Tag Archives: Neal McDonough

Timeline (2003, Richard Donner)

Timeline is really bad. The opening sequence starts Donner regular Steve Kahan in a terrible bit part but at least there’s the stunt casting; the rest of the poorly edited sequence has ER doctors and anonymous law enforcement looking into the mysterious death of a man who appeared in the middle of the highway for Kahan to almost hit. Of course, we the viewers know he’s somehow travelled through time because we see a knight on horseback about chop him down before cutting to Kahan in the desert.

That opening shot of the knight cutting down the time traveller should be a trailer shot, should have some kind of major visceral impact… it’s got squat. The shot’s boringly composed—somehow Donner manages to suck all the life out of his wide Panavision frame, ably assisted—unfortunately—by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who’s never got any interesting or thoughtful lighting. Timeline looks boring, with its “renaissance village at a Six Flags” not even a Medieval Times, much less renaissance faire production design or the laughably bad costumes. The knights all look like they belong on a White Castle commercial and the time traveling heroes look like they’re trying to prove cosplay can be macho. Gerard Butler’s outfit is something else.

Though Butler is something else too. Donner apparently gave Butler two directions—make it more Scottish and play it like 80s Mel Gibson. Shirt off, hair wild, soulfully love the ladies (in this case, Anna Friel, who manages to be the only person outside Billy Connolly, who’s exempt, not to embarrass or humiliate themselves it some point during Timeline).

See, Timeline, which is about locable eccentric old archeologist Connolly going back in time through Michael Crichton-stereotype modern megalomaniacal rich recluse scientist David Thewlis’s time machine. Only he gets stuck back in time and so his team—Butler, Frances O’Connor, plus Connolly’s son, bro Paul Walker, who’s around the dig site because he’s got the hots for O’Connor and trying to tempt her away from her work to apparently quit her job and marry him and pump out babies. O’Connor’s real bad in Timeline, which sucks because O’Connor’s great, and it’s not all Donner’s fault, it’s not all the script’s fault—okay, a lot of it’s both Donner and the script’s fault, like, wow, terrible character. But O’Connor’s still bad. She’s not as bad as Walker, but she’s close, although bad in an entirely different way. If the film embraced its spoof potential—bro Walker going back in time to save his dad, Indiana Jones wannabe Butler, the silly battles, Thewlis’s mad scientist–it might’ve been… good. I was going to say amusing, but I really think about the only way you could make Timeline work is to do it as a comedy of itself. Albeit with a different script, cast, director, composer, cinematographer, production designer, and costume designer. Anna Friel and Billy Connolly can stay too if they want, Friel because she’s got the ability to—if not rise above—at lease not drown. Connolly because it’s Billy Connolly, who cares if he’s any good.

At the beginning, when Connolly’s lecturing, for a moment I thought he got the part because it was going to be “Head of the Class,” which too might’ve saved Timeline, if it were actually a “Head of the Class” spin-off. But no, then Butler’s Scottish burr dominates and it seems like it’s been dubbed it’s so over the top and you don’t realize yet what you’re in for with Butler. Even when Butler’s not particularly bad he’s disappointing because of how the film positions him. It keeps giving him chances to “breakout” and Butler never takes them. O’Connor seems to understand what a mistake she’s making, Walker can’t be bothered to care, they literally have him bro-hugging fifteenth century knights and whatnot, everyone else seems to at least get they’re in trouble. But Butler keeps it together throughout. He’s a trooper.

Who gives a risible performance.

Some spectacularly bad acting from Matt Craven and Ethan Embry. Neal McDonough is quite bad. He’s the ex-Marine security guy who takes the dreamy nerds back in time and immediately loses his cool and they have to compensate. Michael Sheen’s the evil English lord. He’s bad. He’s funny but he’s bad. Sheen might get to stay for the spoof, but only if his already hilariously big armor gets bigger.

Marton Csokas is the evil guard with a secret who becomes everyone’s nemesis at one point or another. He’s awful. He and Butler’s big fight scene actually gets put on pause—with the guys passing out stunned—so the movie can catch up with Walker and O’Connor, who get paired together for a third act mission where Walker’s got to trust the smart woman and it turns out to be a bad idea because she’s just an emotional silly. Truly bad part for O’Connor, can’t emphasis it enough. Especially for 2003 or whatever. There are better female parts in male-targeted medieval action movies from the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure how many because it’s not a good genre, but there are at least a few. Because it’s really bad for O’Connor here.

It doesn’t help she and Walker’s romantic chemistry is at the visibly uncomfortably disinterested miscasting error level. Though Butler and Friel’s rapport isn’t much better. It’s just not as bad in such bad ways.

There is one “must be seen to be believed” sequence in Timeline. When they travel back in time, for about fifteen seconds all the actors have to make faces to show brief, unimaginably intense pain. It’s horrible but wonderfully so.

Otherwise… I mean, I knew better than to watch Timeline. It’s on me. But did those involved in its production also now better than to be involved with it; most of the experience of watching Timeline is wondering who the hell thought this something or that something was a good idea when said somethings are so obviously terrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, based on the novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Richard Marks; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Daniel T. Dorrance; costume designer, Jenny Beavan; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner, and Jim Van Wyck; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gerard Butler (Andre Marek), Frances O’Connor (Kate Ericson), Paul Walker (Chris Johnston), Neal McDonough (Frank Gordon), Rossif Sutherland (François Dontelle), Anna Friel (Lady Claire), Michael Sheen (Lord Oliver), David Thewlis (Robert Doniger), Matt Craven (Steven Kramer), Ethan Embry (Josh Stern), Lambert Wilson (Lord Arnaut), Marton Csokas (Sir William De Kere), and Billy Connolly (Professor Johnston).


Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

First Contact works out well for a number of reasons. The script’s structured beautifully, it’s well-cast, Frakes knows how to direct for both humor and action… but also because it’s not a possessive picture. The film involves time travel, sending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew into the past (but still the future) and introduces James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard as locals. In the third act, I realized they’re the only ones with anything at stake. The Enterprise crew… well, sure, the franchise could be in jeopardy, but not the actual characters. Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore obscure that situation quite well.

The film also gives Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner a lot to do. After some lengthy exposition at the open, the script splits into three parts–Stewart and Woodard on the Enterprise, Spiner and villain Alice Krige on the Enterprise, Frakes and Cromwell on Earth. It might even be fun to sit down and time how the film handles passing from one subplot to the next. It’s always rather well done, possibly because the pairings are so good.

Frakes–the director–doesn’t give Frakes–the actor–much to do. He just gets to be amused at Cromwell’s fun performance as a drunken, reluctant genius. Meanwhile, even though Stewart’s great, it’s because Woodard’s there to act off him. She’s wonderful. Krige’s good, Spiner’s pretty good.

The special effects are good in space, less so in the action scenes.

Contact is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, based on a story by Rick Berman, Braga and Moore and on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), Neal McDonough (Lt. Hawk), Robert Picardo (Holographic Doctor), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay) and Alfre Woodard (Lily).


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Traitor (2008, Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

Traitor is the Superman IV of terrorism movies. I suppose I need to explain. I think Tom Mankiewicz once told Christopher Reeve you couldn’t have Superman messing around with the real world. Traitor is a Hollywood terrorism movie–in the vein of Telefon, The Assignment, Nighthawks or even The Jackal–except it takes 9/11 into account. The result is a goofy concoction–one I’m sure the filmmakers think is well-intentioned, but comes off as one of the most xenophobic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Simply put, in the world of Traitor, all Muslims–except one or two–are terrorists ready to kill innocent children, even if they have innocent children of their own. These Muslims tend to be Middle Eastern–Traitor has a ludicrous sleeper cell plot point with a female suicide bomber who would have been inserted long before women became suicide bombers–but there’s also a couple Africans. Not African-Americans, who the film has an awkward relationship with, but African immigrants. Not to be pointing fingers at writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, but I think Louis Farrakhan would have done a much more even-handed tale of a black American Muslim who discovers himself (working for the U.S. in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Osama Bin Laden no less) and finds his Middle Eastern brothers a little confused when it comes to the articles of faith.

As for the film’s approach to religion… another pitfall. It really tries hard in some ways, but it can’t escape its active contention (i.e. ninety-three percent of Muslims are heartless, unthinking mass murderers–worse, they all dream of some day getting to be mass murderers), so it’s laughable in the end. But there’s a lot to laugh at in Traitor, starting with its handling of the FBI.

Since 9/11, common knowledge of what American intelligence agencies do has skyrocketed. So when FBI agents Guy Pearce (he’s an Arabic languages PhD who couldn’t find another job… really) and Neal McDonough (he’s a big tough mean agent, who doesn’t know his partner is a PhD) wing around the world–Yemen, France, Canada, maybe England–it seems somewhat unrealistic. They don’t appear to have a boss, either.

Pearce’s performance is somehow good and somehow not. Technically, it’s a great performance, but the character’s so insanely stupid it’s hard to take him seriously. McDonough is bad. Cheadle’s decent–I kept wondering what the filmmakers would have done if they hadn’t signed him–if bland. As the only Arab terrorist with any elements of humanity, Saïd Taghmaoui is amazing–he gives the film’s best performance and if it’d been about him, it would have been something. As the heartless terrorist–who doesn’t even follow Islam’s basic tenets–Alyy Khan is awful. The rest of the cast is, generally, fine.

The first twenty or thirty minutes of Traitor is good. Until the last couple scenes, it’s on a steady decline but it takes a huge plunge at the end.

Nachmanoff’s direction is better than his writing–it’s fun to see them work cross-purpose. Nachmanoff goes the steady-cam route here (for realism, I’m sure), but he’s got tons of goofy Hollywood dialogue.

And Mark Kilian’s music is good. So good I’m surprised I don’t know his name.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenplay by Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman, Todd Lieberman, Chris McGurk, Danny Rosett and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films.

Starring Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Alyy Khan (Fareed Mansour), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).


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88 Minutes (2007, Jon Avnet)

Al Pacino has reached the point William Forsythe has supporting roles in his movies. That facet just about sums up 88 Minutes, which would have been a great late 1990s Dimension movie, maybe even with Pacino, and all those young actors Miramax had on call (I’m thinking it would have been most effective with Neve Campbell in the Alicia Witt role, throw a young Josh Hartnett in Ben McKenzie’s role, hey, there’s even room for Skeet Ulrich). As a late 2000s movie, however, it’s real silly. It’s Pacino in a real time thriller–shot in Vancouver, which does a fine Seattle impression; it’s depressing. As a thriller, it’s okay… it never gives the viewer enough information to spoil the conclusion, so it’s somewhat surprising.

It’s also very cheap. Not just because it shot in Canada, but because lots of the scenes are set-based and dialogue heavy. It’s not exactly real time, it cheats a little, so tightening up the dialogue wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Gary Scott Thompson is a bad writer and the dialogue and plot resemble a TV episode from the 1980s. It’s not terrible though, because Pacino runs with what he can. His character is problematic–he doesn’t really have a story or a subtext, the womanizer bit plays more on Pacino’s image than anything else–and the movie avoids becoming a real movie about psychiatrists who sell their testimony. Pacino’s sort of a maverick cop psychiatrist also–he can handle a gun, he lectures state’s attorneys–watching it, one imagines Avnet told him to “do the Heat thing,” but quieter. There’s nothing to the character or any of his relationships. It’s a narrative only because it’s Pacino. He fools the viewer into caring when the script is actually failing.

The supporting cast is so-so. Amy Brenneman is pretty good as Pacino’s assistant, as is Deborah Kara Unger as his boss. Leelee Sobieski (Rose McGowan in the Miramax version?) is bad, kind of goofy really. As the bad guy, Neal McDonough is lousy. Alicia Witt holds her own during some of it, not during other parts. Forsythe is Forsythe playing an FBI agent.

88 Minutes could have been–I realized as Pacino runs across a deserted campus (deserted campuses are cheaper to shoot on, I imagine, even in Canada)–a decent academic thriller, juxtaposing Pacino’s role as an educator with his testifying for cash. There’s no sensitivity to the movie, which I guess was heading straight to video until recently (it wrapped in late 2005). It’s a fine enough serial killer programmer (good ones are extraordinary exceptions), but it’s Al Pacino. He shouldn’t have to do movies like this one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Avnet; written by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Denis Lenoir; edited by Larry Webster; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Tracey Gallacher; produced by Avnet, Thompson, Randell Emmett, Michael P. Flannigan, George Furla and Avi Lerner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Dr. Jack Gramm), Alicia Witt (Kim Cummings), Leelee Sobieski (Lauren Douglas), Amy Brenneman (Shelly Barnes), William Forsythe (Special Agent Frank Parks), Deborah Kara Unger (Carol Johnson), Ben McKenzie (Mike Stempt), Neal McDonough (Jon Forster), Leah Cairns (Sara Pollard) and Stephen Moyer (Guy LaForge).


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