JoBeth Williams

Frasier (1993) s02e09 – Adventures in Paradise (2)

I wonder how this episode would play in one sitting. Even just marathoning it (as opposed to cutting out the recap at the beginning of this second part, which Kelsey Grammer performs quite well). Because writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs still have an odd structure. They had an odd structure last episode, as they built to the reveal of Bebe Neuwirth also on vacation in Bora Bora to interrupt Grammer’s romantic getaway with new girlfriend JoBeth Williams.

The cliffhanger resolve introduces Neuwirth and Williams then Grammer and Neuwirth’s fellow, James Morrison. They make dinner plans to resolve some of the oddness of them being next door neighbors on their respective sex vacations.

We don’t get to see the dinner, just to see how Grammer’s going to obsess about it and make some really poor decisions. Those poor decisions start to ruin the trip and end with Williams not talking to Grammer. Can he fix the new relationship or is Neuwirth’s proximity going to screw things up?

Meanwhile, David Hyde Pierce has gotten Jane Leeves and John Mahoney to attend the ballet with him, where ever unseen wife Maris has a role.

There’s good quick material for Hyde Pierce, Leeves, and Mahoney, including some great punchlines, and Levine and Isaacs give Peri Gilpin a great bit, but it’s all about Neuwirth, Grammer, and Williams.

The episode gives Grammer some very broad physical comedy to do and he’s fantastic, it gives Neuwirth this detached dramatic and she’s fantastic. Williams is fine, but never gets anywhere near the material she’d need to make as much of an impression as Neuwirth or Grammer.

Just the expressions Neuwirth makes while listening to Grammer blather on, you wish director James Burrows had just focused on her instead of cutting to Grammer, no matter how funny he got.

Celebrity voice guest star this episode is Kevin Bacon, who doesn’t get a lot but does get to play into Gilpin’s very funny bit.

And the ending is perfect too. It’s a big swing episode and it’s a hit.

Frasier (1993) s02e08 – Adventures in Paradise (1)

Remember when we didn’t see TV show episodes all the time? What were they called—electronic programming guides (thanks, Google). So watching Adventures in Paradise: Part 1 in fall 1994, you weren’t wondering why it was called part one. The episode’s got a somewhat strange pacing as writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs have to introduce guest star JoBeth Williams in a significant supporting part in just one episode.

So none of the regular supporting cast gets a lot to do. David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney bond over cigar smoking in a very small subplot. Peri Gilpin is entirely there for supporting Kelsey Grammer’s arc, which has him starting to date Williams after seeing her in a magazine feature on Seattle’s best and brightest.

Grammer and Hyde Pierce’s low-key coveting of the associated prestige provides a handful of really good jokes. The episode’s full of them. Even without a lot to do, the entire cast (save maybe Gilpin) gets some really funny jokes. Jane Leeves has an amazing few minutes and Hyde Pierce goes on a particularly good Maris rant this episode.

Even stranger, the first big set piece doesn’t involve any of the regulars or even Williams. She and Grammer are out on their date and there’s a blowup between the restaurant owner (Pierre Epstein) and his daughter (Jessica Pennington). It’s absolutely hilarious, but it’s got nothing to do with the story. Except giving Grammer a great opportunity to “I’m Listening” in public.

Then the episode skips ahead a couple weeks and Williams and Grammer make an impromptu decision to run off together for a week and take things to the next stage. There’s some “Frasier fretting,” which also allows for some more on the cigar bonding subplot, but then it’s off to Bora Bora and the surprise cliffhanger.

Everyone’s really good, even when they barely get anything to do, and Williams is a nice match for Grammer. And the cliffhanger is rather hilarious.

It’s a really good episode, especially considering it’s just a setup for the next one.

Frasier (1993) s01e08 – Beloved Infidel

In some ways, this episode of “Frasier” is the best one so far. If the show is supposed to be about Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Martin (John Mahoney) actually connecting as son and father, respectively, Leslie Eberhard’s script does it. It does it so much you’re left wondering what the repercussions if or when Niles (David Hyde Pierce) finds out what he missed.

The episode starts with some easy jokes, which are important because there aren’t any real laughs after the second commercial break. That section is reserved for serious talk time for Grammer and Mahoney, which lets the actors show off their more dramatic muscles. But the opening—with JoBeth Williams as a French caller who Grammer can’t understand, then Hyde Pierce once again forgetting Peri Gilpin, in this case why this woman he obviously knows but can’t remember is hanging out in Frasier’s sound booth. Gilpin’s got some great lines in the scene, before and after Hyde Pierce arrives.

Grammer and Hyde Pierce head out to dinner—somewhere cheap because it’s Hyde Pierce’s turn to pay—and, after some laughs involving Hyde Pierce’s fretting over his car getting towed—they notice Mahoney at another table, having dinner with Pat Crowley. They recognize Crowley as an old family friend who became estranged and assume Mahoney’s on a date, which gets weird when Crowley bursts into tears and runs out. The “Crane first date” observation from Grammer is choice.

Well, Hyde Pierce goes through his old journals and finds a mystery involving why the families stopped being friends twenty plus years before and Grammer and Hyde Pierce determine Mahoney must’ve had an affair with Crowley. They confront him about it, which sends the episode down its serious path—the biggest subplot involves Eddie the dog rolling around on the sofa, which is absolutely adorable and just the stress reliever the episode needs.

Things get even more serious after an impertinent Grammer confronts Crowley, which in turn leads to a further confrontation with Mahoney.

The episode’s got some great light laughs at the beginning—not to mention a too cute for words Jack Russell Terrier—while still sticking to the dramatic guns for the finish.

So while not the funniest episode so far, or the most ambitiously crafted one, it might be the best one so far.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986, Brian Gibson)

There’s not much to recommend Poltergeist II: The Other Side, but it does promote family “values” while quite literally demonizing Christianity. That juxtaposing alone, however, does not make it worthwhile.

The film is the perfect example of a bad sequel. There are budget issues, plotting issues (the death of villain Julian Beck during filming couldn’t have helped) but also a strange refocusing of the characters. Somewhere in Poltergeist II there’s this compelling story of Craig T. Nelson overcoming his alcoholism to become a spiritual warrior of the Carlos Castaneda variety. Sadly, that story has no place here.

The Other Side shows exactly why good films should not be turned into franchises. Here, in order to stay relevant, the filmmakers turn JoBeth Williams into an unwilling clairvoyant, something she passed on to daughter Heather O’Rourke. But Williams has no other story. She’s appealing, but her performance isn’t particularly good. Same goes for O’Rourke, who has a lot to do. Oliver Robins, as the son, oscillates between okay and useless.

Special Native American mystical guest star Will Sampson is pretty good, at least seeming respectable. Given a much bigger part than in the first film, Zelda Rubinstein is awful. So is Geraldine Fitzgerald as Williams’s mother.

Beck is terrifying, easily the film’s best performance.

The special effects are decent, but visibly unenthusiastic. Jerry Goldsmith’s schizophrenic score–he uses both chants and synthesizers–is interesting.

It’s clear director Gibson understands what makes the first one great, but he can’t make this one acceptable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Gibson; written and produced by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Thom Noble; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Ted Haworth; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina Barrons), Will Sampson (Taylor), Julian Beck (Kane), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Gramma-Jess), John P. Whitecloud (Old Indian) and Noble Craig (Vomit Creature).


Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)

In a practical sense, one can just watch Poltergeist and be in awe of the technical qualities. Hooper’s Panavision composition and Matthew F. Leonetti’s photography alone are enough to make it a singular experience. But then there are Hooper’s additional touches–like how a scene’s establishing shot is usually the third shot in the scene, the first two being close-ups or reaction shots. Or the strobe effect. Or the eerie movement, which is probably the most famous Poltergeist visual.

But then there’s the script. Screenwriters Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor are not big on exposition. In fact, the entire familial relationship at the center of Poltergeist is mostly inferred. One of the film’s obvious “goofs” involves JoBeth Williams only being sixteen years older than daughter Dominique Dunne makes a lot more sense if one assumes Williams is her stepmother. The dialogue–and Dunne’s behavior–even suggests it. But the film is full of those discrete little moments… the filmmakers put an incredible amount of trust in the viewer.

The acting is all excellent. Dunne, in the smallest family role, probably gives the film’s best performance. After her, it’s Craig T. Nelson as the dad, then Williams. These three are absolutely fantastic.

The other kids, Heather O’Rourke and Oliver Robins, are both good.

In the supporting cast, Beatrice Straight is particularly exceptional.

While Jerry Goldsmith’s score is derivative of his other work, it ties the film together quite well.

Poltergeist is great. It’s surprisingly deep and technically magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor, based on a story by Spielberg; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Spielberg and Frank Marshall; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina), Martin Casella (Marty), Richard Lawson (Ryan), James Karen (Mr. Teague) and Beatrice Straight (Dr. Lesh).


The Big Chill (1983, Lawrence Kasdan)

With The Big Chill, Kasdan tries to be profound, heart-warming and cynical. He doesn’t succeed. For a film so much about introspection, Kasdan is surprisingly unaware at the inherent artifice. The film’s cast of characters are–if they’re male–extraordinary. There’s some lip service to the women’s successes (doctor, lawyer) but the men are rich or famous. It leads to some contrivances. If Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedeck were more conscious of the artifice, Chill would probably be great.

As it is now, it’s a good film with some great performances, outstanding technical qualities and a lot of boring stretches. A couple of characters are misfires. Kevin Kline’s Southern royalty, besides being a painfully artificial characterization, isn’t believable as a former hippie. And JoBeth Williams is so unlikable, I was confused about her having kids–I assumed, given her heartlessness when talking about them, they were stepchildren.

But there are outstanding performances too. The most surprising ones are Tom Berenger and Meg Tilly. Kasdan and Benedeck don’t give equal time to the cast and Berenger–and William Hurt–are mostly the male leads. The women get far less representation–Mary Kay Place, who’s outstanding, is the closest thing to a female lead.

Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum are kind of window dressing. Their few scenes together, however, are great.

Kasdan’s composition, aided by John Bailey’s cinematography, is often wondrous. A lot of credit for Chill belongs to Carol Littleton’s nuanced editing.

Chill‘s parts are better than its whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Carol Littleton; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Michael Shamberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Harold), Glenn Close (Sarah), JoBeth Williams (Karen), Jeff Goldblum (Michael), Mary Kay Place (Meg), Tom Berenger (Sam), Meg Tilly (Chloe), Don Galloway (Richard) and William Hurt (Nick).


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