REVIEW: THE MOD SQUAD (1999)

CAST

Claire Danes (Stardust)
Omar Epps (Scream 2)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Dennis Farina (Get Shorty)
Josh Brolin (Men In Black 3)
Steve Harris (The Rock)
Richard Jenkins (The Cabin In The Woods)
Michael O’Neill (Bates Motel)
Holmes Osborne (Donnie Darko)
Michael Lerner (Elf)
Monet Mazur (Blow)
Mariah O’Brien (Halloween 6)
Eddie Girffin (The New Guy)
Sam McMurray (L.A. Story)
Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn)

The Mod Squad has an intriguing cast, a director who knows how to use his camera and a lot of sly humor. Shame about the story. When you see this many of the right elements in a lame movie, you wonder how close they came to making a better one. The director, Scott Silver, co-wrote the script himself, and has to take some of the blame: This is a classy production and deserves better.
The premise is from the old TV series. Three young screw-ups are interrupted at the beginning of criminal careers, and recruited by a police captain to form an undercover squad. Their assignment: Infiltrate a club where prostitution and drug-dealing seem to be happening. The mod squad doesn’t carry guns (officially, anyway), doesn’t have badges, and I’m not sure if they can make arrests; maybe they’re more like high-level snitches. The members are described by a Rod Serling-type voice over the opening credits. Julie (Claire Danes) was “a runaway–an addict at 18.” Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) “went straight from Beverly Hills to County Jail.” Linc (Omar Epps) “doesn’t blame his crimes on anything.” (He’s black, and so the implication, I guess, is that this is worthy of comment.) In the good-looking opening sequence, filmed by Ellen Kuras, they’re intercut with dancers at a club, get into a fight, and then find themselves being debriefed and lectured by Capt. Greer (Dennis Farina), who orders them to stand up when they talk to him, quit sitting on his desk, etc. Of course their bad manners are a curtain-raiser to bravery, heroism and astonishing crime-fighting skills.Claire Danes and Josh Brolin in The Mod Squad (1999)The skills, alas, are astonishing because they’re so bush league. The main investigative technique in this movie consists of sneaking up on people and eavesdropping while they explain the entire plot and give away all the secrets. Julie falls for a former lover, follows him to a rendezvous with a drug kingpin (Michael Lerner) and overhears choice nuggets of conversation (“None of them have any idea I know they’re cops!”). Then she follows him home and hides in his closet while the faithless louse sleeps with another woman.

Pete, meanwhile, is even more clever. He creeps up on a hideout and hides behind a wall while tape-recording a full confession. It goes without saying his tape will later be played over a loudspeaker in order to incriminate the bad guys. He uses one of those little $29 microcassette recorders–you know, the kind that can record with perfect fidelity at 20 yards outdoors on a windy day.As the mod squaders were creeping around, eavesdropping and peeping through windows, I grew restless: This is the kind of stuff they rewrote the Nancy Drew books to get rid of. Too bad, because I liked the pure acting touches that the cast brought to their roles. Ribisi (from “Friends,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Other Sister”) has a kind of poker-faced put-upon look that’s appealing, especially when he gets beat up and goes back to Beverly Hills and his dad chortles heartily at the claim that his kid is now a cop. Danes (“William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”) has a quick intelligence that almost but not quite sells the dumb stuff they make her do. Epps (“Scream 2,” “Higher Learning”) is the dominant member of the squad, who tries to protect the others from their insane risk-taking.And there’s a small but indispensable supporting role by Michael Lerner as the crewcut evil kingpin, who intimidates his enemies by dancing with them (“I’m not a fairy–I just like to dance”). He delivers his dialogue indirectly, as an ironic commentary on the horrible things he always seems about to do. So all of this is a good start, but the screenplay just doesn’t provide the foundation. Consider Billy, the Josh Brolin character, who is Julie’s once and future boyfriend. We know from the first moment we see him that he’s no good. We’re tipped off by how suddenly Julie goes for him; if the point were romance, the movie would let them take longer, but since the point is for her to be deceived, she has to rush in heedlessly. No girl meets a guy who dumped her and broke her heart, and immediately drags him into a toilet stall for sex. Especially not now that she’s clean and sober, as Julie is (although the movie repeats the tiresome cliche that all recovering alcoholics immediately turn to drink after a setback–preferably swigging from a fifth). What I’d love to know is how the screenplay got green-lighted. This is a top-drawer film with a decent budget and lots of care about the production values. The cast is talented and well-chosen. The movie is even aware of potential cliches.

REVIEW: STARDUST

CAST

Charlie Cox (Daredevil TV)
Claire Danes (Terminator 3)
Ian McKellen (The Hobbit)
Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows)
Robert De Niro (Limitless)
Sienna Miller (Layer Cake)
Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying)
Peter O’Toole (Supergirl)
Ben Barnes  (The Chronicles of Narnia 2)
Henry Cavill  (Man of Steel)
Mark Strong (Green Lantern)
Jason Flemyng  (X-men: First Class)
Rupert Everett (Shrek 2)
Julian Rhind-Tutt (Rabbit Fever)
David Walliams (Little Britain)
Sarah Alexander (Green Wing)
Joanna Scanlan (The Bad Education Movie)
Mark Williams (Harry Potter)
Dexter Fletcher (Cockneys vs Zombies)

A village lies near a gap in a stone wall bordering the magical kingdom of Stormhold. The gap is guarded constantly but Dunstan Thorn manages to go through and meets an enslaved princess, Una. She offers him a glass snowdrop in exchange for a kiss, then invites him on her trailer. Nine months later, the Wall Guard delivers a baby to Dunstan, saying his name is Tristan.Eighteen years later, the dying king of Stormhold throws a ruby into the sky, decreeing that his successor will be the first of his fratricidal sons to recover it. The gem hits a star, they fall together and the remaining sons, Primus and Septimus independently search for the gem.In Wall, Tristan sees the star fall and vows to get it for the object of his infatuation, Victoria, in return for her hand in marriage. Tristan learns that his mother is from beyond the wall, and receives a Babylon candle that she had left for him, which instantly takes the user to any desired location. Tristan lights it and is transported to the fallen star, personified as a beautiful woman named Yvaine. He promptly chains her to take her home to Victoria.Three ancient witches in Stormhold resolve to eat the fallen star’s heart to recover their youth and replenish their powers. Their leader, Lamia, eats the remnants of an earlier star’s heart, and sets off to find Yvaine. She conjures up a wayside inn as a trap.Yvaine becomes tired, so Tristan chains her to a tree and promises to bring food. In his absence, a unicorn releases her but unwittingly takes her to Lamia’s inn. Tristan discovers Yvaine gone, but the stars whisper that she is in danger, telling him to get on a passing stagecoach, which happens to be Primus’s. At the inn, they interrupt Lamia’s attempt to kill Yvaine. Lamia kills Primus, but Tristan and Yvaine use the Babylon candle to escape into the clouds, where they are captured by pirates in a flying ship who teach Tristan how to fence.Septimus discovers that, as the last surviving son, he need only find the stone to claim the throne. He learns it is in the possession of the fallen star and realises that the heart of a star grants immortality. After leaving Captain Shakespeare’s ship, Tristan and Yvaine confess their love for one another and spend the night together at an inn. Come morning, Tristan leaves Yvaine sleeping and goes to Wall with a lock of her hair, to tell Victoria he won’t marry her, having fallen in love with Yvaine. When the lock turns to dust, he realises Yvaine will die if she crosses the wall, and rushes back to save her.Yvaine finds Tristan gone, and starts walking towards the wall, thinking he abandoned her for Victoria. Tristan’s mother Una notices Yvaine walking to her doom, so takes the caravan of her enslaver, a witch named Ditchwater Sal, to the wall to stop her. Lamia arrives, kills Sal, and captures Una and Yvaine, taking them to the witches’ castle. Septimus and Tristan both pursue Lamia, agreeing to work together for the time being. Barging into the castle, Septimus recognises the princess as his long-lost sister and Una informs Tristan that she is his mother.Septimus and Tristan kill two of the witches, but Lamia uses a voodoo doll to kill Septimus and make his corpse fight Tristan. Lamia is about to finish Tristan off, when she appears to break down over the loss of her sisters. Lamia frees Yvaine but her feigned defeat was just a ruse to bolster Yvaine’s broken heart. As Tristan and Yvaine embrace, their love allows her to shine once again, vaporising Lamia in a blinding flash of starlight.Tristan retrieves the jewel that Yvaine was wearing. As the jewel turns red, Una explains that, as her son, Tristan is the last male heir of Stormhold. He becomes king with Yvaine as his queen whilst Dunstan and Una are reunited. After 80 years of ruling Stormhold, they use a Babylon candle to ascend to the sky, where Tristan also becomes a star and the pair live forever in the sky.It’s difficult to think of any negatives with this movie. It’s light, breezy, fresh and fun but not shallow. A great story with intelligent characters it is laugh-out-loud funny in many places, but with some real moments of pathos and emotional intensity elsewhere. Fantasy movies as good as this don’t come along very often these days.

REVIEW: BROKEDOWN PALACE

CAST

Claire Danes (Terminator 3)
Kate Beckinsale (Underworld)
Bill Pullman (Lost Highway)
Jacqueline Kim (Star Trek: Generations)
Lou Diamond Phillips (Stargate Universe)
Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious)
John Doe (Roswell)
Tom Amandes (Arrow)

25-sabrina-lede.w700.h700

Brokedown Palace has an intriguing premise: two best friends (Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes) fresh from high school are on their summer vacation in Thailand, but are arrested for possession of narcotics, found guilty and sentenced to 33 years in a women’s prison.
Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale in Brokedown Palace (1999)
Bill Pullman also stars in the picture as an American lawyer named Hank Greene, who feels for the girls’ plight and fights to prove their innocence. But the real focus is on Beckinsale and Danes, whose wonderful performances are the anchor to the film’s drama and moral quandaries. Beckinsale’s Darlene is the more reserved and quieter of the two, the kind of person who sort of follows her friend without question, and certainly not the type to take unwarranted risks (unless her friend persuades her to). She’s almost a direct opposite of Danes’ Alice, whose outgoing and semi-rebellious behavior is the indirect link to their current troubles.Kate Beckinsale in Brokedown Palace (1999)The film slinks to melodrama in its climactic moments, but still rings true thanks to the tour-de-force turns from Beckinsale and Danes. It’s an open-ended question as to whether or not either of the girls committed the crime of smuggling narcotics, and such ambiguity might upset some, but I liked not knowing for certain, and it’s not as if it makes the final scenes any less believable.