Archive for the K Category

The Keep (1983) Michael Mann

Posted in K on November 1, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $6 million

Gross: $3-4 million

The Keep is about a group of Nazi soldiers headed by Capt. Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) who are ordered to secure an old keep.  The keep is an odd building with strange crosses and a groundskeeper who insists no one stay for the night.  Of course the Nazis stay and some even try looking the place of its ornate crosses.  Something is picking off Woermann’s soldiers and SS Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) is sent in to take charge.  Woermann, who is concerned for his troops, asks for the only person who is knowledgeable of the keep to be brought there.  That man, Dr. Cuza (Ian McKellen), finds out a demon is responsible and considers allying himself with the demon to kill the Nazis.

Let’s get my positives for this movie out of the way.  This is a movie that I should absolutely love given all the individual pieces.  Michael Mann is as stylish as ever.  The keep is giant and ominous.  Mann plays around with light and darkness and the effects are very cool.  Tangerine Dream seems like an odd choice for the soundtrack, but the odd synth score actually works to great effect.  The visuals and the music combine to make a very dream like experience and I liked it.  The acting in this movie is very entertaining.  You have Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glenn and Ian McKellen giving it their all in a movie about a golem killing Nazis.  They were all just fun to watch.  It should all just come together into one big bowl of awesome.

And yet something is missing.  I watched this movie and came away feeling that huge chunks were missing as we switched from plot thread to plot thread without a consistent tone.  In the first act it is pretty much a straight up horror film with something picking off the troops.  In the second act it is more about this Jewish scholar making a deal with a demonic golem because he sees the Nazis as the greater evil.  Then in the third act Scott Glenn’s character shows up with almost no explanation to fight the golem.  Then in reading up for the film I find that the original cut of the film was 3 hours and 30 minutes.  Keep in mind the only cut currently available is 96 minutes.  Holy fucking shit.  That is insane.  Look, I know producers were probably shitting their pants at the idea of releasing a 3 hr 30 minute horror film about a golem killing Nazis, but couldn’t there have been some middle ground between 3 hr and 30 minutes and freaking 96 minutes!  How in the world do you cut over half the film and think that you would have a coherent story?

I was going to complain about story elements not being fully developed.  There is an interesting idea with Cuzo debating which is truly the greater evil; man or this golem?  There was an attempt at an character arc with Woermann.  Scott Glenn’s character again, practically shows up out of nowhere to being the monster hunter.  I was going to complain, but how in the world can I do it now?  This movie was absolutely butchered and I almost have to give Mann credit that there is still a movie to watch even after over half the movie was cut.  This is studio meddling at its worst.  It is like what I brought up in saying I couldn’t honestly review Jonah Hex.  I realize Jonah Hex would probably never be a good film, but when you cut it to barely 70 minutes, it is no longer even a movie.  You have to sink or swim with the movie that was made, but cutting it that much doesn’t do it any favors.  Same thing generally applies here.  The Keep may not have been a masterpiece and I doubt at 3 hrs and 30 minutes people would have flocked to it, but at 96 minutes it is a mess.  It is a beautiful mess, but a mess all the same.

The Keep has not been released on DVD and can only currently be seen on Netflix streaming.  The lack of DVD release is partly blamed on rights over the Tangerine Dream soundtrack and partly on Michael Mann pleading with the studio not to release it.  I think it would be a real shame if this didn’t get a DVD release with an extended director’s cut.  There is so much to enjoy from what I have seen, that it is terrible I can’t see the movie as it was meant to.  I would still recommend you check it out if you have Netflix streaming.  Despite the plot being all over and the tone being inconsistent as a result, I think it is interesting enough to check it out at least once.  Despite the studio interference it is a pretty decent film, but I really wish I could see it prior to the lawnmower being brought into the editing room.

Killshot (2008) John Madden

Posted in K on February 1, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: unknown
Gross: $17,007

Killshot was being tossed around since 1995.  There were many people slated to play the killers such as Robert DeNiro, Quentin Tarantino, Viggo Mortensen, and Justin Timberlake.  When the Weinsteins had their break up from Miramax the Weinsteins took this along with a few other properties as part of the separation agreement.  This was one of those projects that had to undergo several re-shoots and edits because it just didn’t test well with audiences.  The movie was pushed back from its original release date of 2006 to being limped out in 2008.

Killshot is based on an Elmore Leonard novel of the same name.  Carmen (Diane Lane) and her husband (Thomas Jane) are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks.  They get put in a witness protection program after they witness a prominent mob hit man Blackbird (Mickey Rourke) commit a crime.  Blackbird is also in trouble by the mob when he kills the bosses girlfriend in a hit.  Blackbird is accompanied by a psychopathic killer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

You know the movie promotes both Diane Lane and Mickey Rourke as the main stars of this movie (obviously cashing in on the success of the Wrestler) but I’ll tell you the reason I actually picked it up was to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I think this guy is a talented young actor and he is very good in anything he’s in.  Now this movie has a lot of talent from the Leonard book, to the top level actors involved, to even John Madden (who directed Shakespeare in Love).  You would think it would be even mildly entertaining but no, it comes off as fairly bland.

Of course lets start with the acting.  The acting is fine.  I’m not sure you could ever sell me on Mickey Rourke being a Native American but whatever: he is entertaining enough.  And Joseph Gordon-Levitt also does a good job as the “YEE HAW” psycho killer, if not a little hammy for my taste.  But their performances are not enough to carry this movie for me.  Rourke has to play the stereotypical hitman who plays by the rules and doesn’t show emotion.  So for most the movie he just has a stern face and says stuff through voice over like “A good hit man must never leave witnesses.” or “You must be sure of your target and exactly how many bullets you need.” etc.  And Levitt is also good but is not prominent enough to carry the movie.  The majority of the movie is carried by Jane and Lane and they simply aren’t compelling enough.

In fact, my main problem with the movie is that its seemingly more about the failed marriage of their character’s than about psychopathic hit men trying to kill them.  I don’t know if its like that in the book but they spend so much time talking about their relationship I almost thought we were in Nights at Rodanthe.  Then we cut back to Rourke and I’m like “Oh yeah, someone’s trying to kill them”.  That’s another problem: the killer plot falls completely flat for me.  For as much as this guy talks about being the best hit man, he really sucks.  Rourke isn’t all that menacing, his character comes up with stupid plans, he has no real problem solving abilities, and he can’t learn to shut up and shoot his targets.  Now that may be the point of the book is that he believes he is the best but is utterly incompetent but I highly doubt that.  Every fed/mob character try to play him up as the next Anton Chigurh and yet every one of his plans go completely tits up on him.  There is absolutely no tension at all here.  This is no No Country or Blood Simple: you do not believe the hit man is crazy/dangerous or right around the next corner trying to strike.  Here he’s just chillin with Rosario Dawson which is good for him but doesn’t make for a good thriller.

This is just a bland movie.  It has a lot of potential but failed to capitalize on any of it. There is no tension, the plot meanders, and the acting is not good enough to pull it out.  Simply put, its another in a long list of “meh” movies.  And its yet another Blockbuster Exclusive/Weistein Company creation.

K-19 The Widowmaker (2002) Kathryn Bigelow

Posted in K on January 19, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $100 million
Worldwide Gross: $65 million

K-19 is actually an independent movie.  The movie is financed primarily by National Geographic.  The fact it bombed so hard being an independent movie makes it one of the more notorious bombs.   The crew of the actual ship were sworn to secrecy until about 1989.  The filmmakers attempted to work with the crew in making an accurate movie.  The captain of the ship though sent a letter on behalf of the crew over inaccuracies in the movie.  The most notable example being when (in real life) the captain tossed the guns overboard to prevent a mutiny while in the movie, there is a minor attempt at mutiny which is quickly handled.  The movie was generally received positively (61% on rottentomatoes) but did not make back its massive budget.

Is it any good?  Sometimes even The Moses can get caught up in the same negative press I try to rail against by this thread.  I came into K-19 The Widowmaker with rock bottom expectations.  Why?  I dunno, the movie is one of the biggest bombs of all time, Harrison Ford has a terrible accent in the trailer, and word of mouth was generally negative.  Well I have to say, this is a good movie.

K-19 is kind of like an anti-Titanic in a way.  People with the Titanic had the feeling the ship was unsinkable and nothing could stop it and it was the height of ego.  What’s darkly humorous about K-19 is that almost everyone in the crew is saying to themselves it’s pretty damn sinkable.  In fact, most of the crew were hoping on luck or God to make sure they made it back in one piece even before the ship set sail.

K-19 was the first nuclear submarine made by Russia in 1961 and was supposed to be the ultimate threat to the Americans; a sub that could park off the shore of Washington and had nuclear missiles that could strike at the heart of the US.  Really it was to be a showcase to the US of their power.  The problem was the Communist party rushed the sub with shoddy products in order to quickly move ahead of the Americans in the arms race.  Many of the back up systems were not installed and the primary systems were completed with low grade parts.

The first captain (played by Liam Neeson) was unwilling to sail the ship with substandard parts.  The Communist Party sends another captain (played by Harrison Ford) to take command and carry out the party’s orders.  Neeson is a kind of fatherly figure to the crew and Ford is a more hard line structured captain.  Sure enough, they kind of clash and sure as shit, the ship breaks down.  The coolant system breaks, the crew can’t reach the reactor, and if the core melts down it can cause a thermonuclear reaction.  If that happens it could potentially cause both sides to launch nukes.

Part of why I like this movie is the play between Neeson and Ford’s character.  Yes, their accents are very bad (Ford does it the whole movie, Neeson gives up after about two lines).  But once you move on from the initial snickers they are good performances.  Heck, I would even go as far as say Ford gives a great performance.  They just have a great chemistry as two captains who have differing styles on command but do respect one another.  While you don’t learn that much about their past, you do learn about them from the actions they do in that situation.

It is also interesting to see the sacrifices this crew made and the incredibly shitty situation they were in.  They had to go about as low tech as possible to fix the tiny problem of a thermonuclear melt down.  You watch as the crew knowingly walk into certain death in order to save the rest of the crew.  Another part of the rush job the Communists did was they didn’t install the sub with radiation suits in case, you know, something actually went wrong with the reactor.  So when they actually had to go fix the reactor, they knew full well it was a death sentence.  That is very intense to watch what they did to save everyone.

Now there are problems with the movie.  The main reason this movie failed (I think) is because of the budget.  This movie really didn’t need to be $100 million dollars.  The movie is heavy with special effects (such as that of the sub breaking through ice and the shots of the interior of the reactor) that even by 2002 standards look pretty bad.  They did not get their money’s worth with this CGI.  Even the practical effects like the old age make up Neeson and Ford have in the end are almost laughable.  Really this is a movie which should have only had one set which is the sub.  I don’t know why this movie cost as much as it did.

Another issue is we really don’t learn that much about the crew.  True you can’t give us detailed info on these guys but it takes a little from their sacrifice when they are almost shown as nameless red shirts.  Also a few of the scenes go on a bit too long and can be a tad schmaltzy.  There are some other things but they are minor quibbles.

There are a lot of little flaws and these flaws do prevent it from being a great movie.  Do I recommend this movie?  Ehhhh it depends a little.  I mean, it is hard to expect people to sit through 2 hours and 20 minutes of Russians dying of radiation poisoning even if it is a brave story.  This is not however a bad performance by Ford and not a bad movie by any means and if you were in the least bit interested in the subject by all means.  I was entertained.

Krull (1983) Peter Yates

Posted in K on January 19, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $27 million
Worldwide Gross: $16 million

One of the quintessential D&D type movies we grew up with.  Krull is about a semi futuristic group of aliens with swords/blasters who invade the planet of Krull.  Two rival families decided to unite with a political marriage between Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa.  The princess is captured by the leader of the alien force to marry her in a few days.  Colwyn seeks out a mystical weapon called the Glave to defeat the Slayers.

This movie has a great look to it as most of the Slayer’s fortress is out of fantasy artwork from old Dragon magazines and Spelljammer books.  The best part of the movie is the music which is fantastic and almost a character in the movie.  It’s too good and dare I say this movie is not that worthy of it.

Yet despite all these really great elements, I didn’t much care for this movie.  In fact, it’s all kind of hollow.  It has a lot of style to cover for the fact there is nothing in the middle.  The plot is cookie cutter and lacks any kind of depth.  All we get is bad guys come and steal princess.  The rest of the movie is get macguffin, go here, sorry your princess is in another castle, go there, etc.

Now this certainly isn’t my chief gripe.  After all, most of the movies we like have stock plots.  But it’s with other elements like great characters or smart writing or great action that keeps us involved.  Our hero is bland, wooden, and in no way drives this movie despite having most of the screen time.  The rest of the characters range from forgettable to one of the most annoying characters in adventure movies in Ergo the Magnificent.  The dialog isn’t all that memorable either.  There are some nice exchanges but most of it is just explaining they have to go to X and get the mystical Y and blah blah blah.

Some of the action and the swashbuckling stuff is good, but its for me few and far between.  The second act just really drags for me as they seemingly forget the action in exchange for a mystical scavenger hunt.  The action at the bookends are rather cool though.

I’m still a little disappointed that I didn’t really like this movie.  Stylistically the movie is great and I appreciate every time they put forth a good effort in the fantasy genre.  But I just sat through the movie and I felt so indifferent to it.  The extremely slow middle, the rather mediocre writing, and the lack of interesting characters really brought it down for me.  What I am saying is probably nerd sacrilege but it’s MEH.