Hollywood Pictures

Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)

Quiz Show is a story about pride and envy. The film’s main plot is about the quiz show scandals in the fifties–big media taking the American public for a ride–and I suppose it could be seen as a loss of innocence thing. But it isn’t.

It’s about pride and envy.

John Turturro’s working class Jewish guy doesn’t have much pride (though he’s gloriously proud of it) and he’s got lots of envy. But not so much for the WASPs, but for more successful Jewish guys. So Rob Morrow’s middle class Jewish guy. Morrow’s character has pride and envy; in this case, it’s envy for the WASPs. Like Ralph Fiennes, who’s got not so much pride but envy. In his case, it’s for his dad–Paul Scofield in a wonderful performance.

There’s a lot about class, there’s a lot about masculinity (the women get what’s going on and try to get their husbands to recognize it to disappointment), there’s a lot about the time period. And screenwriter Paul Attanasio brings it all together beautifully. Quiz Show has an incredibly complex structure, something director Redford and editor Stu Linder fully embrace. Even in its stillest moments, the film is always in motion.

Gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography too.

The leads–Turturro, Morrow and Fiennes–are all excellent. Nice support from David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Allan Rich. Ditto Johann Carlo and Mira Sorvino. Redford’s use of prominent actors and filmmakers in cameo roles works great.

Quiz Show is a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on a book by Richard N. Goodwin; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stu Linder; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, Michael Nozik and Redford; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Mira Sorvino (Sandra Goodwin), Johann Carlo (Toby Stempel) and Allan Rich (Robert Kintner).


An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997, Arthur Hiller)

Besides being generally awful, the most annoying thing about An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is how it never fluctuates. Once the director–Arthur Hiller took his name off, amusingly not as a publicity stunt but because of writer Joe Eszterhas–and Eszterhas’s script establish the rather paltry quality of the plot and the jokes, it never changes. It’s unrelentingly misguided, mean-spirited, misogynistic (but Eszterhas identifies all the females–except Whoopi Goldberg–as feminists, so it must be all right) and not funny.

Poor Sylvester Stallone is actually amusing, while Goldberg comes off as a punchline parody of herself. Jackie Chan’s playing a moronic, stereotypical Asian guy. But the regular cast–those three figure into the movie within a movie–is even more uneven. Ryan O’Neal tries but it’s obvious he knows he’s doing tripe. During one scene, as the film’s a mock documentary (apparently Eszterhas has never seen an actual documentary), O’Neal is visibly surprised at the level of bad acting from Richard Jeni.

Jeni gets some of the film’s worst material. Still, he’s real bad.

As for the titular director, Eric Idle’s also real bad. Ezsterhas’s approach–the documentary–could be seen as a way to save money (instead of telling the actual story) but it also appears he doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Even within a story.

So there are crappy cameos and stunt casting.

Even when the scenes are supposed to be sincere, either the actors flop or the script immediately discredits the idea of sincerity.

It’s a terrible film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller, as Alan Smithee; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by L. James Langlois; music by Chuck D., Joel Diamond and Gary G-Wiz; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Ben Myron; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Ryan O’Neal (James Edmunds), Coolio (Dion Brothers), Chuck D. (Leon Brothers), Eric Idle (Alan Smithee), Richard Jeni (Jerry Glover), Leslie Stefanson (Michelle Rafferty), Sandra Bernhard (Ann Glover), Cherie Lunghi (Myrna Smithee), Harvey Weinstein (Sam Rizzo), Gavin Polone (Gary Samuels), MC Lyte (Sista Tu Lumumba), Marcello Thedford (Stagger Lee), Nicole Nagel (Aloe Vera) and Stephen Tobolowsky (Bill Bardo).


Blame It on the Bellboy (1992, Mark Herman)

Herman opens Blame It on the Bellboy with his two weakest features—and the film’s full of weaknesses so to start with the worst ones? It’s sort of impressive he set it up to immediately stumble.

First, Andreas Katsulas’s mobster. The film takes place in Venice and Katsulas plays the only Venetian. He plays the role with an absurd New York accent. It’s an incompetent performance.

Second, Bronson Pinchot’s titular bellboy, who sets the film’s wacky events into motion by not understanding English. The surprising thing about Bellboy is the absence of a plagiarism suit as Herman rips off scenes and dialogue from “Fawlty Towers,” apparently telling Pinchot just to ape Andrew Sachs’s Manuel on that program. Unfortunately, even in someone else’s role, Pinchot can’t give a good performance.

Then the principals show up. Bryan Brown, Dudley Moore and Richard Griffiths. Griffiths is the best as minor British politician looking for sleazy romance in Venice. Brown’s an assassin, Moore’s a nebbish on assignment from a bad job. Moore actually manages to be likable; Brown barely makes an impression. In about half his scenes, he doesn’t even speak, just nods.

The female cast is Patsy Kensit, Penelope Wilton and Alison Steadman. The script’s response to the character enduring a sexual trauma is to make her comically unsympathetic. Steadman is initially treated well (and her performance is good) before Herman too makes her a target for audience laughter.

Only Steadman keeps afloat, giving the film’s best performance.

Herman makes a bad Bellboy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mark Herman; director of photography, Andrew Dunn; edited by Michael Ellis; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Gemma Jackson; produced by Steve Abbott and Jennifer Howarth; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Melvyn Orton), Bryan Brown (Mike Lawton), Richard Griffiths (Maurice Horton), Andreas Katsulas (Scarpa), Patsy Kensit (Caroline Wright), Alison Steadman (Rosemary Horton), Penelope Wilton (Patricia Fulford) and Bronson Pinchot (Bellboy).


Arachnophobia (1990, Frank Marshall)

Is John Goodman doing an impression of Bill Murray from Caddyshack?

Arachnophobia is so all over the place, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out Frank Marshall directed him along those lines. The movie’s a mix between The Birds and a little Gremlins. Not to mention some proto-Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, Marshall doesn’t bring these elements together cohesively.

The first problem is the tone. It’s supposed to be kind of cute, especially once Trevor Jones’s score gets sappy (and bad), but it’s about a terrible spider infestation.

The second problem is those spiders. There’s a lack of science… and a lack of smarts. The lack of smarts goes so far as to show the protagonist, a doctor (played by a passable Jeff Daniels), doesn’t know what the Richter Scale is called. Those kind of dumb jokes (along with Goodman’s goofy exterminator) make Arachnophobia a chore.

Worse, it’s boring. It goes on and on and on. And once it does get going, Julian Sands comes back. He’s in the prologue, where Mark L. Taylor acts circles around him. But when Sands gets back, there’s no one near as strong as Taylor to make up for his awful acting.

Arachnophobia‘s big problem, besides Marshall’s general inability, is the acting. Mary Carver gives the film’s best performance. Besides Sands, Stuart Pankin gives the worst. Brian McNamara isn’t bad, but Harley Jane Kozak is mediocre. It’s probably the lousy writing of her character.

Still, the pre-CG special effects are absolutely stunning.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Marshall; screenplay by Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Jakoby and Al Williams; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Richard Vane; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Jeff Daniels (Dr. Ross Jennings), Harley Jane Kozak (Molly Jennings), John Goodman (Delbert McClintock), Julian Sands (Doctor James Atherton), Stuart Pankin (Sheriff Lloyd Parsons), Brian McNamara (Chris Collins), Mark L. Taylor (Jerry Manley), Henry Jones (Doctor Sam Metcalf), Peter Jason (Henry Beechwood), James Handy (Milton Briggs), Roy Brocksmith (Irv Kendall), Kathy Kinney (Blaire Kendall) and Mary Carver (Margaret Hollins).


The Rock (1996, Michael Bay)

I’m loathe to say it, but The Rock isn’t bad. Its good qualities are questionable, but it’s not bad. Besides some of the acting, what’s best about the film is how it fuses the action and adventure genres. Bay does his action stuff in traditional adventure settings—there’s a setting straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but Bay plays it as action and it works.

What doesn’t work—I’ll finish with what does to be positive—is, first and foremost, the writing. Most of the one-liners flop. There are occasional decent moments, like when Sean Connery’s character shows his army experience, but there are also the terrible scenes with Ed Harris. Every one of them is awful. Harris tries, but there’s nothing he can do. His voice cracks during one tense scene and it sort of sums up his entire attempt at essaying the character. He just can’t sell it.

As the lead, Nicolas Cage has some problems. He’s appealing in his first Hollywood manic role, but not quite good. But he’s irreplaceable.

Oh, I forgot the other bad stuff—some of the acting is terrible. Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine give awful performances.

Then there’s the score. Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer make some terrible music together.

Great supporting work from David Morse, John Spencer and Stuart Wilson. Bay knows how to fill a room with character actors and make it work.

It could be better, but also a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook and Mark Rosner, based on a story by Weisberg and Cook; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael White; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (John Patrick Mason), Nicolas Cage (Dr. Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel), John Spencer (FBI Director James Womack), David Morse (Major Tom Baxter), William Forsythe (Special Agent Ernest Paxton), Stuart Wilson (General Al Kramer), Michael Biehn (Commander Charles Anderson), Vanessa Marcil (Carla Pestalozzi), Claire Forlani (Jade Angelou), John C. McGinley (Marine Captain Hendrix), Gregory Sporleder (Captain Frye), Tony Todd (Captain Darrow), Bokeem Woodbine (Sergeant Crisp), Raymond Cruz (Sergeant Rojas), John Laughlin (General Peterson), and Philip Baker Hall (Chief Justice).


Judge Dredd (1995, Danny Cannon)

I saw Judge Dredd at a sneak preview. It was the first time I ever saw anyone walk on a movie.

It fits into a rather interesting category of disastrous would-be blockbusters–joining Flash Gordon, The Black Hole and Dune–where there’s this largely international cast–why are Jürgen Prochnow and Max von Sydow playing, basically, New Yorkers–and an overblown production and a dismal return for the studio.

Dredd‘s problem isn’t so much a lack of money–even the bad effects sequences, like the chase scene, suspend disbelief well enough–but a lousy production frame of reference. I remember when it came out, they tried for a PG-13 and didn’t get one. So instead of an R-rated action movie, you have this R-rated, pseudo-PG-13 action movie… made by Disney of all people.

Stallone’s awful in the kind of personality-free role Schwarzenegger got famous on–Cannon shoots Dredd like he’s either Robocop or the Terminator–and with the blue contact lenses, it somehow doesn’t even look like him.

When the best performance in a film is von Sydow, it’s not a surprise. When the second best performance is Rob Schneider… that situation’s different.

Diane Lane’s bad. Armand Assante doesn’t chew scenery well. Joan Chen is bad. Prochnow’s awful. It’s a ninety-some minute disaster, only tolerable because it is only ninety-some minutes and it does have really high production values.

It’s wrong-headed. I rarely use that term, but Dredd‘s wrong-headed.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Cannon; screenplay by William Wisher Jr. and Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Michael De Luca and Wisher and on the Fleetway character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Alex Mackie and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Charles Lippincott and Beau Marks; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Judge Dredd), Armand Assante (Rico), Rob Schneider (Fergie), Jürgen Prochnow (Justice Griffin), Max von Sydow (Judge Fargo), Diane Lane (Judge Hershey), Joanna Miles (Judge McGruder), Joan Chen (Ilsa), Balthazar Getty (Olmeyer) and Mitch Ryan (Hammond).


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).


Medicine Man (1992, John McTiernan)

Whoever–studio executive, director, producer, whatever–gave Lorraine Bracco another job after Medicine Man is a couple things. One of the bravest persons in Hollywood and, additionally, a film criminal. Bracco’s performance is astoundingly bad. I mean, the character is terribly written too–a scientist smart enough to run a foundation, but she doesn’t know a thing about, you know, science. Given Connery’s rather vocal public statements about women working… nope, even with them, it’s a real surprise. I mean, the film’s thesis reads women with degrees, awards and jobs of consequence are actually quite stupid.

I rented the film on my post-Thomas Crown McTiernan high, but besides a Die Hard homage at the opening (the film opens with the same plane landing sound Die Hard does), there’s no visible sign of McTiernan doing any good work. Most of his shots are composed for pan and scanning on video (a Hollywood Pictures edict?) and the ones he wasn’t cropping in his head aren’t any good either.

Connery seemed fine, but since Bracco’s the protagonist (and the narrator), it’d be hard for him not to seem fine.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is awful too, annoyingly so. I think the filmmakers were trying for Romancing the Stone, only with really boring medical jargon.

The writers have, thankfully, either gone on to little or to really embarrassing films….

But, as I frequently lament the state of film in the twenty-first century, it’s occasionally nice to be reminded there have been lots of bad stretches and Medicine Man‘s got a firm place in one of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Tom Schulman and Sally Robinson, based on a story by Schulman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Michael R. Miller, Mary Jo Markey and John W. Stuart; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, John Krenz Reinhart Jr.; produced by Andrew G. Vajna and Donna Dubrow; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (Dr. Robert Campbell), Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Rae Crane), José Wilker (Dr. Miguel Ornega), Rodolfo De Alexandre (Tanaki), Francisco Tsiren Tsere Rereme (Jahausa) and Elias Monteiro Da Silva (Palala).


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