Pacino creates unlikeable character in '88 Minutes'
By G. Michael Dobbs
A disappointing movie, a pretentious documentary and a blast from the 1980s are in this week's DVD column.
Al Pacino is indeed a good actor, sometimes a great actor, but like all movie stars he suffers from having his on-screen persona overshadow his performance.
Such is the case in "88 Minutes," a thriller in which Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychologist who is told by someone from his past that he has 88 minutes to live. On the eve of the execution of a serial killer he helped put away, someone is killing women in the exact same way and Gramm has to find out who before his time is up.
Pacino's character is not very believable. Not only is he an FBI consultant, but also a college professor and has a private practice. His career runs on the back of a single assistant, played by Amy Brenneman, who is constantly trying to fulfill his information demands.
Gramm is clearly an egotist and he is also a womanizer who goes home with people young enough to be his granddaughter and is the subject of crushes from female students.
In other words, he is the kind of over the top character that seems to attract Pacino and he is not very likable.
And the hope of this film is that you like his character enough that you actually care about what happens to him. I didn't.
The plot is full of secondary characters all of whom could be the mystery killer. There are plenty of unlikely circumstances that add needless twists and turns to the story as well.
I get fixated sometimes by small details that can help derail my viewing experience. In this film I couldn't help but notice the lousy dye job someone did on Pacino's hair and beard in an effort to make him appear younger. He looks like Billy Mays from the Oxi Clean commercials. Why not cast a younger actor? Why not allow Pacino to play his age?
The DVD features an alternative ending and a discussion with Pacino on what it takes to "create the perfect character." Uh-huh.
The Mindscape of Alan Moore
"88 Minutes" at least didn't put me to sleep but the pretentious philosophizing of writer and self-proclaimed shaman Alan Moore certainly did.
Moore is one of the most influential figures in comic books, having written series such as "V for Vendetta," "Watchmen," "From Hell," "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "Swamp Thing." His work has been adapted for movies with varying degrees of success and although he hasn't achieved the kind of cross-genre career his colleague Neil Gaimen has achieved comics to novels to movies Moore is still a writer with millions of fans.
And I'm sure the producers of this film are hoping a fraction of those million elect to buy this two-disc set that includes the snooze-inducing documentary.
Moore discusses his comics career and although there are images from his various comic books and graphics novels shown, at no time does he discuss the creative process or the artists with whom he has worked. The viewer is left with the impression that his work sprang complete from his amazing mind.
The rest of the film is devoted to Moore's interpretation of magic and how he views his role as a shaman.
Most of the film is simply Moore speaking directly into the camera with the greatest action being his constant brushing back of his long hair off his face with the end of a ring that covers his entire index finger.
You have to be a very hardcore Alan Moore fan to sit through this film.
The second disc has a series of interviews with Moore's artists, including his long time companion and wife Melinda Gebbie and his "Watchmen" collaborator Dave Gibbons. These interviews are at least about something tangible and the artists come off as real people.
But considering that Moore is described as "one of the worlds most powerful minds" by the filmmakers, I suppose my dislike for this production might be due to my normal sized brain that doesn't allow me to understand the lofty ideas he presents.
Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Series
In the mid-1980s, actress Shelly Duvall produced a series of 26 episodes of her "Faerie Tale Theatre," which adapted a number of well-known fairy tales for the start-up Showtime cable television network.
The productions had relatively low budgets and were shot on video instead of film, but Duvall's connections to filmmakers and performers meant there was considerable talent before and behind the cameras.
The stars included Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Elliot Gould, Jennifer Beal, Christopher Reeve, James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, Liza Minnelli, Alan Arkin and Mick Jagger, among others, and the directors included Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola.
The writing danced the edge of some knowing winks toward adults and authentic wonder for the kids, and although the budgets and the use of video sometimes weakened the productions I watched, generally the shows hold up very well.
I liked Ford's interpretation of "Rip Van Winkle" that was done in the visual style of Maxfield Parrish, while Burton added his own delightfully creepy artwork to the design of his production of "Aladdin."
With people concerned about the current crop of shows for children, this collection of "Faerie Tale Theatre" should be a welcome addition to their library. The DVD set comes complete with a handsome book detailing each show and a special playing card set.