Category Archives: ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, William Friedkin)

If you’ve ever started watching To Live and Die in L.A. and turned it off because it’s terrible or just heard of it and thought you should see it, let me say… there’s no reason to see it. Or sit through it. Not even morbid curiosity. Or unless you want to see John Pankow’s butt. Director Friedkin does seem to be trying to start a macho male nudity thing with L.A.—including… umm… Little William L. Petersen, but he also does some homophobia in other parts. Not anti-lesbian though. Friedkin’s pro-objectification there.

Also… some vague racism. By some I mean anytime someone who isn’t White is around. But all of it—even the dingus—is C-level L.A. shenanigans. They leave far less impression, for example, than the incredible stupidity of Secret Service agents Petersen and Pankow. Though at one point Pankow identifies himself as a Treasury Agent. L.A.’s based on a novel—by co-screenwriter Gerald Petievich—and for some reason I’d assume Petievich would’ve at least looked up the difference. Not Friedkin (the other screenwriter). Friedkin doesn’t even seem aware real guns weigh more than the rubber guns his actors strut around with.

To Live and Die in L.A., when you toss aside whatever is going on with bad guy counterfeiter Willem Dafoe, is about how adrenalin junkie, dirty Secret Service agent Petersen corrupts straight-edge Pankow, teaching him how to blackmail, exploit, and rape comely ex-cons (Darlanne Fluegel gets all the sympathy for being in this one), strut around in tight jeans (though Pankow doesn’t go with two to three inch lifts like Petersen) and shirts unbuttoned to two above the navel, and… I don’t know, act tough or something.

The scary part of L.A. isn’t the idiotic, toxic masculinity is good, actually, sentiment—Friedkin must’ve read some amazing male empowerment books in the eighties—but the idea it’s an accurate representation of the Secret Service. Though, wait, didn’t they get busted for something stupid and… oh. Yeah.

Okay, so it’s probably legit.

Otherwise the movie would be famous for the agency suing them for how they were portrayed. Because they’re idiots. Like, even if you’ve only watched “CHiPs,” you have a better idea of how to run an investigation than this group of dimwits.

The movie starts with a suicide bomber going after Reagan. The stupidest suicide bomber in the world, who comes up with a rappelling thing when he has enough explosive to just take out the hotel or whatever. Once the bomber fails—in an Islamophobic portrayal out of a GOP campaign ad—we get the Secret Service guys getting hammered and Petersen showing off his base jumping.

Every man wants to be a macho, macho man… you know what, L.A. set to Village People instead of Wang Chung (yes, really, it’s got a Wang Chung “score” and, no, it’s not good). But then Petersen’s partner, Michael Greene, three days from retirement, goes off to the middle of nowhere to investigate a counterfeiter who turns out to be Dafoe. Dafoe gets the drop on him because Greene’s an idiot too and so Petersen swears vengeance.

The best performance in the film is probably… Dafoe? Of the leads, anyway. Petersen and Pankow are risible, like they’re doing a spoof of themselves and don’t know it. Dean Stockwell’s kind of okay but then not, which is too bad because he starts better than he finishes. Fluegel’s not good, just sympathetic because she’s so exploited. Robert Downey’s terrible in a stunt cameo. John Turturro… I mean, you can tell he might be good someday but certainly not here. Debra Feuer, despite having the most potentially interesting story, isn’t any good as Dafoe’s muse.

Some of the Robby Müller photography is good. Some of it is not. They go handheld a lot, which would be a questionable choice if there weren’t so many just plain terrible choices Müller and Friedkin make. M. Scott Smith’s editing… is not bad. It’s not good, but it certainly seems like it’d be bad given Friedkin’s vibe here. It’s not. It’s tolerable. So much in L.A. is intolerable—like Lilly Kilvert’s production design and Linda M. Bass’s costumes—the tolerable parts shine.

To Live and Die in L.A. is an excruciatingly bad two hours. It’s hilariously pretentious and full of itself, but it’s got no laugh value; the joke is on whoever’s watching it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, based on the novel by Petievich; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by M. Scott Smith; music by Wang Chung; production designer, Lilly Kilvert; costume designer, Linda M. Bass; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Petersen (Chance), Willem Dafoe (Eric Masters), John Pankow (John Vukovich), Darlanne Fluegel (Ruth Lanier), John Turturro (Carl Cody), Dean Stockwell (Bob Grimes), Debra Feuer (Bianca Torres), Steve James (Jeff Rice), Robert Downey Sr. (Thomas Bateman), Christopher Allport (Max Waxman), and Michael Greene (Jim Hart).


Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan)

It’s impossible to overstate what a profoundly, risibly bad movie Shyamalan has made with Signs. As the end credits started rolling, after the most disappointing “epilogue” Shyamalan could’ve come up with—it’s not just disappointing, it’s also pointless (pointless is the probably the best adjective to describe scenes in Signs)—my wife joked the movie took two weeks to film. To which I responded, “Thirteen and a half days longer than it took to write.” Because even with all the bad in Signs—and there’s so much bad—the writing is the worst.

And Shyamalan does this non-committal “camera as POV” thing—cinematographer Tak Fujimoto should be ashamed of himself for enabling Shyamalan to do it and embarrassed with how poorly he shoots the thing; Signs looks terrible–so, in other words, there’s a lot of competition for what’s worst in Signs. Shyamalan’s direction of the talking heads scenes—and there so many talking heads scenes because Shyamalan, who’s ego is literally oozing from every grain of film–involves characters almost looking directly into the camera but then just a little diagonally. Shyamalan is going for something with Signs, with his very intentional direction, his very intentional casting of himself as the guy who kills star Mel Gibson’s wife in a traffic accident (Shyamalan was asleep at the wheel) and vehicular manslaughter isn’t a thing and it just turns reverend Gibson into an atheist (but they never say the a-word because while Signs is definitely a millimeter thinly veiled Christian movie, there’s still the veil and it’s never going to get confrontational about it). Also… Shyamalan wrote the movie, so he did kill the wife.

Symbolism. Pass it on. Like the dog tchotchkes at the end to remind the viewer there are dogs, even if everyone forgot about them because they don’t matter because Signs is insipid.

Signs is full of symbolism but not really full because there’s not much because Shyamalan gets frequently bored with things like mise en scène because there’s better things to do like write the awful scenes between Gibson and his family. I went into Signs at least thinking Gibson would get through it unscathed (performance-wise). No. No. Not at all. It’s a godawful performance. He is incapable of pretending to be a former reverend, a widow, a husband, a father, a brother, and a farmer. The scenes with Gibson and kids Rory Culkin (who’s kind of terrible; it’s not his fault, Shyamalan seems to be having him do a Macaulay impression circa Uncle Buck but he’s still bad) and Abigail Breslin, who gets terrible material and terrible direction, but is still phenomenal. Shyamalan can’t figure out how to direct her because she’s not terrible like the rest of his cast.

Though, not Joaquin Phoenix. He’s leagues better than Gibson, though it helps Phoenix’s character is a dope. Gibson’s ostensibly functional enough to get to this point in his life—whereas Phoenix apparently always had Gibson to lean on—yet Gibson is real dumb. Real dumb.

Other bad things about Signs? Cherry Jones. She’s awful. Ted Sutton is so bad SAG should’ve shut the production down. Bad editing from Barbara Tulliver; Tulliver’s editing, cut for cut, is probably even worse than Fujimoto’s photography. Tulliver—presumably unintentionally—screws up all of Shyamalan’s jump scares. Larry Fulton’s production design is bad.

James Newton Howard’s score, while inexplicably a complete Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock rip-off (oh, wait, was Signs in the middle of Shyamalan being the new Hitchcock era), and poorly utilized, isn’t poorly composed. It’s competent, just misapplied. Everything else is incompetent and misapplied.

I was looking through Rodale for a good, fresh adjective to describe Signs but I think vapid does the job best. It’s worse than I expected it to be, which is saying a lot, but it also surprised me. I had no idea Gibson would so spectacularly fail or Phoenix would be—with a lot of conditions—so much better. And I guess Shyamalan managed to be inventively terrible, it’s just he’s a pointless kind of inventively terrible.

Oh, you know what… there’s the word.

Puerile.

Signs is puerile.

CREDITS

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Larry Fulton; costume designer, Ann Roth; produced by Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Shyamalan; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Graham Hess), Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill Hess), Rory Culkin (Morgan Hess), Abigail Breslin (Bo Hess), Patricia Kalember (Colleen Hess), Cherry Jones (Officer Paski), Ted Sutton (SFC Cunningham), Merritt Wever (Tracey Abernathy), and M. Night Shyamalan (Ray Reddy).


Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Sadly, the Writers Guild of America does not publish their arbitrations for writing credits, because the one on Rogue One has got to be a doozy; I desperately want to know how they go to this script. Did it actually start as a video game or did director Edwards really have no idea how to do action scenes not out of a video game? Was there ever a satisfying conclusion to the various characters or was it always going to be amid the biggest Star Wars action sequence featuring the toys—sorry, spaceships–from the Original Trilogy ever mounted.

Because you know how they do all the rest. They do it with CGI. They even bring Peter Cushing back in CGI and credit some guy named Guy Henry who… stood in? Got CGI’ed over? Cushing doesn’t look real, he doesn’t even look alien (though the alien designs in Rogue One are like sixty percent good and forty percent perplexingly odd). He kind of looks like a video game character but maybe a little better… whenever he’s on, I wish I was just watching CGI further adventures of the Original Trilogy cast. I mean, probably not anymore because I wouldn’t want to see what the do with Carrie Fisher but still. There’s a novelty in it.

There’s no novelty in CGI Cushing in Rogue One because they still haven’t gotten the acting down. The face makes expressions but pointlessly. Kind of like the James Earl Jones cameo. His inflections make no sense. Partially because the exposition-full dialogue plays worse onscreen than George Lucas’s. Again, that Writers Guild arbitration has got to be some great reading. Like who wrote the Darth Vader cameo, which I’m not going to consider a spoiler because you should be able to get a “Rogue One Darth Vader” playset, complete with the bigger looking, Darth Helmet homage perhaps helmet.

The reason the dialogue is so bad is because they’re targeting a younger audience. There’s this really silly “Rosebud” running throughout the movie and it gets repeated time and again before it finally comes into play and then they even explain it. Because they’ve got to hit the eight year-olds, which is nice, right? It makes an eight year-old feel smart… which is kind of Star Wars in a nutshell.

Anyway.

The big space and land battle plays with all the good toys. There are ships from various movie periods fighting each other and whatnot, there’s AT-ATs, there’s… a samurai. There’s everything you could want. And lots of callbacks to the original movies, both in shots and dialogue.

As bland as the action direction, Edwards does pretty well with the pseudo-main plot, involving the creation of the Death Star (the first one, so pre-Star Wars; the movie assumes you’re very familiar, because otherwise why would you be watching Rogue One). Empire scientist Mads Mikkelsen tries running away but gets brought back by bad guy Ben Mendelsohn (who’s great but has to play second-fiddle to CGI Cushing, which is a choice); Mikkelsen’s wife dies and their daughter is rescued by Forest Whitaker. Jump ahead fifteen years and now the daughter is Felicity Jones and Whitaker’s an old man (so they can make prequels to this prequel, which would still be sequel to the prequels), and they’re estranged. Blah blah blah, needlessly complicated plot to get Jones and Whitaker reunited, bringing in Rebellion spy and secretly soulful assassin Diego Luna, who, with his trusty reprogrammed attack droid (voiced by an over-enthusiastic given the writing Alan Tudyk), will reunite father and daughter and hopefully save the universe.

Along the way Luna and Jones team up with Jedi Temple protectors but not Jedi Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. They’re like Jedi groupies. Yen gives what’s probably the best performance… and there are good performances. Not just Mendelsohn. Luna’s a strong lead until Jones takes over for… ten minutes or so. She’s good. It’s a silly part, but she’s good. Riz Ahmed’s really good as the Imperial spy. Forest Whitaker’s good. Until they get to the direct prequel to Star Wars stuff, it certainly seems like it might add up to something for its cast. But once Threepio and Artoo show up… it’s just a countdown to their suicide mission overtaking them and clearing the board for the actual heroes to show up.

The ginned up martyrs all get their big exits but they play trite, mostly because the script, some Edwards. Michael Giacchino’s score almost, almost, almost finally makes it work but then he doesn’t because he never makes it work. Giacchino’s score is middling when it’s not aping or anti-aping John Williams and much worse when it does.

Rogue One is a successfully executed Star Wars prequel slash midquel, which says nothing about it as a good use of $200 million or two hours and ten minutes…. In those terms, it’s an abject, even desperate fail and a complete waste of its (human) actors’ time.

I assume CGI Peter Cushing has nothing better to do.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, and Jabez Olssen; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont; costume designers, David Crossman and Glyn Dillon; produced by Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, and Allison Shearmur; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), Guy Henry (Governor Tarkin), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa), Alistair Petrie (General Draven), and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma).


The Enforcer (1976, James Fargo)

The Enforcer is cheap in all the wrong ways, both in terms of budget and narrative, which probably ought to be clear in the first scene, when the movie opens on a butt shot of Jocelyn Jones in Daisy Dukes. She’s hitchhiking but it’s all a setup for the villain reveal—Jones is in an ostensible militant beatnik organization with a bunch of Vietnam vets (Enforcer’s politics are a whirlwind trip of anti-Vet, pro-Cop, anti-Government, anti-taxpayer, anti-equality, before you even get to the low-key racism and high-key sexism) and they’re about to ransom the city. The bad guys—led by a terrible DeVeren Bookwalter and a mediocre Michael Cavanaugh—ransom the city two times without anyone really taking much notice because the budget isn’t high enough for big set pieces. So instead it’s all smaller action stuff on location; The Enforcer has an A (enough) cast, an A crew (minus director Fargo), great San Francisco shooting locations, and at best B action sequences. Even when they’re on great locations, they’re never good enough.

Because Fargo, mostly. Fargo rarely directs a good scene and he often seems disinterested when the film actually gets reasonable as far as character development goes. Of course, Enforcer has multiple instances of the cop actors having to remind themselves to point their guns straight so no one’s particularly invested. During the action-packed (for Enforcer) showdown on Alcatraz, Clint Eastwood seems particularly bored. Or maybe I’m projecting. The Enforcer is ninety-six long minutes.

This Dirty Harry sequel features some more players from the original, Eastwood’s commanding officer, Harry Guardino (who’s absolutely disinterested in every scene but still has way more charm than he should given the material), and partner, John Mitchum. Mitchum is not good. Fargo’s direction of Mitchum is godawful, but Mitchum is… rough. Especially during the liquor store hold-up where Eastwood first encounters uppity minorities, in this case a rather terrible Rudy Ramos. Look fast for Joe Spano as Ramos’s (uncredited) accomplice.

Wish Joe Spano was in more of the movie.

Anyway, once Eastwood saves the day and costs the taxpayers a bunch of money, bureaucrat captain Bradford Dillman (in a particularly lousy performance in a particularly lousy role), busts him down to personnel where Eastwood meets Tyne Daly. She’s being promoted through affirmative action. She’s never had an arrest, never been on the street, so they’re going to make her an inspector. And once Eastwood’s on the terrorist case—though it actually turns out Bookwalter’s not about the beatnik peace stuff; he’s a common thief—anyway, once Eastwood’s on that case, Daly’s his new partner.

And here’s where we get to see Eastwood practice abuser tactics—being mean to Daly, then being nice to her, over and over. He’ll go on to do something similar with Black organizer Albert Popwell, who’s rather likable. Sadly, the best scenes in the movie—by far—are when Eastwood and Daly are palling around (in the apparent lead-up to a cut romance) or when he’s being a dick to Popwell. It’s kind of ironic it takes the minorities—Daly and Popwell—to get some effort out of Eastwood, which he can’t be bothered with when he’s in scenes with his fellow White man.

Though Eastwood’s delivery of one-liners is all right.

The film’s technically solid enough—Charles W. Short’s photography of the San Francisco locations is gorgeous, even if he doesn’t do anything to help Fargo with the action sequences (Fargo manages to bungle a chase across San Francisco rooftops)—so it seems like it might just skate through. Then the third act, which brings back in showstopping bad M.G. Kelly, crumples fast. The exciting Alcatraz finish is a snoozer.

Pretty good Jerry Fielding score and Daly’s good in a crap part.

Enforcer starts a why bother and ends a don’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Fargo; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner, based on a story by Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr, and characters created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; costume designer, Glenn Wright; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Tyne Daly (Kate Moore), DeVeren Bookwalter (Bobby Maxwell), John Mitchum (DiGeorgio), Bradford Dillman (Capt. McKay), Harry Guardino (Lt. Bressler), Albert Popwell (Mustapha), Michael Cavanaugh (Lalo), Samantha Doane (Wanda), Jocelyn Jones (Miki), M.G. Kelly (Father John), Rudy Ramos (Mendez), and John Crawford as the Mayor.