Lea Thompson

Jaws 3-D (1983, Joe Alves)

Jaws 3-D is one part advertisement for Sea World, one part disaster movie, one part monster movie, then figure the rest is character stuff. It does really well as the Sea World ad, not so well as a disaster movie, a little better as a monster movie… and shockingly well on the character stuff.

Alves’s direction of the big shark attack stuff is nowhere near as good as his character moments. Obviously, there’s time in the script to develop these relationships between the cast members–there’s a great slight moment with Bess Armstrong and Louis Gossett Jr. who otherwise barely interact. And it’s just better for Armstrong and Dennis Quaid. Jaws 3-D is a silly movie about a giant shark but Armstrong and Quaid are always sincere.

So’s Gossett and, to some degree, Simon MacCorkindale. He’s not good, but he does try. As his manservant, P.H. Moriarty is terrible. John Putch plays Quaid’s visiting little brother who romances Lea Thompson. They’re both fine, they just don’t have anything to do except to quickly make Quaid and Armstrong more likable. The movie’s far from art, but screenwriters Richard Mathewson and Carl Gottlieb know how to make it work.

There are some good effects towards the end. Great music from Alan Parker. Alves does an adequate job throughout but he does have his moments. The way he stages some of the non-shark action sequences is fantastic and he always takes time for the actors.

It’s not bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Alves; screenplay by Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb, based on a story by Guerdon Trueblood and characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, James A. Contner; edited by Corky Ehlers and Randy Roberts; music by Alan Parker; production designer, Woods Mackintosh; produced by Rupert Hitzig; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Mike Brody), Bess Armstrong (Dr. Kathryn ‘Kay’ Morgan), Simon MacCorkindale (Philip FitzRoyce), John Putch (Sean Brody), Lea Thompson (Kelly Ann Bukowski), P.H. Moriarty (Jack Tate) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Calvin Bouchard).


Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future gives the impression of being very economical in terms of its narrative… but it really isn’t. Zemeckis just does such a great job immediately establishing the fifties setting, even though there’s less than fifty minutes before the third act, the film feels more immediate.

It takes a half hour to get to the past (until that point, of course, the title doesn’t make much sense) and Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale establish the characters. Well, not the characters, but the cast. No one in Future has much of a character, just a distinct, likable persona. Even Thomas F. Wilson’s menacing thug.

Without the establishing front matter, Michael J. Fox’s trip to the past wouldn’t work, at least not with his parents, Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson. Actually, it might work with Glover, since he’s fantastic. Thompson is not; Zemeckis has problems with female actors–both Thompson and Claudia Wells are weak. Wendie Jo Sperber is good in her cameo though.

While Fox holds the film together, his performance concentrates more on likability than actual dramatic heft. Christopher Lloyd is much stronger; he gives a physical comedy performance some of the time, but also acts as the viewer’s entry into the extraordinary situation. He does quite well.

Of particular note are Dean Cundey’s photography and Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri’s score isn’t subtle, but it’s effective. And Cundey does great work, even though Zemeckis’s composition is pedestrian.

Though sometimes painfully shallow, Future is a lot of fun.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


Back to the Future Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future Part II, while front heavy with special effects, ends up being a small picture. The first half or so deals with the sequel setup from the first movie’s finale but then Part II tells a side story set during the first film. Time travel franchises can be, it turns out, rather economical.

Unfortunately, these economies mostly just show off how Bob Gale’s creatively bankrupt script. The film is reductive, not expansive, with most of the cast wasted. Christopher Lloyd, for example, disappears for large sections, occasionally popping up for a comical line reading. Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson are the whole show and neither do well. Neither are bad, but both have all new character quirks to incorporate. These incorporations are a tad difficult… since the original film looms over this one. And not just because whole sections of the first film’s footage is reused or because the second half involves Fox acting “alongside” himself.

Gale and Zemeckis continue to waste female talent. Elisabeth Shue actually has some decent screen time in the first half, being the viewer’s entry into the future of she and Fox, but then she literally gets knocked out for the rest of the movie. Lea Thompson shows up for a few scenes, does a lot better than Shue (who mugs constantly), before evaporating.

Gone are the first film’s likable characterizations. Part II is an ugly film; nastiness is apparently easier to write. The abject lack of story is shocking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Neil Canton and Gale; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Marty McFly Jr / Marlene McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen / Griff Tannen), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly) and Charles Fleischer (Terry).


Back to the Future Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)

Apparently, all Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale needed for a Back to the Future sequel was a story. Part III, unlike the second installment, has a lot going on and it’s not all tied into the original’s storyline. Instead, Michael J. Fox finds himself in the Old West, trying to save Christopher Lloyd.

Zemeckis and Gale finally reward Lloyd for his time with a good part in this one. Fox’s story is boring–he’s up against Thomas F. Wilson again (Wilson is utterly fantastic)–but Lloyd’s romancing Mary Steenburgen while playing cowboy. There’s also a nice bit for Lloyd set after the first movie. This entry really makes it clear Zemeckis and Gale don’t know what works in these movies.

They include some more nonsense details, with Fox playing his ancestor. Lea Thompson shows up for a scene or two as Fox’s great-great-grandmother or something… it’s unclear if the filmmakers mean to imply the family tree has crossed branches. Probably not; Part III, until the awkward ending (it’s an ending to Part II, not this one), is rather genial.

The Dean Cundey photography is great and editors Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt do excellent work, especially on the unbelievably tense finale. Unfortunately, Alan Silvestri’s score is either repetitive or weak. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise excellent production.

There are nice minor performances from Matt Clark and James Tolkan.

While it finishes the series, Part III does show what works in Future sequels–tight writing, inventive setting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Seamus McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton), Thomas F. Wilson (Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen / Biff Tannen), Lea Thompson (Maggie McFly / Lorraine McFly), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), Matt Clark (Chester the Bartender), Richard Dysart (Barbwire Salesman), Pat Buttram (Saloon Old Timer), Harry Carey Jr. (Saloon Old Timer), Dub Taylor (Saloon Old Timer), James Tolkan (Marshal James Strickland), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly) and Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly).


Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future has become a detached experience. It isn’t really dated, it’s just hard to interact with the film in the same way one could when its content was more contemporary (in seven years, it’ll be like watching Michael J. Fox as the parent and Crispin Glover as the grandparent). The scenes set in the 1950s, which defined–in modern cinema–the portrayal of the period, feel a lot more “real” than the scenes set in 1985. It’s an odd relationship, one possibly even worthy of some consideration (especially given the film’s–somewhat forgotten–importance in popular culture and Hollywood cinema).

On its own, the film’s still a competent, well-meaning diversion. It doesn’t bear too much examination or consideration–the ending is incredibly problematic–but it’s a fine time. The humor–from Fox’s observations to Glover’s entire performance to Christopher Lloyd’s mugging for the camera–holds up, but feels a lot more comfortable than it should. It might be because the film’s become so engrained in the filmic consciousness–it’s familiar to a point similar to television programs (its stars being primarily television actors notwithstanding). It’s a passive viewing experience… there’s little new for it to offer.

This condition has nothing to do with its age or popularity, there just isn’t much to the story. There are a lot of little details, but the characters are rather shallow. Fox is engaging because he’s Fox, not because his character has any depth. Glover is just the same–I mean, the film never explores Glover’s home life, which is quite telling (Gale and Zemeckis knew they didn’t have room). Lea Thompson, who probably gives the worst performance–she’s okay and effective in parts, but compared to her co-stars, she’s the pits–is only interesting because of what she does, not who she is. Gale and Zemeckis set the tone for future blockbusters here–the actors aren’t playing people, rather personifying caricatures who do amusing things. These aren’t people who live off-screen.

During the way too classy opening credits–they suggest a technical craft Zemeckis simply isn’t capable of applying to narrative scenes–when I saw Dean Cundey was the cinematographer, I got ready for some beautiful shots. There aren’t any. All of the shots are nice and well-lighted and so on, but nothing really grabs. Zemeckis isn’t interesting in that factor (the wonderment factor… there’s never a moment where Fox reflects on the weight of his situation). Cundey does have some beautiful outdoor shots though, even if they’re incidental.

The film’s special effects are solid–the best special effect is the 1950s setting, which feels perfect throughout. The editing is problematic, occasionally revealing the stunt or skate-boarding doubles. Alan Silvestri’s score, which is basically the same as all his other scores, is occasionally annoying, but usually all right. The make-up is first-rate–Crispin Glover practically looks more realistic as a forty-seven-year-old than he does a teenager.

Besides Glover, the best performance has to be Thomas F. Wilson. His villain is evil, but also produces a lot of laughter, mostly because of Wilson’s physical performance. It’s the film’s most difficult role. To be a somewhat lovable bully.

At the end–the much remembered teaser, the one I found so compelling as an eight-year-old–Back to the Future loses its way. It’s already on a shaky path (the narrative takes way too many short-cuts, a forerunner to blockbuster trailer moments instead of actual scenes) but the end just makes it too much. There’s too much to consider, from Lloyd’s future clothes to the quick gag about the garbage. It’s a great set-up for a sequel, but it’s a poor conclusion for a movie.

Worse, it reveals there isn’t any possible conclusion to Back to the Future. Fox doesn’t have an arc (he doesn’t learn anything, he doesn’t change) and no one else really exists….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


Article 99 (1992, Howard Deutch)

Director of not one, not two, but three 1980s John Hughes movies, Howard Deutch applies those hard-earned skills to remaking M*A*S*H and, shockingly, doesn’t do too bad of a job. Sure, Article 99 is absurd and Lea Thompson as a doctor is a hoot, but its well-intentioned and sensitive to its characters. I’d heard of the movie before–I think I even have an Article 99 scrub shirt–but I thought it was a period piece, set either during Vietnam or just after. Instead, it’s set in modernity, which allows for the villains to be Republicans without military service who are trying to save a buck at the expense of veterans. Kind of eerie, isn’t it?

Even with a terrible opening–after a moderately classy, if way too forced Americana title sequence–pissed off vet Leo Burmester (nicknamed Shooter) tries to take the hospital hostage. It’s a loony sequence, but it introduces all of the characters pretty well and is one of the few times Article 99 is trying to be its own thing, instead of that M*A*S*H remake. It’s also the first time Danny Elfman reuses some of his more famous scores in Article 99 (though his love theme for the film, which seems to be an original, is nice). Following that sequence, Article 99 calms down a bit. There are hijinks, evil bureaucrats and so on, but it doesn’t jar the viewer’s suspension of disbelief until the end.

The reason Article 99 succeeds, even with the cartoonishness, is its actors. Kiefer Sutherland is earnest (even if his character making it through medical school seems unlikely) and likable. Forest Whitaker and John C. McGinley are good in supporting roles. I already mentioned the unbearably terrible Thompson, but Deutch seemed to realize it and only kept ten of her lines in the picture. But there’s Eli Wallach and Keith David to make up for it. Wallach has some great scenes with Sutherland and some great dialogue too (the script’s got a bunch of good one liners). David’s the all-knowing vet and even though the character’s goofy, David makes it work. John Mahoney’s villain is a solid John Mahoney villain, if a little less ruthless (he doesn’t get to kill anyone) than the usual.

I saved this paragraph just for Ray Liotta and Kathy Baker. Liotta’s performance–a leading man performance–is fantastic. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t make it as a lead, just because he’s so obvious great at it. Except then there’s the romance with Baker. Their courtship–and Elfman’s score for it–is one of the best things about Article 99, even if it seems totally out of place, both in terms of plot and quality.

Article 99 has its highs and lows, but wisely starts at its lowest point (the silly plot development at the end is more palatable after Burmester driving his car into the hospital in the opening). There’s a real sincerity to it, not just in the approach to the content, but also in the presentation of it. Liotta has a scene where he lectures amoral boss Mahoney on the duties of VA doctors and makes it work. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Ron Cutler; director of photography, Richard Bowen; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Virginia L. Randolph; produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Dr. Richard Sturgess), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Peter Morgan), Forest Whitaker (Dr. Sid Handleman), Lea Thompson (Dr. Robin Van Dorn), John C. McGinley (Dr. Rudy Bobrick), John Mahoney (Dr. Henry Dreyfoos), Keith David (Luther Jermoe), Kathy Baker (Dr. Diana Walton), Eli Wallach (Sam Abrams), Noble Willingham (Inspector General), Julie Bovasso (Amelia Sturdeyvant), Troy Evans (Pat Travis), Lynne Thigpen (Nurse White), Jeffrey Tambor (Dr. Leo Krutz), Leo Burmester (Shooter Polaski), Ernest Abuba (Ikiro Tenabe) and Rutanya Alda (Ann Travis).


Howard the Duck (1986, Willard Huyck)

It’d be interesting to know how much of the relationship between Howard and Lea Thompson got toned down, like if Huyck and Katz originally had them more visibly romantically involved. It wouldn’t be interesting to see cut scenes or even to read old drafts of the script, it’d just be interesting to know. Seeing cut scenes or reading the script would require one to endure more of this intolerable production.

Howard the Duck has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Casting Richard Kiley as the Voice of the Cosmos aside, it’s worthless. All I could think, as the terribly acted Duck got to Earth and met Thompson was–these people wrote American Graffiti. The duck planet scenes at the beginning, which should have been amusing and inventive is more instead tired. There’s no exuberance to the scenes, they’re mundane. As a director, Huyck is never willing to acknowledge Howard the Duck‘s idiocy. It’s about a talking duck who gets it on with a human girl. It ought to be dumb, fun and outlandish–and aware of it. Instead, it’s all about not selling out the music for the man. It’s embarrassing to watch it, much less to imagine having participated in its making in any capacity.

I’m not real familiar with the comic books, but the movie Howard is a unfunny whiner who’s mad he had to get a job. I can only figure the comic book Howard is probably a funny whiner. The occasional promises of a smoking and drinking duck are never realized (he gets whisked to Earth before he lights his cigar and his beer later magically disappears into PG-land). Sadly, Howard the Duck probably isn’t even the worst of the atrocious teen-minded sci-fi movies on the mid-1980s, just the most famous.

The acting is unspeakable. Lea Thompson has never been really good so her inability to act opposite a guy in a costume who talks (the cast of “Alf” did far better) is no surprise. But Tim Robbins? Robbins is awful. Jeffrey Jones is awful. Some of the blame has to fall on the script and direction, but good acting might have made it a little less unbearable.

As for the costumed Howard the Duck… the costume’s not detailed enough to be convincing in regular shots. It looks like a television commercial. And Chip Zien’s vocal performance as Howard might be the worst thing in the movie, which is a hard thing to be.

The only other thing worth commenting on is John Barry’s score. When I saw his name in the opening titles, I figured at least the music would be good. It isn’t. It’s John Barry trying to be zany. It’s a metaphor for the whole movie–a bunch of squares pretending to be zany and not even managing to make an unconventional failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Willard Huyck; screenplay by Huyck and Gloria Katz, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Michael Chandler and Sidney Wolinsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Katz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lea Thompson (Beverly Switzler), Jeffrey Jones (Dr. Walter Jenning), Tim Robbins (Phil Blumburtt), Paul Guilfoyle (Lieutenant Welker) and Ed Gale & Chip Zien (Howard T. Duck).


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