John Candy

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, John Hughes)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is probably most impressive technically. The narrative is problematic but not a bad narrative, it’s just a problematic one. Director Hughes can’t decide if he wants Planes to be a comedy with John Candy or a comedy about Candy. Candy’s able to be sympathetic while still being unbelievably annoying–his performance is the film’s finest–but Hughes doesn’t know how to use him. Planes is Steve Martin’s picture or it’s Martin and Candy’s, but it’s never just Candy’s. Though Hughes pretends otherwise.

As for the technical qualities. Donald Peterman’s photography and Paul Hirsch’s editing are sublime. Peterman and Hirsch turn Hughes’s often mediocre composition into beautiful visuals. Ira Newborn’s score, which has some ill-advised eighties remix, also creates these amazing moments more appropriate for a film in the Cinéma du look movement. They’re some of the most memorable scenes in Planes and are startling to see in an American buddy comedy.

The narrative’s also peculiar because Hughes puts the big blow-out between Martin and Candy early in the picture. The later minor ones are still funny, they just don’t resonate. The choice probably hampered Hughes’s narrative pacing, but it deepens Planes.

In the supporting cast, Edie McClurg is obviously the standout. Dylan Baker’s real funny too. As Martin’s wife (Hughes plays with juxtaposing the stories, then drops it), Laila Robins is perfect–though the filmmaking might have more to do with it than her acting.

Planes is a fine time; its singular scenes near transcendence.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by John Hughes; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John W. Corso; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Neal Page), John Candy (Del Griffith), Laila Robins (Susan Page), Michael McKean (State Trooper), Dylan Baker (Owen), Carol Bruce (Joy), Olivia Burnette (Marti), Diana Douglas (Peg), Martin Ferrero (Second Motel Clerk), Larry Hankin (Doobie), Richard Herd (Walt), Susan Kellermann (Waitress), Matthew Lawrence (Little Neal), Edie McClurg (Car Rental Agent), George Petrie (Martin), Gary Riley (Motel Thief), Charles Tyner (Gus) and Kevin Bacon (Taxi Racer).


The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis)

I wonder if Cab Calloway got upset he only got half a music video in The Blues Brothers while Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin both got full ones. While these interludes are completely out of place and break up the “flow” of the film, they’re at least somewhat competent. One can see what director Landis is doing. When he’s doing one of his big demolition sequences, it’s unclear. There’s never any realism, so one’s apparently just supposed to rejoice in the illusion of property damage.

The film opens with a lovely aerial sequence moving through the Chicago morning. For the first third of Brothers, Landis and his cinematographer Stephen M. Katz do wonderful work. The rest isn’t bad so much as pointless–the movie gets so stupid there’s nothing good to shoot.

The problem’s the script. Landis and Dan Aykroyd write terrible expository conversations, which Aykroyd and John Belushi can barely deliver without laughing (it’s good someone had a nice time, I suppose). But their costars? Charles and Franklin’s cameos are painful as neither can act. Of course, Landis can’t even direct Carrie Fisher into a good performance so it’s hard to blame any of the actors.

There are a handful of good performances–Calloway’s okay, Charlies Napier and Steven Williams both do well, as do Henry Gibson and John Candy.

Kathleen Freeman is awful.

As for the band… Alan Rubin is good. Murphy Dunne is awful. The rest fail to make an impression.

Brothers is tedious, pointless and inane.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Dan Aykroyd and Landis; director of photography, Stephen M. Katz; edited by George Fosley Jr.; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Belushi (‘Joliet’ Jake Blues), Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues), James Brown (Reverend Cleophus James), Cab Calloway (Curtis), Ray Charles (Ray), Aretha Franklin (Mrs. Murphy), Steve Cropper (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper), Donald Dunn (Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn), Murphy Dunne (Murphy ‘Murph’ Dunne), Willie Hall (Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall), Tom Malone (Tom ‘Bones’ Malone), Lou Marini (‘Blue Lou’ Marini), Matt Murphy (Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy), Alan Rubin (Alan ‘Mr. Fabulous’ Rubin), Carrie Fisher (Mystery Woman), Henry Gibson (Head Nazi), John Candy (Burton Mercer), Kathleen Freeman (Sister Mary Stigmata), Steve Lawrence (Maury Sline), Twiggy (Chic Lady), Frank Oz (Corrections Officer), Jeff Morris (Bob), Charles Napier (Tucker McElroy), Steven Williams (Trooper Mount) and Armand Cerami (Trooper Daniel).


Splash (1984, Ron Howard)

Splash has a strange narrative structure. The front’s heavy, likely because the filmmakers make a real effort to establish Tom Hanks as a listless young (well, youngish) man. Of course, Hanks is a listless man with an apparently great job as a produce whole seller, an amazing Manhattan apartment and limitless funds. Then the end’s light, which is probably because Atlantis wasn’t in Splash‘s budget.

Strong writing from Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman–not to mention great direction from Howard and a mostly outstanding performance from Hanks–makes the first act sail through. Some of it’s so good, it takes Splash a while to recover from not pursuing those story threads.

The film’s often a slapstick comedy, especially when it follows Eugene Levy around. He’s in pursuit of Daryl Hannah, who’s the mermaid Hanks is unknowingly dating. Well, he knows he’s dating her but not the other bit.

Hannah’s got the most important role in the film. She doesn’t just have to be the ideal combination of sexy and sweet, she’s also got to be able to pull off being a genius. Apparently mermaids are all geniuses. Mer-people. It’s never explained; Howard and company offer just enough to make it passable without raising too many questions.

Levy’s okay–his role in the script is the weakest–but John Candy’s supporting turn more than makes up for him.

Howard expertly handles the film’s various tones, with excellent photography from Donald Peterman.

Lee Holdridge’s score is nice too.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman, based on a screen story by Friedman and a story by Brian Grazer; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Grazer; released by Touchstone Films.

Starring Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer), Daryl Hannah (Madison), Eugene Levy (Walter Kornbluth), John Candy (Freddie Bauer), Dody Goodman (Mrs. Stimler), Shecky Greene (Mr. Buyrite), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ross), Bobby Di Cicco (Jerry), Howard Morris (Dr. Zidell), Tony DiBenedetto (Tim, The Doorman), Patrick Cronin (Michaelson), Charles Walker (Michaelson’s Partner), David Knell (Claude), Jeff Doucette (Junior), Royce D. Applegate (Buckwalter), Tony Longo (Augie), Nora Denney (Ms. Stein), Charles Macaulay (The President), Ronald F. Hoiseck (Dr. Johannsen), Lou Tiano (Bartender), Joe Grifasi (Manny) and Rance Howard (McCullough).


Once Upon a Crime (1992, Eugene Levy)

To sum up Levy’s direction, although Once Upon a Crime filmed entirely on location in Europe, the whole thing feels vaguely Canadian. Or, to put it another way, it’s hard to believe anyone footed Jim Belushi’s airfare to Monte Carlo to film this one.

But Levy’s only a mediocre director, the casting is the real problem. Belushi’s awful and so is Richard Lewis. The joke of the screenplay is the men are always weaker than their women, whether it’s Belushi and Cybill Shepherd (who’s okay), Lewis and Sean Young (who’s good), John Candy and Ornella Muti (more on them in a bit), or even the butler and maid (Geoffrey Andrews and Ann Way). The only subtle part in the film is this repeated power dynamic.

Maybe Levy missed it. He was too busy letting Belushi fail at acting a moron. Now, the script isn’t genius dialogue by any means, but it’s not terrible. Lewis is doing his stand-up (he’s even in his trench coat) and it doesn’t work. But Belushi simply can’t act. In the scenes opposite Candy, when Levy’s going for something out of a screwball comedy, it’s a perfect example of Candy’s ability and Belushi’s lack of it. Candy makes it work, all of it. Belushi drags every scene.

Muti’s good as Candy’s suffering wife; their scenes together are a highpoint.

The best performance is Giancarlo Giannini as the police inspector investigating the surprisingly engaging mystery.

Once Upon a Crime is a bad film, but not entirely.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Eugene Levy; screenplay by Charles Shyer, Nancy Meyers and Steve Kluger, based on an earlier screenplay by Rodolfo Sonego, Giorgio Arlorio, Stefano Strucchi and Luciano Vincenzoni and a story by Sonego; director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno; edited by Patrick Kennedy; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Pier Luigi Basile; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring John Candy (Augie Morosco), James Belushi (Neil Schwary), Cybill Shepherd (Marilyn Schwary), Sean Young (Phoebe), Richard Lewis (Julian Peters), Ornella Muti (Elena Morosco), Giancarlo Giannini (Inspector Bonnard), George Hamilton (Alfonso de la Pena), Roberto Sbaratto (Detective Toussaint), Joss Ackland (Hercules Popodopoulos), Ann Way (Housekeeper) and Geoffrey Andrews (Butler).


Spaceballs (1987, Mel Brooks)

It’s kind of amazing how much of Spaceballs is actually funny–pretty much everything with Rick Moranis and Mel Brooks as the Spaceballs president–given how everything with Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga falls flat. It doesn’t even fall… it’s a zero degree plane. Some of it has to do with the writing of that portion–Brooks and his co-writers aren’t particularly interested in the good guys because they aren’t funny (the jokes are cheap and substandard and Brooks tries to give it a narrative–and romantic tension–instead of playing against narrative for laughs, like the Moranis parts). But it’s not all poor writing–Pullman’s terrible and Zuniga’s worse, giving one of the abysmal performances in a Hollywood studio film from the 1980s.

There aren’t any good performances on the good guy side–John Candy’s probably the best, if only by comparison (he’s not good by any means and his character is unfunny) and Joan Rivers’s vocal work as the robot is obnoxious. It doesn’t help it’s obvious the robot is frequently a dummy. Brooks as the Yoda stand-in isn’t funny and the only amusing parts of his sequence (besides the Wizard of Oz reference, which is good) is trying to place the actors playing the Dinks (the Jawas). The less said about Dick Van Patten, the better.

The bad guys are all great, from Brooks as the dumb president (though it’s hard not to think he’s doing a Harvey Korman impression), George Wyner and then there’s Moranis. Moranis does something real strange in the movie, especially given the Pullman, Zuniga and Candy sequences. He acts and he acts very well.

The rest–the jokes about marketing–is hit and miss, but the real problem is Brooks tries to tie a narrative to the movie instead of just playing for laughs. It makes Spaceballs rely on Pullman and Zuniga, so it really can’t do anything but fail.

And… I really do think George Lucas ripped off the good planet’s costume designs for Episode I.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Mel Brooks; written by Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham; director of photography, Nick McLean; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by John Morris; production designed by Terence Marsh; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Mel Brooks (President Skroob / Yoghurt), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa), John Candy (Barf), George Wyner (Colonel Sandurz), Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix, Dick Van Patten (King Roland) and Michael Winslow (Radar Technician).


The Silent Partner (1978, Daryl Duke)

The Silent Partner starts a little bit better than it turns out in the end, from a filmmaking standpoint. The sound design is so phenomenal in the build-up, I actually made note of it. I usually don’t make notes unless it’s something terrible and I want to make sure to bring it up. I fully expected to keep making that sort of note during the film, but I didn’t. I’m not sure, had Silent Partner kept that meticulous approach, if it would be a better movie, but I would have had a lot more notes.

It’s a weird film for a few reasons. Most visibly because it’s a Canadian film with an American screenwriter (Curtis Hanson), an American lead (Elliott Gould), an English romantic interest (Susannah York), but Canadian bad guys, Christopher Plummer and Céline Lomez. There’s an odd feel to the film, which is nice, especially since Gould’s an exceptionally strange protagonist. Most of the characters are established as being lousy people. Plummer’s bad guy is a complete psychopath, shown with a pervasive violence throughout–and he needs to be, just because Gould’s not exactly sympathetic. Sure, York makes fun of him and his boss is a complete worm, but there’s very little redeeming about Gould. But he’s human and he appeals to the viewer on that level. The Silent Partner very quickly (and masterfully, in that fantastic opening) makes the viewer complicit in, essentially, being a criminal. It does a great job of it, but then the film gradually changes.

Halfway through, Hanson’s script fast forwards a couple weeks or a month, something indeterminate but not too long. It pulls off the transition well and gives the film a fresh start, even bringing in Lomez as the deceptive, but still appealing, second romantic interest. This reset button’s particularly interesting because the film–after spending ten minutes setting up the new situation–returns to the existing conflict with York. In the second half of the film, York really becomes essential–mirroring Lomez’s importance too. Hanson’s script presents all of its principle characters as unhappy people who desperately need a drastic change, investing the viewer with concern–not so much for Gould, because he’s so abrasive–but for the female characters.

Gould’s good in the film, steady and sure, but maybe a little uncomfortable playing such an impenetrable character. He has a couple scenes displaying great weakness and without them, the film wouldn’t work. As his nemesis, Christopher Plummer’s terrifying. The way the film sets him up, wearing some black mesh wifebeater, he just oozes violent creepiness. Again, if he weren’t so dangerous–and there is something about Captain Von Trapp being a sadistic monster–the viewer might not feel for Gould.

I saw The Silent Partner for the first time about ten years ago and it’s finally come out on DVD, a decent release from Lionsgate (of all people). I have the feeling it’ll be even better the next time I see it. There’s something really great about York’s performance and I don’t think I appreciated it enough this time through.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Daryl Duke; screenplay by Curtis Hanson, based on a novel by Anders Bodelson; director of photography, Billy Williams; edited by George Appleby; music by Oscar Peterson; production designer, Trevor Williams; produced by Joel B. Michaels and Stephen Young; released by EMC Film Corporation.

Starring Elliott Gould (Miles Culien), Susannah York (Julie Carver), Christopher Plummer (Harry Reikle), Céline Lomez (Elaine), Michael Kirby (Packard), Ken Pogue (Detective), John Candy (Simonson), Gell Dehms (Louise), Michael Donaghue (Berg), Jack Duffy (Fogelman) and Nancy Simmonds (Girl in sauna).


Volunteers (1985, Nicholas Meyer)

The oddest part of Volunteers is the opening credits. I queued it because I’ve been reading Ken Levine’s blog (he’s one of the screenwriters) and he did a whole write-up on it a while ago. I suppose I knew, but had forgotten, Nicholas Meyer directed the film. Volunteers is his follow-up to Star Trek II, which would have been considered a success for him. He even brought James Horner along from Star Trek to score Volunteers. James Horner should not score comedies (though he does use some of his other material, I think from Star Trek and Aliens, in the film).

Since Meyer brings nothing to the film, all the responsibility falls on Tom Hanks, who does the whole film with an exaggerated New England accent. He manages to keep the accent for the whole film too. The film takes place in 1962, just after Kennedy started the Peace Corps–I missed that detail somehow, I just thought they were showing the old film clips over the titles to be historical–and I’m wondering if my misunderstanding affected the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes are mildly amusing. Tom Hanks is acting like a prick, which he’s very good at doing, but nothing really made me laugh. Then, once he gets to Thailand–maybe just on the Peace Corps plane–Volunteers starts getting funny. It might have more to do with John Candy. Candy is good in Volunteers, better than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. Still, he’s not the best supporting cast member–Gedde Watanabe is great.

Since I saw the film for Levine, I suppose I do have to say something about the writing. It’s good and funny. There are quite a few laugh out-loud moments in Volunteers–most of Watanabe’s lines for a forty minute period are real funny–and the film’s never predictable in the story progressions, with the regular exception of the romance between Hanks and Rita Wilson. The film’s become a footnote in Hanks’ biography for that reason. She’s not good, but it hardly matters, the film isn’t interested in her character. The funny stuff is going on elsewhere.

Even with the traditional romance story-arc, Volunteers ends on an unexpected note, managing to stay truer to itself than expected. The film’s humor isn’t irreverent–Levine and co-writer David Isaacs are sitcom writers who write for good shows–but it is a referential humor. One would need to know, for example, about the CIA’s activities in East Asia, which might not have been too much to ask in 1985, but certainly is too much today. Hanks’ performance is also so unlike his regular performances (he only had a few years before he found his shtik) doesn’t help its accessibility either. Still, there’s no excuse for its bad reputation. It actually needed to be longer–Levine and Isaacs set up a few jokes they never finished and could have….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, from a story by Keith Critchlow; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Ronald Roose and Steven Polivka; produced by Richard Shepherd and Walter F. Parkes; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Lawrence Whatley Bourne III), John Candy (Tom Tuttle), Rita Wilson (Beth Wexler), Tim Thomerson (John Reynolds), Gedde Watanabe (At Toon), George Plimpton (Lawrence Bourne Jr.), Ernest Harada (Chung Mee), Allan Arbus (Albert Bardenaro) and Xander Berkeley (Kent Sutcliffe).


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