Geraldine Chaplin

Doctor Zhivago (1965, David Lean)

When Doctor Zhivago got to its intermission, I assumed director Lean would keep things moving as fast in the second half as he did in the first. These expectations were all high melodrama. Instead, the post-intermission section of Zhivago feels utterly detached from the first, even though there are a lot of returning faces. But there’s not much connection with the characters as they’ve grown in the film. I don’t know if it’s from the source novel or just Robert Bolt’s screenplay; Alec Guinness–in a glorified cameo doing the questionably useful narration–disappears too.

So the second half (or last third more appropriately) of Zhivago is the film’s problem. It has problems before, like Julie Christie being too old for her part (even though she’s far more interesting than anything else going on) or Geraldine Chaplin not having a character to play. Of course, Omar Sharif’s barely got a character and he’s Doctor Zhivago. Lean and Bolt keep everything as removed as possible.

There’s some great supporting work from Rod Steiger and Ralph Richardson, particularly Steiger.

Technically, the film’s grandiose but not particularly grand. Maybe it’s Norman Savage’s editing, but Zhivago never feels as sweeping as it should. It feels very slapped together. Lots of extraneous scenes. The post-intermission parts–featuring Sharif wandering around frozen Russia–miss all sorts of opportunities for good scenes.

Another big problem is Zhivago’s amazing poetry. Lean never lets the audience experience it at all.

It’s too big, too narratively unfocused.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak; director of photography, Freddie Young; edited by Norman Savage; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Box; produced by Carlo Ponti; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Omar Sharif (Yuri), Julie Christie (Lara), Rod Steiger (Komarovsky), Alec Guinness (Yevgraf), Tom Courtenay (Pasha), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Ralph Richardson (Alexander), Siobhan McKenna (Anna), Jeffrey Rockland (Sasha), Lucy Westmore (Katya), Klaus Kinski (Kostoyed) and Rita Tushingham (The Girl).


The Wolfman (2010, Joe Johnston)

If someone had told me Anthony Hopkins was going to have a major role… he’s so laughably bad, it’d be funny–if the joke of The Wolfman wasn’t on me.

Universal Studios doesn’t have any comic book properties so they’re apparently going to go through their horror catalog and churn out more turds like The Wolfman. It’s supposed to be an “adult” horror movie (it’s for thirteen year old boys at best), but it’s really a hodgepodge of mediocre special effects and superhero movie stupidity (this movie wouldn’t have existed without League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Ang Lee’s Hulk or Wolf for that matter). It reminds me of The Jackal, another terrible Universal remake.

The werewolf transformations are poor, CG-added to American Werewolf in London. Nothing more.

Actually, it starts all right–well, it starts not terrible (it rips off Bram Stoker’s Dracula a lot)–but the toilet flushes once they get to London. There’s no point to the trip except to show a CG werewolf on rooftops.

There’s some rather good acting–Emily Blunt’s way too classy for this one (the film feels less British than the original, which shouldn’t be possible). Geraldine Chaplin is good in what should have been the film’s most important role, but wasn’t.

Every change the screenwriters make from the original is awful. The cinematography’s at best pedestrian–from Shelly Johnson; Danny Elfman phones in the score. But the real disappointment is Johnston. His direction has absolutely no personality, just like the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Dennis Virkler and Walter Murch; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Stuber, Benicio Del Toro, Rick Yorn and Sean Daniel; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Benicio Del Toro (Lawrence Talbot), Anthony Hopkins (Sir John Talbot), Emily Blunt (Gwen), Hugo Weaving (Aberline), Art Malik (Singh), Antony Sher (Dr. Hoenneger), Simon Merrells (Ben Talbot) and Geraldine Chaplin (Maleva).


Home for the Holidays (1995, Jodie Foster)

For the first thirty or so minutes, Home for the Holidays is exactly the film its trailer presented. It’s a genial family comedy with a recognizable cast, a mix of standard casting choices like Charles Durning (Dad), semi-standards like Anne Bancroft (Mom), and unknown ones like Geraldine Chaplin (crazy aunt). Even when Robert Downey Jr. (gay brother) shows up, it’s still a recognizable comedy. We’re following Holly Hunter around on her unpleasant due to familial eccentricities Thanksgiving. Then David Strathairn shows up for a one-scene cameo and Home for the Holidays becomes something else entirely. The scene’s affecting in a significant way and, here’s another aspect of the film, Jodie Foster knows it. I’m not sure there’s ever been such a polished sophomore directorial effort than this one. Foster shoots that scene with Strathairn different and she has to shoot it different, because it is different. Then I realized, Foster changes her approach all throughout Holidays, totally in tune with the content. Flipping past the film over the length, so long as one kept forgetting Holly Hunter, a person could think it was a different film. It’s a very particular film.

I’d seen it once before, about eight years ago, at the height of my institutionalized film snobbery (working with a bunch of film school students and graduates at a snobby video store), recommended by someone who didn’t buy into the snobbery–actually, I don’t think she recommended it, just mentioned it–and I thought it was a great film. I probably even thought it was great for the same reasons I do now, which–given the time lapse–is a little surprising (but also agreeable, since I was a little afraid during the opening twenty it’d be decent but unspectacular). But I’d forgotten it, so I was with Foster through the film–when she introduced section cards, I was a little weary, but by the third, she turns them into prompts for the viewer to think about the film he or she is watching.

And then, when the film gets to the actual Thanksgiving dinner–Geraldine Chaplin has her big scene and it changes Home for the Holidays again… Foster uses the same style–presenting the viewer (and the characters) with something they expect to be amusing, but then changing the viewer’s perspective of the film and the characters’ perspective of themselves. Then, pretty soon after dinner’s over, Dylan McDermott takes over. I’ve seen McDermott in very little and Holidays is early in his high profile career buildup, but Foster gets an amazing performance out of him. Unbelievable, really–his character is impossible, but Foster and McDermott pull it off. I’m not sure how much W.D. Richter’s script contributed, because there’s one scene where it really looks like they (Hunter, McDermott and Foster) played a scene different from the way it’d be written. But, whatever… Foster has a lot of odd homages in here, to films a family comedy probably shouldn’t reference (I can’t remember because I didn’t make any notes, but along the lines of Welles and Ford–with some Woody Allen). The McDermott stuff plays like a Howard Hawks comedy, only there’s no space for the viewer to acclimate, so he or she just gets caught up in it. And once it’s going, it’s fantastic stuff.

Watching the clock as it got near the end, I kept wondering how Foster was going to wrap it all up. Her choice is amazing; predictable, but amazing. She conducts her characters out of a genial comedy and into something else. It’s something a little new even. While some of it is familiar territory, her nurturing of the characters really pays off at the end.

It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jodie Foster; written by W.D. Richter, based on a short story by Chris Radant; director of photography, Lajos Koltai; edited by Lynzee Klingman; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Peggy Rajski and Foster; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Holly Hunter (Claudia Larson), Robert Downey Jr. (Tommy Larson), Anne Bancroft (Adele Larson), Charles Durning (Henry Larson), Dylan McDermott (Leo Fish), Geraldine Chaplin (Aunt Glady), Steve Guttenberg (Walter Wedman), Cynthia Stevenson (Joanne Wedman), Claire Danes (Kitt) and David Strathairn (Russell Terziak).


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