Crispin Glover

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Joseph Zito)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter never tries to be scary. It tries to be gory… but not too gory. It saves the biggest gore moment for the last, when any number of the other ones throughout the film would’ve given Tom Savini better material. It’s supposed to be gory, but not too gory. It still has to be mainstream.

And The Final Chapter is a desperate attempt to fulfill the mainstream expectations of a Friday the 13th movie. There’s pointless nudity, dumb coeds, scary music, a kid with a horror movie fixation. Except Zito can’t do any of it right. He does best on the exploitation of his female cast, but even that is inept because of his direction. Zito shoots everything in a medium-long shot, straight on so the pan and scan video release won’t miss any of the technically competent, but entirely unimaginative gore.

Worse, Zito has a screenwriter in Barney Cohen who give him okay scary setups. Zito flops on all of them. Occasionally it’ll be something as simple as needing Harry Manfredini’s (admittedly somewhat lame this entry) score over a scene instead of the scenic sound. There’s not a single good thing Zito does in the film.

Except the opening tracking shot tying it to the previous series entry.

Lots of bad acting, but also an almost good one from Crispin Glover and okay ones from Kimberly Beck and Barbara Howard.

One scare out of The Final Chapter shouldn’t have been asking too much.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Zito; screenplay by Barney Cohen, based on a story by Bruce Hidemi Sakow and characters created by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz, Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson; director of photography, João Fernandes; edited by Daniel Loewenthal and Joel Goodman; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Shelton H. Bishop III; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Corey Feldman (Tommy), Kimberly Beck (Trish), Erich Anderson (Rob), Barbara Howard (Sara), Peter Barton (Doug), Lawrence Monoson (Ted), Camilla More (Tina), Crispin Glover (Jimmy Mortimer), Joan Freeman (Mrs. Jarvis), Carey More (Terri), Clyde Hayes (Paul), Judie Aronson (Samantha), Bonnie Hellman (Hitchhiker) with Lisa Freeman (Nurse Robbie Morgan) and Bruce Mahler (Axel).


Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future gives the impression of being very economical in terms of its narrative… but it really isn’t. Zemeckis just does such a great job immediately establishing the fifties setting, even though there’s less than fifty minutes before the third act, the film feels more immediate.

It takes a half hour to get to the past (until that point, of course, the title doesn’t make much sense) and Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale establish the characters. Well, not the characters, but the cast. No one in Future has much of a character, just a distinct, likable persona. Even Thomas F. Wilson’s menacing thug.

Without the establishing front matter, Michael J. Fox’s trip to the past wouldn’t work, at least not with his parents, Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson. Actually, it might work with Glover, since he’s fantastic. Thompson is not; Zemeckis has problems with female actors–both Thompson and Claudia Wells are weak. Wendie Jo Sperber is good in her cameo though.

While Fox holds the film together, his performance concentrates more on likability than actual dramatic heft. Christopher Lloyd is much stronger; he gives a physical comedy performance some of the time, but also acts as the viewer’s entry into the extraordinary situation. He does quite well.

Of particular note are Dean Cundey’s photography and Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri’s score isn’t subtle, but it’s effective. And Cundey does great work, even though Zemeckis’s composition is pedestrian.

Though sometimes painfully shallow, Future is a lot of fun.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


Twister (1989, Michael Almereyda)

Twister tries very hard to be avant-garde, but ends up just being a quirky family comedy. Worse, director Almereyda changes up the narrative style about fifty minutes into the film. Although Twister is based on a novel, Almereyda’s style is more appropriate for stage. The first half or more takes place on one set–Harry Dean Stanton and family’s house–with very long scenes. One can imagine, for long while, Twister on stage.

And Almereyda gives his actors a lot of leeway. Sadly, Crispin Glover uses that leeway to do his persona thing; his scenes are often exasperating. More detrimentally, Suzy Amis doesn’t create a character–some of the fault belongs to Almereyda, whether the script or the direction–but it’s mostly Amis’s fault. Watching Amis and Glover opposite the rest of the cast is often painful. The disconnect is visible.

Almereyda opens up the film in the last third and makes it into that quirky family comedy. He drains the life out of the film, which was at least an interesting project before.

Still, Stanton is fantastic, as are Charlayne Woodard, Dylan McDermott and, especially, Lois Chiles.

The narrative’s big problem is having two entries into the family. McDermott returns, one entry, then Chiles moves in, another. It’s like Almereyda wasn’t paying enough attention to notice.

As Amis and McDermott’s daughter, Lindsay Christman is quite good. Jenny Wright is okay, until she starts doing a Glover impression.

Great Tim Robbins cameo too.

Twister‘s aggravating, but still somewhat interesting.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Almereyda; screenplay by Almereyda, based on a novel by Mary Robison; director of photography, Renato Berta; edited by Roberto Silvi; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Wieland Schulz-Keil; released by Vestron Pictures.

Starring Dylan McDermott (Chris), Suzy Amis (Maureen), Crispin Glover (Howdy), Lindsay Christman (Violet), Charlayne Woodard (Lola), Harry Dean Stanton (Eugene), Lois Chiles (Virginia), Jenny Wright (Stephanie) and Tim Robbins (Jeff).


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape does something very unscrupulous… it relies on the viewer’s affection for its characters to get away with being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In terms of narrative honesty, I mean.

Gilbert Grape is, for the majority of its run time, a lyrical character study. Yes, it takes place in a summer and not an average one, but director Hallström goes out of his way to show the extraordinary events in the film as standard in the characters’ lives. Sven Nykvist’s photography, Alan Parker and Björn Isfält’s beautiful score, it all combines to create that lyrical mood.

Then something little happens, thanks to the introduction of Juliette Lewis’s stranded tourist into the lives of locals Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s lives.

Then something big happens and it turns out that deus ex machina finish isn’t even necessary, not even a part of it, for Gilbert Grape to work. One has to assume writer Peter Hedges, adapting his own novel, wasn’t willing to streamline for the sake of narrative honesty.

Depp’s strong in the lead, Lewis is good as his love interest. DiCaprio, as Depp’s mentally handicapped brother, is outstanding. But Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are great (though underutilized) as Depp and DiCaprio’s sisters. Darlene Cates is affecting, if a little rocky.

Excellent supporting work from Crispin Glover, Kevin Tighe and Mary Steenburgen.

Regardless of the narrative subterfuge, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an excellent film. It’s often a wondrous, transcendent experience with some exquisite acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lasse Hallström; screenplay by Peter Hedges, based on his novel; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Alan Parker and Björn Isfält; production designer, Bernt Amadeus Capra; produced by David Matalon, Bertil Ohlsson and Meir Teper; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Gilbert Grape), Leonardo DiCaprio (Arnie Grape), Juliette Lewis (Becky), Mary Steenburgen (Betty Carver), Darlene Cates (Bonnie Grape), Laura Harrington (Amy Grape), Mary Kate Schellhardt (Ellen Grape), Kevin Tighe (Ken Carver), John C. Reilly (Tucker Van Dyke), Crispin Glover (Bobby McBurney) and Penelope Branning (Becky’s Grandma).


Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future has become a detached experience. It isn’t really dated, it’s just hard to interact with the film in the same way one could when its content was more contemporary (in seven years, it’ll be like watching Michael J. Fox as the parent and Crispin Glover as the grandparent). The scenes set in the 1950s, which defined–in modern cinema–the portrayal of the period, feel a lot more “real” than the scenes set in 1985. It’s an odd relationship, one possibly even worthy of some consideration (especially given the film’s–somewhat forgotten–importance in popular culture and Hollywood cinema).

On its own, the film’s still a competent, well-meaning diversion. It doesn’t bear too much examination or consideration–the ending is incredibly problematic–but it’s a fine time. The humor–from Fox’s observations to Glover’s entire performance to Christopher Lloyd’s mugging for the camera–holds up, but feels a lot more comfortable than it should. It might be because the film’s become so engrained in the filmic consciousness–it’s familiar to a point similar to television programs (its stars being primarily television actors notwithstanding). It’s a passive viewing experience… there’s little new for it to offer.

This condition has nothing to do with its age or popularity, there just isn’t much to the story. There are a lot of little details, but the characters are rather shallow. Fox is engaging because he’s Fox, not because his character has any depth. Glover is just the same–I mean, the film never explores Glover’s home life, which is quite telling (Gale and Zemeckis knew they didn’t have room). Lea Thompson, who probably gives the worst performance–she’s okay and effective in parts, but compared to her co-stars, she’s the pits–is only interesting because of what she does, not who she is. Gale and Zemeckis set the tone for future blockbusters here–the actors aren’t playing people, rather personifying caricatures who do amusing things. These aren’t people who live off-screen.

During the way too classy opening credits–they suggest a technical craft Zemeckis simply isn’t capable of applying to narrative scenes–when I saw Dean Cundey was the cinematographer, I got ready for some beautiful shots. There aren’t any. All of the shots are nice and well-lighted and so on, but nothing really grabs. Zemeckis isn’t interesting in that factor (the wonderment factor… there’s never a moment where Fox reflects on the weight of his situation). Cundey does have some beautiful outdoor shots though, even if they’re incidental.

The film’s special effects are solid–the best special effect is the 1950s setting, which feels perfect throughout. The editing is problematic, occasionally revealing the stunt or skate-boarding doubles. Alan Silvestri’s score, which is basically the same as all his other scores, is occasionally annoying, but usually all right. The make-up is first-rate–Crispin Glover practically looks more realistic as a forty-seven-year-old than he does a teenager.

Besides Glover, the best performance has to be Thomas F. Wilson. His villain is evil, but also produces a lot of laughter, mostly because of Wilson’s physical performance. It’s the film’s most difficult role. To be a somewhat lovable bully.

At the end–the much remembered teaser, the one I found so compelling as an eight-year-old–Back to the Future loses its way. It’s already on a shaky path (the narrative takes way too many short-cuts, a forerunner to blockbuster trailer moments instead of actual scenes) but the end just makes it too much. There’s too much to consider, from Lloyd’s future clothes to the quick gag about the garbage. It’s a great set-up for a sequel, but it’s a poor conclusion for a movie.

Worse, it reveals there isn’t any possible conclusion to Back to the Future. Fox doesn’t have an arc (he doesn’t learn anything, he doesn’t change) and no one else really exists….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


Teachers (1984, Arthur Hiller)

It must have been Bette Midler’s former manager, Aaron Russo (Teachers‘s producer), who somehow confused Arthur Hiller as the creative force behind The Hospital. Teachers is very much like The Hospital, but in its stoic protagonist, the stoic protagonist’s ultimate choice in the end, and the strange hijinks. However, as is clearly evidenced by JoBeth Williams’s strange, too flat to be absurdist nudist jaunt, Hiller is not a social commentator. He’s the guy who’d go on to direct Carpool and National Lampoon’s Pucked.

Hiller isn’t the biggest problem with Teachers. The film could survive his competent and unimaginative direction–Hiller seems to have influenced not just every modern sitcom director, but also Jon Favreau, who’s a similarly torpid director. The problem is the script. I don’t know if W.R. McKinney used to be a teacher (it seems likely for press purposes, regardless of uncredited script doctors), but he’s a terrible writer. He’s got severe problems with dialogue and his plotting is awkward. Some of his details are good–he’s got some funny stuff. But mostly he’s awful.

What makes Teachers work is the acting. Nick Nolte runs the whole thing. He’s got a big monologue–poorly written–and Nolte, even with Hiller’s lame direction and Don Zimmerman’s incapable editing, makes it work. He makes it superior.

Much of the supporting cast is good–Judd Hirsch is good as the sellout (rebel teacher turned assistant principal), Allen Garfield as the befuddled but well-meaning teacher, Richard Mulligan (in one of McKinney’s stupidest moves), Morgan Freeman, William Schallert. Williams is okay in her inessential and unlikely role. Ralph Macchio–idiotic costume aside–runs hot and cold. Lee Grant and Laura Dern are terrible, particularly Grant, who has no excuse (Teachers was one of Dern’s first films and her character is, to be fair, atrociously written).

But the Aaron Russo-produced white guy soundtrack–Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, ZZ Top–takes center stage, big shock (the advertisement for the soundtrack is the second end credits card, right after Russo’s credit for producing it too). The soundtrack’s poorly handled, like no one told Hiller it’d be there; not to mention the sound levels being confusing (is the music playing for the characters during Nolte and Williams’s date, or just for the moviegoer).

Teachers has–until the very end–a certain optimism going for it. It loses it then, when the script–shock of shocks–crumbles under its own ridiculousness. A better director could have helped, but not without an artistically-minded (versus soundtrack album sales minded) producer and a great rewrite. Still, seeing Hirsch in a film makes it worthwhile to some degree. And Nolte does have some fantastic moments.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; screenplay by W.R. McKinney; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Don Zimmerman; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Aaron Russo; released by United Artists.

Starring Nick Nolte (Alex Jurel), JoBeth Williams (Lisa Hammond), Judd Hirsch (Roger Rubell), Ralph Macchio (Eddie Pilikian), Allen Garfield (Carl Rosenberg), Lee Grant (Dr. Donna Burke), Richard Mulligan (Herbert Gower), Royal Dano (Ditto Stiles), William Schallert (Horn), Art Metrano (Troy), Laura Dern (Diane), Crispin Glover (Danny), Morgan Freeman (Lewis), Madeleine Sherwood (Grace) and Steven Hill (Sloan).


Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)

Dead Man is not a strange film. I haven’t seen it in ten years and I’ve probably seen the majority of the Westerns I’ve seen in that interim. So the opening, as Johnny Depp watches the familiar Western trappings pass from a train window, probably didn’t resonate on my last viewing. What Jarmusch doesn’t get enough credit for–though I really don’t know, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to have a conversation with someone about Jarmusch–is his dialogue. IMDb doesn’t list it as such, but Dead Man is great comedy. It’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen lately. Besides Gary Farmer, who maintains funniness throughout the film (even when he and Depp’s relationship gets poignant), Jarmusch has his two trios. In the first, there’s Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott and Eugene Byrd. Dead Man might feature Wincott’s finest performance; he’s phenomenal as a motormouthed assassin. Byrd plays the straight man, with Henriksen the unknowing butt of the jokes. This interplay lasts the majority of the film, until Henriksen becomes the knowing butt of Wincott’s joke. The second trio–Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and Jared Harris–only have a scene, but it’s an amazing one. Thornton’s gift for delivery is clear here, but it’s Pop who steals the show (it isn’t hard, since he’s the only one wearing a bonnet).

The humor–down to Robert Mitchum’s cameo–is all relatively straightforward, presented in dialogue and visuals. Even Farmer’s funniest scenes are because of his dialogue. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp’s trip through Dead Man is tonal. It’s Robby Müller shooting black and white like a Frenchman from the 1930s, the film clearly filmed on location, but still infused with a hyper-reality. The skies are too dark or too bright to be real. Neil Young’s score sometimes becomes the focal point, as it’s the only clue into what Depp’s experiencing. Depp’s character is a genre standard, a quiet man forced into violence by circumstance. Jarmusch’s added ingredients–Depp’s death is inevitable from the start (due to a bullet near the heart) and Farmer as a Native American guide–really aren’t unprecedented. Where Dead Man‘s different is in the presentation of the story.

There’s also the politics of Dead Man–the Western is probably the most political genre. From the opening slaughter of buffalo to the smallpox-infected blankets at the end (even if blankets couldn’t carry the virus), Jarmusch indicts Manifest Destiny with Dead Man. But he escapes propaganda by wowing with the beauty of the untouched American landscape. Discovering the beauty of the natural world is part of Depp’s trip in the film. The viewer’s too.

Jarmusch–through Farmer–neatly sends the viewer home at the end of Dead Man after privileging him or her to particular journey. Back when Dead Man came out, I remember a friend of mine always wanted to know what color Depp’s suit really was, figuring Jarmusch had to make him wear something wacky (and Mitchum’s line about the clown suit really does encourage speculation). I really want to know what, in the dramatic vehicle, Gabriel Byrne brought for Mili Avital. I hope it was silk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Neil Young; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Demetra J. MacBride; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Johnny Depp (William Blake), Gary Farmer (Nobody), Crispin Glover (Train Fireman), Lance Henriksen (Cole Wilson), Michael Wincott (Conway Twill), Eugene Byrd (Johnny ‘The Kid’ Pickett), John Hurt (John Scholfield), Robert Mitchum (John Dickinson), Iggy Pop (Salvatore ‘Sally’ Jenko), Gabriel Byrne (Charlie Dickinson), Jared Harris (Benmont Tench), Mili Avital (Thel Russell) and Billy Bob Thornton (Big George Drakoulious).


The Beaver Trilogy (2001, Trent Harris)

I may spoil some of The Beaver Trilogy, but it’s unlikely you’re going to come across it. It’s got song licensing issues, I’m sure, since it’s all about the love for Olivia Newton-John. I watched it today in a class and it might have been the best setting.

There are three parts to the film–The Beaver Kid, The Beaver Kid #2, and The Orkly Kid. The first part is documentary footage, which may or may not be for a Salt Lake City TV show, about a guy from Beaver, UT who does impersonations. He does John Wayne, a good Sylvester Stallone, Barry Manilow, and Olivia Newton John–in drag. The conclusion is the guy performing “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” doing a good job with band accompaniment. It’s about twenty minutes of non-stop laughter at this… loser. The audience thinks the guy is a loser and we all laugh at him. The footage mocks him and we all join in.

The second part stars Sean Penn as the real guy from the first part. Shot on video, The Beaver Kid #2, is an abbreviated version of the first one, with Sean Penn doing an impression of the guy. It’s funny and though Penn is in his Spicoli period, it suits the character. Then at the end, when it sticks with the character after his big performance (with Penn not doing a good job singing, though at least trying, without a band), Harris turns on his laughing audience. We just got done laughing at this guy, who promptly goes home and puts a gun in his mouth. However, at the final moment, he’s saved by a newfound friend–albeit one who only wants him for his drag persona.

The Orkly Kid is shot on film and immediately different. Besides the superior Crispin Glover performance in the lead, it recasts the character from being a lovable guy around town to being the heckled and abused one. After all, the audience just got done mocking him, why shouldn’t his fellow characters? This third film changes the whole situation and, this time, the context doesn’t allow for the life-saving phone call at the end. There’s no relief for the viewer, who’s got to come to terms with his or her mocking of this character. Just because other people mock him, all of a sudden it feels kind of… wrong.

Harris is not a brilliant director or dialogue writer (though he did pick the perfect Olivia Newton-John song). The Orkly Kid comes off a lot like an after-school special, but the point of The Beaver Trilogy is the viewer and the viewer’s gradual realizations. It’s not even manipulative, except maybe at the end of the last film… Apparently, the idea to put the three films together didn’t come around until 1999 or so, which explains why Harris didn’t exactly catch on….

Like I said, I can’t believe this film will ever make it to an easily accessible media format, but it’s worth hunting down.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Trent Harris; directors of photography, Harris, Bill Fishman and Claes Thulin; produced by Harris and Elizabeth Grey Cloud; released by Strand Releasing.

Starring Groovin’ Gary (Himself), Sean Penn (Groovin’ Larry), Crispin Glover (Groovin’ Larry) and Elizabeth Daily (Carrissa).


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