Jerry Orbach

Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)

Raymond Burr does a fantastic job in Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder. He’s got it down. He even sells some of the sillier one liners in George Eckstein’s teleplay. At times, it seems like Eckstein is trying to goof on the idea of a Perry Mason TV movie. Or maybe he’s sincere and Nyby’s just so inept at directing it, it comes off as self-parody.

Technically, a lot of Murder is awful. Arch Bryant’s lighting doesn’t match between shots and the editing in the scenes between Debbie Reynolds and Burr seems off. Like David Solomon and Carter DeHaven couldn’t decide who should get more time staring at the camera, Burr or Reynolds. And Burr manages to survive those moments. It’s a good performance. Like, yes, he’s just playing Perry Mason but he’s hitting all the moments with no help from the director or the script. I mean, it’s not like he has any meaningful character interactions.

Supporting cast is okay. Not really. It seems okay because William R. Moses is okay and a couple of the actors have good moments on the stand. Not Reynolds though. She’s terribly directed in Musical and her performance suffers for it. She’s got a nice musical number at the beginning though–Nyby for some reason can better direct the scenes at the theater than he can anything else. Jerry Orbach and Raymond Singer are the ones with the good court moments. Terrible directed, of course, but still well-acted.

Dwight Schultz is terrible.

Valerie Mahaffey is good as the D.A. She has almost nothing but manages to infuse it with a nice implication of depth. Same goes for Philip Sterling. Rick Aiello is a fine thug; not so much good as convincingly dangerous. Jim Metzler’s affable as the defendant. Not good though. I’m disappointed given Metzler’s a fine actor; the part’s severely and noticeably underwritten.

Barbara Hale doesn’t get anything to do. She’s probably in Musical for a grand total of seven minutes. She just leaves and comes back with information. While she’s gone, Burr banters at a suspect. And the awkward part is how well the arrangement seems to be working for Burr’s performance. He’s relaxed but enthusiastic.

Musical Murder does have some notable moments. A late eighties Debbie Reynolds dance number, Dwight Schultz badly playing an Italian tough guy Broadway director, an early annoying Lori Petty turn as an annoying shop girl. It’s just not any good. It weathers a lot successfully, but it’s still not any good, which is kind of the Perry Mason rut.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by George Eckstein, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by David Solomon and Carter DeHaven; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Peter Katz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William R. Moses (Ken Malansky), Debbie Reynolds (Amanda Cody), Jerry Orbach (Blaine Counter), Dwight Schultz (Tony Franken), Jim Metzler (Johnny Whitcomb), Raymond Singer (James Walton), Philip Sterling (Mel Singer), Alexa Hamilton (Kate Ferrar), Mary Cadorette (Leslie Singer), Valerie Mahaffey (D.A. Barbara August), Rick Aiello (Parker Newton), Lori Petty (Cassie), Luis Avalos (Judge Robert Morano), James McEachin (Lt. Ed Brock) and Alexandra Paul (Amy Hastings).


Out for Justice (1991, John Flynn)

I didn’t hate watching Out of Justice. I didn’t even dislike watching it some of the time. It’s never good, but it’s really dumb and director Flynn knows how to direct a dumb action movie. It feels like it could be a cheap seventies exploitation film–cop hunting gangster on killing spree. Only it’s not exactly cheap. It never looks great, but it never looks cheap. The supporting cast is either familiar character actor types (Jerry Orbach) or solid newcomers (Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies, Shannon Whirry). It’s professional. It’s a professionally made attempt at trying to convince the viewer Steven Seagal is an Italian-American, Brooklyn native who can kick everyone’s ass and does. It’s not exactly like Steven Seagal’s version of Goodfellas, but it’s closer than not.

Because Seagal wants to act in the film. He tries a lot. He tries so much, so earnestly, he eventually just earns a pass. The ganger on killing spree is William Forsythe. He’s smoking crack and killing almost everyone in sight, he’s a really bad man. Only he’s the worst villain in the entire movie. There’s no character. And Forsythe, in an extremely physical performance, seems asleep at the wheel. He’s not bringing anything to the movie either.

Flynn directs the action scenes rather well. Whenever Seagal gets to do some martial arts, Flynn is careful to showcase them, not just for the theatrical exhibition, but also for the eventual home viewers. Flynn’s ability to fill the frame while keeping it 4:3 safe is significant. Out for Justice is a very professional package. Technically, the film’s nearly completely fine (except the montages). It’s just dumb and inconsequential.

It couldn’t be any better, but it could be a lot worse. And there is a lot of solid acting throughout; not to mention the nostalgia value of familiar faces.

So, like I said, I didn’t dislike the experience of watching Out for Justice. I just didn’t like anything about that experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Flynn; written by David Lee Henry; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Gene Rudolf; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Steven Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Det. Gino Felino), William Forsythe (Richie Madano), Jerry Orbach (Capt. Ronnie Donziger), Jo Champa (Vicky Felino), Shareen Mitchell (Laurie Lupo), Sal Richards (Frankie), Gina Gershon (Patti Madano), Anthony DeSando (Vinnie Madano), Dominic Chianese (Mr. Madano), Julianna Margulies (Rica), Shannon Whirry (Terry Malloy) and Ronald Maccone (Don Vittorio).


Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)

Crimes and Misdemeanors is not a particularly nice film. It juxtaposes two men in crisis–Martin Landau’s successful ophthalmologist has a girlfriend (Angelica Huston) who is threatening to tell his wife and Woody Allen’s failing filmmaker is crushing on the producer (Mia Farrow) of the his project. Allen’s only on the project, a biography of his brother-in-law (Alan Alda), because his wife insisted.

Landau’s part of the film deals with deception, guilt, regret and greed. There’s a lot about faith and rejecting religion and how family ties strengthen and slacken over time. Landau is stunning in Crimes, because he’s not likable, but he’s always sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Allen’s always likable. His first scene is opposite his niece (Jenny Nichols) and he truly cares for the kid. His scenes with her, and his sister (Caroline Aaron), are touching.

His part of the film is a light romantic comedy, if one forgets he’s married (though his wife, played by Joanna Gleason, is hideously evil). Allen and Farrow are good together; Alda’s hilarious as an obnoxious television producer.

Landau gets the majority of the run time, but around the final third is mostly Allen’s. Until the last fifteen minutes, where things come together and Allen tells the morale of the story.

He’s being intentionally mean to his characters and not worrying about the audience recognizing it. Allen’s never confrontational about it, however. The ending quietly shows the extent of the meanness.

Crimes is an excellent, thoughtful picture. Allen’s direction is utterly sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Susan E. Morse; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Robert Greenhut; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Martin Landau (Judah Rosenthal), Woody Allen (Cliff Stern), Mia Farrow (Halley Reed), Anjelica Huston (Dolores Paley), Alan Alda (Lester), Jerry Orbach (Jack Rosenthal), Joanna Gleason (Wendy Stern), Claire Bloom (Miriam Rosenthal), Sam Waterston (Ben), Caroline Aaron (Barbara) and Stephanie Roth (Sharon Rosenthal).


Universal Soldier (1992, Roland Emmerich)

Universal Soldier is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. The beginning is exceptionally painful, as Roland Emmerich does a Platoon impression. As bad as Charlie Sheen was in that film, however, nothing compares to Jean-Claude Van Damme as a farm boy from Louisiana or Dolph Lundgren’s attempts at conveying insanity. It’s painful.

And then it gets jokey.

It’s horrific.

But then, even with the incompetent writing, Ally Walker shows up and essentially saved my hour and forty minutes. Walker’s a decent actor, but her intrepid reporter somehow makes the ludicrous plot sound feasible (Walker does have a great voice).

The film’s concept is basically a mix of Robocop and Terminator, but done in such a way to be uninventive (Van Damme and Lundgren aren’t robots, so no neat cyborg moments) and cheap. Emmerich’s a terrible fight scene director and his action scenes, instead of relishing their absurdity and amplifying it to the extreme, are dull. And it’s still frequently impossible to know what’s going on.

But the movie’s watchable–there’s a bunch of good dumb bits, like Van Damme bare-assing it around a motel parking lot or the inexplicable scene with him beating up an entire diner. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin have made careers out of going as cheap as possible for a positive audience reaction and Universal Soldier is no different.

Walker tempers the whole thing and Van Damme’s bad acting isn’t static. He has a couple scenes where he’s not atrocious. It’s amazing, given their wooden acting, neither he nor Lundgren can successfully stare absent-minded as the brainwashed super-soldiers. Jerry Orbach, pre-“Law & Order” legitimacy, has a small role and is silly. Not all of it’s his fault; the script’s just terrible.

Lundgren’s particularly awful for much of the movie, then all of a sudden he becomes hilarious. Once he gets his mind back (again, the script doesn’t make any sense), he’s having a ball. His performance in the movie’s second half suggests he should have done comedy.

The movie’s crap, but manages not to be too offensive throughout, only in parts. And I suppose it’s somewhat impressive how good Emmerich made a moderately budgeted production look.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Christopher Franke; produced by Allen Shapiro, Craig Baumgarten and Joel B. Michaels; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Deveraux), Dolph Lundgren (Andrew Scott), Ally Walker (Veronica Roberts), Ed O’Ross (Colonel Perry), Jerry Orbach (Dr. Christopher Gregor) and Leon Rippy (Woodward).


F/X (1986, Robert Mandel)

About ten minutes in to F/X, I got wondering how the film was going to deal with being a special effects-filled film about a guy doing special effects for films. I suppose they didn’t have to deal with that relationship, but it kept seeming more and more like they were going to need to address it. Then, at the end, rather simply, they did. It’s a quick “thank you” at the end of the film to the audience. Movies tend not to do the ending “thank you” anymore (Ocean’s Twelve coming the closest in recent memory) because it’s an acknowledgment of the film’s unreality… it probably has a lot to do with films being more centered towards the eventual home video market as opposed to the theatrical experience. An ending “thank you” for watching is definitely a theatrical consideration (I mean, doesn’t Predator even thank its audience?).

Anyway, the ending brings F/X up a little bit, because the film’s a narrative mess (it also has the most obvious stuntmen I can remember seeing in a long time). It has a solid opening, great first twenty minutes, maybe even twenty-five, then the narrative splits between Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy. Brown goes from being the protagonist to the subject for half his scenes and the others are action scenes–and good action scenes–so he’s sort of lost. The Dennehy arc is great stuff (though incredibly unrealistic), with Joe Grifasi as his sidekick.

The film’s really well-paced, given all those narrative difficulties, and it’s a constant pleasure to watch. The experience stems from three things, audio and visual. First, Robert Mandel is a good director. He knows how to frame a shot, he knows how to have it lighted and he knows how to have scenes put together (Terry Rawlings’s editing has some outstanding moments–there’s also some scenes where it appears he cut too early, like the dialogue was interrupted for running time, but then I realized it was a stylistic choice and a fine one). F/X looks great from that department, but also because it’s an on location New York movie. Lots of great stuff to show off why New York is the best city to shoot a movie in. Third, and probably most important tying together points one and two: Bill Conti’s score. From the opening credits, Conti establishes his importance to the film and he keeps it up throughout. Conti’s filmography is spotty in terms of film quality, but he does amazing work here.

While Brown is good as the lead, his character–after the story’s moving–rarely has any time to reflect on what’s happened. It’s a little off-putting, but F/X actually has some wonderful subtle moments to take care of those deficiencies. Dennehy’s great. Brian Dennehy could sell real estate on Jupiter and make it believable. Supporting wise… Grifasi’s okay, Cliff De Young’s real good–particularly in the first twenty minutes, which appear to have had tighter revisions–Jerry Orbach’s funny, Jossie DeGuzman’s scenes are all good… The real acting champ, besides Dennehy, is Diane Venora. Her role’s relatively small, but she’s fantastic.

However long the laundry list of problems, F/X is still a fine diversion. And an exceptionally effective one, thanks to the fine production values.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mandel; written by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman; director of photography, Miroslav Ondricek; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Bill Conti; produced by Dodi Fayed and Jack Wiener; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Bryan Brown (Rollie Tyler), Brian Dennehy (Leo McCarthy), Diane Venora (Ellen), Cliff De Young (Lipton), Mason Adams (Col. Mason), Jerry Orbach (Nicholas DeFranco), Joe Grifasi (Mickey), Martha Gehman (Andy), Roscoe Orman (Capt. Wallenger), Trey Wilson (Lt. Murdoch), Tom Noonan (Varrick), Paul D’Amato (Gallagher) and Jossie DeGuzman (Marisa Velez).


Delusion (1991, Carl Colpaert)

Delusion opens poorly. It opens like an independent film (not a Miramax release or a Fox Searchlight, but something a guy who owns a chain of car washes invested in) and it opens poorly, like most independent films open. The acting is bad, the writing is bad (the direction is fine). I’ve seen Delusion before (I own the laserdisc), probably four times and the opening had me embarrassed. Based on those first seven or eight minutes, I would have said Jim Metzler was bad and Jennifer Rubin was bad, and Kyle Secor was good. Secor’s got a really goofy, dumb hit man role and then, at times, the character will all of a sudden have some profoundly affecting moment.

Anyway, by the fifteen-minute mark, Delusion‘s completely different. Rubin’s great, Metzler’s great and the writing’s good. There’s no distinguishable reason for the change, except maybe the first act ended or something. Then for an hour, the film’s on track toward something, with all goodness along the way. Where it’s going is never quite clear–so, in the end, where it ends up feels a little odd, with the characters talking to each other about things the viewer should have seen and should understand, but did not see and does not understand.

Another possible reason for the big change is Carl Colpaert’s direction. He really knows how to move a camera, whether Delusion‘s in its thriller mode, its drama mode, or its spaghetti western mode, Colpaert’s composition is really unbelievably good. Especially for an independent film. He knows how to use Panavision. That knowledge is rare among independent filmmakers.

Colpaert and co-writer Kurt Voss run Delusion as a road movie with the little adventures as vignettes. The most successful is the one with Jerry Orbach, who’s absolutely fantastic. The worst–the one where Delusion becomes a Miramax independent for a moment–is when a female biker picks up Metzler and tells him about her time as a soldier in the sexual revolution. Amusingly, it’s like Colpaert realized how badly it played, because it really seems like that section is cut all over.

In the end, it’s really all about Rubin. She’s funny, sad, thoughtful, tragic, smart, dumb; Colpaert and Voss throw all these things at her and she comes out shining. Watching the film, it’s difficult to believe she never made it big, because there was no one else back then who could do all the things she could do.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Colpaert; written by Colpaert and Kurt Voss; director of photography, Geza Sinkovics; edited by Mark Allan Kaplan; music by Barry Adamson; production designer, Ildiko Toth; produced by Daniel Hassid; released by I.R.S. Releasing Corporation.

Starring Jim Metzler (George O’Brien), Jennifer Rubin (Patti), Kyle Secor (Chevy), Jerry Orbach (Larry) and Robert Costanzo (Myron Sales).


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