David Foster

The Mean Season (1985, Phillip Borsos)

Somewhere in the second act of The Mean Season, the film just starts slipping and it never corrects. The opening titles, set against stormy Miami weather and a vicious (though not graphic) murder, establish the film’s momentum. Everything moves fast, whether it’s establishing unsatisfied reporter Kurt Russell and his newsroom sidekicks, his girlfriend Mariel Hemingway, even when the serial killer starts calling Russell–director Borsos and screenwriter Leon Piedmont keep things moving. Frank Tidy’s photography, the Florida locations, and Lalo Schifrin’s gentle but intense score help a lot.

There’s also Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford as the cops investigating the case. Garcia likes Russell, Bradford doesn’t. Like almost everything else in the movie, Borsos seems to think implying character motivation is the same as having character motivation. But Borsos and Piedmont aren’t particularly good at subtlety and Borsos isn’t great at directing his actors. He apparently gets Bradford’s world-weary, slightly fascist cop is the best character in the picture, since Bradford’s the only actor who gets any material to chew on. Though maybe it’s Bradford stepping up and chewing on his otherwise pointless role.

Getting a little ahead of myself–the salad days of Mean Season are the first half. The newspaper stuff is interesting, Borsos is good at the investigation, Russell and Hemingway are appealing. Then the movie gets into this whole juxtaposition of Russell’s media ambitions and the killer’s media ambitions and the stumbling starts. Russell and Hemingway try, but neither brings much weight to their roles. Once Borsos is done doing jump scares involving them, he and then Piedmont have nothing more for Hemingway. She’s just around to argue with Russell. Then Russell apologizes and scene.

There’s no character development, particularly for Russell. Piedmont’s script relies on thriller more than drama. Borsos’s direction eventually veers to action, which is a big mistake because he’s exceptionally inept at it. The second half of the film, as Russell finds himself in danger and not just from manipulative jump scares, is ragged and somewhat unpleasant. Russell burns through the charm and likability he’s built up and Borsos isn’t there with anything else for him. He ends the picture a husk.

Mean Season also skips the opportunity to look at the reporter becoming news, even though there are occasional details suggesting someone thought it might be a good idea to focus on that angle.

Hemingway gets a lot of help from Schifrin’s score. It’s problematic–she’s the damsel so she needs good damsel music–but also effective. And she’s trying. And her character does try to talk some sense, building up her likability. So she’s slight, but gets a pass.

Russell’s pass is a little different, almost more of an incomplete. It’s not his fault though. It’d be hard to make the last third silliness of Mean Season work. The film’s desperately in need of a better resolution to the mystery of the serial killer. Borsos overestimates where’s gotten the film in terms of suspension of disbelief as well as general interest.

The supporting cast is solid. Besides the awesome Bradford performance, Garcia is fine with little to do as a too young police lieutenant. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, and Rose Portillo all ably staff the newsroom scenes. They eventually disappear from the A plot, reduced to background as Piedmont’s script loses focus. At least Borsos kept them around.

Richard Jordan and William Smith are good as witnesses who prove essential to the case. Borsos fails Jordan after a while, but he’s still got some fine moments.

The Mean Season wraps up with an unsatisfying, hurried, manipulative conclusion. By the end, the whole movie is on Hemingway, Russell, Schifrin, Tidy, and Florida’s collective shoulders. They manage to keep it afloat, but only just.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Borsos; screenplay by Leon Piedmont, based on a novel by John Katzenbach; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Duwayne Dunham; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Philip M. Jeffries; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Malcolm Anderson), Mariel Hemingway (Christine Connelly), Andy Garcia (Ray Martinez), Richard Bradford (Phil Wilson), Richard Masur (Bill Nolan), Joe Pantoliano (Andy Porter), Rose Portillo (Kathy Vasquez), William Smith (Albert O’Shaughnessy), and Richard Jordan (Mike Hilson).


The Fog (2005, Rupert Wainwright), the unrated version

In Rupert Wainwright’s shockingly inept remake, The Fog doesn’t blow, it sucks.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But The Fog is awful. It’s almost interestingly awful, as Cooper Layne’s screenplay mimics just about every popular mainstream horror movie made in the previous two decades. Since director Wainwright is terrible and not paying attention to the constant ripping off–The Fog, in an impossibly earnest move, rips off the end of The Shining. It’s a rip-off capstone–the movie runs through not just ghost movies and thrillers, Wainwright really wants to be Steven Spielberg.

The script exists to move characters between set pieces. More than once, when the principal actors need to reunite, they just appear nearby. It’s beyond lazy and none of the cast can pull it off, especially not with Wainwright’s direction. There’s not a single good performance in The Fog. At least some of the supporting cast should’ve been tolerable, but no. No one gives a good performance. The “best” performance is Selma Blair. Not because she’s good, but because she’s the only actor who isn’t terrifyingly bad. Leads Maggie Grace and Tom Welling should be hilariously bad, but they aren’t. No one’s willing to laugh at the joke.

Graeme Revell’s music is occasionally almost all right, if a little on the nose. It disappears in the second half, when the more slasher-like action starts.

The special effects are terrible. Wainwright’s composition is terrible. He’s directing for people watching at home. Nathan Hope’s photography doesn’t help things either.

There’s nothing good about this film; it should be far more compelling in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rupert Wainwright; screenplay by Cooper Layne, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Nathan Hope; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Michael Diner and Graeme Murray; produced by Hill, David Foster and Carpenter; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Maggie Grace (Elizabeth Williams), Tom Welling (Nick Castle), Selma Blair (Stevie Wayne), DeRay Davis (Spooner), Kenneth Welsh (Tom Malone), Adrian Hough (Father Malone), Sara Botsford (Kathy Williams), Cole Heppell (Andy Wayne), Mary Black (Aunt Connie), Jonathon Young (Dan The Weatherman) and Rade Serbedzija (Captain William Blake).


The Getaway (1972, Sam Peckinpah)

From the lengthy opening credits to the big action finale, it's always clear sound is important in The Getaway. Editor Robert L. Wolfe does some wonderful transitions with sound foreshadowing the cut and the next scene, but there's something more to it. That something more is the isolation theme running through the film–Steve McQueen starts in prison, surrounded by these loud, garish, yet hollow sounds. The action finale, at a nearly deserted hotel, also has loud, hollow sounds. They amplify Peckinpah's composition–particularly for the finish–and reinforce the film's dreamlike quality.

The Getaway is a few things at once. It's a heist picture, it's a revenge picture, it's a seventies relationship drama. That relationship aspect to it, with recently released from prison McQueen and wife Ali McGraw having some big problems, is the film's quietest plot line… if only because there's so much noise around it. But Peckinpah, McQueen, McGraw and screenwriter Walter Hill always keep it present. McGraw's timid, nervous performance works wonders–she's apparently inscrutable, but not really.

She and McQueen have fantastic chemistry, which they need to give their story more gravitas than Al Lettieri's subplot. Lettieri is a opportunist thief who kidnaps Sally Struthers and Jack Dodson in his pursuit of McQueen. Lettieri runs away with a bunch of the film. He's spellbinding; no other word for it. Struthers is rather good as well.

Technically, the film's a marvel. The Lucien Ballard photography is phenomenal, day or night, action or drama.

The Getaway is a fantastic motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on the novel by Jim Thompson; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by Quincy Jones; produced by David Foster and Mitchell Brower; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Steve McQueen (Doc McCoy), Ali MacGraw (Carol McCoy), Ben Johnson (Jack Beynon), Al Lettieri (Rudy Butler), Slim Pickens (Cowboy), Richard Bright (The Thief), Jack Dodson (Harold Clinton), Dub Taylor (Laughlin), Bo Hopkins (Frank Jackson), Roy Jenson (Cully), John Bryson (The Accountant) and Sally Struthers (Fran Clinton).


The Mask of Zorro (1998, Martin Campbell)

The last time I saw Zorro (which would have also been the first time), it didn’t impress me much. I don’t remember hating it, but I do remember disliking it. This time through, however, I find myself mellowed. It’s an enjoyable adventure picture, the kind Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. The amount of Zorro swashbuckling alone is more physical action than I’ve seen in years in recent action movie.

Before I forget, I have to mention the ending. Spielberg is credited as an executive producer and it is an Amblin production, so I assume he was aware of the Temple of Doom similarities–down to the James Horner score, which goes out of its way to sound like John Williams.

The film gets by on a few principles. First and foremost, it’s amusing to watch Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. While Banderas is charming enough, it’s not really an acting job. He’s never good and he doesn’t have an honest moment until the epilogue. Hopkins on the other hand… Zorro is one of his better performances. The script doesn’t allow for his usual hamming. He does get it in a few scenes, but considering he’s wearing about nine pounds of makeup, it’s not like one is taking him seriously anyway.

Stuart Wilson is fantastic as the villain. Catherine Zeta Jones, similar to Banderas, skates by on a certain charm… but she doesn’t get that epilogue reprieve.

Campbell’s direction is good without being exemplar; he makes Zorro a rather fun two hours.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by John Eskow, Ted Elliot and Terry Russo, based on a story by Elliot, Russo and Randall Jahnson and on the character created by Johnston McCulley; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Thom Noble; music by James Horner; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Doug Claybourne and David Foster; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Alejandro Murrieta), Anthony Hopkins (Don Diego de la Vega), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Elena Montero), Stuart Wilson (Don Rafael Montero), Matt Letscher (Capt. Harrison Love), Tony Amendola (Don Luiz), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Don Pedro), William Marquez (Fray Felipe), José Pérez (Cpl. Armando Garcia), Victor Rivers (Joaquín Murrieta) and L.Q. Jones (Three-Fingered Jack).


Running Scared (1986, Peter Hyams)

Jimmy Smits is pretty good in Running Scared. He’s a believable bad guy, intimidating even.

I don’t know why I’m opening with Smits, maybe because I’m in a good mood and want to be generous with praise for an unlikely recipient.

Running Scared is a delightful action comedy; I didn’t realize how much I missed the genre until I watched this film again. I haven’t seen it in years–I think I watched my laserdisc copy once before the advent of DVD and it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would, seeing it widescreen. I hope I’m remembering the details wrong, because Peter Hyams was such a great mainstream director, it’d be a shame if I was such a foolish youth I didn’t appreciate it. Running Scared is it for Hyams–after this one, he cooked one turkey after another. But this film has such wonderful direction–Hyams doesn’t just know how to compose a Panavision frame, he also knows how to do an action scene in one. He knows how to move the camera. Running Scared is a great example of the lost art of action direction. It’s got a distinctive style all its own (it doesn’t look like a bevy of nondescript music videos) with Hyams really making the Chicago locations (and Florida ones) essential to the picture.

Hyams is responsible for the film’s (effortless) artistry in filmmaking–I always forget the guy hasn’t always been a punch line (and his much maligned cinematography is quite good in Running Scared). But the film’s a success because of stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal (I kept thinking, as the film progressed, they had a stupid argument at one point but they never do, their friendship’s always perfectly in pitch–I was waiting for this imaginary scene as a pitfall… maybe it’s a post-end credit scene or something). They each have fabulous dialogue (the screenwriters went on to nothing else of note, which makes me suspiciously Hines and Crystal might have ad-libbed some of it or there’s some fine comedy writers who anonymously doctored their material) and Hyams, who never made another good comedy, knows how to cut it all together. This long conversation they have, cut into different scenes, works beautifully.

Running Scared is an example of a film excited with itself. It offers its audience a 107 minute diversion and it knows it’s working (if the film weren’t connecting with the characters and the humor throughout, it wouldn’t be able to carry itself to the conclusion, which is one of its major successes).

Hines and Crystal create these personalities–they’re characters too, but they’re somehow different. It’s a mix of characterization and comedic personality… like Crystal and Hines did a bunch of movies together (but they only did this one) playing these types. Running Scared feels like they must have done more; it’s a shame they didn’t.

The supporting cast is uniformly solid. They don’t have a lot to do (Crystal’s love interest, a fourth billed Darlanne Fluegel, is simply a blonde ex-wife, while Hines’s, played by Tracy Reed, gets to create a fuller character), but they’re good. Dan Hedaya is sturdy as the boss, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy as a scum bag–these are early examples of the roles both would go on to play for years (though Pantoliano doesn’t make quite the impression he made as Guido the Killer Pimp).

Running Scared was more than a pleasant surprise–about a half hour in I realized it was a heck of a lot better than I remembered it being. It’s just too bad about Peter Hyams though. He never should have left MGM.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Gary DeVore and Jimmy Huston, based on a story by DeVore; director of photography, Hyams; edited by James Mitchell; music by Rod Temperton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Gregory Hines (Ray Hughes), Billy Crystal (Danny Costanzo), Darlanne Fluegel (Anna Costanzo), Joe Pantoliano (Snake), Dan Hedaya (Captain Logan), Steven Bauer (Det. Frank Sigliano), Jon Gries (Det. Tony Montoya), Tracy Reed (Maryann), Jimmy Smits (Julio Gonzales), John DiSanti (Vinnie), Larry Hankin (Ace) and Don Calfa (Women’s Room Lawyer).


The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

I always say John Carpenter needs to direct something else, something non-genre. A romantic comedy perhaps or a family drama. I guess it never occurred to me, but with The Thing, Carpenter is directing something else. It’s kind of too bad, his best film is the one–in some ways–least like his others. In The Thing, Carpenter maintains his exquisite (there’s really no other word for it) Panavision composition, but he introduces a couple new elements. First, the suspense angle. It could just be Ennio Morricone’s score, but Carpenter takes a far more Hitchcockian approach to suspense in The Thing than he’s done before or since. I watched the film with my wife, who’d seen some of it, but forgot the dog’s importance, so I watched it with that first time experience in the back of my head (I guess with The Thing, which I’ve only seen six or seven times, it’s still possible). Carpenter doesn’t offer any hints, just makes almost everything suspicious (except Kurt Russell–does that make him Jimmy Stewart?). That suspense goes on for over an hour, even after the story revelations, until the beautiful blood test scene.

The blood test scene is probably the best example of the second element (like the segue?). The quietness. The fade-outs. The Thing‘s script, just due to the limited locations, inevitably reminds of a play, but one with an excellent adaptation. Carpenter’s infrequent (I think there are around six) fade-outs, which sometimes emphasize, sometimes silence, are kind of peculiar for him. He’s not known for his gentleness, but with the exception of the special effects sequences and some (not all) of the arguments, The Thing is an incredible gentle film. In some respects, it’s even passive. This second element is the parts working for the whole–Carpenter’s composition, Dean Cundey’s photography, the script, Todd C. Ramsay’s editing–it all comes together in these parts and makes The Thing something different.

As for the actors, who I haven’t mentioned. The Thing is one of those perfectly cast films where it’s pointless to go through and list all the good actors because they’re all good. They’re all perfect, no one else could do a better job in the film’s roles. For Russell, it’s a solid leading man role, but one of those special leading man roles where he’s leading others. He manages to command attention, even though the character’s rather understated. Other singular performances, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Donald Moffat and Thomas G. Waites. Dysart has a lot of screen time in the beginning and is great for all of it. David’s–I have no idea what his job is in the film–a perfect foil for Russell. Moffat and Waites both have small outstanding moments in their otherwise good performances.

Carpenter’s made a lot of great films and he’s made a few of cinematic importance, but The Thing is the one of the greatest artistic importance. It’s something totally different (and totally ignored–I’ll never forget seeing it as a fourteen-year-old after reading Leonard Maltin’s one-and-a-half star dismissive capsule), not just from what Carpenter tends to make, but from Hollywood films and genre films as well. By not rambling on in exposition until the details make some kind of sense (I just discovered overexplain is not a real word), which is a serious genre pitfall, The Thing is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Bill Lancaster, based on novella by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (MacReady), Wilford Brimley (Blair), T.K. Carter (Nauls), David Clennon (Palmer), Keith David (Childs), Richard Dysart (Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Peter Maloney (Bennings), Richard Masur (Clark), Donald Moffat (Garry), Joel Polis (Fuchs) and Thomas G. Waites (Windows).


The Drowning Pool (1975, Stuart Rosenberg)

The Drowning Pool is a strange sequel. Not only doesn’t it continue Harper‘s attempt to make PIs hip and modern (more hip than modern, actually), it’s also doesn’t seem like the same character. In Drowning Pool, Newman’s Harper is the standard 1970s Newman character. He’s sick of the world, but he can’t quite give up on it. And even though Drowning Pool has a familiar cast, it doesn’t have the Technocolor glow Harper did. When the film started, I noticed there was nothing going on for Newman in the film, it was all about his exploration of the events around him. It all works out beautifully in the end. It’s like a Chandler set in the modern day, without drawing attention to the time between the novel being written and the film being produced. It’s a rather simple mystery, the kind Hollywood made all the time in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and have always been the standard for mystery novels. (They’re too expensive for Hollywood to make any more and probably even in the 1970s… except Drowning Pool had Newman and he was the biggest or second biggest star in the world in the 1970s).

As a mystery, it’s not particularly surprising. Detective stories like this one–in that Chandler vein–aren’t so much about the surprising motive or the identity of the killer, but about the detective’s adventures forcing his way through the case. In The Drowning Pool, Newman’s surrounded by interesting people to interact with. The film’s got a number of great performances: Murray Hamilton’s fantastic as a crazy oil baron (crazy as in criminally insane, not ha ha funny crazy), Gail Strickland’s great as his wife, Andrew Robinson is good. The best performance–besides Newman, who’s perfect at this world weary thing–is Anthony Franciosa. His character goes through the most change and Franciosa just gets better throughout. Joanne Woodward’s good, though she seems like she belongs in a different movie, not just more serious, but one centered around her. The only bad performances are Melanie Griffith and Richard Jaeckel. Griffith’s limp, basically repeating her performance from Night Moves, only with more to do and she can’t handle it. Jaeckel’s just bad.

The Drowning Pool‘s greatest asset, however, is the production quality. Stuart Rosenberg’s got some amazing shots, one after the other–though I’m not thrilled by the editor–and the way Gordon Willis shoots Louisiana is something particularly special. Whoever did the sound design–maybe Hal Barns (it’s hard to tell from IMDb)–did an amazing job.

It all comes together very nicely. The Drowning Pool, as a mystery, isn’t rewarding in that sudden, rousing way. But a bunch of people who knew what they were doing put together a film and they did a pretty damn good job.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Walter Hill, based on the novel by Ross Macdonald; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by John C. Howard; music by Michael Small; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Lawrence Turman and David Foster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Newman (Harper), Joanne Woodward (Iris Devereaux), Anthony Franciosa (Broussard), Murray Hamilton (Kilbourne), Gali Strickland (Mavis Kilbourne), Melanie Griffith (Schuyler Devereaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen), Richard Jaeckel (Franks), Paul Koslo (Candy), Andrew Robinson (Pat Reavis), Coral Browne (Olivia Devereaux), Richard Derr (James) and Helena Kallianiptes (Elaine Reavis).


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