Alan Rickman

Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton)

Alice in Wonderland has a number of balls in the air at once and director Burton–though he does show a good sense of them each while in focus–can’t seem to bring them together successfully. The potentially unifying elements–like Danny Elfman’s score or Mia Wasikowska in the lead–both fall short. For whatever reason, Burton doesn’t have Elfman design the score to be memorable; even when it’s competent, it just reminds of better Danny Elfman scores. As for Wasikowska, who’s utterly phenomenal whether she’s in nineteenth century England or the titular Wonderland, the film loses her too often.

And that loss of Wasikowska, even though it’s always to bring in the assorted cast of Wonderland, kills the film’s momentum. Alice has a very standard plot–Wasikowska has an unpleasant future waiting for her in reality, will her experiences in Wonderland somehow edify and empower her to deal with them? Even though it’s Alice in Wonderland, it often feels like Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton wish they were making Dorothy in Oz.

But when Wasikowska is on screen, she’s able to sell Wonderland’s generic journey. She’s got able assistance too. Johnny Depp turns the Mad Hatter into a wonderful character, acting against his makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Red Queen. Both Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are painfully affected but they’re always opposite someone great so it doesn’t matter too much.

Wonderland’s a moderate success, but should have been a much greater one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar).


Blow Dry (2001, Paddy Breathnach)

At ninety minutes and change, Blow Dry is too short. Given the complexities of the ground situation’s character relationships and then the character’s arcs throughout the picture, it could easily run two and a half hours.

The concept, which at first blush seems sensational but turns out not to be, has Natasha Richardson and Rachel Griffiths as a couple who own a salon in a small English town. Alan Rickman–as Richardson’s ex-husband–has a barber shop with their son, played by Josh Hartnett. Rickman doesn’t speak to the two women (whose business is next to his) and Hartnett’s got a dysfunctional relationship with both parents, not to mention Griffiths.

The beauty parts of Blow Dry come when these characters have to get together and sort it out. Sadly, it only happens once as a group but it’s an amazing scene. The little scenes when a couple come together are always good, but there’s never enough of it. The film’s MacGuffin is a hair cutting competition in the small town and a lot of time goes towards it. Too much, but those scenes are still pretty well done.

They just aren’t sublime.

Richardson and Griffiths are outstanding. Rickman’s good (though he has little to do). Hartnett occasionally loses his accent, but his earnestness holds the performance together. As the bad guy hair dresser, Bill Nighy is great. As Nighy’s daughter (and Hartnett’s love interest), Rachael Leigh Cook is awful.

It’s busy and loud but quite funny and genuinely sincere.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paddy Breathnach; written by Simon Beaufoy; director of photography, Cian de Buitléar; edited by Tony Lawson; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Sophie Becher; produced by William Horberg, Ruth Jackson and David Rubin; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Natasha Richardson (Shelley), Alan Rickman (Phil), Rachel Griffiths (Sandra), Josh Hartnett (Brian), Bill Nighy (Ray Robertson), Hugh Bonneville (Louis), Rachael Leigh Cook (Christina Robertson), Warren Clarke (Tony) and Rosemary Harris (Daisy).


Galaxy Quest (1999, Dean Parisot)

I can’t imagine not liking Galaxy Quest, but I suppose appreciating it does require on a certain level of previous knowledge. I can’t imagine how it plays to people who aren’t familiar with “Star Trek,” not to mention knowing William Shatner’s an egomaniac and “Trek” fans have big, weird conventions. Having some passing knowledge of cheesy late seventies science fiction shows wouldn’t hurt either (Sigourney Weaver’s character doesn’t have a “Star Trek” analog).

By creating the animosity between Tim Allen (as the Shatner analog) and the rest of the cast, the film sets up a really simple proposition—there’s no deep redemption here, he just has to stop being such a dip. And whisking them off to space to fight an intergalactic despot, it seems like a non-dip move.

Galaxy Quest is very assured. The details are important, not the characters. They’re funnier as caricatures and some deep human reality doesn’t have a place. By casting Allen opposite Weaver and Alan Rickman, the filmmakers create a wonderfully playful disconnect. It’s absurd and creates a great atmosphere.

All of the acting is excellent—Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub are phenomenal. Both are perfectly casted for the roles—the writing is strongest at creating these funny people to watch. Only Daryl Mitchell “suffers,” but not really. He just doesn’t have enough to do.

Parisot does a good job. It’s all very professional, never letting himself get in the way of the actors.

The special effects are excellent.

It’s a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dean Parisot; screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon, based on a story by Howard; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by David Newman; production designer, Linda DeScenna; produced by Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane), Tony Shalhoub (Fred Kwan), Sam Rockwell (Guy Fleegman), Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber), Enrico Colantoni (Mathesar), Robin Sachs (Sarris), Patrick Breen (Quellek), Missi Pyle (Laliari), Jed Rees (Teb) and Justin Long (Brandon).


Galaxy Quest: 20th Anniversary The Journey Continues (1999, Chris Harty)

It’s hard to unravel the layers of this television special. It’s supposed to be a promotion for the Galaxy Quest movie—but from the reality there was a show. It’s not clear if the movie promoted is the actual movie (where the sci-fi TV actors actually go to space) or if it’s some other movie. If it’s the first, it’s another layer of spoof. Or it’s one less.

Most of the special has nothing to do with the movie, thankfully (because those sections get confusing), and concentrate on the fictional history of the television show. It’s basically like the first “Star Trek” series, only bad.

Most of the film’s principals show up, in character, to give interviews; those are the special’s strongpoints. Tim Allen is a natural acting like an ass, but Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman clowning? They’re amazing.

Unfortunately, Daryl Mitchell isn’t very good.

It’s real funny.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Chris Harty; written by Andy Marx; edited by Richard Erbeznik; released by E!: Entertainment Television.

Starring Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane), Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber), Sam Rockwell (Guy Fleegman) and Stan Winston (Stan Winston).


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, Kevin Reynolds), the extended version

It’s sort of amazing how little personality Kevin Reynolds brings to Robin Hood. I suppose his direction is adequate, but his shots are absent any creativity. Of course, maybe the shots were very creative and then Michael Kamen’s score–a combining, for the most part, of his Die Hard and Lethal Weapon scores–came in and ruined it all.

There are strong elements to the film. Alan Rickman, in the other major Die Hard connection, takes the idea of a sinister villain and turns him instead into comic relief, while maintaining the villainous attitude. Reynolds’s best direction is of Rickman, as Reynolds seems to understand what he’s doing.

Morgan Freeman, Nick Brimble and Michael Wincott are all good. Freeman’s Moor among the Englishmen is some of the script’s sillier developments (oh, wait, I forgot Geraldine McEwan’s witch).

Christian Slater is bad; Michael McShane’s Friar Tuck is weak.

As for the leads–Kevin Costner is appealing enough, if way too old to be playing the character as written. And then there’s the issue of his hair–he’d need a hair stylist in Sherwood Forest every day to get that bouffant style going. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio disappears for long stretches (the film’s too long by about a half hour but the script’s structure needs time to play out) but she’s fine. She’s not in it enough to really make an impression.

Robin Hood’s generally a tolerable blockbuster. Better composition–and consistent photography (Douglas Milsome is all over the place)–would have helped.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson, based on a story by Densham; director of photography, Douglas Milsome; edited by Peter Boyle; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Densham, Watson and Richard Barton Lewis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Robin Hood), Morgan Freeman (Azeem), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marian Dubois), Christian Slater (Will Scarlett), Alan Rickman (Sheriff George of Nottingham), Geraldine McEwan (Mortianna), Michael McShane (Friar Tuck), Brian Blessed (Lord Locksley), Michael Wincott (Guy of Gisborne) and Nick Brimble (Little John).


Dogma (1999, Kevin Smith)

I have a hard time identifying my biggest problem with Dogma. Is it the lack of good narrative? Smith’s script, which does have some very funny scenes in it, is one of the worst attempts at an epical plot I’ve ever seen. It’s inept. It’s pat. Combined with some of the terrible performances, the whole thing feels like a made-for-the-internet video, the kind of thing someone would have done for cheap as an online video, but with his or her famous friends (giving bad performances). The big dramatic scenes are terrible, the one liners tend to work… a lot of the problem is the acting, and Smith’s inability to recognize his own terrible direction. He shoots Dogma widescreen (sort of, he shot in Super 35 and framed it to his liking… maybe a less wide presentation would have been better) and doesn’t know how to compose for it. With Dogma, Smith was directing his fourth feature film. One would think he would know at least how to do a decent composition with that aspect ratio. At least a workman composition. He doesn’t.

The acting. Maybe the way to start is listing the people who give an okay or better performance in Dogma. Matt Damon, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin. I supposed Bud Cort does a fine job, as do Clerks stars Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson. The rest? The rest of the cast give terrible, pedestrian, amateurish performances. Dogma‘s a disaster in terms of acting. Of the remainder, Chris Rock’s at least funny. He gives a terrible performance, it’s hard to even call what he’s doing acting, but at least he’s funny. Ben Affleck’s awful. How Smith didn’t notice he was terrible during filming is beyond belief. Affleck’s just mugging–the problem is mostly with Smith’s script, which is a bunch of speeches, there are no characters, except Damon’s. Smith also gets a bad performance out of Linda Fiorentino, which I wasn’t sure was possible, but he does it. Gold star for him that day! Jason Lee’s terrible. He’s so unfunny I watched his scenes wondering if his agent used clips from Dogma on audition reels. I doubt it. Salma Hayek’s performance is one of the worst in any major motion picture I can think of. I suppose Alanis Morissette’s fine, thinking about it.

Robert D. Yeoman’s photography is atrocious. He’s actually a great cinematographer and has shot a lot of far more complex films–for Wes Anderson for instance–so obviously the problem’s Smith. Big shock. Can’t compose for Panavision aspect ratio nor can he properly convey instructions to his cinematographer–Dogma, which wasn’t shot on a credit card, looks cheaper than many horror directors’ early projects (for example, The Evil Dead and Braindead look a lot more finished).

My wife says I don’t like Dogma because I don’t get all the religious references. Those are fine, but they’re parsley. They’re parsley on a moldy corn dog.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kevin Smith; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Scott Mosier and Smith; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Mosier; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bartleby), Matt Damon (Loki), Linda Fiorentino (Bethany Sloane), Jason Mewes (Jay), Chris Rock (Rufus), Alan Rickman (Metatron), Jason Lee (Azrael), Salma Hayek (Serendipity), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob), Janeane Garofalo (Liz), George Carlin (Cardinal Ignatius Glick), Alanis Morissette (God), Brian O’Halloran (Grant Hicks) and Bud Cort (John Doe Jersey).


Bottle Shock (2008, Randall Miller)

I have to make a disclosure. I try to drink the highest Robert Parker rated wine I can afford. They’ve tended to be French. Actually, I think they’ve all been French. But whatever.

Because Bottle Shock seems rather like advertising for Napa Valley wine, so much so, I’d love to see who financed it. There should have been a disclosure (one way or the other), it’s so much of a commercial. And as a commercial, Bottle Shock does a fine job. It’s a good impression of one of those charming, Miramax-released little comedy dramas from the late 1990s. Some of these also even starred Alan Rickman. It’s got a reasonably appealing cast (in the Miramax version, the actors would be better known) and it’s a diverting couple hours.

Where Bottle Shock fails as a film is having real characters or real drama. In fact, it runs away from ever having either. The inevitable American win is foretold in the opening voiceover (the film’s use of voiceover is inane, but I guess they had a bunch of helicopter shots of Napa Valley and didn’t want to subject the viewer to any more of composer Mark Adler’s gratingly affable theme music)–there’s no suspense when it comes to the actual tasting. At best, the film could have shown the French response… instead, it’s barely implied. Having Rickman be the pseudo-Frenchman of the film (a francophile Brit) is, regardless of historical accuracy, not very filmic. The wine tasting is also cut in half–the film only shows the half relating to the film’s story, which makes certain subplots entirely wasted.

But the film also forgets about a lot. Take Freddy Rodriguez’s proud vineyard worker slash winemaker who briefly romances Rachael Taylor (who’s bad, but nowhere near as atrocious as usual and far better than Eliza Dushku, who has a glorified cameo) and fights bigotry where he finds it. Rodriguez plays a big part in the beginning, but then disappears. Chris Pine–as Pullman’s son–takes over the focus, as well as Taylor’s affections. The scene where Rodriguez and Taylor resolve their romance is missing, presumably cut to give Pine (the man who will be Kirk) more screen time.

Pine’s not bad. He’s not particularly good, either, but every single character in the film is so poorly written, it’s impossible to tell what he’d do. Actually, all signs are positive. He and Pullman do have one or two honest scenes; the movie’s so blissfully mediocre, it’s impossible to fault it for not being better.

Pullman and Rickman–and Dennis Farina–phone in their performances but they’re all excellent at what they’re doing. Rickman makes fun of being British, Farina makes a Chicago reference, and Pullman is sturdy but complicated. All things they’ve been doing for fifteen years. Bottle Shock should be Pine or Rodriguez’s film (Rodriguez is a tad broad however), but the script doesn’t allow it. The movie’s got to be about advertising that Napa Valley wine, not the characters. The end text reminds these are real people in the story and presumably bound to faithful retelling… it just doesn’t make their stories interesting. The characters, like I said before, are terrible–they’re out of TV commercials.

Randall Miller’s direction is annoying. He’s got some big cranes and a lot of helicopters and uses them all the time. He shoots the movie Panavision–I’m hoping to get the expanse of the vineyards in frame–but then does shaky handheld for conversation scenes. It adds to the movie’s air of incompetence. It’s not a charming air either.

Failing comparisons to those Miramax low budget charmers aside, Bottle Shock isn’t awful and it’s diverting enough. If it were a television movie, it’d probably be exceptional. Well, maybe if it were on USA or something, it’d be exceptional. I just wish they’d given some of the fine actors–Miguel Sandoval’s in it and I don’t even want to talk about the tiny (but wonderfully acted) Bradley Whitford appearance–characters to play instead of advertising to deliver.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Miller; screenplay by Miller, Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz, based on a story by Schwartz, Lannette Pabon, Savin and Miller; director of photography, Mike Ozier; edited by Miller and Dan O’Brien; music by Mark Adler; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Miller, Savin, J. Todd Harris, Marc Toberoff, Brenda Lhormer and Marc Lhormer; released by Freestyle Releasing.

Starring Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett), Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier), Chris Pine (Bo Barrett), Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo Brambila), Rachael Taylor (Sam Clayton), Dennis Farina (Maurice Cantavale), Miguel Sandoval (Garcia), Eliza Dushku (Joe), Bradley Whitford (Professor Saunders) and Joe Regalbuto (Bill).


Love Actually (2003, Richard Curtis)

Richard Curtis–I think–said he wrote Love Actually from all his unused ideas. Just threw them into the oven and baked them together. To some degree, it shows. Unlike the usual big cast films, with lots of incidental meetings and relationships (as P.T. Anderson wrote, these things “happen all the time”), Love Actually is very loose. The characters are connected by thin contrivances and a school play. Curtis is very visibly not working with themes here or making any insightful observations into the human condition.

Amusingly, though its thesis is… well, love is all around and people in love are filled with superhuman perseverance and fortitude, Love Actually… actually disproves its own thesis. In a couple ways. The most visible is the breaking marriage between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Rickman’s got a wandering eye and, strangely, Curtis never tells the viewer how wrong he goes… which means it’s impossible to know where he or Thompson are at the end of the film. It’s intentional and cheap and, if either character were particularly effective–except the Thompson composing herself to Joni Mitchell scene–it would hurt the film. The second is more discreet. An utterly wasted Laura Linney is caring for her mentally ill brother. And how does she end up? How does Mr. Right respond to this news? By being a twerp. Curtis seems to have noticed too, because he just abandons Linney at the end.

Of all the stories–there are, I guess, eight–the most effective (as in, worthy of feature length treatment… something other big cast, lots of story line films never suggest) are Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon and Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz.

The Grant and McCutcheon story is awesome–Grant’s the new prime minister, she serves him tea. It’s got Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters, it’s McCutcheon’s wonderful delivery of unintentional curses; it’s touching and their chemistry is wonderful. Throw in some more political turmoil and it’s a feature.

Firth and Moniz–he’s a lovelorn thriller novelist and she’s his maid (he’s in France writing, which looks incredibly civilized)–have a bit more comedic story going. Neither speaks the other’s language and, while the humor’s cheap, it’s very funny. Firth’s perfect in the role. So, figure he has a funny editor waiting for the novel and a family who would like a Portuguese daughter-in-law. Another feature.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, it’s hard to tell how it’d be much different), Curtis cheaps out big time on the Liam Neeson bonding with his stepson following the mother’s death. It’s the best work Neeson has done in years, but the story quickly becomes about the kid impressing a girl at school and Curtis gives Neeson the biggest copout ending in the world.

I suppose Bill Nighy, in a crazy, hilarious performance as an old rock star deserves his own paragraph but he’s not going to get one. The Nighy story is great, giving the film some much needed texture (the other characters watching Nighy on TV, for instance, ring a lot truer than the convenient school musical). There’s a lot more stuff, both funny and not so much (Curtis frequently confuses sincerely touching and melodramatic).

It’s a solid film, lots of problems, lots of good things, but it’s very unambitious. I’m left wanting more Firth and Moniz, more Grant and McCutcheon and… a) unlike Curtis’s other romantic comedies, it’s a weeding to see either again and b) I really shouldn’t be wanting them. It’s just another sign the film is not a successful ensemble picture, it’s just a bunch of disparate elements, good and not so good, strung awkwardly together.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Curtis; director of photography, Michael Coulter; edited by Nick Moore; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Duncan Kenworthy; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alan Rickman (Harry), Bill Nighy (Billy Mack), Colin Firth (Jamie), Emma Thompson (Karen), Hugh Grant (The Prime Minister), Laura Linney (Sarah), Liam Neeson (Daniel), Martine McCutcheon (Natalie), Heike Makatsh (Mia), Rowan Atkinson (Rufus), Lúcia Moniz (Aurelia), Martin Freeman (John), Joanna Page (Just Judy), Andrew Lincoln (Mark), Keira Knightley (Juliet) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peter).


Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

Talking about Die Hard is complicated for lots of reasons. Besides Aliens, I think it’s the best popular action film ever made and, given when it came out, it’s very familiar. It shouldn’t be full of surprises and, in many ways, is not (though Theo and Karl having a bet on Takagi is something new to me. So instead, when watching it, it’s an appreciatory experience, rather than a–it’s still critical, but since I’m not looking to assign a value, since I know the value, I’m trying to understand how it works.

Die Hard features brutal, terrible villains. Not at all likable, but there’s almost a Helsinki syndrome with them. Theo’s funny, Karl’s crazy, Hans is great to watch. The bad guys prove more entertaining than the “good guys,” with the standard exceptions of Willis and Reginald VelJohnson. That level is always in the film, regardless of what number viewing a person is having. The “Die Hard on a dot dot dot” action movie, which has almost become every action movie (except, oddly the last two Die Hard sequels), ignores the most interesting parts of the film. Villains who are fun to watch not because of their villainy, but because the characters are bad, but entertaining. There’s also the question of the short present action. The movie starts with Willis getting there and ends with him leaving. The situation (Willis visiting estranged wife) provides for a perfect exploration of the characters, without needless exposition.

But there’s also the developing relationships through the film. The dumb cop eventually becoming… friendly (only after the dumber FBI agents show up). McTiernan directs a confined story better than anyone I can think of–because he inserts the viewer in the building with the characters… But the viewer isn’t tied down to Willis, the viewer gets to move….

There’s an element of privilege to the film. Lots of the moments Willis gets–the quiet ones–are privileged moments (which makes the lack of respect for his acting at this point in his career a tad surprising), but they don’t compare to some of the other ones. Like when Bedelia sees her practically demolished husband at the end. Just her expression brings Die Hard to a level of reality, even with the jokes, even with explosions, very few films–none featuring off-duty cops with automatic weapons–ever reach. The film encompasses the viewer in a singular way, something none of the imitators (or sequels) could duplicate.

Obviously, Rickman is outstanding and Willis is great–the most interesting thing about the two is the lack of desperate struggle. By giving Willis Alexander Godunov as a nemesis, his relationship with Rickman becomes far more interesting. Godunov is, of course, a joy to watch.

I think the only acting surprise was De’voreaux White, who I never think about doing a great job, but does.

McTiernan’s never duplicated the quality, influence or depth of Die Hard–the understanding of people relating to one another–but then, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have never even come close… because another sterling aspect of the film is the conversations between the characters.

I didn’t do a particularly good job with this post but I don’t have to. Because Die Hard is, to quote a friend (on a different subject), undeniable. And because, once the experience is over… it’s hard to talk about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, based on a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Alexander Godunov (Karl), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennero McClane), Paul Gleason (Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), De’voreaux White (Argyle), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis), Dennis Hayden (Eddie), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Theo), James Shigeta (Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), Robert Davi (FBI Special Agent Johnson) and Grand L. Bush (FBI Agent Johnson).


The January Man (1989, Pat O’Connor)

People hate The January Man, just hate it. It’s famous for being hated, in fact. It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember real bile about. Dune’s another one, but Dune deserves it. The January Man gets a lot of it because it’s from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, that screenwriting whirlwind behind Congo and Moonstruck. Oh, Moonstruck, that Academy Award-winning overrated embarrassment. Going after The January Man so hard–saying it’s unbelievable Shanley wrote this one and that one–provides an excuse… The January Man is about well-written as Moonstruck and it’s about as well as Shanley can write.

I started it with an open mind, I really did. I thought maybe I was wrong about Shanley and I was all set to hurry to watch Moonstruck and queue up John Versus the Volcano. But I wasn’t wrong about Shanley. When I saw Susan Sarandon’s name, I assumed she would be terrible–I was wrong, she’s solidly mediocre. When I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s name, I assumed the same and I was much wronger. And wronger is a word, I thought it might not be. Mastrantonio is excellent in the movie. She gives, easily, the best performance and now I’m thinking about queuing a couple of her movies.

It’s not well-written, the mystery is uninterestingly investigated, and the character melodramas are pat and standard and were tired in 1933. Man in love with his brother’s wife and, oh, what a shock, turns out the bad brother framed the good brother and on and on. When Wallace Beery made these movies, there were at least guns.

It being an incredibly standard exercise, The January Man is actually believably set in New York City and that facet makes–by today’s standards, when Hollywood shoots LA for New York–somewhat unique. It’s a welcome aspect, I suppose.

Kevin Kline’s not particularly good. He has accent in some scenes and in other ones he does not, but he carries the film. He’s particularly bad whenever he and Mastrantonio talk about her being so young (at thirty she’s playing Hollywood twenty-three) and their romance is only made palatable by her performance. Kline’s best when he’s bickering with Danny Aiello (who gets the film’s worst dialogue) and Harvey Keitel (who gets the film’s lamest character… well, him or Sarandon).

Rod Steiger’s not particularly good, but he’s real funny–the movie tries to be a comedy but Shanley wrote it, so it isn’t funny… Alan Rickman has a little bit more fun, with only two really terrible lines, which is quite an achievement in this film. Brian Tarantina has a small role, but he’s good.

The big problem with the film is the present action. It takes place over five days, in which time, Kline–in three nicely directed scenes–learns more about the case he’s been on for twenty hours than the entire NYPD did in a year. It’s convenient. It’s all contrived and all convenient.

But it’s not that terrible.

And, except a handful of bad parts, Marvin Hamlisch’s score is nice.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Pat O’Connor; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kevin Kline (Nick Starkey), Susan Sarandon (Christine Starkey), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Bernadette Flynn), Harvey Keitel (Police Comissioner Frank Starkey), Danny Aiello (Captain Vincent Alcoa), Rod Steiger (Mayor Eamon Flynn), Alan Rickman (Ed), Faye Grant (Alison Hawkins), Kenneth Welsh (Roger Culver), Jayne Haynes (Alma), Brian Tarantina (Cone), Bruce MacVittie (Rip) and Bill Cobbs (Detective Reilly).


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