Kevin Pollak

Indian Summer (1993, Mike Binder)

Indian Summer is genial and life-affirming. Writer-director Binder imbues it with an optimism and positivity–as long as you have the right support system, anything is possible. Given the film’s about a bunch of thirtysomethings who return to their childhood summer camp to find themselves, it’s a little weird Binder gives the best character arc to Kimberly Williams-Paisley. She’s the twenty-one year-old fiancée to the most obnoxious thirtysomethings (Matt Craven). Her arc, forecasted nowhere, propels the film into its third act, full of possibility. Shame Binder doesn’t do much with the momentum.

Diane Lane and Julie Warner get the biggest story arcs. Lane’s a recent widow–her husband was also a camper, because summer camp apparently decided everyone white’s life in the early seventies–and she needs to mourn. She’s got good friend Elizabeth Perkins there to support her, which she really needs when her husband’s childhood best friend returns a bit of a hunk (Bill Paxton). Meanwhile, Warner is married to Vincent Spano (who used to get busy with Perkins when they were in camp) and the marriage is rocky. Maybe because Spano wants to quit his business with cousin Kevin Pollak (also a camper), but can’t figure out how to tell him. So apparently Spano takes it out on Warner. Binder’s script isn’t great at scenes of angst and it’s downright terrified of getting too close to its characters.

They might be unlikable then and it’s such a pretty, pleasant cast (everyone has great, brown hair), who would want them to be unlikable? Except maybe Craven, who’s cut off from everyone else, hence having to bring Williams-Paisley along. Paxton’s arc is more with camp owner Alan Arkin, who has invited his favorite campers from over the years back for a week. Oddly, they’re all from the same year. Coincidences abound in Indian Summer.

Arkin’s really solid when he’s lead. Binder never really gets into how the campers coexist with him–they’re back to hang out with each other, leaving Arkin to mostly pal around with handyman Sam Raimi (who’s in this mystifyingly great slapstick part)–and it’s a missed opportunity. Especially since, unless you’ve got someone to kiss, Binder leaves you behind. Perkins and Pollak end up with almost nothing to do by the end, Perkins with even less. But Indian Summer’s got to be genial and life-affirming, it’s got to live up to the beautiful Newton Thomas Sigel photography, which turns the summer camp–in the late summer sun–into a golden Great Lakes paradise.

Still, it’s not like Indian Summer is always lazy. Binder does go somewhere with the Paxton and Arkin thing, he does go somewhere with Williams-Paisley. He’s just not willing to hinge the whole thing on being too thoughtful. There needs to be cheap payoff, albeit beautifully lighted cheap payoff. Until that payoff, however, Binder’s really just letting the actors develop their characters. The second act is pretty loose–there are set pieces, usually involving pot or pranks, but Binder’s in no rush. The present action changes pace fluidly in the tranquil setting, with its amiable cast and their not too serious, but sort of, grown-up problems.

So the performances matter a lot. Arkin’s always good, but he doesn’t get anywhere near enough to do. Binder’s just as set in an age group–the thirtysomethings–as if he were making a movie about teenagers at camp and barely had the counselors in it. Pollak and Perkins are great. They get to be great, because Binder doesn’t need them for anything structural. Lane and Paxton are fine. Lane should have more to do than Paxton but doesn’t. Warner’s good. She overshadows Spano, who tries to imply depth instead of convey it. Craven’s the weakest performance and he’s still perfectly solid. He provides a great springboard for Williams-Paisley to take off from.

And Raimi’s awesome.

Nice editing from Adam Weiss, okay if a little much music from Miles Goodman. Binder’s direction is good–he showcases that beautifully lighted scenery and moves his actors around in it well. Indian Summer is never trite, which is an accomplishment on its own, but Binder is way too safe with it. He denies Lane and Paxton a better story in particular. He writes caricatures then has his actors create people, so it’s a particular kind of disappointing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Binder; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Adam Weiss; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Jim Kouf, Lynn Kouf, Robert F. Newmyer, and Jeffrey Silver; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Unca Lou Handler), Diane Lane (Beth Warden), Bill Paxton (Jack Belston), Julie Warner (Kelly Berman), Vincent Spano (Matthew Berman), Elizabeth Perkins (Jennifer Morton), Kevin Pollak (Brad Berman), Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Gwen Daugherty), Matt Craven (Jamie Ross), and Sam Raimi (Stick Coder).

This post is part of the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by Chris of Blog of the Darned.


Willow (1988, Ron Howard)

I wonder if Willow’s lack of popularity has anything to do with the protagonist not fitting the regular sci-fi and fantasy and magic standard. Not because Warwick Davis is a dwarf, but because his character is so non-traditional. He’s not an idealistic youth, or a hidden prince… he’s a farmer with a wife, two kids and money problems. He’s some normal guy. It (along with the physical characteristics) block some of the idealizing.

Unrelated, Willow’s not very good. There’s a lot of blame to go around and, if the film weren’t from George Lucas’s conception, the responsibility would fall on screenwriter Bob Dolman. The dialogue is bad and he doesn’t have many good characters (only three, in fact). He doesn’t have any good villains—actually, they’re all quiet bad—and the action is poorly spread out. The biggest action sequence comes before the finale.

However, it’s a Lucas production (and he’s credited with the story), so I imagine many of those problems are Lucas’s fault.

But director Ron Howard isn’t without reproach. His composition is okay, but his direction of actors is terrible. He’s lucky to have Val Kilmer (in the Han Solo part) because Kilmer’s at least able to have fun without direction. Joanne Whalley is good (before she disappears) and Jean Marsh is an effective villain. But the acting’s otherwise mediocre or lame.

Another problem is the special effects. They’re too ambitious for composite shots, even with masterful stop motion.

Still, Willow’s not an abject failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Bob Dolman, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill and Richard Hiscott; music by James Horner; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Nigel Wooll; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Warwick Davis (Willow Ufgood), Val Kilmer (Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (Sorsha), Jean Marsh (Queen Bavmorda), Patricia Hayes (Fin Raziel), Billy Barty (High Aldwin), Pat Roach (Gen. Kael), Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk Thaughbaer), Kevin Pollak (Rool), Rick Overton (Franjean), David Steinberg (Meegosh), Mark Northover (Burglekutt), Phil Fondacaro (Vohnkar) and Julie Peters (Kiaya Ufgood).


The Usual Suspects (1995, Bryan Singer)

Seeing as how The Usual Suspects popularized the major twist ending–that contrivance having now plagued American cinema for the last dozen years–it’s interesting to see it again. I haven’t seen the film in years (probably ten, at least nine), but I remember the last time I watched it, I thought about what was true and what probably wasn’t. Most twist ending (or late revelation and eureka moment endings)–it’s stunning how Shyamalan stole his standard part and parcel from Singer’s approach here–have clues, easter eggs, whatever. The Usual Suspects has a couple, but given the narrative’s layering, it’s impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t. So The Usual Suspects becomes the crash test dummy for whether a twist ending narrative can survive after countless viewings (well, not countless… I’m almost positive this viewing was my fourth).

And it can. At least, The Usual Suspects can.

There’s that beautiful combination of script and direction here, there’s Kevin Pollak’s jokes and Giancarlo Esposito’s hat. There’s the film’s roaming protagonist (Gabriel Bryne, Chazz Palminteri and Kevin Spacey all wear the hat). Singer’s composition is precise, each shot–in no small part due to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel–has a unpretentious gravitas. The Usual Suspects‘s greatest achievement is Singer’s direction. He makes the film interesting to watch no matter what the content may be, which is where the script becomes so important.

There are “clues” throughout the film as to the twist ending, but the clues are only for to spin the viewer’s wheels (there’s no truth in any of them), making the relationship between the film and the viewer analogous to the relationship between Spacey and Palminteri. Storyteller and listener. Taken on its own, The Usual Suspects would suggest the possibilities for films with twist endings, the freedoms they can have, their advantages over traditional narratives. Unfortunately, even with good films with twist endings, no one’s really had the same success (Singer certainly did not with his subsequent feature, Apt Pupil).

Christopher McQuarrie’s script, which is so lauded for putting in the clues, is far more successful in its successful use of narration on a modern film and dialogue. McQuarrie’s dialogue is at times both stylized and not, with the title softening the informed viewer to it. Actually, the thing about the title in relation to the film is Humphrey Bogart could have, at different points in his career, played every one of the five main characters.

The long-term effect of The Usual Suspects, besides kicking off the big twist ending (and the handling of the revelation) phenomenon, is the actors. While Stephen Baldwin never did anything good again (his fine performance here is nothing but a–willful–imitation of brother Alec) and Suspects is one of Gabriel Byrne’s finest hours in his hit and miss career, it did introduce popular audiences to Kevin Spacey and everyone to Benicio Del Toro. Spacey immediately took off while Del Toro had to make it through a some bad pictures. Spacey’s excellent, not yet even aware he’d someday have a best actor rote; his delivery of McQuarrie’s narration is what makes it work. He has the hardest job, because he has to sell the twist ending’s revelation throughout. He has to make it seem possible. Kevin Pollak turns in the second strongest performance (after Spacey).

The Usual Suspects is about to turn thirteen (a few days before I turn thirty) and, while I can lament how Singer went nowhere artistically (the possessive use of his credit in the titles is strangely spectacular), it’s not a film to be discounted or dismissed as fanboy fodder. There’s just too much cinematic substance.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Michael McDonnell and Singer; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Baldwin (McManus), Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton), Benicio Del Toro (Fenster), Kevin Pollak (Todd Hockney), Kevin Spacey (Verbal Kint), Chazz Palminteri (Dave Kujan, US Customs), Pete Postlethwaite (Kobayashi), Giancarlo Esposito (Jack Baer, FBI), Suzy Amis (Edie Finneran), Dan Hedaya (Sgt. Jeffrey Rabin), Paul Bartel (the smuggler) and Peter Greene (Redfoot).


Hostage (2005, Florent Emilio Siri)

Hostage, towards the end, plays a little like a Die Hard movie, which isn’t surprising, since Doug Richardson did write it (he also wrote Die Hard 2) and Willis, who’s good in Hostage, is usually best in… well, Die Hard movies, actually. Like those films, Hostage lets him emote and he does a good job with it. When he’s doing the sly, wink-wink Bruce Willis, which he only does two or three times in Hostage, he’s irritating. But this film does contain one of his better recent performances.

I saw the film for director Siri and from that aspect, it was a little disappointing. There are some great shots, but Hostage‘s story constraints (hostage situation in a mountain house) don’t really allow for much. The scenes when the story’s away from the hostage situation, especially at the beginning, are much better. The house scenes are all nice and fine, but they aren’t interesting, much less dynamic.

The film attempts to complicate a hostage situation with a couple quirks–first, Willis is a burnt-out hostage negotiator turned small town police chief and second, the hostage is a mob accountant so the mob takes Willis’s family hostage. Obviously, the latter is going to affect the story a great deal, but Willis’s traumatic experience, shown in the opening, has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film, or even his character. He could have just given up on L.A. because the small town has good fishing and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The problem with the second situation–which makes it feel like that Die Hard sequel–is Serena Scott Thomas, who plays Willis’s wife. She’s so inept, it’s impossible to feel any empathy for her. The rest of the cast is fine. Ben Foster’s great as a psychopath, even if the role is a little undercooked, writing-wise. Of all the people in the film, he’s the one who gets the most to do and he takes advantage of that situation.

As far as mediocre, harmless Bruce Willis thrillers (that lost 1990s genre) go–Hostage is a fine return to form. Its greatest fault is when, scene-to-scene, there’s some potential and then the film doesn’t follow through. Usually, all that potential’s from Siri, but there are some really nice character relationships in the thing, and the finite story-time–maybe ten hours–don’t let them resolve. But, still, it’s harmless, even if the opening credits are an unbelievably stylized eyesore.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; written by Doug Richardson, based on the novel by Robert Crais; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Olivier Gajan and Richard J.P. Byard; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Larry Fulton; produced by Bruce Willis, Arnold Rifkin, Mark Gordon and Bob Yari; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Bruce Willis (Jeff Talley), Kevin Pollak (Walter Smith), Ben Foster (Mars Krupcheck), Michelle Horn (Jennifer Smith), Jimmy Bennett (Tommy Smith), Jonathan Tucker (Dennis Kelly), Marshall Allman (Kevin Kelly), Serena Scott Thomas (Jane Talley), Kim Coates (The Watchman) and Rumer Willis (Amanda Talley).


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