Film Review: The Bounty (dir by Roger Donaldson)


Oh, poor Captain Bligh.

For those who recognize the name, it’s probably because they’ve either read a book or seen a film that portrayed him as being the tyrannical captain of the HMS Bounty.  In 1787, William Bligh and the Bounty set off on a mission to Tahiti.  When, after ten months at sea, the Bounty arrived in Tahiti, the crew immediately fell in love with the relaxed pleasures of island life.  When Bligh ordered them to leave Tahiti and continue with their mission, his own second-in-command led a mutiny.  Bligh and the few men who remained loyal to him were set adrift in a lifeboat while Christian and the mutineers eventually ended up settling on Pitcairn Island.  Against impossible odds, Bligh managed to make it back to civilization, where he faced both a court-martial and a future of being portrayed as a villain.

Though most historians agree that Bligh was a knowledgeable and talented (if strict) captain and that the mutiny had more to do with Christian’s desire to remain in Tahiti than Bligh’s treatment of the crew, most adaptations of what happened on the Bounty have laid the blame for the mutiny squarely at Bligh’s feet.  Personally, I think it has to do with the names of the people involved.  William Bligh just sounds evil, in much the same way that the name Fletcher Christian immediately brings to mind images of heroism.  In 1935’s Mutiny On The Bounty, Charles Laughton portrayed Bligh as being a viscous sadist.  In 1962’s Mutiny in the Bounty, Trevor Howard portrayed Bligh as being an overly ambitious martinet, though ultimately Howard was overshadowed by Marlon Brando, who gave a bizarrely mannered performance in the role Christian.

In fact, it would seem that there’s only one film that’s willing to give William Bligh the benefit of the doubt.  That film is 1984’s The Bounty.

The Bounty opens with Bligh (played by Anthony Hopkins) facing a court-martial for losing the Bounty.  That the admiral presiding over Bligh’s court-martial is played by Laurence Olivier is significant for two reasons.  Olivier’s stately and distinguished presence lets us know that the mutiny was viewed as being an affront to British society but it also reminds us that Hopkins began his career as Olivier’s protegé.  Much as how William Bligh was a star of the British navy, Hopkins was (and is) a star of British stage and screen.  One gets the feeling the scene isn’t just about the admiral judging Bligh.  It was also about Olivier judging Hopkins as the latter played a role that had already been made famous by two other great British thespians, Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard.

By opening with Bligh on trial, The Bounty allows itself to be told largely through Bligh’s point of view.  We watch familiar events play out from a new perspective.  Once again, it takes longer than expected for Bligh and the Bounty to reach Tahiti and, once again, Bligh’s by-the-book leadership style alienates a good deal of the crew.  However, this time, Bligh is not portrayed as being a villain.  Instead, he’s just a rather neurotic man who is trying to do his duty under the most difficult of circumstances.  Bligh knows that the crew blames him for everything that goes wrong during the voyage but he also knows that the only way their going to survive the journey is through maintaining order.

In fact, the film suggests that Bligh’s biggest mistake was promoting Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to second-in-command.  Christian is portrayed as being good friends with Bligh and one gets the feeling that Bligh promoted him largely so he would have someone to talk to.

The film does a good job contrasting the dank claustrophobia of the Bounty with the vibrant beauty of Tahiti.  When the crew first lands, Bligh proves his diplomatic skills upon meeting with the native king.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that, while Bligh views the stop in Tahiti as just being a part of the mission, the majority of the crew view it as being an escape from the dreariness of their lives in Britain.  For the first time in nearly a year, the crew is allowed to enjoy life.  When Bligh eventually orders the crew to leave Tahti, many of the men — including Christian — are forced to abandon their native wives.

Unfortunately for Bligh, he doesn’t understand that his crew has no desire to return to the dreariness of their old life, either on the Bounty or in the United Kingdom.  Bligh’s solution to the crew’s disgruntlement is to become an even harsher disciplinarian.  (Bligh is the type of captain who will order the crew to clean the ship, just to keep them busy.)  However, Bligh no longer has Christian backing him.  When the inevitable mutiny does occur, Bligh seems to be the only one caught by surprise.

Anthony Hopkins gives a performance that turns Bligh into a character who is, in equal amounts, both sympathetic and frustrating.  Bligh means well but he’s so rigid and obsessed with his duty that he can’t even being to comprehend why his crew is so annoyed about having to leave Tahiti.  Since Bligh can’t imagine ever loving anything more than sailing, it’s beyond his abilities to understand why his men are so obsessed with returning to Tahiti.  Hopkins portrays Bligh as being not evil but instead, rather isolated.  He knows everything about sailing but little about emotion or desire.  Ironically, the same personality traits that led to him losing the Bounty are also key to his survival afterward.  By enforcing discipline and emphasizing self-sacrifice, Bligh keeps both himself and the men who stayed loyal to him alive until their eventual rescue.

Interestingly, Mel Gibson portrayed Christian as being just as neurotic as Bligh.  In fact, if Bligh and Christian have anything in common, it would appear to be they’re both obsessed with what the crew thinks of them.  Whereas Bligh is obsessed with being respected, Christian wants to be viewed as their savior.  When the mutiny finally occurs, Christian gets an almost messianic gleam in his eyes.  While Christian is not portrayed as being a villain (and, indeed, The Bounty is unique in not having any cut-and-dried villains and heroes), Gibson’s portrayal is certainly far different from the heroic interpretation offered up by Clark Gable.

(The rest of the cast is full of familiar British character actors, along with a few future stars making early appearances.  Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson appear as members of the Bounty’s crew.  One remains loyal to Bligh while the other goes with Christian.  Watch the movie to find out who does what!)

The Bounty is best viewed as being a character study of two men trying to survive under the most trying of conditions.  Just as Bligh’s personality made both the mutiny and his survival inevitable, the film suggests that everything that made Christian a successful mutineer will also make it impossible for him to survive for long afterward.  Whereas Bligh may have been a poor leader but a good diplomat, Christian proves to be just the opposite and the king of Tahiti makes clear that he has no room on his island for a bunch of mutineers who will soon have the entire British navy looking for them.  Whereas Bligh makes it back to Britain, Christian and the mutineers are forced to leave Tahiti a second time and end up settling on the previously uncharted Pitcairn Island.  (Of course, no one knows for sure what happened to Christian after the mutineers reached Pitcairn Island.  The last surviving mutineer claimed that Christian was murdered by the natives who were already living on the island.)

The Bounty has its flaws.  There are some pacing issues that keep the film from working as an adventure film and a few of the actors playing the crew aren’t quite as convincing as you might hope.  (If you only saw him in this film, you would never believe that Daniel Day-Lewis is a three-time Oscar winner.)  But it’s still an interesting retelling of a familiar story and it’s worth watching for the chance to see one of Anthony Hopkins’s best performances.

 

In Memory of Robin Williams #2: Cadillac Man (dir by Roger Donaldson)


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Cadillac Man is a film that I had never heard of until I came across it while skimming what was available OnDemand last week.  It was a film that I only watched because it starred Robin Williams.  I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about including it in a tribute to Robin Williams because Cadillac Man was definitely one of his lesser films.  However, while Cadillac Man may not be a very good movie, it does feature a very good performance from Robin Williams.

Released in 1990, Cadillac Man tells the story of Joey O’Brien (Robin Williams), who is the type of car salesman who has no problem approaching a widow at a funeral and telling her that now is the time to consider buying a new car.  Joey’s a good salesman but he’s also deep in debt.  He not only owes alimony to his ex-wife (Pamela Reed) but he also supporst two mistresses, a married one (a hilarious Fran Drescher) and a single one (Lori Petty).   He’s also owes money to the local mafia don and, as the film begins, he’s been told that he has to sell 12 cars in two days or else he’ll lose his job.

On top of all that, Joey also has to deal with Larry (Tim Robbins),  an insane jerk with a motorcycle and an assault rifle who takes the entire car dealership hostage because he’s convinced that his wife (Annabella Sciorra) is cheating on him.  Larry spends most of the movie firing his rifle up in the air and screaming at the top of his lungs (and yet, it’s also clear that the audience is supposed to like him).  As the cops surround the car dealership, Joey attempts to keep Larry under control while also trying to get back together with his ex-wife…

After I watched Cadillac Man, I looked up the rest of director Roger Donaldson’s credits.  What I discovered was that Donaldson has directed a lot of movies (including guilty pleasure Cocktail and the upcoming The November Man) but only one of them has been a comedy.  The majority of his films are dramas like Thirteen Days and action films like November Man.  In short, Roger Donaldson is not a comedy director.   And when directors who aren’t experienced with comedy attempt to make a comedy, they almost always resort to having all of the actors shout their lines and run around like characters in a live-action cartoon.  That is certainly the approach that Donaldson took in Cadillac Man and the end result was a film that far too often tried to substitute chaos for genuine comedy.

(As just an example of Donaldson’s lack of comedic touch, Annabella Sciorra went through almost the entire film with a bloody cut on her forehead.  Even if her lines or her character had been funny, I would have never known it because I was spending too much time worrying about what the eventual scar would look like.)

And yet, here’s the thing.  As bad as Cadillac Man turned out to be, Robin Williams was actually pretty good in it.  Joey isn’t exactly a likable character but you root for him because of who is playing him.  What’s interesting is that the role, even though it was definitely comedic, didn’t lend itself to the manic intensity that was the trademark of much of Williams’s comedy.  Instead, the humor comes from the way that, while everyone else in his life is essentially going crazy, Joey O’Brien struggles to maintain his facade of calm and confidence.  Williams portrays Joey as being the ultimate salesman and when Joey has to try to convince Larry to release his hostages, he approaches it almost as if he’s trying to sell Larry a car and it’s impossible not to admire Joey’s determination to close the sale without anyone else getting shot.  As played by Tim Robbins, Larry is thoroughly unhinged.  In fact, it’s probably one of the worst performances of Tim Robbins’ career but it’s obvious that he and Williams enjoyed playing off of each other.  Whenever Robbins’ performance goes over-the-top, Williams’ performance brings things back down to Earth and provides whatever pleasure one can hope to get from a film like this.

And that’s why, despite the fact that Cadillac Man is not a particularly good film, it’s an appropriate tribute to the talent of Robin Williams.  It’s one thing to give a good performance in a good film.  However, it takes true talent to give a great performance in a total misfire.

And that’s exactly what Robin Williams did in Cadillac Man.

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Trailer: The November Man


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Outside of Sean Connery, my other favorite James Bond has always been Pierce Brosnan. He was able to inject some of the fun that became camp when Roger Moore was Bond, but still retain the ice-cold lethality that Connery brought to the role. It was just bad luck that he ended up with Bond writers and directors that were hit or miss. I think Pierce woud’ve done just as good a job, if not better, in the films that Daniel Craig ended up doing as Bond.

We now have Brosnan back as a spy, but not as Bond, but as Peter Devereaux from the spy novel series written by Bill Granger. The November Man looks to be Brosnan’s attempt to try and add another spy thriller franchise in the mix with both Bond and Bourne. Whether Brosnan succeeds depends on how critics and audiences react to this film.

The trailer makes the film look interesting enough. Using the time-tested plot of master vs. protege, The November Man may have some success when it comes out at the tail end of the summer season with little to no competition.

One thing that’s good to see is Brosnan back on the screen. If Liam Neeson can transition into the elder action hero then I can’t see why Pierce Brosnan can’t do it as well. Neeson can’t be the only Irish kickass on the screen. Lisa Marie would agree that there’s never enough kickass Irish stars on the big-screen.

The November Man shoots its way onto the big-screen this August 27, 2014.

Guilty Pleasure No. 15: Cocktail (dir by Roger Donaldson)


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For the past two months or so, Cocktail, a 1988 film that stars Tom Cruise as a bartender with big dreams, has been on an almost daily cable rotation.  A few nights ago, my sister Megan and I sat down and watched the film from beginning to end and we laughed ourselves silly.

Seriously, if there’s ever been a film that deserves to be known as a guilty pleasure, it’s Cocktail.

Cocktail tells the story of Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), an apparent sociopath who, having just gotten out of the army, is now determined to become a millionaire.  During the day, he takes business classes but at night, he and his mentor Doug (Bryan Brown) are dancing bartenders.  While customers wait for drinks, Brian and Doug do the hippy hippy shake and toss bottles up in the air.  The crowd loves them and Doug educates Brian on how to be a cynical, opportunistic bastard.  (Myself, I didn’t think Brian needed any lessons but the film insists that he did.)

When Brian and Doug get into a fight over Gina Gershon, Brian ends up in Jamaica where he eventually meets both Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) and Bonnie (Lisa Banes) and has to choose between love and money.  (Guess which one he goes for…)  Gee, if only there was a way that Brian could get both love and money…

Why is Cocktail such a guilty pleasure?  Just consider the following:

1. Cocktail is an example of one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres.  It’s a film that attempts to give an almost religious significance to a profession or activity that, in the grand scheme of things, just isn’t that important.  Hence, Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown aren’t just bartenders.  No, instead, they are the linchpin that New York nightlight revolves around.  If not for the talents of Cruise and Brown, we’re told, thousands of people wouldn’t have a good night.  And then who knows what might happen.  They might go to a different bar and they might get served by less rhythmic bartenders.  Chaos and anarchy might be break out.  The living would envy the dead.  Fortunately, the super bartenders are there to save the day.  (Just consider the film’s tagline: “When he pours, he reigns!”  Really?)

2. In the pivotal role of Brian Flanagan, Tom Cruise gives a performance that seems to hint that the character might be a sociopath.  Whenever he speaks to anyone, he flashes the same dazzling but ultimately empty smile.  Whenever he feels that anyone is failing to treat him with the respect that he deserves, he responds with child-like violence.  When he drags Elisabeth Shue out of her apartment, he looks over at Shue’s father and snaps, “It didn’t have to be like this!”  It’s a line that makes next to no sense unless you consider that Brian is a pathological narcissist who is incapable of empathy.  “It didn’t have to be like this,” Brian is saying, “except you dared to question me so now I’m going to kidnap your daughter…”

3. In the role of Doug, Brian’s mentor, Bryan Brown gives perhaps one of the most openly cynical performances in film history.  While everyone else is earnestly reciting the script’s platitudes and trying their best to sound sincere, Brown delivers every line with a hint of resignation and an ironic twinkle in his eye.  It’s as if Brown is letting us know that, of the entire cast, he alone knows how bad this film is and he’s inviting us to share in his embarrassment.  But Bryan Brown need not worry!  The movie may be bad but it’s also a lot of fun.

4.  Brian and Doug become New York nightlife sensations by doing an elaborately choreographed dance as they mix their drinks.  The other people in the bar absolutely love this, despite the fact that it seems like all the dancing would mean that it would take forever for anyone to actually get a  drink.

5.  While bartending, Brian also takes a business class that is taught by one of those insanely elitist professors who always seem to show up in movies like this.  When he returns student papers, he doesn’t just pass them out.  Instead, he literally tosses them at the students while offering up a few pithy words of dismissal.  Seriously, this guy has to be the worst teacher ever.  No wonder Brian would rather be a bartender than a student!

6. After having a fight with Doug, Brian somehow ends up working as a bartender in Jamaica where he suddenly starts speaking with a very fake Irish accent.  The Jamaica scenes serve to remind us that — despite the fact his great-great-great grandfather did come from Dublin — Tom Cruise is one of the least convincing Irishmen in the history of film.

7. In Jamaica, Brian meets and falls in love with Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) but, because he’s a sociopath, Brian cheats on her with Bonnie (Lisa Banes), who is a wealthy TV executive.  Bonnie brings Brian back to New York with her but, unfortunately, it turns out that Bonnie and Brian don’t have much in common beyond Bonnie wanting a young lover, Brian being young, Brian wanting a rich woman to take care of him, and Bonnie being rich.  What’s particularly interesting about these scenes is that the film doesn’t seem to understand that Brian is essentially coming across like the world’s biggest asshole here.  I think we’re meant to feel sorry for him but all we can really think about is how Bonnie could do so much better.

8. Around this time, Bonnie drags Brian to a museum where Brian ends up getting into a physical altercation with a condescending artist.  It’s at this point that the audience is justified in wondering if Brian has ever met anyone who didn’t eventually end up taking a swing at.

9. But guess what!  It turns out that not only does Jordan live in New York but she’s actually rich as well!  And she’s willing to forgive Brian for being a sociopathic jerk.  Unfortunately, Jordan’s father objects to his daughter running off with a sociopathic bartender so Brian — as usual — reacts by beating up a doorman and then literally dragging Jordan out of her apartment.  One scene later and Brian and Jordan are suddenly married and Brian owns a bar of his own.  Where did Brian get the money to open up his own bar?  Who knows!?  At this point, all that’s important is that the movie is nearly over and, in order for there to be a happy ending, Brian must both be married and a bar owner.  That seems to be the film’s message: “Just stay alive for two hours and the film’s script will be obligated to give you a happy ending whether it makes sense or not.”

10.  Brian is not only a bartender, he’s a poet!  And, amazingly enough, bar patrons are willing to put aside their desire to get a drink so they can listen to their bartender recite poems like this:

” I am the last barman poet / I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make / Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake / The sex on the beach / The schnapps made from peach / The velvet hammer / The Alabama slammer. / I make things with juice and froth / The pink squirrel / The three-toed sloth. / I make drinks so sweet and snazzy / The iced tea / The kamakazi / The orgasm / The death spasm / The Singapore sling / The dingaling. / America you’ve just been devoted to every flavor I got / But if you want to got loaded / Why don’t you just order a shot? / Bar is open.”

Seriously, how can you not enjoy a film like Cocktail?  It’s just so totally ludicrous and melodramatic and, best of all, it seems to have absolutely no idea just how over-the-top and silly it really is.  Both Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue seem to take their roles so seriously that you seriously have to wonder what film they thought they were making.

Cocktail is the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

Tom Cruise In Cocktail

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear

 

Quickie Horror Review: Species (dir. by Roger Donaldson)


1995’s Species was a studio’s attempt to replicate the start of a new sci-fi/horror franchise like the one begun by Ridley Scott’s Alien. Roger Donaldson was tapped to direct this attempt with a cast that included Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marge Helgenberger, Forrest Whitaker and Alfred Molina. The lucky gal who gets to play the role of Sil — the half-alien, half-human hybrid — fell on the stunning and gorgeous shoulders of Natasha Henstridge.

Species pulls from so many different sci-fi/horror films and shows from the past that it’s hard to find anything original in the story. There’s stuff from Alien, The Hidden, and even some episodes of The X-Files. The one original twist in this derivate film was the plot of an alien race sending over the genetic markers of its race and instructions on how to recombine it with human DNA to create a form of hybrid. Why the scientists decided to go through with such a seemingly dangerous task is known only to the writer who put pen to paper to create the screenplay. The bulk of the film’s story comes from one the creation of one such human-alien hybrid named Sil (the young version played by Michelle Williams in one of her very first roles) and how her creators and handlers begin to realize that she has an almost desperate need to procreate.

The acting by the select group of experts (Madsen, Helgenberger, Molina, Kingsley and Whitaker) were good enough and no one embarrassed themselves in the end. Henstridge does a fine job of being sexy and hot. It helped that she pretty much was naked through most of the film, or at least put herself in situations to be naked. In fact, Henstridge goes beyond just being the naked eye candy in the film, but does a great job playing the naive adult Sil who escapes her lab-prison as her instincts propel her to find the perfect mate. It’s during this search that much of the film’s gore make their appearance and there’s a bit of it.

The art design of Sil as the evolved alien hybrid came courtesy of the great Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger who also did the design for the alien creature in Alien. Giger’s biomechanical designs have always been disturbing and beautiful at the same time and he didn’t disappoint with his design of Sil. If there was a quibble on Sil’s final design it was that it still resembled a bit too much of the alien design in Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it was still great to see H.R. Giger still creating such wonderful artwork and designs for people to see. His popularity has always been mostly composed of the elite circles of the artworld and those small, loyal art groups with a penchant for the surreal, weird and disturbing.

In the end, Species was a good sci-fi/horror that didn’t bore too much and for those who enjoy their gore this film had its equal share of the red stuff. Gratuitious nudity and sex from Natasha Henstridge as Sil the alien hybrid and the excellent designs from H.R. Giger gives this film enough good things to look at. It doesn’t bring anything new and pretty much reuses alot of other things from other movies, but Species was good enough albeit derivative of better past films and shows.