Heather Graham

Lost in Space (1998, Stephen Hopkins)

For maybe forty minutes–from twenty minutes in to the hour mark–Lost in Space is actually rather engaging. It’s not any good as a narrative, but Hopkins’s direction of the space sequences is phenomenal. The film opens with something familiar, a dogfight out of Star Wars, but the later sequences are not. They aren’t original, but they’re the first time such a budget had been expended on them.

Overall, Hopkins does an excellent job with the film. The last hour, featuring an alien planet and time travel, falls apart because Akiva Goldsman’s script collapses under its own idiocy. The first hour, when Goldsman is still setting up the plot, only has awful dialogue and can survive.

The CG is sometimes excellent, sometimes not. Lost in Space tries a lot with the technology. Hopkins is able to get good performances opposite the CG–especially from Lacey Chabert and Heather Graham.

Chabert is good throughout (she’s inexplicably underused, having nothing to do) while Graham occasionally runs into some problems. Her flirting scenes with Matt LeBlanc are terrible, but she’s otherwise good. LeBlanc’s terrible the whole time. Often laughably so.

William Hurt is excellent (though one wonders why he said yes to Lost in Space and not Jurassic Park). Gary Oldman is hammy, but the character’s terribly underwritten. Mimi Rogers, Jack Johnson and Jared Harris are all awful. Watching Rogers act opposite Hurt is painful.

The film’s bad, but there are some amazing sequences in it. Nice score from Bruce Broughton too.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the television series created by Irwin Allen; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Norman Garwood; produced by Carla Fry, Goldsman, Hopkins and Mark W. Koch; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dr. Zachary Smith), William Hurt (Prof. John Robinson), Matt LeBlanc (Maj. Don West), Mimi Rogers (Dr. Maureen Robinson), Heather Graham (Dr. Judy Robinson), Lacey Chabert (Penny Robinson), Jack Johnson (Will Robinson) and Jared Harris (Older Will Robinson).


Sidewalks of New York (2001, Edward Burns)

Sidewalks of New York is Edward Burns embracing the idea of becoming the WASP Woody Allen. Well, Burns is Irish Catholic, so not exactly the WASP Woody Allen… but something nearer to it than not. It’s his attempt at making a quintessential New York movie while being aware he’s making a quintessential New York movie.

And he partially succeeds. Even with one enormous—so enormous I’m tempted to call it ginormous (even if Oxford thinks it’s a word, I don’t)—problem, Sidewalks is a good film. It’s an extremely finished, safe film, but it’s a good one.

What’s so striking about the film is how comfortable Burns gets with his cast. It isn’t the traditional Burns cast—these aren’t Irish guys on Long Island, it’s a bunch of New Yorkers from the boroughs transplanted to Manhattan.

It’s somewhat anti-Manhattan, actually, even though every scene except one is set there.

The acting is all wonderful, particularly from Rosario Dawson (who, unfortunately, is victim of the ginormous problem), Brittany Murphy and David Krumholtz. Burns is good, but he really doesn’t give himself a big role. He usually lets Dennis Farina (who’s hilarious) overpower their scenes. Stanley Tucci is good, just giving an excellent Tucci performance. Heather Graham is sort of out of her league, sort of not. My favorite is when she can’t help laughing at Tucci.

In smaller roles, Michael Leydon Campbell, Nadja Dajani and Libby Langdon are excellent.

It’s Burns being unambitious and gloriously so—that statement’s a compliment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi ; edited by David Greenwald; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Cathy Schulman and Rick Yorn; released by Paramount Classics.

Starring Edward Burns (Tommy), Rosario Dawson (Maria), Dennis Farina (Carpo), Heather Graham (Annie), David Krumholtz (Ben), Brittany Murphy (Ashley), Stanley Tucci (Griffin), Michael Leydon Campbell (Gio / Harry), Nadia Dajani (Hilary), Callie Thorne (Sue) and Libby Langdon (Make-up Girl).


The Hangover (2009, Todd Phillips)

Huh. Either blockbuster comedies are getting better or I’m getting stupider. The Hangover is actually a rather neat narrative–it’s kind of like Memento if Memento wasn’t like a concept episode of “Miami Vice.” There are some questions of the film’s sexual politics–apparently going to Vegas and carousing with strippers is okay for certain married men to do, but not others (the more callous the man, the more permissible), but whatever. It’s not like there’s a joke about physically abusing spouses or anything.

Oh, wait, yeah, there is.

But it’s hardly anymore despicable than its peers and it does have that neat narrative structure, kind of like a film noir, only sunny and a gross-out comedy.

I’d heard a lot about Bradley Cooper, but he really doesn’t seem like much other than a less creepy, more greasy version of Ralph Fiennes. A more commercial Ralph Fiennes. He’s fine and he can get some of the jokes done, but it’s Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis who deliver actual laughs. Cooper’s role could have been a standout, but he’s just not dynamic.

Helms and Galifianakis, while funny, don’t exactly deliver a lot of solid acting either (Helms isn’t believable as a dentist–he’s the “Office” guy, nothing more) and Galifianakis is doing a bit. So, strangely, Heather Graham comes off as the most professional actor in the film. She’s utterly fantastic.

Phillips is an okay director. Not sure if he needed Panavision for anything but his ego, but who cares?

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Phillips and Daniel Goldberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bradley Cooper (Phil), Ed Helms (Stu), Zach Galifianakis (Alan), Heather Graham (Jade), Justin Bartha (Doug), Rachel Harris (Melissa), Mike Epps (Black Doug), Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow), Jeffrey Tambor (Sid) and Mike Tyson as himself.


From Hell (2001, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I had no idea Heather Graham was ever a lead in such a high profile project. I knew she was in From Hell, but she’s got a lot to do–and with an Irish accent. I suppose it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen her give, maybe because her character isn’t a twit and Graham tends to play morons. She does a decent job, even if her hair coloring looks unnatural, not to mention her general appearance not seeming very realistic for a Victorian era streetwalker.

From Hell‘s a solid Jack the Ripper thriller. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about it–the graphic violence, which I guess caused a stir, is somewhat tame (it’s a Jack the Ripper movie after all), but it’s solid. Johnny Depp has a fine accent and he’s a dependable lead in this one. It’s hardly a showy role–regardless of him being psychic, which doesn’t seem to help with with the case at all. Robbie Coltrane gets all the good lines as Depp’s sidekick.

The star of the film is really the production values. It looks and feels like one thinks the 1880s London would look and feel. When the Hughes brothers do sequences with visual flourishes, well… it doesn’t exactly work. Depp’s opium-fueled fantasies look a whole lot like someone running film through iMovie filters. They’re effective due to their content, not their presentation.

Again, it’s fine. It might be too hard to really get involved with a Jack the Ripper thriller; no point.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; screenplay by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Dan Lebental and George Bowers; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Martin Childs; produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Johnny Depp (Fred Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Jason Flemyng (Netley), Robbie Coltrane (Peter Godley), Lesley Sharp (Kate Eddowes), Susan Lynch (Liz Stride), Terence Harvey (Ben Kidney), Katrin Cartlidge (Dark Annie Chapman) and Ian Richardson (Sir Charles Warren).


Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Boogie Nights is so well-made, so stunningly made–I’m not even thinking about Anderson’s wonderful, lengthy steadicam sequences, I’m thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman alone in his freshly painted car–it’s hard to think about anything else while watching it. The omnipresent soundtrack–Nights is a combination of American Graffiti (the prolific use of songs), Goodfellas (the way music is used to move a scene) and Saturday Night Fever (the general feel of the first hour… and look for the Staying Alive reference in the film’s second half)–the soundtrack draws so much attention to the way the film looks, it’s almost like Anderson is telling the viewer the story doesn’t matter too much. It matters a little–the audience is supposed to be horrified by somethings, laugh at others, dismiss others (the way the overdose scene is handled, for instance, isn’t so much sickening as it is amusing)–until everything changes.

The first half of Boogie Nights introduces the characters and spends a lot of time amusing the viewer. Save the sequence with Joanna Gleason as one of the worst screen parents in history–and the abuse Heather Graham endures in high school–the first half of the film is almost always upbeat. When Don Cheadle’s boss makes fun of him for wearing a cowboy outfit… yeah, the viewer’s supposed to be sympathetic to Cheadle… but also be aware the cowboy thing is dumb.

There aren’t any smart principals in Boogie Nights. Arguably, Burt Reynolds plays the film’s “smartest” character… but he’s not particularly bright. Cheadle, Mark Wahlberg, especially John C. Reilly–these are dumb guys. It’s hard to tell if Julianne Moore’s den mother was at any point intelligent–even as the film starts up with her, she’s nosediving into a suffocating drug dependency. Wahlberg and Reilly’s bromance is hilarious and engaging and it’s kind of amazing how much time Anderson gets away spending on it. Essentially, it’s just treading water in terms of an overall narrative, but Boogie Nights is so perfectly produced, it doesn’t matter.

At the halfway point, Boogie Nights makes a drastic turn. Nothing good happens for a long, long time. Bad things happen over and over. Part of the characters’ joint stupidity is believing in their own rhetoric–the scene with Cheadle getting denied for a bank loan (everyone else in the film, if Anderson gives them enough time, understands the principals’ delusions) is devastating. Cheadle gives the film’s best performance, in one of the film’s only truly sympathetic characters (Anderson basically only rewards two characters and Cheadle is one of them). Anderson takes the inverse of Verhoeven’s Robocop. Instead of tossing the people into the burning pit first thing to garner concern, Anderson makes the viewer like the characters with comedy (and a knowing appraisal of their intellectual limitedness), brings everything negative to the fore, then roasts them until they’re sweating humanity. And he almost gets away with it.

In the end, Boogie Nights comes up with a workable, loopy philosophy and, mostly because of the filmmaking and the torture he’s put the characters through, Anderson gets away with some of it. It’s not a complete success (he drops Moore once her story gets too difficult), but it works. Except–and I remember this from the theater, not from the DVD–not getting to see Reynolds’s face when he embraces Wahlberg (because of the resolution) hurts the scene.

There’s a lot of great acting–Reynolds is fantastic, as is Reilly. William H. Macy is great in his small part, as is Ricky Jay (especially when they’re together). Moore’s good, but her character’s too big for the part she has in the film and there’s chafing. Wahlberg’s solid in the lead role. He’s kind of perfect for it, because he’s so great at being a dimwit. In smaller roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Thomas Jane and Alfred Molina are amazing–especially Jane, who rattles off some great Anderson dialogue better than anyone else in the picture. Luis Guzman’s awesome.

Boogie Nights has a lot of friction of its own, in terms of what Anderson’s doing. Is the film most honest during the Cheadle scenes or the Hoffman scene in the car… or is it most honest when Anderson’s just executing a perfectly constructed scene. It’s a stunning film, but the narrative lacks. It somehow ties Anderson’s hands, like he can’t act contrary to the formula.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Michael Penn; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Anderson, Lloyd Levin, John S. Lyons and JoAnne Sellar; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mark Wahlberg (Dirk Diggler), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), Burt Reynolds (Jack Homer), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), Don Cheadle (Buck Swope), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Luis Guzmán (Maurice TT Rodriguez), William H. Macy (Little Bill), Robert Ridgely (The Colonel James), Ricky Jay (Kurt Longjohn), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty J.), Nicole Ari Parker (Becky Barnett), Melora Walters (Jessie St. Vincent), Thomas Jane (Todd Parker), Joanna Gleason (Eddie’s mother) and Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson).


Diggstown (1992, Michael Ritchie)

I forgot MGM still made movies in the 1990s. The aura of bankruptcy and failure has surrounded Leo for so long… it’s distracting. I remember my Diggstown laserdisc sleeve. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen the movie. It’s still a great time and I’m left, as I always was when finishing it, perplexed. How did James Woods not have a successful film career as a leading man? Diggstown might have even his last major lead role.

Diggstown has a large cast–figure twenty recognizable cast members–and the casting is brilliant. It might have been the first movie I ever saw Oliver Platt in. The film’s broken up into three parts (not the acts, however). The prison prologue, the set-up, then the long boxing sequence (Louis Gossett Jr. fighting ten guys, which is why the cast is so large). Each section feels different, with Woods owning the prologue, but Platt getting the most attention in the opening of the set-up. It’s a bombastic role and Platt’s perfect for it. There isn’t a bad performance in the entire film (Ritchie’s a fine director of actors), but the acting from Platt, Woods and Gossett is just amazing. Each one of them turn in singular performances–so it’s unfortunate Diggstown doesn’t offer them much more to do.

The film’s funny, endearing and constantly enjoyable, but there’s a certain lack of depth to it. There’s nuance in the film–when Gossett and Woods meet up at the beginning, they’re having an intricately guarded conversation, combining the acting, the direction and the editing. But the nuance doesn’t carry over to the film. It has a simple close. There isn’t much opportunity for a deeper story here, but there’s some (the flirtation between Woods and Heather Graham evaporates as the boxing part of the film begins).

Instead, it’s just a good time, with a great, self-aware performance from Bruce Dern. I’m not always a fan, but when Dern’s on, he’s really on. The supporting cast–John Short, Duane Davis, even Michael DeLorenzo–has some standouts as well.

Diggstown is a well put together film–Ritchie doesn’t have a single unsure directorial moment, every move is confident–and it makes Diggstown one of the finer junior members of the era’s films. Diggstown is a contained, inclusive filmic narrative–the viewer isn’t supposed to engage with Woods as a celebrity, only his performance. There’s even a “Roots” reference and, even if it was supposed to be an in-joke with Gossett, it doesn’t come off as one.

Before I finish up, I need to mention James Newton Howard’s score. The score’s great, really changing pace as the film does–not only does Diggstown have those twenty or so characters for the viewer to remember, it has a lot of locations too–Howard keeps up with everything, developing the score inline with the narrative.

On one hand, I wish Diggstown had a little more depth–the film has room for it, Ritchie and the cast can certainly handle it, but maybe not… It’s a solid, smart, well-made comedy. I remember when I first saw it, on videotape, I couldn’t wait to see what Woods and Platt did next. Platt did well enough, Woods provided a frequent disappointment. Even this time through, sixteen years after it came out, it’s hard not to be excited at the talent on display in the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Steven McKay, based on a novel by Leonard Wise; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Robert Schaffel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring James Woods (Gabriel Caine), Louis Gossett Jr. (Roy Palmer), Bruce Dern (John Gillon), Oliver Platt (Fitz), Heather Graham (Emily Forrester), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Wolf Forrester), Thomas Wilson Brown (Robby Gillon), Duane Davis (Hambone Busby), David Fresco (Fish) and Willie Green (Hammerhead Hagan).


The Oh in Ohio (2006, Billy Kent)

Short movies–under ninety minutes–are having a creative resurgence of late. I’m thinking primarily of Ed Burns’s Looking for Kitty as the model (and it was well under ninety), but The Oh in Ohio is another fine example. The way the filmmakers keep Ohio short is very interesting. They end the movie during the last five or six minutes of the second act. There is no third act. There’s a lot of suggestion to what might be coming in the third act, even foreshadowing to a pleasantly surprising, comedic ending, but it isn’t in the film. There are a handful of fade-to-black scene transitions and when the last one came, I was not expecting the film to end. It was a deft–a term I’ve only used one other time here on The Stop Button–unexpected narrative move and nothing in The Oh in Ohio prepared me for it.

There’s very little in the way narrative drive–there’s an abject lack of conflict after the first act–and I kept waiting for a crisis needing resolution and one never arrived. In some ways, the film summarizes instead of plays out in scene, but has enough solid scenes going to give the illusion they’re where the most important events are playing out. Or it might not be deft and the screenwriters just got lucky. Either way, it’s interesting because for a narrative to play out in the traditional structure only to stop, canceling its traditional trajectory, raises a lot of questions about where a story should in terms of creating the fullest experience. The Oh in Ohio could have tacked on another fifteen to twenty-five minutes and it would never have ended quite as well. Because romantic comedies–and The Oh in Ohio is a romantic comedy–tend to have their own pattern and they don’t do it for narrative quality but because romantic comedies really only have seventy or eighty minutes worth of story and they need push it so people won’t dismiss them for running under ninety (or ninety-five, ninety-five sounds more respectable still). So The Oh in Ohio shows cutting and closing sooner, on a high point, might be the way to go. I can think of one or two romantic comedies right now with too long endings, where cutting earlier would have worked better.

Other than its narrative innovation (or possible innovation, I’ll check with the patent office), The Oh in Ohio’s got Parker Posey and she’s excellent, but it’s also got a great Paul Rudd performance. Rudd frequently disappoints, but not in this film. Danny DeVito’s good, so is Keith David. Liza Minnelli has a fantastic cameo.

The laugh-out-loud comedy scenes mix well with the not-laugh-out-loud ones and there’s still the traditional narrative going on to hold things together. I also use the word “quirky” sparingly (though, apparently, three times to date), but The Oh in Ohio is a quirky film and I feel like I shouldn’t have had to remember on my own. Someone else should have been talking about it.*

* I have a feeling they were not, because when I went to go to look for DVD reviews, I found four. Apparently, the superstars at HBO Home Video decided to pan and scan the Panavision frame to an HD-friendly 1.85:1, which really bothered me during the scenes when the framing was so obviously off–like when a car drove off frame but was still audible and the scene didn’t cut until it had time to traverse (out of frame, obviously) the rest of the shot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Kent; screenplay by Adam Wierzbianski, from a story by Sarah Bird, Kent and Wierzbianski; director of photography, Ramsey Nickell; edited by Paul Bertino and Michael R. Miller; music by Bruno Coon; production designer, Martina Buckley; produced by Miranda Bailey, Francey Grace and Amy Salko Robertson; released by Cyan Pictures.

Starring Parker Posey (Priscilla Chase), Danny DeVito (Wayne the Pool Guy), Miranda Bailey (Sherri), Paul Rudd (Jack Chase), Keith David (Coach Popovitch), Tim Russ (Douglas), Mischa Barton (Kristen Taylor), Liza Minnelli (Alyssa Donahue), Robert John Burke (Binky Taylor) and Heather Graham (Justine).


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