The Films of Stuart Gordon
H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond (December 30/13)
Based on a short story by, of course, H.P. Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond details the chaos that ensues after two scientists (Ted Sorel's Edward Pretorius and Jeffrey Combs' Crawford Tillinghast) successfully open a gateway to a parallel universe in a creaky old house - with the story subsequently following Crawford as he and two others (Barbara Crampton's Katherine McMichaels and Ken Foree's Bubba Brownlee) attempt to close said gateway. There's little doubt that H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond opens with a tremendous amount of promise, as director Stuart Gordon, working from Dennis Paoli's screenplay, kicks the proceedings off with a fantastic (and thoroughly exciting) pre-credits sequence that immediately captures the viewer's interest and attention and establishes an atmosphere of balls-to-the-wall insanity. From there, however, the film segues into a slow-moving and disappointingly repetitive midsection revolving almost entirely around Crawford, Katherine, and Bubba's housebound exploits - with the episodic nature of this stretch slowly-but-surely draining H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond of its energy and momentum. The inclusion of several appreciatively (and disgustingly) over-the-top instances of gore ensures that the movie, at the very least, remains watchable throughout, with the just-adequate-enough atmosphere perpetuated by Gordon's stylish visuals and the winning efforts of the various actors (ie Combs is at his off-kilter best here). But by the time the larger-than-life yet completely uninvolving finale rolls around, H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond has long-since established itself as a disappointing missed opportunity that never becomes the fun, fast-paced horror effort that one might've expected or hoped for.
Robot Jox (October 7/05)
It's hard to be too critical of Robot Jox, as the film's clearly been designed to appeal solely to young boys and nobody else. But the rampant silliness, juvenile bits of humor, and cheesy special effects all but ensure that most viewers will find themselves bored almost immediately. Fifty years after World War III, the remaining nations solve their disputes by pitting enormous robots against each other. Our hero is Achilles (Gary Graham), a national hero who's facing stiff competition from a genetically-engineered fighter named Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson). There's also an unreasonably evil villain thrown into the mix - Russian competitor Alexander (Paul Koslo) - as well as an over-the-top Texan (Michael Alldredge) who evidently serves as a one-man cheerleading squad. Though the script's been written by noted science-fiction author Joe Haldeman, Robot Jox has the depth of a Saturday morning cartoon - complete with cardboard characters and overly simplistic storyline. And though there are a few intriguing references to the film's futuristic society (ie women are encouraged by the government to have lots of kids, for obvious reasons), this is - by and large - irredeemably ridiculous.
Daughter of Darkness
The Pit and the Pendulum
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
King of the Ants (July 3/04)
King of the Ants casts Chris McKenna as Sean Crawley, an ordinary guy making ends meet by taking odd jobs. While working one such job, he meets Duke (George Wendt) - a helpful electrician who hooks Sean up with the shady Ray Mathews (Daniel Baldwin, doing a fairly accurate impression of his brother Alec). Ray first hires Sean to follow around a government official (played by Ron Livingston), but soon inquires as to whether or not Sean might be willing to murder said official. Sean accepts, and while the execution goes off without a hitch, Sean's problems are just beginning. The most surprising aspect of King of the Ants is the degree to which the various characters have been developed. Gordon, working from Charlie Higson's script (who adapted from his own novel), takes his time in setting things up - ensuring that the first half of the film is far more engaging than the second. Once the revenge stuff begins to kick in, King of the Ants becomes the sort of story we've seen many times before. That Sean's transformation from slacker to hitman is as believable as it is has a lot to do with McKenna's engaging performance. The film marks his first stab at a leading role, and he's clearly got the talent and screen presence to hold our interest. Among the supporting cast, Gordon has effectively filled the different roles with a strong group of actors. Having George "Norm!" Wendt play a ruthless scumbag is certainly an interesting choice, but it works. Kari Wuhrer - as a possible love interest for Sean - sidesteps her expected sultry vixen persona and convincingly becomes a more vulnerable figure. Visually, Gordon employs a grittier style than we've come to expect from him - something that actually serves the material quite well, even if it does take a while to get used to the shaky camerawork. It's interesting to note that the characters are much more compelling than the storyline, which isn't what one normally associates with a Gordon movie. And hey, you just can't go wrong with Vernon Wells (who played the incredibly over-the-top villain in Commando) as a sympathetic bad guy.
A misfire of decidedly epic proportions, Edmond follows William H. Macy's title character as he embarks on an increasingly bizarre and inexplicable journey through New York City's sleazy underworld. Filmmaker Stuart Gordon, working from a script by David Mamet, delivers a persistently unwatchable and thoroughly interminable narrative that announces its less-than-compelling intentions right from the get-go, as Edmond boasts a theatrical, almost surreal opening stretch that immediately sets the viewer on edge and cultivates an irredeemably arms-length atmosphere - with Mamet's aggressively stylized dialogue, which possesses none of its usual charm here, exacerbating the movie's nails-on-a-chalkboard vibe. There's simply never a point at which Gordon is able to transform Macy's caricature of a character into a figure worth rooting for and sympathizing with, and it's clear, as well, that Macy himself proves entirely unable to find the humanity within his decidedly one-dimensional figure (ie Edmond ultimately comes off as a poorly-conceived mouthpiece for Mamet's absurdly antiquated views and ideas). The incohesive storyline, which ultimately feels like a group of barely-strung-together set pieces, results in a lack of momentum that grows more and more disastrous as time (slowly) progresses, with the film's third act faring especially poorly given its eye-rolling and tedious emphasis on over-the-top speechifying. It is, in the end, impossible not to wonder what relevance (if any) Edmond once possessed as a stage play, as the film generally comes off as an amateurish, context-free trainwreck devoid of positive attributes - which is a shame, certainly, given the incredibly talented roster of supporting performers assembled by Gordon.
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