Mark Hamill

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e06 – On the Run

In addition to being the most Matt Berry episode of “Shadows” ever, this episode also has the best Mark Hamill performance since… 1983? 1980? He’s only in the episode maybe five minutes so it’s hard to compare with the Original Trilogy or Big Red One.

Hamill’s another vampire, one who Berry stiffed for rent on a beach house in San Diego in the late 1800s; Berry had been trying to sell his soul to the Devil to get better at the guitar, but went to the wrong place. Also there was a floater in the toilet, so Berry definitely wasn’t paying. It’s a hilarious argument, leading to a duel, with everyone in the cast getting something to do.

But then Berry runs for it and it becomes his episode. He’s not going to duel, he’s not going to pay the rent, so instead he’s going to pretend to be a human named “Jackie Daytona” and run a bar in rural Pennsylvania. Berry’s beloved by all—well, not the people he’s killed and drained of blood, but everyone else, particularly bar waitress Madeleine Martin. And then the entire town after Berry starts supporting the high school girls’ volley ball team in their quest for the state championship.

There’s a little bit back at the house with everyone dealing with Berry being gone, but mostly it’s an excuse for a great Mark Proksch scene. Natasia Demetriou’s distraught, obviously, and Proksch takes advantage for some great feeding. Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén are background the whole episode, with the occasional knowing look from Guillén and a one-liner from Novak. It’s like the show realized Berry can’t really go all out with the main cast; “Shadows” has gradually become Demetriou’s show, with Berry acting as her main support but support. Giving him a side adventure really works out.

Two crises arise in idyllic Pennsylvania however—the town can’t afford to send the volley ball team to state and Hamill has tracked Berry to the area. He doesn’t recognize Berry because of the foolproof human disguise, but Hamill knows he’s close. Great stuff with Hamill and Berry, just great.

The end seems like it might not connect, but then does—Stefani Robinson’s script is outstanding. Nice direction from Yana Gorskaya too.

Hopefully Hamill will be back.

Or just get his own show with the character. They leave him with an excellent setup.

But it’s finally a Berry showcase. Since the first episode, he’s been reining it in so as not to walk off with the show. It’s show much fun to see him not have to worry about it and just let loose. Jackie Daytona indeed.

The Big Red One (1980, Samuel Fuller)

The Big Red One is a fairly even split between action and conversation. The film tracks a single squad as they start fighting in North Africa, follow the war into the Mediterranean, participate in D-Day, then go east. The film skips to each event. There’s usually some epilogue to the event, something like character development or character revelation, then it’s on to the next event, starting with the time and place in the war. Squad member Robert Carradine narrates the film, which includes bridging the gaps between the events. He’ll occasionally have something to say about his fellow squad members, something to further reveal their character, but he doesn’t have much opinion of that new reveal. Even if it’s something bad. Even though the film’s about these five men, it’s not about their relationship. We’re not invited. Carradine fills in some details, very occasionally contextualizes, but there’s something going on in One away from the viewer. Director Fuller is telling the audience a story, which is somehow different from telling a story. How he’s telling the story is very important.

Fuller centers the film around the sergeant, played by Lee Marvin. He’s not just the center of the movie, he’s the hero of Carradine’s narration, which is more important; Carradine’s not the hero of his own narration. It’s not his story he’s telling, it’s Marvin’s, even though Marvin’s an intentional mystery. And not a mystery Fuller’s inviting the audience to solve. Or even attempt to solve. Marvin’s the hero. He’s the older, gruff sergeant with a heart of gold. A World War I vet too (the film opens in a flashback to it; good de-aging makeup). But Marvin’s never a stereotype. Neither are Carradine, Mark Hamill, Bobby Di Cicco, or Kelly Ward. Because Fuller doesn’t even give them that much character in the script. All the personality to the characters comes from the actors, which is an exceptionally odd choice for Fuller to make. And a completely successful one. That open space where Fuller could’ve written character—remember the movie’s half conversation, so these guys are always talking, sometimes about themselves, but nothing about anything to do with themselves. Hamill’s an artist. We find out nothing about it, he’s just drawing all the time. Carradine’s a writer, we find out a bunch about it… but he’s never actually writing. Di Cicco and Ward imply these complicated characters in their deliveries of one-liners. It’s a very strange, very good way to… get out of doing the character work but not let it go to caricature.

Fuller does something similar with Marvin, but gives him more backstory and experience because he’s older and has more experience and backstory. But Fuller’s still relying on Marvin for all the action reactions and processing of the events he’s experiencing.

Because in many ways, the four younger guys—they’re all privates—the four privates, they’re interchangeable. During the action scenes, anyway. When one of them does something significant, sure, then they’re different—usually Fuller forecasts the character’s taking center stage—but some of the point is how everyone in the squad except Marvin is interchangeable. Fuller sets the leads apart from the other four squad members (you usually only know one other squad member at a time, the other two or three are screen filler), but not in any way to make them exemplars. They’re just the guys who hang around Marvin the most and have some unrevealed history together. It’s none of our business, they’re just our protagonists.

And, incredibly, Fuller gets away with it. Di Cicco’s charming enough, Carradine’s funny enough, Ward’s surprisingly alpha enough, Hamill’s sufficiently sad enough. See, Hamill’s the movie’s second-is lead. It’s really Carradine but the movie pretends it’s Hamill because Ukelay Ywalkerskay. And Hamill gets a fairly intense arc all to himself and Fuller makes him do it all on his face. The film charts Hamill’s abilities at emoting improving until they’re finally successful enough they cover the absence of exposition on Hamill’s subplot. Fuller avoids it, then leaves it up to Hamill to make it all right to avoid it.

It’s so well-directed. Fuller’s so thoughtful about it all. He rarely lets the film go off on tangents and usually they’re only because he’s interested in something separate from the main cast, their concerns, their needs. Fuller occasionally checks in with German sergeant Siegfried Rauch, who’s basically evil Lee Marvin. He’s got similar experiences; not just the last war, but also taking on these wet-behind-the-ears new recruits; he’s just really evil. Fuller likes using Rauch to distract from what he’s not doing with the main cast, like developing their characters. Rauch isn’t like the other main characters; Rauch never gets to mug his way through a scene. He doesn’t get free rein to do whatever on his character between his lines. He’s different.

Because, you know, he’s the Nazi.

Good photography from Adam Greenberg, great editing from Morton Tubor, very strong, very often disquieting score from Dana Kaproff. It’s a somewhat traditional war movie score, but Kaproff takes it in different directions, which help to reveal (presumably accurately) more about the lead characters.

Performances—Marvin’s great, Carradine’s great, Hamill’s good, Di Cicco and Ward are great. Marvin’s really great. He gets some great material and makes it even better.

The Big Red One is superb.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Samuel Fuller; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Morton Tubor; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Gene Corman; released by United Artists.

Starring Lee Marvin (The Sergeant), Mark Hamill (Griff), Robert Carradine (Zab), Bobby Di Cicco (Vinci), Kelly Ward (Johnson), Joseph Clark (Shep), Ken Campbell (Lemchek), Doug Werner (Switolski), Perry Lang (Kaiser), Howard Delman (Smitty), and Siegfried Rauch (The German Sergeant).



Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

The Last Jedi is a long two and a half hours. It’s an uneven split between Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega. Ridley’s off with Mark Hamill–but really having a FaceTime via the Force arc with Adam River–while Isaac is doing his damndest to get everyone killed because he doesn’t want to listen to women. Boyega starts with Isaac, then has a quest with Kelly Marie Tran. Boyega and Tran have the closest thing to character arcs. Isaac learns his lesson way too late and only because Carrie Fisher is so patient with him.

At the center of the film is not Ridley learning the ways of the Force from Hamill. Director Johnson avoids tackling that relationship, giving Hamill all his character development away from Ridley. It’s a waste of Hamill. There’s some effective homage with him, but nothing particularly sincere. Johnson–who wrote the script–seems to want nothing to do with the character.

As a result, most of Ridley’s time in the film is utterly wasted. Most meaning more than ninety-five percent. Her subplot with Driver doesn’t add up to anything. Especially since it gets resolved somewhere in the first of the film’s third acts. It basically has three of them.

Unlike the previous entry in Disney Star Wars, which repurposed the original Star Wars’s story beats, Last Jedi is a mix of Empire and Return of the Jedi, just reorganized. There’s enough content they could’ve split the movie in two and gotten more dramatic oompf out of it.

The stuff with Boyega and Tran completely lacks any subtlety and still ends up being the most effective of the film’s plot lines. Even though Johnson has a really hard time establishing Boyega at the start of the film, eventually the chemistry between the actors overcomes the rocky opening. Benicio Del Toro is the name cameo in that plot line and he’s fun. He’s painfully obvious, but he’s fun.

Meanwhile Isaac goes from ignoring Fisher’s orders to ignoring Laura Dern’s. The movie shafts Dern, redeeming her in a reveal and then it’s pretty much time for her to go. Fisher’s back. Johnson sidelines Fisher after giving her the film’s best “Force” sequence. There’s some visually interesting Dark Side stuff with Ridley–a throwback to Empire–but it ends up narratively inert like everything else Johnson does with Ridley. For all the film’s talk of heroes and legends, Johnson’s incredibly uncomfortable spending any time with them. You can only deconstruct Star Wars so much. In Last Jedi, Johnson wastes a bunch of time trying to do so.

Besides just being long and meandering because Johnson’s verbose, the film also severely lacks danger. Most of the film has the Rebel fleet running from the Empire–sorry, First Order, but damn do the interiors of the Star Destroyers look amazing just like in the seventies. The Rebels are almost out of fuel and can’t warp so the Empire is just shooting at them. The good guys’ shields can take it but not forever and they can’t actually escape.

If Johnson were able to direct for tension, it could be great. Instead, it’s just a way to winnow down the cast. Pointlessly so. Johnson does all right making the frequent death scenes momentarily tragic, but they don’t have any resonance. Last Jedi doesn’t want to have anything to do with resonating.

None of the acting is bad except Domhnall Gleeson. He and Driver bicker as they try to out-suck-up to their boss, the CGI “big bad” (voiced by Andy Serkis). Gleeson’s wholly incompetent at his job and whiny. Driver’s at least got the Dark Side and broody beats whiny. And Driver acts like Johnson’s giving him an actual character arc. Besides Ridley and Hamill, Johnson fails Driver most.

Great music from John Williams this outing. Excellent, entirely unexciting special effects. The battle scenes are similarly competent but uninspired; despite all his dawdling and dwelling, Johnson’s hasty with his action direction. Steve Yedlin’s photography is crisp but somehow bland. Editor Bob Ducsay and Johnson try to maintain the original trilogy’s wipes but without looking as dated. It’s not successful. The scenes are all a little too long, even if it’s by a few frames. Johnson is anti-brevity.

Making it’s even worse he shafts the entire cast on character arcs. The movie’s two and a half hours long. There ought to be more than enough time for the seven principal characters….

At least The Last Jedi isn’t a vanity project, though maybe it’d be better if it were. It’d mean Johnson had some personality. And he doesn’t.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rian Johnson; screenplay by Rian Johnson, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Steve Yedlin; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Daisy Ridley (Rey), Mark Hamill (Luke), Adam Driver (Kylo), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Laura Dern (Holdo), Andy Serkis (Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (Hux), and Benicio Del Toro (DJ).


The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

The Star Wars Holiday Special elicits a lot of sympathy. Not for the goings on, but for the cast. The easiest cast members to pity are Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford. Not only are they stuck in this contractually obligated ninety-some minute nightmare of terrible television, director Binder doesn’t even know how to shoot their cameos. For some reason, particularly with Fisher and Hamill, Binder shoots them from a low angle. Hamill and Fisher are lucky enough to just have regular cameos (Ford’s stuck with an extended one); only neither of them should be shot from low angle. High or eye-level, sure, but never low. Maybe it was a way to keep the actors (reasonably) happy and not to really involve them in the Special. More on Binder’s incompetencies in a bit (or not, there’s a lot to get through when it comes to incompetency and the Holiday Special).

But the most disrespected cast member is Peter Mayhew. The whole thing is about getting Chewbacca (Mayhew) back to his family for Life Day, the Wookie holiday where they either sit around the home with these luminescent balls or take the luminescent balls to the Tree of Life while enrobed. Again, Binder’s not a good director and Jerry Bixman and Vince Humphrey are worse editors, so it’s unclear if the eventual Life Day celebration at the Tree of Life is an actual event or just the Chewbacca family’s shared vision. The planet is under Imperial control, after all, and it seems unlikely the Empire would let the Wookies congregate.

Anyway, Mayhew doesn’t get anything to do. Ford’s trying to get him home for Life Day, so he’s second-fiddle to Ford for those scenes–which are an atrocious mix of Star Wars stock footage and close-up inserts–Holiday Special filmed before Empire so it’s not like the actors were already in character. And when Mayhew does get home, the Special (thankfully) is almost over. The disaster is almost complete. But it does mean Mayhew doesn’t get any time with his family and their Life Day celebration ends up hijacked by more cameos, terrible video editing effects, and, well, Fisher singing a bad song.

Because most of Holiday Special is about Mayhew’s family waiting for his arrival as they prepare for Life Day. Mickey Morton plays his wife, Paul Gale’s his dad, Patty Maloney’s his son. In some ways, it’s better they didn’t have Morton and Mayhew make out Wookie style, but not narratively. The Special already has Harvey Korman doing alien drag, fully committed, so why not just go for it. Mayhew and Morton’s eventual hug has nowhere near the emotional weight Holiday Special–not to mention a Life Day celebration–needs.

Until Mayhew (and Ford) show up at home for the celebration, it’s a rough day for the family. The Imperials are bothering them. Although Mayhew is galavanting around the galaxy, he’s still on the Empire’s census and they want to know why he’s not at home. That–way too long–scene has Jack Rader as the mean Imperial officer overseeing the search. Rader’s awful. And not in a way you can feel any sympathy for him. His subordinate Michael Potter is also awful, but at least Potter gets to Jefferson Starship and chill thanks to trader Art Carney.

About the only person in Holiday Special, at least of the featured cast, who doesn’t seem to recognize it’s an unmitigated disaster, is Carney. He’s got his shirt open to his navel, he’s maybe got the hots for Morton, and Carney’s all in. He’s never good or anywhere near it, but he doesn’t get any sympathy for the bad. Bea Arthur, who shows up as a Tatooine bar proprietress (Holiday Special shows the Star Wars cantina alien costumes need good cinematography not to look idiotic–John B. Field’s lighting is abysmal), she’s never any good, but she gets a lot of sympathy. Not so for Carney. He’s never unlikable, but he’s not pitiable.

I guess it makes him the most sincere performance in the whole thing.

Except Korman, who plays three different characters, all outside the regular action. His four-armed alien cooking show host is the best–and the only time Special is any good. The second, where Korman’s doing an instructional video on a gadget–whenever Special needs to kill time, someone watches something, usually supplied by Carney; anything not for young Maloney is inconveniently erotic. For his Life Day present, old man Wookie Gale gets a personalized holo-video of Diahann Carroll being way too suggestive for a televised kids’ holiday special before going into terrible song, which Gale enjoys in the basest sense.

In the living room, with his daughter-in-law and grandson over in the adjoining kitchen. Though Maloney might be upstairs. Carney spends a lot of time trying to keep Morton warmed up.

Then, later, Carney sits Imperial doofus Potter down in front of a Jefferson Starship hologram and Potter’s just as turned on by their performance of “Light the Sky on Fire” (a terrible song the band actually released). That holographic device Potter’s watching was meant for Morton too. There’s a lot to unpack with how the Special treats Morton. Hamill tells Morton to give him a smile, Carney’s always going in for a kiss. Why doesn’t Mayhew appreciate Morton more; must be too busy thinking of galactic galavanting.

Before the dreadful Special is over, there’s a cartoon introducing Boba Fett (voice actor Don Francks didn’t return to the part in Empire), with some odd animation choices. Though the abnormally long-faced and squinty-eyed Han Solo (voiced, of course, by Ford), is something of an amusing standout. It’s not good or interesting, but it’s bad in an amusing way, which is often the most The Star Wars Holiday Special can achieve.

I suppose the whole thing could be worse–and I realize I didn’t get back to Binder’s inept direction but, really, I can’t. I don’t want to think about what could make the Holiday Special worse. It’s terrible enough as produced.

Props to Korman, though, for managing to do a solid sketch and a half in this catastrophe of brand exploitation.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Binder; teleplay by Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, John B. Field; edited by Jerry Bixman and Vince Humphrey; music by Ian Fraser; produced by Joe Layton, Jeff Starsh, Ken Welch, and Mitzie Welch; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Mickey Morton (Malla), Patty Maloney (Lumpy), Art Carney (Saun Dann), Paul Gale (Itchy), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Bea Arthur (Ackmena), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Don Francks (Boba Fett), Diahann Carroll (Mermeia Holographic Wow), Jack Rader (Imperial Officer), and Harvey Korman (Krelman / Chef Gormaanda / Amorphian Instructor).


Batman: The Killing Joke (2016, Sam Liu)

There’s a lot to be said about Batman: The Killing Joke, both the comic book and its animated adaptation. It’s another of Alan Moore’s unintentional curses on mainstream comics; listening to his dialogue spoken… it’s clear he was hurrying through the Batman stuff. Or Kevin Conroy just doesn’t do it right. I don’t know. Because Killing Joke is also the big deal reuniting of Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. These two guys helped legitimize voice acting in animation. It became a thing. So is Conroy supposed to be doing his traditional Batman or is he supposed to be doing what the movie needs? I know my answer, but I’m not an “Animated Series” fan. Batman: The Killing Joke is a precarious proposition.

So what’s inexplicable is why there’s this misogynistic “Batgirl” short stuck on the front. It was obviously intended to be a special feature and not part of the movie proper because Liu’s downright ambitious with the Hamill Joker stuff. The flashback stuff is all crap and Liu screws it up worse, but the Joker stuff is awesome. The Batman stuff sucks. It’s earnest though, it earnestly sucks. The Batgirl opening, with dreadfully cheap animation (especially compared to the “feature” portion of the film), clearly has a story behind it. Like it was entirely farmed out and there’s some terrible overseas meninist who wanted to tell this frankly disgusting story about Batgirl being incapable as a superhero because she’s a woman. The dialogue’s real bad too. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello has some almost quite good lines in the feature, so it probably wasn’t him. It’s very cartoony, very simple language, short sentences. I’m not even sure it’s really Conroy voicing Batman, he doesn’t talk enough. And then in the feature, he can’t shut up.

Batman: The Killing Joke is far more controversial out of stupidity than anything else. If the “Batgirl” short really was something crappy your overseas studio’s C unit threw together in two weeks and the first draft of the script actually features a period joke, hire someone else. Hire anyone else to rewrite it. Because it’s really nasty and if it were actually what Killing Joke were doing–reconfiguring the entire Batman mythology in a really cheap animation style, which is what the “prologue” implies, Killing Joke would be worth talking about seriously as a film, as an adaptation of a watershed (intentional or not) moment for comic book brands. It’d be important. But it’s not. It’s a crappy, cheap, terrible prologue. And the producers don’t even have the stones to lay blame. They actually let Liu and Azzarello on the hook for it. I mean, the opening twenty-eight minutes of Killing Joke are some of the worst minutes of animation I’ve seen. There’s no visual rhythm. There’s objectification of Batgirl, who’s a cartoon. There’s a gay stereotype sidekick. There’s no narrative rhythm either. It’s like there’s an app for randomly generated screenplays with nods to social relevance and buzzwords and sex (oh, yeah, the opening slut shames Batgirl).

But there’s no apology in the “feature.” There’s no acknowledgement. There’s a bridging sequence set years after the prologue where the director (Liu?) again objectifies a cartoon character and Batman then gets to ruin her night without actually talking to her because she is a slut after all. She slept with him. And he’s old enough to be her dad. What’s so strange about the prologue is it knows what it’s doing. It knows how it’s condemning her, demeaning her. It’s intentional. And gross. And not part of the actual Killing Joke adaptation. But it’s forced upon viewers as such. These DC animated movies started out with ninety minute runtimes in hopes of syndication sales down the line and they never broke that mold. Killing Joke was going to run too short. There’s an explanation for why they made these choices, but it’s not an excuse. They don’t get a pass. It’s about not taking those adaptations seriously enough. They’ve had standouts over the years, but they’ve missed a lot of opportunities in some cases and just made terrible films in others. Would The Killing Joke be worth it as a short? No. Hamill’s great. The animation is pretty good with too many exceptions, particularly the boring Batman. Conroy’s not my thing. He’s not good with the dialogue. It’s not the right casting or not the right direction, which means commercial wins over artistic there too.

Real quick–the “feature” characterization of Strong’s Batgirl (but just alter ego Barbara Gordon) is pretty lame. Azzarello doesn’t care. But he’s not hostile. She actually gets something of an arc. And Strong is worse in the feature part than she is in the opening. In the opening she’s just got a crap script. In the feature, she’s got a less crappy script but more dramatic necessity and she doesn’t bring it. Though she’s not good. Even with Azzarello’s writerly misadventures trying to ape the original comic writer’s dialogue style; she should get to chew on those lines, but she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except she started the damn movie as narrator–the “prologue” has very nice bookends–which doesn’t figure into the rest of the film. It hangs Strong out to dry. She went from being dumb high energy to smart low energy. I mean, as is, The Killing Joke just begs for discussion–the movie kind of one-ups Superman II, which ethically castrates the Man of Steel for eternity, by ending up implying Batgirl making Batman acknowledge his sexual attraction for her meant she should end up paralyzed so she could never know similar male affections, and never again from him. It’s weird how intentionally gross it all works. It’s like someone at Warner Animation hates Liu and Azzarello and loves they’re credited on all this nastiness. Because the feature part does all right by Strong’s character. It doesn’t do well, but it does all right. Liu does have some missteps with the implied nudity (because it’s not a cartoon if it doesn’t have nudity, you know, for kids), but he finds his footing. He’s not doing cheap butt shots like in the prologue. He’s not interested in the female character enough to do anything, positive or negative; he’s there for Hamill.

When The Killing Joke was announced, I assumed it’d be crappy. When it started, with that super-cheap animation, I wasn’t surprised. DC animated movies never surprise me with their cheapness. But the “feature” portion is better than I would’ve thought, but it’s still not good. Liu’s enthusiastic but he’s not good. He’s not creative enough, especially not considering you’re taking the super-realism of Brian Bolland and turning it into a not at all super-real cartoon. It’s all supposed to be good enough because the idea of Killing Joke as an animated movie with Conroy and Hamill is cool. That prologue is supposed to get a pass because they just had to make the movie a certain length for the theatrical screenings or something. It’s Killing Joke as a cartoon, give it a pass.

It doesn’t not get a pass because of the prologue. I mean, it won’t get a pass with that prologue, I’m not going to argue for that kind of Vanilla Sky appeasement. But its fail is in Liu’s limited imagination and fundamentally weak rendering of the story. He’s too static, he’s too faithful to the original panels and he’s utterly tone deaf with this characterization of Batman.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Brian Azzarello, based on a comic book by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis; produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Sam Register; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon / Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), Maury Sterling (Paris Franz), Brian George (Alfred) and Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Bullock).


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm)

There are a lot of excellent things in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but maybe my favorite thing is the end credits music. It’s smooth jazz. It’s this smooth jazz love song over the cast and when you see names like Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller and John P. Ryan in an animated Batman movie, you want to enjoy the moment. With smooth jazz.

But, just wait, it’s not only smooth jazz. It’s a Tia Carrere song. Who knew there was such a thing as a Tia Carrere song but there is in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which makes it special. It’s not bad, either. It’s fine. Phantasm is this fifties melodrama style mixed with impossibly big buildings–which matches the lushness–and it’s a perfectly reasonable way to end the movie.

I wish they hadn’t done the “and Batman’s adventures continue” tag, but the finale of Phantasm has a number of problems. The movie starts exceptionally strong but the writing in the first act is stronger than the second and momentum runs out. It’s still really good–there are frequent action scenes and they’re phenomenal–it’s just not as good as it seemed like it might be.

Because Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is breathtaking. The designs are gorgeous, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s a solid outing for Batman; Kevin Conroy’s Batman is far more likable than anything else. He’s got personality, but not too much and not jaded personality either. It’s accessible to the kids, which is an inevitable.

But the screenwriters do a good job getting everything onto that chastened level–Conroy’s romance with Dana Delany, Hart Bochner’s sliminess. Not Mark Hamill’s Joker, however. It’s the one thing Phantasm never backs down on. It’s a very strange sensation because you’re watching a cartoon and somehow Hamill makes the character into a show-off. It shouldn’t be possible, but he’s so good, so well-timed. It’s kind of freaky, especially the editing on the Joker’s murder sequences. Al Breitenbach’s editing is great throughout, but it’s something special on those Joker sequences. It’s scary.

Good music from Shirley Walker. She has some cute nods to the Tim Burton scores.

Almost all of the acting is good, Delany and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in particular. In addition to Hamill, of course. And Conroy’s real good. Stacy Keach doesn’t impress though. It just doesn’t work.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is pretty darn good. It’s got a beauty pace–directors Radomski and Timm take their time with the shots, it’s cinematic through its pacing, not just its action sequences. It’s got some great acting. It just has some second and third act problems. But it’s pretty darn good; it’s often spectacular.

And it does end with a Tia Carrere ballad, which defies reality–a perfectly fine and appropriate Tia Carrere ballad too, which defies reality even more.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm; screenplay by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Paso and Michael Reaves, based on a story by Burnett and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Al Breitenbach; music by Shirley Walker; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Bob Hastings (Commissioner James Gordon), Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Stacy Keach (Carl Beaumont), Robert Costanzo (Detective Harvey Bullock), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P. Ryan (Buzz Bronski) and Mark Hamill (The Joker).


Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

Nothing really works out in Return of the Jedi. Even the opening, which is about as good as it can be with director Marquand’s inability to direct the actors and do the special effects, doesn’t exactly work out. Jedi’s problems keep bumping into each other, knocking over the good stuff.

What good stuff? Jabba the Hutt. The Jabba the Hutt puppet is truly amazing. Carrie Fisher. For the first hour of the movie, Fisher gets a whole bunch to do and she’s great at it. Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas’s script doesn’t have much good about it–at its best, it’s just barely competent–but it does structure a good role for Fisher. And she nails it, even with Marquand’s lame direction. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have anything for her to do once the Ewoks show up.

Are the Ewoks good? The walking, adorable warrior teddy bears?

The costumes are good. But then, all of Jedi’s special effects are well-designed. The special effects sequences are often cut terribly and Alan Hume’s photography leaves a lot to be desired, but the visual concepts are strong. One desperately wants to cut Jedi some slack, just because it seems like things should be working. They just aren’t. Not even John Williams’s score. He has his moments, but there’s no overarching feel to the score. And it’s even bad at times.

As far as the actors go… besides Fisher, the best performances is probably Billy Dee Williams. Williams has a pointless role and he works at it anyway. Harrison Ford has a really weak opening and then is just supposed to charm his way through most of the film. Even when there is a possible good moment, Jedi doesn’t deliver.

And Mark Hamill’s bad. It’s not his fault, but he’s not good. He’s better than Ian McDiarmid though.

Jedi works hard without trying anything. It’s a real disappointment, especially for Hamill, Ford and Fisher. They deserved a lot better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Marquand; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas and Duwayne Dunham; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Howard G. Kazanjian; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

The most amazing aspect of The Empire Strikes Back is its effortlessness. The film is clearly exceptionally complex–the three story lines have different sets, different actors, different tones, not to mention entirely different special effects requirements–not to mention Frank Oz’s Yoda–but it all appears effortless. Director Kershner is infinitely confident, infinitely assured. He simultaneously manipulates the actors while trusting their abilities entirely.

A lot of Empire’s success is due to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay. The relationship between Mark Hamill and Oz, the one between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher–not to mention the beautiful acknowledgement of the first film–the little character moments, acknowledging the time they spend together, Anthony Daniels getting to acknowledge the “unreality” of the film, every little thing is so good. There’s a beautiful flow to the film.

And John Williams is responsible for a lot of that flow. Kershner, Williams, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Paul Hirsch, production designer Norman Reynolds. Those five people are responsible for Empire’s lush, emotive style. It’s a treat. It’s meant to be a treat. These five people get to flex their abilities. They get to show off. But they don’t, because it’s even better to produce something magnificent. Empire is, hands down, my favorite example of a well-produced film. So I guess Gary Kurtz is the most responsible.

Anyway. Williams. Williams and the music. It’s entirely possible between Williams, Suschitzky and Hirsch, no one could give a bad performance in the film. There’s no way to test the theory, unfortunately, because all of the actors are phenomenal. The script–and Kershner–acknowledge the cast’s chemistry and different styles and molds Empire around them. What’s most strange is when Billy Dee Williams arrives, he fits in with them perfectly. Of course, perfect is the only word to describe the film’s performances.

I’m at a bit of a loss as how to close. I thought about talking about how Brackett and Kasdan borrow a lot of plotting techniques from Westerns, but Kershner doesn’t, which actually makes for a more interesting discussion but not a closing.

The Empire Strikes Back is sort of a humanist, escapist picture. Kershner and the rest of the crew–I mean, come on, the special effects are astounding and the way Kershner builds to bigger, then smaller, sequences is breathtaking–they do an amazing job. Everyone does. It’s singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Irvin Kershner; screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


Village of the Damned (1995, John Carpenter)

Village of the Damned has three major problems. In no particular order… I’ll start with the stunt casting. Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill and Michael Paré are all–to varying degrees–genre actors. While Reeve and Paré are both fine, Alley’s out of her depth and Hamill’s just terrible.

Some of Alley’s failings–and some of Hamill’s even–tie directly to Village‘s next big issue. It has enough characters and story for a mini-series, not a ninety-some minute feature. It takes place over nine or ten years, most of those years flying by without enough reestablishment of the ground situation. Major supporting characters disappear, like the actors had to go do something else. Village lacks any narrative ambition and it needs a lot.

The third problem, in terms of Carpenter’s direction, involves that lack of ambition. He never figures out how to make the evil, psychic Aryan children scary. They do nasty things and such, but they aren’t scary because he makes them so obvious. It doesn’t help the kids are bad actors–Lindsey Haun is particularly bad as the ringleader, but Thomas Dekker isn’t much better as the primary male.

Most of the other performances are good. Linda Kozlowski does well as the secondary lead (it oscillates between her and Alley). Karen Kahn, Peter Jason and George ‘Buck’ Flower are all fine. However, Pippa Pearthree is terrible.

Carpenter has occasional good directorial moments, but he’s clearly disinterested, which is too bad. Reeve and Koslowski deserve better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by David Himmelstein, based on a novel by John Wyndham and a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter and Dave Davies; production designer, Rodger Maus; produced by Michael Preger and Sandy King; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Dr. Alan Chaffee), Kirstie Alley (Dr. Susan Verner), Linda Kozlowski (Jill McGowan), Michael Paré (Frank McGowan), Meredith Salenger (Melanie Roberts), Mark Hamill (Reverend George), Pippa Pearthree (Sarah, George’s Wife), Peter Jason (Ben Blum), Constance Forslund (Callie Blum), Karen Kahn (Barbara Chaffee), Thomas Dekker (David McGowan), Lindsey Haun (Mara Chaffee) and George ‘Buck’ Flower (Carlton).


Slipstream (1989, Steven Lisberger)

A lot of Slipstream plays like The Road Warrior with gliders. In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, everyone flies around because of a jet stream ravaging the surface. It’s never clear where this jet stream is located and not, in a geographic sense, because they always manage to safely take off and land… while at other times it’s so bad it blows things apart.

Lisberger doesn’t know how to operate on a small budget; the film looks awful because of his composition. It doesn’t help his cinematographer, Frank Tidy, is incompetent. Long sequences are completely incomprehensible because Tidy doesn’t give them enough light and Lisberger doesn’t know how to shoot in cramped spaces.

But the big problem is Tony Kayden’s script. How a producer like Gary Kurtz didn’t know he had a bad script is beyond me. The dialogue’s so bad, it makes me wonder if it wasn’t intended to be a kids’ movie… only one rampant with Bill Paxton’s character’s misogyny.

The acting is, similarly, bad. I suppose Bob Peck is all right. His part is terribly written, but Peck’s abilities are enough he can turn in a dignified performance. Paxton is playing Hudson from Aliens again, just with long hair. Mark Hamill is hilariously bad. Kitty Aldridge and Eleanor David are weak too. Ben Kingsley’s awful in an unrecognizable cameo.

Even the Elmer Bernstein is bad—well, half of it. The other half is actually quite good.

On the other hand, the second unit shoots the Irish countryside beautifully.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Lisberger; written by Tony Kayden; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by Entertainment.

Starring Mark Hamill (Tasker), Kitty Aldridge (Belitski), Bill Paxton (Matt Owens), Bob Peck (Byron), Eleanor David (Ariel), Robbie Coltrane (Montclaire), Ben Kingsley (Avatar) and F. Murray Abraham (Cornelius).


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