Tag: donald sutherland

Panic


Panic (2000)
★★ / ★★★★

“Panic,” written and directed by Henry Bromell, is a commendable hybrid of dark comedy and drama, but it falls short of becoming a truly memorable character study of a man named Alex (William H. Macy) who wishes to leave the business of contract killing. Due to certain subplots not being fully explored or ironed out, the final result is only somewhat satisfying though increasingly hollow the longer one ponders about the work in its entirety.

A subplot that works is Alex’ relationship with his parents (Donald Sutherland, Barbara Bain), the two of them being the ones responsible for getting their son into the business. In small doses, we observe Michael and Deidre’s dark sides manifesting to the surface—often surprising because the jolts are almost always triggered by something relatively small. Look closely during the scene where Alex’s son (David Dorfman) is brought over to his grandparents’ home a couple of days after his birthday. A happy occasion like opening presents is turned into a tension-filled tiptoeing on glass.

On the other hand, an example of a subplot that leaves a lot to be desired involves Alex contemplating to have an affair with a woman (Neve Campbell) who is half his age. Though the writing is able hit a few fresh notes in portraying emotional versus physical affair, I never believed that Campbell’s character, as open-minded and as conflicted as she is, would ever be interested in Macy’s character, not even a remote level of friendship. Toward the end, I felt as though perhaps Campbell was miscast, especially during a would-be emotional scene where Alex finally tries to go after what he wants. She appears as though she is acting rather than feeling the moment and reacting to it naturally.

Flashbacks are used sparingly but effectively. Most informative are those that show Alex being trained to kill by his father, at first a small animal at age seven and then a person at age twenty. There is a coldness and a detachment to these scenes and yet there is a lingering sadness to them, too. The first time Alex murders another human being is memorable because within a few seconds we witness a young man cross a line he cannot uncross.

Macy is made for a role like this because he is a master when it comes to portraying characters on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He is able to find many complex layers in the sensitive, depressed, guilt-ridden contract killer without reducing Alex into some sort of sap who kills just because the script requires him to for the sake of telling a story. Macy humanizes the character to such an extent that we are genuinely surprised by his actions when situations push him to do what he must—to hell with the consequences for the time being.

A confident but limited picture, “Panic” is worth seeing at least once especially—or perhaps only by—those on the lookout for characters who exude a lot of intrigue without much effort. I enjoyed that it is a little bit rough around the edges, which separates it from mainstream flicks that tackle a similar subject minus a convincing sense of reality, and Macy in a role that he is born to play.

Six Degrees of Separation


Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★

A wealthy couple, Ouisa (Stockard Channing) and Flan (Donald Sutherland), wake up one day and suspect that their place has been ransacked. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that nothing is missing. But something strange did happen the night before.

While discussing business with a friend (Ian McKellen), an African-American young man, Paul (Will Smith), knocks on the door and claims to have been stabbed and mugged. When asked why he chose this place as refuge instead of a hospital, Paul explains that he knows Flan and Ouisa’s son in Harvard. Unbeknownst to couple, however, Paul is a confidence man, pulling the same tricks that have worked before to anyone gullible enough to listen.

“Six Degrees of Separation,” based on the play and screenplay by John Guare, has a script so pointed in its criticism of white New York socialites, I almost did not mind its occasional elliptical pacing coupled with distractingly quick cuts when it is time for various couples to tell their stories of the charming black man they welcomed into their exquisitely decorated homes. Its sense of humor is sly, almost like a striptease at times. Instead of always going for the jugular in terms of how pretentious and racist the socialites are, they are given a chance to speak.

And the devil is in the detail. From the way they tell their own versions of the stories, we learn about their varying degrees of prejudices. It is amusing because almost all of them consider themselves so worldly, so readily able to discuss art, throwing out names of plays, artists, and literature in daily conversations, they forget that being knowledgeable of such things is not tantamount to actually experiencing life out there in the streets and having to work just to make ends meet. Even though they know a lot, in a way, they also know not so much.

But the film is not only successful because of its style of criticism. The acting is consistently magnetic and surprisingly touching. Smith’s performance dominates the first half and Channing absolutely shines in the latter half. Smith polishes Paul with a cool glaze of intelligence and huggable earnestness. Although we learn a little bit more about him as the picture goes on, I enjoyed that even until the very end, Paul remains an enigma, very appropriate because we mostly learn about him through hearsay.

Channing is wonderful as a wife of an art dealer and a mother of very unhappy children. The way she unspools Ouisa is interesting because of the way she slowly realizes how unbearably dreary her existence has become. The eventual, although slight, mother-son affection Paul and Ouisa share comes across as believable because they manage to fill each other’s void somehow. Since their relationship is so expertly handled, I wished that the acting of Flan and Ouisa’s children are less jarring by means of excessive yelling. While understandable that they are supposed to be brats, the representation is too obvious. I did not care much for the screaming matches over the telephone or in person.

Directed by Fred Schepisi, “Six Degrees of Separation” is most effective when it reels in emotions on the verge of an explosion. Although a comedy for the most part, there is real pain in these people’s lives, very much visible in their eyes as they yearn for acceptance.

Don’t Look Now


Don’t Look Now (1973)
★★ / ★★★★

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) stay indoors while their son and daughter, Johnny (Nicholas Salter) and Christine (Sharon Williams), play outdoors. Soon enough, Christine gets a little too close to the pond while attempting to retrieve a toy and falls in. She is already underwater when John gets an ominous feeling that their idyllic Sunday has gone terribly wrong.

Some time has passed since Laura and John moved to Venice. While in a restaurant, Laura come across two women (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) where the blind one claims that Christine’s spirit lingers next to the married couple.

“Don’t Look Now,” based on Daphne Du Maurier’s short story and screenplay by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant, shows its central couple attempting to exorcise their grief over a loss of a child through a vague but possible supernatural phenomenon.

With movies like this, the suspense is embedded in the details. The more it shows, more questions are brought up. Its curious middle portion, which begins when John starts seeing a little girl in red plastic mac, the same clothing that his daughter died in, running around the city, forces us to look a little closer and question every character’s motivation. The events are so strange that perhaps Laura and John’s sanities should be questioned.

The picture offers no subtitles when people speak Italian. In a way, it works to its advantage because I began to feel as frustrated as John. No one is able to provide him definite answers: only possibilities, more questions, and dead ends. John’s confusion as he navigates through the labyrinthine Venetian alleys reflects my state of mind as I attempted to solve the puzzle.

I feel the need to single out the sex scene between Christie and Sutherland. While it does not have anything to do with the mystery, I found it as well-crafted as it was erotic. I loved the way that sex is constantly interrupted by the couple getting ready to go out for dinner. The manner in which the two actors hold and grab at each other convince us that their characters have been through a lot good things as well as a lot of bad things. We believe they are a married couple who are sad, angry, and frustrated. Yet they are making it through each day because they have one another.

Because of that scene, which might have felt or looked cheap under less capable direction, even though we do not always understand why the characters do the things they do later on to the point where we doubt their intentions, they hold our interest.

Nevertheless, the picture needs more cutting and sharper editing. In some of the more would-be horrific scenes, like the image of the dead girl’s body being placed on top of the color red eventually taking over a photograph, I found it trying too hard to be creepy or unsettling that it is almost amateur. It was neither scary nor intriguing. The same technique is used in sudden revelations, accompanied by sounds of bells and other harsh sounds. Instead of being mysterious or eerie, it ends up looking cheap and dated.

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, “Don’t Look Now” is most enthralling when it shows simple but odd images designed to establish increasing levels of suspense and unease. It works mainly as an atmospheric drama but not as a horror picture that lingers on the mind. The techniques are not inspired enough—or extreme enough—to warrant serious contemplation.

The Mechanic


The Mechanic (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) was a hitman but a well-connected one. He was a part of an international company with clients willing to pay millions to further their goals. Arthur was considered valuable because his adherence to his rules made him an efficient machine. But his next job proved to be more challenging: he was to assassinate his mentor (Donald Sutherland) who happened to be bound on a wheelchair. Although reluctant, he eventually went through with it because he believed that another contract killer couldn’t do a better job. Less pain was a big favor in their profession. Guilt-ridden, he decided to train his mentor’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), to become a hit-man even though the deceased mentor and Steve shared no meaningful relationship. Dean (Tony Goldwyn), the man in charge of Arthur, was displeased with the idea because Steve was everything Arthur was not. He felt like he always had something to prove, his work was messy, and he was a loose cannon. Directed by Simon West, “The Mechanic” was a rush of adrenaline. Only an hour and thirty minutes, each scene was a build-up to a cathartic action sequence, but there was something sorely lacking in order for it to become more than an empty-calorie action movie. It needed an ounce of character development in order to make the characters less cartoonish and more sympathetic. We knew nothing about Arthur except for three things: he relied on his rules for survival, he cherished being by himself, and the only woman he seemed to have interest in, physically, was a hooker. His body needed her and when he was done, he would leave the money on the counter. Maybe he was attracted in the fact that she, too, was a professional–that it was all about the service and the money. If the film had provided more information about our protagonist, I would have been more convinced of his guilt for killing a person he considered to be his only friend. However, the action scenes were strong enough to keep the movie afloat. I thought it was interesting that Arthur was the kind of assassin who chose not to rely on bullets to kill. He used science, like inducing a heart attack or an “accidental” overdose, to disguise a murder. Furthermore, there was an understated comedy in some of the kills due to irony. For instance, a man who claimed to have a direct connection with a higher power turned out to be a drug addict. The only thing that actually possessed his body was unhealthy doses of ketamine. He liked to listen to holy sermons while feeding his demon. “The Mechanic” was enjoyable on the surface but it would have been more involving if the material had allowed Arthur to do something else once in a while other than simply polishing his gun, if you will, until the next job.

Astro Boy


Astro Boy (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka, “Astro Boy” told the story of a brilliant scientist (voiced by Nicolas Cage) specializing in robotics who recreated his son (Freddie Highmore)–physically with memories included–after the boy’s untimely death during a military testing led by a cruel president (Donald Sutherland). I thought the first third of this film was very strong. Although the look of the movie was crisp so it easily appealed to children, the story was almost a little too dark. I was impressed that it immediately tackled the idea of a parent’s debilitating grief and the effects of trying to replicate a child. It was like watching a version of Steven Spielberg’s underrated “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” but aimed toward children. And like that film, this animated movie also explored what it meant for the main character to be a human (initially), a robot (later on), and accepting the fact that having both characteristics wasn’t so bad. It was also interesting because the first half was set in a world where robots were passively enslaved to humans. In the second half, like David from Spielberg’s film, Astro left the shiny, floating city for the city below where robots were hunted and were forced to participate in a battle royale sort of event. Unfortunately, that part of the picture wasn’t as strong. In fact, it was unfocused. There were times when the attention wasn’t on Astro’s journey but instead on the side characters’. The darkness of the first thirty minutes were stripped away and the tone felt very uneven. The momentum was so slow to the point where I wondered whether it ran out of creative ideas to entertain. I haven’t read the manga but I think if David Bowers, the director, made this picture with edge from beginning to end, it would have been a lot stronger and more interesting to adults. The whole bad guys versus good guys toward the end was kind of typical–something that one can easily see in other animated movies designed for children such as the disappointingly mediocre (but very cute) “Monsters vs. Aliens.” I felt like this film had an innate capacity to be more introspective than other animated flicks and it’s a shame it didn’t take advantage of that. Other notable voices included Bill Nighy, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane and Charlize Theron. “Astro Boy” was about a boy’s identity crisis but as a film it should have had a clearer picture about what it wanted to be. However, I did have a good time watching it because it had so much energy and some of the jokes were pretty amusing. Perhaps it’s a good rental if one could use a break from a series of serious movies like I did.