TriStar Pictures

Supergirl (1984, Jeannot Szwarc), the director’s cut

Supergirl never really had a chance. The Superman-inspired opening credits lack any grandeur, ditto with Jerry Goldsmith’s lame music. Goldsmith improves somewhat throughout, but the lack of a catchy theme song hurts the film.

The film has a few things going for it, however, including Helen Slater in the lead and Szwarc’s direction. A handful of scenes are quite good, hinting at what a better script might have been able to embrace. Unfortunately, David Odell’s script is moronic. He doesn’t just give Supergirl a dumb villain (Faye Dunaway must have been really desperate for work), he doesn’t even give Slater a story arc. There are hints at one–when Slater gets to Earth, she’s finally smarter. The opening (with Mia Farrow and Simon Ward looking embarrassed as Slater’s parents) suggest she’s kind of slow, or at least unfocused.

The trip to Earth, the film can’t help but implying, matures her.

There are also some excellent special effects. Even when the effects don’t work, it isn’t because they’re not competent, it’s because it’s a dumb idea. Dunaway’s an evil witch. It’s a flying superhero versus a witch. There isn’t a lot of room for good action set pieces with that scenario.

Other than Slater, the best performance is probably Hart Bochner as her love interest. He’s not good, just not terrible. I suppose Peter Cook is only embarrassing himself, not bad. Brenda Vaccaro, Jeff to Dunaway’s Mutt, is atrocious.

Slater’s performance deserves a better film. It’s unfortunate Supergirl doesn’t deliver.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by David Odell, based on a character created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Timothy Burrill; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Helen Slater (Kara), Faye Dunaway (Selena), Hart Bochner (Ethan), Brenda Vaccaro (Bianca), Maureen Teefy (Lucy Lane), Peter Cook (Nigel), Simon Ward (Zor-El), Mia Farrow (Alura), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), David Healy (Mr. Danvers) and Peter O’Toole (Zaltar).


Q & A (1990, Sidney Lumet)

Sidney Lumet’s awkward examination of political corruption and race in New York City hits some bumps it shouldn’t. One of the major problems–because the film, after all the minor problems, only has two major problems–is the ending. Lumet has a perfectly well-intentioned ending, but he doesn’t quite get it. There’s not enough groundwork for it in the film itself, just a few scenes and they really don’t add up to what the ending needs. The second major problem is the music by Rubén Blades. Not the score, the score is actually all right. But Blades–and Lumet, because I don’t see Blades listed as the producer or the executive–has a theme song for Q & A. Not surprisingly (the score is actually rather sparse and well-used throughout, mostly Lumet relies on a beautiful sound design, wind, rain and traffic), there’s no soundtrack release, but if there had been, I really think it would have been listed as “Don’t Double-Cross the Ones You Love (Theme to Q & A).” It’s a dreadful mistake.

The minor mistakes thrive. While Nick Nolte gives a scary performance as a dirty, bigoted cop, all he’s doing is giving a performance as a dirty, bigoted cop. He put on a bunch of weight for the role, but the weight doesn’t act for him. Timothy Hutton’s pretty good as a wide-eyed idealist, even maintains a hint of an Irish accent throughout, but the movie’s not enough about him. It starts about him, then it splits between Nolte and Armand Assante. Whereas Hutton and Assante make an interesting juxtaposition (with Jenny Lumet forming a love triangle), because of all the energy put into following Nolte, the juxtaposition never comes through. It gets hinted at, but never explored.

Assante’s performance is fantastic, the kind of flashy but substantive performance he should get credit for achieving. As a director’s daughter acting in a mob movie, Lumet does a really good job. Her character’s a lot more complicated than the movie ever gets around to examining, another mistake. The supporting cast is all excellent. Charles S. Dutton and Luis Guzmán, both great and they work beautifully together. But they get left out when the movie balloons too. As elder statesmen of varying morality but similar weariness, both Patrick O’Neal and Lee Richardson are good.

Lumet lets Q & A get way too big without ever making it absorbing. It’s a 132 minutes and it feels like them. It’s never mundane, it’s never boring, but the lack of a central protagonist and the mishmash of theses encourage detachment in the viewer, which is rather unfortunate. Q & A has all the ingredients for excellence and it’s very good; the missteps–particularly not getting the ending just right–hurt it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Lumet, based on the novel by Edwin Torres; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Richard Cirincione; music by Ruben Blades; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Arnon Milchan and Burtt Harris; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Brennan), Timothy Hutton (Al Reilly), Armand Assante (Bobby Tex), Patrick O’Neal (Kevin Quinn), Lee Richardson (Leo Bloomenfeld), Luis Guzmán (Valentin), Charles S. Dutton (Chappie), Jenny Lumet (Nancy), Paul Calderon (Roger Montalvo), International Chrysis (José Malpica), Dominic Chianese (Larry Pesch), Leonardo Cimino (Nick Petrone) and Fyvush Finkel (Preston Pearlstein).


Nadine (1987, Robert Benton)

There’s got to be some kind of story behind Nadine, one explaining why it makes no sense in its plotting, why the ending makes no sense and why it only runs seventy-eight minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t find any reference online to those issues, so I guess they’ll remain a mystery.

As it stands, Nadine is a couple great characters in search of a story. Well, not even a story–the characters have a story. They’re separated and they get back together. It’s everything around that story. Benton’s script moves real fast–without a lot of bridging scenes; it’s frequently confusing–and he spends some real nice time on the couple, ably aided by Howard Shore’s score.

But the rest of the film–involving a land deal, Rip Torn as a lame villain (he’s Rip Torn, no other explanation for villainy needed apparently), Jeff Bridges’s dumb bar and Kim Basinger hating the dumb bar–is a mess. The bar in question barely appears in the film, but everyone’s always talking about it or mentioning it–at least as much as something can be talked about in seventy-eight minutes.

Bridges and Basinger are both fantastic, whether together or apart, but together’s a lot more fun. But I really don’t know what Benton thought he was doing with the film. There’s a visible lack of content, even if there were bridging scenes in place, because–well, it appears he’s trying to tell the romantic comedy equivalent of Chinatown, which isn’t even necessarily a bad idea (I guess), but there’s no setting beyond the cars and the title announcing the time and place.

There’s three action set-pieces too. There’s a car chase, which isn’t bad and is somewhat amusing, but it’s not a movie with car chases… then there’s a suspense sequence, then there’s a gunfight.

Oh, no, I think Benton was trying to do a non-traditional traditional Hollywood comedy here… argh.

If a movie could float on Jeff Bridges’s considerable charm, Nadine would certainly be a candidate. Except, it’s disqualified, because Basinger’s really appealing and the two of them are wonderful together.

Glenne Headly has a bit part and is great, big shock, as is Jay Patterson. Jerry Stiller is in it for a minute and a half, but it seems like keeping him around would have been a better idea.

I just wish I knew the “making of” of Nadine.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert Benton; director of photography, Nestor Almendros; film editor, Sam O’Steen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Arlene Donovan; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Vernon Hightower), Kim Basinger (Nadine Hightower), Rip Torn (Buford Pope), Gwen Verdon (Vera), Glenne Headly (Renee), Jerry Stiller (Raymond Escobar), Jay Patterson (Dwight Estes), William Youmans (Boyd), Gary Grubbs (Cecil) and Mickey Jones (Floyd).


Volunteers (1985, Nicholas Meyer)

The oddest part of Volunteers is the opening credits. I queued it because I’ve been reading Ken Levine’s blog (he’s one of the screenwriters) and he did a whole write-up on it a while ago. I suppose I knew, but had forgotten, Nicholas Meyer directed the film. Volunteers is his follow-up to Star Trek II, which would have been considered a success for him. He even brought James Horner along from Star Trek to score Volunteers. James Horner should not score comedies (though he does use some of his other material, I think from Star Trek and Aliens, in the film).

Since Meyer brings nothing to the film, all the responsibility falls on Tom Hanks, who does the whole film with an exaggerated New England accent. He manages to keep the accent for the whole film too. The film takes place in 1962, just after Kennedy started the Peace Corps–I missed that detail somehow, I just thought they were showing the old film clips over the titles to be historical–and I’m wondering if my misunderstanding affected the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes are mildly amusing. Tom Hanks is acting like a prick, which he’s very good at doing, but nothing really made me laugh. Then, once he gets to Thailand–maybe just on the Peace Corps plane–Volunteers starts getting funny. It might have more to do with John Candy. Candy is good in Volunteers, better than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. Still, he’s not the best supporting cast member–Gedde Watanabe is great.

Since I saw the film for Levine, I suppose I do have to say something about the writing. It’s good and funny. There are quite a few laugh out-loud moments in Volunteers–most of Watanabe’s lines for a forty minute period are real funny–and the film’s never predictable in the story progressions, with the regular exception of the romance between Hanks and Rita Wilson. The film’s become a footnote in Hanks’ biography for that reason. She’s not good, but it hardly matters, the film isn’t interested in her character. The funny stuff is going on elsewhere.

Even with the traditional romance story-arc, Volunteers ends on an unexpected note, managing to stay truer to itself than expected. The film’s humor isn’t irreverent–Levine and co-writer David Isaacs are sitcom writers who write for good shows–but it is a referential humor. One would need to know, for example, about the CIA’s activities in East Asia, which might not have been too much to ask in 1985, but certainly is too much today. Hanks’ performance is also so unlike his regular performances (he only had a few years before he found his shtik) doesn’t help its accessibility either. Still, there’s no excuse for its bad reputation. It actually needed to be longer–Levine and Isaacs set up a few jokes they never finished and could have….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, from a story by Keith Critchlow; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Ronald Roose and Steven Polivka; produced by Richard Shepherd and Walter F. Parkes; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Lawrence Whatley Bourne III), John Candy (Tom Tuttle), Rita Wilson (Beth Wexler), Tim Thomerson (John Reynolds), Gedde Watanabe (At Toon), George Plimpton (Lawrence Bourne Jr.), Ernest Harada (Chung Mee), Allan Arbus (Albert Bardenaro) and Xander Berkeley (Kent Sutcliffe).


Chaplin (1992, Richard Attenborough)

Just today, I met someone who recently watched The Postman and thought it was a good film. She’s probably the third or fourth person (I think the third) who I’ve met–since 1997–who agreed it was a good film. Though Chaplin has five years on that one, I’ve never met anyone else who thinks it’s good. Or great, I suppose. Chaplin is great.

I absolutely dreaded watching this film. As I recall, I had the VHS–I bought it used from a video store and it was one of the early single tape releases for 130+ minute features–and then I got the laserdisc on remainder in the early days of the Internet shopping boom, back when there were laserdisc stores online and laserdiscs being pressed. So, I haven’t seen it in eight years (I was a slow converter to DVD and, even after I did, I still never tried upgrade my entire laserdisc collection–still haven’t). I rented it a long time ago when I was trying to keep my Blockbuster Online queue going and just never got around to it. I’ve been actively avoiding it for about two weeks now, when I cracked down and said I had to get it watched. My fear being–well, like I said, I’ve never heard a good word said about the film.

Immediately–within seconds–that fear, that apprehension, disappeared. The John Barry music comes up and I remembered the emotional sensation the film produces in me. These sensations being the goal of art–back when I last saw this film, I worried about my “taste.” It never occurred to me someone else’s wiring was wrong. Back to the film. The music comes up and there’s Robert Downey Jr., back when he was the finest working actor. It’s impossible to think of Chaplin as a Downey film because he’s not Robert Downey Jr. He creates this character named Charlie Chaplin. While the make-up work is good, it wouldn’t do its job with Downey. The viewer expects this character to age over time and so he has to–because there are title cards telling the viewer time is passing. Aging and time passing, they go together. Downey being an actor in latex make-up is beside the point. Downey never exists as an actor in the film and neither does anyone else. The only person who stretches that boundary is Dan Aykroyd–as I’d forgotten he was good.

The success isn’t all Downey or John Barry’s score–Chaplin has the most indispensable score since 2001–it’s Attenbourgh’s whole conception of the film. It’s a biopic, but it’s independent of the actual reality of Charlie Chaplin. Attenborough creates a character and creates a sense of nostalgia–for future events, this achievement is particularly visible in the creation of the Tramp scene–without requiring the audience to know anything real. Having experienced any Chaplin films is not a requirement for Chaplin. I, for example, didn’t see a Chaplin film until 1999 or 2000. It’s a brilliant approach to the “non-fiction” film, one not often done anymore. Today, authentic and historical accuracy are watchwords; they have nothing to do with good storytelling, fictional or non-fictional.

As a quiet aside–for any Keaton fans out there (I prefer Keaton)–there’s a great homage to Our Hospitality in Chaplin, when we see Hollywood before it was Hollywood, right under the titles identifying it. Our Hospitality, for those who don’t know, did with New York City, giving an intersection and a date in the middle of nineteenth century. It’s a cute touch.

The Chaplin supporting cast is superior. Primarily, the film shows how excellent Moira Kelly is–Chaplin’s her first and only great film and it’s a shame. I mean, she was already done by 1998. Also fantastic and less known is Paul Rhys as Chaplin’s brother. He didn’t disappear, he just didn’t stay in Hollywood. The relationship between Chaplin and his brother is one of the film’s strongest elements. I’m going to go through the rest faster–Marisa Tomei’s good, Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks (he and Chaplin’s relationship being another cornerstone), Penelope Ann Miller’s decent–if only in a scene really–Kevin Dunn is a frightening J. Edgar Hoover. Geraldine Chaplin playing Chaplin’s insane mother, she’s really good. Also, one of my favorite forgotten actors, Maria Pitillo (Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla ended her career) is in the film as Mary Pickford. She’s great in the film, credited far too late. She’s wonderful–Chaplin’s calling her a bitch while she and Downey have the second-best onscreen chemistry between he and female actor in the film. I suppose I need to mention it–though it doesn’t come up often at The Stop Button, I do despise Anthony Hopkins–Hopkins is great as the made-up book editor whose editing session with Chaplin frames the film.

I honestly don’t remember the last time I recommended something here. It looks like it would have been Black Narcissus. And now it’s Chaplin.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Attenborough; screenplay by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman, from a story by Diana Hawkins, based on books by Charles Chaplin and David Robinson; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Barry; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Attenborough, Mario Kassar and Terence Clegg; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Charlie Chaplin), Geraldine Chaplin (Hannah Chaplin), Paul Rhys (Sydney Chaplin), John Thaw (Fred Karno), Moira Kelly (Hetty Kelly/Oona O’Neill), Anthony Hopkins (George Hayden), Matthew Cottle (Stan Laurel), Dan Aykroyd (Mack Sennett), Marisa Tomei (Mabel Normand), Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance), Kevin Kline (Douglas Fairbanks), Kevin Dunn (J. Edgar Hoover), Diane Lane (Paulette Goddard), Deborah Moore (Lita Grey), Nancy Travis (Joan Barry), James Woods (Lawyer Scott), Milla Jovovich (Mildred Harris), Maria Pitillo (Mary Pickford) and David Duchovny (Rollie Totheroh).


Bat*21 (1988, Peter Markle)

I only know Jerry Reed from Smokey and the Bandit. He’s a country singer too, but I don’t know anything about that artistic expression. Reed executive produced Bat*21 and it feels like a film an actor would executive produce. It’s padded (when, according to IMDb, the real incident took place over eleven days) and shouldn’t be (the incident in the film takes place over three or four). At some point, the film decides it’s going to be about Gene Hackman realizing what plotting bombing attacks is all about: guys getting blown up. There’s a nice, slow motion shot of some guy getting blown up while Gene Hackman watches, horrified.

The Danny Glover story has no moral, it’s just a good story. He and the rest of the rescue crew try to rescue people. That’s about it. No moral.

At times, Bat*21 almost feels like Die Hard, when the two guys are talking on the radio. But when Bat*21 tries to be sentimental without being schmaltzy, it can’t. At the end of film, in fact, we find out that Danny Glover’s hopes and dreams had been crushed because of prejudice. This realization, of course, has nothing to do with the majority of the film. Or even the end, because it’s all wiped away real quick.

The best performance–Hackman’s on autopilot here and Glover is too for most of it–is a supporting one from Clayton Rohner, who’s gone on to very little. He’s great, I can’t believe he didn’t get picked for something bigger.

It’s not awful. The dialogue is wooden and Peter Markle uses close-ups when he should use long shots and vice versa. The aerial photography is great. The music’s bad. 1980s synthesizers with “Asian-themed” music thrown in. It’s very much made with a mid-to-late 1980s action movie sensibility and it’s not particularly interesting or compelling, but nowhere as bad as it could be.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Markle; screenplay by William C. Anderson and George Gordon, based on the book by Anderson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Stephen E. Rivkin; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Vincent Cresciman; produced by David Fisher, Gary A. Neill and Michael Balson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lieut. Col. Iceal Hambleton), Danny Glover (Capt. Bartholomew Clark), Jerry Reed (Col. George Walker), David Marshall Grant (Ross Carver), Clayton Rohner (Sgt. Harley Rumbaugh) and Erich Anderson (Maj. Jake Scott).


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