peteg's blog

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

/noise/movies | Link

More Hong Kong John Woo. It starts out playful, light and fun with a bromance between triad members Lung Ti and Chow Yun-Fat — at the glamorous end of an operation counterfeiting US banknotes — before sliding into heavy sludge that yields to only ten minutes of world-on-fire Woo right at the end. That shootout is too farcical. The shot of Chow lighting up with a $100 bill is classic. Waise Lee, the heel of Bullet to the Head, was the heel here first. There's a bolted-on undercooked domestic thread involving Lung Ti's implausible police brother Leslie Cheung (who I haven’t seen since Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild and Happy Together) and father. Cheung's squeeze Emily Chu is squeakily annoying. I didn't totally follow the cops' angle: one scene shows Interpol taking an interest and many have a bloke who looks like he's above the scene.

I'll be giving the sequel a miss.

IMDB trivia. The children's choir in the middle was a highlight.

Election 2 (2006)

/noise/movies | Link

Inevitable after the promising and semi-decent Election. Directed once again by Johnnie To.

It's unclear what Simon Yam has done over his two years of Chairmanship of the society/triad but of course he wants to stay on in the role despite the tradition of one-and-done. Louis Koo has expanded his business but is running into resistance on the mainland that would go away if only he was Chairman. He keeps protesting he's a businessman but of course his blood is colder than even the ronin he hires. It's out-with-the old in the form of uncle Tian-Lin Wang. Nick Cheung does what he can in the minor bizarre role of Yam's covert attack dog. The cops this time are knowing mainland Chinese: satisfyingly subtle and powerful. Their final twist of the knife is cute but drawn out for too long on the screen.

So much of it does not make sense. Koo knows the score with Cheung from the first movie and their shared scenes together are entirely implausible, as is Cheung's belief that he could be Chairman. (We're never shown the power of the role; I'd expect it'd require consultation and persuasion, i.e., be essentially political, but presumably it also comes with perks.) The scene at the dog kennels, where Koo does the needful with extreme violence, was ripped off in Breaking Bad (where Giancarlo Esposito retires an assistant in the meth lab). It's notionally motivated by getting Yam's goons to deal with Yam without Koo being fingered but really, why not have your ronin liquidate all your opponents? I just couldn't suspend my disbelief.

Manohla Dargis: a critic's pick!

Election (2005)

/noise/movies | Link

Another Hong Kong classic. I've had enough of the John Woo ultraviolence for the moment. This one is closer to The Godfather: a triad/society is having an election! — and the police, they just want some peace. Directed by Johnnie To, written by Nai-Hoi Yau and Tin-Shing Yip.

It has its moments, especially early on when we're meeting the protagonists with some great interior cinematography. I found it a little tricky to understand who was fronting for whom which was perhaps intended. At some point everyone gets locked up and it becomes a matter of who's holding the Chairman's McGuffin. This is poorly handed as there's no authentication of it or the holder of it, or even why it matters at all; it's not supernatural and once the elected chairman gets it it's gone. No matter; perhaps I'll find out in the sequel.

The cast is good. Simon Yam plays one of the candidates, a calm measured man (Michael Corlene) up against hot-headed "Big D" Tony Ka Fai Leung (Sonny) who is the only bloke with a wife, Maggie Siu. Louis Koo looks like and has the gravitas of David Bowie. (Apparently he was a producer on The Mitchells vs the Machines.) Ultraorthodox foot soldier Nick Cheung apparently rides a CBR400; his early scene where he eats a spoon is very amusing. Tian-Lin Wang anchors things ala Brando.

Just two stars from Peter Bradshaw. A. O. Scott: a critic's pick!

The Killer (1989)

/noise/movies | Link

And yet another Hong Kong classic by John Woo. Chow Yun-Fat leads. Here he's done up like an Italian gangster or Nicolas Cage, hair slicked back, smarmy grin, ridiculous melodrama. It's a love story! Except the lady, Sally Yeh, mostly lacks agency and character. Oh well.

The plot has assassin Chow impair Yeh's vision early on, causing him to develop romantic feelings of melioration. What's a damsel in distress to do? After a later job at a dragon boat festival his employer Fui-On Shing decides it's time Chow retired for unconvincing reasons despite the protestations of his old-school agent Kong Chu. Alongside this cop Danny Lee is hot on his tail. They develop a bromance that culminates in an epic shootout in a church. Everything is so over-the-top that I was amazed that the ending could be so overwrought. I found it a fair bit more boring than Hard Boiled for all that.

IMDB trivia. Scorcese-inspired. The harmonica is a nod to Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone. Somehow spine #8 in the Criterion Collection. It's all a bit much. I wonder if anyone considered making one of these where the same actors play both the cop and triad roles.

A Thousand and One (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

A NYC love story of sorts. Written and directed by A. V. Rockwell (new to me). Teyana Taylor (I knew nothing of her music) does a good job playing a tough lady just out of Rikers who decides it's a good idea to informally adopt (or kidnap as you wish) a fostered street urchin she knew from before her 18 month stretch. Lola in the Mirror? I hear you ask. Well, it sorta is until it mostly is: both involve getting the child to 18 when all will be revealed/secured, which of course doesn't happen. There's the absent father, an unfaithful husband, the precarious living arrangements, a predatory landlord, dodgy or drudging work. We're told the boy Terry is clever enough to get into a selective school but he lacks street smarts and does not emote very well; all the male characters here are underdrawn. (Compare with such minor characters as the waitress Terry has a crush on: we know more about her after a few minutes opposite him than we ever find out about him.)

The rescue father is necessary as common wisdom has it that every boy must have one. His character and relationships are very poorly sketched — he never goes to work, he's never violent, and his interactions with the boy (let's-shoot-hoops) are so vague, clunky and conventional that they reveal nothing. I don't blame William Catlett for it: this isn't Moonlight, and neither is it Small Axe: the communitarian politics is mostly just ambient with the odd gesture (most obviously to the succession of mayors of the city). And who can compete with Steve McQueen's cinematography anyway?

Towards the end there's a twist that costs the movie too much cabin pressure for the ending to satisfy.

A Critic's Pick by Manohla Dargis. Brian Tallerico: won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year. The twist is unnecessary. Adrian Horton: an underwhelming debut for Rockwell. Muddled. Melodrama.

Xavier Herbert: Larger Than Life: Twenty Short Stories. (1963)

/noise/books | Link

On dead tree from Caerwen Books. Herbert's own introduction overlaps with his autobiographical Disturbing Element, which was apparently published in the same year. In it he derides the work contained here, dashed off rapidly for the money and accepted by venues with no taste. I had hoped for some Henry Lawson-esque colour and perhaps the odd insight into the remote places and work he found out there. Mostly tedious. He's far better at length.

Paper Moon (1973)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Ryan O'Neal's recent passing. The obits talked him up as a leading man but I've only seen him playing a wooden social climber in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Also via Wesson's The Path to Paradise: this was director Peter Bogdanovich's first contribution to The Directors Company. His second, the apparently uncommercial Daisy Miller, killed that arrangement. Coppola managed to make The Conversation before things went tits up. Also a Madeleine Khan jag from Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. She got her first Oscar nom here and is a bit funnier though just as hackneyed.

This is another one of those solid chunks of retro nostalgia that have swung back into style — or have they never gone out of fashion? We're in black-and-white 1930s Depression-era Kansas where all a man can do is visit the funeral of a woman who may've borne him a daughter, O'Neal's very own Tatum. She got Oscared for what is sometimes a very funny performance that would be impossible now: notionally 9 she smokes at every opportunity she gets. Failing to get her on a train to her relatives and in debt to her for the few hundred he bilked from the culprit of the accident that killed her mother, what else can her sort-of-father do but engage in scams? Specifically selling bibles to recent widows, exploiting the innumeracy of Kansans, attempting to rip off the local bootleggers. Getting her involved is what: the sort-of-family that scams together stays together, though the production code (of the 1930s) does not let them keep the proceeds.

O'Neal himself put me in mind of Warren Beatty, making this something adjacent to Bonnie and Clyde from 1967.

Roger Ebert: four stars. P. J. Johnson is awesome as dejected Imogene but it seems she didn't get many further roles. Vincent Canby was far less impressed with the story. Hotel receptionist Burton Gilliam was very well cast. He was also in Blazing Saddles.

Hard Boiled (1992)

/noise/movies | Link

Inevitable after Bullet to the Head and I'm sure more John Woo Hong Kong classics will follow. Again far superior to all of his Hollywood efforts that I've seen.

Hard Boiled movie poster.

The setup is immortal: the Hong Kong police, notionally engaging in a subtle long game with the Triads, are provoked into some heroic ultraviolence. Perhaps Infernal Affairs finally killed this genre in 2002. Most of what you need to know is there on the poster: Chow Yun-Fat with a baby and a boomstick, bandaged and ridiculous.

A brief visit to a jazz club softens us up for the first course: a meeting of some sort in a bird teahouse (bring your own caged bird) that rapidly descends into a massive gunfight involving "Tequila" Chow. (You have to recognise the name actors to understand the stakes here.) Afterwards we're told that he recently broke up with fellow cop Teresa Mo which perhaps explains the bloodlust. Woo, playing a bartending ex-cop, runs the club and dispenses wisdom whenever the movie needs to take a breath. Chow later has a few great scenes with his boss Superintendent Philip Chan.

Tony Leung is introduced by an assassination in a library; librarian Hoi-Shan Lai looked on with ambiguous curiosity. Chow's investigatory superpowers lead him (17m52s) directly to the the literature aisle where he briefly mistakes a fat volume of Henry Lawson’s works as the hiding place of Leung's weapon. (But no, it was the middle volume of a Shakespeare collection that done it.) Tony is implausibly squeezeless throughout.

On the Triad side Anthony Wong is keen for a larger slice of the arms trade. This requires the elimination of the competition, Leung's boss Uncle Hoi-San Kwan, before we're properly off to the races. (Wong was memorably Leung's boss in Infernal Affairs.)

The last hour or so is totally nuts: a Terminator 2-style set piece at a large hospital. The sheer number of cops and Triad minions make it seem like a zombie flick. At one critical juncture Woo has Chow holding a blood-spattered baby in one arm and a pistol in the other — more-or-less like the poster — and arranges for that baby to be critical to Chow's survival. Leung is strangely marginalised throughout; perhaps he was told his role would have more presence.

The motorcycle stunts are often amazing. The most unrealistic thing is when someone runs out of bullets.

IMDB trivia. The guns'n'roses thing was apparently in the air. Apparently the scriptwriting proved fatal to Barry Wong.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Aardman Animations has been in artistic decline for years, and I guess I was hoping that the reported clay shortage would force it to return to ... well, shorts, good quality shorts. And maybe trousers. Instead we get this feature-length sequel to Chicken Run with nary a fingerprint in sight; is this entirely just soulless CGI, based on a true claymation? The generic story could definitely have been extracted from a large language model, one that does not have much of a repertoire of visual gags. Perhaps the loss of quirk is the malign influence of being produced by Netflix. All the accents in Britain can't make up the deficit.

Mel Gibson did not get rehabilitated. His leading-rooster character Rocky is more vacuous this time around. Timothy Spall did not return to voice the rat either. Thandiwe Newton replaced Julia Sawalha for the lead-chook Ginger. Director Sam Fell has form for dreck (Flushed Away). The process of going from chook to nugget is suggested but when it comes to it Melisha Tweedy (her name a highlight for me, Miranda Richardson in both) emerges intact.

Peter Bradshaw: nods to The Truman Show, Toy Story 3... and surely Barbie? Alissa Wilkinson at the New York Times. Very spoofy.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around, a revisit prompted by Sam Wasson's book. I was a bit less riveted this time: the behind-the-scenes making-of footage remains gripping — Coppola trying to direct Dennis Hopper! Martin Sheen's heart attack! — but I can do without the faux profundity; I'll be giving Eleanor Coppola's Notes a miss now. Also it seems to be wrongly titled for a 1991 assembly: Wasson told me that Coppola's Waterloo was his next movie, One from the Heart, circa 1981. Unlike Burden of Dreams we don't get to see what went so wrong with Harvey Keitel in the lead.

On the plus side it made me want to dig up whatever remains of Orson Welles's efforts on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin.

Sam Wasson: The Path to Paradise. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. David Kamp's review at the New York Times lead me to think it'd be mostly about the production of Apocalypse Now and related interesting things with a side of present-day where-are-they-now. Well, if I'd read it carefully I'd have known that the focus is Francis Ford Coppola's mutating mania for a utopian creative space invariably called Zoetrope. That makes it one for the industry types, those who know and care more about the Hollywood studios and non-artistic mechanics of movie making than I do. Matthew Spektor explored adjacent spaces in his Always Crashing in the Same Car with more success.

It may have been that the ebook I was reading was poorly edited but I found the structure to be too scatty to enjoy. Wasson jumps around a lot in time and often omits dates, leaving us to wonder what caused what, where we're up to in some fable of mental (dis)integration. Werner Herzog is mentioned but not his Apocalypse-esque precursor masterwork Aguirre or his more transparently self-aware thirst for experience via filmmaking. I got very bored with all the Zoetrope bits (party, party, party) and have no idea why Coppola went more than all in on One From the Heart which I still won't see despite now knowing it has Tom Waits music. (Wesson gets epically bogged in this production in the second part of the book.) Similarly I have even less desire to dig through twenty-first century Coppola.

What was David Lynch supposed to be doing at Zoetrope in the early 1980s? We're told that he was very bored but not bored enough to direct Revenge of the Jedi (yep). Did he learn something from the implosion of that incarnation of Coppola's ideas factory? George Lucas comes off as a genius for maintaining an appropriate distance after having his fingers burnt at the start of his career. I realised at some point I'd be better off reading Eleanor Coppola's Notes: On the Making of "Apocalypse Now" which probably eclipses all other coverage.

Wasson interviewed a lot of people and some of his material is right-up-to-the-minute: there are accounts of Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel on the set of the as-yet unreleased Megalopolis. He makes it sound like a dog.

Goodreads. A Cesspool's review struck a chord.

Oppenheimer (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Christopher Nolan's latest. Already #67 in the IMDB top-250 after less than six months and only half a million ratings; we'll see what the Academy thinks when the Oscar noms come out. It's lengthy and took me a few goes to get through.

Nolan likes making big movies about the big events in history, and here a great man of history. It's a bit less vapid than Interstellar and love functions less like a fifth element. Almost all of the physics of the first half of the Twentieth Century is elided beyond the worn-smooth snappy quotes, leaving us mostly with the politics and the personal. And the personal for Nolan is too often petty. It's a bit backward-looking like Mank, solidly retro-nostalgic like Asteroid City, The Fabelmans, Licorice Pizza and (going off what I've read) Barbie (etc).

The cast is stellar, well-chosen and mostly well-used; at times it seemed like Hollywood going to war again, like The Thin Red Line or The Longest Day (etc). Cillian Murphy does very well in the lead; I've always enjoyed his efforts and this one took me back to The Wind that Shakes the Barley. He gets to squeeze Communist Florence Pugh at UCB. Initially I couldn't believe Tom Conti was playing Einstein! — he looks so grumpy when we meet him, so out of sorts, but in later scenes he is effectively wry but not grim. One minor pleasure was seeing James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel; a good choice but with too little time on screen. Time for a biopic! Matthew Modine is excellent (as always) as Vannevar Bush. Casey Affleck gets tasked with animating a White Russian. (I didn't know he'd been rehabilitated.) Rami Malek has a big scene later on. Gary Oldman's Harry Truman, well. Matt Damon: Leslie Groves. Jason Clarke goes fine as FBI interrogator/prosecutor Roger Robb with John Gowans's initially inert Ward Evans making me wonder if Statler died while waiting for the Muppets to lift their game. Benny Safdie got handed a gently, gently characterisation of Edward Teller and does it well enough but I would've preferred to be watching a followup to Uncut Gems.

And then we get to Robert Downey Jr's vengeful Lewis Strauss. He stars in the framing story, the one closest to present-time, which is essentially a reworking of Cold War tropes ala Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck. He can't quite sink into his character, can't quite suppress those ticks he've been living off for the past two decades or more; I mean, we've all seen Tropic Thunder, we know he's capable of high science, and yet here he is as a comatose ex-shoe salesman.

Given all these names we might ponder why the whole unwieldy mess doesn't cohere. I think it's about the missing historical figures; even those in the movie, like prime mover Vannevar Bush with his position in the deep state, are not given enough background. There's no Eisenhower and that's a bit critical for the whole thermonuclear program. But the absence creating a vacuum that could swallow suns is John von Neumann. Without him all we get is the naive geopolitics of the physicists (blood on our hands) and underexplored or childish motivations of the politicians (represented by Strauss and Truman). In many ways his balance-of-terror MAD strategy, grounded in his mathematical game theory, was the fundamental logic of the times since then; Kissinger's realpolitik was just a branding exercise. Adding this perspective would've stripped Oppenheimer's suggestion of sharing nuclear technology with the Soviets of its naivety and textured his opposition to Teller's thermonuclear dreams. Nolan could've shown the vector by which the bomb did (arguably) reduce the temperature of the Cold War but not engender universal peace. There is a gesture to RAND and, I think, a bit of casual plagiarism when Nolan has Oppenheimer suggest that the bomb be detonated in the air and not on the ground.

It's also hard to get excited by the last third — more-or-less courtroom dramas about Oppenheimer's security clearance and Strauss's cabinet position — after the big set piece of the second movement: the Trinity test at Los Alamos. (There are, of course, some nixie tubes counting down at 1h54m for some minor period-appropriate frisson.) Moreover the cinematographic innovations seem stale or useless: there's a Terminator 2-style fade to white to symbolise the death of the Los Alamos comity, and way too much cosmology when this is mostly about the atom. (Internalism is generally beyond Nolan I guess.) These were done better by James Cameron and Terrence Malick a while ago. I doubt that seeing it on the big screen would improve it much. I could really have done without the soundtrack.

Very widely reviewed, of course, and at similar lengths to the movie. A Critic's Pick of Manohla Dargis. I disagree with her on many points. Peter Bradshaw: antisemitism presented as a brutal fact, woven into the fabric of the film. Fred Kaplan on the historicity: yep, Oppenheimer would've liked to use the bomb on Germany. (I credit Nolan for communicating the disconcertion of the (European expat) scientists as the target becomes Japan.) Go see the BBC's Oppenheimer or read the books instead. Dana Stevens: flawed. A sausagefest. Luke Goodsell at the ABC — fedoras! The Twin Peaks reboot! A true-to-form three-hour trailer. Nolan's cinematic weapons of mass destruction have destroyed cinema. Jason Di Rosso also. Jake Wilson for the Smage: Downey Jr and Damon got to showboat the most. This movie, like the bomb, is also meant to blow us all away! Christos Tsiolkas: implosion! Biography v modern myth. Oppiemistress Flo and Oppiewife Emily Blunt were squandered with poorly written and directed characters (as for all women in Nolan flicks); it's a sausagefest. Anti intellectual. What Robert Altman could have done with Los Alamos! And so on. Much later David Thomson observes the confusion.

Bullet to the Head (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

One of John Woo's early features. You can see why Hollywood wanted him: it's far superior to Face/Off. Also some Tony Leung completism: he's so young here and gets all the ladies.

The brothers-for-life from Hong Kong (Leung, bestie Jacky Cheung and more distant Waise Lee) decide to get rich by smuggling stuff to wartime Sài Gòn. Before heading off Leung gets hitched to schoolgirl Fennie Yuen as anti-British riots roil the streets. Once in Thailand (standing in for Việt Nam) Woo remakes some classics of the area: a suicidal motorcyclist, a Vietcong summarily executed by an Army officer with a revolver, pre-immolation monks, and slightly wonkily, the classic image from Tienanmen Square of a bloke in front of a tank. Soon enough they get ripped off but decide to brave the boss (Chung Lam) who works out of a nightclub. This is the Twin Peaks roadhouse part: singers (specifically Yolinda Yam) and ultraviolence. Soon enough they decide that the easiest way out is take on the boss. Let's call this the Scarface movement. They get a lot of help from the CIA's local French-Vietnamese super soldier Simon Yam and some impedance from the singer. After that things get more purely The Deer Hunter with some boat action not too far from Apocalypse Now and the title is realised. And after that things get tidied up in an improbable and inessential urban gangster manner. We're certainly not here for the reality.

Once again the world is made of fire, but Woo is not entirely crass here: he keenly observes the parallels between the peace protests in Sài Gòn of the 1960s and the (cough) Brexit riots in Hong Kong. The cinematography by Wilson Chan, Ardy Lam, Chai Kittikum Som, and Wing-Hang Wong is often quite fine. I found the dubbing to be really annoying — it's often hard to figure out who's talking. It's got an epic sweep like a Sergio Leone, with that gold fever. Jacky Cheung left me cold initially but he has some great scenes and is very funny (at the right times). The Vietnamese generally don't get speaking parts and are as trivialised as ever.

Somehow not reviewed by my usual reviewers. IMDB trivia.

The Old Oak (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with director Ken Loach. He's ancient now and his earnest left-wing perspective is similarly timeless and out of time: he romanticises the now-splintered solidarity of the old northern coal-mining villages of England, a union movement that can still dig up a few coins long thought lost in the folds of that worn Chesterfield, the pre-Thatcher working-class values and lifestyle almost gone from living memory. This is done through the lens of how the locals respond to the Syrian refugees that the distant regime in London has dumped on them, without there being sufficient resources to address even their existing social ills. (It's got the downward-spiral logic: the state encourages those it pays the rent for to move to places where rent is cheap, leading to less investment in maintaining or renewing the housing stock of those places. Community disintegration accelerates.) Some of the acting is fine (Dave Turner as a sympathetic publican, Ebla Mari as a photographer who is most of the interface between the English and the Syrians) but too many characters are coarsely drawn (all the grievance-bearers for instance) and there's a curious moving-right-along impatience that leaves most threads unresolved; amongst other things, who didn't want to see what the industrial juice press could do? It's more (literally) mournfully observational than judgemental. It's not This is England. Loach does not pretend to have any solutions.

Peter Bradshaw. Denying the use of the dormant back room to the local (grievance) community then allowing it to be used for communal meals was clunky; why not both? Sandra Hall. The corrective comments are more accurate. That the dogicide had no consequences was a major flaw. Ben Kenigsberg at Cannes: whatever its merits relative to the canon, it bests almost everything else in contemporary cinema. Shades of Peter Gabriel perhaps.

William Gibson: Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive. (1988)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Revisiting the latter parts of the "Sprawl trilogy" was inevitable after re-reading Neuromancer. As with its derivative The Matrix, this pair feels like a tacked on two-part sequel. Many words are spilt on colour but not on anything critical to the plot. For instance I had no idea why Kumiko (sprog of a big cheese in the Yakuza) felt it so important to inform Sally Shears / Molly Millions ... well, about what? Also the ultimate "marriage" of Count Zero and Angie Mitchell seemed to have no consequences, and nor does Angie's replacement with Mona Lisa on the TikTok of the day. Slick Henry's robotic sculptures were derivatives of what we saw in Bladerunner. What made no sense at all was the use of payphones when everyone is jacked into cyberspace, and more generally, having all these characters zoom around in meatspace. Gibson seems to have conceived cyberspace as mostly a spectator thing apart from those cracking crypto (ice) or living in it (artificial intelligences and insane reconstructions of humans). He nailed the ghosts of Yakuza past though ... we're there now. Wintermute gets a walk-on role in the first and is little more than a shadow in the second.

I guess I just wish there was more there, here.

Face/Off (1997)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Adam Fleet's recent retrospective. This is, as promised, completely bonkers. Thanks John Woo! A lot of it is fan service: Nicolas Cage as a terrorist, in it for lolz, goes a bit further over the edge than FBI agent John Travolta. The latter is asked to send himself up, drawing attention to his famous chin and foot massage technique. Joan Allen is the recipient of that massage and notionally makes it with both characters but really it's all Travolta. I found myself laughing at how ludicrous the whole show was — face transplant technology! — what a gas. The more obviously derivative — the Mexican standoff from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the birds-as-distraction, the inability for anyone to shoot straight when it mattered, the explosions like the world is made of fire — were disappointing: to have come this far and then overstuff it with remade bits of a mediocre James Bond and authentic Hollywood schmaltz was a waste.

Not a lot was asked of Dominique Swain and she did not pass up an opportunity to overact. Gina Gershon and Nick Cassavetes, brother and sister in crime, were a bit more disciplined, a bit more willing to believe.

Roger Ebert: three stars but the review reads like he got into it more than that. Janet Maslin: the Lolita with Swain in it had yet to be released.