Frances Conroy

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988, Frank Oz)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels manages to have a full, three act plot–with all the twists necessary for a confidence picture–but it also is constantly funny. Oz juggles his two leads but mostly relies on Steve Martin for the more immediate humor. With Michael Caine, Oz and the screenwriters tend to be a lot quieter… letting the humor build. Martin gets the gags.

Deciding the better performance–between Caine and Martin–is difficult. Caine has a lot more to do in terms of range, but Martin has to be doing something almost every frame of film.

I’ve seen Scoundrels before, but I never fully appreciated the film’s successes. For example, Oz uses montages a couple times to hurry the plot along and each scene in the montage is hilarious, but the film never pauses to laugh at itself. It never loses momentum, even during the more outrageous gags.

And Scoundrels has a lot of potential speed bumps. The first act alone has a micro-three act structure built into it, as the focus transitions from Caine to Martin (it shifts throughout the film). Then there’s the appearance of Glenne Headly, who arrives during the second act. She’s an essential player and is absent during the first act. Actually, Headly probably gives the film’s best performance.

Anton Rodgers and Ian McDiarmid, who both have big parts at the start, slowly fade away. Rodgers in particular has some fantastic scenes. Barbara Harris is great in a small part too.

Scoundrels is outstanding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Oz; written by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stephen A. Rotter and William S. Scharf; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Roy Walker; produced by Bernard Williams; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Freddy Benson), Michael Caine (Lawrence Jamieson), Glenne Headly (Janet Colgate), Anton Rodgers (Inspector Andre), Barbara Harris (Fanny Eubanks), Ian McDiarmid (Arthur), Dana Ivey (Mrs. Reed), Meagen Fay (Lady from Oklahoma), Frances Conroy (Lady from Palm Beach), Nicole Calfan (Lady in Dining Car) and Aïna Walle (Miss Krista Knudsen).


All-Star Superman (2011, Sam Liu)

All-Star Superman, the comic book, is maybe the best Superman comic book. Based on empirical observation (i.e. the other animated DC Comics movies from Warner Premiere), I assumed All-Star Superman, the animated movie, would be awful.

I was wrong. It’s wondrous.

It’s not without its problems, of course. The movie is based on the comic, but it feels like one of the Superman movies. It needs better music. Christopher Drake has the chops to do a video game score, not this film.

Second, the character designs are often weak. Proportions are absurd.

Third, Alexis Denisof is terrible. He doesn’t have a big part, but he opens and closes the movie. It hurts.

Now, on the good stuff. All-Star Superman is about two things–Superman and Lois and Superman and Lex Luthor. About twenty-five minutes is just Superman and Lois having a date. Sure, she’s got temporary superpowers and they’re flying around, but it’s just a date. It’s lovely.

The Lex Luthor stuff comes later and is consistently entertaining.

James Denton is great. Anthony LaPaglia gives the film’s best performance. Christina Hendricks is all right (she’s best in her scenes with Denton, which is odd, since they probably didn’t record together). Everyone else is solid–Arnold Vosloo is excellent.

The script hurries a lot, but manages to sell every sequence, even if it starts problematically.

The movie does what the comic book did–it turns the traditional Superman story into a fable of unbridled enthusiasm.

It’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie, based on a comic book by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and a character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bobbie Page and Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring James Denton (Superman / Clark Kent), Christina Hendricks (Lois Lane), Anthony LaPaglia (Lex Luthor), Alexis Denisof (Dr. Quintum), Edward Asner (Perry White), Matthew Gray Gubler (Jimmy Olsen), Kevin Michael Richardson (Steve Lombard), Steve Blum (Atlas), John DiMaggio (Samson), Linda Cardellini (Nasthalthia), Arnold Vosloo (Bar-El), Finola Hughes (Lilo-El), Robin Atkin Downes (Solaris), Michael Gough (Parasite) and Frances Conroy (Ma Kent).


Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch)

If I had any foresight, I would have realized Broken Flowers wasn’t going to end well. Actually, most of the film is just a ruse to disguise that fact. Instead of thinking about how the film was going to turn out, I spent all my time marveling at Jarmusch. His composition, his dialogue, everything, just beautiful. The first hour of Broken Flowers is wondrous, to some degree because it’s the portion of the film most featuring Jeffrey Wright as Bill Murray’s detective novel-obsessed best friend. The relationship between Wright and Murray is the film’s high-point, with Jarmusch handling it… well, perfectly isn’t right, because it’s such a rare, fantastic relationship, there’s nothing available for comparison. The first twenty minutes of the film, featuring Murray and Wright going over to each other’s houses (they live next door to each other), set an expectation for Broken Flowers, one the next forty minutes do nothing to hinder.

Watching it transition from that friendship to the plot, Murray tracking down ex-girlfriends, I wondered how Jarmusch was going to manage. Basically, it’s all Murray, all the time. The viewer learns nothing about the girlfriends beyond the visible, certainly not the information Murray’s searching for, and each successive girlfriend is more mysterious than the last. So much so, when it finally gets to be Jessica Lange’s turn, she’s overshadowed by her character’s assistant, played by Chloë Sevigny. Sevigny’s hardly got any lines even, but something about the scene construction, she’s more active than Lange and more memorable. As the variety of the women’s lives takes over, some of Jarmusch’s construction techniques begin to show. The first visit, with Sharon Stone, is best. The last visit is worst, as it’s short and bored with itself, assuming the viewer is ready to get the film over with.

The end of the film would be infuriating if, like I mentioned, Jarmusch hadn’t fooled the viewer. There’s no good ending to certain films and Broken Flowers is one of those films. What Jarmusch manages to do, for the majority of the picture, is make the viewer not care what’s going to happen, because the scenic beauty is so great.

As far as actors, the most surprising performance was from Jeffrey Wright, just because I’ve never seen him act well (or even acceptably) before. Bill Murray’s good, best in those scenes with Wright and the ones with Sharon Stone, who’s good too. The rest of the performances are all fine, but no one really stands out. Christopher McDonald has a really restrained role and I’m used to him going a little nuts, so I spent that scene waiting for him to burst.

Broken Flowers is a spectacular disappointment, but whatever… most of it is excellent and all of it is beautifully made. Even the lame ending has some great camerawork.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Jarmusch; screenplay by Jarmusch, inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Mulatu Astatke; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Jon Kilik and Stacey Smith; released by Focus Features.

Starring Bill Murray (Don Johnston), Jeffrey Wright (Winston), Sharon Stone (Laura), Frances Conroy (Dora), Jessica Lange (Carmen), Tilda Swinton (Penny), Julie Delpy (Sherry), Chloe Sevigny (Carmen’s assistant) and Christopher McDonald (Ron).


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