All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

In an American history survey class, when we got to Nixon, one student asked if we could cover it. She felt we hadn’t covered it well enough. The professor said we would not be covering it–everyone knew it. He was–obviously–wrongly assuming some knowledge of history from college students, a foolish presumption (I have MFA instructors who know nothing about history). I actually have some sympathy for that student, since unless she read a book, she might not know a lot about Watergate. I read the book before I saw All the President’s Men and I still remember a couple things from that first viewing. One, the immediately odd opening credit: ‘A Robert Redford-Alan J. Pakula Film’, and the halving of the book. Given the historical importance of its contents, it’s hard not to look at President’s Men as a historical document, but it is not. It might very well be the Harry Potter of its day, actually.

From the beginning, following that odd credit, I noticed the perfection of the film’s production. Every shot is perfect, every edit. That scene with Redford on the phone (President’s Men, particularly in the first act, is probably Redford’s best work) is beautiful. Alan J. Pakula outdoes just about everyone with this film. Even after the first act, when the film’s odd pacing takes over (it’s made for a person familiar with the events, another comparison to Harry Potter), Pakula’s composition is still striking. David Shire’s score is very quiet and Pakula uses it sparingly, instead going for great sound.

Once into the film’s action, once it’s established there won’t be any real character relationships, since the principals of the film aren’t involved with the film’s major events, the film does begin to lose some steam. The wonderful character moments, when Redford and Hoffman interact with “real” people (the film’s filled with great small performances from Lindsay Crouse and Jane Alexander–Alexander in particular), stop and, while the film doesn’t get repetitive, it loses some of the charm. For that first seventy minutes, it establishes all these great little performances, then whisks them away from the viewer. Instead, there are other great performances, from Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam, but somehow, those performances are less engaging. Especially when Warden effectively disappears from the film. Maybe in those more varied scenes, there’s some additional William Goldman goodness. All the President’s Men is Goldman at, if not his best then certainly his most skillful.

I thought watching the film today would be… not difficult, but somewhat sullied by the knowledge of the modern stooge media and knowing Nixon and his goons were nowhere near as bad as Republicans could get (in fact, they weren’t bad at all, all things considered), but it isn’t. The film stands on its own qualities and while it is a tad of the empty side of humaneness, it’s the best film ever made with that distance. It’s the kind of film Soderbergh wanted to make with Traffic, but couldn’t. Because he’s not Alan J. Pakula.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by David Shire; produced by Walter Coblenz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld), Martin Balsam (Howard Simons), Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jane Alexander (Bookkeeper), Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan), Ned Beatty (Dardis), Stephen Collins (Hugh Sloan Jr.), Penny Fuller (Sally Aiken), John McMartin (Foreign Editor), Robert Walden (Donald Segretti), Frank Wills (Himself), David Arkin (Bachinski), Henry Calvert (Barker), Dominic Chianese (Marinez), Lindsay Crouse (Kay Eddy), Valerie Curtin (Miss Milland), Richard Herd (McCord), Allyn Ann McLerie (Carolyn Abbot), Neva Patterson (Angry CRP woman) and Joshua Shelley (Al Lewis).


Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

Planet of the Apes is, I’m fairly sure, the first film I’ve ever watched and known the director started in television. Franklin J. Schaffner has a lot of dynamic shots–helicopter shots, three dimensional motion and camera movement (which is rarer than one would think)–but none of them go together. It’s like watching a different movie every cut. There are also definite commercial breaks in the film and the first hour, until Charlton Heston speaks to the apes, is really a fifteen minute teaser drawn out with a lot of monologues, walking, and chase scenes.

When I started watching the film, I marveled at how bad Charlton Heston’s performance is. He actually gets better, but it’s one of those cases of not knowing if he actually gets better or if the viewer has just been conditioned to his performance. It’s kind of funny, though, to see über-Conservative Heston in a role basically advocating (small c) communism. That correlation is about the only one I could pull out of Planet of the Apes and I had to use a big pair of pliers. We’ve gotten used to seeing science fiction as metaphor and there’s none of it in Apes. It’s an incredibly straightforward approach, which could work well in the film’s favor, if it wasn’t so inconsistent with its characters and generally dumb.

The problem with the film–its stupidity–is in the package. The film asks the viewer to accept this ape civilization–a planet–which doesn’t seem to be larger than a city, doesn’t know anything about science except has verbose scientific terminology (how did they learn them?) and has working firearms–lots of them–but supposedly is opposed to killing. The characters, with the exception of Heston and the two good apes, flip back and forth, the worst being Maurice Evans’s. He goes from being the big bad guy, to just a guy, to sort of a good guy, to a bad guy, to just a guy. Or ape. Whatever. I think he’s supposed to be an orangutan, actually. He generally changes character between commercial breaks (oh, and Schaffner doesn’t know how to do establishing shots). The film’s about ideas (and running) and getting them presented is the only important thing.

Once the movie gets to the end and Heston’s wailing in the surf, I realized it actually could have worked. There was a big thing–during the opening, the twenty minute walk–about Heston wanting to get off the planet Earth because he hated the way things were going (war–yes, this film does actually star Charlton Heston and it has a big anti-war message, one about 150 feet tall). Anyway, there’s a metaphor there, about Heston returning to the Earth he dreaded, where everything he feared had come to pass, and so on and so on. I wouldn’t want to write it, but I would have wanted to see it. Or, at least, I know it’d have been better than what they did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner; screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Hugh S. Fowler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr. Galen) and Paul Lambert (Minister).


Oh! Brothers (2003, Kim Yong-hwa)

I saw the director’s cut of Aliens when it first came out in 1991. I didn’t have my own laserdisc player (and going downstairs was too far), so I probably didn’t watch Aliens again for quite a few years, if ever. Once you’ve seen the director’s cut, there’s no point in going back to the original. Oh! Brothers runs 109 minutes and it seems like there are a number of missing scenes, including visible ones, when characters talk about something they’ve done and the audience is supposed to be familiar with… but they never did it. There’s a 134 minute director’s cut, but it’s not available with English subtitles. Twenty-five minutes is a long time and it might have helped Oh! Brothers a little, because the film’s a mess.

Essentially, the film’s a remake of Rain Man, only instead of autism, the brother has a fictionalized version of progeria–a disease which causes accelerated aging–and Oh! Brothers portrays it as the kid in the adult’s body. I’m not sure why it bothers, since the disease is infrequently taken seriously and when it is, it’s forced. Given the main character’s angst–over his half-brother’s mother being the woman who drove his (the main character’s) mother to suicide–it seems like overkill. In fact, it’d probably have worked better if the kid had just been a kid, especially since the film never fully convinces. Lee Beom-soo does a fine job, but he never makes the audience forget (and, geez, that guy on “Maniac Mansion” made me forget). His performance is so generic, like the film, he leaves little impression.

As the lead, Lee Jung-jae is stuck. The film expects the audience–I assume because it’s Lee Jung-jae–to know the character’s got a heart of gold deep down, but it never shows us any evidence. He’s a blackmailer who works for a small-time gangster and a dirty cop (who’s got fraternal issues of his own), and he’s a constant dick to everyone in the film. Given he doesn’t have a character, Lee Jung-jae does a great job, but it’s still plastic. He’s not the kind of actor who can do this plastic work… he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. The character doesn’t engage the audience and the film only does it with melodrama.

There are a lot of good moments in Oh! Brothers, a lot of funny ones. As the crooked cop, Lee Moon-sik is fantastic and easily walks off with the film (he doesn’t really have any competition). Overall, the film manages to amuse and engage and it’s hard to believe it isn’t offensive in its treatment of a tragic disease, but it isn’t (it’s oblivious as opposed to insensitive). It just isn’t particularly good….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa; director of photography, Park Hyeon-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Kim Deok-yun; produced by Park Moo-seung; released by KM Culture Co.

Starring Lee Jung-Jae (Oh Sang-su), Lee Beom-su (Oh Bong-gu), Lee Mun-shik (Jeong), Ryu Seung-su (Heo Ki-tae), Ryu Yong-jin (Mr. Park) and Lee Won-jong (Mr. Hong).


Install (2004, Kataoka Kei)

I watched Install because I was curious to see Ueto Aya in a non-Azumi role. She’s good in Install, though it’s impossible to determine whether or not she could have been bad. The film’s constructed very carefully not to put her–or any of the actors–in difficult situations. Acting situations. Ueto narrates the film and the beginning is classy–the film’s nicely shot, cinematographically speaking, and beautifully edited–so I had some high hopes for it. Install does something different with music in a drama–the music reacts to what’s happening on screen. It’s not a revolutionary practice, films have been doing it for specific moments since… what, 1933? But Install takes it a step further by never stopping with the music integration. Unfortunately, besides the opening theme, the music in Install is incredibly annoying. It’s carnival music and it repeats over and over and over again. It was driving me nuts. But the film’s still nicely edited. Great editing.

However good the editing, Install fails. Ugh. I was about to say the install fails to complete. Sorry. Ueto’s character is a teenage girl, apparently reeling from her parents’ divorce and not having at boyfriend. Well, maybe on the boyfriend part… She doesn’t have much conflict, but the film’s goofy and I’m not sure she really needed much. She’s just floundering and a floundering girl is an interesting character. Install even sets up an indigenous agent of solution–a similarly floundering (or so it seems) ten-year old boy. The opening scenes with the kid and Ueto are great. Install’s first twenty minutes are mostly narrated summary scenes, but the twenty minutes moves. Then, once the kid is introduced, the film starts to crawl as the hook is introduced. And once the hook is introduced, Install craps out.

The direction doesn’t help the film at all. Kataoka Kei is fantastic at one person shots, but once he’s got two in the frame, he does this silly distorted long shot and he does it every time.

Ueto was never going to be some great dramatic actor, but I had hoped Install would have been, well, watchable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kataoka Kei; screenplay by Omori Mika, based on the novel by Wataya Risa; director of photography, Ikeda Hidetaka; edited by Omori Shin; music by Iota Rita; production designer, Isoda Norihiro; produced by Kuroi Kazuo; released by Kadokawa Pictures.

Starring Ueto Aya (Nozawa Asako), Kamiki Ryunosuke (Aoki Kazuyoshi), Nakamura Shichinosuke (Kouichi), Kikukawa Rei (Momoko-sensei), Kojima Hijiri (Kayori), Tanaka Yoshiko (Kasa Megumi) and Ôkôchi Hiroshi.


Pocket Money (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)

Pocket Money is, in addition to being an excellent film, an example of a couple interesting things. First, it’s a 1970s character study, which is a different genre than what currently passes for a character study (if there are character studies at all anymore, since Michael Mann and Wes Anderson stopped doing them). The 1970s character study (Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is a good example of another) works in a kind of short-hand with the viewer. While the first act of Pocket Money takes maybe twenty minutes, Paul Newman’s character is fully established in the first five. Paul Newman’s a movie star, so there’s an expectation of him and Pocket Money breaks that expectation, but then sets him up again… in about those five minutes. Maybe six. There’s no established goal to these films (more modern character studies add a goal, something to give the story some drama). Pocket Money is following some cowboy, who isn’t too bright, but is amiable. The film never raises a single expectation of what’s going to come next. I can’t imagine what the trailer must have looked like.

Second (I almost forgot–not really), Terrence Malick wrote the screenplay. Pocket Money would have been his highest profile work at that point, followed by Badlands the next year. Obviously, Badlands looks and sounds different from the rest of Malick’s work, but Pocket Money sounds a lot like Badlands. This Malick is the one who still enjoys dialogue for dialogue’s sake, who likes to make people laugh. Since the film co-stars Lee Marvin, who delivers Malick’s comic lines (Newman’s got plenty of comic lines and a few of the exchanges sound a lot like Lucky Number Slevin of all films) with his gravelly, earthy voice, they are a lot of great comedic moments in the film.

Stuart Rosenberg directed Pocket Money. He directed a number of other Newman films, Cool Hand Luke being their most famous collaboration. Actually, he seems to have replaced Martin Ritt–Newman did a number of films with both directors and when Ritt stops, Rosenberg starts. Whatever. Rosenberg’s impressive. He distances the viewer from the actors at the right times and he pulls them in at the right times. Pocket Money’s got a great supporting cast–Strother Martin, Wayne Rogers and Hector Elizondo–and Rosenberg knows how to use them.

Since DVD’s advent and AMC’s full commercialization, a number of films have fallen to the dust. I was just thinking this morning about the difference between DVD enthusiasts and film enthusiasts. A DVD enthusiast is passive, he or she takes what is available. A film enthusiast has to look around, has to find things. Pocket Money is no longer particularly hard to find (it just aired on INHD, so there’s a beautiful print of it–it has great Laszlo Kovacs cinematography–for the someday DVD) and I hope people try to see it. While it’s never as outstanding as the first twenty minutes, it’s an excellent film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by John Gay and Terrence Malick, based on a novel by J.P.S. Brown; director of photography, László Kovács; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Alex North; produced by John Foreman; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Jim Kane), Lee Marvin (Leonard), Strother Martin (Bill Garrett), Wayne Rogers (Stretch Russell), Hector Elizondo (Juan), Christine Belford (Adelita), Kelly Jean Peters (Sharon), Gregory Sierra (Guerro Chavarin) and Fred Graham (Uncle Herb).


The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972, Paul Newman)

Paul Newman must have had an interesting experience directing Man-in-the Moon Marigolds. His wife played the lead and their daughter played her daughter, the film’s protagonist. The mother’s awful (Joanne Woodward isn’t awful, the character is awful) and Newman sticks with her. Woodward manages to infuse her with some humanity, but only so much is possible. There isn’t very much tension whether or not things will be all right (they won’t), but the last act is structured with lots of moments of immediate dread, so many I forgot the inevitable and it still came as a surprise at the end.

Watching Man-in-the-Moon is watching an exploration. It’s not a character study, since Woodward’s character isn’t the protagonist, and the differences between the film and a character study make it all the more interesting. We learn all about this woman, who we’ve prejudged–there are a few moments when we might be wrong about her, but there’s really only like three–and the film goes and confirms everything we’ve already decided. It’s a strange formula, since it breaks one of those major tenets of good fiction, never let the reader prejudge the character. The reader engages a work to make that decision. This observation leads me to Man-in-the-Moon’s quality as fiction. I’m not sure it’s particularly good. It comes from a play and Newman does a great job making it not feel like a play, but the film wallows in a stifling helplessness. It’s good, but it’s good because the writing–by Alvin Sargent, who also adapted Ordinary People and knows how to make things work–and the acting and the directing all go together. There’s also the setting, some sad Connecticut town, populated with people who never went anywhere. Idealism is absent from Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and Newman makes you work for anything positive.

As a director, I’m not sure who Newman learned from. Some actors (George Clooney) have very obvious influences, but Newman’s beyond quiet. He does let composer Maurice Jarre carry some of the weight, but otherwise, the camera isn’t even present. Still, its absence doesn’t make the adapted play feel stagy, Newman just doesn’t let the viewer interact with him. It’s a great approach and probably the one to make this material work.

All of the performances are perfect, not just Woodward and real-life daughter Nell “Potts” (you’ve seen her on the Newman’s Own labels), but also the other sister, played by Roberta Wallach (Eli Wallach’s daughter–love that IMDb). After seeing the film version–and I know Woodward is a big supporter of the theater, so I’m sure this reaction wasn’t at all her intent–I have no interest in seeing a staged version. It couldn’t be as good, which is the greatest compliment an adaptation can get.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Paul Newman; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Paul Zindel; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Evan Lottman; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Gene Callahan; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Joanne Woodward (Beatrice), Nell Polts (Malilda), Roberta Wallach (Ruth), Judith Lowry (Granny), Richard Venture (Floyd) and Carolyn Coates (Mrs. McKay).


Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

My expectations for Superman Returns were incredibly high (especially since everything Bryan Singer’s done since The Usual Suspects with the exception of the “House” pilot has been dreck). Three stars. I don’t bother putting star ratings on The Stop Button, since whenever I see them in reviews, I look at them and then at not the review. Also, the New York Times doesn’t do it. Watching the previews for Superman Returns, I realized Singer wasn’t just making a sequel to the originals, he was structurally remaking the first Superman. That prediction proves true, but it’s not a bad thing. The first Superman film has a fine structure and it isn’t as though Returns was ever going to be as good as the first film. For moments during the film, it seemed like Superman Returns might get up to that three star level. The film runs two and a half hours, so there’s a lot of time for it to make up for early faults. During the first hour and a half, Singer cuts between Superman and company and Lex Luthor and company, which doesn’t work particularly well and there are major dips because of the pacing–and it takes a long time for Superman and Luthor to seem like they’re in the same film. The Luthor scenes have a comical, winking with the audience feel, while the rest doesn’t.

On an episode of “Boston Legal,” there was a line about winning a case in the closing testimony–going on and on and on until you’ve won the jury over. Singer implements that practice in Superman Returns. It doesn’t exactly have multiple endings–in fact, it doesn’t really have one–but he goes on and on until he’s gotten the film to where he can let it go. Singer obviously loves the film he’s made and there’s a lot to love about Superman Returns. While it never achieves the wonderment of the original film, the flying scenes in this film are breathtaking. Green screen special effects and computer compositing have finally gotten to good spot. But that ending trouble, it isn’t something inherent in the film, it’s all because of Singer’s structuring. Superman Returns has some great scenes, but whenever–with one exception I’ll get to–Singer deviates from that appropriated Superman structure, the film gets long.

As for the cast… Brandon Routh is fine. He’s good as Clark Kent and fine as Superman. Here’s the problem. Not enough Superman–and when there is Superman, Singer doesn’t let Routh do much. I wonder if there was a trust factor involved–I’m sure Singer wasn’t willing to let Routh end his career. Kate Bosworth is adequate as Lois Lane, but Superman Returns reconfigures her character so much, she’s not really Lois Lane anymore. She’s been domesticated. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane never had long hair because she would have thought it too much of a fuss. Bosworth looks like she spends as much time combing hers as Marcia Brady. James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s fiancé, one of Superman Returns’s best innovations, and he’s actually really good. His action scenes are the exception I talked about before, where he shows human heroism, which nicely offsets the guy who can lift continents. I’d only seen Marsden in X-Men and thought he was the pits, but he gives the second best performance in Superman Returns. The first is Parker Posey. She’s great (she’s also been on “Boston Legal,” though not in the episode I was talking about). Kevin Spacey occasionally has fun as Lex Luthor, but he never embraces it like Gene Hackman did. I kept waiting for him to do it and it kept seeming like he would, but it never gets there. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but not worth name-checking.

While my fiancée has no interest in ever seeing Superman Returns again–as she told me in no uncertain terms–I’m curious how a rewatch might affect the experience. I imagine it would have a positive effect, but I’m not sure how much (no matter how many times I watch it, for example, John Ottman’s score will never get better). For this entire post, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to lambaste Singer’s Ripley into the lava shot, which might have been all right, if the music weren’t so overbearing, but I’m having trouble–but now I think it’s the music’s fault. The music stops working at a certain point in the film. It stops relying on the John Williams score and it starts to sound cheap. Leaving the Williams score behind is a bad idea, given Superman Returns’s agreement with the audience is solely based on the images the score conjures and breaking that agreement is what gets Superman Returns into the most trouble. And the little kid. The little kid gets real annoying.

While the film didn’t earn the three I wanted, it did get two and a half, which isn’t bad–even with all the problems, it’s still Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Singer, Dougherty and Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Art Museum by the Zoo (1998, Lee Jeong-hyang)

The film’s title, Art Museum by the Zoo, suggests some geographic awareness–or at least, recognition of a geographic relationship–but there’s never an establishing shot of the art museum or the zoo. There are shots of the intersection leading to either location and there are shots in the museum and at the zoo, but never any to establish either in the viewer’s imagination. The title sounds pleasant and conjures up a lot of its own imagery, which works for the film, since the film lets the viewer conjure up a lot on his or her own too.

Art Museum by the Zoo is a romantic comedy, playing by romantic comedy rules. I place these rules’ inception in 1938, with H.C Potter’s The Cowboy and the Lady. Art Museum seems, at first, to be doing little with the rules. There are the two leads, the man and the woman who can’t stand each other and are forced into each other’s company, there are their two love interests, and the film seems like its going to predictably decouple, then reconnect. Around forty-five minutes in, I became aware Art Museum was doing something different. The supporting cast–the ostensible romantic interests of the leads–disappear. The actors don’t disappear–the two leads start writing a screenplay about a couple and the roles in the movie in the movie are played by their love interests–but the actors don’t appear again in the “real” roles. Art Museum becomes solely about the two leads, played by Shim Eun-ha and Lee Sung-jae, so much so, I think there’s only one new actor in the film–a guy on the street–in the last hour. Art Museum is the first Shim film I’ve seen and I think I’ve read she was South Korea’s most popular actress and retired at the height of her popularity. She’s an excellent lead, both as an actor and as a star. Art Museum is her film–it sets itself up as her film and it all revolves around her, so when the story asks the viewer to accept Lee guiding it, there’s a bit of a disconnect. His character changes drastically–he has an internal, blink-and-you-miss-it revelation–because it’s time for him to stop being a jerk and start being the good guy (just because Art Museum is a little different, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to go where romantic comedies go).

While the closed storytelling approach is interesting, too much emphasis is put on the movie in the movie. The characters’ script isn’t good and the scenes from it aren’t good. The female actor in their script comes off like a simpleton and the male lead is even more unlikable than the real male lead (because his big changeover). However, the direction is such it does more than just hold Art Museum together, it makes the experience a pleasurable one. Director Lee Jeong-hyang shoots the film through a high contrast, amber filter–but never manages to lose lush greenness–and the film’s look, coupled with her composition, makes Art Museum… well, I was going to say a visual feast, but that description’s going a little far. But only a little.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lee Jeong-hyang; director of photography, Jo Yeong-gyu; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Yang-hee; produced by Lee Choon-yeon; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Shim Eun-ha (Chun-Hi), Lee Sung-jae (Chul-su), Ahn Sung-kee (In-Gong) and Song Seon-mi (Da-Hye).


The MacKintosh Man (1973, John Huston)

Imagine a spy thriller without any spying, without any thrills, without even any mystery, and whatever you come up with… it’s still probably more engaging than The MacKintosh Man. In the post-VHS era, MacKintosh is fairly difficult to find. TCM doesn’t run it, Warner hasn’t done a DVD yet. I only came across it on the HD movie channel (which shows it in a pan and scanned 1.77:1 versus the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio). Given it’s a Paul Newman movie, directed by John Huston, I can’t understand why it’s so hard to see. It isn’t because MacKintosh is a bad film–there are plenty of readily available, bad John Huston movies out on DVD and some Paul Newman ones too (though not many from MacKintosh’s era). So, its lack of visibility is a mystery and it’s the only interesting mystery related to The MacKintosh Man.

The film lacks characters. It has a couple great character actors–James Mason and Harry Andrews–and does nothing with either of them. The female lead, Dominique Sanda, has no chemistry with Newman and she’s a low talker too, so some scenes are unintelligible. Most of the first half–until Newman gets to drop his faux Australian accent–is told in summary. Lots of fades. There’s one point, just into the second act, once I’d realized how the film was playing out, when Newman makes a friend. Oh, it’s great. The friend is there for two scenes, then he disappears. It’s the best stuff in the film.

Besides being boring–and MacKintosh is boring not just because of the storytelling or Walter Hill’s script, but because Huston dilly-dallies. He doesn’t have to dilly-dally either. There’s a great car chase. His shot composition is good too, though it does remind a little of The Third Man in parts.

I’ve seen Newman’s other spy movie–Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain–and I don’t remember much about it, except it wasn’t good. I was just discovering Newman at that time and I was excited to see him in a Hitchcock picture, then… well… then I watched Torn Curtain. It’s possible he just doesn’t work in the spy role. Newman’s performances tend to require the viewer to examine him–I’m thinking of the great H-films, Hud, The Hustler, and Hombre. Spy movies, good and bad, do not work in that manner. Still, even with Newman’s miscasting and Huston’s lolly-gagging, it didn’t have to be so bad….

Oh, and Maurice Jarre’s score. Near as I can tell, he composed two short pieces of music for it, then used the second one over and over and over again.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Desmond Bagley; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Russell Lloyd; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by John Foreman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Newman (Joseph Rearden), Dominique Sanda (Mrs. Smith), James Mason (Sir George Wheeler), Harry Andrews (Mackintosh), Ian Bannen (Slade), Michael Hordern (Brown), Nigel Patrick (Soames-Trevelyan) and Peter Vaughan (Brunskill).


Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986, Penny Marshall)

I was just reading–today or yesterday–Ken Levine talk about how there are no “balls-out R-rated” comedies with female leads. (His post is here). Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, obviously, a balls-out R-rated comedy starring a woman. Things have obviously changed in the last twenty years, both in film and television–female stand-ups don’t get TV shows and they don’t become movie stars. I missed Whoopi Goldberg’s career when it happened. My mother didn’t like all her swearing. I did see Ghost however, against my will. Goldberg is definitely a comedy star in Jumpin’ Jack Flash because comedy stars rarely have to act and Goldberg does not act in Jack Flash. She’s appealing enough and occasionally funny, but the film’s so dishonest, it’s hard to see past it. Jumpin’ Jack Flash doesn’t set Goldberg up as a sexual being–as in, a person who has had or ever will have, sex. The same thing happens in most of Denzel Washington’s films between 1989 and 2001, maybe later. These actors are starring with mostly white casts and mostly white “romantic” interests and interracial romance doesn’t play well for most white people. Not if conservatives wanted ABC fined extra for having the Desperate Housewife come on to a black football player. So, while she’s spayed and the racial element is ignored, Goldberg still does an all right job… she’s not responsible for the film’s biggest problems.

The premise of Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a bank worker who communicates with a spy over her computer–this film is from 1986, so just imagine the computers–and gets involved in espionage. They communicate by typing. During the second half of the film, once Goldberg’s heard the spy’s voice, his lines are spoken as they pop up on the computer screen. There’s one great scene when Goldberg isn’t looking at her screen and she still knows he’s typing, because she can hear his voice. Oh… maybe that scene’s not great. It’s a good example, however, of Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s direction. It’s directed by Penny Marshall and I’m using directed in the nicest way possible. Marshall had only had sitcom experience at this point in her… career and it shows. The film lacks any visual interest and, during the most action-orientated scenes, Jumpin’ Jack Flash becomes the antonym for exciting.

So, while Marshall did the film no good, whoever casted it did wonders. John Wood has some great scenes, so does Stephen Collins. The supporting cast features no standout performances, but it’s a laundry list of famous people-to-be: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Jeroen Krabbé, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and Jamey Sheridan. Very few scenes went by without me recognizing someone. So, however casted it, that person did a good job. Probably the best job in the movie… Because whoever decided to conclude the romance between Goldberg and her (white) spy without a) a kiss or b) hand-holding… Well, that person didn’t do a good job.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Marshall; screenplay by David Franzoni, J.W. Melville, Patricia Irving and Chris Thompson, based on a story by Franzoni; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Whoopi Goldberg (Terry Dolittle), Stephen Collins (Marty Phillips), John Wood (Jeremy Talbott), Carol Kane (Cynthia), Annie Potts (Liz Carlson), Peter Michael Goetz (James Page), Roscoe Lee Browne (Archer Lincoln), Sara Botsford (Lady Sarah Billings), Jeroen Krabbé (Mark Van Meter), Vyto Ruginis (Carl), Jonathan Pryce (Jack), Tony Hendra (Hunter), Jon Lovitz (Doug) and Phil Hartman (Fred).

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