Alec Baldwin

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996, Phil Joanou)

I probably read Heaven’s Prisoners, the novel, about eighteen years ago; I don’t remember it. But I’m sure this adaptation is faithful to the events of the novel because this movie is a mess and there’s no good reason for it.

The novel can have space for a mystery and a character drama, but–at least under Joanou’s exceptionally bad direction–there’s no way the movie can have enough room. A decision needed to be made, whether they wanted to make a mystery, an alcoholism drama or a revenge thriller and no one seemed willing to make it. So instead of Heaven’s Prisoners, the film, succeeding, it fails.

It’s not a complete failure. Alec Baldwin is a problematic lead, but decent enough. Had he and nemesis Eric Roberts switched roles, the film would have been amazing, Joanou or not. Roberts is still great as a bad guy.

Also phenomenal–a word I rarely use–is Mary Stuart Masterson, who really gets the short end of the adaptation stick. In order to match the novel’s conclusion, the screenwriters fail her character. It really is one of the worst adaptations… the narrative structure, an abridging of the novel, is disastrous.

Bad acting from Kelly Lynch and laughably awful from Teri Hatcher make for painful scenes, but they don’t really do more damage than the direction.

Joanou somehow manages to suck the life out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s swamps, making them incredibly boring.

Inappropriate and bad music from George Fenton hurt it too.

It’s still worthwhile.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, based on the novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by William Steinkamp; music by George Fenton; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Leslie Greif, Andre Morgan and Albert S. Ruddy; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Dave Robicheaux), Kelly Lynch (Annie Robicheaux), Mary Stuart Masterson (Robin Gaddis), Eric Roberts (Bubba Rocque), Teri Hatcher (Claudette Rocque), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Minos P. Dautrieve), Badja Djola (Batist), Samantha Lagpacan (Alafair), Joe Viterelli (Didi Giancano), Tuck Milligan (Jerry Falgout), Hawthorne James (Victor Romero), Don Stark (Eddie Keats), Carl A. McGee (Toot) and Paul Guilfoyle (Det. Magelli).


It’s Complicated (2009, Nancy Meyers)

It’s not difficult to come up with compliments for It’s Complicated. Alec Baldwin is very funny. Unfortunately, he’s very funny playing a slight variant on his character from “30 Rock.” Similarly, John Krasinski is very affable. Unfortunately, he too is simply playing a variation on his “Office” character. The film is from Universal (or NBC Universal) and both those television shows air on NBC. One almost has to wonder.

Without the two of them, there might be a somewhat silly but still sincere divorce romance for Meryl Streep and the ludicrously second-billed Steve Martin (if anyone ever deserved an “and” credit, it’s Martin in this film). Both of them turn in solid, nearly believable performances.

If Meyers had wanted the film to be serious, I’m not just sure she could have handled it, I’m sure she could have handled it well. Instead, It’s Complicated feels like something spun out of “The View.” Streep appearing in this film is even more absurd than her appearing in Mamma Mia! Martin’s on par, but he’s still at least acting his character, not just acting a character from his tv show. Though his–and the film’s–best moment is when he’s a wild and crazy guy.

Meyers started her career as an amazing director. It’s hard to tell if she still has those skills. Most of her composition is for home video, wasting John Toll’s cinematography. However, it’s editors Joe Hutshing and David Moritz who do the most damage overall. It’s hideously edited.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Joe Hutshing and David Moritz; music by Hans Zimmer and Heitor Pereira; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Meyers and Scott Rudin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Meryl Streep (Jane), Steve Martin (Adam), Alec Baldwin (Jake), Lake Bell (Agness), John Krasinski (Harley), Rita Wilson (Trisha), Mary Kay Place (Joanne), Alexandra Wentworth (Diane) and Hunter Parrish (Luke).


The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


The Last Shot (2004, Jeff Nathanson)

The Last Shot is a comedy–and a funny one–but I’m not sure it qualifies as a story. It’s an idea for a movie–the FBI fakes producing a movie to catch mobsters, hiring Hollywood wannabes without telling them–but Nathanson’s execution of the idea is flawed. Alec Baldwin’s FBI agent is lying to would-be director Matthew Broderick for the entire movie and Nathanson expects the audience to think it’s funny. He mistreats his characters, not because they deserve it (though he does give Broderick an unimportant deception late in the film–Baldwin’s clear except the whole faking a movie production), but because he can move the story and get laughs out of it. The beginning, thanks to Baldwin’s excellent performance, suggests the film’s going to be a lot better than it turns out, but once Calista Flockhart shows up screaming obscenities (look everyone, Ally McBeal swearing), it’s pretty obvious Nathanson’s really cheap.

But it’s still a Hollywood comedy–that inane (but watchable) genre, which has produced maybe one good film in the last twenty years–and Nathanson is funny. He gets Joan Cusack to be funny, not hard, but she’s real funny. He’s got Robert Evans offering wacky cut-in commentary on the story. Every time Evans breaks in, it cuts a scene (Evans is wearing some great clothes, but I assume they’re just his) awkwardly and it becomes clear Nathanson doesn’t have any regard for his own movie either, at least not in terms of it being a worthwhile narrative. As a series of jokes and tricks, he seems to respect it.

Tony Shalhoub is also good, but lots of the supporting cast misfires. Tim Blake Nelson is never believable as Broderick’s brother and Buck Henry’s small part would have been much more interesting if someone besides Buck Henry had been playing it. Broderick’s no good, but the character’s supposed to be lame (see, he has friends who play the guitar and sing songs about him, we’re supposed to laugh at him… the only way Nathanson could have done anything halfway honest with this film was to give it a Beaver Trilogy viewer self-awareness moment, but those aren’t funny, so no way Nathanson’s doing it). Toni Collette’s funny here too, real good even, in terms of acting, even though her character’s moronic. I think it was when Collette showed up, I really started feeling bad for The Last Shot. The cast list sounds good, but watching it… it’s embarrassingly pointless.

Nathanson’s got some other funny things–except he can’t seem to keep it set in 1985, not when he drops Sundance references and the like–but he ends it on a sentimental tone and the movie certainly never earned it. The music by Rolfe Kent’s a constant annoyance and, otherwise, the film’s technically uninteresting. But Baldwin’s real good and it’s so funny at times, it’s practically acceptable. Though, given Nathanson’s history as a blockbuster ghostwriter, one might think he’d know it doesn’t make any sense to have Baldwin be movie crazy in the third act without establishing it in the first. Rifle on the wall and all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Nathanson; screenplay by Nathanson, based on a magazine article by Steve Fishman; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, William Arnold; produced by Larry Brezner and David Hoberman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Joe Devine), Matthew Broderick (Steven Schats), Toni Collette (Emily French), Tony Shalhoub (Tommy Sanz), Calista Flockhart (Valerie Weston), Tim Blake Nelson (Marshal Paris), Buck Henry (Lonnie Bosco) and Ray Liotta (Jack Devine).


The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hilarious, of course, Scorsese finally won an Oscar for the film least like his work. The Departed is the really serious movie Mel Gibson and Richard Donner never got around to making in the late 1990s… but Scorsese–I don’t know if Scorsese adds something to the mix or if he just knew how to package the product. I imagine he finally won because The Departed showed he was firmly committed, finally, to being commercial. But there’s something subversive in Departed‘s commercial sensibilities. Scorsese and his technical crew (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker) loose on a Hollywood picture (the connections to, say, The Devil’s Own are more plentiful than not). Schoonmaker’s editing in the film is her most innovative work because it’s new–the way the story’s being told is new… from Ballhaus’s lighting, Schoomaker’s editing, and Scorsese’s digital happy (but it’s shot on film) shots. The IMDb trivia section talks about CG composites for the film and maybe they’re an indicator… Yes, The Departed is another Scorsese mob movie (but one without storytelling sprawl), but it’s a CG-friendly, Irish Scorsese mob movie.

My friend told me, after he saw the film, it was a comedy. I never quite understood him, until maybe ten minutes in. The Departed takes all the great humor from Goodfellas (and all the stuff from Casino but makes it work) and expands on it. You’re supposed to leave, if not laughing, at least amused. It’s a Martin Scorsese blockbuster, meant to engage you and worry you (Scorsese creates a palpable, pulsating sense of dread) and excite you and then spit you out. Scorsese does such a perfect job with the technical aspects and the legitimacy of the film’s story (not having a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction to fall back on), it doesn’t matter the film’s got a certain apathy to itself.

The apathy comes through clearest in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio. While Matt Damon gets to run wild–sort of Good Will Hunting gone bad–and have as much fun as everyone else (the film’s filled with wild, wonderful performances), DiCaprio’s the serious one here. His character spends the entire film miserable and the viewer spends the entire film waiting for him to get even a moment of relief. It’s a solid performance from DiCaprio, but pales compared to his supporting cast. DiCaprio’s story, the one the film doesn’t tell, is the traditional Scorsese story (though, still a little more commercial than usual). But somehow the mix of humor and dread make it all disappear–The Departed is about what happens and Scorsese understands (though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with that intent of his before–not even Cape Fear–though I’ve missed the other DiCaprio collaborations) how to use the advance from the viewer to the film’s advantage.

Given how odd a Scorsese movie it is, I’ve ignored Jack Nicholson this long. It’s not going to be particularly exciting, unfortunately… For about thirty years, Nicholson has had a standard crazy performance… in The Departed, he finally manages to turn it in to a character. Maybe all it needed all along was a Scorsese mob movie (Nicholson’s character, Irish heritage aside, resembles a smarter Scorsese Joe Pesci character). Seeing Nicholson finally get those roles to pay off is great.

The rest of the actors–Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin–are all great. Vera Farmiga is quite good too, though most of her role is spent reacting to the male leads… she’s practically tacked on to the film for a female presence. It’s no surprise her role is the one without the looseness (she and DiCaprio’s scenes together, though contrived, provide a nice, non-plot-driven break… if only because, after a bunch of red herrings, the scenes don’t really affect the film’s events).

The Departed is easily Scorsese’s worst great film… the lack of artistic ambition is stunning, but Scorsese gets it too and he works with it, makes it not matter.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby) and Anthony Anderson (Brown).


Malice (1993, Harold Becker)

Malice starts relatively okay, but it’s got a terribly flawed first half. Until the point Bill Pullman takes over as lead character, especially as Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman are spiraling through their lawsuit, it seems like Malice is going to be a well-produced disaster. It’s well-made, reasonably well-directed–Becker does a good job for the most part, but he has some really poor setups–and well-written. As it started, I wondered who was going to have written it… Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank (which is probably why I queued it). It’s got a good Jerry Goldsmith score, lovely cinematography… Pullman’s good, Bebe Neuwirth is good, Alec Baldwin has some good scenes. Why would it, had the story not focused on Pullman, have been such an unmitigated disaster?

Nicole Kidman gives one of the singularly worst performances of the 1990s, though probably not the worst of her career. Hearing her speak lovely Sorkin dialogue makes the ears bleed. After a while, someone caught on, because they were using her hair to express emotion. It’s astounding and proof the Hollywood star machine has never gone away (because there’s no reason Kidman should have gotten as far as Malice in her career without a critic calling her laugh-out-loud funny).

But once it switches gears and follows Pullman–the scenes with Pullman and Neuwirth really help and, along with the production value, make the movie–it turns into a revisionist Hitchcock. It’s like a modern Suspicion with Bill Pullman as Joan Fontaine. And Nicole Kidman is one of the tires on the car at the end of Suspicion.

Anyway.

The film has an unnecessary thriller element added to the first half (because it’s not really a thriller) and it’s an afterthought, even when watching. When the mystery gets near being resolved–after giving Gwyneth Paltrow a well-acted cameo–I’d forgotten it was a subplot. Thrillers tend to be geared towards first viewings. Repeat viewings either reveal one is just an immersive story without anything going for it besides the final resolution or if it’s one with some more content to it. Malice, very surprisingly, turns out to be one with some more content.

Anne Bancroft’s small role alone probably justifies a second viewing, but Baldwin’s character is actually rather complicated and there are some very interesting scenes near the beginning, considering the ending, which carry some weight. There’s also that Pullman and Neuwirth chemistry.

Malice would be a lot better if Pullman and Neuwirth’s names came first. It’d also benefit from a longer running time and a female actor in Kidman’s role who could believably sit in a cafe in the background of an action movie during a chase scene, remaining onscreen for a quarter of a second.

But, I suppose, Kidman’s atrocious performance is a testament to Malice’s qualities.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank, from a story by Sorkin and Jonas McCord; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by David Bretherton; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designed by Philip Harrison; produced by Rachel Pfeffer, Charles Mulvehill and Becker; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bill Pullman (Andy Safian), Nicole Kidman (Tracy Kennsinger), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Jed Hill), Bebe Neuwirth (Det. Dana Harris), George C. Scott (Dr. Martin Kessler), Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kennsinger), Peter Gallagher (Atty. Dennis Riley), Josef Sommer (Atty. Lester Adams), Tobin Bell (Earl Leemus), William Duff-Griffin (Dr. George Sullivan), Debrah Farentino (Nurse Tanya), Gwyneth Paltrow (Paula Bell), David Bowe (Dr. Matthew Robertson) and Diana Bellamy (Ms. Worthington).


The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)

The Shadow is not a perfect film, but there’s so much good about it. Besides that its great cast–Jonathan Winters is the only weak link–besides that its beautifully constructed screenplay–the best constructed one I can think of… I haven’t seen this film since the theater, so I was sixteen. I don’t remember liking it. I didn’t like Alec Baldwin back then. Actually, my opinion of him has only changed with his recent work, but he’s good. I do have to dislike The Shadow a little, since its commercial and critical failure ended Penelope Ann Miller’s career….

Russell Mulcahy always gets a measure of respect from film people. Even film snobs. Well, the film snobs I used to work with, anyway. Highlander is a terrible film with bad writing and Christopher Lambert. However, Mulcahy did a great job directing (and Clancy Brown was great). If anyone deserves a $150 million movie, it’s Mulcahy, or at least the Mulcahy of the 1990s. The Shadow is a textbook example of good, engaging filmmaking. Mulcahy has a number of long-shots of Baldwin and Miller on darkened sidewalks. Sure, Steven Spielberg used to be a better director and maybe–maybe–he still is, but I can’t remember the last time Spielberg’s composition engaged my brain. Oh, wait. Yeah, no, I do. Close Encounters.

About halfway through The Shadow, I realized my post was going to be a lot more positive than I originally thought. The film starts with silly scene of Baldwin going native in 1920s China as a warlord and I spent a while wishing that scene away. A half hour later, I wasn’t thinking of that scene or its failings at all. The Shadow moves. There are a lot of characters and a lot of scenes–but the most memorable scenes are still quiet ones, except the finale, when Baldwin looks more like Howard Chaykin’s ultra-violent Shadow from the 1980s DC Comics revival. The memorable scenes are the ones between Miller and Baldwin–the romantic ones–and Baldwin and John Lone, who is the bad guy. The screenplay is exciting to experience. It’s why I went into Panic Room thinking it would be good. Because I loved David Koepp in the 1990s. I’m going to rewatch Carlito’s Way again, I loved this screenplay so much.

As frightening as it sounds (even to me)–The Shadow has reinvigorated my interest in film, I’m adding DVD after DVD to both Netflix and Blockbuster queues. It’s amazing storytelling….

I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to sit down and watch this film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the character created by Walter B. Gibson; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Peter Honess and Beth Jochem Besterveld; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Martin Bregman, Willi Baer and Michael S. Bregman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston / The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Peter Boyle (Moe), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Ian McKellen (Dr. Reinhardt Lane) and Jonathan Winters (Wainwright Barth).


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