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The Films of Philip Kaufman

Fearless Frank

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

The White Dawn

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The Wanderers

The Right Stuff

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Henry & June

Rising Sun (July 31/18)

Based on the (far, far superior) novel by Michael Crichton, Rising Sun follows Wesley Snipes' Webster Smith as he and disgraced police officer John Connor (Sean Connery) reluctantly team up to solve the murder of a young woman (Tatjana Patitz's Cheryl Lynn) found dead at a Japanese corporation's American headquarters. It's clear immediately that Rising Sun has been infused with few attributes designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest, as filmmaker Philip Kaufman, working from a script cowritten with Crichton and Michael Backes, delivers a disjointed and thoroughly tedious narrative that generally proceeds at a lumbering, excessively deliberate pace - with the continuing emphasis on Smith and Connor's impossibly dull investigation perpetuating the movie's far-from-entertaining atmosphere. There's ultimately nothing here that works in the slightest; Snipes and Connery possess zero chemistry together, the central case couldn't possibly be less compelling, and Kaufman proves unable to offer up even a hint of momentum, with the proliferation of such negative elements (and many more) certainly ensuring that large swaths of Rising Sun are about as captivating and engrossing as an infomercial. Kaufman's less-than-artful efforts at peppering the story with instances of social commentary fall hopelessly flat, as well, and there's little doubt that the picture's climactic stretch, which is rife with surprise revelations and twists, is hardly able to compensate for the uselessness of everything preceding it - with the end result a truly disastrous adaptation that couldn't possibly be any worse. (This is certainly as bad as it gets in terms of Crichton books translated to the big screen, which is in itself no small feat given the existence of Congo and Timeline.)

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Twisted (February 26/04)

Twisted is so awful that it's hard to imagine even director Philip Kaufman watching it without rolling his eyes a few times. It's that rare film that doesn't work on any level, from the acting to the cinematography to the story, and makes one wonder exactly what screenwriter Sarah Thorpe was thinking when she wrote it. Right from the opening moments of Twisted, which follows grizzled detective Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) as she attempts to solve a murder alongside her new partner (Andy Garcia's Mike), it's clear that there's a certain degree of ineptness at work here. The film kicks off with Jessica being held at knife point by a perp on a set that looks like a set, exacerbated by a fog machine that apparently went awry. It's absolutely the wrong note with which to start the story, and asking the viewer to accept Ashley Judd as a cop with violent tendencies is absurd (it's the sort of thing an audience needs to be eased into, not slapped across the face with in the first scene). Director of photography Peter Deming gives the movie a visually unpleasant feel - virtually every location in the film is grimy and dark - and though this kind of thing can work (eg Se7en), Deming clearly doesn't have the same kind of ability as Darius Khondji (Se7en's cinematographer). His approach seems to consist of shooting everything through a filter of some sort, which translates into a distinctly hazy atmosphere that's incredibly distracting. If you're willing to look past such things, though, one must still contend with Thorpe's oddly incompetent script. Simplistic, stereotypical characters populate this story (there's a smarmy detective who doesn't trust Jessica that's apparently been included just so he can respect her later) and their behavior always feels dictated by the labored machinations of the script. Samuel L. Jackson's character is especially guilty of this; his presence is inexplicable for the majority of the film's running time, popping up to dispense useless bits of advice. The one saving grace might've been the performances, but no dice there. Judd just isn't convincing as an ill-tempered and crabby cop, though she does try her darndest. Even the usually reliable Garcia and Jackson seem to be sleep-walking through their roles. The only stand-out is David Strathairn as a psychiatrist treating Judd's character, despite the fact that his character seems to exist for the sole purpose of giving the audience someone else to suspect. Twisted is certainly an early candidate for worst movie of the year, made all-the-more disappointing by the number of genuinely talented folks in front of and behind the camera. It's a complete misfire on all accounts, one that's so bad it's virtually impossible to imagine anyone enjoying it (and that goes for those who made it, as well).

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Hemingway & Gellhorn

© David Nusair