Bridget Fonda

In the Gloaming (1997, Christopher Reeve)

In the Gloaming is a qualified success. If you’re trying to go for humanizing a guy dying of AIDS while his upper middle class White yuppie family is slow to realize he’s a dying person who they probably ought not to avoid because they’ll regret it… it does that job. Gloaming is an hour-long HBO movie, based on a New Yorker story, all set in and around Glenn Close and David Strathairn’s picture perfect home in Westchester County, New York. Straithairn presumably works in the city, but it’s never actually clear. Doesn’t really matter. Just they’ve got enough money to have a gorgeous house but no servants.

And son Robert Sean Leonard has come home to die.

The film’s a series of what you know the filmmakers would prefer you think of as vignettes, as Close bonds with Leonard while Strathairn gets pissy. Close has to overcome the fear she’s responsibility for Leonard being gay because she was nice to him as a kid. She wasn’t as nice to his sister, Bridget Fonda, who grew up to be too much of a yuppie even for Close, off married with child, but the son and husband don’t come around because AIDS is gross and so’s Leonard being gay. But it’s okay because Fonda’s going to cry when he’s dead? Maybe. Not resolved. The vignettes are more like clips of the character development without any follow-up. Like when Strathairn, finally coming to terms with Leonard’s impending death, thinks it’s a good time to go for some martial relations with Close. No follow-up on that one.

Plus Whoopi Goldberg’s just around as the nurse, who eventually makes Close feel better about herself.

The film’s… comprised. Screenwriter Will Scheffer does not have the chops to make the strained manners of the bourgeois somehow say more than if Strathairn actually sat down and had a conversation with Leonard. They talk a lot about how it’s going to happen, then never does. Because Strathairn’s a terrible guy, even though he grows tomatoes for Close to cook him even though he doesn’t like tomatoes much. But we’ve got to understand Strathairn’s position–he just wanted what must be a macho man in Westchester County 1997, a tennis playing gardener man. Instead he got son Leonard, who went off to Berkeley and became gay. Meanwhile, why doesn’t anyone love Fonda enough, she’s doing her part, working full-time and wearing pantsuits and being mean to her own son so he doesn’t turn out gay.

Yes, Gloaming is from 1997. Yes, it’s from HBO. Yes, it’s from a New Yorker story (but 1997 New Yorker so… I mean… right?). But it has a lot it’s not willing to address. Scared to address. Leaving Strathairn, Fonda, and Goldberg with somewhat pointless parts. Fonda’s scary good as the shittiest human being and Goldberg’s at least likable. Strathairn’s just tiresome. He’s a one note caricature, with some “details” thrown in to round him. Doesn’t work.

So after two paragraphs dunking on it, why is In the Gloaming a qualified success?

Because the stuff with Leonard and Close, as they bond and work through his imminent mortality—mind you, they don’t get real character development in the script because of that vignette structure–it’s great work from Close and Leonard. The script limits them, sure. But Reeve works the hell out of their scenes together. And it resolves their relationship just right. Then ruins it with the actual last scene, which is an eye-roll and a half.

But Leonard and Close. They’re real good. They do so much with… not so little, but so… comprised a material. They refuse to let it limit their performances, which is cool.

Reeve’s direction is fine. He likes crane shots and doesn’t get to do enough of them. Good photography from Frederick Elmes. David Ray’s editing is a little too hurried, which is strange because of the the oddly manipulative nature montages–it’s like HBO is slamming their affluent viewers over the head with, “It could be your sons too, White women ages 45-55 who like Glenn Close!”—but then Ray’s got no sense of cutting when it comes to the dialogue scenes.

It’s like Reeve tried to direct it as a stage adaptation but without the play backbone.

Very heavily Scottish-influenced Dave Grusin score, which is weird (and figures into the plot); it’s a good score, it’s just a lot.

But it’s definitely a missed opportunity overall. It’s aged like flat root beer.

So, technically, earnestly, but unenthusiastically:

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Reeve; teleplay by Will Scheffer, based on a story by Alice Elliott Dark; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by David Ray; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Andrew Jackness; costume designer, Jane Greenwood; produced by Nellie Nugiel; aired by HBO.

Starring Glenn Close (Janet), Robert Sean Leonard (Danny), David Strathairn (Martin), Bridget Fonda (Anne), and Whoopi Goldberg (Myrna).


The Godfather: Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola), the director’s cut

Here’s an all-encompassing theory to explain The Godfather Part III, based only on on-screen evidence (i.e. ignoring production woes, casting woes, rewrites, budget and schedule comprises, and whatever else). Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo hate everyone in the film and everyone who will ever watch the film—maybe Coppola didn’t cast daughter Sofia Coppola in the third lead of the film because he thought she’d be good, but instead because she’d be godawful and make everyone hate the movie, which would just validate Coppola not wanting to make it in the first place. It would also explain the terrible script, full of awful exposition sequences and hackneyed scene after hackneyed scene. Godfather Part III makes Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia’s star-crossed romance—they’re first cousins—into a fetish. They’ve both got a cousin-smashing fetish. If you want to love Godfather 3, Coppola and Puzo say, you’ve got to love some cousins bumping uglies.

Let’s not even get into when Talia Shire does a jaw drop at Garcia’s useless stud twin bodyguards and then rubs her nephew’s hands suggestively. If Godfather 3 has any subtext, it’s icky. But saying it has subtext is a stretch. Shire seems like she’s just in the movie to wear great clothes. Her performance is utterly atrocious. Of the returning cast members, Shire’s easily the worst. See, there’s nothing good about Godfather Part III. There are no hidden gems in the film. It’s not like secretly Al Pacino gives a good performance if you just ignore the terrible dialogue. It’s not like his eyes give a different performance than his words when he’s trying to rekindle with ex-wife Diane Keaton—in the twenty-one movie years between II and III apparently Pacino decided he didn’t want to raise the kids he stole from Keaton and ships them back to her and then is estranged from the kids somewhat. Keaton’s remarried (to Brett Halsey, who seems to have just met his wife and step-kids in first scene) and Pacino’s seems to have been a baching it, living with bodyguard Richard Bright (who gives the best returning performance) and hanging out with sister Shire. It’s not clear. The first act is really inept as far as establishing the ground situation.

Godfather 3 kind of remixes styles from the previous two movies—it doesn’t seem like Carmine Coppola composes a single new piece of music for the film, just recycles material from the previous ones, as director Coppola just recycles dialogue and scenes. It all echoes, the film bellows: Don’t you remember when you loved this.

But then Coppola and Puzo grossly veer as far as characterization. Pacino doesn’t have a character. He’s got a caricaturization, not even of the character from the previous films, but of himself since then. In really bad make-up. They’re only aging Pacino ten years but the way he dodders around, shuffling, kind of glassy-eyed, it’s like the makeup person was going for seventy-five and stoned. It’s really, really, really hard not to feel bad for Pacino throughout Godfather Part 3. People remember the first one for Brando, the second one for De Niro; here, Pacino gets to be the whole show—or should be—and director Coppola instead gives all the big material to his daughter, who must give one of the worst performances in a film budgeted over fifty million dollars before 1994. It’s humiliating.

Because Pacino’s not terrible. He’s doddering, he’s pretty dense—it’s unbelievable he’s a successful anything, gangster gone businessman or gangster pretending to go businessman—the same goes for Garcia, who goes from driving a car, shooting people, yelling, picking up young girls, then picking up his cousin to being a criminal mastermind. Of course, given the mob plot in this one involves Pacino wanting to buy a huge corporation from the Vatican and the Vatican going to war with Pacino but there’s also something with Joe Mantegna as the mob guy Pacino gave the old neighborhood. Mantegna and Garcia hate each other. Garcia’s Pacino’s illegitimate nephew (and if you’re expecting a great Pacino blow-up scene after Gracia seduces Sofia Coppola, dream on; though at least Pacino disapproves, Keaton’s all for the first cousin—they bring it up to confirm–smashing). Eli Wallach plays an old mob friend who somehow wasn’t in the first two movies even though he obviously should’ve been; he’s got an agenda of his own. If you’ve seen the second movie you can figure it out pretty quick because they use the same music cues.

Speaking of the second movie, evidently the reason Pacino’s a big sweetheart now is because he feels so bad about killing his brother in the second movie. Coppola rolls that footage in the first ten minutes of the movie, clearly it’s important. Only it’s not because Pacino hasn’t got enough character for it to affect anything. Wait, wait, it does. I forgot: Franc D’Ambrosio. D’Ambrosio is Keaton and Pacino’s other kid (sadly, no, he and Garcia don’t bang too). The reason Keaton comes back into Pacino’s orbit is because she wants to support D’Ambrosio dropping out of law school to become an opera singer. See, D’Ambrosio knows Pacino had his favorite uncle killed in the last movie and wants nothing to do with him. Except in all those scenes where he hugs Pacino and tells him how much he loves him and how much he wants Pacino’s approval and blah blah blah. Until the last twenty minutes, it’s hard to get too worked up about Sofia Coppola’s performance because for as terrible as she gets, D’Ambrosio is just as bad. Coppola looked at Keaton and Pacino—who actually dated back on the second movie—and decided if they had kids, those children would grow up to give terrible performances in the worst sequel (compared to previous entries) of all time.

The complete disconnect between D’Ambrosio’s first scene and every subsequent one? It gets to be a natural feeling in Godfather 3. A lot of scenes feel reshot, even if they’re not. Like maybe Keaton and Pacino weren’t really on set at the same time for this one. Same goes for Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia. They’ve got a couple scenes where it really doesn’t seem like they’re talking to anyone else. It’s hard to tell, because Coppola directs the film like a TV show. Instead of doing a two shot in a conversation, he’ll cut between close-ups. It’s really, really, really bad composition. Like so much in the film, it’s embarrassing.

So Pacino’s greatest success is not appearing visibly humiliated. Keaton just seems defeated. She’s terrible. The writing on her character is real bad. All the writing on characters is real bad. But Keaton is way more in Shire territory than not.

Garcia’s okay. Sort of. It’s not his fault. Also the James Caan impression stuff is stupid.

Sofia Coppola’s performance is singularly terrible. Can’t be repeated enough.

Oh, right. The supporting cast. Besides George Hamilton, who has squat to do in the film, everyone is pretty bad. Hamilton’s not good, but he at least seems excited to be in a Godfather movie. He shows up and tries. Mantegna and Wallach don’t try. Wallach just gets worse the more he’s onscreen. The Vatican Eurotrash villains—Donal Donnelly and Enzo Robutti—they’re awful too. But for different reasons. Coppola doesn’t really bother directing the actors. He must be too busy setting up terrible shots, which all have variously poor establishing shots. Gordon Willis’s photography is something dreadful, but it’s impossible to blame him. Somehow it’s got to be Coppola’s fault.

So what’s left… Bridget Fonda? She’s got an extended cameo to get in some male gaze. She’s not good. But she’s nowhere near as problematic as anyone else, even Richard Bright, just because she’s not in the movie long enough to get worse scenes. The longer you’re in Godfather 3, the worse your scenes get. Except maybe D’Ambrosio, who frequently gets completely forgotten because no one cares. He’s not banging Garcia, after all.

The scary part is it could be even worse. You can just tell. Coppola could have made an even worse film.

There is one nearly good scene in the film where Coppola lets Pacino try to feel out an honest emotion. It seems like it ought to be a scene in a film called The Godfather Part III. None of the other ones do. The rest of it feels like Puzo and Coppola really wanted to do a Vatican conspiracy thriller and shoehorned in the Corleone Family, with the cousin sex for dessert.

I don’t loathe Godfather 3, I just dread it. Every one of the 170 minutes after the first just promise something else dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on characters created by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Lisa Fruchtman, Barry Malkin, and Walter Murch; music by Carmine Coppola; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone), Andy Garcia (Vincent Mancini), Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone Rizzi), Eli Wallach (Don Altobello), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams Michelson), Richard Bright (Al Neri), Franc D’Ambrosio (Anthony Vito Corleone), George Hamilton (B.J. Harrison), Joe Mantegna (Joey Zasa), Bridget Fonda (Grace Hamilton), Raf Vallone (Cardinal Lamberto), Donal Donnelly (Archbishop Gilday), Helmut Berger (Frederick Keinszig), Don Novello (Dominic Abbandando), John Savage (Father Andrew Hagen), and Vittorio Duse (Don Tommasino).


Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)

Bruce Campbell carries Army of Darkness. Not because there’s anything wrong with the movie–well, not so wrong it needs carrying–but because he’s got such a difficult role. His protagonist has to be sympathetic and stupid, a hero and a jerk. The audience can never stop to wonder if they should be rooting for Campbell, even when he’s wrong. The way the film presents him is probably the most significant thing about Army of Darkness.

The film’s short, fast, funny. Even though it’s set in a medieval castle, full of people, director Raimi quickly establishes who’s important, who needs to be remembered for later. It’s a very practical film–Embeth Davidtz goes from being Campbell’s antagonist to his love interest. It serves no narrative purpose (she loses all personality once they’re romantic) other than the efficiency of not having to establish another character.

There’s a lot of effects work. Lots and lots of rear screen projection and photographer Bill Pope never matches any of it. There are a bunch of great concepts, but the obvious artiface makes them more interesting technically than narratively. It’s too bad–especially since the deficiencies just intensify through the run time.

But there’s so much enthusiasm from Raimi, such an odd reverence to the swashbuckler genre–and all the Harryhausen nods–the film is infectious. Campbell isn’t just always good, he’s always amusing; he makes the film entertaining, regardless of technical issues or narrative bumps.

It’s self-aware and smartly stupid. Darkness works out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski and Sam Raimi; music by Joseph LoDuca; production designer, Anthony Tremblay; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ash), Embeth Davidtz (Sheila), Marcus Gilbert (Lord Arthur), Ian Abercrombie (Wiseman), Richard Grove (Duke Henry the Red), Timothy Patrick Quill (Blacksmith), Michael Earl Reid (Gold Tooth) and Bridget Fonda (Linda).


Point of No Return (1993, John Badham)

I can’t remember any good Hollywood remakes of recent foreign films. Point of No Return was supposed to be a big deal–Bridget Fonda getting the coveted lead was a big deal (she went on to say she’d never read reviews again after No Return).

The film’s basically a shot for shot remake of Nikita; besides screenwriters of questionable pedigree, the real problem is John Badham.

As a friend once said, “John Badham makes bad movies.”

Badham trying to make this film is ludicrous. It’s got a complicated character arc–villain to hero–and Badham doesn’t work well with complexities. He also doesn’t do well when he doesn’t have a strong, movie star lead.

Part of the point of Point of No Return is Bridget Fonda not having a strong personality. When she’s in scenes with Gabriel Byrne or, especially, Anne Bancroft, it’s a complete misfire under Badham’s direction.

Hans Zimmer’s absurd score is no help either. Zimmer gives an action movie a zany comedy score. And it’s always blaring.

The film’s very much of its time–Harvey Keitel shows up post-Reservoir Dogs, Dermot Mulroney is still in big studio releases–but it’s hard to understand why Warners thought Badham was the right director for this picture. Badham was never an A-list director and this picture was–at least, like I said, in my recollection–intended to be a major release.

Maybe after Luc Besson turned it down, Warner gave up trying.

Instead, Badham made a boring remake.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, based on a film by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michael W. Watkins; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Art Linson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Maggie), Gabriel Byrne (Bob), Dermot Mulroney (J.P.), Miguel Ferrer (Kaufman), Anne Bancroft (Amanda), Olivia d’Abo (Angela), Richard Romanus (Fahd Bahktiar) and Harvey Keitel (Victor the Cleaner).


Kiss of the Dragon (2001, Chris Nahon)

I wonder how long it takes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen to script their action movies. None are ever very long (or very good—for the most part) and they’re all exceptionally simple. Maybe they have some kind of fun method to it, like they get a Domino’s pizza and write one in a night, maybe even acting the scenes out while someone transcribes it all.

Kiss of the Dragon’s got some awful dialogue, mostly because they try to be serious and show how difficult life is for Bridget Fonda. She’s an American farm girl turned heroin-addicted Parisian streetwalker. It’s unclear how she made the transition… something the script touches on, then avoids because it seems too difficult.

Fonda is all right—she has the film’s worst lines. She’s never quite believable, but she’s always too good for the script.

Jet Li’s solid in the lead role (though he’s asexual as always, which severely cuts into Dragon’s realism at times). Tchéky Karyo has a great time as the villain, though Besson is sort of redoing Leon, only with a Chinese guy in Paris instead of an Italian guy in New York.

The cultural thing is a little strange—Besson and Kamen portray the French police as corrupt murderers, while the Chinese are the good guys. The Chinese government banned the film, apparently not taking the compliment.

Craig Armstrong’s score is pretty, but isn’t well-suited.

Nahon’s direction has good moments. Dragon is always watchable, even if it’s stupid.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Nahon; screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Jet Li; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Marco Cavé; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jet Li (Liu Jian), Bridget Fonda (Jessica Kamen), Tchéky Karyo (Insp. Richard), Max Ryan (Lupo), Ric Young (Mister Big), Burt Kwouk (Uncle Tai) and Laurence Ashley (Aja).


Frankenstein Unbound (1990, Roger Corman)

Philosophically speaking, Frankenstein Unbound is utter nonsense. Corman’s inclusion of that element seems to be more for effect than anything else–primarily, it takes advantage of Nick Brimble’s fine performance as the Monster. But it also has to do with how Corman uses his protagonist, John Hurt.

Unbound is a time travel picture (it filmed before Back to the Future Part II came out, so the similarities are likely coincidental) and, in many ways, it’s a fun time travel picture. Before he realizes what’s going on around him (that Mary Shelley based Frankenstein on actual events), Hurt is just having a good time. He’s so exceptionally passive, it’s hard to take him seriously as a protagonist, but it’s also hard not to like him.

Hurt’s never concerned about negatively affecting the past–he’s already ruined the world, but he takes it in his stride–and it eventually gets him involved with Mary Shelley (still Mary Godwin), played by Bridget Fonda. Even though the age difference should make it creepy, Hurt and Fonda sell the relationship.

But the film’s great performance is from Raul Julia. His Frankenstein is insane, evil and selfish and Julia makes every scene he’s in a delight.

Corman’s approach is objective–neither Frankenstein nor the Monster are judged, which seems to be the point, as Hurt spends a lot of time watching the events unfold in front of him.

Excellent music from Carl Davis, lovely Italian locations and good special effects.

Even though it stumbles, it succeeds.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Corman; screenplay by Corman and F.X. Feeney, based on the novel by Brian Aldiss; directors of photography, Armando Nannuzzi and Michael Scott; edited by Mary Bauer and Jay Cassidy; music by Carl Davis; production designer, Enrico Tovaglieri; produced by Corman, Kobi Jaeger and Thom Mount; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring John Hurt (Dr. Joe Buchanan), Raul Julia (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Nick Brimble (The Monster), Bridget Fonda (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Catherine Rabett (Elizabeth Levenza), Jason Patric (Lord George Gordon Byron), Michael Hutchence (Percy Byshee Shelley) and Catherine Corman (Justine Moritz).


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Rough Magic (1995, Clare Peploe)

Rough Magic isn’t a bad idea, it’s just poorly plotted. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where it’s mildly engaging and generally amusing (except when Paul Rodriguez shows up to annoy and he is incredibly annoying). Notice all the qualifiers? The movie starts strong and even gives the impression of ending strong (it doesn’t). For example, D.W. Moffett’s excellent in period pieces and most of his work is in the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes. Clare Peploe’s direction is good overall, but during the first act, it’s much better than the rest of the film.

I had assumed, given how disjointed the narrative gets–it becomes about Russell Crowe (who’s mediocre with a shifty accent and is actually better when he’s the protagonist) instead of Bridget Fonda–the novel was something obscure and maybe good, a thought I rarely have when watching an adaptation. However, the novel’s some pulp from the early 1940s, so I doubt it’s a literary masterwork and I’m wondering how much of the script is new. I’m assuming most, given how particular the setting is to the story, but I suppose it’s possible the big disconnect (from Mexico back to Los Angeles) did come from the novel. Because anyone working on the script should have seen right away it was off.

Bridget Fonda’s great, though she and Crowe don’t have much chemistry for much of the film, and she has some great scenes. Richard Schiff, Andy Romano, Kenneth Mars, Jim Broadbent–very strong supporting cast.

It’s too bad it doesn’t work out, but it becomes clear once the story moves to Mexico it isn’t going to… and then it alternates between amusing and trying, with the Rodriguez scenes something terrible.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clare Peploe; screenplay by Robert Mundi, William Brookfield and Peploe, based on a novel by James Hadley Chase; director of photography, John J. Campbell; edited by Suzanne Fenn; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Declan Baldwin and Laurie Parker; released by Goldwyn Films Inc.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Myra), Russell Crowe (Alex Ross), Jim Broadbent (Doc Ansell), D.W. Moffett (Cliff Wyatt), Kenneth Mars (Ivan the Terrific), Paul Rodriguez (Diego), Andy Romano (Clayton), Richard Schiff (Wiggins) and Euva Anderson (Tojola).


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