Danny DeVito

Tin Men (1987, Barry Levinson)

Tin Men is expansive. So expansive writer-director Levinson can’t get everywhere. He doesn’t have time in 112 mintues, he doesn’t have the structure for it either. Tin Men establishes its narrative distance firmly, deliberately, and usually hilariously in the first act. When Levinson gets to the end of the second act, he’s way too interested in all the plot strands he’s got going on. By that time, the film has–for better or worse (worse, but more on it in a bit)–become Danny DeVito’s movie. DeVito had been sharing more with top-billed Richard Dreyfuss, but then Levinson moves the focus away from Dreyfuss. Except then Levinson becomes immediately more interested in everything going on around DeVito. Except DeVito’s completely unaware of all the things going on around him. So it changes the film’s tone.

At one point, DeVito gets called out on his apathy; while he doesn’t improve, he does start getting more likable. Likable is one of Tin Men’s biggest problems. Levinson loves all of his characters way too much. They’re all a little too precious. When the film starts, however, the characters aren’t likable or lovable or precious. In fact, they’re not supposed to be any of those things, much less all of them.

Tin Men opens with a very nostalgic, sentimental opening title sequence. Levinson’s got some issues with the sentimentality in the film. There’s very little, except when he forces it. After the titles, we meet DeVito and suffering wife Barbara Hershey, then DeVito runs into Dreyfuss. Literally. Car accident.

From their inital argument, which is before the characters are established (and it takes Levinson around half the movie to establish DeVito), Tin Men moves on to setting up the ground situation. DeVito and Dreyfuss are both aluminum siding salesmen. They work for different companies. They have acquaintances in common, but don’t know one another.

Then it’s time to introduce the acquaintances, which is where Tin Men is often its most easily amusing. Big list. Here we go. John Mahoney is Dreyfuss’s sidekick. Jackie Gayle is DeVito’s. Mahoney and Gayle have about the same size parts, except Mahoney’s drama and Gayle’s comedy. Levinson sets DeVito up to have the more humorous storyline, which requires no one like DeVito. Not the other characters, not the viewer.

Sorry, off track already.

Supporting acquantiances–Seymour Cassel, Richard Portnow, Matt Craven, Alan Blumenfeld, and Michael Tucker are Dreyfuss’s entourage. Cassel’s amazing. His delivery of his one-liners transcends. Every one of his scenes is phenomenal. Portnow and Craven are background. Blumenfeld’s a new salesman, so he gets more. Tucker’s a cameo. He’s good, but it’s a cameo. A meaty one, because Levinson loves the characters so much. When he’s being overindulgent with the characters, he’s able to keep the sentimentality in check. When he’s just trying to package the film? That sentimentality flails, always at the wrong time. Levinson can’t figure out how to package the film because it’s not sentimental, even if he intends it to be.

I’m off track again. Tin Men is so much at once, so much.

DeVito’s entourage is Stanley Brock, Bruno Kirby, and J.T. Walsh as the boss. Brock’s hilarious. He’s the Cassel analogue but the delivery is different. Kirby’s the straight man and he’s great. His deliveries of Levinson’s speedy dialogue is magical.

So back to complaining about the packaging. Between the opening and closing bookends, Levinson examines all sorts of things. Sure, there’s the overarching story of Dreyfuss discovering true love with Hershey after stealing her away from DeVito as a prank, but Levinson loses track of that story. He focus on Hershey briefly, setting her up to have a bigger part separate from Dreyfuss, Levinson pulls back. And it’s a shame because Hershey’s awesome and Levinson writes her scenes well. He just can’t keep the film away from DeVito.

Because DeVito is spellbinding. He never learns. He never impresses. He should be loathsome but he’s not because he’s kind of a dope. The character’s usually unpleasant but watching DeVito isn’t.

Dreyfuss is excellent. His part’s not as good.

DeVito overpowers Tin Men until Levinson gets distracted with the American Dream angle. Once Levinson grazes that idea, he can’t stop circling it. Because Tin Men is positive. It adores the trappings of its time period while eagerly anticipating coming progresses. Levinson beautifully foreshadows in the film.

Whenever there’s something deft, Levinson can handle it. When it’s the big stuff like Dreyfuss and Hershey’s romance, he gets distracted. And maybe even bored. Dreyfuss and Hershey get some movie moments–like a lovely rain reconcilation–but Hershey’s best opposite DeVito, not Dreyfuss. Levinson fumbles the character focus in the second half.

Great score (and songs) from Fine Young Cannibals. Stu Linder’s editing is breathtaking. Levinson and Linder cut loose a few times and create these bombastic and sublime sequences. Superb editing.

Peter Sova’s photography is all right. Tin Men is a Touchstone eighties movie and it looks like one. It’s overly saturated, which is great to emphasize the clothes and sometimes the cars; it doesn’t help with the rest. It’s not crisp enough. It’s Levinson’s fault. Sova seems perfectly capable of lighting an interior with some personality. Levinson isn’t tasking him.

Great production design from Peter Jamison.

Tin Men is an excellent (if oversaturated) production. It looks wonderful. It moves wonderful. It sounds wonderful. Tin Men just doesn’t get anywhere wonderful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Stu Linder; music by Fine Young Cannibals; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Mark Johnson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (BB), Danny DeVito (Tilley), Barbara Hershey (Nora), John Mahoney (Moe), Jackie Gayle (Sam), Stanley Brock (Gil), Seymour Cassel (Cheese), Bruno Kirby (Mouse), J.T. Walsh (Wing), Richard Portnow (Carly), Matt Craven (Looney), Alan Blumenfeld (Stanley), Brad Sullivan (Masters), and Michael Tucker (Bagel).


Get Shorty (1995, Barry Sonnenfeld)

There’s a gentle quality about Get Shorty, an invitation from screenwriter Scott Frank and director Sonnenfeld to dwell. One can also not dwell on the film’s little moments, because it’s got awesome big moments as well. Except Shorty doesn’t have much in the way of set pieces; Sonnenfeld does whatever he can to reduce action and suspense. He’s making a comedy–a likable comedy–not an action thriller. So those big moments come in dialogue and actors’ deliveries. Sonnenfeld and his actors layer their performances in each scene. Sometimes it’s so Sonnenfeld can do a sight gag, sometimes it’s just for the exit laugh. But it creates these fantastic characters who don’t get much chance at narrative progression. Get Shorty is a concise, impeccably constructed, impeccably edited film.

Frank’s script often gives each character a sidekick for a scene. Someone to watch while someone else has a big moment. The way Sonnenfeld directs these scenes is for the sidekick to react–in close-up–while listening. It’s not a big reaction, it gives Martin Ferrero a few nice scenes and lets Rene Russo excel in her scream queen turned producer part. Russo’s story is always in relation to the boys–lead John Travolta as her new beau, Gene Hackman as her Corman-esque Svengali, Danny DeVito as her movie star ex-husband–but she still gets to have a real, consequential part. And not because of action, but because of her character’s decisions, which the audience gets to see Russo make thanks to Sonnenfeld’s deliberate approach.

Get Shorty is also perfectly acted. No one gives anything less than an excellent performance (even Bette Midler in a cameo) but there are some particularly exceptional ones (i.e. Travolta). The thing about Get Shorty is it doesn’t ask Travolta to be a movie star. It asks him to be a character actor. Even though Travolta’s the lead, Get Shorty is far more of an ensemble piece. Each actor is intentionally memorable–the way Donald Peterman lights them, the way Jim Miller cuts them, the way Sonnenfeld composes the shot–even the bit players are intentionally memorable. It creates an exceptionally affable mood.

Of course, it’s also about Hollywood. The dream of Hollywood, filtered through Travolta’s exuberant nostalgia. Travolta and Russo have these side conversations about old movies; I wonder if Frank wrote the whole conversation or just cut in. It’s all handled perfectly. But with a couple exceptions, it’s not about “real” Hollywood. It’s about everyone’s dream of it. Whether it’s Travolta’s, Hackman’s, Russo’s, Delroy Lindo’s.

Delroy Lindo.

Delroy Lindo gives the film’s greatest performance. He stands out among all the standouts. He stands out in a film where Dennis Farina is able to so exactly embody his caricature, it becomes magic. Because Lindo has the task of being dangerous, loathsome, likable. You’re watching Get Shorty, you’re hoping Lindo gets his comeuppance, but not too soon.

No one else can do these roles. No one else is imaginable in these roles. Sonnenfeld gets the audience buy-in early, sort of doing a “pilot” for the film before the opening titles. There’s a concise little narrative, an introduction to Travolta and nemesis Farina, then the titles. The titles hinting at what’s to come, John Lurie’s Booker T-esque score excitedly dragging things out. Sonnenfeld makes you impatient to watch this Get Shorty picture he’s teasing.

Get Shorty’s great. I’ve always thought so, but it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen it so I’m really glad it’s so great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Jim Miller; music by John Lurie; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring John Travolta (Chili Palmer), Gene Hackman (Harry Zimm), Rene Russo (Karen Flores), Danny DeVito (Martin Weir), Dennis Farina (Ray Bones), Delroy Lindo (Bo), James Gandolfini (Bear), Jon Gries (Ronnie), Martin Ferrero (Tommy), Miguel Sandoval (Mr. Escobar), Jacob Vargas (Yayo), Linda Hart (Fay Devoe) and David Paymer (Leo Devoe).


Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

Batman Returns is one of those films I always hope will end a little differently. Tim Burton gets such wonderful performances out of Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, their penultimate scene always has this glimmer of a different outcome. There’s so much energy between the two actors, such rich characters, it’s tragically unfair they don’t make it.

Keaton and Pfeiffer–actually, more Pfeiffer and Keaton–take up a quarter of Returns’s glorious mess. Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters don’t have a natural way to tie all of the film’s plots together and they don’t bother trying to find one. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the connective tissue, in a lot of ways, to the villains, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito. Keaton’s Batman just gets thrown in the mix from time to time. Trying to imagine a plot chart for Batman Returns… I think of spaghetti.

But, like I said, Burton doesn’t try to fix that problem. He just makes it the best spaghetti he can. For every plot problem, there’s some amazing visual or wonderful little moment or maybe just DeVito. DeVito’s performance is spellbinding. He creates a villain who’s without humanity and the lack is part of his performance’s appeal. It’s funny.

Great performances, wonderful music from Danny Elfman, beautiful Stefan Czapsky photography, Bo Welch’s amazing production design.

Burton creates a space for these grotesque, complicated, beautiful characters to play with one another. He loves them and doesn’t care if the viewer doesn’t.

Batman Returns is a singular motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Daniel Waters, based on a story by Waters and Sam Hamm and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Burton and Denise Di Novi; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Danny DeVito (Penguin / Oswald Cobblepot), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman / Selina Kyle), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Murphy (The Mayor), Vincent Schiavelli (Organ Grinder), Andrew Bryniarski (Chip Shreck) and Cristi Conaway (Ice Princess).



The Jewel of the Nile (1985, Lewis Teague)

If there’s a better example of why not every successful film should have a sequel than The Jewel of the Nile, I can’t think of it.

Nile should be a lot of fun–Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are still likable, Danny DeVito’s still hilarious… but it soon becomes clear Douglas and Turner are more likable apart. Her character has completely changed, while his changes might just be seen as character development. Might.

Screenwriters Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner don’t really have a story for the duo, so they flop their way into one. There’s a lot of resolution to the previous film’s ending, which seems like a waste of run time. The first twenty minutes of Nile could be done in three lines of good expository dialogue.

The film does have some decent action, thanks to too much money, a fine workman director in Teague and great Jan de Bont photography. The Jack Nitzsche score is iffy, but Peter Boita and Michael Ellis’s editing is sublime. It never gets boring, even when the action scenes are clearly padded out. There’s just too much technical competence.

Nile does rely a lot on racial stereotypes. The filmmakers seem to think they’re being respectful, but it’s still uncomfortably exploitative.

One of the script’s biggest mistakes is to give DeVito his own storyline. He’d have been funnier with Douglas and Turner, who instead accompany Avner Eisenberg. Eisenberg is no DeVito.

It’s also too bad Douglas can’t feign interest. He produced it after all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, based on characters created by Diane Thomas; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Peter Boita and Michael Ellis; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designers, Richard Dawking and Terry Knight; produced by Michael Douglas; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Douglas (Jack Colton), Kathleen Turner (Joan Wilder), Danny DeVito (Ralph), Spiros Focás (Omar), Avner Eisenberg (Al-Julhara), Paul David Magid (Tarak), Hamid Fillali (Rachid) and Holland Taylor (Gloria).


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).


Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison)

Despite all Danny DeVito’s vulgar innuendos–though there are a couple missed opportunities–Other People’s Money is a rather chaste film. Director Jewison’s model for it is a Hollywood classic, with exquisite gowns for DeVito’s love interest slash rival, Penelope Ann Miller, and hats for the men.

With photography from Haskell Wexler and Alvin Sargent’s thoughtful, deliberate screenplay (though that thoughtfulness might be from Jerry Sterner’s source play), Money is extremely elegant. DeVito playing a variation on his bombastic, obnoxious persona for the first thirty minutes only makes the elegance more striking.

The film opens with DeVito positioned against not Miller, but Gregory Peck, Piper Laurie and Dean Jones (Jones is fantastic in the film). He’s an amusing villain… nothing more. Then Miller enters and Money changes. Jewison has the problem of making a romance believable between the refined Miller and the trollish DeVito. And he solves it. The very slow humanizing of DeVito is one of Money‘s best elements, as DeVito, Jewison and Sargent have structured the character so it’s not a development, just a delayed revelation.

While DeVito’s excellent, Miller’s more impressive because she has to contend with him. Jewison’s composition puts a lot of importance on sight line and Miller sells every scene. It helps Miller’s character has a layered personality too.

R.D. Call and Mo Gaffney are good in smaller roles.

The film’s third act, unfortunately, wobbles quite a bit. Luckily, DeVito, Miller and Jewison’s previous successes are able to override it.

Money‘s an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Jerry Sterner; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie, Lou Lombardo and Michael Pacek; music by David Newman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Jewison and Ric Kidney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Danny DeVito (Lawrence Garfield), Penelope Ann Miller (Kate Sullivan), Piper Laurie (Bea Sullivan), Dean Jones (Bill Coles), R.D. Call (Arthur), Mo Gaffney (Harriet), Bette Henritze (Emma), Tom Aldredge (Ozzie), Leila Kenzle (Marcia) and Gregory Peck (Andrew Jorgenson).


Ruthless People (1986, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker)

Clocking in at a whopping ninety minutes, Ruthless People feels a tad undercooked. Lots of trailer-ready sequences, lots of memorable moments, nothing to really connect them. The ZAZ directing team (it’s probably been sixteen years since I’ve thought about them) is adequate, but they don’t really direct actors very well here, so the casting goes a long way (Bill Pullman suffers the most, having the easiest character to play and most of his scenes fall flat).

Danny DeVito is great–turning in a performance so good I thought about renting Twins–but he’s not really getting any help from the directors and the script just plays him as a jerk, so DeVito isn’t really doing anything very difficult. Weight loss figures greatly in to the story–it saves kidnappers Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold from doing jail time–as Bette Midler loses twenty pounds in four days and has the Stockholm syndrome going in full effect.

The movie’s mostly missed opportunities–not counting the cartoon relationship between DeVito and Midler, which is mostly implied–particularly Reinhold and Slater’s touching love story… also implied. They’re the down-on-their-luck young couple who made a big mistake and haven’t been able to recover. There’s a lot of possibility (especially with a Michel Colombier score), but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Thanks to all the problems–the directors and the writer (I have no idea if the abbreviated storytelling is the script or the direction, but it’s unfair to put it all on the directors)–the most amusing parts of Ruthless People are the two cops, played by Art Evans and Clarence Felder, who are enduring all the defects along with the audience. A mix approach–the kidnappers, the cops, the husband–required traditional storytelling in Ruthless People….

Instead, the directors just made an unfilling mess.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; written by Dale Launer, based on a story by O. Henry; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Gib Jaffe and Arthur Schmidt; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Michael Peyser; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Danny DeVito (Sam Stone), Bette Midler (Barbara Stone), Judge Reinhold (Ken Kessler), Helen Slater (Sandy Kessler), Anita Morris (Carol Dodsworth), Bill Pullman (Earl Mott), William G. Schilling (Chief Henry Benton), Art Evans (Lt. Bender), Clarence Felder (Lt. Walters), J.E. Freeman (Bedroom Killer) and Gary Riley (Heavy Metal Kid).


The Oh in Ohio (2006, Billy Kent)

Short movies–under ninety minutes–are having a creative resurgence of late. I’m thinking primarily of Ed Burns’s Looking for Kitty as the model (and it was well under ninety), but The Oh in Ohio is another fine example. The way the filmmakers keep Ohio short is very interesting. They end the movie during the last five or six minutes of the second act. There is no third act. There’s a lot of suggestion to what might be coming in the third act, even foreshadowing to a pleasantly surprising, comedic ending, but it isn’t in the film. There are a handful of fade-to-black scene transitions and when the last one came, I was not expecting the film to end. It was a deft–a term I’ve only used one other time here on The Stop Button–unexpected narrative move and nothing in The Oh in Ohio prepared me for it.

There’s very little in the way narrative drive–there’s an abject lack of conflict after the first act–and I kept waiting for a crisis needing resolution and one never arrived. In some ways, the film summarizes instead of plays out in scene, but has enough solid scenes going to give the illusion they’re where the most important events are playing out. Or it might not be deft and the screenwriters just got lucky. Either way, it’s interesting because for a narrative to play out in the traditional structure only to stop, canceling its traditional trajectory, raises a lot of questions about where a story should in terms of creating the fullest experience. The Oh in Ohio could have tacked on another fifteen to twenty-five minutes and it would never have ended quite as well. Because romantic comedies–and The Oh in Ohio is a romantic comedy–tend to have their own pattern and they don’t do it for narrative quality but because romantic comedies really only have seventy or eighty minutes worth of story and they need push it so people won’t dismiss them for running under ninety (or ninety-five, ninety-five sounds more respectable still). So The Oh in Ohio shows cutting and closing sooner, on a high point, might be the way to go. I can think of one or two romantic comedies right now with too long endings, where cutting earlier would have worked better.

Other than its narrative innovation (or possible innovation, I’ll check with the patent office), The Oh in Ohio’s got Parker Posey and she’s excellent, but it’s also got a great Paul Rudd performance. Rudd frequently disappoints, but not in this film. Danny DeVito’s good, so is Keith David. Liza Minnelli has a fantastic cameo.

The laugh-out-loud comedy scenes mix well with the not-laugh-out-loud ones and there’s still the traditional narrative going on to hold things together. I also use the word “quirky” sparingly (though, apparently, three times to date), but The Oh in Ohio is a quirky film and I feel like I shouldn’t have had to remember on my own. Someone else should have been talking about it.*

* I have a feeling they were not, because when I went to go to look for DVD reviews, I found four. Apparently, the superstars at HBO Home Video decided to pan and scan the Panavision frame to an HD-friendly 1.85:1, which really bothered me during the scenes when the framing was so obviously off–like when a car drove off frame but was still audible and the scene didn’t cut until it had time to traverse (out of frame, obviously) the rest of the shot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Kent; screenplay by Adam Wierzbianski, from a story by Sarah Bird, Kent and Wierzbianski; director of photography, Ramsey Nickell; edited by Paul Bertino and Michael R. Miller; music by Bruno Coon; production designer, Martina Buckley; produced by Miranda Bailey, Francey Grace and Amy Salko Robertson; released by Cyan Pictures.

Starring Parker Posey (Priscilla Chase), Danny DeVito (Wayne the Pool Guy), Miranda Bailey (Sherri), Paul Rudd (Jack Chase), Keith David (Coach Popovitch), Tim Russ (Douglas), Mischa Barton (Kristen Taylor), Liza Minnelli (Alyssa Donahue), Robert John Burke (Binky Taylor) and Heather Graham (Justine).


The Rainmaker (1997, Francis Ford Coppola)

The Rainmaker‘s got some beautiful stuff in it. My history with it is somewhat sorted… I discovered it on DVD, then abandoned it–and have now rediscovered it. I can’t remember what my last problem with it was–probably the same as my current one–but I was selling DVDs and needed cash.

It’s not perfect and has some noticeable flaws–the ever-present narration, for example. Just because Michael Herr and Coppola’s last collaboration was Apocalypse Now… well, the narration is Apocalypse Now was not its driving force. Coppola lets the narration run The Rainmaker, not trusting his material. The material is strong too. The only weak point is the love story, which is rather tame–I don’t think there’s even a real kiss–and Claire Danes does not ruin it. Coppola doesn’t let her do anything, hardly lets her talk, so she’s just scenery. So, instead of being some dark driving force–the son finally saving the abused mother–it’s just something to pass the time.

Otherwise, the film is perfectly cast (except Andrew Shue). Of particular note are Johnny Whitworth, Mickey Rourke, and Dannys Glover and DeVito. Matt Damon’s great. I forgot he was great (pre-Bourne), back when he was going to be a superstar. The film’s main failing is probably that it doesn’t have a solid foundation. It’d be indescribably beautiful if the film juxtaposed the young attorney with the various results of the legal profession. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even focus too much on the case. There’s that silly love story, instead of the solid story about the friendship between Damon and Whitworth, that only gets a montage.

Unfortunately, The Rainmaker is going to lead to me watching a bunch of other abandoned films. But it’s certainly a good indication I might have foolishly left some other good ones behind.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Coppola and Michael Herr, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Michael Douglas, Steven Reuther and Fred Fuchs; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Rudy Baylor), Danny DeVito (Deck Schifflet), Claire Danes (Kelly Riker), Jon Voight (Leo F. Drummond), Mary Kay Place (Dot Black), Teresa Wright (Miss Birdie), Virginia Madsen (Jackie Lemancyzk), Mickey Rourke (Bruiser Stone), Roy Scheider (Wilfred Keeley), Randy Travis (Billy Porter), Johnny Whitworth (Donny Ray Black), Danny Glover (Judge Tyrone Kipler) and Andrew Shue (Cliff Riker).


L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

I haven’t seen L.A. Confidential since 1998 or so, whenever the laserdisc came out. Before the film came out–I saw it in the theaters of course, being a big Russell Crowe fan back then–I read James Ellroy’s book. So, obviously, the film cuts a lot and I don’t remember the book very well, except that it took place over a long period of time. I don’t think it was that good, but you did get to know the characters… You don’t in L.A. Confidential: The Movie. Instead, you get to know and care when the filmmakers tell you to care. It’s Oscar-bait. As I started watching it, I thought it would be okay Oscar-bait, but it really isn’t. For a few reasons.

First, since I’ll be on and on about it if I don’t get it out of the way: Kim Basinger. 1) She does not look like Veronica Lake, she does not resemble Veronica Lake, never in a million years would I think she does. According to IMDb, Izabella Scorupco turned down the role and she owes me dinner for the thirty minutes or so of Basinger “acting” I just had to endure. 2) Kim Basinger is awful. The number of films, probably starting with Batman, that she has hurt or ruined with her aforementioned “acting” probably equals the number of films she has “acted” in. I sort of remember once saying Nine 1/2 Weeks was her only reasonable acting job. Since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I won’t make such a claim. However, after seeing her “talents” on display in L.A. Confidential, I doubt I’d be able to reinforce said claim.

There: a paragraph for Basinger’s bad acting. Does Guy Pearce get a whole paragraph? Maybe. He is not good. His character needs to be good. The audience needs to identify with him, not against him. We aren’t suppose to think cops beating the shit out of and murdering innocent (or misdemeanor-committing) people is okay. Does that mean Pearce is actually so good that I’m just upset because he was so good–he was supposed to appear unlikable, correct? No, he was terrible. The scenes between him and Basinger at the end were awful. Not to mention how terrible their actual sex scene was. That was a special kind of awful. Made me want to stick pencils in my ears to break the drums.

However–and I’m breaking up the crap with some pearls–Russell Crowe is good. He has very little do. Most of his scenes are with Basinger and so he had no one to work with, but he still shines through. His character is decent and deserving of a better film. However, L.A. Confidential has got to be one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances. Since Spacey has turned into such an embarrassing Oscar-whore (sort of like Crowe), I’d forgotten how good he could be. If L.A. Confidential had been about Spacey’s redemption… Oh, one can only dream. The film also has David Straithairn and underuses him, which is an incredible affront to the species.

No, the problem with the film, why it doesn’t achieve or overcome the awful acting, is the writing. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson kept a couple parts of the book (I think, the Nite Owl murders seem to be how I remember), tossed the rest, but kept scenes from the book and lines of dialogue. Scenes and lines that mean nothing without the rest of the book. Or they didn’t keep the rhyming parts. So, the film deceives. In the middle, until about the 90 minute mark, it still seems like something good could come of all this stuff. A period cop movie called The Nite Owl Murders could have been amazing, but this film isn’t a cop movie. It’s not noir or neo-noir or anything like that. It’s Oscar-bait and, as Oscar-bait goes, I suppose it’s on par for 1997. If I remember correctly, 1997 was actually a good year, it was just that a bunch of shit was popular… as it goes. Gattaca, for instance, was from 1997. Comparing the two films is an incredible insult to Gattaca and possibly the whole idea of art in general.

I watched the DVD (my laserdisc is probably long gone–I rented the DVD for a buck and quarter and the laser cost $32 from Ken Crane’s). There are some audio looping problems, but I don’t think it’s the disc, because I noticed the mouths didn’t match the dialogue. Maybe there’s a good version of it out there somewhere, in the Warner vaults or something, but I really doubt it….

One last thing about 1997. I just saw that it’s the year Air Force One came out. I’ve never pinpointed, specifically, the downfall of American popular cinema. I can tell you when it was good, when it was better than it is now, and when everything was shit. But is there a turning point? I think it might be Air Force One–you had the previously reliable Harrison Ford in a complete piece of garbage. Petersen was already done, so I’m not putting anything on him, so I think I’ll hang it all on Ford whoring himself for money–in Air Force One. With a few blips–and pretty insignificant ones–his career has been downhill from that specific film. So it’s all his fault. I guess. None of this rant had anything to do with L.A. Confidential….

Okay, I’m done. (Damn Izabella Scorupco. Somebody ought to make her sit down and watch Basinger epic The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Peter Honess; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), David Strathairn (Pierce Morehouse Patchett), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Ron Rifkin (Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase) and Paolo Seganti (Johnny Stompanato).


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