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 – 75.8 Genre: Romantic Comedy Duration: 113 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
Of its time but in the best ways possible, Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a superior rom-com starring Melanie Griffith as an ambitious secretary who, on discovering that her ruthless boss (a delightfully obnoxious Sigourney Weaver) has stolen her idea for a lucrative merger, assumes the role of an executive to close the deal herself. Along the way, she inevitably falls for the man helping her to put it together (Harrison Ford in top comedic form) while evading any and all situations that might disclose her real identity to him and everyone else. Working Girl achieves that priceless balance between the drama and romance by laying out a well developed plot and seamlessly weaving it with the various romantic angles. Nichols compensates for Griffith’s acting limitations by setting a comedic tone just wacky enough to forgive her flat delivery but not so much that it detracts from the relative sophistication of the story. Ford greatly assists him in this endeavour as he demonstrates, yet again, his impeccable timing and instincts for light comedy while Weaver proves equally critical with a brave and perfectly judged turn that she uses, like Ford, to coax the best out of Griffith. Nichols composes the entire thing with polish and remains master rather than victim to the business and fashion cultures from which so much of the humour is derived but the jewel in the movie’s crown is undoubtedly Kevin Wade’s witty screenplay that Ford in particular has a ball with. All that plus an electric Alec Baldwin as Griffith’s old squeeze, and some glorious cameos from Oliver Platt and Kevin Spacey ensure that Working Girl sits right at the top of that era’s genre offerings.
Rating: The Good – 66.7 Genre: Thiller, Action Duration: 133 mins Director: Stuart Baird Stars: Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, Steven Seagal
Executive Decision is a cracking good thriller with charismatic performances and great set pieces to keep you entertained from minute one throughout. Kurt Russell plays a Middle East expert who along with an elite special forces team executes a daring mid-air boarding of a passenger jet that has been commandeered by some nasty terrorists. The excellent supporting cast includes Hale Berry, Oliver Platt, John Leguizama, Joe Morton, and a well used extended cameo by Steven Segal. Highly enjoyable (despite it’s off-the-shelf title).
Rating: The Good – 66.9 Genre: Comedy, Horror Duration: 82 mins Director: Steve Miner Stars: Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt
Something nasty lurks beneath the surface of a peaceful lake and a motley group of experts and law enforcement types are called in to investigate. There’s nothing new here. However, what separates Lake Placid from the rest is its unfettered lighthearted approach and the better than decent cast of Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and (err!) Bridget Fonda who play off each other to often hilarious effect. For some reason, this little movie has been quite maligned over the years. Perhaps because it spawned a series of vapid sequels or perhaps because it only just preceded the SyFy Channel’s foray into b-movie creature feature rip-off hell. But it shouldn’t be blamed for either and in fact, if the slew of cheap knock-offs maintained the same respect for getting the basics of film-making just right, then they wouldn’t be so much fodder for this unusual little sub-generation of “so-bad-its-good” bottom feeders.
Lake Placid does everything that the Goliaths of its sub-genre did. Like Jaws and Piranha, it roots the entire story in personality and understands that the more time spent on its principal characters, their background, and their relationships with each other, the more enjoyable the movie becomes (not to mention cheaper). After all, while the shots of Jaws are terrifically exciting, what draws us back to Amity Island again and again is the ambiance, the vibe, the characters, and their quirky personalities and affectations. Naturally, Lake Placid doesn’t tease all these out in as impressive a manner as Spielberg did but they are all present and accounted for.
Fonda is given the perfect role for her typically prissy and somewhat dour personality which bleeds through into most of her roles. She’s the fish out of water (soon to be thrown into water) paleontologist exiled from her Manhattan museum when her boss and former lover takes up with another assistant. Pullman is the aw-shucks local fish-and-game officer in charge of the investigation while Gleeson is the uncouth sheriff who has to babysit them. Though Fonda and Pullman strike up a nice easy chemistry, the fireworks in the film come from Gleeson’s burly sheriff and Oliver Platt’s unhinged crocodile expert who constantly butt heads, punch heads, and get on each other’s nerves. Platt in particular has an assorted bag of hilarious zingers which he fires off at his less sophisticated rival at altogether random intervals just to get his goat.
Though the crocodile itself remains in the background for most parts of the film, it maintains its relevance in so much as how the very theory of one swimming the backwaters of Maine sets the various players in support of or opposition with each other. When it does appear, the special effects and animatronics which bring it to life are actually really impressive and with Miner’s ability to balance them with the drama, it provides for some nice b-movie tensions and thrills.
So if you like to see great actors having fun with each other and with the little story their film is telling, don’t listen to the naysayers. Just switch your brain off and enjoy the banter.
Rating: The Good – 70.3 Genre: Drama Duration: 122 mins Director: Ron Howard Stars: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell
Quietly gripping dramatisation of the famous Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977, in which the former achieved what no other journalist, investigator, or politician could: – an admission of wrong-doing from Richard Nixon. In adapting Peter Morgan’s play, director Ron Howard could’ve chosen to give this feature all the trappings of a stage production and still tell the story effectively and in entertaining fashion. Such is the power of the dialogue and acting. However, he chose to make a film out of it and a film this is. Frost/Nixon is extraordinarily well dramatised, and the story is never allowed to stagnate or bore due to impeccable structuring, pacing, and the many tension relieving comedic moments which cushion the more dialogue-centred scenes. Hans Zimmer’s soft but strong score deserves special mention in that regard too as it helps Howard greatly in moving the film forward as swiftly as he does.
Michael Sheen puts in an attractive performance as the fast living Frost, populating his character with all the idiosyncrasies of the real life journalist and a few more thrown in for good measure. Whether or not an impersonation runs a different track to acting is a valid question and, at times, it feels like the former is what Sheen is all about. But then at other more crucial moments he leaves the safer confines of mimicry and stretches himself admirably. Frank Langella turns in a powerhouse performance as the disgraced president and it captures all of the man’s arrogance, his hidden humanity, and much of his obscure charm. The two central performances are orbited by a collection of pitch perfect turns from some seriously good actors. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as the pent-up bookworm James Reston Jr., who’ll accept nothing short of a Nixon apology. Oliver Platt is also in top form as Bob Zelnick, the second of Frost’s research team while he and Rockwell are matched blow for blow on the other side by Kevin Bacon who imbues his character with a wholly believable austerity which is befitting of the career soldier and devoted Nixon aid he’s playing.
All in all, Frost/Nixon is a worthy successor to the legacy left by films such as All the President’s Men. Films which embrace the feel for those classics and favour brains over action. In this respect, it belongs to a small group of interesting and bravely made modern movies like Michael Clayton and Zodiac.