John Landis

Innocent Blood (1992, John Landis)

At some point during Innocent Blood–I think it was the lengthy sequence with recently resurrected Robert Loggia wrecking havoc at attorney Don Rickles's house–I realized it was hilarious. The movie moves so fast, director Landis never lets up long enough for a laugh. There's one other really good pause spot a few minutes earlier involving Loggia escaping the morgue, but for the most part, too much is going on.

There are multiple achievements to the film. Michael Wolk's script is a strange mix of serious vampire film (undead and lonely Anne Parillaud is frequently shown to loathe her life), police versus Mafia drama (Loggia's a terrifying mob boss), tender romance (between Parillaud and undercover cop Anthony LaPaglia) and spoof of the first two. Landis never spoofs the romance. The great Ira Newborn score aids in transitioning between the genres.

Landis directs the film perfectly; he has these little stylistic devices to control the viewer's experience of scenes. The script's really big–Wolk structures it like a thirties slapstick comedy, with Parillaud and LaPaglia always racing around while the fantastic supporting cast moves things along in their absence.

Parillaud and LaPaglia have the most difficult roles. Parillaud gets to narrate some of the film, but all the depth to the character is subtly addressed. Wolk's script decidedly does not give her easy monologues to define herself. And LaPaglia has to establish himself over a long period of the film. It's three-quarters through before he's done.

Innocent Blood is a phenomenal motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Michael Wolk; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Iran Newborn; production designer, Richard Sawyer; produced by Lee Rich and Leslie Belzberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Anne Parillaud (Marie), Robert Loggia (Sal “The Shark” Macelli), Anthony LaPaglia (Joe Gennaro), David Proval (Lenny), Chazz Palminteri (Tony), Luis Guzmán (Morales), Elaine Kagan (Frannie Bergman), Rocco Sisto (Gilly), Leo Burmester (Dave Flinton), Kim Coates (Ray), Tony Lip (Frank), Angela Bassett (U.S. Attorney Sinclair), Frank Oz (Pathologist), Tony Sirico (Jacko), Marshall Bell (Marsh) and Don Rickles (Emmanuel Bergman).


Into the Night (1985, John Landis)

Into the Night is so strong, even Landis’s bad directorial impulses can’t hurt it. One impulse, casting a bunch of directors (including himself) in roles, only fails in the case of Paul Mazursky. Mazursky has a reasonably sized supporting role and he gives a terrible performance.

The other bad impulse is casting as well. Dan Aykroyd shows up in a small role as Jeff Goldblum’s friend. Aykroyd plays it absurdist, like an “SNL” sketch; it would work if the movie were absurdist, but it’s really not. In fact, it’s straightforward, if stylized.

The only other thing wrong with the film is Ira Newborn’s awful score. No idea if he’s a Landis regular.

Besides Ron Koslow’s deceptively brilliant script, the two lead performances are outstanding. Goldblum’s regular guy insomniac is fantastic. He’s so good, it’s hard to believe Michelle Pfeiffer is even better as the sort of mystery woman who takes over his life. Koslow never gives pay-off scenes showing how Goldblum’s life has changed because of the encounter because there’s just no time for it. A pay-off scene would break the realism of the timeline Koslow and Landis create. Into the Night’s not real time and doesn’t attempt it.

Pfeiffer has moments of startling depth and captivates. Since he’s floundering without a specific ailment, Goldblum doesn’t get those opportunities.

Bruce McGill, David Bowie, Irene Papas and Clu Gulager are outstanding in supporting roles.

Landis’s direction is so strong I can’t believe he directed it.

Into the Night’s wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Ron Koslow; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by George Fosley Jr. and Koslow; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Ed Okin), Michelle Pfeiffer (Diana), Dan Aykroyd (Herb), Bruce McGill (Charlie), David Bowie (Colin Morris), Richard Farnsworth (Jack Caper), Vera Miles (Joan Caper), Irene Papas (Shaheen Parvici), Kathryn Harrold (Christie), Stacey Pickren (Ellen Okin) and Clu Gulager (Federal Agent).


An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

There’s a lot of good stuff about An American Werewolf in London–for example, Landis doesn’t have a single joke fall flat–but something about it just doesn’t work.

Something Landis doesn’t do, as a director. I can’t quite put a label on it, since he does so many things well. Like the English setting.

With Robert Paynter’s photography, even when the English are acting stereotypically unfunny, it seems perfectly real. During these sequences, in the second half of the film, it also feels like Landis is doing a deliberate, thoughtful look at someone becoming a werewolf.

Only, he’s really not, because David Naughton’s wolf man is barely a character. Landis just thinks of good scenes and executes them mediocrely.

Maybe if Malcolm Campbell’s editing weren’t so disjointed and awful, Landis could get away with it better. The editing is rather awful–so bad I would forgive all the stupid dream sequences, if only they’d been well cut.

Without the dreams, Landis might have had time to create a real character for Naughton. He sort of coasts through the film, assuming he’s charming enough for it to work.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly John Woodvine and Brian Glover. Jenny Agutter is fine. Griffin Dunne is occasionally awful, usually due to script problems, but mostly good.

The special effects are similarly problematic. The transformation is neat and amazing, but the actual design for the werewolf is a complete yawn.

The film has a lot of potential… too bad most of it is unrealized.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Landis; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; produced by George Folsey Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Naughton (David Kessler), Jenny Agutter (Nurse Alex Price), Griffin Dunne (Jack Goodman), John Woodvine (Dr. J.S. Hirsch), Lila Kaye (Barmaid), Joe Belcher (Truck Driver), David Schofield (Dart Player) and Brian Glover (Chess Player).


Spies Like Us (1985, John Landis)

Spies Like Us ought to be better. The problem is the length. Well, the main problem is the length. Donna Dixon having a big role is another problem.

The movie’s just too short. At 100 minutes, it actually should be just the right length, but there’s a lot Landis skirts over because he doesn’t have enough time.

Unfortunately, a lot of the abbrievated sequences could have laughs–the film’s front-heavy when it comes to laughs. The last act is still amusing, but it doesn’t have anything like the funnier moments from the rest of the film.

The plotting just doesn’t work–the screenwriters are never able to make Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd funny when they get to the Soviet Union. One problem is Dixon–she’s an unfunny third wheel–but they’re also isolated in the wilderness. Not a lot of material around.

The film has some hilarious scenes–Chase disastrously cheating for a test is great and he’s fine as a slacker moron who lucks his way into things. But in the second half, the film plays up his stupidity while establishing Aykroyd is smarter as a fake spy than many real ones. Landis never concentrates on that situation, but it’s obvious.

There’s a lot of good acting. Unfortunately, Bernie Casey isn’t as good as I expected. But Bruce Davison is great as a slimy bureaucrat.

Landis’s direction is solid if unspectacular. The film’s always racing to something, so he never gets to rest.

Decent Elmer Bernstein score too.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on a story by Aykroyd and Dave Thomas; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designers, Terry Ackland-Snow and Peter Murton; produced by George Folsey Jr. and Brian Grazer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Emmett Fitz-Hume), Dan Aykroyd (Austin Millbarge), Steve Forrest (General Sline), Donna Dixon (Karen Boyer), Bruce Davison (Ruby), Bernie Casey (Colonel Rhumbus), William Prince (Keyes) and Tom Hatten (General Miegs).


Clue (1985, Jonathan Lynn)

I didn’t see Clue in the theater, so I haven’t got a… I have no idea how it played without the multiple endings. While it’s a cute idea–a different ending depending on where you see the film, all of them together on home video release–it gets tedious, especially through the second solution (though I think the second is the shortest).

Still, even tedious, Clue‘s a rather significant success. It’s based on a board game without a backstory, meaning Lynn has to come up with a way to get the people together and tie in the board game.

While Tim Curry is the closest thing the film has to a lead (he’s got solo scenes), his character’s a little loose and Curry can’t even remotely essay the dramatic moments. Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Lesley Ann Warren give the best performances. The only bad performance is Lee Ving, who–according to the IMDb trivia page may have been cast based on his name–quite simply, cannot act. He brings down the scenes he’s in, even when tasked with sitting in a chair.

Lynn’s direction of the actors is quite good–though he could open up his establishing shots a little–and he juggles emphasizing them while not ignoring the exquisite set design. Lovely mattes too.

In some ways, Clue‘s less about the board game than the mansion murder mystery genre, using the game’s trappings as a launching point.

Confine well-acted eccentric characters and it’s hard not to succeed.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Lynn; screenplay by Lynn, based on a story by John Landis and Lynn and a board game created by Anthony E. Pratt; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by David Bretherton and Richard Haines; music by John Morris; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Debra Hill; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Peacock), Tim Curry (Wadsworth), Madeline Kahn (Mrs. White), Christopher Lloyd (Professor Plum), Michael McKean (Mr. Green), Martin Mull (Colonel Mustard), Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet), Colleen Camp (Yvette), Lee Ving (Mr. Boddy), Bill Henderson (The Cop), Jane Wiedlin (The Singing Telegram Girl), Jeffrey Kramer (The Motorist) and Kellye Nakahara (The Cook).


The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984, Frank Oz)

There’s something–well, actually a lot–missing from The Muppets Take Manhattan, but when I started the sentence, I was going to write “good songs.” None of the songs are terrible, but when the best song in the movie is the one to advertise the then upcoming “Muppet Babies” series… okay, I’m being a little mean… the “Somebody’s Getting Married” song sequence is really nice. But the rest of the songs are just there. Well, maybe not… I am remembering another good sequence, but the problem is the film is better remembered, than actually engaged, because the story’s so slight, it brings the movie down. But the rest of the songs–those aren’t very good, with the two exceptions and then the “Muppet Babies,” which is cuter than it is good.

Like the other movies, Manhattan uses celebrities in cameos, occasionally to good effect (Dabney Coleman and Gregory Hines), but the cameos are usually throwaways–bits to give the opportunity for Elliott Gould, for example, to show up–instead of actual story content. There isn’t really any story content in Manhattan, because it takes forever to decide what the movie’s crisis is going to be… until the last half hour even. Before that point, it’s all build-up–through possible crises (the Muppets breaking up, Miss Piggy getting jealous)–and the build-up is really boring. The mid-section makes the interesting choice of getting rid of the all the Muppets except Kermit, Piggy in a reduced role, and Rizzo the Rat. I’m not sure if they were grooming Rizzo or something… it sure seems like it, but I think it’s instead just another indicator of The Muppets Take Manhattan’s damning problem–Frank Oz.

As a director, Oz does a mediocre job. He creates a handful of charming scenes, but none of them are particularly special. As a screenwriter, along with a couple other jokers, he breaks the Muppets up and only uses, for the majority of the film, them in vignettes. These vignettes are the best part of the movie, because it’s the Muppets doing what the Muppets do… which should be, I don’t know, the movie… right?

The movie relies a lot on the human cast, particularly Juliana Donald as the object of Miss Piggy’s jealousy–while Donald is fine, she treats the role like a guest spot on the show rather than a person interacting. The other supporting cast are fine too, but their roles are even less import.

The New York locations and setting provides for a lot fewer good scenes than it should; besides a large, amusing Central Park sequence, most of the film takes place indoors. The opening titles suggest a big city adventure–as well as the Muppets, not a reduced cast of Muppets, having that adventure–and Oz delivers a movie centered around a coffee shop.

There’s no grandeur to the movie, nothing exciting overall, and it’s a pleasant disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Oz; screenplay by Oz, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, from a story by Patchett and Tarses; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by Ralph Burns; produced by David Lazar; released by Tri-Star Pictures

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson as the Muppets.

Starring Juliana Donald (Jenny), Lonny Price (Ronnie), Louis Zorich (Pete), Art Carney (Bernard Crawford), Dabney Coleman (Martin Price), Gregory Hines (Roller skater), Linda Lavin (Kermit’s doctor), Joan Rivers (Perfume saleswoman), Elliott Gould (Cop in Pete’s), Frances Bergen (Winesop’s receptionist), John Landis (Winesop) and Edward I. Koch (The Honorable Edward I. Koch).


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