Glenn Close

In the Gloaming (1997, Christopher Reeve)

In the Gloaming is a qualified success. If you’re trying to go for humanizing a guy dying of AIDS while his upper middle class White yuppie family is slow to realize he’s a dying person who they probably ought not to avoid because they’ll regret it… it does that job. Gloaming is an hour-long HBO movie, based on a New Yorker story, all set in and around Glenn Close and David Strathairn’s picture perfect home in Westchester County, New York. Straithairn presumably works in the city, but it’s never actually clear. Doesn’t really matter. Just they’ve got enough money to have a gorgeous house but no servants.

And son Robert Sean Leonard has come home to die.

The film’s a series of what you know the filmmakers would prefer you think of as vignettes, as Close bonds with Leonard while Strathairn gets pissy. Close has to overcome the fear she’s responsibility for Leonard being gay because she was nice to him as a kid. She wasn’t as nice to his sister, Bridget Fonda, who grew up to be too much of a yuppie even for Close, off married with child, but the son and husband don’t come around because AIDS is gross and so’s Leonard being gay. But it’s okay because Fonda’s going to cry when he’s dead? Maybe. Not resolved. The vignettes are more like clips of the character development without any follow-up. Like when Strathairn, finally coming to terms with Leonard’s impending death, thinks it’s a good time to go for some martial relations with Close. No follow-up on that one.

Plus Whoopi Goldberg’s just around as the nurse, who eventually makes Close feel better about herself.

The film’s… comprised. Screenwriter Will Scheffer does not have the chops to make the strained manners of the bourgeois somehow say more than if Strathairn actually sat down and had a conversation with Leonard. They talk a lot about how it’s going to happen, then never does. Because Strathairn’s a terrible guy, even though he grows tomatoes for Close to cook him even though he doesn’t like tomatoes much. But we’ve got to understand Strathairn’s position–he just wanted what must be a macho man in Westchester County 1997, a tennis playing gardener man. Instead he got son Leonard, who went off to Berkeley and became gay. Meanwhile, why doesn’t anyone love Fonda enough, she’s doing her part, working full-time and wearing pantsuits and being mean to her own son so he doesn’t turn out gay.

Yes, Gloaming is from 1997. Yes, it’s from HBO. Yes, it’s from a New Yorker story (but 1997 New Yorker so… I mean… right?). But it has a lot it’s not willing to address. Scared to address. Leaving Strathairn, Fonda, and Goldberg with somewhat pointless parts. Fonda’s scary good as the shittiest human being and Goldberg’s at least likable. Strathairn’s just tiresome. He’s a one note caricature, with some “details” thrown in to round him. Doesn’t work.

So after two paragraphs dunking on it, why is In the Gloaming a qualified success?

Because the stuff with Leonard and Close, as they bond and work through his imminent mortality—mind you, they don’t get real character development in the script because of that vignette structure–it’s great work from Close and Leonard. The script limits them, sure. But Reeve works the hell out of their scenes together. And it resolves their relationship just right. Then ruins it with the actual last scene, which is an eye-roll and a half.

But Leonard and Close. They’re real good. They do so much with… not so little, but so… comprised a material. They refuse to let it limit their performances, which is cool.

Reeve’s direction is fine. He likes crane shots and doesn’t get to do enough of them. Good photography from Frederick Elmes. David Ray’s editing is a little too hurried, which is strange because of the the oddly manipulative nature montages–it’s like HBO is slamming their affluent viewers over the head with, “It could be your sons too, White women ages 45-55 who like Glenn Close!”—but then Ray’s got no sense of cutting when it comes to the dialogue scenes.

It’s like Reeve tried to direct it as a stage adaptation but without the play backbone.

Very heavily Scottish-influenced Dave Grusin score, which is weird (and figures into the plot); it’s a good score, it’s just a lot.

But it’s definitely a missed opportunity overall. It’s aged like flat root beer.

So, technically, earnestly, but unenthusiastically:

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Reeve; teleplay by Will Scheffer, based on a story by Alice Elliott Dark; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by David Ray; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Andrew Jackness; costume designer, Jane Greenwood; produced by Nellie Nugiel; aired by HBO.

Starring Glenn Close (Janet), Robert Sean Leonard (Danny), David Strathairn (Martin), Bridget Fonda (Anne), and Whoopi Goldberg (Myrna).


The Big Chill (1983, Lawrence Kasdan)

With The Big Chill, Kasdan tries to be profound, heart-warming and cynical. He doesn’t succeed. For a film so much about introspection, Kasdan is surprisingly unaware at the inherent artifice. The film’s cast of characters are–if they’re male–extraordinary. There’s some lip service to the women’s successes (doctor, lawyer) but the men are rich or famous. It leads to some contrivances. If Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedeck were more conscious of the artifice, Chill would probably be great.

As it is now, it’s a good film with some great performances, outstanding technical qualities and a lot of boring stretches. A couple of characters are misfires. Kevin Kline’s Southern royalty, besides being a painfully artificial characterization, isn’t believable as a former hippie. And JoBeth Williams is so unlikable, I was confused about her having kids–I assumed, given her heartlessness when talking about them, they were stepchildren.

But there are outstanding performances too. The most surprising ones are Tom Berenger and Meg Tilly. Kasdan and Benedeck don’t give equal time to the cast and Berenger–and William Hurt–are mostly the male leads. The women get far less representation–Mary Kay Place, who’s outstanding, is the closest thing to a female lead.

Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum are kind of window dressing. Their few scenes together, however, are great.

Kasdan’s composition, aided by John Bailey’s cinematography, is often wondrous. A lot of credit for Chill belongs to Carol Littleton’s nuanced editing.

Chill‘s parts are better than its whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Carol Littleton; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Michael Shamberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Harold), Glenn Close (Sarah), JoBeth Williams (Karen), Jeff Goldblum (Michael), Mary Kay Place (Meg), Tom Berenger (Sam), Meg Tilly (Chloe), Don Galloway (Richard) and William Hurt (Nick).


The Paper (1994, Ron Howard)

For a painfully brief period in the 1990s, Ron Howard was one of the best filmmakers working. It didn’t last. The Paper kicked off his run. Howard and the Koepp brothers (I can’t remember for sure, but I think Stephen worked at a newspaper) imbue the film with the traditional Hollywood newspaper movie idealism, but also enough modern cynicism to make the film fit for human consumption. Actually, the traditional Hollywood newspaper has always had the commercialism conflict, in The Paper personified by Michael Keaton and Glenn Close’s printing press fistfight, but along with the rest, it all somehow seems fresh. The rest is Robert Duvall’s aged newspaperman paying the various prices for his life, Marisa Tomei worrying about having her imminent baby with workaholic Keaton, Randy Quaid as a griping, indifferent columnist, and, of course, Jack Kehoe’s search for a comfortable chair. Howard’s special touch was bringing a heartening sense to his films without ever pandering. He could make a movie where a doorman could worry about a tenant in a medical crisis without it coming across as mawkish.

But there’s the technical aspect one shouldn’t ignore. The Paper takes place over a day, twenty-four hours, and while there are occasional visual errors, Howard and cinematographer John Seale do a beautiful job creating that day with wonderful skies. When Tomei is on the street, talking to Keaton on her cellphone, you can feel the warm New York evening. The editing is also very nice–and the Randy Newman score (there is, of course, a Randy Newman song over the end credits too), but the score sets the perfect tone for the film. It’s that extinct drama… the adult comedy.

All of the Koepp brothers’ dialogue is great, so much so, it’s strange David never came back to dialogue-heavy movies. Their characters–and here’s an odd compliment–are just sparse enough the actors can bring defining features to them, since the story doesn’t have any room for them (as written) except as figures moving throughout the story. The newspaper story, the one Keaton can’t get wrong, unfolds wonderfully. The plotting being good, I can figure that one from Koepp, but the dialogue just seems odd coming from him.

The acting is all fantastic. It’s one of Keaton’s best performances, it’s probably Tomei’s best. Randy Quaid’s good in the smallest of the principal roles, but he does get a great payoff at the end. Duvall’s great. Glenn Close probably has the most complicated role and she’s the only one with a eureka moment and she pulls it off. The supporting cast, with Kehoe maybe being the most memorable, is also fantastic. Roma Maffia and Lynne Thigpen being the other two standouts, but they’re all great.

The Paper is largely, I’m guessing because of the cast, forgotten. There’s a lousy pan and scan DVD in the United States and Howard’s shown no interest in the last ten years in forcing an acceptable release. It’s got a place in film history–one of the forgotten films of the 1990s (it won no major Oscars and did not make over a $150 million), an ever growing category and maybe the most depressing–but it really ought to be known for its excellence, not as an entry on a list or as a footnote. It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by David Koepp and Stephen Koepp; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Daniel Hanley and Michael Hill; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Brian Grazer and Frederick Zollo; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Henry Hackett), Robert Duvall (Bernie White), Glenn Close (Alicia Clark), Marisa Tomei (Martha Hackett), Randy Quaid (Michael McDougal), Jason Robards (Graham Keighley), Jason Alexander (Marion Sandusky), Spalding Gray (Paul Bladden), Catherine O’Hara (Susan), Lynne Thigpen (Janet), Jack Kehoe (Phil), Roma Maffia (Carmen), Clint Howard (Ray Blaisch), Geoffrey Owens (Lou) and Amelia Campbell (Robin).


The Natural (1984, Barry Levinson), the director’s cut

The Natural is a strange one. It’s a cheap success. The story is incredibly simple–you have the golden-haired hero and the evil monster who lives in the dark–and looking for anything more will leave one wanting. Even though the film taps into the baseball mythos, it’s superficial. The Natural is the superhero movie Robert Redford never made… there’s no question of his morality, his loyalty, his ability. Watching the movie is about enjoying what the movie does. The scenes of Redford knocking the ball out of the park aren’t supposed to come as surprises, they’re supposed to be Hollywood magic. And for the most part, they are.

For his second feature, Barry Levinson is perfect–just like his first–capturing the film’s era. He’s not so perfect at capturing or creating the wonderment. There are some problems. The biggest is the opening, with Redford playing twenty at fifty (or forty-nine)–only two years younger than co-star Wilford Brimley–while Redford playing thirty-six is digestible (he has had a bullet in his stomach for sixteen years), the opening flashbacks are distracting and might have done better just as voiceovers. But Levinson also isn’t able to direct those scenes, the mythic scenes. He lacks the visual imagination for it. Levinson is, always–no matter how much gloss he puts on it–a realistic director and mythic scenes are beyond him here. Randy Newman’s score doesn’t help in these scenes either and really should. Newman’s score is half perfect and half off. It’s good throughout, but he’s supposed to be whacking the viewer in the ears, filling he or she with a double serving of wonderment, richer than any cheesecake. And he comes close enough to show he could have, but doesn’t.

Some of those problems–the Newman score–suggest the filmmakers were going for something a little deeper. There are certainly suggestions of it. The scene where, when talking about his father, all Redford can say is, “I love baseball,” or the scenes with Glenn Close. In some ways, the most ambitious–as a real film–The Natural gets is when it’s deliberating on these two people picking up with each other after so long. It’s great stuff, it just doesn’t pay off in the end. What pays off in the end is sparkling rain and the hero victorious.

All the performances are good (except, obviously, Michael Madsen). Redford in particular, though Brimley and Richard Farnsworth are both excellent as well. As the nefarious villains, Robert Prosky, Darren McGavin and Kim Basinger show why being campy isn’t always a bad thing. Robert Duvall is a little disappointing too, I guess, playing a far too two-dimensional character. Close manages to play a grown-up dream girl, which was probably either a lot easier or a lot harder than it looks.

The film’s a little too clean, a little too long in places and a little too short in others, but when it works it works beautifully.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Levinson; screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Stu Linder and Christopher Holmes; music by Randy Newman; production designers, Mel Bourne and Angelo P. Graham; produced by Mark Johnson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Roy Hobbs), Robert Duvall (Max Mercy), Glenn Close (Iris Gaines), Kim Basinger (Memo Paris), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher), Barbara Hershey (Harriet Bird), Robert Prosky (The Judge), Darren McGavin (Gus Sands), Richard Farnsworth (Red Blow), Joe Don Baker (The Whammer), John Finnegan (Sam Simpson), Alan Fudge (Ed Hobbs), Paul Sullivan Jr. (Young Roy), Rachel Hall (Young Iris), Robert Rich III (Ted Hobbs), Michael Madsen (Bartholomew ‘Bump’ Bailey), Jon Van Ness (John Olsen), Mickey Treanor (Doc Dizzy) and George Wilkosz (Bobby Savoy).


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