Hector Elizondo

Deadhead Miles (1972, Vernon Zimmerman)

Deadhead Miles is a piece of great seventies filmmaking. It’s not a great film, but a great piece of filmmaking. The distinction’s important.

Most of the film is about a peculiar truck driver, played by Alan Arkin, and his adventures after picking up a hitchhiker, played by Paul Benedict. Arkin’s truck driver is not particularly likable or at all sympathetic. He’s a dense, know it all jerk. Writer Terrence Malick opens the film trying the viewer’s patience with Arkin’s character, though he eventually becomes amusing enough. Miles becomes about waiting to see what he’s going to do next. It also reveals the culture of long haul truck driving and Arkin’s odd acceptance of it.

Benedict’s mostly along to ground the viewer, to give them some connection to their expectations of familiar reality.

Of course, it eventually turns out there should not be any expectation of familiar reality and Arkin maybe isn’t so crazy.

Well, okay, he’s always going to be a little crazy.

Malick doesn’t mess around explaining Arkin and Miles might be a great character study if Zimmerman wasn’t playing it as a comedy. The script could go either way.

It’s very short and might even do better shorter. There’s this out of place prologue before Arkin meets up with Benedict and it’s dead weight, wholly unnecessary either to narrative or artistic impulse.

Zimmerman’s direction is quite good, particularly how he handles the long driving sequences and the relationship between Arkin and Benedict.

It’s a singular, mildly rewarding film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; written by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Eve Newman and George Hively; music by Dave Dudley and Jimmie Haskell; produced by Tony Bill and Zimmerman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Cooper), Paul Benedict (Hitchhiker), Hector Elizondo (Duke), Oliver Clark (Durazno), Charles Durning (Truck Driver in Cafe), Lawrence Wolf (Pineapple), Barnard Hughes (Old Man), William Duell (Auto Parts Salesman), Madison Arnold (Hostler), Loretta Swit (Woman with Glass Eye), and Bruce Bennett (Johnny Mesquitero), with special appearances by George Raft and Ida Lupino.


Turbulence (1997, Robert Butler)

Turbulence raises a good point—why bother trying to make a good serial killer thriller? Ray Liotta runs rampant throughout the film, having serving after serving of scenery. The script’s got a bunch of dialogue issues in the third act, but none of them bother Liotta, who’s operating at way too high an adrenaline level to be bothered.

The script’s sort of dumb, sure, but it’s serviceable. The film’s mostly well-cast. Lauren Holly’s not great, but she’s likable enough the audience doesn’t want to see her get hurt by a serial killer. Rachel Ticotin, Jeffrey DeMunn and Michael Harney are all good in little parts. Catherine Hicks has a slightly bigger role and she’s excellent.

There are the problems with the cast too and with a stronger cast, Turbulence might have better maintained its disaster movie meets serial killer thriller vibe (the film’s got a lot of comparisons to Executive Decision actually). Hector Elizondo is relatively weak as the cop after Liotta. John Finn’s bad as a sexist FBI agent. And then someone thought casting Brendan Gleeson as a redneck was a good idea… Gleeson’s awful. His accent turns his scenes into something akin to The Naked Gun.

Besides the general solidness of the cast and setting (an empty, out of control airline, already uncanny, in the dark, with Christmas lights everywhere), Butler makes Turbulence work. He’s a long-time TV director and he brings a high level of competence to the film.

Even the CG is reasonably acceptable.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Butler; written by Jonathan Brett; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by John Duffy; music by Shirley Walker; production designer, Mayling Cheng; produced by Martin Ransohoff and David Valdes; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ray Liotta (Ryan Weaver), Lauren Holly (Teri Halloran), Brendan Gleeson (Stubbs), Hector Elizondo (Lt. Aldo Hines), Rachel Ticotin (Rachel Taper), Jeffrey DeMunn (Brooks), John Finn (FBI Agent Frank Sinclair), Ben Cross (Captain Samuel Bowen), Catherine Hicks (Maggie), Heidi Kling (Betty), Gordy Owens (Carl), J. Kenneth Campbell (Captain Matt Powell), James MacDonald (1st Officer Ted Kary), Michael Harney (Marshal Marty Douglas) and Grand L. Bush (Marshal Al Arquette).


Taking Care of Business (1990, Arthur Hiller)

Hard as it is to believe, I’d sort of forgotten about Jim Belushi having a film career. For a while during Taking Care of Business, I kept thinking I’d seen him in something recently (which I haven’t), then I realized… his performance in the movie is a rip on Bill Murray. Expressions, tone of voice, mannerisms. They all play like Bill Murray.

Of course, I doubt Bill Murray could have done anything with the role either.

Taking Care of Business is one of those movies I watched a lot when I was twelve. The last time I wanted to watch it, almost ten years ago, someone stopped me. I never realized the favor he did me.

The problem is the script. Charles Grodin has absolutely nothing to do except be a jerk to Anne De Salvo, who’s very funny. Grodin’s playing his caricature here and Arthur Hiller can’t direct his redemption scene. Well, he doesn’t have one. Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams’s script is really terrible, just awful. It’d be weak as a sitcom.

Strangely, there is some excellent acting in the film from the supporting cast. Mako, in particular, is hilarious as the Japanese businessman who thinks Belushi is funny (it’s good someone does, I suppose–and there are a few funny Belushi moments, but most are obscene and obvious). Loryn Locklin’s character is probably the worst written, but she’s funny and appealing. It’s surprising she didn’t go on to anything. Hector Elizondo’s good too. Of course, there are some terrible performances too. Veronica Hamel and Gates McFadden are both the pits.

The script’s biggest problems have to do with plotting, but it’s also just dumb. Belushi’s a convict who escapes for the World Series and all the other prisoners band together to help him do it. It’s like a Disney prison movie–oh, wait a minute… it is a Disney (Hollywood Pictures) prison movie.

The signs of trouble start from the opening credits, which are poorly done animated ones.

Given how bad the movie is, I won’t even point out not having concluding scenes between the respective romantic couples was–narratively speaking–a pea-brained move. I just realized I didn’t get around to talking about the thirty-five minute first act either. Too bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; written by Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by William Reynolds; music by Stewart Copeland; produced by Geoffrey Taylor; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring James Belushi (Jimmy Dworski), Charles Grodin (Spencer Barnes), Anne De Salvo (Debbie Lipton), Loryn Locklin (Jewel Bentley), Stephen Elliott (Walter Bentley), Hector Elizondo (Warden Toolman), Veronica Hamel (Elizabeth Barnes), Mako (Mr. Sakamoto), Gates McFadden (Diane Connors), John de Lancie (Ted Bradford Jr.), Thom Sharp (Mike Steward), Ken Foree (J.B.) and John Marshall Jones (LeBradford Brown).


Pocket Money (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)

Pocket Money is, in addition to being an excellent film, an example of a couple interesting things. First, it’s a 1970s character study, which is a different genre than what currently passes for a character study (if there are character studies at all anymore, since Michael Mann and Wes Anderson stopped doing them). The 1970s character study (Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is a good example of another) works in a kind of short-hand with the viewer. While the first act of Pocket Money takes maybe twenty minutes, Paul Newman’s character is fully established in the first five. Paul Newman’s a movie star, so there’s an expectation of him and Pocket Money breaks that expectation, but then sets him up again… in about those five minutes. Maybe six. There’s no established goal to these films (more modern character studies add a goal, something to give the story some drama). Pocket Money is following some cowboy, who isn’t too bright, but is amiable. The film never raises a single expectation of what’s going to come next. I can’t imagine what the trailer must have looked like.

Second (I almost forgot–not really), Terrence Malick wrote the screenplay. Pocket Money would have been his highest profile work at that point, followed by Badlands the next year. Obviously, Badlands looks and sounds different from the rest of Malick’s work, but Pocket Money sounds a lot like Badlands. This Malick is the one who still enjoys dialogue for dialogue’s sake, who likes to make people laugh. Since the film co-stars Lee Marvin, who delivers Malick’s comic lines (Newman’s got plenty of comic lines and a few of the exchanges sound a lot like Lucky Number Slevin of all films) with his gravelly, earthy voice, they are a lot of great comedic moments in the film.

Stuart Rosenberg directed Pocket Money. He directed a number of other Newman films, Cool Hand Luke being their most famous collaboration. Actually, he seems to have replaced Martin Ritt–Newman did a number of films with both directors and when Ritt stops, Rosenberg starts. Whatever. Rosenberg’s impressive. He distances the viewer from the actors at the right times and he pulls them in at the right times. Pocket Money’s got a great supporting cast–Strother Martin, Wayne Rogers and Hector Elizondo–and Rosenberg knows how to use them.

Since DVD’s advent and AMC’s full commercialization, a number of films have fallen to the dust. I was just thinking this morning about the difference between DVD enthusiasts and film enthusiasts. A DVD enthusiast is passive, he or she takes what is available. A film enthusiast has to look around, has to find things. Pocket Money is no longer particularly hard to find (it just aired on INHD, so there’s a beautiful print of it–it has great Laszlo Kovacs cinematography–for the someday DVD) and I hope people try to see it. While it’s never as outstanding as the first twenty minutes, it’s an excellent film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by John Gay and Terrence Malick, based on a novel by J.P.S. Brown; director of photography, László Kovács; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Alex North; produced by John Foreman; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Jim Kane), Lee Marvin (Leonard), Strother Martin (Bill Garrett), Wayne Rogers (Stretch Russell), Hector Elizondo (Juan), Christine Belford (Adelita), Kelly Jean Peters (Sharon), Gregory Sierra (Guerro Chavarin) and Fred Graham (Uncle Herb).


Leviathan (1989, George P. Cosmatos)

Leviathan has to be one of the few films where the hero punches out a woman for audience satisfaction, which is actually quite an achievement for the film, since it’s so derivative. Leviathan is Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Peter Hyams’ Outland rolled together, with an amazing 1980s cast kneaded into the dough–there’s Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Daniel Stern in his final, pre-Home Alone role, and Lisa Eilbacher from Beverly Hills Cop. Stern essentially plays his Home Alone role and Eilbacher isn’t particularly good (but, the good heavily outweighs the bad), but Hudson’s likable. The script gives the actors a little something–quirks, good speeches, anything to establish them in a couple minutes.

Leviathan is one of David Webb Peoples’ genre scripts. Peoples is known for Blade Runner, Unforgiven, and Twelve Monkeys, but he also wrote a lot of other sci-fi stuff that ended up getting made. Leviathan is actually a rather well-constructed film. It’s tense when it’s supposed to be tense and it never takes itself too seriously–though it would be hard, since Peter Weller is well-aware of what he’s doing (I think he once said he took the role so he could get a free trip to Italy). There’s even character establishment well into the second act, which I always like, coming out naturally instead of being explained to the audience. The script’s far from perfect–it prejudges Stern’s character, making it impossible for the audience to care about him.

When I worked at a video store, I once recommended Leviathan to someone over The Abyss (they came out at the same time). I caught hell for it from the customer and from a co-worker, but there’s nothing wrong with Leviathan. It’s beautiful–shot by Alex Thomson of all people–it’s ninety-six minutes of dumb fun with no glaring faults. Weller is always an interesting lead actor, it’s probably Richard Crenna’s finest work (Alien³ is actually derivative of Leviathan when it comes to medical officers), and Amanda Pays is good in the film. I rented it after I watched Dead on the Money and she’s actually good for a lot of Leviathan–she relates better to the film camera than the TV camera.

So, I feel rather vindicated. Now, I’m not recommending Leviathan, but there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it if I was….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George P. Cosmatos; screenplay by David Webb Peoples and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Peoples; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Roberto Silvi and John F. Burnett; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Luigi and Aurelio de Laurentiis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Peter Weller (Beck), Richard Crenna (Doc), Amanda Pays (Willie), Daniel Stern (Sixpack), Ernie Hudson (Jones), Michael Carmine (DeJesus), Lisa Eilbacher (Bowman), Hector Elizondo (Cobb) and Meg Foster (Martin).


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