Hal Holbrook

Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)

Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comic books. Director Romero and writer Stephen King go out of their way to make it feel like you’re reading one of those comics. It’s about the anticipation. The terror isn’t promised, it’s inevitable. So watching Creepshow is about waiting for the kicker. For the most part–and certainly from a technical standpoint–the film delivers. Romero has these hyper-realistic effects but this overly stylized photography. Red for dark rumblings, blue for immediate danger. Initially, it just seems like Michael Gornick’s photography is too crisp, but it turns out to be Romero’s enthusiasm for the project. Creepshow is good, wholesome scary fun. Just with patricide, cannibalism, monsters, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

There are five stories in Creepshow. The longest runs thirty-five minutes and stars Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. It’s also where Creepshow loses its steam so I thought I’d cover it first. Weaver and Holbrook are college professors. Barbeau’s Holbrook’s cheap and unintellectual wife. Weaver is great, Holbrook is not. Barbeau tries but it’s a crap part. The segment cuts between Holbrook’s fantasizing about killing Barbeau and Weaver trying to contend with a monster. Real quick–Creepshow deals with its horror a little differently; Romero makes a monster movie. It’s very stylized, but it’s a monster movie. The scares have to do with the monsters themselves, not their actions. The monster design, from Tom Savini, and the monster actions, also Savini, are both great. Back to the segment. It’s great when it’s Weaver and janitor Don Keefer trying to figure out what’s in a crate. Once they find out, the problems start. It’s the least “comic book” of the segments and the one where Romero has the most trouble. It feels like a riff on a fifties sci-fi movie more than anything else. Holbrook doesn’t help things, of course.

Otherwise, the segments are pretty strong. Even the one where writer Stephen King plays a New England redneck is fine. Not because of King’s performance–he’s terrible–but because of Savini’s effects and Romero’s direction. Great editing on the segment from Pasquale Buba too.

The best segment is probably the one with Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Gaylen Ross. It’s the third one in the film, after Romero, King and Gornick have established the film’s style and its devices. It’s the most comfortable mix of horror film and horror comic book. Danson’s sleeping with Ross, who’s Nielsen’s wife. Nielsen decides to torture Danson. Complications and some extravagant effects work ensue. Romero’s clearly enthusiastic about the effects work in Creepshow. He wants to showcase it and to present it properly, which requires a lot of technical ingenuity. There’s some excellent filmmaking in Creepshow.

The first segment in the film, with Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook and Elizabeth Regan, has a lot of excellent filmmaking too. Romero mixes a lot of horror standards–particularly the old dark house–to create a really effective opener to the film. Now, the film already has had a prologue with Tom Atkins as a crappy dad throwing up his kid’s Creepshow comic, so the first actual story segment just goes to establish Romero and King know what they’re doing.

Heck, they can even get past King’s acting in the second segment.

The last segment has E.G. Marshall as a recluse, germ-phobe capitalist fighting a cockroach infestation. Marshall is great, the cockroaches are gross and effective, but it lacks the energy to jumpstart Creepshow after the Weaver segment.

There’s a lot of good acting. Weaver, Nielsen, Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Danson, Keefer (whose mild doofus suggests just how good the one with King acting could have been with a better actor).

Solid music from John Harrison. It gets a little much at times, but it’s solid.

Creepshow is a lot of fun. Except when Romero and King forget they’re supposed to be having fun and subject the film to way too much whiney Hal Holbrook and harpy Adrienne Barbeau.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George A. Romero; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Michael Gornick; edited by Michael Spolan, Romero, Pasquale Buba and Paul Hirsch; music by John Harrison; production designer, Cletus Anderson; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson) and E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt).


Fletch Lives (1989, Michael Ritchie)

Fletch Lives is a dreadful motion picture. Typing out its title, I remember–once again–the filmmakers weren’t even creative enough to come up with a good title. There’s no pun in it, no reference to the film’s narrative–no one ever thinks the character has died only to come back in a surprise. Maybe it’s a newspaper headline reference, but I doubt it. Leon Capetanos’s script is exceptionally dumb and there’s no emphasis on the newspaper the character (played by Chevy Chase) works for.

What’s even more infuriating about Lives is the failure of repeat players. If Chase were the only returning member of the first film’s cast and crew, it might make sense. But the same producers and same director return. They just are incompetent this time around. Director Ritchie in particular fails at transplanting Chase to Louisiana from Los Angeles. There’s nothing Ritchie could have done about the costumes being used too much to mask a lack of story, but he could have made the setting work better. Some of it is bad back drops, but not much.

In the lead, Chase has lost his charm. His character’s mean and cheap and somewhat unintelligent. The supporting cast is awful–Hal Holbrook embarrasses himself, love interests Patricia Kalember and Julianne Phillips are atrocious, returning players Richard Libertini and George Wyner stink. The only good supporting performances are Cleavon Little and R. Lee Ermey.

Lives often feels like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch of Fletch.

Terrible music too.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Leon Capetanos, based on characters created by Gregory McDonald; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Harold Faltermeyer; produced by Alan Greisman and Peter Douglas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chevy Chase (Fletch), Hal Holbrook (Hamilton Johnson), Julianne Phillips (Becky Culpepper), R. Lee Ermey (Jimmy Lee Farnsworth), Richard Libertini (Frank Walker), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Ben Dover), Cleavon Little (Calculus Entropy), George Wyner (Marvin Gillet), Patricia Kalember (Amanda Ray Ross), Geoffrey Lewis (KKK Leader), Richard Belzer (Phil) and Phil Hartman (Bly Manager).


They Only Kill Their Masters (1972, James Goldstone)

I don’t know if I can think of a more mild mystery than They Only Kill Their Masters. It’s a solid vehicle for James Garner, giving him a lot of leading man stuff to do and a fair amount of internal conflict. But it’s so slight, so genial, it doesn’t leave much of an impression.

Some of the film’s problems stem from the running time. Just under a 100 minutes, there’s not enough time to develop Garner on his own and have him investigate a murder (especially since he’s also got to be the one to discover it is a murder) and romance Katharine Ross. The romance kind of makes Masters special–Garner’s character fills out because he and Ross get together–and it’s maybe the only time I’ve seen Ross play a regular person. She does it very well.

But the romance eventually has to go to a back burner, to make time for the mystery, which is resolved terribly. There are two major revelations within eight minutes of each other and neither are particularly interesting.

Worse, the amazing supporting cast is mostly done by the end, so it’s all rapid fire resolution.

When the film’s not Garner investigating or Garner and Ross, it’s usually Garner and a supporting cast member in a nice scene. Maybe the best is Edmond O’Brien, who’s not just hilarious, but shows what Garner’s used to dealing with on a daily basis, providing some context.

It’s a decent, sometimes really good, movie. It’s just underwhelming overall.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Goldstone; written by Lane Slate; director of photography, Michel Hugo; edited by Edward A. Biery; music by Perry Botkin Jr.; produced by William Belasco; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Garner (Abel), Katharine Ross (Kate), Hal Holbrook (Watkins), Harry Guardino (Capt. Streeter), June Allyson (Mrs. Watkins), Christopher Connelly (John), Tom Ewell (Walter), Peter Lawford (Campbell), Edmond O’Brien (George), Arthur O’Connell (Ernie), Ann Rutherford (Gloria) and Art Metrano (Malcolm).


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).


The Fog (1980, John Carpenter)

It’s not just Janet Leigh being in the film or all the trouble–visibly–starting when Jamie Lee Curtis arrives in town, it’s everything about The Fog–it’s an aware Hitchcock homage. The list can continue with the setting, the reference to The Birds, but it’s even more. There’s a definite feel to the film; Carpenter seemingly (he really doesn’t, since the film’s only ninety minutes) dedicates a bunch of time to the character development.

He’s got that fantastic introduction to Adrienne Barbeau’s character. There’s her talking to admirer Charles Cyphers on the phone to showcase her actual personality (versus her radio personality), the guys on the boat talking about her, then, a few scenes later, there are the backstory heavy photographs and newspaper clippings. It takes almost no time, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill create this incredibly full character. I think the line about her grocery shopping does a lot of work in about four seconds.

Hill’s contributions to the script can’t be overlooked–besides Barbeau’s fine character, there’s also the almost passive–but touching–romance between Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s so passive, it’s hard to even call it a romance, but it’s there and the scenes are great. Atkins is the closest thing the film’s got to a leading man and he’s fantastic–his character’s also very Hitchcockian. The film’s got six principles–Barbeau, Atkins, Curtis, Leigh, Nancy Keyes and Hal Holbrook. Leigh and Keyes spend most of the film together–another great relationship–while Barbeau and Holbrook are mostly solo. Holbrook’s part is only significant at the beginning and end, so the film’s almost three–Barbeau the radio deejay, Atkins and Curtis’s wild ride, and Leigh and Keyes working on the town’s anniversary celebration.

The anniversary celebration, which is handled extremely carefully, just shows off what a great job Carpenter does with limited money here. Everything gives the impression of majesty, mostly due to Carpenter’s fine Panavision composition and Dean Cundey’s lush color palate (another Hitchcock similarity). It’s an incredibly tight script and the majority of the film doesn’t have a single misstep. There’s Cyphers in his small role and he’s great. Darwin Jostin has a cameo, he’s great. It’s all great… until the end.

The end falls apart slowly, maybe because it’s hurried. After spending so much time with Curtis and Atkins (and Leigh and Keyes), seeing them pushed aside for Holbrook to take over–while Barbeau awkwardly narrates–really knocks away at the picture.

The film opens slowly and quietly. You’ve got John Houseman telling a story. Houseman’s definitely got the voice for it. It’s gradual, ominous and full of mood. The ending is fast, loud and neon.

The performances are all good, especially Barbeau (until the end, she can’t make her monologues sound good, no one could), Atkins, Keyes and Curtis. Atkins is such an assured leading man, it’s hard to believe he never played one again (maybe he did, but I’ve sure never seen it). Barbeau’s character is so interesting, she could have played her in a straight, non-genre picture and it probably would have been even better.

It’s great filmmaking, it’s just a problematic film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie Wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), John Houseman (Mr. Machen), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), James Canning (Dick Baxter), Charles Cyphers (Dan O’Bannon), Nancy Kyes (Sandy Fadel), Ty Mitchell (Andy), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), John F. Goff (Al Williams) and George ‘Buck’ Flower (Tommy Wallace).


All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

In an American history survey class, when we got to Nixon, one student asked if we could cover it. She felt we hadn’t covered it well enough. The professor said we would not be covering it–everyone knew it. He was–obviously–wrongly assuming some knowledge of history from college students, a foolish presumption (I have MFA instructors who know nothing about history). I actually have some sympathy for that student, since unless she read a book, she might not know a lot about Watergate. I read the book before I saw All the President’s Men and I still remember a couple things from that first viewing. One, the immediately odd opening credit: ‘A Robert Redford-Alan J. Pakula Film’, and the halving of the book. Given the historical importance of its contents, it’s hard not to look at President’s Men as a historical document, but it is not. It might very well be the Harry Potter of its day, actually.

From the beginning, following that odd credit, I noticed the perfection of the film’s production. Every shot is perfect, every edit. That scene with Redford on the phone (President’s Men, particularly in the first act, is probably Redford’s best work) is beautiful. Alan J. Pakula outdoes just about everyone with this film. Even after the first act, when the film’s odd pacing takes over (it’s made for a person familiar with the events, another comparison to Harry Potter), Pakula’s composition is still striking. David Shire’s score is very quiet and Pakula uses it sparingly, instead going for great sound.

Once into the film’s action, once it’s established there won’t be any real character relationships, since the principals of the film aren’t involved with the film’s major events, the film does begin to lose some steam. The wonderful character moments, when Redford and Hoffman interact with “real” people (the film’s filled with great small performances from Lindsay Crouse and Jane Alexander–Alexander in particular), stop and, while the film doesn’t get repetitive, it loses some of the charm. For that first seventy minutes, it establishes all these great little performances, then whisks them away from the viewer. Instead, there are other great performances, from Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam, but somehow, those performances are less engaging. Especially when Warden effectively disappears from the film. Maybe in those more varied scenes, there’s some additional William Goldman goodness. All the President’s Men is Goldman at, if not his best then certainly his most skillful.

I thought watching the film today would be… not difficult, but somewhat sullied by the knowledge of the modern stooge media and knowing Nixon and his goons were nowhere near as bad as Republicans could get (in fact, they weren’t bad at all, all things considered), but it isn’t. The film stands on its own qualities and while it is a tad of the empty side of humaneness, it’s the best film ever made with that distance. It’s the kind of film Soderbergh wanted to make with Traffic, but couldn’t. Because he’s not Alan J. Pakula.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by David Shire; produced by Walter Coblenz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld), Martin Balsam (Howard Simons), Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jane Alexander (Bookkeeper), Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan), Ned Beatty (Dardis), Stephen Collins (Hugh Sloan Jr.), Penny Fuller (Sally Aiken), John McMartin (Foreign Editor), Robert Walden (Donald Segretti), Frank Wills (Himself), David Arkin (Bachinski), Henry Calvert (Barker), Dominic Chianese (Marinez), Lindsay Crouse (Kay Eddy), Valerie Curtin (Miss Milland), Richard Herd (McCord), Allyn Ann McLerie (Carolyn Abbot), Neva Patterson (Angry CRP woman) and Joshua Shelley (Al Lewis).


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