Tag Archives: Tom Berenger

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The Sentinel (1977) 3.36/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.5
Genre: Horror
Duration: 92 mins
Director: Michael Winner
Stars: Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Martin BalsamJeff Goldblum

After moving into a New York apartment, a young model (Christina Rains) seemingly begins to lose her grip on reality. However, once her boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) investigates the building’s history, he learns she isn’t crazy at all and her apartment is, in fact, the gateway to hell. Though rather eclectic in his abilities, Michael Winner was in many ways well suited to the horror genre given his oblique directorial style. Thus, it’s not surprising that, with The Sentinel, he furnishes Jeffrey Konvitz’ novel, rich in premise as it was, with the type of atmosphere that can rival the best of the genre. It’s a gleefully creepy old horror that fully engages thanks to a familiar but compelling mythology and a litany of colourful characters played with relish by some of the best in the business. In fact, the cast is a veritable who’s who of that era’s up and comers (such as Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, and even a very young and fleeting Tom Berenger) and old-timers (such as Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Eli Wallach, Arthur Kennedy, José Ferrer, and Burgess Meredith as the boogeyman man himself).

The real shame here is that they’re all bit parts or supporting roles and so most of the film rests on Rains’ far slighter shoulders. With an absence of personality and presence, she’s a genuine weak link and the movie threatens to wither when she’s on screen. As the other main character, Sarandon is better but, like Rains, he is constantly overshadowed by the heavyweights on show, especially both Gardner and Wallach who are in giddy form as the sinister real estate agent and curious homicide detective respectively. In truth, some of the blame must fall at Winner’s feet for a recurrent failing of his was his inability to use and engage his cast properly.

Though it suffers inevitable and unfavourable comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, it’s more likely these aforementioned issues that precluded The Sentinel from ascending to the realm of hallowed horror. But make no mistake, it scores in nearly every other department. Winner’s uniquely gaudy touch is all over the ornate production design and helps immerse us in the strange world he and Konvitz have created. Moreover, Gil Melle’s equally unsubtle score echoes the best of the classic horror accompaniments. It may not scare the socks off you like The Exorcist does but, like a good John Carpenter horror, it will give you the creeps.

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The Field (1990) 4.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80.3
Genre: Drama
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Jim Sheridan
Stars: Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean, Tom Berenger

John B. Keane’s seminal play about obsession with land in the context of post-colonial Ireland is masterfully brought to life by Jim Sheridan’s insightful direction and Richard Harris’ mesmeric performance as the Bull McCabe. Brenda Fricker, Sean Bean, Tom Berenger, and John Hurt (as the Bird) are all outstanding but this is all about Harris’ powerhouse performance as the intelligent but deeply blinkered farmer with the physical disposition and temper of the animal he’s named after. Harris burns a hole in the screen from second one and you quite simply cannot take your eyes off him in what is surely one of all time great cinematic performances. The Field is a subtly profound film that captures the nuances of the post-famine and post-colonial culture in rural Ireland better than perhaps any other film. It’s a dark watch in many ways, but truly compelling at the same time.

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Deadly Pursuit/Shoot to Kill (1988) 4.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 66.8
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Kirstie Alley

The 80’s thriller was a unique animal. All soft focus, dialogue skirting the edges of cheesiness, disciplined competent action, great leading men, and pure entertainment. Deadly Pursuit (or Shoot to Kill as it was called Stateside) is case in point. Sidney Poitier stars as an FBI agent who tracks a ruthless killer to the mountains of the Canadian border where he enlists the reluctant help of mountain guide Tom Berenger whose girlfriend (Kirsty Alley) has been kidnapped by the killer. Poitier is comfortable as the cultured city man out of his element and he and Berenger play off each other to great effect. The action is exactly what you’d expect with lashings of humour thrown in but it’s that great 80’s vibe that makes the whole things so damn satisfying. Clancy Brown and Andrew Robinson are among the excellent support cast and Brown in particular puts in yet another fine display.

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Major League (1989) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.7
Genre: Sporting Comedy
Duration: 107 mins
Director: David S. Ward
Stars: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo

David S. Ward’s sports comedy about a wealthy widow’s nefarious attempts to ensure her former husband’s baseball franchise, the Cleveland Indians, finishes the season in last place so she can up sticks and move to Miami is nothing more than 100% fun and entertainment from start to finish. Platoon buddies Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen team up again as a broken down former all-star (Berenger) and a young punk with a great arm but bad eyesight (Sheen) who among others are brought in to ensure the team stinks. Regardless of how cynical they might be, there’s nobody out there who can resist the small charms of this comedy. The jokes aren’t side splitting but they’ll consistently bring a smile to your face and who doesn’t like a good old fashioned against-the-odds-movie. Corbin Bernsen and Wesley Snipes are also on hand to add to the good vibes this little beauty gives off.

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Platoon (1986) 4.18/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.3
Genre: War
Duration: 120 mins
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe

Oliver Stone’s most personal film sees him visit the subject of the Vietnam war which he himself fought in. Charley Sheen stars as a young recruit who finds himself amongst a group of soldiers whose loyalties are divided between two enigmatic but very different platoon leaders. Sheen is very good in the lead but it’s Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe who make it so memorable as the hard boiled and murderous Sergeant Barnes and the inspirational and idealistic Sergeant Elias (respectively). The two actors are tremendous and each give iconic level performances. Stone captures both the boredom and terror of war superbly with the battle scenes in particular being truly sensational. His script is faultless striking the perfect balance between drama and reality. There are an array of top supporting actors on show who combine with the principals to makes this one of the better cinematic ensemble pieces.

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The Big Chill (1983) 4/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 50.8
Genre: Drama
Duration: 105 mins
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Stars: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum

Seven former college friends reunite for the funeral of one of their group and spend the weekend reminiscing and coming to terms with past…….ugh! The strikingly few critics of this film tend to focus on the fact that it reifies an overindulged generation of self-important self-obsessives. And that’s a fair criticism. It’s very fair. But much worse, it’s an excruciating and cringe-worthy cheese fest where artificial “middle-aged going wild” cliche replaces any real genuine social interaction or discourse. Imagine a 100 minute montage of eight insufferables dancing around the kitchen to the rock ‘n’ roll of their youth, bumping hips as they wash the dishes together, laughing and gibing with each other in a gushing waterfall of cotton candy nostalgia. Where all authentic notions of character development, dilemma, and conversation are forsaken in favour of a 1980’s music video approach to movie-making. Where cardboard characters are presented to the audience as the “funny one”, the “goofy one”, the “weird one”, the “troubled one”, or the “funny one’s wife” and where living up to those stereotypes provides the comedy while breaking away from them provides the drama. Where every bit of the endless fun the characters are supposed to be having comes inescapably across as forced, contrived, and desperate. You could watch this on your own and still feel embarrassed for the actors.

Even more depressing is the fact that the writers, the usually brilliant Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek, were hijacking the premise of John Sayle’s galactically superior 1979’s The Return of the Secaucus 7. Sayles’ film also focused on a weekend reunion but the characters were real and the circumstances felt natural. Kasdan’s feels like a glossy attempt to recapture the sentiment of the earlier film but with no legitimate feel for it. The scenarios that emerge are scarcely believable and while that isn’t a crime in itself, the attempt to portray them as emotionally honest makes it one. It’s like watching Bill Murray in Groundhog Day rushing Andie McDowell through their first date for the 50th time, trying to hurry her along to the good bits. It’s like listening to a crusty old politician trying to relate to a younger audience by saying “yeah man, I feel you!”. Kasdan even went as far as insinuating his characters were political activists just as the title of Sayle’s film explicitly did. But where in the latter film, their history as activists simply acted as the context to tell funny stories about how they ended up in prison and indirectly point to the tenuousness of post-adolescent idealism, in Kasdan’s film it acted as the pretext for an earnest 120 second (that’s right, “seconds”!) political debate wherein their character’s commitment to their left-wing leanings were shown to be as strong as ever (despite their now comfortable upper-middle class existence – but don’t worry, that hypocrisy is addressed in the final 10 seconds of the 120 second “political scene”).

There are many out there who will always champion The Big Chill because it reminds them of their youth. Those who watched it in the 80’s as either early twenty somethings (whom the film was remembering with kind fondness) or mid to late thirty somethings (whom the film was validating…. with kind fondness). Either way, it has the nostalgia factor or the comfortable factor (we won’t make you face any harsh truths about life) going for it. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this type of film-making and if one can stand the cliches (or just doesn’t care about them), then The Big Chill can definitely offer a form of entertainment. Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, and Jeff Goldblum make for a sturdy and interesting cast and their presences and charisma alone can make for satisfying viewing. But anyone who cares to step back from the hazy vantage point of nostalgia and run the rule over the quality of their characters’ writing, will unavoidably see this as the pure self-deluded schmaltz it is. And from a film maker and cast who should’ve known better. A lot better.

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Inception (2010) 3/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 43.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 148 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom HardyTom Berenger

A team of corporate spies who infiltrate the dreams of various business executives to steal their secrets are hired to implant a critical thought in the mind of a CEO so as to manipulate his company’s future. But, as their elaborate preparations begin, things start to go wrong with reflexive consequences.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with a mess of a movie such as this. Okay, firstly, fans say the film takes us into a world unlike anything we’ve seen before. Well it doesn’t really. Anyone even remotely familiar with Star Trek or Stargate SG1 will know that the ‘dreamscape’ episode is a tired staple of the sci-fi genre and, what’s more, they all fall at the same hurdle: a lack of jeopardy – though we’ll get back to that issue later.

(By the way, this is necessarily a long review so for those who think while reading the first few paragraphs, that it has missed the point of what Nolan implies with his final shot, please make sure to read the third final paragraph)

Let’s get the small stuff out of the way first. There are all sorts of forgivable (forgivable if there was one or two of them) movie-making errors littered throughout Inception. The “surprise” ending was so heavily flagged (albeit in one place quite cleverly), and was in fact so obvious, that one was fully expecting it from early in the second act. Worse still, was the lack of bravery in fully committing to it. Instead, we have a final shot that includes a rather cowardly escape clause cloaked in the artificially profound (if it’s obvious, it’s just not profound, no matter how much one wants it to be). The action was pedestrian at best and granted, while it wasn’t helped by the protracted and tediously premised story, the choreography of the climactic battle sequence was truly uninspired and formulaic. This last issue has been a recurrent problem for director Christopher Nolan as even the excellent The Dark Knight was hampered by lazily conceived ‘token’ fight sequences (e.g., the nightclub sequence).

Furthermore, there’s no overt villain in Inception, whom the audience can use to counterpoint the good guys with. Just a series of faceless henchmen. Not that it mattered much as the secondary “good guy” characters were so one-dimensional, it would’ve been difficult to identify with and care for them even if they were facing a visible enemy (and while one may argue that that ties in with the ending, it makes the film less appealing). And then there is the pretentious, bombastic, inaccessible, and just plain artificial dialogue. The script felt like it was written by an adolescent who has just discovered the joy of putting big words together to describe what s/he thinks are profound philosophical quandaries that nobody but her/him has stumbled upon before. Expressive? Yes. Original and disciplined? Absolutely Not!

But these are minor quibbles compared to the major problems that lie at the very center of Inception as a film:

The most unforgivable problem with Inception is without doubt, its appalling story construction. When you’re interested in telling a good story, you set your stall out early on (i.e., establish your universe) and then you get on with telling your story within that universe. Take Star Wars (Episodes IV-VI) for example. 50% of that universe is explained in the opening credits and the remaining 50% is explained within the first 20 minutes. Everything that happens from then on, right throughout Episodes IV-VI, happens within the boundaries of that universe (no further explanations are required). That doesn’t happen in Inception because the writers continue to add new rules throughout the course of the first two acts and even through the final act! Therefore, instead of representing the one unmovable touchstone which the audience can reference at any time to get their bearings, Inception’s universe is constantly in flux. The result is utter confusion and prevents the audience from connecting with the world so that they can get on with enjoying the story.

However, what’s truly unforgivable about this breakdown in structuring is the motive behind it. Rather than serving some deeper profound and even reflexive purpose, each of these aforementioned rules seems to be included for no other reason than to serve some visual flourish the director/writers had in mind. For example, in Nolan’s world, things explode when the characters become aware that they are dreaming. Ever have a lucid dream? Did anything explode? No, more likely you said “hey, I’m in a dream, time for some flying – or something else!” There’s no logic to this rule, it doesn’t make any conspicuous sense in either relation to the film’s premise or to any of the other rules. In such circumstances, it’s clear the writers don’t have a story to tell, just a bunch of ideas they think are cool which they proceed to tie together in the loosest of fashion. Worse still, because these rules have no logical bearing on each other, the characters are forced into explaining the rules to one another in one contrived instance after another – contrived because they’re really explaining it to the audience.

Everything in Inception either just about makes sense or just about doesn’t make sense. The world Nolan creates is so fragile that you daren’t go about pulling on any loose threads lest the whole thing come apart. For example, remember when Ariadne tells Cobb: “Tell your subconscious to take it easy”, Cobb says: “it’s my subconscious, remember I can’t control it”. Well, Saito had no trouble getting his men to do his bidding – and they were projections in someone else’s subconscious! And while we’re on the subject, why weren’t Cobb’s subconscious projections attacking Ariadne from the beginning? After all Cobb knew it was a dream from the beginning and so, therefore, did his subconscious.

A director must be committed to telling a story of substance or else he’s just Michael Bay. When story is paramount, all rules are drawn from the same logical universe. When not, you have a bunch of independent rules all doing different things. But Nolan wanted to saturate his film with flashy special effects so he created a series of rules that defied logic and, in betraying the “idea” of a grounded story for the superficial, he alienated the audience – and this is not even to mention the tiring effort that the audience has to invest in keeping all these rules together which only results in yet further alienation.

The subject of alienating the audience leads us nicely to the other central problem with Inception: the lack of jeopardy that comes with all dreamscape stories. When we heard Nolan was to write/direct such a film, one might have assumed that the writer/director of the clever Memento had come up with a nifty and original way of instilling jeopardy into the story but alas, he didn’t. He merely fell back on the same old clumsy device: you croak in a dreamscape, you croak in real life (Yawn!!!). Okay, so you don’t actually croak, you fall into some nether world described by Cobb as “the shores of our unconscious” (yes, he used those exact words – it doesn’t matter that Jung said them, they’re literal barf!). The result is of course the same pseudo-jeopardy or “I can’t believe it’s not Jeopardy”. This is the reason that all the dreamscape episodes of Star Trek were so awfully tedious – because none of it was real. It was all the loose imaginings of a character that gave us nothing to grab a hold off. Inception is just as tedious but, with the sprawling attempt to contrive an original sense of jeopardy, their nonsensical and endless descriptions of the ‘dream purgatory’ makes it truly excruciating as well.

But surely it can’t be that bad. After all, why do so many people love the film? Now, that’s the most important question. One could argue that people like to feel intelligent and Inception makes a wider band of people feel that way than most films. Inception bases its premise on simplistic, windy, pseudo-psychological ideas but it does so in a garbled, muddled, and nonsensical manner. Essentially, therefore, Inception is neither intelligent in premise nor in writing but because of the aforementioned problem with a universe of disconnected rules, it is convoluted. So in order to figure out what the film is about, one must sit down and pay attention. But this in itself, does not make it clever. After all, one could sit down and spend an hour untangling a series of long ropes. One doesn’t need intelligence to do this but one does need to concentrate and follow every frustratingly random turn the ropes take. In other words, perhaps the fans of Inception merely mistook the convoluted for the complex – and that the half-baked windy verbose dialogue made it easier (or more tempting) to make that mistake. After all, humans are egotistical creatures and we like to process all the ambiguous things we do (those which are open to interpretation) into something self-praising – especially if the information we are processing is crying out for such superficial reformulation. So why not assume that the untangling of what Nolan passed off for a story is something that takes intelligence on our behalf and not simply effort? Just move on and whatever we do, don’t look back at the now untangled mess and begin scrutinising it – lest we see it for what it is.

The other explanation is that Inception works like the fabled naked emperor. With all the effort it takes to keep the various rules in mind, surely many would choose to let them go and just watch the film. They might suspect that it’s crap but hey, maybe they missed something when they stopped paying attention. So rather than coming across as someone who didn’t understand the film, they simply say “yeah, it was great”. Maybe they even convinced themselves it was, rather than admitting to themselves the possibility that they couldn’t understand it. In other words, perhaps people may have mistaken the convoluted dialogue and plot for complexity and intelligence because it was too exhausting to follow the dialogue and plot all the way through and confirm it was all just smoke in a bottle.

Of course, a third explanation might argue that the absence of a logical story is in fact the ultimate confirmation of the ending which Nolan alludes to (attempting to avoid spoilers here!). But wait! We must remember that Nolan left that one open for interpretation which means, in essence, both possibilities *must* be plausible. This is why one can say for certain that the nonsensical universe they created was the result of failure on the part of the writers to write a coherent story and not some devious plan from the beginning. By leaving the ending open, one can only assume they are hoping that the section of the audience who didn’t have the energy to follow all the ridiculous twists and turns through to the end, will fool themselves into thinking it all made sense. Moreover, this is also why we can call the ending a cowardly escape clause. One suspects that Nolan and co. realised they had a bottle of smoke on their hands and so someone had the bright idea to include the “get out of jail free” card, namely, “if the audience *do* realise it doesn’t make sense, then we can claim we never meant it to!” Well maybe *this* is in fact Nolan’s biggest crime of all! – the creation of a context that excuses gross indiscipline on behalf of the writer/director.

Rule No.1 in good creative writing classes has been and always will be: “DO NOT MAKE THE STORY A DREAM. You are cheating the audience of the time they invested in the story if you reveal it at the end *or*, if you reveal it from early on, you are removing any reason for the audience to invest in the story because none of it has to make sense.” To make the mistake of ignoring that rule from the outset and to proceed to *attempt* to tell a coherent dreamscape story is bad. However, to then fall back upon the dreamscape scenario to acquit yourself of your failure in telling a coherent story is entirely worse.

Okay, there are of course some positives that must be acknowledged. Hans Zimmer’s music is good if not a bit overdone and it does its best to carry you through the seemingly endless tedium that is the third act. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is flawless and even astounding in places. Nolan captures some of the movie’s gravity bending scenes well and his pacing in the final part of the hotel room sequence (room sequence not the corridor sequence!) is superb. There is also a healthy array of acting talent with Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Cillian Murphy being somewhat watchable despite playing severely limited roles.

However, none of these small positives come close to remedying the awfully conceived, pretentious, and grossly undisciplined story-telling, not to mention, the totally flawed premise. Cut through all the fluff, and this film is built around the notion that a group of meticulous professionals can craft, manipulate, and exploit a world that defies all such ambitions due to the intangible whimsy that constitutes it. Maybe that’s what forced the writers into a proliferation of disconnected rules (though let’s face it, the lure of shiny effects is strong) but, if true, that was just compounding one failure with another. The big words and convoluted sentences are just a smokescreen designed to stop you discovering that the writers didn’t find a way around that inherent problem.

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Betrayed (1988) 3/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 62.8
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 127 mins
Director: Costa-Gavras
Stars: Debra Winger, Tom Berenger, John Heard

Above average thriller starring Debra Winger as an undercover FBI agent who gets close to a farmer (Tom Berenger) suspected of leading a white supremacist terrorist network. Costa-Gavras does a decent job contrasting the homeliness of life on the farm with the darker side to the backward community while the two leads are acquit themselves admirably. John Heard and Ted Levine are strong in support alongside a host of other well known faces. The film is let down somewhat by a rather ludicrous scenario involving an African-American man being hunted for sport and a ridiculously cheesy ending. The first two acts could have also offered a better insight into the motivations of the lead characters. However, for the most part Betrayed is a solid and entertaining thriller.

Major League 2 (1994) 3.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 64.3
Genre: Sporting Comedy
Duration: 105 mins
Director: David S. Ward
Stars: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo

More of the same but given the first time round was so much fun, that’s no bad thing. All the main players are back except for Wesley Snipes whose character Willie Mayes Hayes is played by Omar Epps and Rene Russo who makes nothing more than a cameo. The most interesting twist on the first film is Sheen’s “Wild Thing” going tame which gives heckler Randy Quaid fertile material for his utterly hysterical rants. “Wild Thing, you make by butt sting.”

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Training Day (2001) 4.14/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 122 mins
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Tom Berenger

Man-sized performances and slick direction define this excellent crime drama about a rookie cop’s one day trial with a hard core LA detective who crosses the line he’s supposed to be protecting all too often. Ethan Hawke proves yet again that he’s one of the most interesting actors around as the fresh-faced Hoyt while Denzel Washington (in a different kind of role to his more typical ‘good cop’ personas) puts in a blistering performance as the edgy Alonzo who roams the streets of LA like a king. Antoine Fuqua’s direction is both faultless and inspired as he brings a gritty, kinetic LA to the screens. David Ayer’s script gives everything an authentic feel and with Washington and Hawke as his mouthpieces, the dialogue is seriously cool. The always enjoyable Scott Glenn is one of the many decent support players but for the most part this film is all about the tense chemistry between the two leads.

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