David Duchovny

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991, Stephen Herek)

Wait, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead made money? It didn’t make a lot of money, but it probably turned a profit.

The movie’s a star vehicle for Christina Applegate, who clearly doesn’t deserve one. Her performance is laughably awful and amateurish; it’s as though the filmmakers realized she wasn’t likable and just went ahead anyway. Every frame of her performance gives way to a far worse one.

The plot–the titular Babysitter angle quickly gives way to teenage Applegate lying her way into a job–requires a reasonable performance from the lead. Between Applegate and director Herek’s incompetence, it’s not happening here.

There’s a complete disconnect with reality in Babysitter, whether it’s Concetta Tomei being believable as having five kids or Keith Coogan’s stoner being younger than sister Applegate. Herek and the screenwriters also coat over the mean-spirited, reprehensible natural of the characters. Whether it’s Tomei leaving her kids with a babysitter without references, the kids disposing of the body and covering up the death and just the movie’s general apathy.

The audience is supposed to like Applegate because she meets a cute boy (Josh Charles, who’s clearly leagues ahead talent-wise than his costars) and changes outfits and hairstyles every scene.

Poor Joanna Cassidy shows up and humiliates herself as Applegate’s boss.

Between Herek’s unbelievably lousy direction and David Newman’s awful score, the movie doesn’t even have any passable technical qualities.

It’s artistically tragic prints of Babysitter exist. I wish I could forget every millisecond of it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Herek; written by Neil Landau and Tara Ison; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Larry Bock; music by David Newman; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Robert F. Newmyer, Julia Phillips, Brian Reilly and Jeffrey Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christina Applegate (Sue Ellen Crandell), Joanna Cassidy (Rose Lindsey), John Getz (Gus), Josh Charles (Bryan), Keith Coogan (Kenny Crandell), Concetta Tomei (Mom), David Duchovny (Bruce), Kimmy Robertson (Cathy), Jayne Brook (Carolyn), Eda Reiss Merin (Mrs. Sturak), Robert Hy Gorman (Walter Crandell), Danielle Harris (Melissa Crandell) and Christopher Pettiet (Zach Crandell).


The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008, Chris Carter)

I can understand why Chris Carter and company made X-Files: I Want to Believe (though not the title), but I can’t understand why Fox produced it. The film was a significant bomb, even if it didn’t cost very much, and some critics dismissed it as an episode turned into a feature. It’s anything but… instead, it’s the most peculiar studio, potential franchise release, I’ve ever seen. I Want to Believe is an adult drama not about David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning to the FBI to look for monsters–instead, it’s about Anderson’s internal turmoil over trying an experimental, painful procedure on a young patient.

They do return to the FBI to look for (qualified) monsters… but it’s not very important. It’s not even as important as the complicated romance between the characters. Some of the complication comes from the script–Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz take most of the movie to reveal the basic ground situation between Duchovny and Anderson, probably because it works so well and they thought they were going to be rewarding returning fans.

I Want to Believe is far more a postscript–and I make this observation generally, discussing the idea of making a sequel after a reasonable absence (I didn’t watch the last few seasons of the show, only hearing about plot points from friends)–than an attempt at starting a film series. It’s very different and it’s rather wonderful in how delicately it treats Duchovny and Anderson. Carter’s never directed a feature before (he uses Panavision to great effect); he treats Anderson with a moving gentleness. When Duchovny’s on screen alone, it’s almost a jolt–like he shouldn’t be running the show.

As for the mystery, I’m guessing it occupies half of the film’s running time. It’s clearly unimportant–the final act, featuring the resolution to it, is much less important than the denouement. It does allow for a surprise cameo, which ends in another touching, odd manner.

There are some excellent action-like sequences in the film. There’s a great chase scene and Bill Roe’s cinematography gives the Panavision a lush, grandiose scale. Shots of people walking from cars in the snow have rarely looked so good.

The acting’s all good, with Anderson having the hardest job. Duchovny has it easier, while Billy Connolly sort of phones in his performance, sort of doesn’t. It’s the same performance he gives a lot, but given his character (a psychic, sex offender ex-priest), it comes off differently. Amanda Peet manages to make an impression in her smallish role–though most of the movie trailer moments are hers–while Xzibit does not.

I spent the entire film incredibly impressed with the score and it turns out it’s Mark Snow, who did the music for the series. For some reason, I figured it’d be someone more famous.

What’s particularly nice about the film is how little one has to know about the show to understand it. There are some references, but as long as the viewer has a working knowledge of the basic concept… it works. I think. And stay through the credits.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Carter; screenplay by Frank Spotnitz and Carter, based on the television series created by Carter; director of photography, Bill Roe; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Mark Snow; production designer, Mark S. Freeborn; produced by Carter and Spotnitz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dr. Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (ASAC Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Xzibit (Agent Mosley Drummy), Callum Keith Rennie (Dacyshyn) and Adam Godley (Father Ybarra).


Chaplin (1992, Richard Attenborough)

Just today, I met someone who recently watched The Postman and thought it was a good film. She’s probably the third or fourth person (I think the third) who I’ve met–since 1997–who agreed it was a good film. Though Chaplin has five years on that one, I’ve never met anyone else who thinks it’s good. Or great, I suppose. Chaplin is great.

I absolutely dreaded watching this film. As I recall, I had the VHS–I bought it used from a video store and it was one of the early single tape releases for 130+ minute features–and then I got the laserdisc on remainder in the early days of the Internet shopping boom, back when there were laserdisc stores online and laserdiscs being pressed. So, I haven’t seen it in eight years (I was a slow converter to DVD and, even after I did, I still never tried upgrade my entire laserdisc collection–still haven’t). I rented it a long time ago when I was trying to keep my Blockbuster Online queue going and just never got around to it. I’ve been actively avoiding it for about two weeks now, when I cracked down and said I had to get it watched. My fear being–well, like I said, I’ve never heard a good word said about the film.

Immediately–within seconds–that fear, that apprehension, disappeared. The John Barry music comes up and I remembered the emotional sensation the film produces in me. These sensations being the goal of art–back when I last saw this film, I worried about my “taste.” It never occurred to me someone else’s wiring was wrong. Back to the film. The music comes up and there’s Robert Downey Jr., back when he was the finest working actor. It’s impossible to think of Chaplin as a Downey film because he’s not Robert Downey Jr. He creates this character named Charlie Chaplin. While the make-up work is good, it wouldn’t do its job with Downey. The viewer expects this character to age over time and so he has to–because there are title cards telling the viewer time is passing. Aging and time passing, they go together. Downey being an actor in latex make-up is beside the point. Downey never exists as an actor in the film and neither does anyone else. The only person who stretches that boundary is Dan Aykroyd–as I’d forgotten he was good.

The success isn’t all Downey or John Barry’s score–Chaplin has the most indispensable score since 2001–it’s Attenbourgh’s whole conception of the film. It’s a biopic, but it’s independent of the actual reality of Charlie Chaplin. Attenborough creates a character and creates a sense of nostalgia–for future events, this achievement is particularly visible in the creation of the Tramp scene–without requiring the audience to know anything real. Having experienced any Chaplin films is not a requirement for Chaplin. I, for example, didn’t see a Chaplin film until 1999 or 2000. It’s a brilliant approach to the “non-fiction” film, one not often done anymore. Today, authentic and historical accuracy are watchwords; they have nothing to do with good storytelling, fictional or non-fictional.

As a quiet aside–for any Keaton fans out there (I prefer Keaton)–there’s a great homage to Our Hospitality in Chaplin, when we see Hollywood before it was Hollywood, right under the titles identifying it. Our Hospitality, for those who don’t know, did with New York City, giving an intersection and a date in the middle of nineteenth century. It’s a cute touch.

The Chaplin supporting cast is superior. Primarily, the film shows how excellent Moira Kelly is–Chaplin’s her first and only great film and it’s a shame. I mean, she was already done by 1998. Also fantastic and less known is Paul Rhys as Chaplin’s brother. He didn’t disappear, he just didn’t stay in Hollywood. The relationship between Chaplin and his brother is one of the film’s strongest elements. I’m going to go through the rest faster–Marisa Tomei’s good, Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks (he and Chaplin’s relationship being another cornerstone), Penelope Ann Miller’s decent–if only in a scene really–Kevin Dunn is a frightening J. Edgar Hoover. Geraldine Chaplin playing Chaplin’s insane mother, she’s really good. Also, one of my favorite forgotten actors, Maria Pitillo (Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla ended her career) is in the film as Mary Pickford. She’s great in the film, credited far too late. She’s wonderful–Chaplin’s calling her a bitch while she and Downey have the second-best onscreen chemistry between he and female actor in the film. I suppose I need to mention it–though it doesn’t come up often at The Stop Button, I do despise Anthony Hopkins–Hopkins is great as the made-up book editor whose editing session with Chaplin frames the film.

I honestly don’t remember the last time I recommended something here. It looks like it would have been Black Narcissus. And now it’s Chaplin.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Attenborough; screenplay by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman, from a story by Diana Hawkins, based on books by Charles Chaplin and David Robinson; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Barry; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Attenborough, Mario Kassar and Terence Clegg; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Charlie Chaplin), Geraldine Chaplin (Hannah Chaplin), Paul Rhys (Sydney Chaplin), John Thaw (Fred Karno), Moira Kelly (Hetty Kelly/Oona O’Neill), Anthony Hopkins (George Hayden), Matthew Cottle (Stan Laurel), Dan Aykroyd (Mack Sennett), Marisa Tomei (Mabel Normand), Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance), Kevin Kline (Douglas Fairbanks), Kevin Dunn (J. Edgar Hoover), Diane Lane (Paulette Goddard), Deborah Moore (Lita Grey), Nancy Travis (Joan Barry), James Woods (Lawyer Scott), Milla Jovovich (Mildred Harris), Maria Pitillo (Mary Pickford) and David Duchovny (Rollie Totheroh).


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