Diane Lane

Indian Summer (1993, Mike Binder)

Indian Summer is genial and life-affirming. Writer-director Binder imbues it with an optimism and positivity–as long as you have the right support system, anything is possible. Given the film’s about a bunch of thirtysomethings who return to their childhood summer camp to find themselves, it’s a little weird Binder gives the best character arc to Kimberly Williams-Paisley. She’s the twenty-one year-old fiancée to the most obnoxious thirtysomethings (Matt Craven). Her arc, forecasted nowhere, propels the film into its third act, full of possibility. Shame Binder doesn’t do much with the momentum.

Diane Lane and Julie Warner get the biggest story arcs. Lane’s a recent widow–her husband was also a camper, because summer camp apparently decided everyone white’s life in the early seventies–and she needs to mourn. She’s got good friend Elizabeth Perkins there to support her, which she really needs when her husband’s childhood best friend returns a bit of a hunk (Bill Paxton). Meanwhile, Warner is married to Vincent Spano (who used to get busy with Perkins when they were in camp) and the marriage is rocky. Maybe because Spano wants to quit his business with cousin Kevin Pollak (also a camper), but can’t figure out how to tell him. So apparently Spano takes it out on Warner. Binder’s script isn’t great at scenes of angst and it’s downright terrified of getting too close to its characters.

They might be unlikable then and it’s such a pretty, pleasant cast (everyone has great, brown hair), who would want them to be unlikable? Except maybe Craven, who’s cut off from everyone else, hence having to bring Williams-Paisley along. Paxton’s arc is more with camp owner Alan Arkin, who has invited his favorite campers from over the years back for a week. Oddly, they’re all from the same year. Coincidences abound in Indian Summer.

Arkin’s really solid when he’s lead. Binder never really gets into how the campers coexist with him–they’re back to hang out with each other, leaving Arkin to mostly pal around with handyman Sam Raimi (who’s in this mystifyingly great slapstick part)–and it’s a missed opportunity. Especially since, unless you’ve got someone to kiss, Binder leaves you behind. Perkins and Pollak end up with almost nothing to do by the end, Perkins with even less. But Indian Summer’s got to be genial and life-affirming, it’s got to live up to the beautiful Newton Thomas Sigel photography, which turns the summer camp–in the late summer sun–into a golden Great Lakes paradise.

Still, it’s not like Indian Summer is always lazy. Binder does go somewhere with the Paxton and Arkin thing, he does go somewhere with Williams-Paisley. He’s just not willing to hinge the whole thing on being too thoughtful. There needs to be cheap payoff, albeit beautifully lighted cheap payoff. Until that payoff, however, Binder’s really just letting the actors develop their characters. The second act is pretty loose–there are set pieces, usually involving pot or pranks, but Binder’s in no rush. The present action changes pace fluidly in the tranquil setting, with its amiable cast and their not too serious, but sort of, grown-up problems.

So the performances matter a lot. Arkin’s always good, but he doesn’t get anywhere near enough to do. Binder’s just as set in an age group–the thirtysomethings–as if he were making a movie about teenagers at camp and barely had the counselors in it. Pollak and Perkins are great. They get to be great, because Binder doesn’t need them for anything structural. Lane and Paxton are fine. Lane should have more to do than Paxton but doesn’t. Warner’s good. She overshadows Spano, who tries to imply depth instead of convey it. Craven’s the weakest performance and he’s still perfectly solid. He provides a great springboard for Williams-Paisley to take off from.

And Raimi’s awesome.

Nice editing from Adam Weiss, okay if a little much music from Miles Goodman. Binder’s direction is good–he showcases that beautifully lighted scenery and moves his actors around in it well. Indian Summer is never trite, which is an accomplishment on its own, but Binder is way too safe with it. He denies Lane and Paxton a better story in particular. He writes caricatures then has his actors create people, so it’s a particular kind of disappointing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Binder; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Adam Weiss; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Jim Kouf, Lynn Kouf, Robert F. Newmyer, and Jeffrey Silver; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Unca Lou Handler), Diane Lane (Beth Warden), Bill Paxton (Jack Belston), Julie Warner (Kelly Berman), Vincent Spano (Matthew Berman), Elizabeth Perkins (Jennifer Morton), Kevin Pollak (Brad Berman), Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Gwen Daugherty), Matt Craven (Jamie Ross), and Sam Raimi (Stick Coder).

This post is part of the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by Chris of Blog of the Darned.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zach Snyder), the ultimate edition

The extended version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t just the extended version of Batman/Superman, it’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition. There’s a second subtitle on the thing. It’s doubling down on the idea the extended cut in the post-DVD era. It’d be desperate if anything added in the “ultimate edition” actually made the film seem more “ultimate,” but it doesn’t. In fact, all the additional scenes and moments are good. And that quality is the problem, because they draw attention to the film’s failings.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition is a worse film for better scenes.

The first part of Dawn of Justice, in this cut, runs just around 107 minutes. Quite frankly, if the remaining seventy-three minutes–which have minimal additions, compared to the rather extended first part–just had Amy Adams narrating it and the first 107 minutes cut in as flashbacks, it might have all worked out. Because that first hour and fifty minutes are about Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. It’s about Adams and Cavill trying to figure out how to date as Lois Lane and Superman while Affleck’s a bit of a crazy Batman. Thank goodness Jeremy Irons (who excels far more in the ultimate edition) is around to keep Affleck sort of in check. Sort of.

But having this strong opening, with a far better paced investigation from Adams than the theatrical cut–not just because she gets a semi-sidekick in an affable Jena Malone cameo–but also because Cavill gets to be a reporter too. Dawn of Justice, the theatrical version, was already a great example of a disastrously plotted script, but the ultimate edition just shows how bad David Brenner is at editing a motion picture. Or how bad director Snyder is in instructing Brenner how to chop out a half hour. Because the first part, the fleshed out ultimate edition version of it, it works as a movie. There are some problems, sure, because Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script (or Terrio’s rendition of Goyer’s treatment) is still a mess. Affleck is still a very strange edition to the film. He doesn’t feel at all natural in the narrative. Not in the events of Dawn of Justice, but in how Brenner, Snyder, Terrio and Goyer have the character in the film itself. Snyder takes two different styles for Affleck and Cavill’s plots. The one he takes for Affleck is bad.

Only in the extended cut, it gets a bit of a pass. There’s just a better pace all around to help it out. And Irons is delightful. Affleck’s still good, he’s just not delightful. Having something delightful in Dawn of Justice is nice, because it lacks in delight. Though the ultimate edition does have a little bit more fun. And it does help. Snyder’s extremely competent–the stuff he does just for general superhero antics, like Batman beating people up or sneaking around and Superman flying, he has a great approach. I’d watch Zack Snyder’s three hour version of the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence starring Cavill and Adams in a second. I’d watch it twice in a row. Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong make beautiful superhero moments.

But Snyder wants Dawn of Justice to be more than just a superhero movie. He wants it to be serious. And Terrio and Goyer’s script wants to be serious too. It even sees how it could be serious, it just never wants to take the time. But it gets a pass; the first hour and fifty get a pass. Cavill’s great, Adams is great, Affleck’s good. Larry Fishburne making fun of Cavill is magic; it’s awkward but somehow likable. Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition makes Morpheus a dick to Superman. What’s that about? It’s personality. Dawn of Justice needs personality.

It also needs a better reason to have Batman and Superman fight. At least in the theatrical version, the film ramps up to it. There’s no real narrative to concern oneself with. In the ultimate version, even Holly Hunter gets a better role. Not perfect, no, but better. Only there’s not room in a movie with such a narratively and somewhat stylistically inert finish to have better roles. The MacGuffin to Batman v Superman should be Batman and Superman fighting, but it isn’t because Snyder and Terrio and Goyer can’t come up with a reason to make them fight.

The fight scene between Cavill and Affleck resonates better in the ultimate edition. It doesn’t work–Snyder (and the script) can’t handle passing the film off from Cavill to Affleck in this moment. It needed to be when there was a real flashback to the Batman origin, not the opening credits. How Warner Bros. didn’t bring in someone to at least fix this thing up in post is beyond me. There’s so much material and it could be cut so much better.

And Gal Gadot suffers a little in the ultimate edition. She disappears for too long and when she comes back as Wonder Woman, she’s got very little to do. She and Affleck needed another scene together, not a creepy email from a forty-something man to a much younger woman. The ultimate edition amplifies the theatrical. Everything bad, it makes worse, everything good, it makes better.

Jesse Eisenberg is good. Scoot McNairy is good. Callan Mulvey isn’t. I don’t even remember Mulvey having enough to do in the theatrical version for him to not be good. Everything bad, worse. Everything good, better.

It would be nice if that first 107 minutes were enough better to make up for the worse, but they aren’t. The big problem with Dawn of Justice is the resolution and conclusion, the two big fight scenes. They’re narrative disasters, just like they were in the theatrical version. They just weren’t as noticeably weaker in the shorter version. The ultimate edition shows real quality, real potential. Dawn of Justice could’ve weathered its pretense. But Snyder and Brenner–not to mention Terrio and Goyer–messed it up. And it’s actually too bad, because it’s not about the franchise deserving better and it sure isn’t about the audience deserving better, it’s about the actors. Adams, Cavill, Affleck, Irons, Hunter, Eisenberg. They all do some really good work in this film. Their performances deserve a better film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Harry Lennix (Swanwick), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Jena Malone (Jenet Klyburn).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, as a film, just as unwieldy as that title. Director Snyder, through a strange, comforting overconfidence, gets the film through its two and a half hour run time. By the end, when Snyder teases a cliffhanger, teases various comic book references, it’s a deceleration process. The viewer has made it to the finish line, here’s promise of a future reward (the setup of further movies).

Snyder brings no style to Dawn of Justice. He has a feel for the material–his dark and dreary take on Ben Affleck’s Batman, a lonely drunk surrounded by faceless women and haunted by Jeremy Irons (who might as well be a ghost, he has zero interaction with anyone else), is a big success, but it’s more. Most of Dawn of Justice is divinely fluid. David Brenner’s editing, Larry Fong’s photography, even Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score–there’s a visual flow to the film. Snyder can get to all the various stories going on (at two and a half hours, the film’s about an hour too short and an hour too long), even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay cannot.

I can’t even list all the stories. Basically, every character has a story going on with every other character (except Jeremy Irons, of course, and Holly Hunter to some degree). All of the actors are pretty darn good at it, even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay is exceptionally lazy, but these stories don’t really go anywhere. They all get resolutions, usually lame ones, but the “big story” gets introduced halfway into the film. More than halfway into the film and it gets no more weight than numerous other plot points, so it taking over is a bit of a surprise.

Unfortunately, all of these stories tend to be to tie in to the characters’ other stories. The result is nothing for most of the actors to do. Terrio, Goyer and Snyder wuss out on Cavill, robbing him of various great possible scenes. They don’t even shortchange him for Affleck, they shortchange him as Superman. He gets more to do as Clark Kent, which is fine (and comparing how Affleck approaches his role with how Cavill’s approach is interesting), but it’s not called Batman v Clark Kent.

As a result of shortchanging Cavill’s Superman antics for most of the run time (the super antics get told in summary montages), he doesn’t feel like much of a character. He still is a character because of the Clark Kent stuff–and Cavill and Adams, failed by the screenplay, are wonderful together–but he’s also not. And neither is Affleck, because–again–there’s a lot of misdirection from the script.

So is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor a large enough character? No. Eisenberg’s performance is great (for most of the film) but it all falls apart in the second half, when the film races to tie everything up and it becomes One Bad Night. In the end, Dawn of Justice’s action-packed finale has nothing to do with the film anyone had been building toward.

The script’s kind of bad, kind of mediocre. It gives Affleck and Gal Gadot (oh, yeah, she’s Wonder Woman–you’re supposed to get excited for her movie; you do) the opportunity to show off chemistry. They also get some boring moments playing on their computers to further the plot.

Snyder’s timing is good until the big finish. He hits a lot of good marks, but he’s in a rush. That overconfidence makes it seem like it’s okay to be rushed, but eventually it’s not okay anymore. Eventually, there’s a vacuum. Snyder can’t even find a tone for the film. It’s like he realized he was going to cop out of all the first act’s narrative expectations. He tries to distract the viewer from reaching the same conclusion with a lot of fanfare, a lot of nonsense. He’s got a strong cast, they get the movie through.

Dawn of Justice doesn’t succeed, it has enough trouble just surviving.

Wait, can’t forget–Holly Hunter is so good with nothing to work with. She’s real good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graves), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Holly Hunter (Senator Finch).


Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)

Man of Steel is good. It’s really good. Not only is it really good, I like it enough for a 500 word special.

There’s always a moment in a good action movie when it eventually runs out of steam and one has to give it some thought. There’s a breather scene, in other words. For Man of Steel, director Snyder uses flashbacks to Kevin Costner (as Superman’s dad) for the breather scenes and they aren’t breathers. They’re these intensely emotional scenes in between the action, which often have intense emotions too.

The present action of the film takes place over a few days, maybe a week. David S. Goyer’s script never gets exact–he’s dealing with alien spacecraft and a man who can fly so speeding between two locations isn’t a problem–but it never feels rushed. Snyder gets in a few nice little human moments for Superman Henry Cavill, who’s usually busy flying around the planet.

Snyder and Goyer take a moderately realistic approach to a super-powered alien suddenly flying around the globe. They seem to err on the side of excess–why would anyone get so excited about a guy in a red cape when there are alien spaceships too–but they know how to manage it. Snyder’s not original in his approach (he acknowledges his sources in a cute way) but he applies them well.

Snyder’s assured direction would be the star of Man of Steel if he weren’t consciously putting Cavill front and center. Michael Shannon gets a lot to do and he’s great; he and Cavill play wonderfully off each other. There’s a lot of nice subtext in their scenes. Shannon always gives the impression he’s holding back a little, making a well-timed outburst all the more effective.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams does fine. She has surprisingly little to do, even though she’s undeniably integral. She’s not the star and Snyder and Goyer’s economy doesn’t allow for her to have much to herself.

Costner and Diane Lane are both excellent as Cavill’s adoptive parents. Snyder gets away with implying a lot about their relationship; the music from Hans Zimmer, Amir Mokri’s photography and David Brenner’s editing are essential to those implications. Snyder doesn’t exactly require a lot from his audience, but he’s definitely setting certain bars higher than others. The fight scenes, while technically magnificent, are still rather simple. The character stuff… he veers towards the sublime.

And there’s an even mix of character and action, even for the supporting cast (so when they forget someone, it’s unfortunately noticeable).

Russell Crowe’s good in the Brando role, surprisingly so, even if he’s around a little much. Not around enough is Ayelet Zurer as Cavill’s birth mother. She’s fantastic in her scenes. Antje Traue doesn’t have enough to do, but Goyer still takes the time to give her a whole arc with Christopher Meloni’s military guy.

Man of Steel can’t be much better. Goyer, Snyder and Cavill (and Zimmer) hit all the right notes.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder and Emma Thomas; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Henry Cavill (Clark Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Michael Kelly (Steve Lombard) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White).


Knight Moves (1992, Carl Schenkel)

I think I’ve seen Knight Moves at least twice before. The first time I saw it I stopped watching Night Moves and went back to the video store for this one.

What can I say? I had no taste when I was fourteen.

Starting it this time, though, I knew what I was getting into (okay, I didn’t know it ran almost two hours). I knew Christopher Lambert’s performance would be awful–I’m not sure he could convincingly order a cup of coffee–and I assumed Diane Lane’s would be too. There’s this amazingly directed scene of them on a beach… and, wow, are they awful. I mean, their scenes together are just laughably atrocious.

For the most part, however, the rest of the film isn’t. The third act is terrible, but it’s otherwise a decent murder mystery, with Tom Skerritt giving a great performance as the cop. Daniel Baldwin’s okay as his sidekick; he’s occasionally bad.

But the reason I watched Knight Moves, the only reason to watch Knight Moves, is director Carl Schenkel. Schenkel is, near as I can tell, totally unappreciated (I can’t really say anything–I love the guy and had no idea he had dead). He shouldn’t be unappreciated though. Knight Moves is one of the finest directed Panavision mysteries–until the complete script failure in the third act. Every frame is exquisite. I can’t even imagine what Schenkel would have been able to do with a slightly better script and actual actors for leads.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Schenkel; written by Brad Mirman; director of photography, Dietrich Lohmann; edited by Norbert Herzner; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Graeme Murray; produced by Jean-Luc Defait and Ziad El Khoury; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Peter Sanderson), Diane Lane (Kathy Sheppard), Tom Skerritt (Capt. Frank Sedman), Daniel Baldwin (Det. Andy Wagner), Alex Diakun (Grandmaster Lutz), Ferdy Mayne (Jeremy Edmonds), Katharine Isabelle (Erica Sanderson), Kehli O’Byrne (Debi Rutlege), Blu Mankuma (Steve Nolan), Monica Marko (Miss Greenwell), Charles Bailey-Gates (David Willerman), Arthur Brauss (Viktor Yurilivich) and Sam Malkin (Doctor Fulton).


Judge Dredd (1995, Danny Cannon)

I saw Judge Dredd at a sneak preview. It was the first time I ever saw anyone walk on a movie.

It fits into a rather interesting category of disastrous would-be blockbusters–joining Flash Gordon, The Black Hole and Dune–where there’s this largely international cast–why are Jürgen Prochnow and Max von Sydow playing, basically, New Yorkers–and an overblown production and a dismal return for the studio.

Dredd‘s problem isn’t so much a lack of money–even the bad effects sequences, like the chase scene, suspend disbelief well enough–but a lousy production frame of reference. I remember when it came out, they tried for a PG-13 and didn’t get one. So instead of an R-rated action movie, you have this R-rated, pseudo-PG-13 action movie… made by Disney of all people.

Stallone’s awful in the kind of personality-free role Schwarzenegger got famous on–Cannon shoots Dredd like he’s either Robocop or the Terminator–and with the blue contact lenses, it somehow doesn’t even look like him.

When the best performance in a film is von Sydow, it’s not a surprise. When the second best performance is Rob Schneider… that situation’s different.

Diane Lane’s bad. Armand Assante doesn’t chew scenery well. Joan Chen is bad. Prochnow’s awful. It’s a ninety-some minute disaster, only tolerable because it is only ninety-some minutes and it does have really high production values.

It’s wrong-headed. I rarely use that term, but Dredd‘s wrong-headed.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Cannon; screenplay by William Wisher Jr. and Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Michael De Luca and Wisher and on the Fleetway character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Alex Mackie and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Charles Lippincott and Beau Marks; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Judge Dredd), Armand Assante (Rico), Rob Schneider (Fergie), Jürgen Prochnow (Justice Griffin), Max von Sydow (Judge Fargo), Diane Lane (Judge Hershey), Joanna Miles (Judge McGruder), Joan Chen (Ilsa), Balthazar Getty (Olmeyer) and Mitch Ryan (Hammond).


Killshot (2008, John Madden)

It’s hard to say whether Killshot falls apart because of the filmmakers or because of the source material. Killshot changes its mind about what to deliver every three minutes. The script can’t decide on a main character–is it Mickey Rourke’s hit man or is it Diane Lane’s woman in distress or is it Thomas Jane’s estranged husband to the woman in distress.

Rourke’s great, playing a half Native American hit man. It’s implied there’s something more to the character than that description. But there isn’t.

Thomas Jane’s similarly great in a simple role. Killshot‘s filmmakers seem to intend for their scenes to be weighty; they aren’t. It’s not trite, but it is rote.

Diane Lane isn’t bad. She’s competent enough.

Gordon-Levitt, technically, delivers a good performance. But his character’s poorly written. He and Rourke’s relationship is inexplicable. Whenever the film tries to rationalize it, Killshot becomes silly. Maybe some of the worst scenes were cut (apparently, they cut out an entire character–Killshot runs ninety-five minutes).

Rosario Dawson plays Gordon-Levitt’s Elvis-obssessed girlfriend and she’s lousy. Hal Holbook and Tom McCamus show up for a scene each. They’re both good.

Lois Smith has a couple scenes in one of those small, useless Lois Smith roles.

Killshot looks like a Canadian production, providing Madden with a wonderful opportunity to comment on Hollywood North productions. He doesn’t.

Killshot isn’t entirely without qualities–Rourke and Jane. It’s at its best when it’s using either of them as the protagonist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Madden; screenplay by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Mick Audsley and Lisa Gunning; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Andrew Jackness; produced by Lawrence Bender and Richard N. Gladstein; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Diane Lane (Carmen Colson), Mickey Rourke (Armand ‘The Blackbird’ Degas), Thomas Jane (Wayne Colson), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richie Nix), Rosario Dawson (Donna), Aldred Montoya (Lionel), Lois Smith (Lenore), Hal Holbrook (Papa) and Tom McCamus (Paul Scallen).


Vital Signs (1990, Marisa Silver)

I’d forgotten grown men used to wear cut-off, midriff-revealing shirts. Adrian Pasdar does in the final scene of Vital Signs. It’s horrifying.

Pasdar also bulks up throughout the picture, maybe for his shirtless scenes in the late second act, or for that closing shot.

And even though Vital Signs is tripe, another failed studio attempt to launch a new Brat Pack, Pasdar’s a decent leading man. He’s not always good, but he’s probably only got three bad scenes–a miracle, given the script and his co-stars. He runs the movie well. So well, in fact, he even out night-time soaps special guest star (sorry, it’s a “with” credit, I forgot) William Devane. Actually, Devane’s brief appearance is a disappointment, as he gives it with less forcefulness than he would an Altoids commercial.

The supporting cast has one big surprise (well, two, if discovering Jane Adams had a Happiness career counts)–Jimmy Smits isn’t terrible. He even exhibits some potential.

Adams is good but the movie ignores her romance with her (formerly) platonic roommate Tim Ransom to the point it almost forgets them. Ransom’s the goofy late 1980s guys who wears hats (Corey Feldman was busy, I imagine) but he’s not bad. Laura San Giacomo and Jack Gwaltney are both awful. Even though San Giacomo smiles a lot and Gwaltney doesn’t at all, neither exhibit any emotion. Diane Lane–as Pasdar’s love interest–is unintentionally hilarious. She doesn’t seem intelligent enough to get a pizza order right, much less be a doctor. In a pivotal role, Norma Aleandro fails (and it hurts the movie a little).

Bradley Whitford’s kind of funny in a small role. Vital Signs is during his jerk phase.

What’s strange about the movie is the direction. Marisa Silver is far from radical, but she does a really sturdy job with it. And given the terrible Miles Goodman score (lots of guitar), it’s an accomplishment. She’s better than the script, which is laughable.

Watching Vital Signs, the biggest surprise is how long it took Pasdar to find a successful hour-long drama job. If anything, it shows how natural he’d be at one.

Maybe everyone remembered the midriff-revealing, baby blue sweatshirt.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marisa Silver; screenplay by Larry Ketron and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Ketron; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Robert Brown and Danford B. Greene; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Laurie Perlman and Cathleen Summers; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adrian Pasdar (Michael Chatham), Diane Lane (Gina Wyler), Jack Gwaltney (Kenny Rose), Laura San Giacomo (Lauren Rose), Jane Adams (Suzanne Maloney), Tim Ransom (Bobby Hayes), Bradley Whitford (Dr. Donald Ballentine), Lisa Jane Persky (Bobby), William Devane (Dr. Chatham), Norma Aleandro (Henrietta Walker) and Jimmy Smits (Dr. David Redding).


Hollywoodland (2006, Allen Coulter)

Hollywoodland is not a narrative mess. It’d be a far more interesting (and far less boring) two hours if it were. Instead, Paul Bernbaum’s plotting is intentional and considered. Neither Bernbaum nor director Allen Coulter seem to understand the problems with having two protagonists, not having anything to do with each other, juxtaposed for a couple hours, however.

It starts really strong, with Adrien Brody fantastic as the glib private detective. He has a solid sidekick and love interest in Caroline Dhavernas and Coulter does do a great job giving Hollywoodland the right feel. The lack of a definite time period–Hollywoodland takes place in 1959, but the flashbacks seem to go back ten years–really hurts it. I guess that aside will be the segue into the flashbacks. The first few, which chronicle Ben Affleck’s career woes and romance with Diane Lane, aren’t bad. Then it becomes clear Diane Lane isn’t actually going to be in the film very much and her mediocre acting quickly descends into shrillness as she tries again for an Oscar. She’s not the worst (Bob Hoskins is far, far worse), but she becomes rather tiresome.

Affleck, on the other hand, deserves his own two hour film, not just this one’s poorly framed flashbacks. He’s great–better, as time goes on, than Brody. Because the movie eventually falls apart, as Brody’s story turns into the standard failed father, disillusioned detective bit. The end’s just awful.

Michael Berenbaum’s cinematography is wonderful, giving the film both rich color but also sharpness. The score’s good. It’s a well-produced film, not question, the script is just bad. The beginning–the script’s–is great, particularly in the dialogue and the way people interact. These qualities disappear quickly (it’s almost like the opening got worked on and nothing else got revised).

Jeffrey DeMunn’s good, Lois Smith’s good, even Robin Tunney’s good. Molly Parker is criminally wasted.

The big problem with Hollywoodland–conceptually–is in its approach. It’s a mystery about the death of George Reeves, but then goes and reveals his death is actually nowhere near as interesting as his life.

Luckily, it’s long enough and starts to go bad around ninety-five minutes, maybe sooner, so I wasn’t disappointed by the ending… just glad it was finally over.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Allen Coulter; written by Paul Bernbaum; director of photography, Jonathan Freeman; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Leslie McDonald; produced by Glenn Williamson; released by Focus Features.

Starring Adrien Brody (Louis Simo), Diane Lane (Toni Mannix), Ben Affleck (George Reeves), Bob Hoskins (Eddie Mannix), Robin Tunney (Leonore Lemmon), Kathleen Robertson (Carol Van Ronkel), Lois Smith (Helen Bessolo), Phillip MacKenzie (Bill Bliss), Larry Cedar (Chester Sinclair), Caroline Dhavernas (Kit Holliday), Jeffrey DeMunn (Art Weissman), Joe Spano (Howard Strickling), Kevin Hare (Robert Condon) and Molly Parker (Laurie Simo).


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).


Scroll to Top