Alan Arkin

Indian Summer (1993, Mike Binder)

Indian Summer is genial and life-affirming. Writer-director Binder imbues it with an optimism and positivity–as long as you have the right support system, anything is possible. Given the film’s about a bunch of thirtysomethings who return to their childhood summer camp to find themselves, it’s a little weird Binder gives the best character arc to Kimberly Williams-Paisley. She’s the twenty-one year-old fiancée to the most obnoxious thirtysomethings (Matt Craven). Her arc, forecasted nowhere, propels the film into its third act, full of possibility. Shame Binder doesn’t do much with the momentum.

Diane Lane and Julie Warner get the biggest story arcs. Lane’s a recent widow–her husband was also a camper, because summer camp apparently decided everyone white’s life in the early seventies–and she needs to mourn. She’s got good friend Elizabeth Perkins there to support her, which she really needs when her husband’s childhood best friend returns a bit of a hunk (Bill Paxton). Meanwhile, Warner is married to Vincent Spano (who used to get busy with Perkins when they were in camp) and the marriage is rocky. Maybe because Spano wants to quit his business with cousin Kevin Pollak (also a camper), but can’t figure out how to tell him. So apparently Spano takes it out on Warner. Binder’s script isn’t great at scenes of angst and it’s downright terrified of getting too close to its characters.

They might be unlikable then and it’s such a pretty, pleasant cast (everyone has great, brown hair), who would want them to be unlikable? Except maybe Craven, who’s cut off from everyone else, hence having to bring Williams-Paisley along. Paxton’s arc is more with camp owner Alan Arkin, who has invited his favorite campers from over the years back for a week. Oddly, they’re all from the same year. Coincidences abound in Indian Summer.

Arkin’s really solid when he’s lead. Binder never really gets into how the campers coexist with him–they’re back to hang out with each other, leaving Arkin to mostly pal around with handyman Sam Raimi (who’s in this mystifyingly great slapstick part)–and it’s a missed opportunity. Especially since, unless you’ve got someone to kiss, Binder leaves you behind. Perkins and Pollak end up with almost nothing to do by the end, Perkins with even less. But Indian Summer’s got to be genial and life-affirming, it’s got to live up to the beautiful Newton Thomas Sigel photography, which turns the summer camp–in the late summer sun–into a golden Great Lakes paradise.

Still, it’s not like Indian Summer is always lazy. Binder does go somewhere with the Paxton and Arkin thing, he does go somewhere with Williams-Paisley. He’s just not willing to hinge the whole thing on being too thoughtful. There needs to be cheap payoff, albeit beautifully lighted cheap payoff. Until that payoff, however, Binder’s really just letting the actors develop their characters. The second act is pretty loose–there are set pieces, usually involving pot or pranks, but Binder’s in no rush. The present action changes pace fluidly in the tranquil setting, with its amiable cast and their not too serious, but sort of, grown-up problems.

So the performances matter a lot. Arkin’s always good, but he doesn’t get anywhere near enough to do. Binder’s just as set in an age group–the thirtysomethings–as if he were making a movie about teenagers at camp and barely had the counselors in it. Pollak and Perkins are great. They get to be great, because Binder doesn’t need them for anything structural. Lane and Paxton are fine. Lane should have more to do than Paxton but doesn’t. Warner’s good. She overshadows Spano, who tries to imply depth instead of convey it. Craven’s the weakest performance and he’s still perfectly solid. He provides a great springboard for Williams-Paisley to take off from.

And Raimi’s awesome.

Nice editing from Adam Weiss, okay if a little much music from Miles Goodman. Binder’s direction is good–he showcases that beautifully lighted scenery and moves his actors around in it well. Indian Summer is never trite, which is an accomplishment on its own, but Binder is way too safe with it. He denies Lane and Paxton a better story in particular. He writes caricatures then has his actors create people, so it’s a particular kind of disappointing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Binder; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Adam Weiss; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Jim Kouf, Lynn Kouf, Robert F. Newmyer, and Jeffrey Silver; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Unca Lou Handler), Diane Lane (Beth Warden), Bill Paxton (Jack Belston), Julie Warner (Kelly Berman), Vincent Spano (Matthew Berman), Elizabeth Perkins (Jennifer Morton), Kevin Pollak (Brad Berman), Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Gwen Daugherty), Matt Craven (Jamie Ross), and Sam Raimi (Stick Coder).

This post is part of the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by Chris of Blog of the Darned.


Deadhead Miles (1972, Vernon Zimmerman)

Deadhead Miles is a piece of great seventies filmmaking. It’s not a great film, but a great piece of filmmaking. The distinction’s important.

Most of the film is about a peculiar truck driver, played by Alan Arkin, and his adventures after picking up a hitchhiker, played by Paul Benedict. Arkin’s truck driver is not particularly likable or at all sympathetic. He’s a dense, know it all jerk. Writer Terrence Malick opens the film trying the viewer’s patience with Arkin’s character, though he eventually becomes amusing enough. Miles becomes about waiting to see what he’s going to do next. It also reveals the culture of long haul truck driving and Arkin’s odd acceptance of it.

Benedict’s mostly along to ground the viewer, to give them some connection to their expectations of familiar reality.

Of course, it eventually turns out there should not be any expectation of familiar reality and Arkin maybe isn’t so crazy.

Well, okay, he’s always going to be a little crazy.

Malick doesn’t mess around explaining Arkin and Miles might be a great character study if Zimmerman wasn’t playing it as a comedy. The script could go either way.

It’s very short and might even do better shorter. There’s this out of place prologue before Arkin meets up with Benedict and it’s dead weight, wholly unnecessary either to narrative or artistic impulse.

Zimmerman’s direction is quite good, particularly how he handles the long driving sequences and the relationship between Arkin and Benedict.

It’s a singular, mildly rewarding film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; written by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Eve Newman and George Hively; music by Dave Dudley and Jimmie Haskell; produced by Tony Bill and Zimmerman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Cooper), Paul Benedict (Hitchhiker), Hector Elizondo (Duke), Oliver Clark (Durazno), Charles Durning (Truck Driver in Cafe), Lawrence Wolf (Pineapple), Barnard Hughes (Old Man), William Duell (Auto Parts Salesman), Madison Arnold (Hostler), Loretta Swit (Woman with Glass Eye), and Bruce Bennett (Johnny Mesquitero), with special appearances by George Raft and Ida Lupino.


The Rocketeer (1991, Joe Johnston)

Joe Johnston never getting recognition for The Rocketeer astounds me. Johnston creates a perfect adventure film, a now neglected and abused genre. Additionally, Johnston never fetishizes the historical setting. The late 1930s, Nazis as villains setting is practically its own genre at this point (strange how after a half decade, there are so few choices of undeniable evil for storytellers to use–well, at least ones white Americans would care about), but The Rocketeer never lets it get goofy. Johnston lets other, familiar trappings of the era (at least as it’s celebrated in film)–the radio, the friends at the cafe–take precedent. The Rocketeer puts more stock in California oranges than the more sensational possibilities.

And this emphasis is in a film featuring the FBI teaming up with the mob to shoot it out with Nazis in the middle of Los Angeles.

Past Johnston, the beauty of The Rocketeer is in the script, which is odd, given the screenwriters’ other work. The film starts gradually, with a beautiful flight sequence (James Horner’s score, again highly derivative of his other scores, is essential and wonderful). Having Alan Arkin helps, the script’s still responsible for immediately establishing the characters. Only during the first forty-five minutes of the film is it unsure… it’s good, but it isn’t fantastic. The big problem is the attention given to Jennifer Connelly. She’s the girlfriend and she’s kind of there. The Rocketeer makes an odd choice of introducing she and Bill Campbell’s relationship to the viewer when it’s on shaky ground. And the viewer doesn’t know it’s on shaky ground.

And here again is where The Rocketeer is strange. That instability agitates the plot until all the elements meet–not a revolutionary process, but in The Rocketeer it isn’t about set pieces, it isn’t about melodrama, it’s about actual human concern. The film’s enthralled by the idea people care about each other and it’s infectious.

Eventually, Connelly becomes a leading lady. I was entirely unimpressed with her as the film started and the exact opposite when it ended. It’s kind of a cheat, since the viewer gets to see her become that lead. Connelly’s transition kicks off the film’s third act, which is the finest adventure film act I can think of. It’s absolutely perfect, doesn’t make a single wrong move.

Campbell’s good in the lead–making the goofball dreamer real while still endearing him. He and Connelly are great together (better as the narrative progresses and a sequel with them as leads would have been lovely). Arkin’s fantastic, he and Campbell have some great scenes. Terry O’Quinn’s also good as Howard Hughes. Where Campbell really succeeds, coming in a practical nobody with some (supporting) TV experience, is maintaining himself as the lead when he’s got to contend with Timothy Dalton. As the villain, Dalton’s incredible. In anything else, he would walk away with the picture.

Dalton gets a lot of help from the script–there’s stuff in here I couldn’t believe I was hearing under a Disney Pictures banner. The script’s got some great dialogue and a lot of Disney-unfriendly one-liners. Dalton gets almost all of them. But the script’s also got a lot of discrete sensitivity and some wonderful little details.

I was concerned with The Rocketeer, not having seen it in ten years and the film’s online supporters waning in recent years. Even with the strong filmmaking, the narrative seemed troubled. It never occurred to me it might just be a real script.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, story by Bilson, De Meo and William Dear, based on the graphic novel by Dave Stevens; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by Arthur Schmidt; music by James Horner; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Charles Gordon and Lloyd Levin; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Bill Campbell (Cliff), Jennifer Connelly (Jenny), Alan Arkin (Peevy), Timothy Dalton (Neville Sinclair), Paul Sorvino (Eddie Valentine), Terry O’Quinn (Howard Hughes), Ed Lauter (Fitch), James Handy (Wolinski), Tiny Ron (Lothar), Jon Polito (Otis Bigelow), Eddie Jones (Malcolm the Mechanic), William Sanderson (Skeets), Don Pugsley (Goose), Nada Despotovich (Irma) and Margo Martindale (Millie).


Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

Calling Little Miss Sunshine an independent film–regardless of its Fox Searchlight banner at the front–is a misnomer. While the financing might not have come through the traditional channels, it’s got a very high profile cast and its content is about on par with, say, Miramax films of the late 1990s, which means it’s on par with non-Miramax films of every year before 1996 or so. Whenever everyone else gave up. It’s a very traditional story. It doesn’t introduce any new filmmaking techniques and the very nice and effective editing style is probably about forty years old. Maybe even longer, I was only taking Hollywood movies into account.

But–we don’t get to see movies like Little Miss Sunshine much anymore. Independent movies with every adult in this cast–with the exception of Steve Carell I think–go straight to video. All the time. There are a bunch from reasonably well-known filmmakers starring well-known sitting on a shelf in a film can right now. So, a Little Miss Sunshine, with its good writing, good acting, good direction, stands out. It ought to be the norm (and would have been ten years ago) for a adult comedy. I thought about genre a little while watching it and American Pie ushered in new genre labels and Little Miss Sunshine, as IMDb so clearly states is a “comedy / drama.” But it’s not. One of those Alan Arkin scenes is enough to classify it firmly as a comedy.

Why am I saying so little about the film itself? Well, it’s a well-written comedy. There are some too long scenes and some of the plotting is off, but those little things are expected. How’s the acting? Why am I using rhetorical questions (I’m tired). Gee… Toni Collette is great, Alan Arkin is great (though, with the exception of some choice monologues, he’s been playing this role for ten years plus), Greg Kinnear is great. They’re great actors. Steve Carell was initially surprisingly good, but he’s so good I got comfortable with him real fast and am now upset he’s making crappy Hollywood movies. He ought to be doing something else. The kids, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin, are both really good, but it didn’t occur to me they wouldn’t be good. Little Miss Sunshine is unexceptionally solid. Like I said, it’s what the expected norm for a film starring the people it stars, released by the studio releasing, should be.

That all said… I do think it was a little unfair not to let the viewer get to see Alan Arkin wreck havoc on the beauty pageant organizer.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; written by Michael Arndt; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Pamela Martin; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Greg Kinnear (Richard), Toni Collette (Sheryl), Steve Carell (Frank), Paul Dano (Dwayne), Abigail Breslin (Olive) and Alan Arkin (Grandpa).


Magicians (2000, James Merendino)

Supposedly, Magicians came out on DVD (pan and scanned), then disappeared as the releasing company went under. Merendino shot it Panavision, so there was some painful cropping. It’s still possible to see some of what Merendino was doing, but sometimes I just had to imagine how much more effective it would be. Merendino’s a filmmaker who does more with his money than John Carpenter did back in the late 1970s, which is an incredible feat. Merendino knows how to make things work and if I weren’t aware of that ability, I wouldn’t have been looking for the signs and I wouldn’t have found them.

Much of Magicians is an absurd comedy about a great pick-pocket, played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio, and a lousy magician, played by Til Schweiger. They go on the road to Vegas, learning their act on the way, assisted by trainer Alan Arkin and Claire Forlani. Maybe what won me over (not really, it happened to far in) was the scene where all of them are laughing. It’s obvious the actors are laughing, mostly at Arkin, who’s hilarious. Bentivoglio has the leading man role and he does a great job with it. Merendino loves conversation and Bentivoglio has some great scenes because of that emphasis. As for Claire Forlani… her work in Magicians made me reevaluate my opinion of her. I kept stopping myself, realizing it was really Claire Forlani (she has short hair instead of the regular long–and her acting is good). Only Schweiger is bad. He’s funny at the beginning, but he gets old fast. Even though Magicians is absurd, his handle on the character is just too loose. And his uncanny resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio only makes things worse. The character does have a great scene at the beginning–before it’s revealed he’s a bit of a twit, which Schweiger can’t handle–and one towards the end, when he has to stop acting like a twit.

Merendino’s script is deceptively simple. It’s inventive and intelligent, giving perfect little moments to characters–Arkin in particular. When it gets to the end, after some really funny scenes and some great low budget filmmaking, Magicians has developed into a touching story about friendship. Then, for the close–which is great–it finally becomes about magic. And wonderment. It’s a great close. It’s appalling this film doesn’t have an acceptable DVD release.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Merendino; director of photography, Thomas L. Callaway; edited by Esther P. Russell; music by Elmo Weber; produced by Sam Maydew and Peter Ward; released by Pop Art Films.

Starring Til Schweiger (Max), Claire Forlani (Lydia), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Hugo), Alan Arkin (Milo), Chi McBride (Tom) and Christopher McDonald (Jake).


Scroll to Top