Rating: The Good – 73.8 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 132 mins Director: J.J. Abrams Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch,
The young crew of the USS Enterprise are back for their second outing in J.J. Abrams’ reimagined universe as they face Benedict Cumberbatch’s ruthless Khan, a genetically engineered superhuman recently awoken from a long cryo-sleep. Throw in a gung-ho Admiral in the form of the always great Peter Weller, some marvellous action scenarios, and the usual personality clashes between Chris Pine’s “Kirk” and Zachary Quinto’s “Spock” and the stage is set for one of the better movie instalments of the franchise. Abrams brought a lot back to the series in his 2009 “Star Trek” and, in most cases, he ups the ante here. A striking visual profile and immaculate visual effects provide the movie’s backbone while the cheeky script adds several layers of enjoyment throughout its long duration. The plot is rudimentary enough, the usual rehash of several past episodes, but Abrams’ trump card once again makes up for it. That card, of course, is this new series’ cast of actors which, as was the case in the 2009 movie, bring huge amounts of personality to their roles. And though the links with their characters’ previous incarnations are all maintained with tongue firmly planted in cheek, if truth be told, this new generation is far more talented than their older counterparts. This quality adds a sheen of professionalism to the new films that was often missing from the earlier movies. At the centre, Pine and Quinto are fantastic value as space’s endlessly quarreling “odd couple” and, while playing yet another “super-genius”, Cumberbatch makes for a memorable Khan. Sure, he doesn’t possess the cheesy greatness of Ricardo Montalban, but his more furious brand of egomania adds to the movie’s overall darker demeanor. Best of all, however, is that man Weller whose booming voice and gritty presence brings an added edge to the proceedings.
Rating: The Good – 74.1 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 108 mins Director: Christian Duguay Stars: Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin
Decent “alien-planet” science fiction is so difficult to come by that any Dan O’Bannon adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story which also stars Peter Weller should be given a chance. Thankfully, the result isn’t that bad although with a slightly bigger budget (or with any budget at all!) it could’ve been a lot better. Weller plays the commander of a military station on a distant planet upon which a war is being fought between Earth’s two rival powers. After being abandoned by the authorities back on Earth he decides to call a truce with the opposing force. However, in order to do so, he must cross a nuclear wasteland inhabited by lethal robotic weapons called Screamers, which were not only created by his own side but have evolved beyond their original design and are now targeting all humans.
With minimal production design and visual effects, this movie was always going to rely on the strength of its story and direction and on the actors playing it out. O’Bannon’s screenplay (based on Dick’s “Second Variety”) is clever and efficient. The scenario is intriguing though it could’ve done with some greater exposition regarding the motives of the two superpowers. The plot is reasonably original and excellently constructed. The Screamers are genuinely scary in conception which is realised well thanks chiefly to the way they sound but also to an array of clever tricks employed by director Christian Duguay.
Weller brings his usual commanding presence to the party and gives his character just the right balance between toughness and weariness. The support players range from very good to decent and given that there’s only a handful of characters in the whole movie, they do more than their fair share in giving it a distinct personality. The action is nothing special but nor is it pedestrian and it all builds to a nice climax. Overall, Screamers will go down as an opportunity wasted because with a bit more interest from the money men, this could’ve been a classic. However, as it stands it’s a fairly gripping sci-fi movie with a unique feel and vibe of it own and driven by a great premise and a fine central performance. For a science fiction movie that’s all very important.
Rating: The Good – 83.7 Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Satire Duration: 102 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox
You have to admire directors who have a clear unmistakable and atypical style. It indicates a level of control and finesse that separate themselves from the mainstream line-towers who movie execs tend to favour. Carpenter, Cronenberg, Mann, DePalma, Kubrick are some such directors and so is Paul Verhoeven – even if his hallmarks are slightly more overt than the aforementioned. His signature trilogy comprise Starship Troopers, Total Recall, and RoboCop. Each are as much fun as you can have with a sci-fi and each have their unique strengths. Two of them have silly names but they are Verhoeven’s masterpieces. In fact, Robocop and Starship Troopers are similar in other ways as both play with the social mores of the their time through a mixture of clever story-lines and delicious television newsflashes which act as intermissions to the drama.
RoboCop is exactly what it says on the tin (no pun intended). Detroit police department of the near future gets contracted out to a nefarious company who institute a new security programme by turning a cop killed in the line of duty into a heavily armed and virtually unstoppable cyborg. Peter Weller is a revelation as the titular hero as he transforms from everyman cop to robot. Everything from his walk to the way he speaks seems authentically robotic (startlingly so in fact) and it’s hard to imagine even Schwarzenegger (originally meant for the job) matching his performance (The Terminator required a more subtle portrayal due to the fact that those cyborgs were supposed to look human). Nancy Allen does well as his gutsy partner and Ronny Cox is of course on hand to spit venom at all and sundry. However, even he is outshined in that department by Kurtwood Smith as the truly loathsome Clarence Boddicker.
Basil Poledouris’ score is suitably exhilarating and Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script is daring, witty, sharp, and perfectly structured. Some of the special effects involving the ED 209 are a bit clunky but Rob Bottin’s robosuit is a joy to look at. The star of the show however is undoubtedly Verhoeven as RoboCop is a tight, meticulously crafted, and hugely satisfying satirical sci-fi. Everything from the way RoboCop is finally introduced to the switching from regular perspective to RoboCop’s perspective is done to drive the dramatic tension of the film and it all works a treat. Don’t dismiss because of the title. Watch it and even that will make sense. “I’ll buy that for a dollar.”
Rating: The Good – 75.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 90mins Director: Abel Ferrara Stars: Peter Weller, Kelly McGillis, Charles Durning
Elmore Leonard adaptations are rare enough to come by so they’re worth investigating when you do. Cat Chaser flew so far under the radar that it barely counts as a footnote in either his, its star Peter Weller, or its director Abel Ferrara’s careers but nonetheless it’s an intensely curious and really quite engaging thriller. Weller stars as George Moran, a Miami hotel owner and former marine who is drawn into a dangerous love affair with the wife of a deposed general from the Dominican Republic, the same place he and his “Cat Chaser” platoon fought in during the US invasion. The affair coincides with the arrival of a number of eccentric yet in their own way threatening individuals and an intriguing game of cat and mouse develops.
Cat Chaser begins with a giddy momentum as Reni Santoni narrates us into a dreamy world of lust and danger. Santoni captures the tone of Leonard’s words intuitively to such an extent that we’ve rarely had a more appropriate entry into one of his stories. Being a Leonard adaptation, it’s not long before we encounter an array of tricksy characters who each add an unsettling air to the tidy premises of Moran’s hotel. Like the narration, the dialogue is darkly but playfully pitched and it’s only sharpened by the edgy characterisations and indeed its delivery. Frederic Forrest prods and nudges the plot forward in a fun manner as the slimy P.I. who shows up out of the blue with sketchy agendas and a general air of sordidness. Kelly McGillis shines in the role of Moran’s love interest and embellishes Ferrera’s soft film noir themes as a Femme Fatale with a twist. Best of all these support players is undoubtedly Charles Durning as the General’s treacherous and vicious bag-man. A cross between Eli Wallach’s Tuco and the Penguin, Durning’s sneering and manipulative killer moves through the film like a dark cloud and if this film was remembered better, he would surely have gone down as one of the great villains. So good is he that it’s a testament to Weller’s evergreen presence and charm that he doesn’t let Durning steal the film from under him. On the contrary, Weller is terrific as the one straight and unflappable shooter in the story allowing everyone else to play off him to the betterment of their characters while maintaining the integrity of his. Ferrara wonderfully captures the feel and mood of Miami during the 1980’s with a varied palette of light colours. It’s no Miami Vice pastiche as everything is toned down to believable levels but it does draw the audience willingly into a relatively dark story, a seduction which parallels much of the central drama. Of course, this is helped substantially by Chick Corea’s breezy and sultry score.
For all these strengths, one might wonder why Cat Chaser failed to gain mainstream recognition. Well there are some problems. Ferarra has all but disowned the film for the re-cuts that were ordered in post production and the film does show signs of conflicting interests. The early stages seem to build around a plot that abruptly ends towards the end of the first act. Sure, it guided Moran into the affair with the general’s wife but the lack of resolution or even continuation of what was clearly just a subplot is strange and off-putting. Furthermore, the film seems to lose momentum when the main plot ratchets up in complexity which is the worst time for that to happen. But still, there remains something uniquely compelling about this film. Like Reni Santoni’s narration, the film just has an abundance of personality thanks to those rich characters, that razor sharp dialogue, the wonderful performances, and Ferrara’s composed touch. It’s not one of the great thrillers but it is one of the more underrated thrillers and for that reason, we should all do our bit to raise awareness of it.