Harry Dean Stanton

Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director’s cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Private Benjamin (1980, Howard Zieff)

Quite a bit works in Private Benjamin, which makes all the creaky parts stick out more. Even though the film runs 109 minutes, a lot seems cut out. Characters just fade away, especially as the film rushes in the second half. But even lead Goldie Hawn just ends up staring in various montages–happy and sad ones–with her character development (the whole point of the movie) on pause.

Hawn’s nearly excellent–she would be with a better than director than Zieff–but still quite good as Benjamin. The first act sets Hawn up as a sympathetic, blissfully unaware Jewish-American princess caricature… though Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyers, and Harvey Miller’s script doesn’t really want to do too much commentary on that aspect. There’s one direct joke slash plot twist later, but the film’s initially just doing it to show Hawn’s screwed up life. Her father (Sam Wanamaker) is an indifferent, dismissive jerk. Mother Barbara Barrie is supportive, but in a limited way. Hawn’s love life is unfulfilling and gross. It’s depressing, not funny.

So when tragedy and contrivance land Hawn in the army, Benjamin all of a sudden finds lightness. Because as recruiting officer Harry Dean Stanton (in a gentle Harry Dean performance) puts it, it’s not like the ladies get the become killing machines in this man’s army. So it’s all sort of fun. Hawn slapsticking it through boot camp, for example. It has a number of solid laughs. It also builds up the supporting cast. There’s Eileen Brennan as Hawn’s commanding officer and nemesis. It should be a great role for Brennan. Instead, it’s a weak, often inexplicable one. The film goes out of its way to avoid giving Brennan her own material after a couple significant setups. It’s a waste of a performance.

Hawn has a pretty solid set of sidekicks in Mary Kay Place, Toni Kalem, Damita Jo Freeman, and Alston Ahern. P.J. Soles should be a sub-nemesis, instead she’s a pointless supporting player and it makes Soles grating. Hal Williams is fun as the drill sergeant.

In the second act, when Benjamin starts to be about Hawn’s character forcibly developing herself, the film hits its stride. Zieff either gets he shouldn’t dwell on it or he just doesn’t get it; his hands off approach leads to some of Hawn’s best acting in the film.

The second act also has Robert Webber as this wacky colonel with dumb nicknames (based off his own name) for everything. It’s silly and great, because Webber is straight-facing it all. Though the film ends up wasting him too.

Because eventually Hawn meets Armand Assante. And Assante is a rich, French gynecologist who speaks perfect English. He’s also Jewish. As an object of Hawn’s desire, Assante’s great. As her love interest, well, even with numerous montages, he wears out his welcome. He’s got a desperately thin part and ends up being the segue into the film rushing to bring back all its worst parts. And none of the good ones. It even scoffs at the idea of bringing back the good ones.

There’s also the weak music from Bill Conti. He plays up the military aspect, which is completely against what Sheldon Kahn’s editing is doing. The lack of rhythm drags down a lot of scenes. It’s like no one knows what anyone else wants to do with the picture.

Private Benjamin is solid situation comedy–sadly all Zieff can direct–with whiffs at greater ambitions. And Hawn’s a great lead.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; produced and written by Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by Bill Conti; production designers, Robert F. Boyle and Jeffrey Howard; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Pvt. Benjamin), Armand Assante (Henri Alan Tremont), Eileen Brennan (Capt. Lewis), Barbara Barrie (Harriet Benjamin), Sam Wanamaker (Teddy Benjamin), Robert Webber (Col. Thornbush), Hal Williams (Sgt. Ross), Toni Kalem (Pvt. Gianelli), Mary Kay Place (Pvt. Glass), Damita Jo Freeman (Pvt. Moe), Alston Ahern (Pvt. Soyer), P.J. Soles (Pvt. Winter), Harry Dean Stanton (1st Sgt. Ballard), Craig T. Nelson (Capt. Woodbridge), and Albert Brooks (Yale Goodman).


Repo Man (1984, Alex Cox)

For such an “odd” movie, Repo Man is incredibly precise. Writer-director Cox has four or five subplots–depending on if Emilio Estevez becoming a repo man and his journey as one is considered the plot, as Cox downgrades it to subplot status about three-quarters through the picture. Sometimes these subplots become so intense they jumble–I had to pause it and turn to the wife to ask her why Harry Dean Stanton was in the hospital, for instance.

Cox is just as precise with his composition and the film’s technical side. From the first scene, it’s clear he and editor Dennis Dolan are going to excel at cutting the film. Robby Müller’s photography is good, but it’s nowhere near as essential as Dolan’s editing. Repo Man just flows; great integration with the soundtrack too.

Estevez, though second billed, is the lead. He just has to be a disaffected youth–even when he becomes self-aware, it’s nothing compared to the lunacy of his new life in car repossession; Cox handles that scene beautifully (even if I lost track of Stanton in it).

As for Stanton, he has the film’s biggest arc. He’s the traditional Western hero who learns his code isn’t going to get him through life. Cox doesn’t exactly mix genres, just borrows people from other ones and drops them in the film. Stanton’s utterly fantastic.

Great supporting work all around, particularly from Tracey Walter, Sy Richardson and Tom Finnegan.

Repo Man is strange, hostile and wonderful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Alex Cox; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by Dennis Dolan; music by Steven Hufsteter and Tito Larriva; production designer, Lynda Burbank; produced by Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Harry Dean Stanton (Bud), Emilio Estevez (Otto), Tracey Walter (Miller), Olivia Barash (Leila), Sy Richardson (Lite), Susan Barnes (Agent Rogersz), Fox Harris (J. Frank Parnell), Tom Finnegan (Oly), Del Zamora (Lagarto), Eddie Velez (Napo), Zander Schloss (Kevin), Jennifer Balgobin (Debbi), Dick Rude (Duke), Miguel Sandoval (Archie), Vonetta McGee (Marlene) and Richard Foronjy (Plettschner).


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, Martin Scorsese)

The Last Temptation of Christ opens with a passage presumably from the introduction to the novel, as it’s the novel’s writer talking about his own feelings. It’s an odd choice, since it somehow removes the drive for the picture from the filmmakers and puts it on someone else.

It’s a very intentional move from Scorsese; Last Temptation is full of very intentional moves. While the film did have a relatively low budget, it still has an amazing crew–Michael Ballhaus’s photography is masterful and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is sublime (particularly for the first half).

Scorsese and Ballhaus open with muted colors. Willem Dafoe’s narration has to carry the fantastical elements until the journey of self-discovery picks up and color finally leaks in. The supporting cast–Harvey Keitel in particular–also lend to the mundane feeling. Keitel might be playing Judas, but he’s also the stand-in for the viewer. The approach works.

The film has two major transitions. First is when Dafoe and company get to Jerusalem the first time. Instead of journeying about, Last Temptation becomes all about getting to the crucifixion. That change probably isn’t anyone’s fault… at some point it has to be about getting to the cross. Still, Scorsese could have paced it better.

Then the cross itself, when Scorsese respectfully apes 2001. The end does save the picture, but there’s definite rough road.

Great music from Peter Gabriel, excellent lead performance from Dafoe, strong supporting turns.

Even with its problems, Last Temptation’s mostly magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Peter Gabriel; production designer, John Beard; produced by Barbara De Fina; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Jesus), Harvey Keitel (Judas), Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene), Verna Bloom (Mary, Mother of Jesus), Andre Gregory (John The Baptist), Gary Basaraba (Andrew, Apostle), Victor Argo (Peter, Apostle), Michael Been (John, Apostle), Paul Herman (Phillip, Apostle), John Lurie (James, Apostle), Alan Rosenberg (Thomas, Apostle), Leo Burmester (Nathaniel, Apostle), Peggy Gormley (Martha, Sister of Lazarus), Randy Danson (Mary, Sister of Lazarus), Tomas Arana (Lazarus), Roberts Blossom (Aged Master), Barry Miller (Jeroboam), Harry Dean Stanton (Saul), David Bowie (Pontius Pilate) and Juliette Caton (The Angel).


The Fourth War (1990, John Frankenheimer)

With all the monologues–there aren’t any conversations, just one character talking while another listens–in The Fourth War, it feels like an adaptation of a play. It’s not. It’s based on a novel, which must be a brief read since War is plodding at ninety minutes. Given Frankenheimer got his start in television–adapting plays–one might think he’d notice treating War like a play would produce a better result.

He does not.

He also doesn’t realize Roy Scheider is a lot more interesting a devolving lunatic than as a misunderstood American hero. Harry Dean Stanton–who gives the film’s best performance as Scheider’s commanding officer–occasionally has voiceovers explaining and qualifying Scheider’s actions. It’s a terrible move, especially since the film later turns Scheider’s adversary–an atrocious Jürgen Prochnow–into a stereotypical evil commie.

Scheider similarly suffers. He’s good when he’s unlikable, but it’s Roy Scheider, half his onscreen persona is being likable. Once Lara Harris enters as the girl he needs to help, War falls even further to pieces. Harris isn’t bad, but it’s like she got the job to fool audiences watching the trailer into believing Isabella Rossellini is in the picture.

Tim Reid shows up–occasionally–as Scheider’s second-in-command. His lack of screen time, and Frankenheimer’s reliance on summary storytelling for really simple scenes, makes one wonder if War ran out of money during filming and the script got hacked down.

But in Frankenheimer’s tired hands, the film wouldn’t have been better longer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross, based on the novel by Peters; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Alan Manzer; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by New Age Releasing.

Starring Roy Scheider (Col. Jack Knowles), Jürgen Prochnow (Col. Valachev), Tim Reid (Lt. Col. Clark), Lara Harris (Elena), Harry Dean Stanton (Gen. Hackworth), Dale Dye (Sergeant Major) and William MacDonald (MP Corporal).


Twister (1989, Michael Almereyda)

Twister tries very hard to be avant-garde, but ends up just being a quirky family comedy. Worse, director Almereyda changes up the narrative style about fifty minutes into the film. Although Twister is based on a novel, Almereyda’s style is more appropriate for stage. The first half or more takes place on one set–Harry Dean Stanton and family’s house–with very long scenes. One can imagine, for long while, Twister on stage.

And Almereyda gives his actors a lot of leeway. Sadly, Crispin Glover uses that leeway to do his persona thing; his scenes are often exasperating. More detrimentally, Suzy Amis doesn’t create a character–some of the fault belongs to Almereyda, whether the script or the direction–but it’s mostly Amis’s fault. Watching Amis and Glover opposite the rest of the cast is often painful. The disconnect is visible.

Almereyda opens up the film in the last third and makes it into that quirky family comedy. He drains the life out of the film, which was at least an interesting project before.

Still, Stanton is fantastic, as are Charlayne Woodard, Dylan McDermott and, especially, Lois Chiles.

The narrative’s big problem is having two entries into the family. McDermott returns, one entry, then Chiles moves in, another. It’s like Almereyda wasn’t paying enough attention to notice.

As Amis and McDermott’s daughter, Lindsay Christman is quite good. Jenny Wright is okay, until she starts doing a Glover impression.

Great Tim Robbins cameo too.

Twister‘s aggravating, but still somewhat interesting.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Almereyda; screenplay by Almereyda, based on a novel by Mary Robison; director of photography, Renato Berta; edited by Roberto Silvi; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Wieland Schulz-Keil; released by Vestron Pictures.

Starring Dylan McDermott (Chris), Suzy Amis (Maureen), Crispin Glover (Howdy), Lindsay Christman (Violet), Charlayne Woodard (Lola), Harry Dean Stanton (Eugene), Lois Chiles (Virginia), Jenny Wright (Stephanie) and Tim Robbins (Jeff).


Christine (1983, John Carpenter)

John Carpenter does some amazing work on Christine. He’s got help from his cinematographer, Donald M. Morgan, but the first forty-five or fifty minutes of the film are simply masterful. Carpenter has a wide variety of scenes–high school, ominous, family scenes, conversations–and all of them are magnificent.

It’s just too bad Bill Phillips’s script falls apart once John Stockwell ceases to be the main character and top-billed Keith Gordon takes over. It also doesn’t help Gordon’s terrible. Some of the film’s logic holes are because the script’s focus switches from Stockwell to Gordon (and finally back to Stockwell), but it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t. Gordon wouldn’t be any better if Phillips’s had plotted the script better.

Gordon starts out as an ostracized nerd and he’s awful at it, but at least he’s got Stockwell to hold up the scenes. But then, once Gordon gets his evil car, he becomes super-cool. Except Carpenter and Phillips don’t show this period, it’s just implied because Alexandra Paul wants to go out with Gordon. When the film catches up with him again, he’s super creepy. By the end, he’s a vampire.

The last hour or so is a mess, with some excellent special effects, Carpenter’s direction and Stockwell’s acting keeping it watchable.

Paul’s okay, nothing more, but there are some great supporting performances. Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton and, especially, Roberts Blossom are all fantastic.

Christine can’t overcome its major problems; Carpenter makes it worthwhile all by himself.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Bill Phillips, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Donald M. Morgan; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Richard Kobritz; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Keith Gordon (Arnie Cunningham), John Stockwell (Dennis Guilder), Alexandra Paul (Leigh Cabot), Robert Prosky (Will Darnell), Harry Dean Stanton (Detective Rudolph Junkins), Christine Belford (Regina Cunningham), Roberts Blossom (George LeBay), William Ostrander (Buddy Repperton), David Spielberg (Mr. Casey), Malcolm Danare (Moochie Wells), Steven Tash (Rich Cholony), Stuart Charno (Don Vandenberg), Kelly Preston (Roseanne), Marc Poppel (Chuck), Robert Darnell (Michael Cunningham) and Douglas Warhit (Bemis).


Man Trouble (1992, Bob Rafelson)

Man Trouble is a strange film, right from the start. It opens with then thirty-year-old Lauren Tom in old age makeup (well, her hair tinted grey). That casting choice–following the animated opening titles–establishes it as an oddity. It’s not a bad film, just a strangely detached one. The protagonist is Ellen Barkin, but since she’s opposite Jack Nicholson, he’s the de facto protagonist.

Nicholson does a good job playing a sleazy, but lovable ne’er-do-well–he’s so lovable, even the people he owes money can’t stay angry at him–and there are occasional moments of Nicholson brilliance. Unfortunately, they’re during the human parts, which he doesn’t get many.

Barkin’s excellent. The film makes a mistake at one point comparing her to trampy sister Beverly D’Angelo. It’s clear Barkin’s character–intelligent, socially awkward and shyly sexy–would never bother making such an obvious comparison. Especially given D’Angelo’s sister is introduced as an unsympathetic cancer on her life.

Some of the supporting cast–Veronica Cartwright, Saul Rubinek–is good. Others–D’Angelo, Michael McKean, David Clennon–are on autopilot. I don’t think Harry Dean Stanton was even awake, they just taped his eyes open.

But the cast isn’t the problem, it’s the script. Eastman’s script is technically good, but it clearly should have been a novel. It’s a reality-based absurdist conspiracy situation comedy. The movie can’t get enough information across to really tell the story.

Still, it’s charming to some degree and much better than I expected.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; written by Carole Eastman; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by William Steinkamp; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Eastman and Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Harry Bliss), Ellen Barkin (Joan Spruance), Harry Dean Stanton (Redmond Layls), Beverly D’Angelo (Andy Ellerman), Michael McKean (Eddy Revere), Saul Rubinek (Laurence Moncrief), Viveka Davis (June Huff), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Dextra), David Clennon (Lewie Duart), John Kapelos (Detective Melvenos), Paul Mazursky (Lee MacGreevy), Gary Graham (Butch Gable) and Lauren Tom (Adele Bliss).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

Can you even watch Alien if you have epilepsy?

After about a hundred minutes of elegant direction, Scott relies on this strobe effect for the remainder of the film’s running time. Yes, it makes a disquieting effect, but it gets old in a few minutes and he uses it for at least fifteen. And, strobe effect or not, it does not disguise the strange inadequacy of the climatic threat resolution shot. The special effects—after two hours of great ones—are all of a sudden pedestrian. It’s like Scott gave up.

Luckily, Jerry Goldsmith saves the day with a lift from Howard Hanson and all is reasonably well.

The first hour of Alien is very different from the second. It’s a group film, with Scott not really concentrating on any one actor more than another (except Veronica Cartwright, who’s clearly at the back of the line). In fact, traditionally speaking, the filmmaking implies John Hurt is going to be the lead from his introduction. But the background activity—what the cast members who aren’t the focus of scenes are doing—is what makes the film so striking. Whether it’s “real” or not, Alien’s supporting cast gives the impression of being deep characters. It’s something of an illusion, but it doesn’t much matter. The unsuccessful finish saves them.

While Sigourney Weaver is really strong, Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm might be stronger. She’s best with the other actors. And Tom Skerritt can’t be discounted.

Alien’s mostly masterful, which counts for something.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash) and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter)

Man and boy, I’ve probably seen Escape from New York ten times. This viewing might be the first where I noticed the film’s quietness. Carpenter uses the relative silence to make the first third (even before Isaac Hayes shows up), the most memorable parts of the film.

Some of that memorable quality has more to do with Carpenter’s approach than the script. The flying sequence is phenomenal. The deliberate cuts between Kurt Russell, delicately lighted in the cockpit, and the glider silently moving through the New York streets, the music barely audible… it’s one of Carpenter’s more “beautiful” moments as a director.

That sequence also showcases how Carpenter and his crew were able to take a lower budgeted picture like New York and make it more impressive than most big releases of the day. Carpenter sets up a dystopian future, but make the futuristic aspects imaginative and thrilling to the audience.

Lots of seventies Carpenter regulars show up–Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens (not to mention Donald Pleasence and Adrienne Barbeau)–but the additional supporting cast members are iconic. Obviously, Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York is a flashy role, but Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine are great too.

In a very Altman fashion, suggests these complex relationships–particularly Barbeau and Stanton, but also Russell and Van Cleef–and lets the viewer decide for him or herself. He does something similar with Pleasence’s finish.

The film is a significant masterpiece, something I’m not vocal enough about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef (Hauk), Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), Donald Pleasence (The President), Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Tom Atkins (Rehme), Charles Cyphers (The Secretary of State), Season Hubley (Girl in Chock Full O’Nuts) and Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie).


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