Joe Pantoliano

La Bamba (1987, Luis Valdez)

La Bamba is a perfectly adequate biopic of fifties rock and roll singer Ritchie Valens, who died at seventeen in a plane crash. Very twenty-five year-old Lou Diamond Phillips plays Valens. He’s adequate. He lip-synchs all right, though the performances (Los Lobos covers Valens’s songs) almost never sound right acoustically. When Phillips shows off his skills to his garage band, for instance, it clearly wasn’t recorded in a garage. But whatever. It’s perfectly adequate.

Ditto the supporting cast. Esai Morales is Phillips’s older half-brother, who’s narratively responsible for everything in the movie–he moves Phillips and mom Rosanna DeSoto (who’s obviously way too young to be their mother) from a migrant community in Northern California down to the Los Angeles area at the beginning of the movie. He brings Elizabeth Peña along too. Peña was Phillips’s love interest before Morales arrives. One look at Morales, however, and she dumps the ostensibly younger Phillips. By the time the film’s jumped ahead after the move, Morales is an abusive drunken pot runner.

Despite bookending the movie and being responsible for so much, Morales doesn’t get to do much. No one really gets to do much in director Valdez’s script, of course. Morales has amazing illustrating abilities, which La Bamba promotes into a second act subplot to apparently fill time, because it goes nowhere. It’s a vehicle for Morales’s eventual breakdown about being jealous of Phillips. It’s a dramatically inert breakdown; it’s fairly clear early on no one’s going to give a standout performance or have some amazing part. Sure, Morales has more to do than almost anyone else, but Valdez doesn’t give him anything. Valdez also isn’t great at directing his actors.

He’s adequate. Enough.

Besides Morales and Peña (who really gets squat), DeSoto doesn’t have an arc outside being Phillips’s fiercely supportive mom. She has three younger children she’s raising, who she never has any significant scenes with. Or even insignificant ones with the baby, who disappears after a while. Then there’s Danielle von Zerneck as Phillips’s girlfriend. Her racist dad (Sam Anderson) doesn’t like her dating a Hispanic kid, though it’s never clear the dad finds out he’s Hispanic just brown. He eventually has problems with Phillips for playing rock and roll more than anything else.

von Zerneck and Phillips have no chemistry but muscle through their subplot–it’s barely a subplot, she’s a narrative prop–all right. The period costumes and cars do some of the heavy lifting; Vincent M. Cresciman’s production design is good.

Joe Pantoliano is similarly fine–and similarly a narrative prop–as the record guy who discovers Phillips.

Valdez’s direction, outside his disinterest in his actors’ performances and some blocking issues cinematographer Adam Greenberg really should’ve corrected, is… you guessed it… perfectly adequate. When Phillips finally performs the title track, the scene’s more effective than usual but only because, well, it’s La Bamba. It’s a great song.

Unfortunately La Bamba, the movie, is lukewarm. And really, really comfortable never being anything but.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luis Valdez; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Don Brochu and Sheldon Kahn; music by Carlos Santana and Miles Goodman; production designer, Vincent M. Cresciman; produced by Bill Borden and Taylor Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips (Ritchie), Esai Morales (Bob), Rosanna DeSoto (Connie), Elizabeth Peña (Rosie), Danielle von Zerneck (Donna), and Joe Pantoliano (Bob Keane).


The Mean Season (1985, Phillip Borsos)

Somewhere in the second act of The Mean Season, the film just starts slipping and it never corrects. The opening titles, set against stormy Miami weather and a vicious (though not graphic) murder, establish the film’s momentum. Everything moves fast, whether it’s establishing unsatisfied reporter Kurt Russell and his newsroom sidekicks, his girlfriend Mariel Hemingway, even when the serial killer starts calling Russell–director Borsos and screenwriter Leon Piedmont keep things moving. Frank Tidy’s photography, the Florida locations, and Lalo Schifrin’s gentle but intense score help a lot.

There’s also Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford as the cops investigating the case. Garcia likes Russell, Bradford doesn’t. Like almost everything else in the movie, Borsos seems to think implying character motivation is the same as having character motivation. But Borsos and Piedmont aren’t particularly good at subtlety and Borsos isn’t great at directing his actors. He apparently gets Bradford’s world-weary, slightly fascist cop is the best character in the picture, since Bradford’s the only actor who gets any material to chew on. Though maybe it’s Bradford stepping up and chewing on his otherwise pointless role.

Getting a little ahead of myself–the salad days of Mean Season are the first half. The newspaper stuff is interesting, Borsos is good at the investigation, Russell and Hemingway are appealing. Then the movie gets into this whole juxtaposition of Russell’s media ambitions and the killer’s media ambitions and the stumbling starts. Russell and Hemingway try, but neither brings much weight to their roles. Once Borsos is done doing jump scares involving them, he and then Piedmont have nothing more for Hemingway. She’s just around to argue with Russell. Then Russell apologizes and scene.

There’s no character development, particularly for Russell. Piedmont’s script relies on thriller more than drama. Borsos’s direction eventually veers to action, which is a big mistake because he’s exceptionally inept at it. The second half of the film, as Russell finds himself in danger and not just from manipulative jump scares, is ragged and somewhat unpleasant. Russell burns through the charm and likability he’s built up and Borsos isn’t there with anything else for him. He ends the picture a husk.

Mean Season also skips the opportunity to look at the reporter becoming news, even though there are occasional details suggesting someone thought it might be a good idea to focus on that angle.

Hemingway gets a lot of help from Schifrin’s score. It’s problematic–she’s the damsel so she needs good damsel music–but also effective. And she’s trying. And her character does try to talk some sense, building up her likability. So she’s slight, but gets a pass.

Russell’s pass is a little different, almost more of an incomplete. It’s not his fault though. It’d be hard to make the last third silliness of Mean Season work. The film’s desperately in need of a better resolution to the mystery of the serial killer. Borsos overestimates where’s gotten the film in terms of suspension of disbelief as well as general interest.

The supporting cast is solid. Besides the awesome Bradford performance, Garcia is fine with little to do as a too young police lieutenant. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, and Rose Portillo all ably staff the newsroom scenes. They eventually disappear from the A plot, reduced to background as Piedmont’s script loses focus. At least Borsos kept them around.

Richard Jordan and William Smith are good as witnesses who prove essential to the case. Borsos fails Jordan after a while, but he’s still got some fine moments.

The Mean Season wraps up with an unsatisfying, hurried, manipulative conclusion. By the end, the whole movie is on Hemingway, Russell, Schifrin, Tidy, and Florida’s collective shoulders. They manage to keep it afloat, but only just.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Borsos; screenplay by Leon Piedmont, based on a novel by John Katzenbach; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Duwayne Dunham; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Philip M. Jeffries; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Malcolm Anderson), Mariel Hemingway (Christine Connelly), Andy Garcia (Ray Martinez), Richard Bradford (Phil Wilson), Richard Masur (Bill Nolan), Joe Pantoliano (Andy Porter), Rose Portillo (Kathy Vasquez), William Smith (Albert O’Shaughnessy), and Richard Jordan (Mike Hilson).


Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson)

I like Ben Affleck. Even his early phase–the self-aware, “Bruce Willis doing a Harrison Ford” impression thing actually worked out on occasion. It helped he kept the persona between pictures. Of course, Daredevil comes after Affleck decided to do his own thing. He gets an incomplete in Daredevil. You couldn’t hate watch it for his lousy essaying of the role of blind, gymnastic ninja lawyer but you also can’t say he came anywhere near making it work. It’s not his fault, it’s a terrible script, terrible direction, terrible everything, but he still didn’t make it work.

So while I can hope Affleck doesn’t embarrass himself, Daredevil is another story. Watching the film, for long, boring portions, there’s nothing to do but hope for it to fail a little bit more. Just to make things interesting. Director Johnson tries to do Batman meets Spider-Man meets The Matrix meets “extreme sports.” It’s awful. Though it does look a lot like a low budget, serious attempt at Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Even the crappy Graeme Revell music fits that vibe. It’s got enough budget to attempt effects sequences, but no idea what to do with them. It gets outrageous enough, it seems like Daredevil is actually going to break into absurdity. Little CGI Ben Affleck chasing little CGI Colin Farrell. Like they’ll stop and ask the audience how they can be believing anything so silly.

Farrell gives the most forgivable performance. Not even Joe Pantoliano (I miss Joe Pantoliano’s “stunt casting” phase) does well. No one does well. Jennifer Garner manages to adequate but unlikable. She’s even sympathetic during the cheesy romance montages, which Johnson certainly shows more aptitude for directing than anything else in the film.

However, the third act has a surprisingly decent pace. Daredevil overstays its welcome, but seems to realize it and make reasonable amends. Until the idiotic epilogue sequence, which has way too much CGI and way too little imagination. Oh, look, I unintentionally ended on a metaphor for the whole movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Dennis Virkler and Armen Minasian; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Gary Foster, Arnon Milchan and Avi Arad; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Affleck (Matt Murdock), Jennifer Garner (Elektra Natchios), Colin Farrell (Bullseye), Michael Clarke Duncan (Wilson Fisk), Jon Favreau (Foggy Nelson), Scott Terra (Young Matt), Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich), Leland Orser (Wesley Owen Welch), Erick Avari (Nikolas Natchios), Derrick O’Connor (Father Everett) and David Keith (Jack Murdock).


The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)

It’s been a while since I last saw The Fugitive. I remember it didn’t impress me much, particularly Andrew Davis’s direction.

Needless to say, I was very wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the film as much as I did this viewing. Davis’s direction is the finest action thriller direction I can recall. The film starts a breakneck pace about twenty minutes into the film and doesn’t stop… I don’t even think it stops at the end. The last scene is very quick as well.

The film’s approach to mainstream filmmaking–setting two strong actors opposite each other without making it a buddy picture–has vanished. The Fugitive doesn’t just juxtapose Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, it barely gives Ford any screen time to himself when he’s not on the run. The first twenty minutes… it’s summary storytelling. The audience doesn’t really get to know Ford until after he’s running.

Most of Ford’s scenes are by himself, either running or investigating, so it’s up to Jones. The supporting cast around Jones is a phenomenal piece of casting–Joe Pantoliano doing comic relief, obviously, is going to be good, but Daniel Roebuck has some moments too. Davis manages to give his cast great little moments without ever breaking pace.

Michael Chapman’s photography is an essential element. The film’s color scheme manages to be rich and drab at the same time.

I’m trying to think of something negative or unenthusiastic to say about the film.

I can’t think of anything.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, based on a story by Twohy and characters created by Roy Huggins; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Don Brochu, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Dov Hoenig, Richard Nord and Dennis Virkler; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, J. Dennis Washington; produced by Arnold Kopelson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Harrison Ford (Dr. Richard Kimble), Tommy Lee Jones (Deputy Samuel Gerard), Sela Ward (Helen Kimble), Jeroen Krabbé (Dr. Charles Nichols), Joe Pantoliano (Agent Cosmo Renfro), Andreas Katsulas (Frederick Sykes), Jane Lynch (Dr. Kathy Wahlund), Julianne Moore (Dr. Anne Eastman), Daniel Roebuck (Agent Robert Biggs), L. Scott Caldwell (Agent Poole), Johnny Lee Davenport (Marshal Henry), Tom Wood (Agent Noah Newman) and Eddie Bo Smith Jr. (Copeland).


Bound (1996, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I always thought Gina Gershon got top billing for Bound–even though she’s only the lead for the first third or so–but it’s actually Jennifer Tilly, which is somewhat more appropriate. I say somewhat because at a certain point, Tilly too loses the spotlight. For a good twenty minutes in the middle, the film belongs to Joe Pantoliano.

Pantoliano’s performance here is probably his best; even though it’s firmly in his oeuvre of slimy weirdos… there’s something singular about this one. He’s always scary, even before he’s supposed to be, because his character is so clearly disturbed (he’s a dissatisfied middle-level mobster).

But Pantoliano doesn’t take over until almost halfway through–Bound takes place over a week or so, following Gershon getting a job renovating the apartment next to Tilly’s–and during the Gershon and Tilly romance, it’s got to be perfect and it is perfect.

While the film definitely has its roots in film noir, the Wachowskis break certain rules. Making it about a lesbian couple isn’t one of those rules. In fact, their carefulness in showing that relationship–especially exploring Tilly’s role in it–is what makes Bound different and some of what makes it great. The dialogue in these scenes is superior.

There’re some great supporting performances–John P. Ryan, Christopher Meloni.

It has a small cast in a small film. Bound’s the greatest play adapted to screen (of an original screenplay).

Bound is brilliant–so brilliant, I didn’t even make any Speed Racer jokes.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; written by the Wachowskis; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Don Davis; production designer, Eve Cauley; produced by Stuart Boros and Andrew Lazar; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Jennifer Tilly (Violet), Gina Gershon (Corky), Joe Pantoliano (Caesar), John P. Ryan (Micky Malnato), Christopher Meloni (Johnnie Marzzone), Richard C. Sarafian (Gino Marzzone) and Mary Mara (Sue the Bartender).


The Matrix (1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I have this vivid memory of seeing The Matrix in the theater. When the agents, dressed in their black suits, got out of the car, everyone groaned–they thought it was a Men in Black reference. Of course, the thing about The Matrix is it fakes being wholly original.

One of the nice things about being technically dynamic and full of great special effects is not having to worry about the actors much. Keanu Reeves is fine. Laurence Fishburne is pretty good. Carrie-Anne Moss’s only good scene is the one romantic one.

Hugo Weaving is great.

Joe Pantoliano is okay. Gloria Foster’s one scene is good. Marcus Chung, the biggest supporting cast member, is annoying and has some rather bad readings.

The Wachowskis composition is startling–it’s an exploration of what Panavision can do, in a way no one’s really done since Spielberg in the seventies.

Don Davis’s music is great.

I always notice it and don’t want to forget, especially now. The Matrix is unique in being a mainstream American movie where the leaders are black–Fishburne, Foster; looking at how Iron Man or Batman use their black characters, things have clearly gone downhill. Now, we have tokenism for the twenty-first century.

I haven’t seen the film in about nine years. It’s better than I remember it. Not as startling as the first viewing, but solid. The lack of plot originality isn’t an issue–it’s so well-made, not just technically, but as a communal filmgoing experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Gloria Foster (Oracle), Joe Pantoliano (Cypher), Marcus Chong (Tank) and Julian Arahanga (Apoc).


Running Scared (1986, Peter Hyams)

Jimmy Smits is pretty good in Running Scared. He’s a believable bad guy, intimidating even.

I don’t know why I’m opening with Smits, maybe because I’m in a good mood and want to be generous with praise for an unlikely recipient.

Running Scared is a delightful action comedy; I didn’t realize how much I missed the genre until I watched this film again. I haven’t seen it in years–I think I watched my laserdisc copy once before the advent of DVD and it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would, seeing it widescreen. I hope I’m remembering the details wrong, because Peter Hyams was such a great mainstream director, it’d be a shame if I was such a foolish youth I didn’t appreciate it. Running Scared is it for Hyams–after this one, he cooked one turkey after another. But this film has such wonderful direction–Hyams doesn’t just know how to compose a Panavision frame, he also knows how to do an action scene in one. He knows how to move the camera. Running Scared is a great example of the lost art of action direction. It’s got a distinctive style all its own (it doesn’t look like a bevy of nondescript music videos) with Hyams really making the Chicago locations (and Florida ones) essential to the picture.

Hyams is responsible for the film’s (effortless) artistry in filmmaking–I always forget the guy hasn’t always been a punch line (and his much maligned cinematography is quite good in Running Scared). But the film’s a success because of stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal (I kept thinking, as the film progressed, they had a stupid argument at one point but they never do, their friendship’s always perfectly in pitch–I was waiting for this imaginary scene as a pitfall… maybe it’s a post-end credit scene or something). They each have fabulous dialogue (the screenwriters went on to nothing else of note, which makes me suspiciously Hines and Crystal might have ad-libbed some of it or there’s some fine comedy writers who anonymously doctored their material) and Hyams, who never made another good comedy, knows how to cut it all together. This long conversation they have, cut into different scenes, works beautifully.

Running Scared is an example of a film excited with itself. It offers its audience a 107 minute diversion and it knows it’s working (if the film weren’t connecting with the characters and the humor throughout, it wouldn’t be able to carry itself to the conclusion, which is one of its major successes).

Hines and Crystal create these personalities–they’re characters too, but they’re somehow different. It’s a mix of characterization and comedic personality… like Crystal and Hines did a bunch of movies together (but they only did this one) playing these types. Running Scared feels like they must have done more; it’s a shame they didn’t.

The supporting cast is uniformly solid. They don’t have a lot to do (Crystal’s love interest, a fourth billed Darlanne Fluegel, is simply a blonde ex-wife, while Hines’s, played by Tracy Reed, gets to create a fuller character), but they’re good. Dan Hedaya is sturdy as the boss, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy as a scum bag–these are early examples of the roles both would go on to play for years (though Pantoliano doesn’t make quite the impression he made as Guido the Killer Pimp).

Running Scared was more than a pleasant surprise–about a half hour in I realized it was a heck of a lot better than I remembered it being. It’s just too bad about Peter Hyams though. He never should have left MGM.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Gary DeVore and Jimmy Huston, based on a story by DeVore; director of photography, Hyams; edited by James Mitchell; music by Rod Temperton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Gregory Hines (Ray Hughes), Billy Crystal (Danny Costanzo), Darlanne Fluegel (Anna Costanzo), Joe Pantoliano (Snake), Dan Hedaya (Captain Logan), Steven Bauer (Det. Frank Sigliano), Jon Gries (Det. Tony Montoya), Tracy Reed (Maryann), Jimmy Smits (Julio Gonzales), John DiSanti (Vinnie), Larry Hankin (Ace) and Don Calfa (Women’s Room Lawyer).


Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)

Some time in the 1990s, Charles Grodin said in an interview no one wanted him to do a sequel with Robert De Niro, only ones with him and dogs. Midnight Run is one of the last great comedies (though the genre seems to be on the rise again). It’s an ideal motion picture comedy, with Grodin and De Niro working perfectly together. But what’s so striking about the film isn’t so much their developing relationship, but De Niro’s lead role. Run is from De Niro’s choosy period (it’s hard, watching the film, to think he’d ever have a non-choosy period) and, in a lot of ways, it’s his finest work since Raging Bull. De Niro’s character is entirely defined by how he relates to other people–it always occurs to me we never get to see where he lives–and De Niro still turns it into this sweeping, affecting portrayal of an unchangeable man changed.

Of course, De Niro gets a lot of help from the script. The rest of Gallo’s career is so startlingly unspectacular, one has to wonder if any uncredited rewrites were done on Midnight Run (and by whom… though I guess director Brest is a solid suspect). Gallo’s obscenity-laden dialogue comes off, in terms of linguistic somersaults, like a Marx routine. It’s mesmerizing to watch De Niro rant. There’s one particular scene, with him on the phone, surrounded by staring people, vociferating curses–it’s just fantastic. De Niro brings a self-awareness to the character, even though the script gives him a lot to work with. Where Midnight Run stands out is in the intricate ground situation, De Niro’s character is brimming with angst–“silence and rage,” as Grodin puts it at one point–but we never get to it laid out for us. Gradually, as they become closer, De Niro reveals all to Grodin, but never with verbosity–and we already know almost everything he’s telling Grodin anyway. The significance is in his personal revelation.

Grodin’s the solid straight man. It’s a lot like other Grodin performances, except in his genuine empathy, which mixes well with his irksome behavior. It doesn’t astound or anything, but no one else could have played the role.

The supporting cast is remarkable. Yaphet Kotto and John Ashton both create these unparalleled characters (neither are, to my knowledge, remembered for their outstanding work). Ashton makes his dumb bounty hunter both vicious and funny, earning some degree of viewer sympathy; he’s not likable, but he’s endearing. Kotto’s FBI agent in pursuit has great lines, but also develops into this superb human being throughout the picture.

Dennis Farina’s great as the villain. He manages to be hilarious while still being terrifying. Joe Pantoliano’s good in a small, but visible, role. Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda are funny as two dimwitted, but effective, low-level mobsters.

As for Brest, it’s hard to know what to say about him. His direction is amazing, maybe best exemplified with a hilarious car chase and a harrowing trade-off. The car chase, though fantastic, never seems unrealistic and the trade-off, even though I’ve probably seen the film a dozen times, is always suspenseful. There’s also how he manages the film’s multiple locations as De Niro and Grodin move cross-country without ever losing the visual tone.

I’ve saved the last paragraph for Danny Elfman. Midnight Run is one of his early scores, his fifth or sixth. It might be his best. Midnight Run, from the opening title, clearly has a great, integral score. It’s impossible to think of the film without the score, without this score, from Elfman. It, just like most of the film, is perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Martin Brest; written by George Gallo; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Chris Lebenzon, Michael Tronick and Billy Weber; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Angelo P. Graham; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Walsh), Charles Grodin (Jonathan Mardukas), Yaphet Kotto (FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely), John Ashton (Marvin Dorfler), Dennis Farina (Jimmy Serrano), Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone), Richard Foronjy (Tony Darvo), Robert Miranda (Joey), Jack Kehoe (Jerry Geisler), Wendy Phillips (Gail), Danielle DuClos (Denise Walsh) and Philip Baker Hall (Sidney).


Risky Business (1983, Paul Brickman), the director’s cut

There are three things I want to discuss about Risky Business (there isn’t room to cover the fourth, why Tom Cruise is so excellent in this film then mostly terrible for the next twelve years). The subjects are director’s cuts, teen movies and this film’s portrayal of women. All three are somewhat interconnected and maybe the director’s cut of the film is the best place to start.

Risky Business has no official director’s cut. One would have to make it for him or herself. It’s worth figuring out how to do. The original version of Risky Business, for those who don’t know, ends with Tom Cruise–an upper-middle class, three point one GPA white high school student–getting into Princeton because he’s running a brothel when the admissions interviewer shows up. It’s a slam dunk for American capitalism and, famously, not the ending director Paul Brickman originally went with. I think Leonard Maltin even mentions it in his capsule review….

I sat waiting for it, having heard about it for eleven plus years, knowing what was coming next… only for it never to arrive. Something else happens instead, something wonderful.

It’s hard to pick an adjective to describe the film’s portrayal of women–particularly Rebecca De Mornay’s late teens call girl (it’s always implied she’s only a little bit older than Cruise’s high school senior). The film objectifies her initially, then defames her as a con artist. Neither are really positive. The first makes sense for a movie about a teenager who ends up running a brothel with his classmates as customers. The second moves the story along. Where Risky Business is singular among the popular teen movies of the 1980s (it’s telling Business came just before the onslaught of John Hughes’s pictures, which demolished the genre in its infancy) is in the contradiction. That first sense, the objectification sense, it’s a sham. De Mornay’s character is slowly revealed to be a vulnerable, intelligent, frightened young woman. Cruise discovers these things at the same rate the viewer does and the film’s perspective changes as he does. Risky Business has lots of narration and Cruise has to sell it all. He succeeds.

The film takes responsibility for its characters and their complex relationships–both implied and on screen–with their peers and their parents. It’s never cheap, which is what sets it so far apart from the decade’s subsequent teen films. I’m not sure if I can think, past Risky Business and Rebel Without a Cause of a “teen” picture so maturely told. But the director’s cut is what puts Business in this too small class.

IMDb sort of spoils the director’s cut ending for anyone interested, but only slightly. It’s impossible to communicate the scene and the effect in words, if only because Brickman–for a first time director–not only knows how to compose a shot and how to direct actors, he also knows how to pick music. The Tangerine Dream score in Risky Business does much of the film’s stylistic heavy lifting. Brickman does a handful of a snazzy moves–some with editing, some with the narration, some with lighting and slowing down the film (nothing ostentatious, but certainly a little different from the rest of his approach)–and the score tempers it. The snazzy moves seem more natural because the score’s already come in and prepared the viewer. It’s a beautiful fit.

The acting–not just Cruise and De Mornay, who are both fantastic and have a great chemistry (even though her career’s had a far different trajectory than his, they really ought to do another film together)–is great. Brickman assembles an amazing supporting cast. Joe Pantaliano has one of the flashier roles as Guido the Killer Pimp, who enjoys honey in his tea (Brickman’s deft touches are another joy). Bronson Pinchot’s actually really good, as is Curtis Armstrong (but less surprise with him). Bruce A. Young and Nicholas Pryor are also great in small roles.

I first saw Risky Business about twelve years ago. It impressed the hell out of me. I’ve seen it in between then and now and the last time, it didn’t. I’m not sure how the theatrical version would sit with me today–it’s hard to believe I’d think much less of it, given that amazing sequence (both filmmaking and acting) when Cruise heads into the city to find De Mornay–but the director’s cut is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Brickman; directors of photography, Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Richard Chew; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, William J. Cassidy; produced by Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch; released by the Geffen Company.

Starring Tom Cruise (Joel Goodsen), Rebecca De Mornay (Lana), Joe Pantoliano (Guido), Richard Masur (Rutherford), Bronson Pinchot (Barry), Curtis Armstrong (Miles), Nicholas Pryor (Joel’s Father), Janet Carroll (Joel’s Mother), Shera Danese (Vicki), Raphael Sbarge (Glenn) and Bruce A. Young (Jackie).


The Squeeze (1987, Roger Young)

I was wondering why, for such a cheap-ish movie, The Squeeze looks so good. Its budget almost doubled, allowing for some really expensive looking sequences on an aircraft carrier, a decent amount of New York photography and… I don’t know, something else. It also almost starred Jenny Wright in the Rae Dawn Chong part, which would have been an improvement of sorts (Mrs. Potato Head would have given a more animate performance than Chong) but not enough of one to make the movie work.

Some of The Squeeze, the parts centering around Chong, seem to be an attempt at a 1940s detective comedy updated to modernity. The parts with Michael Keaton (who’s either an artist or an inventor, it’s never clear) make absolutely no sense. His character makes no sense and seems dropped into the movie, rather than the movie being the story of his life’s most interesting four days. It’s too bad the beginning with Keaton opens well, as he rambles on about “Bonanza,” I thought The Squeeze might be some weird forerunner to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino.

Alas, it is not.

Chong’s performance is so awful, it’d take a line-by-line analysis to appropriately discuss it. Keaton’s okay. He’s best in the first act, when the movie could conceivably go anywhere and at the end, when the conclusion inadvertently shows how the movie could have worked. As Keaton’s friend, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy, but not in it enough. Meat Loaf plays a thug with a sweating problem. It’s a big joke throughout and is maybe the best metaphor for the film’s failure.

On the other hand, Richard Portnow plays a (seemingly) gay Puerto Rican club owner and is great.

As soon as The Squeeze went bad, I had to debate whether or not to finish it. There was nothing compelling me to finish it, so I had to decide if it would be a complete waste of my time….

The big conclusion on the aircraft carrier is kind of neat and the movie, in the third act, all of a sudden decides its going to offer commentary on modern American values… and I guess the close is kind of funny.

But it certainly didn’t live up to the “Bonanza” conversation of the beginning.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Young; written by Daniel Taplitz; director of photography, Arthur Albert; edited by Harry Keramidas; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Simon Waters; produced by Rupert Hitzig and Michael Tannen; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Harry Berg), Rae Dawn Chong (Rachel Dobs), Joe Pantoliano (Norman), Meat Loaf (Titus), John Davidson (Tom T. Murray), Ronald Guttman (Rigaud), Leslie Bevis (Gem Vigo), George Gerdes (Joe) and Richard Portnow (Ruben).


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