Steven Culp

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The Emperor's Club Review


Excellent
There's an old cheap saying that goes "those who can, do; those who can't, teach". Professor William Hundert (Kevin Kline) would disagree. A true scholar of the Classics, this intellectual believes that there is no greater endeavor than the passing-on of knowledge, that molding a young man's life is a noble and important vocation. What Professor Hundert gets for his lofty ideals is a lesson in cynicism, and maybe humility, in this fine effort from director Michael Hoffman (A Midsummer Night's Dream), which features an exceptionally strong performance from Kline, an actor who consistently raises the level of nearly every film he's in.

It's the mid-1970s at a proper boys' prep school in DC, and Kline's Hundert encounters his first splash in the face with the cold water of life outside revered academia when he meets the father of a mischievous underachieving student. The stern dad, a brash U.S. senator, scolds Hundert: "You will not mold my son, I will mold my son". With a dose more sympathy for the kid, Hundert befriends him and watches him turn into a studying machine.

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Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday Review


Weak
The funny thing about the Friday the 13th movies is how much energy they expend just to run in place. This series sets the standard for low horror-movie learning curves - not just in the actions of characters onscreen, but in the decisions of the filmmakers; the fact that it took four movies before anyone thought up Bride of Chucky, for example, has its roots in the endless returns to Camp Crystal Lake.

Take Jason Goes to Hell, for example, the ninth film in the series. It opens with a satisfying riff on the Friday status quo: A lone woman rattles around an abandoned cabin, draws a bath, puts on a towel, and gets chased by hulking uber-slasher Jason Voorhees... into some open brush, at which point she executes a diving roll and Jason is beset by a hail of special ops bullets, and then blown to hilarious bits by what we can only assume to be Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade.

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Thirteen Days Review


Excellent
I don't often override the writers at filmcritic.com, free speech and individual preference being what they are, but every now and then I disagree with a critic so much, I am called to make a response. (And since we published this review in January 2001, the reader mail has let me know just what they thought of this bit of criticism....)

Thirteen Days is the film in question -- and unlike staff writer James Brundage I felt the film was a truly powerful one, an eye-opening dissection of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a sobering study of how close we came to annihialation during the Cold War, and a peek behind the scenes of detente. An excellent companion to another (even better) Kevin Costner vehicle, Oliver Stone's JFK, Thirteen Days is not an actor's showcase like JFK is, but rather lets its story do the telling, taking us behind the scenes as decisions with cascading consequences are made. To be sure, Roger Donaldson was likely a poor choice as director -- his arbitrary use of black and white vs. color, his heavy-handedness in glorifying Kennedy at every turn, and his preachy doomsaying all wear a bit thin. But even he can't ruin the film completely.

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The Emperor's Club Review


Grim

A routine aerial shot swoops down over the grounds of an architecturally classic boarding school while a buoyant, sanguine score bleats with insistently lyrical French horns in the opening moments of "The Emperor's Club." And that's all most moviegoers will need to divine everything there is to know about the picture's musty, fond-memory-styled milieu of plucky, Puckish schoolboys and the dedicated, kindly educator who inspires them.

It's a movie that seems motivated more by a desire to match mortarboards with "Dead Poets Society" and "Good Will Hunting" than by its own story. It's a movie of highly telegraphed archetypes slogging their way through clich├ęs (the off-limits girls' school is just across the lake) and only-in-the-movies moments, like the climactic scholarly trivia contest in which the three smartest boys in school don togas and answer questions on stage about the minutiae of Roman history.

These settings, these characters and this narrative arc -- about a contentious teacher-student relationship -- are so familiar that while the movie is not inept or boring, it never feels real enough to inspire much more than a shrug in response.

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Thirteen Days Review


OK

I don't know about you, but whenever I hear Kevin Costner is coming out with another two-hour-plus epic drama, I have a Pavlovian reaction of raging skepticism. After all, this man was the driving force behind "Waterworld" and "The Postman," not to mention the lengthy, maudlin romances "For the Love of the Game" and "Message In a Bottle."

So I admit I went in to "Thirteen Days" -- not only another Costner epic but another Costner revisionist history epic centering around John F. Kennedy -- expecting to cringe my way through it and subconsciously (?) looking for gaffes.

At first there were signs the film might live down to my expectations, like the title sequence's generically ominous stock footage of mushroom clouds and Costner's awk-cent, which begins as more Elmer Fudd than Kennedy compound before he eases into a smooth vocal rhythm. But within 10 minutes I was completely wrapped up in this fly-on-the-wall, pressure-cooker dramatization of what went down at the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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