For over a decade filmmaker George Lucas had been developing a project which was a gender reversal of the Biblical story about Moses being hidden as a baby in the bulrushes. When asked to describe Willow (1988), Lucas called it “an adventure fantasy that takes place a long time ago in a mythical land.” Cast as the title character who becomes the guardian and defender of the wayward baby from an evil sorceress was Warwick Davis who made a name for himself playing the Ewok known as Wicket. “I was on holiday in southwest England when I got a call from George to come to Elstree – one of the major British studios – and audition for the part,” remembers Davis. “Actually, I did four auditions altogether; three in England and one in America.
“[Preston Tucker] developed plans for a car way ahead of its time in terms of engineering; yet the auto industry at large stubbornly resisted his innovative ideas,” remarked moviemaker Francis Ford Coppola who wanted to do a musical on the life and times of the post-World War II maverick car designer with Leonard Bernstein composing the music. The project was stalled with the financial collapse of Coppola’s studio. “I thought it was the best project Francis had ever been involved with,” stated filmmaker George Lucas (American Graffiti). “No studio in town would touch it; they all said it was too expensive. They all wanted $15 million Three Men and a Baby  movies or Crocodile Dundee, Part 73 sequels.” Lucas agreed to provide the funding for the $24 million budget which
After the production turmoil associated with his directorial debut Alien 3 (1992), American moviemaker David Fincher had given up on the idea of a career in Hollywood; his attitude changed when he received a script composed by an employee of Tower Records in Los Angeles. “I didn’t like my time in New York, but it’s true that if I hadn’t lived there I wouldn’t have written Se7en ,” revealed Andrew Kevin Walker (Sleepy Hollow) who, despite being told by the assistant to writer-director David Koepp (Ghost Town) that unsolicited screenplays were not accepted, pitched his idea about a serial killer who commits his murders according to the seven deadly sins. Intrigued by the concept, Koepp’s
Most film fans have never seen 1981's "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains," the hard-charging, potent tale of an all-girl punk band's meteoric rise and fall, which featured supporting performances by members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash (and a young Ray Winstone, who played the lead singer of the Stains' tourmates The Looters). That's because Paramount Pictures never saw fit -- save for a couple of random screenings -- to give the film any sort of theatrical release, or even put it out on VHS. Yet despite the studio's attempts to forever shelve the film, it (like punk) wouldn't die, finding renewed life through bootlegs and airing on USA Network's "Up All Night," where frequent broadcasts of the film during the midnight shift helped turn it into a cult classic that would later influence, among others, future riot grrrl pioneers Courtney Love, Bikini Kill and
With Richard Gere starring as a U.S. lawyer unjustly facing a death sentence in China, the film has obvious marketing potential. Further, MGM marketeers could have a field day if visiting Chinese bigwig Jiang Zemin grouses about the film, potentially winning mainstream voters, err, viewers with his negative endorsement. We can see the Sunday quote ads now.
Except for the People's Republic of Berkeley and some old-time lefties at the universities, expect "Red Corner" to win some friendly, mainstream viewership.
In this timely scenario, Gere stars as Jack Moore, a smooth corporate lawyer for a communications conglomerate who has traveled to China to close the first satellite deal with the Chinese government. A man of the world (or as we say in the biz, the global community), Moore celebrates his salesmanship with a fetching Chinese beauty who lures him to her boudoir and, clink-clink, after a night of amour, Moore is jolted upright by Chinese soldiers: He is covered with blood and the woman is dead on the sofa.
Due process in China is not a protracted affair: It largely means a four-hour trial and a 99% conviction rate. For capital offenses, it means a bullet to the head within a week of sentencing and a bill to the survivors for the bullet. Even Marcia Clark and Tom Darden might prosecute successfully there.
"Red Corner" is gripping drama during these scenes of incarceration, as Moore is ramrodded through the system. Not allowed U.S. counsel, and with no leading barrister in China willing to the take the case, he is assigned the system's version of a lowly public defender (Bai Ling).
While screenwriter Robert King's scenario is a scorching indictment of Communist-court thuggery, it's structured along the lines of an old-time melodramatic potboiler. The smart viewer will soon notice that it's buttressed by the standard, film-noir framework, as "Red Corner" begins to box itself in on too many fronts. Essentially, the film has the feeling of being perfected to death.
From its "Midnight Run" pinion, the film wobbles under the weight of too many cinematic ingredients: the psychologically wounded hero (the death of Moore's wife and daughter is glibly noted), basted over with an emerging romance between, natch, Moore and his comely defender, rushed to climax with an ending that is straight out of the Perry Mason school of case-solving and then ended with a schmaltzy, airport departure that would have been the wonk ending for "Casablanca" had the market-manic, star-power types been in charge of the studios back then.
Although narratively it's all a bit much, one must commend director Jon Avnet for keeping things generally on track and our interest maintained. Except for some expressionistic camera angles at the end, "Red Corner" is played close to the vest aesthetically and is somewhat lackluster visually.
In this everybody's-a-victim age, Gere's character truly is a victim as he endures a Kafkaesque, brutal and terrifying experience with no support or personal recourse. However, the character himself is too polished with knight-in-shining-armor characteristics.
The well-chosen cast is distinguished by Ling as the honorable public defender and Peter Donat as a gray-suited government careerist. As the hanging judge, Tsai Chin's apt performance is stitched straight out of Madame Mao's cretinous cloth. Chin's icy performance is, perhaps, the year's scariest.
A Jon Avnet film
Producers Jon Avnet, Jordan Kerner,
Charles B. Mulvehill, Rosalie Swedlin
Director Jon Avnet
Screenwriter Robert King
Executive producers Wolfgang Petersen,
Director of photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer Richard Sylbert
Editor Peter E. Berger
Music Thomas Newman
Co-producers Martin Huberty, Lisa Lindstrom
Casting David Rubin, Pat Pao
Costume designer Albert Wolsky
Supervising sound edior George Waters III
Visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack
Jack Moore Richard Gere
Shen Yuelin Bai Ling
Bob Ghery Bradley Whitford
Lin Dan Byron Mann
David McAndrews Peter Donat
Ed Pratt Robert Stanton
Chairman Xu Tsai Chin
Lin Shou James Hong
Li Cheng Tzi Ma
Running time -- 119 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Chilled and edged to near-perfection by director David Fincher, "The Game" should win approval from sophisticated viewers, but its overall dark tone and lack of warmth will dampen word-of-mouth. While the mind-game histrionics are inventive and intriguing, "The Game" stays at a clinical distance from our feelings.
His hair pulled back in a full mane, his wardrobe cuff-linked by an expensive array of designer suits and his manner revved up to a composed vehemence, Douglas seems the West Coast reincarnation of Pat Riley in this slick venture as Nicholas Van Orton, a hardball investment banker of considerable family wealth. About to celebrate (in his case, ignore) his 48th birthday, Nicholas' manner is, not surprisingly, czarlike. He drives his big, black BMW with the full fury of a man who has never much worried about the peasantry getting in the way; indeed, Nicholas is not much of a people person. Sipping a scotch with the old boys at the club or dozing in front of the Financial News Network is his idea of human connection.
But not all is as placid or even-keeled under that steely demeanor - he's tormented by his father, who killed himself on his 48th birthday (has he got that in his genes?). To aggravate matters, his prodigal younger brother (Sean Penn) shows up with a mysterious birthday gift: a certificate for a life-changing experience as orchestrated by a company called CRS - Consumer Recreation Services.
Reluctant, but undeniably intrigued, Nicholas signs up, going through a battery of physical and psychological tests to prove he is up to "the game." Each game is designed for the individual, giving them something they desperately need but are not capable of doing on their own, constricted by their psychological makeup or life circumstances.
The game begins and, for Nicholas, it is designed to go right toward his weaknesses and, accordingly, his phobia. Man-in-control Nicholas is assaulted by an onslaught of unsettling experiences: his home sanctuary is violated, he screws up a business meeting, he's made to look messy and ridiculous.
In short, his whole world is assaulted, and his ability to make things happen is quashed. Nicholas wants out, but once you're in "the game," it's to the end. It's as if he's riding a raging roller coaster, the type of model he's least able to handle.
The premise by writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris is brainy, entertaining and smartly cross-connected to the character's hot wires. Never letting Nicholas, or the audience, get a firm sense of footing, "The Game" is fast, devious and all-involving. Still, its Byzantine gyrations, despite being firmly rooted in character and narrative logic, ultimately prove mind-numbing and, perhaps not surprisingly, we become somewhat distanced from Nicholas' woes.
It's a quality inherent in a story that centers on a cold fish; in essence, our sympathies with this character never warm to the extent they did, say in "Romancing the Stone" or "Fatal Attraction", where we feel sorry for the guy. Only those people who rooted for Deep Blue in the chess match with Garry Kasparov will, perhaps, feel an affinity for veins-of-ice Nicholas.
But "The Game" is tantalizing entertainment overall, its psychological creases perfectly fleshed by the talented production team. From cinematographer Harris Savides' chilly, gelid hues to composer Howard Shore's ripe, minor-key gracings, "The Game" is superbly crafted. Also deserving praise are production designer Jeffrey Beecroft for the sumptuously unnerving look and costume designer Michael Kaplan for Douglas' severe, tasteful threads.
The supporting players are smartly cast, with Penn convincing as Nicholas' loose-cannon, drug-addled younger brother and Deborah Kara Unger properly mysterious as a devious blonde. Other performances add smartly shaded particularity, including James Rebhorn's elusive CRS rep, Carroll Baker's steadfast domestic, Peter Donat's supportive attorney and Armin Mueller-Stahl's cuddly book editor.
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
A Propaganda Films production
A David Fincher film
Producers Steve Golin, Cean Chaffin
Director David Fincher
Screenwriters John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Director of photography Harris Savides
Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft
Editor James Haygood
Sound designer Ren Klyce
Music Howard Shore
Costume designer Michael Kaplan
Executive producer Jonathan Mostow
Co-producers John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Casting Don Phillips
Nicholas Van Orton Michael Douglas
Conrad Sean Penn
Christine Deborah Kara Unger
Jim Feingold James Rebhorn
Samuel Sutherland Peter Donat
Ilsa Carroll Baker
Elizabeth Anna Katarina
Anson Baer Armin Mueller-Stahl
Running time - 128 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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