future he comes from. Nothing about his acting seems false and it easily rates as one of the great sci-fi performances (check out that interrogation scene). However, in retrospect everyone seems to have been overshadowed by Schwarzenegger who was indeed born to play the role of the remorseless machine. There’s not another actor who could’ve played that character as coldly and as clinically as he does and it has rightly gone down in history as his defining role.

The Terminator stands apart from most other action sci-fi’s in both the sophistication and inventiveness of its writing. Not only do writers James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd incorporate the initial killings of the other “Sarah Connors” into a fascinating sub-plot of a police investigation into a “one-day pattern killer” but they also offered a far more intense and thoughtful play on the time-travelling concept than we had previously seen from the sub-genre. Furthermore, technology modern to 1984 plays an extensive if subtle role in the film and, thereby, accentuates the central theme exquisitely. Answering machines, pagers, a punching clock, a walkman, laser sighted guns (for a cyborg who shouldn’t really need one), drills, the radio advertisement for CD’s (referred to as the latest in sound technology), motor bikes, petrol tankers, techno music, & the Tech-Noir club (with its electronic decorative theme) all heighten the relevance of technology to the story. The film opens with a shot of a dumpster truck, builds up to a finale in an automated factory where the present day machines play their most overt role, and closes with a polaroid (which itself has the most direct links with the future of all featured contemporary technology). Sure many of these things are every day items and feature in many films from that era but never as prominently and indeed as conspicuously as they do here. They act as Cameron’s central device in foreshadowing the future the Terminator hails from by quietly illustrating how machines have crept and continue to creep further into our lives. Insidiously so.

However, in the final analysis, the highest praise must go to Cameron the director, whose work in this film is among the very best to bless either the sci-fi or action genres. The pinnacle of which, the Tech-Noir sequence, where Connor first encounters the Terminator and where Reese’s role is finally revealed is a suspenseful master class in multi-layered staging and editing which explodes into the most ferocious and focused action ever filmed. Pure Genius.

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Near Dark (1987) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 82.6
Genre: Horror
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

The vampire genre is peculiar in that it is the most over-exploited yet poorly represented of all the horror sub-genres. Happily, Near Dark is not only an exception to that rule but it’s also quite simply the best modern representative of the genre. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Tangerine Dream’s brilliant score add a haunting and dreamlike quality to Eric Red’s excellent script about a small town boy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a pretty girl (Jenny Wright) on a night-time drive. Before he knows it, he’s kidnapped by her “family”, which is led by the sensational Lance Henrikson’s Jesse and populated by an array of brilliantly fleshed-out (no pun intended) characters. The most captivating of these is without doubt Severen, played by Bill Paxton in one of the most explosively entertaining performances you’ll ever see. Paxton quite simply burns a hole in the screen as the deranged and incendiary vampire but it’s a testament to the quality of the acting throughout that a performance of that stature doesn’t overshadow that of the others.

Near Dark is a more mature and contemplative horror film than we typically see as it blends aspects of both the western and vampire genres together in ways that draw interesting parallels between the two. There’s a strong romantic theme running through the film which is fascinatingly skewed by Red’s more intimate take on the vampire mythology. There are no fangs on show, which makes the feeding all the more believable and indeed gruesome. The bar scene in particular (involving a great piece of ensemble acting from the “vampires”) will leave you seriously squeamish. The story takes a couple of logical leaps towards the end but they don’t really tarnish the overall experience because Near Dark is really about the lingering atmosphere it sets.

This was Bigeolow’s first great film (the more observant will notice the cast is full of regulars from her then husband James Cameron’s films) and her use of sound and awesome imagery (just check out that early shot of the family bearing through the desert in their RV) gives it an intimate yet appropriately otherworldly feeling which not many directors can achieve. Of course in that respect, credit must also be given to screenwriter Eric Red, whose previous film The Hitcher had a similar dreamlike vibe to it. Red’s script is quite minimal in parts which makes the words of the characters all the more relevant when they are spoken. Furthermore, at crucial junctures, he uses the extended moments of silence in between lines almost as lacunae which gives the audience a more tangible sense of the world of the “vampire”. It really is an extraordinary device which is only augmented by Tangerine Dream’s luminescent score riding somewhere in the background. In fact, that score and Red’s words work so effectively together, it’s like he wrote the script to their music. There are not many films coloured so strongly by their score and it’s yet another testament to the skill of Bigelow that neither it nor the script cancel the other out. In fact, it’s exactly that type of balancing act which makes Bigelow such a good director and Near Dark such a good cross-over horror.

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The Right Stuff (1983) 4.43/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 91
Genre: Drama
Duration: 193mins
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris

One of the wittiest and most compelling historical dramas you’re ever likely to see, The Right Stuff details the events leading up to and including Nasa’s first manned space flights (the Mercury Mission). A glittering cast of actors play a glittering array of characters but none score better than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeger. Director Kaufman rightly went his own way with his adaptation of Wolfe’s book and built the film around the legendary fighter ace. Shepard is near mesmerising as the stoic Yeger but in truth there’s not one actor in the extensive cast who lets the side down. Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, and Ed Harris in particular are fantastic as the famous Mercury astronauts. Kaufman deserves huge credit for the way he brings this expansive story together as he crafts an extremely intelligent, often funny, often cutting satire of politics, ego, and personal ambition. However, rather than take the easy way out, he remains true to spirit of the book and skillfully interweaves the far more optimistic story about passion and dedication into the fabric of this ostensible critique. The result is a hugely complex and profoundly uplifting experience worthy of the esteemed literary source which spawned it.

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