Timeline


The aforementioned nifty battle scene.

The aforementioned nifty battle scene.

(2003) Science Fiction (Paramount) Paul Walker, Billy Connolly, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Matt Craven, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Anna Friel, Ethan Embry, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilson, Marton Csokas, Rossif Sutherland, Steve Kahan, David La Haye, Richard Zeman, Patrick Sabongui, Mike Chute, Lois Dellar. Directed by Richard Donner

The late Michael Crichton’s novel have always translated  well to the silver screen; Timeline  is one of his best novels and with director Richard Donner at the helm, it should be a recipe for success, no?

No. Young Chris Johnston (Walker), the son of a renowned archaeologist (Connolly) is visiting his dad on the site of a medieval French castle. Chris is not much for history; he’s watched it consume his father. Chris is more interested in Kate (O’Connor), one of his dad’s students. Although Chris finds a sympathetic ear in Andre Marek (Butler), one of his father’s colleagues, there is a gulf between father and son that neither man quite knows how to bridge.

That all has to wait however as Professor Johnston has been summoned back to ITC, the high-tech corporation that funded the digs that has helped in leading the researchers to different finds with almost uncanny precision. Professor Johnston intends to find out why.

Kate is seeking a rumored tunnel that led from the castle to the monastery below. Marek relates the story of the castle’s fall: How when the English lord who held the French castle hung the Lady Claire from the battlements; rather than demoralizing the French, this spurred the Gallic troops to greater fury and they overwhelmed the castle.

Meanwhile back at the monastery, a hidden room has been discovered. And in that hidden room, which has not been seen by human eyes since the 14th Century, an even more amazing find: an eyeglass spectacle, and a note, in the Professor’s handwriting, with a date and the words “Help me.”

This causes all sorts of consternation among the dig team. And when they are unable to contact the professor, they become considerably upset. Finally, they force a face-to-face meeting with Robert Doniger (Thewlis), the CEO of ITC, and his top scientist, Dr. Kramer (Craven).

It turns out that ITC’s big project is a teleportation device, something that will send physical objects from one location to another, which Kramer likens to “faxing.” Except that it doesn’t work exactly the way they intended. They inadvertently opened a wormhole to the past. However, they are only able to go to a specific time and place; you guessed it, 14th-century France — and the very castle which is doomed to be overrun by the French. It turns out that Professor Johnston was sent there and then, but is unable to return. A rescue team is needed, and who better than the experts on the area where the Professor is trapped?

Most of the group agrees to go, and Doniger insists on sending three security men with them, including head of security Gordon (McDonough). The team is warned not to bring any modern items with them, especially weapons; but they must keep electronic markers with them at all times, so they will be able to return to the 21st century.

Things go wrong immediately, when the team is attacked by English knights who mistake them for French spies. One of the security team panics and returns back to the future, with a loaded grenade he incomprehensibly smuggled. The grenade predictably goes off, destroying the time machine and stranding the rest of the team in the past. While ITC’s technicians frantically work to repair the time machine, Marek, Kate, Francois (Sutherland), Chris and Gordon work on finding the professor while staying alive.

They are aided by a plucky French girl (Friel), but eventually are captured by an evil English lord (Sheen) who immediately kills Francois, the only one of them who speaks French (fortunately, nearly everyone in the movie speaks English — modern English at that).

Soon after, they anti-climactically find the Professor, but are unable to return to the future (where is Christopher Lloyd when you really need him?) and spend most of the rest of the movie believing that one or another of them is dead, evading dastardly English knights and discovering Doniger’s real treachery. All this on the eve of the big blow-out battle. And, if you haven’t already seen it coming a mile away, the plucky French girl turns out to be the ill-fated Lady Claire — and Marek has fallen head over heels in love with her.

The novel Timeline is a taut, thrilling and well-researched book. Crichton paid special attention to the details of the time. How the characters in the book were able to handle things such as communicating with people who don’t speak any language we currently understand, for example, is part of the book’s charm. That’s all jettisoned in favor of dumbing down the plot to its lowest common denominator.

Therein lies the major flaw of Timeline. Crichton never talked down to his readers, but screenwriter Jeff Maguire finds it easier to just gloss over whatever obstacles you would think time travelers would face in favor of setting up nifty battle sequences. And nifty they are; flaming arrows rise into the night sky, balls of fire are launched by ballistae, exploding against the castle walls. The battle sequences are visually inspiring, and it’s amazing they were accomplished without CGI, which is rare even in 2003.

Butler and O’Connor are quite good in their roles, as is Wilson as a French knight. But there are plenty of big, big holes. For example, the time travelers in this film kill people with abandon, without thought as to how what they are doing might affect the future to which they hope to return. These are themes being explored in movies like A Sound of Thunder and The Butterfly Effect far more effectively and logically and when someone says that A Sound of Thunder is far more logical than your movie, you should cringe.

While there are some cool moments (such as when Marek realizes that the grave he discovered in the 21st century is his own), the time travel here is mainly the means to set up the big action sequences. And if that’s all that you’re going to use time-travel for, why not just set the movie in 14th century France?

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty battle scenes. Butler, O’Connor, Connolly and Wilson all perform admirably.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The screenwriters are talking down to you. Lapses in logic and consequence.

FAMILY MATTERS: Brief foul language and some fairly intense battle sequences that while not terribly gory still might give the more sensitive a bit of trouble.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Some of the French knights carried shields emblazoned with the flag of Quebec; some of the film was shot in the Canadian province.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.9M on an $80M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Captain Phillips

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Scrooged


Tiny bubbles...

Tiny bubbles…

(1988) Comedy (Paramount) Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, Nicholas Phillips, Mabel King, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, John Houseman, Buddy Hackett, Lee Majors, Brian Doyle-Murray. Directed by Richard Donner

 The Holly and the Quill

Some Christmas tales are so timeless, so meaningful that they can survive being twisted, pulled, yanked out of shape and modified into something quite different and still be meaningful and timeless.

Frank Cross (Murray) is the programming VP at the IBS network and he’s the youngest in the industry. He’s the golden boy, the one who has the eye of network head Preston Rhinelander (Mitchum). It’s Christmastime and Cross has an ace up his sleeve for the Yule season – a live broadcast of Scrooge from various locations, with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, John Houseman narrating and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. God bless us, every one.

The people who work around Frank could use all the blessings they can manage. Frank is a world-class a-hole with a mean streak wider than the Long Island Expressway. This live show is crucial to his career; if it succeeds he is on the fast track to Rhinelander’s job. If it fails, he’s on the fast track to unemployment, where he has already put nebbish assistant Eliot Loudermilk (Goldthwait). He tries to keep his long-suffering assistant Grace Cooley (Woodard) working late, preventing her from taking her mute son Calvin (Phillips) to a needed doctor’s appointment.

But if you think Frank is callous in his professional life, you should see his personal life. He spurns his brother Earl’s (Doyle-Murray) invitation to dinner. He is as alone as alone can be. That wasn’t always the case. He was once deeply in love with the pretty community activist Claire Phillips (Allen) but that was from a long time ago. He’s barely thought about her over the years…well, that’s what he’d have you think anyway.

Frank is on a one-way trip to the hot seat but there are those who think he has something inside him worth saving – one being his mentor Lew Hayward (Forsythe), who pays Frank a visit on Christmas eve to try and reason with him. Never mind that Lew’s been dead for years; he’s really got Frank’s best interests at heart. He sure doesn’t want his protégé to end up like him – a rotting corpse doomed to walk the earth for eternity. To help the reluctant Frank along, Lew’s sending three ghosts to show him the way – the Ghost of Christmas Past (Johansen), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Kane) and…you get the picture.

This was a much ballyhooed remake of the Dickens classic that Murray, who had last tasted success with Ghostbusters four years earlier, had his imprint all over. SNL compatriots Michael O’Donoghue and Mitch Glaser co-wrote it and many of Murray’s cronies from SNL and from his other movies, as well as all of his brothers, were in the film. The film is very much set around Murray and his style of humor, so if you don’t like him much you’re not going to find a lot of reasons to see the film.

Still, if you do like him, this is one of his most iconic performances, one that will live with most of his classic performances in Stripes and the aforementioned Ghostbusters. The movie didn’t resonate with the critics very much – at the movie’s conclusion, Murray delivers a speech about the true meaning of Christmas which some felt was treacly and not heartfelt (although I beg to differ).

The ghosts are all amazing and fun, particularly Kane who beats the snot out of Murray (in one scene she pulled his lip so hard that filming had to be halted for several days while he recovered). The special effects are fun and if they are a little dated by modern standards (the movie will turn 25 next year) they still hold up pretty well.

The movie remains if not a Christmas classic at least a Christmas perennial. It runs regularly on cable this time of year and is easily available on streaming or for rent. It is perhaps less serious than most other Christmas movies but it has edgier laughs and that’s certainly worth something.

WHY RENT THIS: Kane, Forsythe and Johansen make some terrific ghosts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Seems like an overly long SNL skit at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few scary images and some bad language. A little rude humor to tide you over as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Tiny Tim-like character Calvin Cooley was named for former President Calvin Coolidge who was known for being taciturn.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.3M on an unknown production budget; in its time the movie was a big box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fred Claus

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Holly and the Quill continues!

The Goonies


The Goonies ARE good enough!

The Goonies ARE good enough!

(1985) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantolliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros, Mary Ellen Trainor, Keith Walker, Steve Antin. Directed by Richard Donner

Some movies capture a moment in our lives, one in which we were essentially happy or later convinced that we were. Perhaps we were children at the time, or just starting out as adults with our whole lives ahead of us. I was 25 when The Goonies came out. My father was still alive. I was single but at least I was (kinda) dating. I was working at my dream job as a rock and movie critic for a weekly paper. Life was good.

Life was good for a group of kids who called themselves the Goonies as well, but then it turned not-so-good. Greedy developers wanted to put in a high end golf course and housing development where their homes were. Most of their parents were struggling to get through but now their struggles appeared to be over and the battle was lost. Despite their best efforts they were all going to have to move and after this weekend they’d never be together again.

Mikey Walsh (Astin) is an asthmatic kid with big dreams. The rainy weather of Astoria, Oregon (where they live and where the movie was shot) doesn’t do a kid with his lungs too much good. His big brother Brand (Brolin) is tasked with watching over him while his mom (Trainor) takes the maid (Ontiveros) out to get some things they need to clean up the house before they leave.

In the meantime they are joined by Mikey’s friends Chunk (Cohen), an overweight klutz with a big ol’ heart, Data (Quan) who yearns to be the next James Bond and is constantly inventing new gadgets to make that come true and Mouth (Feldman) who talks a whole lot but only once in awhile has something to say.

Brand on the other hand has it bad for Andy (Green), a comely young cheerleader whose acerbic best friend Stef (Plimpton) keeps her head from getting too big; besides that she genuinely likes the people hovering around Andy with the exception of Troy (Antin), the son of the developer who is putting the Goonies out of their homes.

While looking about the attic where Mikey’s dad, the director for the tiny local museum has been storing some of the town’s artifacts, the klutzy Chunk knocks over a painting to which the glass shatters. Inside the painting there turns out to be a map. The map appeared to be the work of local legend One-Eyed Willie, a pirate who sailed the waters of the Pacific centuries ago and disappeared with whispers of a vast treasure hidden in the area – a treasure that’s never been found.

Mikey realizes this could be their ticket; their means of saving their homes. Of course, there’s another legend – that of Chester Copperpot, a treasure hunter who disappeared while looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Despite Brand’s strict orders to that he needs to stay inside, Mikey and his friends ambush Brand and tie him up, let out the air of his bike’s tires and pedal off madly for one last great adventure.

In the meantime, Jake Fratelli (Davi) has been broken out of jail by his mean ol’ Ma (Ramsey) and brother Francis (Pantolliano). They’ve holed up in an abandoned restaurant which as it turns out is where the entrance to the caves where One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is buried. They manage to elude the not too bright crime gang but there is a wild car – the brutish Sloth (Matuszak) whom they keep chained up. Now the Fratellis are hot on the trail of the Goonies with the treasure – and their very homes – at stake. Are the Goonies good enough to take the challenge?

This is perhaps one of the classic movies of the 80s. It’s got Cyndi Lauper on the soundtrack. It’s got Steven Spielberg producing it. It’s got references that put it square in that remarkable decade. It’s got young actors, most of whom went on to bigger and better things in later years. And those young actors do an amazing job. You never forget for a moment that you’re in a group of friends, the same kind you had at their age. The kids you biked all over the neighborhood with. The kids you played videogames with on rainy afternoons. The kids you shared all your deepest secrets with.

Of course, a lot of kids in their 20s and younger reading this won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Growing up was a whole lot different back then than it is now. You had a lot more face time with your friends who ALL lived in the neighborhood. You saw them in school, you hung out with them afterwards. That’s just the way it was.

The movie is perfectly cast and is fun from beginning to end. The caves of One-Eyed Willie are packed with fiendishly evil and clever traps. The pirate ship Inferno, the vessel of One-Eyed Willie, is magnificent in detail (the filmmakers actually built a working vessel; when you see it sailing near the end of the film, it actually is sailing.

This is perfect family entertainment; it’s got a little bit of everything and it’s never overbearing. Although Donner directed it, there are definite Spielbergian touches throughout and you never for an instance think that it’s anything but a Spielberg film. However, there are definitely things that are of Donner’s devising as well. It’s a theme park attraction waiting to happen (who wouldn’t want to ride a waterslide into a lagoon with a pirate ship floating at anchor?) and a great ride of a movie. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have kids, get them off their cell phones and iPads and into the living room for a family movie night. It’s something your whole family will remember for a very long time to come.

WHY RENT THIS: A classic adventure and family movie. Delightful and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Spielberg, pirates, gadgets, spy movies, 80s movies or fun, you might not like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mildly bad words, some rude humor, a bit of violence and peril and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Jake Fratelli sings to Sloth an excerpt from Madame Butterfly, that’s really actor Robert Davi singing; he is a trained opera singer as well as an actor.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Special Edition DVD includes music videos of both of Cyndi Lauper’s hit songs from the movie, outtakes and a video commentary track that periodically reduces the movie to a window in the corner; the commentators are Donner and all seven of the now-grown Goonies. The Blu-Ray edition has all of these plus a reprint of the official movie magazine from 1985, ten storyboard cards, a reprint of an Empire magazine article on the movie and a board game. That’s right, you heard me correctly – a board game. I’m gonna run right out and get this sucka for Christmas.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $61.4M on an unreported production budget; these are only the domestic box office numbers. The movie was a huge hit in its day and continues to generate income through home video, television and occasional theatrical showings.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Raiders of the Lost Ark

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Things We Lost in the Fire

Ladyhawke


Ladyhawke

Love reunited in the sight of God, Man, Wolf and Hawk.

(1985) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, John Wood, Ken Hutchison, Alfred Molina, Giancarlo Prete, Loris Loddi, Alessandro Serra. Directed by Richard Donner

When you find your soul mate, you know it immediately. The greatest joy in life is to be in their presence. The greatest cruelty is to be separated from them.

Philippe Gaston (Broderick) – a.k.a. Philippe the Mouse – is a thief who has been imprisoned in the dungeons of Aquila for his crimes. Resourceful and desperate, he escapes through the sewers and is chased through the countryside by the vicious and cruel Captain of the Guards (Hutchison). Just when it appears he is going to go medieval on Philippe’s ass, he is saved by Captain Etienne Navarre (Hauer), the disgraced former Captain of the Guard.

Navarre takes an interest in Philippe not because of his sense of outrage at injustice but because of his accomplishment of escaping the dungeons of Aquila. Navarre has an interest in this because he means to kill the Bishop (Wood).

It turns out Navarre has an incredible secret. He fell in love with Isabeau d’Anjou (Pfeiffer), who the Bishop had his eye on. Unable to have her, he cursed the lovers; by day Navarre is a man but by night a wolf. Isabeau is a woman by night and a hawk by day. They cannot see each other, touch each other – but they are constantly at each other’s side. They are in love but they can never be together. That’s why Navarre wishes to kill the Bishop.

However, Imperius (McKern), the friar who was responsible for the Bishop finding out about Navarre’s romance with Isabeau, believes he’s found a way to break the curse – Isabeau and Navarre must stand before the Bishop as man and woman. Impossible, no? No because there’s a solar eclipse coming in which day and night combine. But how to get there with the Bishop’s guards arrayed against them and a vicious bounty hunter (Molina) on their trail?

This is one of my favorite romantic movies of all time. Richard Donner was on a streak of great movies at the time, including Superman: The Movie and The Goonies. He shot most of the movie in Italy and Spain, utilizing the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to shoot beautiful mist-filled vistas that lend an air of otherworldliness to the fantasy but also romance as well.

Pfeiffer was at her most beautiful and her most radiant here, and her chemistry with the dashing Hauer (just off his appearance in Blade Runner) is astounding, even though they’re only in two scenes together. The first, where they are both changing forms as dawn breaks, is absolutely heartbreaking and one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.

Broderick is the glue that holds the movie together. He’s not just the comic belief, but he’s also the moral center. His conversations with God are hilarious and his relationship with the main characters keeps the movie flowing, particularly with Navarre and Imperius. When I first saw this back in the day, the criticism was that Broderick was a bit out of place in the medieval timeframe, coming off as more of a New York street hustler and in many ways that’s valid, but it nonetheless works in my humble opinion.

Wood also does one of the best villain turns of the 80s, snake-like and self-righteous but with a slimy underbelly of corruption and lust. He’s a fine character actor who had several pretty good roles (and I believe is active to this day) but none ever made the kind of splash as this one did, at least with me.

It’s a great movie with a tremendous premise. It’s not quite perfect – the Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons score is simply wrong for the movie – but it’s pretty darn close. It’s wonderfully romantic, as close to a modern fairy tale – the filmmakers for many years claimed it’s based on an actual medieval legend but there’s little evidence of that. It’s perfect for cuddling up with your sweetie and imagining one another as a dashing knight and a beautiful damsel.

WHY RENT THIS: A wonderfully wicked curse and outstanding chemistry between Hauer and Pfeiffer. An energetic performance by Broderick and a deliciously evil turn by Wood.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Alan Parsons-produced score is anachronistic and wholly improper for the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images and partial nudity. By and large acceptable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rutger Hauer was originally cast as Marquet, the evil captain of the guard and Kurt Russell was originally cast as Navarre, but when Russell dropped out three days before principal photography began, Hauer was given the role which is the one he wanted to begin with.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie reportedly broke even.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

TOMORROW: Day 2 of Cinema365: From the Heart