Jeff Daniels

Frasier (1993) s01e05 – Here’s Looking at You

It’s a very good episode overall—script courtesy Brad Hall, with able direction from Andy Ackerman—and an even better one for Jane Leeves. She’s gotten to do a lot of comedy to this point, but when it comes time for the heart part of the episode, it’s all her.

This episode also feels like the show’s moved past the establishing rhythms. You could watch it in any order in syndication and not worry about where it fits in air order. It’s basically subplot free, with David Hyde Pierce’s storyline about having to entertain his wife’s aunt, Kathleen Noone, while Maris has (predictably) come down with an ailment getting raveled into the main plot. The opening call, main plot, Peri Gilpin’s single significant anecdote, main plot.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) has gotten worried dad John Mahoney is too lazy. He gets concerned because of a similar situation from the opening caller (a very enthusiastic Jeff Daniels) and Gilpin telling him how her mom is the attorney general of Wisconsin doesn’t help him feel better. Gilpin’s mom being so prestigious throws Grammer for a temporary spin and him shaming Gilpin for talking to her mom about sex a few episodes ago has an echo. Not sure if it’s a nice echo exactly, but it gives Gilpin some nice passive character development at least.

Grammer’s solution for Mahoney is a telescope, which quickly turns into Mahoney communicating with a similarly aged, similarly telescope peeping woman in the apartment building across from them. Only it turns out Mahoney isn’t so wild about taking the next steps with the woman, for reasons Grammer can’t figure out and ones Leeves intuits. Mahoney gets a great scene talking to Grammer about said reasons, then Leeves gets that even better one talking to Mahoney about what she’s figured out. Excellent stuff.

There’s also the scene where Hyde Pierce brings Noone over to the apartment to meet Mahoney, which does not go well. In fact, it goes hilariously poorly. Hall’s script has that just right combination of layered jokes, immediate laughs, and heartfelt third act.

The episode does have Frasier talking on the phone to son Frederick for the first time—complete with a good Lilith joke—and establishes Frasier does indeed fly out to visit and isn’t a bad dad. Makes you wonder if episode five was enough time to get some notes back on the series after it started airing.

Regardless, it’s a good detail and gives Grammer a different bit of gristle. Because, again, strong script from Hall.

It’s another winner episode and a very nice first-in-series flex for Leeves.

Steve Jobs (2015, Danny Boyle)

Steve Jobs is unexpected. It is a parody of itself, it is a parody of being an “Oscar-worthy” biopic about a topical, zeitgeist figure. Down to having Seth Rogen in a dramatic part. Steve Jobs feels very conscious. In Michael Fassbender’s Jobs, the film gets to create a world where Steve Jobs doesn’t just get to act like a movie star, he gets to look like one too. Director Boyle, cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, editor Elliot Graham, they embrace the artificiality of it all. Because Aaron Sorkin’s script isn’t a screenplay as much as a filmed stage play, the performance is part of it. The casting is part of it.

Just getting it out there–Rogen’s good. Boyle’s a good enough director, Sorkin’s a good enough writer, they can turn Rogen’s inability to actually act into an asset. Rogen’s so disarming, one really does believe he can do math (and all the other stuff Steve Wozniak can do). It’s a strange performance and Fassbender plays off it a little differently than any other in the film.

Every actor has a different style. Fassbender treats the whole thing as a metamorphosis without every determining whether he’s going from caterpillar to butterfly or butterfly to something else. There’s a weight to the role. Fassbender’s this perfect Aaron Sorkin lead–abrasive but almost always right, condescending but strangely earnest–and Boyle just sits back and watches him go, watches him play off the other actors, who are doing different things.

Kate Winslet’s got this big performance. It’s supporting, but it’s another perfect Sorkin character. Except Winslet’s got her own performance going on, her own understanding of the character. It’s a very different approach than Rogen gets. The film’s about its actors and how they perform the script. Just Sorking walking and talking-style; everyone popping in like it’s A Christmas Carol to tell Ebenezer Jobs how he still hasn’t figured it out yet.

Great supporting performances from Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston.

It’s an understated, strange, wonderful film. Boyle and Sorkin get along like Capra and Riskin, Fassbender and Winslet are phenomenal. Steve Jobs is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Walter Isaacson; director of photography, Alwin H. Küchler; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Daniel Pemberton; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon and Scott Rudin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Kate Winslet (Joanna Hoffman), Seth Rogen (Steve Wozniak), Jeff Daniels (John Sculley), Michael Stuhlbarg (Andy Hertzfeld), Katherine Waterston (Chrisann Brennan), Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo & Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa Brennan) and Sarah Snook (Andy Cunningham).


Looper (2012, Rian Johnson)

A lot of Looper is a film noir set in the near future. Criminal–but basically good guy–Joseph Gordon-Levitt ends up on a farm, as de facto protector to a young woman (Emily Blunt) and her kid. Except this part comes after Looper is an action movie where Gordon-Levitt teams up with his future self (Bruce Willis) against his criminal associates. And before it’s that action movie, it’s a future movie for a little bit. It’s most fun during the future movie stuff–Paul Dano’s a good lame sidekick to Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels is fun as his boss.

But, as it turns out, director Johnson wasn’t satisfied with a film noir so instead he made a sort of “smart” superhero movie, along with a depressing time travel movie. Basically, he ripped off Twelve Monkeys and Unbreakable… and brought back Bruce Willis.

Gordon-Levitt’s okay in the lead. He’s in a bunch of make-up and it seems to restrict his facial movement. Willis has his moments, but one has to wonder if he remembered how much better Monkeys did at something similar. The real acting powerhouse is Blunt, who’s fantastic in her role.

Johnson tries really, really hard to be profound and instead he’s just annoying. Looper goes on way too long to nowhere near good enough a conclusion. Nathan Johnson’s music is terrible, which especially aggravates at the end when Johnson goes through his five endings.

Looper should’ve been a no-brainer. It’s disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rian Johnson; director of photography, Steve Yedlin; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Nathan Johnson; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Ram Bergman and James D. Stern; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Xu Qing (Old Joe’s Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix) and Garret Dillahunt (Jesse).


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).


Traitor (2008, Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

Traitor is the Superman IV of terrorism movies. I suppose I need to explain. I think Tom Mankiewicz once told Christopher Reeve you couldn’t have Superman messing around with the real world. Traitor is a Hollywood terrorism movie–in the vein of Telefon, The Assignment, Nighthawks or even The Jackal–except it takes 9/11 into account. The result is a goofy concoction–one I’m sure the filmmakers think is well-intentioned, but comes off as one of the most xenophobic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Simply put, in the world of Traitor, all Muslims–except one or two–are terrorists ready to kill innocent children, even if they have innocent children of their own. These Muslims tend to be Middle Eastern–Traitor has a ludicrous sleeper cell plot point with a female suicide bomber who would have been inserted long before women became suicide bombers–but there’s also a couple Africans. Not African-Americans, who the film has an awkward relationship with, but African immigrants. Not to be pointing fingers at writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, but I think Louis Farrakhan would have done a much more even-handed tale of a black American Muslim who discovers himself (working for the U.S. in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Osama Bin Laden no less) and finds his Middle Eastern brothers a little confused when it comes to the articles of faith.

As for the film’s approach to religion… another pitfall. It really tries hard in some ways, but it can’t escape its active contention (i.e. ninety-three percent of Muslims are heartless, unthinking mass murderers–worse, they all dream of some day getting to be mass murderers), so it’s laughable in the end. But there’s a lot to laugh at in Traitor, starting with its handling of the FBI.

Since 9/11, common knowledge of what American intelligence agencies do has skyrocketed. So when FBI agents Guy Pearce (he’s an Arabic languages PhD who couldn’t find another job… really) and Neal McDonough (he’s a big tough mean agent, who doesn’t know his partner is a PhD) wing around the world–Yemen, France, Canada, maybe England–it seems somewhat unrealistic. They don’t appear to have a boss, either.

Pearce’s performance is somehow good and somehow not. Technically, it’s a great performance, but the character’s so insanely stupid it’s hard to take him seriously. McDonough is bad. Cheadle’s decent–I kept wondering what the filmmakers would have done if they hadn’t signed him–if bland. As the only Arab terrorist with any elements of humanity, Saïd Taghmaoui is amazing–he gives the film’s best performance and if it’d been about him, it would have been something. As the heartless terrorist–who doesn’t even follow Islam’s basic tenets–Alyy Khan is awful. The rest of the cast is, generally, fine.

The first twenty or thirty minutes of Traitor is good. Until the last couple scenes, it’s on a steady decline but it takes a huge plunge at the end.

Nachmanoff’s direction is better than his writing–it’s fun to see them work cross-purpose. Nachmanoff goes the steady-cam route here (for realism, I’m sure), but he’s got tons of goofy Hollywood dialogue.

And Mark Kilian’s music is good. So good I’m surprised I don’t know his name.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenplay by Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman, Todd Lieberman, Chris McGurk, Danny Rosett and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films.

Starring Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Alyy Khan (Fareed Mansour), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).


Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross)

All through Pleasantville, I kept wondering how–for a film with so many problems–it could have not only some of the most emotionally affecting (not effective) scenes I can remember seeing, but also an overwhelming ending, which makes the whole film seem like it was better than it was… Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s name at the end on the producer list. That one’s a cheap shot at Gary Ross, but there’s a litany of things wrong with Pleasantville.

Firstly, it makes no sense. It doesn’t establish any reasonable rules for its fantasy (in fact, it seems to be trying to play down the fact it’s a far out science fiction story about a couple kids’ adventure in an alternate reality). The people and objects colorize for emphasis, not for any logical reason. It’s distracting and cheap–Pleasantville is very cheap. It’s the intelligentsia (or what passes for them in America–and in Hollywood films for that matter–so think Spielberg, which Ross does a lot) sucker punching the right wing. There’s another problem with Pleasantville: it presents a number of complicated problems and gives them all easy solutions. Some people exist after they switch universes, others appear to be gone from the collective memory. But back the sucker punching the right wing. The bad guys in Pleasantville are a bunch of white guys who are pissed off their wives aren’t cooking them dinner. I had to remember it came out before 2001, because I really can’t see it being released otherwise until a couple years ago (when Hollywood finally stopped lionizing fascist white men). Ross is real cheap with his comparisons too–are the newly conscious people of Pleasantville supposed to be stand-ins for blacks in America circa 1958, Jews in Germany circa 1934, or something else entirely? Or all three, whenever it suits Ross for the most effective scene (he loves the Nazi imagery though).

It’s weird to see a film, recognize it’s working you over, yet still let it do that number on you. And Pleasantville does it. It might be the only film to do it.

Ross’s composition is poor, the editing of the film is atrocious, so what drives it home. Randy Newman’s score is immeasurably important and the film couldn’t work without it, but it also couldn’t work without the performances. Tobey Maguire’s been so ineffective for so long, it’s a bit of a shock to see him act so well. Reese Witherspoon is even good, though her role is very simple. But the film works because of two people–Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen. Allen’s too good for it and she brings the material up to her level. Daniels’s role is also geared to be cheap (the character goes through extraordinary change in five hours, which take place over five minutes in the film, and we’re supposed to be wowed), but his performance is touching and tragic and wonderful and the longing in the scenes between the two of them, the longing for something unknowable… it makes Pleasantville a significant and essential viewing experience. It’s a cheap film, terribly, terribly cheap, but it’s a magnificent two hours and four minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gary Ross; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Ross, Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus and Steven Soderbergh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Tobey Maguire (David), Jeff Daniels (Mr. Johnson), Joan Allen (Betty), William H. Macy (George), J.T. Walsh (Big Bob), Don Knotts (TV Repairman), Marley Shelton (Margaret), Jane Kaczmarek (David’s Mom) and Reese Witherspoon (Jennifer).


The Lookout (2007, Scott Frank)

Watching The Lookout, I never really wondered how Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to do. I wondered about Jeff Daniels, for instance, since Daniels spent the late 1990s working up his number of excellent performances only to fade from things I watch. Gordon-Levitt… looking over his IMDb, I’m not sure the guy’s ever been bad. He might have even been good on the “Dark Shadows” revival when he was ten. The Lookout presents him with an odd leading man role, the kind actors usually save for Oscar-ready™ movies (oddly, The Lookout‘s from Miramax, king of the Oscar-ready™ movie). He runs the movie–besides the voiceovers, he’s in all but three scenes–and it’s with a really sure hand. Gordon-Levitt’s apparently the child actor with the goods, especially since his character isn’t particularly likable. At a certain point, he’s getting mad at someone for pitying him–and the viewer has been pitying him too, because he’s got a mental condition and it’s hard to identify with him… but he’s also responsible for his particular tragedy. It creates a great situation, keeping the character distant throughout, with the viewer ending the film maybe more unsure of the character than he or she was when it started.

Anyway, the breakout. There’s a breakout performance in The Lookout. I forgot about him because I was going on about Gordon-Levitt. Matthew Goode, who’s got a handful of credits, is fantastic as the bad guy. His character–who’s perfectly awful–might turn out to be honest than Gordon-Levitt’s. Scott Frank, who has done some great stuff, usually adaptations, takes the film noir’s standard deceptions and shrinks them, embedding them in the characters’ relationships from moment to moment. The Lookout‘s success comes from how incredibly emotional the whole thing works out to be.

I had thought it was another adaptation–maybe from something good, just because some of Frank’s choices suggest good source material, but knowing now it wasn’t adapted (it had no opening credits beyond the production companies and a title), it’s obvious. Frank’s in love with four of the characters in The Lookout, four and a half even, and it’s great to see.

I was just thinking this morning–really–about how the wheel doesn’t necessarily need to be reinvented, it just needs to roll as well as possible. The Lookout‘s not a new wheel so much as a nice amalgamation of a couple wheels… it’s sort of a heist slash crime thriller (with a twist–I kept thinking about Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn during the first fifteen or twenty minutes), but it’s really not; it’s a thoughtful character study of an unknowable character, one impervious to examination. Even when he’s doing voiceovers. A good character study always makes the viewer (or reader) wait to get at the character–and here’s where The Lookout‘s borrowing that crime thriller device–but let the viewer get close enough, but not know what he or she is looking at? It’s special.

My only real quibble with The Lookout concerns Frank’s direction. It’s good, not flashy, very matter of fact, but he switches over to a lousy DV for a shoot-out. It’s his cinematographer’s fault, sure, but it’s so obvious, I can’t help but wonder if it was a style thing. It’ll probably look fine on DVD… but it was distracting. Nicely, he follows it with one of Gordon-Levitt’s finest scenes in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Scott Frank; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Jill Savitt; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Brisbin; produced by Walter Parkes, Laurence Mark, Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Chris Pratt), Jeff Daniels (Lewis), Matthew Goode (Gary Spargo), Greg Dunham (Bone), Carla Gugino (Janet), Bruce McGill (Robert Pratt), Isla Fisher (Luvlee Lemons), Alberta Watson (Barbara Pratt) and Alex Borstein (Mrs. Lange).


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