Dan Hedaya

The Hunger (1983, Tony Scott)

A lot of The Hunger is so exquisitely directed by Scott, it almost seems like there’s nothing the narrative could do to mess it up. His Panavision composition is precise, fixated on the small detail, whether it’s David Bowie’s stubble or Catherine Deneuve’s sunglasses. These details become larger than life, filling the frame, but Scott and photographer Stephen Goldblatt want their actual size to be far more important, always haunting the viewer. The Hunger’s filmmaking is all about precision, whether it’s the direction, the photographer or Pamela Power’s thoughtfully hectic editing. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas’s script, which eventually undoes most of the filmmaking.

The Hunger is a very tight story. David Bowie is a vampire. He is getting sick. Catherine Deneuve is his master. There’s no description of the vampire logic in The Hunger, which is initially charming and then grating. It gets grating about the time it’s clear Scott’s style can’t carry the film, somewhere around the second half. Anyway, Deneuve finds out about aging scientist–she’s a scientist who specializes in aging, she’s not aging herself–aging scientist Susan Sarandon. Bowie tries to go to Sarandon for help. After some complications and revelations, Sarandon herself is afflicted.

The simple problem with The Hunger is the script. The more complex problem with it is how little Scott cares about the script. David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve manage a classical tragic elegance. Sarandon brings this modern elegance. Scott loves the dark elegance of it, he doesn’t care about the story. The film rushes through any of its “science” scenes, which come across as so ludicrous Bram Stoker wouldn’t have used them in 1897. But when Scott’s got to show the science–regardless of how stupid Davis and Thomas explain that science–Scott is able to make it look good. He stumbles occasionally in the third act, which is way too rushed both in terms of present action and runtime, but Scott’s even able to visualize the dumb ending pretty well. It’s just too bad he can’t save it. Once Sarandon stops being the protagonist of the film and its subject, The Hunger slips and doesn’t recover. It handled changing protagonists from Bowie to Sarandon, but when it tries to hand off to Deneuve, the third act rush is too close and it’s a big fumble.

Lots of mixed metaphors and so on in there but The Hunger’s a little hard to rip on. It deserves it–the bad finish just makes the previous missteps more obvious, especially in the case of Cliff De Young. He’s Sarandon’s fellow aging scientist and also her boyfriend. He gets nothing to do, not even in the scenes where the other scientists have something to do, and then he gets a couple big moments. Scott doesn’t direct either of those scenes well. It feels like a different picture.

Good music from Danny Jaeger and Michel Rubini. Some great special effects. Good performances from Bowie and Sarandon. Deneuve’s fine until the script passes the buck on her as a protagonist (and, subsequently, even as a character). Effective supporting turn from Beth Ehlers. Dan Hedaya is out of place as a grizzled cop. Dan Hedaya should never be out of place as a grizzled cop.

It’s a beautifully made film. Shame about that script.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; screenplay by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas, based on the novel by Whitley Strieber; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Pamela Power; music by Denny Jaeger and Michel Rubini; production designer, Brian Morris; produced by Richard Shepherd; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Susan Sarandon (Sarah), David Bowie (John), Catherine Deneuve (Miriam), Beth Ehlers (Alice), Cliff De Young (Tom), Rufus Collins (Charlie), Suzanne Bertish (Phyllis) and Dan Hedaya (Lieutenant Allegrezza).


Dead-End for Delia (1993, Phil Joanou)

Director Joanou definitely familiarized himself with film noir before directing Dead-End for Delia (an episode of noir anthology “Fallen Angels”) but apparently didn’t realized doing it in color would break the shots. Especially since cinematographer Declan Quinn often just boosts the contrast to hide modern background elements.

But Scott Frank’s script is also a problem. He and Joanou play up the film noir homage to an absurd level, with Gary Oldman walking around in a coat too big for him like it’s a B noir from the fifties and not something with a budget. Frank’s script (it’s based on a short story) has a couple nice moments, but the twist is obvious and weak.

Ditto the acting. Gabrielle Anwar’s terrible as the titular character and Oldman ranges from mediocre to bored. Meg Tilly, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Paul Guilfoyle do provide nice supporting work though.

Besides them, there’s nothing here.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; teleplay by Scott Frank, based on the story by William Campbell Gault; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Stan Salfas; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Gary Oldman (Pat Keiley), Meg Tilly (Lois Weldon), Paul Guilfoyle (Steve Prokowski), Vondie Curtis-Hall (David O’Connor), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Calender), Wayne Knight (Leo Cunningham), Patrick Masset (Joe Helgeson), John Putch (Officer Barnes) and Gabrielle Anwar (Delia).


The Passover Plot (1976, Michael Campus)

For the first few scenes, Alex North definitely composes The Passover Plot like a big Biblical epic of the fifties. It’s not, of course, and not just because Plot’s from the seventies. It’s cheap and director Campus uses that reduced budget interestingly. Maybe not well, but definitely interestingly. Actors get close-ups when they don’t need them, there aren’t any establishing shots for scene transitions (not right away anyway) and there’s no expository dialogue. The only frames of reference for the viewer are the opening and closing text scrawls. Plot feels like a low budget, subversive seventies movie, which is actually an exact description.

It just happens to be about Jesus.

Or Yeshua. I’m not sure if they went with Yeshua for accuracy or to be less controversial. Even though the film–with Plot right there in the title–is about how Yeshua (played by Zalman King) decides to fake his resurrection, he’s still really cares about people. It’s like if Jesus wasn’t magic and was just a good guy.

King’s effective, but not exactly good. There isn’t a lot of room to act in Plot, not with Campus’s strange choices regarding pacing and then there’s the script. It jumps all over the place and never gives the viewer a comfortable grounding.

Harry Andrews is a lot of fun, chewing away at the scenery, and Donald Pleasence is pretty good.

For what the filmmakers attempt, Plot’s a moderate success.

Except Adam Greenberg’s photography; he lights it too dark.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Campus; screenplay by Millard Cohan and Patricia Louisianna Knop, inspired by the book by Hugh J. Schonfield; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Alex North; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by Atlas Film.

Starring Harry Andrews (Yohanan the Baptist), Hugh Griffith (Caiaphas), Zalman King (Yeshua), Donald Pleasence (Pontius Pilate), Scott Wilson (Judah), Daniel Ades (Andros), Michael Baseleon (Mattai), Lewis Van Bergen (Yoram), William Paul Burns (Shimon), Dan Hedaya (Yaocov), Helena Kallianiotes (Visionary Woman), Kevin O’Connor (Irijah), Robert Walker Jr. (Bar Talmi) and William Watson (Roman Captain).


Daylight (1996, Rob Cohen)

Stallone is Kit Latura, disgraced EMS chief (he cared too much). Besides the name, Stallone’s just the disaster movie lead and not even any interesting one (besides the caring too much). There aren’t even any Stallone grunts in the movie and he plays it straight and as well as anyone can play the terrible script. Daylight is a terrible attempt at a disaster movie as it forgets a couple of the golden rules of the genre. First, have a recognizable cast. Jay O. Sanders might barely qualify, but whoever plays his wife (Karen Young–and she’s awful) is not. And the less said about Sage Stallone the better. The second broken rule is to make the characters likable. With the exception of Stallone and security guard Stan Shaw, there isn’t a single sympathetic character trapped in the (unnamed) tunnel. In fact, when Viggo Mortensen dies, it’s a relief, since it’d have been awful to spend the rest of the movie with him around.

Besides the plotting problems, the script’s generally awful–bad dialogue, bad characters–but Daylight‘s not abjectly bad. Rob Cohen is a boring director, but he’s not bad. The sets are all very intricate and impressive (the other visual effects, terrible CG and silly composites, are not), even if the action occurring on them is mediocre at best.

When he’s not spouting off terrible character development dialogue, Stallone’s keeping the movie going. At the beginning, when it’s amusingly ludicrous, he gets some help from Dan Hedaya. Then, in the tunnel, a little from Shaw. Eventually, he’s got to push ahead himself and, at that point, Daylight gets particularly long. Maybe it’s because the ending is straight out of The Goonies.

Randy Edelman’s score is awful, Amy Brenneman is awful, Barry Newman is hilariously awful. Trina McGee is okay in one of the smaller roles and Vanessa Bell Calloway’s fake Caribbean accent (it goes in and out of course)–at least makes her scenes funny.

It’s funny to think of disaster movies as a complicated art form, but Daylight certainly proves they’re far from easy to make successful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; written by Leslie Bohem; director of photography, David Eggby; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Benjamin Fernandez; produced by John David, Joseph M. Singer and David T. Friendly; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Kit Latura), Amy Brenneman (Madelyne Thompson), Dan Hedaya (Frank Kraft), Viggo Mortensen (Roy Nord), Jay O. Sanders (Steven Crighton), Karen Young (Sarah Crighton), Danielle Harris (Ashley Crighton), Trina McGee (LaTonya), Claire Bloom (Eleanor Trilling), Colin Fox (Roger Trilling), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Grace), Stan Shaw (George Tyrell), Sage Stallone (Vincent), Barry Newman (Norman Bassett) and Mark Rolston (Chief Dennis Wilson).


Blood Simple (1984, Joel Coen)

I’m pretty sure I saw the Blood Simple director’s cut twice in the theater. Seems like I did. The second time I helped a couple underage Coen fans get in, and I already knew the recut was a disappointment. I got the original cut from the UK, where it used to be available and might still be found, and waited almost ten years to watch it. I’m glad I did. I can appreciate it more.

What Joel Coen does in Blood Simple is adapt the Western for interiors, visually speaking. There are sweeping camera movements more at home in Monument Valley than in a loft, but there’s Coen using them anyway. It’s impossible to identify every moment of greatness in Blood Simple‘s filmmaking, because it’s probably every frame. From thirty-five seconds in to the film, I was already stuffed–it’s a sumptuous (or decadent, the word the wife prefers–in general, not specifically for the film) experience. Every scene is a wonder. It’s not just the sound, editing, music, cinematography, composition, dialogue–which is the best they’ve ever written–it’s everything together; it’s the experience of watching an endlessly brilliant film. It’s one of the best films of the 1980s, like a combination of late 1970s John Carpenter and early 1980s John Sayles. The tone of both those filmmakers fuses in Blood Simple, creating something different and singular.

Blood Simple is free of the Coen Brothers brand–starting with The Hudsucker Proxy, but almost with Raising Arizona, part of a Coen Brothers film is acknowledging it’s a Coen Brothers film. Except Blood Simple isn’t a Coen Brothers film in that sense. The silliness isn’t there. Usually, the silliness is only absent in their non-beloved films (with recent exceptions), but there’s no fluff on Blood Simple, no fat. It’s a Coen Brothers film about real people, not their standard caricatures. The acting and writing really come together to make something different. She’s the least assuming, but Frances McDormand turns in a great performance. I didn’t even realize, until about half-way in to the film, McDormand’s developed an on-screen persona these days. It’s nice to see her without. Dan Hedaya plays the second most sympathetic character in the film and he’s a complete terror. When the bad guy gets sympathy, somebody’s doing something right. M. Emmet Walsh is good as the villain, John Getz is good as the lover who gets between husband and wife Hedaya and McDormand. The other really great performance, which I did remember from the last two times, is Samm-Art Williams, who’s done little other acting work, but he’s fantastic.

Blood Simple is filled with an energy it’d be hard for the Coen Brothers to keep up these days (they aren’t hungry anymore and haven’t been for at least fifteen years), but what’s so telling is how much they disrespected their first film when they went back to recut it. Either they’d forgotten what made it great, or they hated it and wanted the film to somehow “fit” better with their modern successes. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the latter. Otherwise, they’d have made some more films approaching this one’s caliber. But seriously, it’d be impossible to surpass it. Blood Simple is stunning… and it’s a tragedy they’ve never made this version available–readily available–on DVD.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen; photography by Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegmann; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Circle Films.

Starring John Getz (Ray), Frances McDormand (Abby), Dan Hedaya (Julian Marty), M. Emmet Walsh (Private Detective) and Samm-Art Williams (Meurice).


Tightrope (1984, Richard Tuggle)

I think I figured out what makes Bruce Surtees’s 1980s photography so particular–he’s accounting for grain in film stock where there’s no significant grain (as opposed to, say, his films of the 1970s). Tightrobe has a muted cleanliness to it, which really doesn’t fit the story–cop who frequents prostitutes versus serial killer of same prostitutes. It lacks a visual personality. The New Orleans locations do a lot of the work for the film, because the locations aren’t the star, just the locations, which is always how New Orleans works better. It’s too easy to have it do all the work. Richard Tuggle, the writer and director, does an adequate job of directing Tightrope–he does good chase scenes–but his script spends an hour establishing the situation, then spends fifty minutes putting first Eastwood’s kids, then his girlfriend, in danger. There’s some nice stuff in the script, but it’s really not the script’s fault, rather Alison Eastwood playing Eastwood’s kid, which I’ll get to in a second. First, I need to acknowledge Tuggle as an “Eastwood director.” Paul Newman had a couple people he worked with a lot (Martin Ritt and Stuart Rosenberg) and Eastwood similarly used to have his own stable. Tuggle only did the one film, but he’s really indistinguishable from the other two (James Fargo and Buddy Van Horn) Eastwood worked with during the late 1970s to late 1980s period. He does a fine job, but there’s nothing to it.

On to the Eastwoods. The effect of having Alison Eastwood play the daughter is staggering. She’s really good, but being aware of it, I watched Clint Eastwood and his kid, not the character and his kid. I never felt like I was watching them star in a movie, but the general lack of characterization–except the relatively tame kinkiness–just made it another Eastwood vehicle. It’s a good and effective vehicle, but it lacks. It reminds me of a less competent, but more engaging Blood Work. Dirty Harry with kids, or something. Seeing Eastwood with kids is nice though, those scenes are the best in Tightrope, but the scenes of Eastwood in the Red Light district are so tamed down for mainstream consumption, that aspect of the film misfires. The kid stuff, though, it’s so good it makes up for Genevieve Bujold’s abject ineffectiveness.

My only other comment on Tightrope is in regards to Dan Hedaya as Eastwood’s partner. You can’t have Hedaya in a movie and not use him. Tightrope doesn’t use him.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Tuggle; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; produced by Clint Eastwood and Fritz Manes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Wes Block), Genevieve Bujold (Beryl Thibodeaux), Dan Hedaya (Detective Molinari), Alison Eastwood (Amanda Block), Jennifer Beck (Penny Block) and Marco St. John (Leander Rolfe).


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