Kurtwood Smith

Oscar (1991, John Landis)

Excluding prologue and epilogue, Oscar has a present action of roughly four hours. The movie runs just shy of two hours. A lot happens with a lot of characters. And, while the film’s based on a play–which explains the limited setting–and even though it’s not like director Landis does anything spectacular except keep the trains running, it never feels stagy. Sometimes Landis’s composition is a little strange, but it’s never stagy. Oscar is always in motion. It never gets to take a break.

The story is extremely, intentionally convoluted. Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who’s going straight at noon; it’s a big day and he’s going to get a suit. We know he’s going to get a suit because the movie opens with flunky Peter Riegert reading off the morning schedule. It’s quickly executed, but it’s a good forecast. Even though Oscar never really looks good, Landis packages it fairly well. Bill Kenney’s production design is one of the big stars. Stallone’s got a mansion, people coming and going, the cops watching from across the street.

Oscar’s also a period piece, set in the early thirties, which presents some performance problems. Can’t forget to talk about those.

So Stallone’s got a big day and his accountant, a likable but somewhat thin Vincent Spano, shows up and throws a wrench in it. Turns out Spano is carrying on with Stallone’s daughter–Marisa Tomei in a great role. Except maybe it ends up Tomei likes Stallone’s elocution coach, Tim Curry. Curry and Tomei flirting ought to be weird, but it actually works out gloriously. There’s an adorable quality to Oscar, maybe because it’s a thirties gangster picture without any violence. Just positive vibes. Stallone is trying to go straight, after all.

There’s a whole lot more. The film isn’t real time but is consecutive enough characters’ presences define sections–like when Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero show up as Stallone’s goofy Italian tailors. And Curry isn’t in the picture near the start, more like halfway, yet Landis and screenwriters Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland make it feel like Oscar can’t get on without him. Same with how Chazz Palminteri’s part grows. Initially, Riegert has a lot more to do, but eventually Palminteri ends up as the audience’s stand-in. He’s been watching the events unfold and the convolutions are driving him nuts.

It’s a great performance from Palminteri. There are a lot of great performances. Riegert, Tomei, Curry, Ferrero. And a lot of solid ones–Ornella Muti (who has way too little to do), Shearer, Joycelyn O’Brien, Elizabeth Barondes. Oscar is cast pretty well and Landis seems to know what do with the actors. At least those in orbit around Stallone.

The ones not in orbit? Like Kurtwood Smith’s doofus police lieutenant, the bankers hesitant to partner with Stallone–including William Atherton and Mark Metcalf, or rival gangster Richard Romanus–well, Landis has no idea. He goes for broad “hokey” comedy and it doesn’t work. Especially not with Eddie Bracken’s stuttering informant. What should be a nice cameo from Bracken is instead cringeworthy.

And how does Stallone do playing the relative straight man to all the lunacy? He does all right. He lets the better performances overshadow his own, which is great. He gets some funny stuff, but he never gets to goof. The goofing in Oscar is great; Ferrero and Shearer, Reigert and Palminteri–some finely executed comedy. Stallone’s good with Muti, good with Tomei, good with Barondes. And he’s good in the scenes with Spano.

Except Spano’s pretty thin. Landis shoots these over-the-shoulder shots down onto Stallone (Spano’s about four inches taller) and it seems like there should be something to it and there’s not. Here’s Spano trying to intellectually strong-arm Stallone for almost two hours, while never getting too unlikable, and Landis hasn’t got any ideas on how to visually jazz it up. It doesn’t do Spano any favors.

Nice score from Elmer Bernstein; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s nice. Mac Ahlberg’s photography is a yawn, though it’s not like Landis tasked him with anything ambitious or difficult. That mansion set is phenomenal. Great costumes too.

Oscar is a little quirky and the third act stumbles in large part thanks to Smith’s performance and Landis’s handling of the finale, but it’s a fine comedy with some excellent performances and sequences throughout.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, based on the play by Claude Magnier; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Leslie Belzberg; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Snaps Provolone), Ornella Muti (Sofia Provolone), Marisa Tomei (Lisa Provolone), Vincent Spano (Anthony Rossano, C.P.A.), Tim Curry (Dr. Poole), Peter Riegert (Aldo), Chazz Palminteri (Connie), Elizabeth Barondes (Theresa), Joycelyn O’Brien (Nora), Martin Ferrero (Luigi Finucci), Harry Shearer (Guido Finucci), William Atherton (Overton), Mark Metcalf (Milhous), Ken Howard (Kirkwood), Sam Chew Jr. (Van Leland), Don Ameche (Father Clemente), Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant Toomey), Richard Romanus (Vendetti), Robert Lesser (Officer Keough), Art LaFleur (Officer Quinn), Linda Gray (Roxanne), Yvonne De Carlo (Aunt Rosa), and Eddie Bracken (Five Spot Charlie).


Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven), the director’s cut

There are a lot of acknowledged accomplishments to Robocop. Pretty much everyone identifies Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Bottin handled the startling makeup, Tippett did the awesome stop motion. Director Verhoeven gets a lot of credit–rightly so–and Basil Poledouris’s score is essential. Big scene or small, whenever Poledouris’s music kicks in, the film hits every note better.

One scene in particular is the Robocop in his old house sequence–which is just after Peter Weller starts to get the role as a character and not an automation; seeing Weller make that transition is amazing because he can’t do it with expressions, only pause.

That scene’s also fantastic for the unacknowledged Robocop accomplishment–Jost Vacano’s photography. He’s the one who makes the film feel real. Well, along with Verhoeven and the writers distaste for the cool-looking future they create. The writers are able to get in some great observations, but they never let the future get too real. It focuses the story’s attention unexpectedly well.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s perfectly acted. Easy examples are Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, but everyone’s great. Nancy Allen is the perfect sidekick for Weller. Given how fast their characters get established in the film, they have to work well together immediately and they do.

Verhoeven’s the real star–he, Weller and Bottin, actually. Without Bottin and Weller, Robocop wouldn’t seem real, but without Verhoeven the film wouldn’t work. His approach to the violence–and the quiet–are essential to Robocop’s success.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Arne Schmidt; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Officer Alex J. Murphy), Nancy Allen (Officer Anne Lewis), Dan O’Herlihy (The Old Man), Ronny Cox (Dick Jones), Kurtwood Smith (Clarence J. Boddicker), Miguel Ferrer (Bob Morton), Robert DoQui (Sergeant Warren Reed), Ray Wise (Leon C. Nash), Felton Perry (Johnson), Paul McCrane (Emil M. Antonowsky), Jesse D. Goins (Joe P. Cox), Del Zamora (Kaplan), Calvin Jung (Steve Minh), Rick Lieberman (Walker) and Lee de Broux (Sal).


Green Lantern: First Flight (2009, Lauren Montgomery)

There’s a certain amount of competence to the plotting in Green Lantern: First Flight. It’s too bad the filmmakers didn’t pay the same attention to the characters. The film basically lifts the plot structure from any number of established sources–Star Wars, The Matrix, a little Superman here and there–to tell this origin story about a superhero who isn’t so much a superhero as a intergalactic cop; why isn’t he a superhero? Well, superhero sort of suggests he isn’t doing things because it’s his job.

The story barely has any scenes on Earth, so a lot of time is wasted showcasing interesting looking–I think they’re supposed to be interesting looking, the animation isn’t particularly detailed oriented–aliens. The design owes a lot to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, those unexplained law of physics breaking architectural creations. There’s also a huge disregard for human–sorry–alien life and it feels immature, even before the silly ending, where screenwriter Burnett’s experience from writing “The Smurfs” must have come in handy.

There are also these strange CG-aided sequences, which are just idiotic. I’m guessing they included them to look cool or something, but it just draws attention to the difference in animation methods.

The voice acting is okay. Christopher Meloni lacks any personality as the lead, but the character isn’t written with any so it fits. Michael Madsen isn’t awful. John Larroquette and Kurtwood Smith are decent. Victor Garber, however, is a weak villain.

It’s a nearly acceptable seventy minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Alan Burnett, based on the DC Comics character created by John Broome and Gil Kane; edited by Rob Desales; music by Robert J. Kral; produced by Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Christopher Meloni (Hal Jordan), Victor Garber (Sinestro), Tricia Helfer (Boodikka), Michael Madsen (Kilowog), John Larroquette (Tomar Re), Kurtwood Smith (Kanjar Ro), Larry Drake (Ganthet), William Schallert (Appa Ali Apsa), Malachi Throne (Ranakar) and Olivia d’Abo (Carol Ferris).


True Believer (1989, Joseph Ruben)

True Believer is never quite anything it sets out for (story-wise)–it’s not the story of a lost man finding his way, it’s not a legal drama, it’s not the story of a young lawyer spurning riches for morals. Instead, it’s a courtroom movie with corruption, chase scenes through metal shops, a great Brad Fiedel score and some wonderful New York location shooting. It’s a Hollywood movie, but one with an energetic James Woods running the show and a (just) smart enough script. Wesley Strick almost seems to know he’s using genre standards, but it doesn’t matter, because he’s using them really effectively. However, it’s kind of impossible (Strick’s premeditation) because he couldn’t have known it’d be Woods or Joseph Ruben directing or Fiedel’s score and all three are essential. The score’s a funny thing to be essential, but Fiedel gives Woods’s civil rights lawyer turned drug defender (the first ten minutes play like the unseen “Practice” pilot) a hero’s theme. It’s like Superman or something and it’s a great choice, because Woods does great things playing a hero here.

Woods is not the whole show, however, which is kind of odd, given his presence. Woods is so good, almost nothing else (except Ruben and Fiedel and Strick’s mainstream competence) matter. The movie’s not short–running almost an hour and fifty–and it’s beautifully paced. There’s no pacing mistakes here, if anything, it occasionally gets too short. The big “mistake” is Robert Downey Jr.’s character, who’s in the film to introduce the audience to Woods and get him on the path of righteousness again. Besides some later discoveries and some important observations, Downey has almost nothing to do. He and Woods play well off each other, but he’s a cog in the script. Even worse, he’s new to town so he’s got no texture… the movie never even explains where he, unpaid, lives (especially since Woods’s lawyer lives in his office).

Downey is in the movie because he needs to be there, much like Margaret Colin’s detective. She’s there because Woods–as a defense attorney–needs a detective; he’s got a sidekick, a detective and a cop buddy who always lets him in the evidence room. Strick’s not reinventing the wheel here, just setting it up for–with a solid production–a good spin. The supporting cast is all great–really great. Tom Bower’s got a five or six minute part and he practically got tears out of me. Same goes for Yuji Okumoto as the (of course) innocent client. Very few big scenes, but he makes the most of them–holding up against Woods, which is no small feat here. Kurtwood Smith’s a good adversary, since it’s Kurtwood Smith, and Charles Hallahan has a nice part… so does Graham Beckel, who has a tiny part with a lot of room for effect. Strick’s plotting is so good, these actors can come in for just a few minutes but have these incredibly successful scenes.

At one point, in the third act, it seems like True Believer might elevate to a higher Hollywood level. It doesn’t, after coming real close. But it wouldn’t have been particularly special, and as a Woods vehicle and a well-produced mainstream legal thriller, it does a fine job.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Ruben; written by Wesley Strick; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by George Bowers; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Lawrence Miller; produced by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Woods (Eddie Dodd), Robert Downey Jr. (Roger Baron), Margaret Colin (Kitty Greer), Yuji Okumoto (Shu Kai Kim), Kurtwood Smith (Robert Reynard), Tom Bower (Cecil Skell), Miguel Fernandes (Art Esparza), Charles Hallahan (Vincent Dennehy), Sully Diaz (Maraquilla Esparza), Misan Kim (Mrs. Kim), John Snyder (Chuckie Loeder), Luis Guzmán (Ortega) and Graham Beckel (Vinny Sklaroff).


Rambo III (1988, Peter MacDonald)

According to IMDb, Rambo III was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release. It shows. Enormous sets, lots of vehicles–Rambo versus a helicopter, Rambo versus a tank, Rambo in a tank versus a helicopter. For all the money, it ought to look fantastic–except director Peter MacDonald, a camera operator and second unit director… composes like a second unit director and camera operator. It’s incredibly boring to watch, no matter what’s actually going on. MacDonald shoots wide shots and long shots and close-ups of Stallone. For the majority of the movie, nothing else. His direction drains any energy the film might have.

With this one, Stallone changes it up a lot. Most importantly, the politics are essentially gone and the movie really does try for some humanism by giving a face to the Afghani people during the Soviet invasion. When Richard Crenna goes and calls it Russia’s Vietnam, however, the metaphors and similes get confused (Rambo is siding against the imperialist invader… siding with people who get illicit support from a superpower). But, whatever. They’re trying and, with the exception of the really cute and precocious thirteen-year-old soldier, they do okay.

The second change-up is between Stallone and Crenna. Rambo III is a buddy flick with all the wisecracks and the one or two moments of awkward tenderness between macho men. Crenna’s actually not as bad as usual in this one, the humor making his hammy performance acceptable. And Stallone’s better too… even if he looks out of place and not just because of his poofed out eighties hair. Rambo the character doesn’t transition well from the previous entries, as serious and terribly flawed as they are, to a superhero. There’s an emptiness to the desert landscape–it affects the visual of Stallone in his headband and MacDonald doesn’t know how to adjust for it.

So, the goofy action and the bad puns between Crenna and Stallone and the humanism make Rambo III an okay diversion. It’s a precursor to the bigger, louder Carolco action movies. The movie’s almost all action for the second half–including one good sequence in a cave–which is nice, because MacDonald can’t do tension and whenever villain Marc de Jonge is onscreen, the movie becomes nearly unbearable. De Jonge is something terrible… but the movie itself is nearly okay.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter MacDonald; screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Sheldon Lettich, based on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, John Stanier; edited by James R. Symons, Andrew London, O. Nicholas Brown and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Rambo), Richard Crenna (Trautman), Marc de Jonge (Zaysen), Kurtwood Smith (Griggs), Spiros Focás (Masoud), Sasson Gabai (Mousa) and Doudi Shoua (Hamid).


Quick Change (1990, Howard Franklin and Bill Murray)

Having seen Bill Murray capital-a act for so long–it’s been ten years now, hasn’t it?–seeing him do Quick Change is a little disconcerting. At times, he’s so mellow, he almost isn’t there. I’ve seen Quick Change five or six times–the first being in the theater at the age of eleven–so I can’t remember if there are any surprises in it. The first act (if Quick Change has acts) hinges on a surprise for the characters, but I can’t tell if the audience is supposed to be fooled. I doubt it. It plays too close to the middle though, allowing for either read, when one or the other would firm Quick Change up a little.

Following the initial bank robbery sequence, which is excellent, mostly because Bob Elliot is so funny–when Bill Murray’s in the clown make-up, he comes his closest to that capital-a acting he likes so much nowadays–Quick Change devolves into a sequences of vignettes with shitty New Yorkers. It’s kind of like After Hours, kind of not (it’s obvious the film’s makers are aware of After Hours though, because Quick Change lifts a comedy beat–I can’t remember where–directly from that film). These vignettes are amusing, occasionally funny, and well acted. Except, at the same time, there’s the side-story with Jason Robards as the police chief on the robbers’ tail, and the romance between Bill Murray and Geena Davis. Davis is fine in most of the film, but during the romance scenes, she’s not and Murray’s better in those scenes than most of the others. Maybe because her character reacts so ludicrously to everything. Quick Change establishes a side reality for itself–one where situations prime for sardonic comment present continuously themselves–so it’s hard to take Davis’s character’s concerns seriously.

Randy Quaid is funny as the third robber, being the center of the film’s funniest sequence (along with Tony Shalhoub), but he really doesn’t do anything in the film except wait around to either say something stupid or do something stupid. The supporting cast is perfect, with Stanley Tucci and Kurtwood Smith standing out… but there’s something missing. Bill Murray and Howard Franklin’s direction is somehow funnier than Murray’s performance, which is an uncommon equation. The film’s a pleasant, occasionally really funny ninety minutes–but its slightness really cuts it down.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Franklin and Bill Murray; screenplay by Franklin, based on the book by Jay Cronley; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Randy Edelman; produced by Robert Greenhut and Murray; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bill Murray (Grimm), Geena Davis (Phyllis), Randy Quaid (Loomis), Jason Robards (Rotzinger), Bob Elliot (Bank Guard), Philip Bosco (Bus Driver), Phil Hartman (Hal Edison), Kathryn Goody (Mrs. Edison), Tony Shalhoub (Cab Driver), Stanley Tucci (Johnny), Victor Argo (Skelton), Gary Howard Klar (Mario), Kurtwood Smith (Russ Crane), Susannah Bianci (Mrs. Russ Crane) and Jamey Sheridan (Mugger).


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