Alan Silvestri

Flight of the Navigator (1986, Randal Kleiser)

Flight of the Navigator works on a principal of delayed charm; eventually, it’s got to be charming, right? No, no, it doesn’t. The film’s a series of false starts. The only thing approaching a pay-off is Paul Reubens–voicing an alien spaceship–going into a riff on his “Pee-Wee” routine. It’s not even a good routine. Worse, the film wastes kid lead Joey Cramer’s substantial likability. He’s not great, but he’s not annoying. He’s always sympathetic. Well, until the idiotic conclusion.

Navigator runs ninety minutes. Almost the first hour is about Cramer, missing for eight years, returning to his family. Only Cramer’s the same age; what happened in those missing eight years. For some reason, Howard Hesseman’s NASA scientist thinks it’s got to be linked to the alien spaceship they just discovered. Flight of the Navigator takes place over like three days. The film does a weak job establishing the characters, even weaker after it jumps forward eight years, so it’s hard to sympathize with anyone. You’re not supposed to sympathize with Hesseman, who’s just a jerk. He’s incredibly miscast.

Most of the acting is fine. Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright have thin parts as Cramer’s parents, but they’re both fine. Matt Adler’s kind of weak as his now older brother, but with the script, it’s not like Adler was going to be able to do anything with it. Same goes for Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s basically just around to gently flirt with twelve-year-old Cramer and explain the eighties to him.

Technically, the film approaches competent. Director Kleiser tries for grandiose with the first half and fails, but has more success once the spaceship comes into it. Alan Silvestri’s music is lacking. Nothing else stands out. I mean, James Glennon’s photography is boring, but it isn’t bad.

While Flight of the Navigator is still about Cramer reappearing after eight years, it has a far amount of potential. Even during some of the last third’s special effects sequence, it has some left. It’s dwindling, but it’s still there. Until the lame finish, which lacks any dramatic heft. The film’s not long enough and the script’s not good enough to make Cramer’s adventure resonate. Flight of the Navigator could have run fifteen minutes and had the same dramatic impact. It’s slight and not diverting enough.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus, based on a story by Mark H. Baker; director of photography, James Glennon; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, William J. Creber; produced by Robert Wald and Dimitri Villard; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Joey Cramer (David Freeman), Cliff De Young (Bill Freeman), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Freeman), Matt Adler (Jeff), Sarah Jessica Parker (Carolyn McAdams), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Louis Faraday) and Paul Reubens (Max).


Romancing the Stone (1984, Robert Zemeckis)

So much of Romancing the Stone is perfect, when the film has bumps, they stand out. Even worse, it closes on one of those bumps. The finale is so poorly handled, one has to wonder if it’s the result of a rewrite.

Anyway, on to the glowing stuff.

The film’s a technical marvel. Zemeckis’s Panavision composition juggles the story’s action, its character moments and the beautiful scenery. Plus, he’s got Dean Cundey shooting the film. It’s stunning to watch; there’s not a single unrewarding shot.

But Zemeckis also gets how to integrate the humor. Even when the characters are in danger–for example, when villain Manuel Ojeda is fighting with protagonist Kathleen Turner–Zemeckis finds the right mix to make the threat viable yet comical side situations appropriate.

The same balance works for Danny DeVito and Zach Norman, who are also villains (Norman’s even scary sometimes), but they’re always hilarious. DeVito’s role in the film is just to give the audience something else to enjoy. Stone is big on its amusement value, starting in its first few moments with a good joke.

Turner’s excellent in the lead, though at some point her character arc about coming out of her shell thanks to Michael Douglas’s vaguely criminal, but still swashbuckling expat, falls through. It’s like a scene or three are missing.

Douglas has a lot of fun. DeVito’s hilarious. In small roles, both Alfonso Arau and Holland Taylor are outstanding. Especially Arau.

Plus, Alan Silvestri’s score’s infectious.

Stone‘s a great vacation.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Diane Thomas; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Donn Cambern and Frank Morriss; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Michael Douglas; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Douglas (Jack T. Colton), Kathleen Turner (Joan Wilder), Danny DeVito (Ralph), Zack Norman (Ira), Alfonso Arau (Juan), Manuel Ojeda (Zolo), Holland Taylor (Gloria), Mary Ellen Trainor (Elaine) and Eve Smith (Mrs. Irwin).


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Robert Zemeckis)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, even with the absolute mess of a final act, would have really benefited from a better director.

Oh, Zemeckis isn’t bad. With Dean Cundey shooting the film, it’d be hard for it to look bad and it doesn’t. But Zemeckis doesn’t–apparently–know how to bring all the elements together. The film opens as a Chinatown homage and sort of falls apart once it deviates from that model.

The big problem is Bob Hoskins, his performance and his character. The performance isn’t the fault of screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, but the fully contrived backstory for the character is sure their responsibility. Roger Rabbit‘s so diverting–the animation mixes beautifully with the live action and is always visually engaging–the end credits are rolling by the time it’s clear Hoskins’s character is more cartoonish than the cartoons.

Since any judgment about character development can be delayed, Hoskins’s performance is the film’s bigger problem. He’s charmless in a role more appropriate for Humphrey Bogart. He does, however, work really well (without speaking) during the cartoon effects.

The rest of the supporting cast is very strong–Christopher Lloyd and Joanna Cassidy are both excellent. Voicing the cartoon leads Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner do well… though there aren’t enough great lines from Turner. There are like four, which are all outstanding, but no more.

The derivative Alan Silvestri score gets old immediately and Arthur Schmidt’s editing is bad, but, otherwise, Roger Rabbit‘s fun stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; animation director, Richard Williams; screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, based on a novel by Gary K. Wolf; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designers, Roger Cain and Elliot Scott; produced by Frank Marshall and Robert Watts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit / Benny The Cab / Greasy / Psycho), Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom), Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit), Joanna Cassidy (Dolores), Alan Tilvern (R.K. Maroon), Stubby Kaye (Marvin Acme), Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman) and David L. Lander (Smart Ass).


The Abyss (1989, James Cameron), the special edition

Running almost three hours, the special edition of The Abyss manages to be too long in an interesting way. It forgets its story. There’s about an hour there with the valiant undersea oil workers battling the psychotic military man–there’s fight scenes and chase scenes and drama scenes and all sorts of scenes… just nothing about the movie’s actual story, which is something to do with space aliens saving the human race from itself. Cameron’s thesis is incredibly naive and also a fantastic cop-out. Thanks to some newsreel footage of Americans being asked about being on the brink with the Soviets, its clear Cameron puts all the blame for xenophobia on the military. It’s a very, very goofy move… and wholly lifted from 2010 (I think from both the book and the movie).

But The Abyss is highly derivative. Cameron borrows storytelling techniques from all the finest sources (Irwin Allen mostly) and comes up with a rather amusing, well-acted undersea action melodrama. It’s perfectly fine. Well, except Michael Biehn. As the nutso Navy SEAL, Biehn’s supposed to be suffering from the bends and, therefore, not responsible for going insane. Except, with a few exceptions, Cameron never goes and makes Biehn anything but a nutso jerk even before the insanity sets in. And Biehn doesn’t even try to work it in as a subtext. He’s the movie villain. He’s not all together bad, but he’s not good.

Almost every performance is excellent, otherwise (except Christopher Murphy, who Cameron appears to have cast from a weightlifting advertisement). In particular, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Both are good throughout, but it’s really at the end when they excel, when they’re acting by themselves. Harris can’t talk and does everything with his eyes, Mastrantonio can’t move and does everything in close-up with her voice. Spectacular acting from the two of them, so much so, when they finally to get back to regular scenes… Cameron’s script is a real letdown. Supporting-wise, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, Leo Burmester are all great in the most vocal (and funny) roles. John Bedford Lloyd is also good, in a much quieter part.

Cameron’s direction of groups is impressive, even if the editing doesn’t always match. He gives everyone something to do and, as he has lots of group shots, it makes The Abyss a congenial experience (which is why it doesn’t feel like three hours).

But the movie fails–thanks to Cameron’s goofy ending–when it should succeed. For a few moments, Cameron gets close to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then manages to screw it all up with his pedestrian plotting. He cut two scripts together–Ed Harris vs. Rambo underwater, underwater aliens make their presence known–and somehow, in three hours, didn’t achieve either.

I need to take a moment to comment on Alan Silvestri’s highly derivative (of his own work) score. There’s a lot of good material, but then there’s a lot of mediocre. And maybe even some bad.

So it fits The Abyss well, I suppose.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Cameron; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Joel Goodman, Howard E. Smith and Steven Quale; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Van Ling; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ed Harris (Bud), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey), Michael Biehn (Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish), Todd Graff (Hippy), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer), J.C. Quinn (Sonny), Kimberly Scott (One Night), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wilhite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Dick Warlock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Kirkhill) and Chris Elliott (Bendix).


The Mexican (2001, Gore Verbinski)

No kidding The Mexican has a lot of the same score as The Abyss, Alan Silvestri composed both… oddly, I didn’t even think he was working anymore (or even back when The Mexican came out). Besides the Abyss rips, he turns in a good, funny score. But anyway….

The Mexican is kind of strange and kind of not. The Brad Pitt without Julia Roberts half, the doofus’s adventures in Mexico, plays a lot like a Paul Newman movie from the 1970s, only not as good. Pitt, unlike Newman, can play a doofus though and he does a great job here. The Julia Roberts on the road with gay hit man James Gandolfini is actually the stranger part of the film, because it’s Julia Roberts in a role beneath her movie star stature. Her role’s the girlfriend and while she and Pitt are good together, it’s really not a big enough part for her.

The film’s quirky in its handling of its mega-stars (though Pitt is a lot more comfortable) and it almost seems like a smaller movie, until the last act when the surprise guest star pops in and The Mexican becomes the standard Hollywood movie Dreamworks had so much trouble making. It’s an excellent standard Hollywood movie too.

Gore Verbinski’s direction, much like the big movie stars, seems almost more than the script deserves. The Mexican‘s script is frequently way too cute for itself and way too contrived and it’s a shock no one thought to get a quick rewrite. John Sayles probably would have done wonders in a few weeks. But Verbinski really knows how to shoot Panavision, whether it’s conversation or action….

The other reason the film works is the casting. Pitt, Roberts and Gandolfini (Pitt does the most work in terms of range, though the performance is kind of like Twelve Monkeys, down to the mannerisms) are all good in the three biggest roles, but J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban, Richard Coca and David Krumholtz are essential in the primary supporting roles. It’s very well-cast.

The Mexican is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make any more and needs to… it’s unspectacularly okay.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gore Verbinski; written by J.H. Wyman; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Craig Wood; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Lawrence Bender and John Baldecchi; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Jerry), Julia Roberts (Samantha), James Gandolfini (Leroy), J.K. Simmons (Ted), Bob Balaban (Nayman), Sherman Augustus (Well Dressed Black Man), Michael Cerveris (Frank), Richard Coca (Car Thief #1) and David Krumholtz (Beck).


Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

I’m trying to remember why I queued Volcano. I’ve recently been on a “rediscovering the mid-to-late 1990s” kick, so that reason is possible, but I’m pretty sure it was because Anne Heche was in it and I wanted to go back to when she was going to have a great career. Heche is incredibly good and the lack of her presence in modern cinema is going on my (new, creating it right now in Excel or something) list of what’s wrong with modern film.

Volcano is from that wonderful era when CGI wasn’t as “good” as it is now, but still expensive enough to prohibit network TV from using it in excess (which is why the disaster genre is now all network mini-series). And Volcano has some terrible CGI, it has some terrible dialogue, it has some awful moments when people realize that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is the same….

It also has a great cast. Besides Heche, firstly, there’s Don Cheadle. This Cheadle is the pre-(semi)fame Cheadle who pops up in all Brett Ratner’s films. This Cheadle just acts and does it well, makes you like him too. It’s the wonderful 1990s Cheadle. I don’t know if he’s lost it with his notoriety, but he certainly picks a lot worse projects (his latest LA film, Crash, isn’t fit to scrub Volcano‘s toilet). Jacqueline Kim and Keith David make up the rest of the main supporting cast, playing a doctor and a cop, respectively (I think David was also a cop in Crash). David’s practically always good and Kim is–it’s just that she’s in almost no films. Gaby Hoffmann, who’s one of those child actors who shouldn’t have disappeared, shows up as Tommy Lee Jones’s kid and occasionally spouts off terrible dialogue.

Jones is fine (this film’s still from the era when Jones couldn’t be bad), but it’s one of those roles I kept wishing David Strathairn was playing. If you’ve never seen The River Wild, you wouldn’t understand, but Strathairn as an action hero is a wonderful thing.

(I keep forgetting about City of Hope, I really need a good widescreen City of Hope).

Volcano is nicely paced–it must run around one hundred minutes and there’s about forty of setup, then an hour of disaster. I’m not so much a sucker for disaster movies–the Irwin Allen variety, with the big casts, are all right I suppose–but I do like films with a limited storytelling span, especially if they are trying to “entertain” me. I was going to say that Mick Jackson is a fine enough director and should do TV, but he already does. It’s really sad when a movie like Volcano is more interesting than 99% of films coming out today.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Jackson; written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, based on a story by Armstrong; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Michael Tronick and Don Brochu; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jackson Degovia; produced by Neal H. Mortiz and Andrew Z. Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Mike Roark), Anne Heche (Dr. Amy Barnes), Gaby Hoffman (Kelly Roark), Don Cheadle (Emmit Reese), Jacqueline Kim (Dr. Jaye Calder), Keith David (Police Lieutenant Ed Fox), John Corbett (Norman Calder), Michael Rispoli (Gator Harris) and John Carroll Lynch (Stan Olber).


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