Mark Harmon

Summer School (1987, Carl Reiner)

There’s an almost magical competency to Summer School. It starts with the opening titles, which are expertly edited to showcase the eventual primary cast members. Not the adults–outside lead Mark Harmon–rather the students. There’s no audible dialogue, just a rock song playing, but there’s enough performance from the actors to give personality to their characters before they get introduced. It’s a magical competency because it’s not just Bud Molin’s editing or Reiner’s direction of the actors or Jeff Franklin’s screenplay–it’s unclear whose idea it was to go with this efficient introduction–but it prepares the viewer for what’s to come. It encourages sympathy to this cast of characters, something the film builds on for quite a while.

Molin’s editing is strong throughout the film, so I guess I’ll talk about he and Reiner first. There’s no gloss to Summer School. Reiner’s most complicated sequence, outside a gore scene where he relies heavily on the effects and Molin, is probably a fender bender. And most of it’s off screen. Instead, Reiner just showcases the actors. None of them are particularly great, but everyone’s likable. Even when their performances are a little thin–admittedly, Richard Steven Horvitz and Fabiana Udenio don’t exactly have the deepest characters–they’re still extremely affable, which is partly due to Franklin’s screenplay.

Summer School has five or six distinct sections. It follows a traditional three act narrative, but Franklin splits those acts. There’s the opening introduction to Harmon, where his gym teacher gets stuck teaching a remedial English class, where he meets Kirstie Alley, where he meets the class of misfits. That section segues into the goofball comedy aspect of the film, where they have madcap misadventures, before moving into the second act where things start to get a little more serious academically. As things get serious academically, then the screenplay treats the students more seriously personally. The film could have a completely natural structure–a six week summer school session with an exam at the end, but it isn’t until late into the second act when the exam becomes important to the narrative. It’s extremely well-plotted and Reiner has a handle on how to pace it all out.

Harmon’s more likable than good. He’s charming and endearing and really spry. It’s impossible to imagine the film without such a physical lead, even though that physicality isn’t necessary to the part. It’s an enthusiasm. Alley’s good as his love interest. She doesn’t have a lot to do but they have enough chemistry to get it through. Robin Thomas is a fantastic vice principal villain (and Alley’s boyfriend).

Of the students, Kelly Jo Minter and Shawnee Smith probably give the best performances. Courtney Thorne-Smith gets the most to do and she’s adequate. No one gets exactly enough because there’s not room in the film for it; they just need to be funny and likable. Dean Cameron and Gary Riley, for example, are funnier than they are good. Patrick Labyorteaux’s sturdy, ditto Ken Olandt.

There are some third act problems when Thomas becomes less of a goof villain and more of a threat, but the film brings it together for the finish. There’s also a strong Danny Elfman score.

Summer School doesn’t worry about being smart, it’s just smartly constructed.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; screenplay by Jeff Franklin, based on a story by Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev and Franklin; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Bud Molin; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Franklin, George Shapiro and Howard West; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mark Harmon (Freddy Shoop), Kirstie Alley (Robin Bishop), Robin Thomas (Gills), Patrick Labyorteaux (Kevin Winchester), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Pam House), Dean Cameron (Francis ‘Chainsaw’ Gremp), Gary Riley (Dave Frazier), Kelly Jo Minter (Denise Green), Ken Olandt (Larry Kazamias), Shawnee Smith (Rhonda Altobello), Richard Steven Horvitz (Alan Eakian), Fabiana Udenio (Anna-Maria Mazarelli), Duane Davis (Jerome Watkins) and Francis X. McCarthy (Principal Kelban).


Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010, Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery)

The new wave of superhero cartoons for, ostensibly, adults (because they’re rated PG-13) has turned out a handful of decent pictures. The directors of this one, Montgomery and Liu, separately, directed the entirety of that handful. So I thought I’d try it for them. Plus, this one’s written by Dwayne McDuffie, who’s a comic book writer and produced that “Justice League” cartoon everyone says is so good. After Crisis on Two Earths, I’m doubtful.

The film’s not just lame or poorly plotted (the dialogue isn’t incompetent), it’s stupid. There’s no first act, but there’s a story too big not to have one. It feels like an episode of a cartoon, really. A very special episode of a cartoon, which isn’t worth my giving it the attention of something attempting to be a feature.

And Mark Harmon’s awful as Superman. James Woods’s silly as the evil Batman, but Harmon’s just terrible. He might be the ruining factor, actually. Harmon’s casting seems a result of his being a team leader on a TV show and he’s the team leader here. But his voice is old sounding, so it doesn’t match Superman’s appearance, and it’s really just not forceful enough. He doesn’t sound like Superman.

With the exception of these cartoons actually recommended to me, I only watch them because they’re short and occasionally have good voice acting and I always get some crank leaving negative comments to my negative response to the film.

Sorry, I meant cartoon. In the pejorative sense.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery; written by Dwayne McDuffie; edited by Margaret Hou; music by James L. Venable; produced by Bobbie Page; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Mark Harmon (Superman), James Woods (Owlman), Chris Noth (Lex Luthor), William Baldwin (Batman), Josh Keaton (The Flash), Gina Torres (Super Woman), Nolan North (Green Lantern / Power Ring), James Patrick Stuart (Johnny Quick), Brian Bloom (Ultraman), Jonathan Adams (Martian Manhunter) and Bruce Davison (President Slade Wilson).


The Presidio (1988, Peter Hyams)

I can’t forget so I need to open with it. In this ‘rah-rah, go USA’ twiddle, Sean Connery actually hijacks a eulogy at a Medal of Honor winner’s funeral to resolve his issues with his daughter. It’s a hilarious close to the movie, which has such bad jokes throughout, a laugh track wouldn’t be out of place.

The film’s actually incredibly important in terms of 1980s film history–it’s Paramount trying to repeat pass success without the people involved with those successes. The Presidio is basically a Simpson/Bruckheimer production (down to the terrible script from Larry Ferguson), just without their particular brand of cinematic styling–for all the lame chases and exploding cars, Peter Hyams is not a bad director… he has a good understanding of using a Panavision frame to tell narrative, apparently just not the sense to know how to fix a bad script. The film’s missing a hip score and Eddie Murphy. Mark Harmon’s in the Eddie Murphy role, though I’m not sure if Simpson and Bruckheimer would have gotten rid of Connery. (He’s actually not terrible in it, with his native… ability–or long experience–above the script).

Harmon’s pretty terrible, with his bouffant hair doing most of the “acting” for him. Casting Harmon as a tough cop was a ludicrous decision and he spends most of the film utterly lost, kind of like a deer in headlights. Meg Ryan, however, is pretty good.

Hyams takes advantage of San Francisco as a location (not just for the frequent chases) and it gives The Presidio a classier look than it deserves. But as a Paramount executive shepherd’s pie–I’m wondering if all the principles were fulfilling contracts since all three did Paramount work just prior–it’s a gem. It’s atrocious, with simpler politics than First Blood (how they didn’t get a Reagan cameo, I don’t know), but it’s always rare to see a film so empty of any artfulness.

And what was Jack Warden doing in it? From The Verdict to The Presidio… it’s inexplicable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; written by Larry Ferguson; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by D. Constantine Conte; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell), Mark Harmon (Jay Austin), Meg Ryan (Donna Caldwell), Jack Warden (Sgt. Maj. Ross Maclure), Mark Blum (Arthur Peale), Dana Gladstone (Col. Paul Lawrence) and Jenette Goldstein (Patti Jean Lynch).


Goliath Awaits (1981, Kevin Connor)

Goliath Awaits stars Mark Harmon as Doug McClure. Well, sort of. Harmon plays the Doug McClure role if Goliath was one of director Kevin Connor’s American International lost world pictures. And Goliath really is nothing but those four films rolled into one and modernized and given a budget (for a mini-series) far beyond whatever Connor had on the Time Forgot films. At the beginning, McClure would have been a real improvement over Harmon, who sports a mustache… oh, he was thirty? He seems like he was twenty-three… Anyway, Harmon can’t handle the lead in the teaser (since it’s a mini-series, the teaser runs about a half hour) and I was getting ready for a dreadful two and a half hours, then Robert Forster shows up as the other lead and Harmon moves over to a supporting position and he’s fine. Forster’s great, of course.

The film is oddly never slow. At three hours, it ought to be slow, but it’s really only two hours and fifteen minutes because it starts when Harmon and Forster (along with Connor mainstay–and mustache-free here–John Ratzenberger) get down to the sunken luxury liner and discover the lost world of the film (the Awaits part of the title makes little sense to me). I can’t get in to how the sunken ship has survivors and whatnot, but Christopher Lee is in charge and Frank Gorshin is his sidekick. Lee’s great in Goliath and Gorshin–doing a Lucky the Leprechaun impression–is terrible. Gorshin does Goliath more disservice than imaginable (I mean, Eddie Albert looks good by comparison). I kept wondering if, without Gorshin, it’d have been better.

Because, as a TV mini-series, Goliath follows a format–even if it is a lost world movie, it has a lot disaster movie elements–and that format means the story comes second to the cast and their likability. This aspect is why TV mini-series and TV movies are so different from theatricals… like a TV show, one is tuning in for the characters more than the events and one can change channels (unless he or she is a Christian) a lot easier than getting up and leaving a movie theater. So Harmon working out is important. His romance with Emma Samms–who I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anything before, but she’s very likable in Goliath–is important. The infrequent John Carradine performances… important (Carradine’s a hoot).

Besides Gorshin, the worst performance is Alex Cord, who’s playing an English doctor with a Texas accent. He’s awful and silly and wears around a grey sweatshirt all the time. Makes no sense. Otherwise, the performances are good (Duncan Regehr deserving a named recognition).

But, as far as directing goes, Connor doesn’t have much to do with Goliath. He sets a tone, sure, and the budget allows the submerged ship to look good… If I didn’t know about his other movies, I wouldn’t know I should be noticing comparisons. It’s very competent and solid, but it’s unspectacular.

Still, all things considered, it’s rather successful. (Especially given its excellent final act, so well-done, not even Gorshin can ruin it).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Richard M. Bluel and Pat Fielder, based on a story by Bluel, Fielder and Hugh Benson; director of photography, Al Francis; edited by Donald Douglas and J. Terry Williams; music by George Duning; production designer, Ross Bellah; produced by Benson; aired by Operation Prime Time.

Starring Eddie Albert (Admiral Wiley Sloan), John Carradine (Ronald Bentley), Alex Cord (Dr. Sam Marlowe), Robert Forster (Comdr. Jeff Selkirk), Frank Gorshin (Dan Wesker), Mark Harmon (Peter Cabot), Christopher Lee (John McKenzie), Jean Marsh (Dr. Goldman), John McIntire (Senator Oliver Bartholomew), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Bartholomew), Duncan Regehr (Paul Ryker), Emma Samms (Lea McKenzie), Alan Fudge (Lew Bascomb), Lori Lethin (Maria) and John Ratzenberger (Bill Sweeney).


Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan), the expanded edition

Thirty-nine years old when Wyatt Earp was released, all Kevin Costner needed to do to de-age himself twenty years was smile. During the young Earp days, Costner looks younger than costar Annabeth Gish, not to mention Linden Ashby (playing his younger brother).

The extended version of Wyatt Earp clocks in at three and a half hours. It’s not available on DVD, which is a shame, since it’s the only way to watch the film. Wyatt Earp is a tragedy, spending an hour setting up the character as an affable, hopeful (and a little simple) young man, then destroys him. If he weren’t destroyed, of course, he wouldn’t be much of a main character but I’d forgotten how affecting his destruction is to watch. The film is unique in its lack of acts–first, second and third–it follows the character from youth and, while it must skip some boring parts, contains little in the way of rising action. For example, there’s every indication Joanna Going is going to be as insignificant to the film overall as Téa Leoni. In fact, Leoni’s got more potential as a romantic interest than Going.

The romance between Costner and Going, the emotional reconstruction of his character, is one of the more singular things about the film, as is the friendship with Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. For the first hour and a half, the strong emphasis on the Earp brothers (for someone who constantly derides the film, Michael Madsen has never been as good as he is in this film). The scenes with the brothers rarely allow for emotion in the first half (family being pre-decided) but the relationship with Holliday allows for not just wonderful scenes, but also a striking rumination on friendship.

Those scenes, the romantic ones and the friendship ones, allow Costner to act. After the first hour, he quickly becomes the uncompromising Wyatt Earp of legend. Only Going and Quaid provide an outlet for the emotion left behind. Except for when the film makes its big final change–the film goes through three major moods, which I guess could be used to mark act changes, but not really–and these moods are marked gradually. They’re the sum of what’s come before in the story… the last one is the best, because it allows Costner to visualize it for the audience, something the first one doesn’t provide.

Before I forget–a major aspect of Wyatt Earp is its condemnation of the West and its settlers. Not just the Indians, which is only barely suggested–the contrast between the scenes in civilized Missouri, the untouched West and the “settled” West are striking. It’s a lot like High Noon in its portrayal of (the majority) of the townspeople throughout.

The acting is uniformly excellent, though I suppose Quaid gives the best performance. I’d sort of forgotten he was going to be in it, since he doesn’t show up for an hour and twenty and then he has his first scene and I remembered what an exceptional performance he gives. Gene Hackman is the Earp family father for the first hour and he’s good (his performance might be what makes Costner’s as a twenty-two year-old more work). Like I said, Michael Madsen’s actually good for once and Linden Ashby’s great. JoBeth Williams, David Andrews and Lewis Smith all have some good scenes. Bill Pullman too. But I really could just list the majority of the cast, all of them have good scenes.

Kasdan’s direction is fantastic, both in the scenes between characters and the more epical, Western-type shots. Wyatt Earp is one of the last biopics I’ve seen–the genre seems to have petered out, but maybe I’ve just stopped seeing them because they all look terrible or something. Most are terrible, but there are some great films like this one. Still, even the good ones are often simple, and Wyatt Earp is exceptionally complex.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Kasdan; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Carol Littleton; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Kasdan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp), Dennis Quaid (Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman (Nicholas Earp), David Andrews (James Earp), Linden Ashby (Morgan Earp), Jeff Fahey (Ike Clanton), Joanna Going (Josie Marcus), Mark Harmon (Johnny Behan), Michael Madsen (Virgil Earp), Catherine O’Hara (Allie Earp), Bill Pullman (Ed Masterson), Isabella Rossellini (Big Nose Kate), Tom Sizemore (Bat Masterson), JoBeth Williams (Bessie Earp), Mare Winningham (Mattie Blaylock), James Gammon (Mr. Sutherland), Rex Linn (Frank McLaury), Randle Mell (John Clum), Annabeth Gish (Urilla Sutherland), Lewis Smith (Curly Bill Brocius), Betty Buckley (Virginia Earp), Alison Elliott (Lou Earp), Todd Allen (Sherm McMasters), Mackenzie Astin (Young Man on Boat), Jim Caviezel (Warren Earp), Karen Grassle (Mrs. Sutherland), John Dennis Johnston (Frank Stillwell), Téa Leoni (Sally), Martin Kove (Ed Ross), Kirk Fox (Pete Spence), Boots Southerland (Marshall White), Scotty Augare (Indian Charlie), Gabriel Folse (Billy Clanton), John Lawlor (Judge Spicer), Michael McGrady (John Shanssey), Mary Jo Niedzielski (Martha Earp) and Ian Bohen (Young Wyatt).


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