David Patrick Kelly

Crooklyn (1994, Spike Lee)

Crooklyn is a series of memories. They’re mostly the main character’s memories—and if they’re not, they’re definitely from her perception. The memories start in the spring and go through the summer. Director Lee and his cowriters—and siblings (Crooklyn is semi-autobiographical) Joie Lee and Cinqué Lee frequently change the pace of the memories. Some are long scenes with a lot of action, some are shorter transitional scenes, memorable for their placement in the narrative and their location. The Lee siblings are very comfortable with the film’s narrative distance and changing it; they nimbly move between characters during the first half or so then turn around and slow down to focus on the protagonist. When they speed up again, there’s still the same tighter focus, but a lot more going on and at a different pace.

Zelda Harris is the protagonist. She’s nine years old; the only daughter of schoolteacher Alfre Woodward and successful working musician but not successful composer Delroy Lindo. She has four brothers. Carlton Williams plays the oldest, presumably Spike. He’s a jerk. He also gets the most material to do because he’s the oldest and he and Harris have a whole character arc going on through the movie but it’s one of the quietest subplots, because there’s not much room for laughs. Because Crooklyn has a lot of laughs. Woodward’s intense and the kids are stinkers. And Lindo not really being any help is one of the louder subplots. The masculinity isn’t terribly toxic, but it’s far from good. It leads to some big fights and tense discussions between Woodward and Lindo, which feature some phenomenal acting from the pair. Harris usually gets involved too, since her brothers are too busy being boys. The brothers being boys often contributes to a lot of the humor, which the script never uses to alleviate the drama. The two can coexist, but ones not a solution for the other.

As the film goes on—it starts towards the end of a school year, with Harris dreading the possibility of leaving Brooklyn to visit Southern relations over the summer. There are no scenes at the school. The film either takes place on the block, in the house, or down South. Until the third act, anyway. Third act is a completely different—appropriately—story for locations. But as the film goes on, the Lees take their time establishing the ground situation, establishing the characters, establishing the relationships. Exposition dumps are rare, usually only when they need to give context for an earlier detail, usually from Woodward, who is very fallible, she’s just not fallible about dumb things. She’s never sainted in the film, but she’s closer than anyone else to being a saint. The script doesn’t shy away from children’s cruelty or stupidity (not even Harris’s). It also is very careful in how it portrays Lindo, who takes the longest to get established. It’s a great script.

When summer finally arrives—in the second half of the film—and Harris goes down South to visit aunt and uncle Frances Foster and Norman Matlock and, more, cousin Patriece Nelson, Harris gets to really run the movie for a while. She gets to experience the strangeness of her relations and the South, but not to be aware of how that experience is going to perturb her character development.

Because she’s nine.

When the summer vacation is over, there’s a different Harris, but there’s also a very different situation waiting for her back at home. The script changes the pacing of the memories. Some events get missed, some events have more weight, and we’re watching Harris exist through them and experience them but have no idea what’s happening to her. Crooklyn isn’t a kids movie per se… but it’s also not not a kids movie. The film’s always from a kid’s eye-level, let’s say, and then it turns out that eye-level just perfectly matches Harris’s. It’s a really great script.

Performances—Harris, Woodward, and Lindo are the whole show. There are some really good supporting performances (Isaiah Washington’s performance as a Vietnam vet deserves its own movie). But it’s all about Harris, Woodward, and Lindo. As for whether Harris has better scenes with Woodward or Lindo on her own… it’s probably Lindo, just because how the character development arc goes. But there are still some fabulous ones between Woodward and Harris. Harris knows Lindo’s not exactly the most responsible adult. So lots of gristle for scenes.

Technically, Crooklyn’s near flawless. Great photography from Arthur Jafa, even better editing from Barry Alexander Brown, which is made even more effective thanks to the awesome Terrence Blanchard score. Wynn Thomas’s production design is awesome too. Especially when Harris goes down South and Lee stretches the screen to show it as otherworldly (distorted and televised). The production design is almost more important during that section, since the audience has to see and understand what Harris is seeing because she might not really understand it.

The stretching is director Lee’s most extreme style choice. He’s got a dream sequence, which fits into the film’s existing stylistic flourishes—Spike Lee appears a neighborhood glue-sniffer and jerk, so he gives himself most of the flash. It fits, given how his stand-in, Williams, treats Harris. Meanwhile, Joie Lee–Harris being her stand-in—shows up as a slightly overbearing aunt. Uncredited. Third screenwriter Cinqué Lee doesn’t cameo.

I haven’t even gotten to the soundtrack, which maybe was produced by Alex Steyermark. The use of seventies songs is exquisite, both in the narrative—as a detail—or as non-diegetic accompaniment of the scenes. It’s awesome.

Crookyln’s awesome. Harris, Woodward, Linda, and Lees Spike, Joie, and Cinqué make something special.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Joie Lee, Spike Lee, and Cinqué Lee, based on a story by Joie Lee; director of photography, Arthur Jafa; edited by Barry Alexander Brown; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Wynn Thomas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Zelda Harris (Troy), Alfre Woodard (Carolyn), Delroy Lindo (Woody), Carlton Williams (Clinton), Sharif Rashed (Wendell), Tse-Mach Washington (Joseph), Christopher Knowings (Nate), José Zúñiga (Tommy La La), Isaiah Washington (Vic), David Patrick Kelly (Tony Eyes), Patriece Nelson (Viola), Frances Foster (Aunt Song), Norman Matlock (Uncle Clem), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Uncle Brown), Spike Lee (Snuffy), N. Jeremi Duru (Right Hand Man), Ivelka Reyes (Jessica), and Joie Lee (Aunt Maxine).


Dreamscape (1984, Joseph Ruben)

Dreamscape has a lot of subplots. The main plot barely gets any more time during the second act than the subplots. But I’m getting ahead of myself because I wanted to talk about the first act, which has Dennis Quaid getting reacquainted with mentor Max von Sydow. The film opens with this fast, fun action sequence with psychic Quaid winning big at the track and having to outsmart some goons. It perfectly utilizes Quaid’s charm and director Ruben has a fantastic pace. Richard Halsey’s editing on Dreamscape is strong, he just doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to excel after the open.

Then von Sydow gets Quaid to do the dream experiments–going into other people’s dreams, which he needs to train to do and it does give the film a natural structure for a while but there’s all those subplots. Time to talk about the subplots. There’s Christopher Plummer’s government guy who wants them to dream fix the President (an exhausted Eddie Albert). There’s Quaid’s rivalry with David Patrick Kelly’s fellow dream psychic. There’s Quaid’s romance of Kate Capshaw. There’s Quaid’s friendship with young nightmare sufferer, Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers (yes, he’s Tina’s big brother). Finally, there’s Quaid and George Wendt, who’s investigating the whole project. von Sydow and Quaid actually do have something approaching character development in their scenes, which I’ll lump into the main plot.

The script–from original story writer David Loughery, Chuck Russell, and director Ruben–lacks any connective tissue between the subplots. It’s like they each took a few, wrote them, then lined up the scenes. Even though it’s an exceptionally limited setting–a college campus where shadowy government stuff goes on and there are barely any students–these characters have no relationships with anyone outside the person they’re opposite. Capshaw and von Sydow, for example, have absolutely no relationship outside of exposition and direction, even though they’ve been working together for years. Same goes for Kelly and Capshaw. And Kelly and von Sydow. And Capshaw and Plummer. And everyone and Wendt. It’s very strange and very poorly done. The writing is often fine–Plummer’s got a lot of scenery to chew, Kelly’s part is awesome, von Sydow’s fantastic–but it doesn’t have a narrative flow. It’s almost like Dreamscape was made to be watched with commercial breaks.

Quaid’s solid in the lead. He doesn’t get much to do–his romance with Capshaw, while ostensibly steamy, isn’t enough–and he’s just a passenger in the rest of his subplots. He and von Sydow are great together, however. As well as Quaid and Kelly. They’re great nemeses. Capshaw’s not terrible. She’s not good, but she’s not terrible. She gets a weak part and can’t do anything with it; Dreamscape is a movie where the actors need to be able to do something with their weak parts. As scripted, Plummer’s barely two dimensional, yet Plummer is able to at least make the part into something. Capshaw can’t. Partially her fault, mostly the script’s fault, partially Ruben’s fault.

And Maurice Jarre doesn’t help anyone with his music. He makes Dreamscape weirder in a way completely contrary to what Ruben’s doing.

There are some great special effects and some solid sequences, but the third act’s a mess and the denouement is somewhat worse.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Ruben; screenplay by David Loughery, Chuck Russell, and Joseph Ruben, based on a story by Loughery; director of photography, Brian Tufano; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by Bruce Cohn Curtis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Alex Gardner), Max von Sydow (Doctor Paul Novotny), Christopher Plummer (Bob Blair), Eddie Albert (The President), Kate Capshaw (Jane DeVries), David Patrick Kelly (Tommy Ray Glatman), George Wendt (Charlie Prince) and Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers (Buddy).


The Crow (1994, Alex Proyas)

Has it been long enough since the firearms safety accident on The Crow set to point out Brandon Lee was a really bad actor and his performance in The Crow is laughably awful?

Actually, I don’t care; he’s lousy and the movie’s dumb.

There are good things about The Crow, which is a little surprising, considering the script is awful and Proyas’s seems more concerned with selling the soundtrack album than actually making a film. The good things are Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson and Jon Polito. All three manage to get out their atrocious dialogue and make it sound good. Especially Wincott. He almost makes his character believable.

But the bad things… Where to even start? Rochelle Davis, the narrator of the film, gives an even worse performance than Lee. The dialogue in David J. Schow and John Shirley’s script is incredibly silly and it’s hard to believe it ever sounding reasonable. But Davis’s performance doesn’t do the (bad) script justice.

Laurence Mason’s bad too, so are Bai Ling and Anna Levine. Especially Ling. David Patrick Kelly and Michael Massee are both reasonably okay. Not good, but okay; okay goes far in The Crow. There’s not a lot okay about it.

On the technical side, Graeme Revell’s score is lousy. It’s probably Proyas’s fault. Revell’s score mostly just provides transitions between Proyas’s mini-music videos for the soundtrack songs. Dariusz Wolski’s photography seems inept, but it could just be the incompetent CG effects.

The Crow is a stupefyingly bad film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alex Proyas; screenplay by David J. Schow and John Shirley, based on the comic book by James O’Barr; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Dov Hoenig and M. Scott Smith; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Jeff Most and Edward R. Pressman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Brandon Lee (Eric Draven), Rochelle Davis (Sarah), Ernie Hudson (Sergeant Albrecht), Michael Wincott (Top Dollar), Bai Ling (Myca), Sofia Shinas (Shelly Webster), Anna Levine (Darla), David Patrick Kelly (T-Bird), Angel David (Skank), Laurence Mason (Tin Tin), Michael Massee (Funboy), Tony Todd (Grange) and Jon Polito (Gideon).


Commando (1985, Mark L. Lester), the director’s cut

There are a couple good things about Commando–the opening titles and James Horner’s score. Otherwise, I suppose Schwarzenegger isn’t bad in the film, which takes his being Austrian into account, something the majority of his blockbuster roles do not.

What’s interesting about the film–and it’s hard to find anything to keep the brain occupied for the long ninety minutes–is the structure. It’s got three writers credited with the story but all it is, in the end, is a film noir mixed with some Rambo and Dirty Harry. Schwarzenegger’s character doesn’t experience the slightest complication from being, essentially, the Terminator and contrastingly it with Stallone’s take on a similar protagonist is a compelling idea.

It’s too bad it’d mean I’d have to sit through some of, if not all of, Commando again, so it’s out.

Half the movie, where Schwarzenegger’s after a limited number of memorable villains (David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke), is passable. Then when he robs a gun store and Rae Dawn Chong (in one of her patented awful performances) breaks him out of police custody… it starts to implode. Before, it was at least an action movie in familiar settings, like a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard. Then it turns into a cartoon gunfight on a tropical island. The Green Berets for the eighties or something.

Lester’s a trite director.

Vernon Wells’s villain appears to be gay and closeted, which adds the film’s only layer.

I mean, Commando wastes Dan Hedaya. It’s a real stinker.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman and de Souza; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Glenn Farr, Mark Goldblatt and John F. Link; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (John Matrix), Alyssa Milano (Jenny Matrix), Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), Dan Hedaya (Arius), Vernon Wells (Bennett), James Olson (Major General Franklin Kirby), David Patrick Kelly (Sully) and Bill Duke (Cooke).


Last Man Standing (1996, Walter Hill)

Before Last Man Standing came out–when it was, presumably, going to be a hit because Willis was on one of his career upswings–I remember seeing Walter Hill say this film, his film, was going to improve on the source material (that source material being Kurosawa’s Yojimbo).

Hill borrows more liberally from the first remake of that film, A Fistful of Dollars, and adds some idiotic ingredients. The narration from Bruce Willis is atrocious, which isn’t a surprise, but worse is Willis’s performance. He got a big payday for this one and he’s clearly not interested in it, which isn’t surprising. It’s visibly–thanks to terrible performances from Bruce Dern, Ned Eisenberg, Michael Imperioli and Leslie Mann–a disaster. Hill’s script is full of lousy dialogue and is poorly paced, as he doesn’t seem to understand the viewer is going to recognize some of his “homage” to Dollars.

The music, from Ry Cooder, is awful. The opening, with it and Willis’s narration, would be enough to get up and walk out of the theater and demand a refund. It was a huge bomb (it barely made enough money in the States to cover Willis’s paycheck, let alone the other costs).

Hill doesn’t seem to understand what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Instead, he makes this confusing reality where the viewer has to participate instead of enjoy… and Willis brings zero charisma to the role. He does a lousy Clint Eastwood.

It’s not even worth watching as a curiosity.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; screenplay by Hill, based on a film by Kikushima Ryuzo and Kurosawa Akira; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by Freeman A. Davies; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Gary Wissner; produced by Hill and Arthur M. Sarkissian; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Bruce Willis (John Smith), Bruce Dern (Sheriff Ed Galt), William Sanderson (Joe Monday), Christopher Walken (Hickey), David Patrick Kelly (Doyle), Karina Lombard (Felina), Ned Eisenberg (Fredo Strozzi), Alexandra Powers (Lucy Kolinski), Michael Imperioli (Giorgio Carmonte), Ken Jenkins (Capt. Tom Pickett), R.D. Call (Jack McCool), Ted Markland (Deputy Bob), Leslie Mann (Wanda) and Patrick Kilpatrick (Finn).


Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989, Arthur Penn)

I really wish I knew what Arthur Penn was doing directing (and producing) this film. I suppose it’s a follow-up of sorts to Alice’s Restaurant or something. Penn did some great stuff in the 1970s, so seeing him doing a fill-in job (anyone could have directed this film) is kind of strange. Maybe he really likes Penn and Teller or something.

Besides the oddity of Penn directing it, the film’s really got nothing going for it. Turns out Teller’s a good actor. Penn (Jillette, not Arthur) appears not to be, but the film’s paced so you can’t really tell. Caitlin Clarke spends the film doing one bad accent or another and the film never quite can make you believe she’s Penn’s girlfriend. The film showcases a few of their tricks and loosely continues through different tricks, ones either Penn or Teller are playing on the other. After the movie gets going on its path–Penn invites people to kill him and a crazed fan takes the challenge–things go from being mildly amusing to tedious. The film’s from 1989, so maybe it was relying on the viewer being unfamiliar with Penn and Teller beyond late night appearances.

There’s one really annoying black and white sequence, which goes on forever, and some long, drawn-out ominous chase scenes. There are funny ideas throughout, but they’re rarely successfully executed. Arthur Penn didn’t direct any other comedies and it shows. The film has a forced quirkiness about it and only finds its footing in the last moments–if the movie had started with the last scene (not in terms of framing, but tone establishing), it probably would have turned out a lot better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Penn Jillette and Teller; director of photography, Jan Weincke; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, John Arnone; released by Lorimar Film Entertainment.

Starring Penn Jillette (Penn), Teller (Teller), Caitlin Clarke (Carlotta), David Patrick Kelly (Fan), Leonardo Cimino (Ernesto) and Celia McGuire (Officer McNamara).


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