Kyra Sedgwick

Personal Velocity (2002, Rebecca Miller)

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits. Writer and director Miller (adapting her own collection of short stories) ties together three very different stories, each with its own structure, each with its own narrative approach. Velocity is short too–under ninety minutes–so Miller is fast to establish her protagonists. The biggest disconnect, of course, is the narration; John Ventimiglia narrates these three women’s stories. It’s a close, omnipresent narration too. Otherwise, even though men both pervade and infect the film and the protagonists’ lives, the film’s entirely from its female protagonists’ perspectives. Even when the narration is doing fill-in exposition on a male character, it’s always from over the female protagonist’s shoulder. Even if she’s not present. Miller and editor Sabine Hoffman go wild on the summary flashbacks in the second story.

The film starts serious and sincere. Kyra Sedgwick is a thirty-four year-old, low income housewife with three kids and an abusive husband (David Warshofsky). Miller’s even cruel about revealing the abuse. She and editor Hoffman introduce it as a glance, something for the viewer to fixate on or ignore. Michael Rohatyn’s music–maybe the most affecting in the first story–doesn’t slow down, doesn’t change tone. They may be poor but they love each… then it stops and Miller throws the viewer for Personal Velocity’s only “loop.” Less than five minutes into the film, she dismisses the idea she owes the viewer any expectation for the narrative. The rest of Sedgwick’s story, where Sedgwick’s shockingly unlikable, is about dismissing the viewer’s expectations for characters as well now.

Personal Velocity is digital video. It’s very digital video. Ellen Kuras does light the heck out of it, but she and Miller are going for specific level of verisimilitude. The first story takes place in upstate New York. There’s an expectation of Americana and Kuras and Miller make sure it works as an appropriate setting for Sedgwick’s performance. Because Sedgwick doesn’t tear up the film, she slow burns. For the first story, the film is about seeing what Sedgwick’s character is going to do (Velocity is like eighty percent hard character study) and how Sedgwick is going to essay those actions.

When Sedgwick’s story ends, there’s a feeling of “time’s up.” The sturdy first act Miller gives to the segment doesn’t come with a third. She sort of slices into the second act and pulls the narration higher. Sedgwick’s left a bit of a mystery.

Then Parker Posey’s story. It’s the most different in the film. Its narration is very different, its editing is very different. It’s a light romantic drama set in New York City with book editor Posey and her doctoral student husband Tim Guinee. She’s a disappointment to high-powered lawyer dad Ron Leibman, but then she becomes a success. The narration walks Posey through almost every action, every decision. The editing becomes far more creative–freeze frames, both for action and summary, building on the first story’s occasional usage–the pace is different. The tone is different. Different, different, different. Why is the difference important?

Because the differences between first and second stories help set the film up for the third. The second story isn’t just less dangerous than the first one, more erudite, it also changes how Miller’s going to have the protagonists relate to the viewer. Miller changes how she’s portraying these characters from story to story. The second story is the closest the film gets to having fun–Miller, Kuras, and Hoffman are doing slow motion, they’re doing the freeze frames, there’s flashbacks; there’s a lot of enthusiasm. By the end of it, the film has held the viewer’s hand into getting inside Posey’s perspective. Thanks to the filmmaking, thanks to the writing, thanks to Posey, Miller has gone from outside the protagonist’s perspective to inside it and then turned it around. The viewer understands the character’s decision-making without the narration to explain it anymore.

It’s an important change because the third story mostly drops the narration. It also speeds up a lot. Fairuza Balk has a lot of action, not much summary. Some quick flashbacks, but the third story is all about Balk and what’s going on in her head. A fifth of it has got to just be Balk in close-up, thinking. As the viewer gets to know her better, they get to know what she’s thinking too. It’s a very gentle story. Miller keeps all three acts intact, making it different from the first story, but the lack of narration makes it very different from the second story. But Miller’s really just leaving room for reflection in the third story. It’s about the viewer identifying, relating, considering. Miller sort of uses Balk as a guide. The story even starts out in the city and then goes to the country. It’s completely unrelated–narratively–to the first two stories. Yet Miller needs the viewer to make the connections to succeed.

She does, thanks to Balk, thanks to the crew, thanks to David Patrick Kelly, Patti D’Arbanville, and Lou Taylor Pucci. Everything works out really well, which is something since Hoffman changes up the editing style yet again in the third story. These stylistic changes mean Miller and Hoffman have to introduce them and establish them while the stories are already trying to get the protagonists and ground situations set up. Personal Velocity moves very fast, very pragmatically. But only in the pace. Visually, Miller’s an exuberant director. Lots of visuals, lots of imagery. She’s setting up the best angle into her individual protagonist’s stories.

Acting-wise–Balk’s best, then Sedgwick, then Posey, or you could reverse it, or just mix it up and pick one. The viewer’s relationship with each protagonist is so different, they’re all three just phenomenal. Ventimiglia’s narration is great. Supporting cast is all good. They’re not as essential in the first two stories as the third. Though Leo Fitzpatrick does get a touching monologue of sorts.

Personal Velocity’s fantastic. Miller, her cast, her crew, all do awesome work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rebecca Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on her book; director of photography, Ellen Kuras; edited by Sabine Hoffman; music by Michael Rohatyn; production designer, Judy Becker; produced by Lemore Syvan, Gary Winick, and Alexis Alexanian; released by United Artists.

Starring Kyra Sedgwick (Delia Shunt), Parker Posey (Greta Herskowitz), Fairuza Balk (Paula), Ron Leibman (Avram Herskowitz), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Gelb), David Warshofsky (Kurt Wurtzle), Leo Fitzpatrick (Mylert), Tim Guinee (Lee), Patti D’Arbanville (Celia), Ben Shenkman (Max), Joel de la Fuente (Thavi Matola), Marceline Hugot (Pam), Brian Tarantina (Pete Shunt), Seth Gilliam (Vincent), Lou Taylor Pucci (Kevin), Mara Hobel (Fay), and David Patrick Kelly (Peter); narrated by John Ventimiglia.


The Road Within (2014, Gren Wells)

The Road Within is a story about finding yourself. Every guy in the movie finds himself. The women don’t find themselves but they help the guys find themselves. How do you find yourself? By rebelling.

Except Road is about people with mental disorders. Lead Robert Sheehan has Tourettes, his romantic interest (Zoë Kravitz) has anorexia and his roommate (Dev Patel) has really bad OCD. Kyra Sedgwick is their chain smoking doctor, Robert Patrick is Sheehan’s dad (who has anger management issues). The movie gets off to a strange start in Sedgwick’s clinic because no one else is anywhere near as sick as Sheehan, Kravitz and Patel. It’s only natural they’d steal Sedgwick’s car and head west through beautiful country as they each confront their demons.

As a director, Wells knows how to compose a pretty shot. Everything in Road is pretty, even when they’re supposed to be in a crappy town. The beauty of the world around us is curative. Unless you’ve got anorexia, in which case the love of a good man just isn’t enough to fix you.

Road is always trite–Wells’s script hits every trite trope she can find–but it isn’t until the last act it actually gets offensive. It works its way through a checklist of resolutions then has a happy-ish ending on a lovely beach boardwalk.

The characters are poorly written but all the actors do well, especially Kravitz and Patrick (who have the worst characters).

It’s not their fault Road’s baloney.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gren Wells; screenplay by Wells, based on a film written by Florian David Fitz; director of photography, Christopher Baffa; edited by Gordon Antell and Terel Gibson; music by Josh Debney and The Newton Brothers; production designer, Nanci Roberts; produced by Brent Emery, Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Guy J. Louthan and Robert Stein; released by Well Go USA Entertainment.

Starring Robert Sheehan (Vincent), Dev Patel (Alex), Zoë Kravitz (Marie), Robert Patrick (Robert) and Kyra Sedgwick (Dr. Rose).


Critical Care (1997, Sidney Lumet)

Critical Care opens on its main set–sets are important in Critical Care–with Helen Mirren (as a nurse) checking up on ICU patients. The ICU is a circle, Mirren rounding it by the end of the titles, returning to the station at the center, where James Spader (as a resident) naps during a thirty-six hour shift. The two have a conversation about medical school, Spader’s dating habits and mundanities. It’s a strange opening–technically superior thanks to Lumet–with the ICU an all white environment (it’s like 2001, actually). When the film moves into a world of color, Critical Care maintains the same tone–which is incredibly difficult, or should be, given Albert Brooks is in old age make-up (with Spader as his disinclined protégé). It’s slightly off. Lumet’s got a specific visual style for the film, but even taking it into account, it’s still slightly off.

And then–just before the Blow Up homage–I realized what makes Critical Care so particular. It’s the finest adaptation of a stage play where the source material is not a stage play. Lumet’s approach to the film is to present the action–in the ICU, the material outside that setting is a lot more filmic–like it’s playing out on stage. This approach doesn’t affect Lumet’s composition, which is excellent and cinematic, and I can’t even tell if it’s in Steven Schwartz’s script. But the time Lumet gives to his actors–Spader and Mirren–is stunning. They have scenes together throughout the film, but they both have their own story arcs (Spader’s being the major one) and when they reunite at the end… it’s almost like the film’s been holding its breath and no one noticed. It’s fantastic.

Lumet also makes a lot of time for Brooks, but it’d be criminal if he hadn’t. Not only is Brooks constantly hilarious–and frightening, given he’s talking about healthcare–but it’s the one time (in recent cinema) where someone playing aged works perfectly. The logic mazes–Brooks’s character suffers from short term memory losses–in the scenes are hysterical.

Spader’s got a very leading man role here and he plays it well. It’s probably the finest film performance I’ve seen him give. Mirren’s excellent as well–her scenes with Jeffrey Wright, where he doesn’t talk, are great. Wright’s scenes with Wallace Shawn, where he does talk, are also great. One of the greatest things about Critical Care is its fearlessness. The film doesn’t have a big hook at the beginning, it doesn’t have any reason to expect a lot of involvement from its viewers; it just goes ahead without concerning itself with them.

The supporting cast–Kyra Sedgwick, Anne Bancroft, Philip Bosco, especially Colm Feore–is superior.

I’ve known about this film for eleven years–I remember seeing a picture of Brooks in make-up–but I never got around to seeing it until now. Through its running time, it just gets better and better. Near the end, as the film shifted into its final stage, I worried about it forgetting itself. It doesn’t. The end has all the right ingredients, mixed wonderfully.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Steven Schwartz, based on the novel by Richard Dooling; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Tom Swartwout; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Schwartz and Lumet; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring James Spader (Dr. Werner Ernst), Kyra Sedgwick (Felicia Potter), Helen Mirren (Stella), Anne Bancroft (Nun), Albert Brooks (Dr. Butz), Jeffrey Wright (Bed Two), Margo Martindale (Connie Potter), Wallace Shawn (Furnaceman), Philip Bosco (Dr. Hofstader), Colm Feore (Richard Wilson), Edward Herrmann (Robert Payne), James Lally (Poindexter) and Harvey Atkin (Judge Fatale).


Justice League: The New Frontier (2008, Dave Bullock)

In terms of ambitiousness, Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier is in many ways as ambitious as a superhero comic book can get. Cooke tied DC Comics superheroes to the American political landscape of the 1950s and, while he didn’t have an absolute success, he did just fine, never losing the zeal (occasionally letting it go too far even). Now, as Warner Bros. has finally sunk low enough to do direct to video movies–some of these being animated superhero projects–a bunch of unambitious cartoon guys (and I say cartoon guys as a pejorative–I mean, the animation in The New Frontier is barely on the level of the “G.I. Joe” cartoons I saw as a kid) decided to adapt it. In doing so, shaving Cooke’s 400 plus page comic book down to seventy-five minutes, they haven’t just missed the point, they’ve also turned Cooke’s ambitious work into a low-rent Independence Day rip-off with superheroes. Maybe that element was always a little part of Cooke’s comic, but with the movie, it’s the most important part.

The problem with The New Frontier–and with the idea of it in the first place–is the medium. It doesn’t lend itself to a cartoon and the cartoon guys do nothing to make it excite the medium’s possibilities (like I said, it’s less ambitious than a “G.I. Joe” cartoon, so comparing it to Sleeping Beauty would just be silly). It’s only a cartoon because… well… it’s a toy commercial. There are New Frontier action figures and all of this hoopla is a toy commercial.

Oddly, it’s pretty watchable. Throughout three-quarters, it’s almost good. There’s a speed to it in the good parts and a car wreck quality in the bad parts. It’s offensive, for example, when they use the JFK speech at the end (the title comes from the speech). Cooke’s comic book was ambitious enough, even with a bad ending, it had the bedrock to print the speech. As the movie is an unambitious, trite flop, it’s stunningly inappropriate.

Of the voice actors, only Jeremy Sisto is actually good. Neil Patrick Harris and Miguel Ferrer come close. David Boreanaz is particularly awful. Lucy Lawless is a bad Wonder Woman and Kyle MacLachlan an ineffective Superman, but a lot of those problems have to do with Stan Berkowitz’s execrable script. And Keith David as the movie’s bad guy, a giant monster–a misfire going back to the comic book–is terrible too, but the whole thing is dreadfully handled, but in terms of visualization, dialogue and filmic conception. Berkowitz’s dialogue’s dumb and bad; Kevin Manthei’s music not fit for an elevator to Hell. Besides some of the female characters, all the artwork is bad (for whatever reason, only the female characters retain any of Cooke’s style).

I can’t stand cartoon storytelling–that lowest common denominator storytelling for the kid who can’t even read the TV Guide to see what’s on, but can still tell his mom he needs the action figures–so I can’t blame watching The New Frontier on anyone but myself (the short running time and, possibly, the knowledge I’d be writing about bad it turned out… didn’t expect how offensive the JFK use would come off though). I also didn’t expect to run out of synonyms for bad, but I did.

The funniest part comes at the end. Cooke, in the comic book, ripped the volunteers moment from Pearl Harbor and did it with superheroes in a sequence of still images and got the same effect. For some reason, with motion and audio, the clowns behind The New Frontier can’t get it right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Bullock; screenplay by Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke, based on the comic book by Cooke; edited by Elen Orson; music by Kevin Manthei; produced by Berkowitz, Cooke and Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring David Boreanaz (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), Miguel Ferrer (J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter), Neil Patrick Harris (Barry Allen/The Flash), John Heard (Ace Morgan), Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman), Kyle MacLachlan (Superman), Phil Morris (King Faraday), Kyra Sedgwick (Lois Lane), Brooke Shields (Carol Ferris), Jeremy Sisto (Batman) and Keith David (The Center).


Montana (1998, Jennifer Leitzes)

I can sit through almost anything. Within certain limits, but–realistically–anything. If there’s a point, whether it enriches me or if it just gives me the opportunity to crap-mouth it in a post, anything. I have never, ever–and this broad statement covers foreign films, silent films, cartoons–sat through so much of a movie with no idea what the title referred to. I’ll never know what Montana has to do with Montana, unless it filmed in Montana, which–according to IMDb–it did not. Given the film’s terrible screenplay, I’d imagine someone ends up in Montana at the end. I’m curious as to what director Leitzes is doing these days. Much of Montana looks like a really bad play filmed and the first twenty or so minutes appear to be a really bad play filmed. It turns out, Leitzes designs jewelry. She appears to be better at it than she is at directing motion pictures (even if all the rings have sappy text on them).

That comment was out of line. Leitzes is not a terrible director. She’s painfully mediocre.

I find myself very hostile towards Montana, probably because I sat through almost half of it before turning it off. Once it appeared the film was opening up, not solely taking place in two rooms, I gave it a further chance. Oh, what a mistake I made. Mediocre turned to bad ones instead of going good, as I thought they might. Ethan Embry is totally undone by the terrible script; in addition to having lame gangster dialogue (Montana is post-Pulp Fiction derivative muddle of crap), also is terribly, terribly plotted.

I rented the film for a couple reasons. First, the screenwriters adapted the forthcoming Whiteout and I wanted to see–since the comic is good–how they are at writing films. They’re really bad. Second, I watch “The Closer” and Kyra Sedgwick’s the lead. Sedgwick’s terrible in Montana. Don’t know if she was miscast, just giving a bad performance, or if the script is so terrible a good performance would be impossible. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also terrible in this film. Embarrassingly so. When I remembered he won an Oscar recently, it reminded me of the Paul Haggis–will the Academy take away the Million Dollar Baby Oscar for Crash. Stanley Tucci’s really good.

The strange thing about Montana is the cast–Tucci, Hoffman, what are they doing in such a crappy film? 1998, Hoffman was on the rise and Tucci was an established independent film actor. They made respectable films, not this thing.

John Ritter’s really good. Much like Bad Santa, it made me really miss him.

I was actually hopeful, when Montana started. Leitzes has a complicated crane shot at the beginning, I thought she was going to spend the rest of the film aping Welles or something. Who knew she was just going to sit the camera down and shoot bad scenes? Except the one fast-edited scene I saw, so bad it makes Simon West look competent.

Let me make this further comment about Montana: I am embarrassed to admit to the forty minutes I watched. I’m ashamed of myself.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jennifer Leitzes; written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber; director of photography, Ken Kelsch; edited by Norman Buckley; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, Daniel Ross; produced by Sean Cooley, Zane W. Levitt and Mark Yellen; released by Initial Entertainment Group.

Starring Kyra Sedgwick (Claire), Stanley Tucci (Nick), Robin Tunney (Kitty), Robbie Coltrane (The Boss), John Ritter (Dr. Wexler), Ethan Embry (Jimmy), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Duncan) and Mark Boone Junior (Stykes).


Born on the Fourth of July (1989, Oliver Stone)

In the last ten years, Tom Cruise has turned in a number of excellent performances (well, four… four is a number) and a bunch of decent ones. He’s only been bad once (of the films I’ve seen). So, Born on the Fourth of July was a jarring reminder to the early period of Cruise’s acting career (before his wingnut career), when he was staggeringly awful. Cruise is so bad for most on Fourth of July, I actually had to look up a good adjective to use to describe that awful acting. Of course, Cruise’s inability fits Stone, maybe even more than Charlie Sheen’s inability fit him. Stone’s shot composition in Fourth of July is beautiful, but absolutely useless for a narrative. It’s slick and colorful, that neo-Technicolor Bruckheimer-produced films use. To get the film to move, since the shots don’t do it, Stone uses a lot of quick editing in Fourth of July, the same quick editing Bruckheimer appropriated a few years later. Maybe it was immediately (I never saw Days of Thunder).

Stone makes Fourth of July as melodramatic as possible, then bumps it up a notch. For a film based on a true story (I’ve read the actual book and a lot of the movie was a surprise to me), it’s beyond any reasonable license. Only at the end, in the last ten minutes, when the character finally gets to be a real person, does Cruise’s acting rise to being near-poor. It’s when the true story becomes somewhat worthwhile… but the film skips the character’s major personal development. There’s nothing about him becoming active in the anti-war movement. One minute he isn’t, the next he is, then the movie ends. Since it’s shed everything else we’ve had to sit through (his family, his girl, his relationship with other vets), Fourth of July hits a reset button and all of a sudden Cruise is a guy in a wig, not the guy who started the movie without the wig, then got it inexplicably later on. Still, it’s ten minutes and it’s laden with Stone’s idea of nuance, so it doesn’t help. It just gets better.

I was going to make note of all the people who starred in Fourth of July and went on to bigger things. Jake Weber even shows up for a shot. Then, I realized Stone used all three of the non-Alec Baldwin brothers and I decided against giving him any credit for casting discoveries. However, a handful of the performances are good. Raymond J. Barry is good as the father and Frank Whaley and Jerry Levine (Stiles from Teen Wolf–I recognized him but didn’t know who it was until I looked it up) are both good as Cruise’s friends. There’s a whole period where Cruise and these guys play their characters in high school and all of them look about ten years too old.

I keep trying to remember other things–the timeline goofs were obvious to me and I was born twenty years after the era depicted–but, in the end, I think I’m sad Oliver Stone doesn’t get to make his movies anymore. He still works, he still writes, but he doesn’t get to do this kind of film anymore and–good or bad–Born on the Fourth of July was a socially relevant piece. During the scenes in the awful veteran’s hospital, my fiancée turned and asked me what I thought vet hospitals looked like today. Stone had a real audience until Natural Born Killers and, while he did manipulate them, he did it for a good cause. I’m not sure there’s been any manipulative filmmaker since who’s been able to reach such a broad audience and actually had something good to say….

Those last few sentences are an observation, not a defense of or recommendation to see Born on the Fourth of July, though I do suppose John Williams’s hideous score needs to be heard to be believed. Oh, and I can’t forget this one. Stone rips off Coppola’s fan as helicopter blade metaphor from Apocalypse Now, but I guess it’s all right, since Spielberg went on to steal a flag shot from Fourth of July for Saving Private Ryan.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Ron Kovic, based on the book by Kovic; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by David Brenner; music by John Williams; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Stone; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ron Kovic), Kyra Sedgwick (Donna), Raymond J. Barry (Mr. Kovic), Caroline Kava (Mrs. Kovic), Jerry Levine (Steve Boyer), Frank Whaley (Timmy), Willem Dafoe (Charlie), Josh Evans (Tommy Kovic) and Jamie Talisman (Jimmy Kovic).


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