Archive for May 1995

Braveheart

May 19, 1995

braveheart7Braveheart is the dark-green, brutal, and very long saga of William Wallace (Mel Gibson), the 13th-century Scottish revolutionary who fought to take his land and his people back from the British. This is the second film of 1995 (after the oafish Rob Roy) to illustrate how mean the Brits were to the Scots, and for three hours, punctuated by ferocious battle sequences and shopworn romance, that’s all Braveheart is about. This movie and Rob Roy were filmed independently of each other, so it’s a troubling coincidence that both films do a fair amount of gay-bashing — literally, in this case, when the effete lover of the prince is chucked out a high window for a cheap audience laugh.

Touches like that tend to invalidate Braveheart‘s dedication to the oppressed, but somehow I doubt that Gibson, who is also the director, cares overmuch. He’s too busy turning himself into a blue-faced warrior-martyr, and in the last reel, when Wallace stoically endures torture after torture, the movie’s masochism level gets abnormally high. (Gibson certainly loves to be tortured in movies — is he trying to prove he can take it like a man?) Braveheart is supposed to be about Wallace’s struggles for his people, yet nobody is allowed to hold the screen except Gibson; the Scots are a noisy, blurry rabble in the background. Gibson also gives himself two leading ladies (Catherine McCormack and Sophie Marceau), who are pretty but forgettable. And did I mention that Braveheart is very long? Gibson has no feel for the complexity, the imagery, or, above all, the rich characterization of a true epic. The movie is like a relentless three-part miniseries. I kept wanting to fast-forward to the battle scenes, which do pack a wallop (Gibson stages them like a kid playing with toy soldiers) but are so revved-up and macho that they’re rather revealing. Is Mel Gibson that self-conscious about wearing a kilt? Why doesn’t he just come on before the opening credits, present his heterosexual credentials by showing us a photo of his wife and six kids, and be done with it?

The Langoliers

May 14, 1995

Stephen King’s novella The Langoliers (in his collection Four Past Midnight) seemed like perfect fodder for a brisk two-hour feature. Unfortunately, writer-director Tom Holland (who later made the brutally bad King adaptation Thinner) served it to us as a two-night miniseries. The plot, a cheerfully nonsensical Twilight Zone-ish concept, finds a group of eight passengers aboard an L.A.-Boston flight wondering what happened to all the other passengers — and to the world below. As it turns out, the Langoliers ate them. If you say so, Steve. Some of King’s stories, like this one and Christine, make better movies on the page than on the screen. What can be funky and hyperbolic in your mind’s eye can come off ludicrous when fleshed out literally in front of the unforgiving camera (which is why Stanley Kubrick was wise to jettison the killer shrubs in The Shining, and why King was an idiot to put them back in for the TV version). Here, despite the best efforts of an FX team led by Tom Barham and Image Design, the titular critters look like what they are — computer-generated Pac-Men with teeth.

The performances range from lame (Kate Maberly as a blind psychic, Patricia Wettig as a woman feeling maternal stirrings, Christopher Collet as a music student, the usually dependable Dean Stockwell as a pompous mystery writer) to good (David Morse as a pilot, Mark Lindsay Chapman as an assassin, Baxter Harris as a perpetually hungry passenger, Frankie Faison as the movie’s token minority) to great. The great performance belongs to Bronson Pinchot as an unhinged yuppie. Pinchot, to my eyes, has never been less than dazzling — he even made eight years of that moronic sitcom he was on worth catching. Why isn’t he getting work these days? ‘Tis a mystery. But in The Langoliers, Pinchot throws himself into this yuppie dickwad just as energetically as he gives himself to comedy. It’s a beautifully sustained piece of rabid acting. When his character stiffs, though, so does the movie, which ends on a dippy “We’re all alive! Let’s giggle!” note that had me yearning for Pinchot to resurface with his knife and kill them all. The miniseries got great ratings despite lukewarm reviews and poor first-night word-of-mouth (“Uh, is something interesting going to happen tomorrow night?”), probably riding on the coattails of the previous year’s The Stand miniseries.


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