Meg Ryan

Restoration (1995, Michael Hoffman)

Restoration is two parts period drama, one part character study, one part comedy. It’s often tragic, both because of events occurring and because it takes place in 1665 England and 1665 wasn’t a great time to be alive given the state of medical knowledge versus, you know, disease. Or mental health. The general complete misunderstanding of mental health (though at least they don’t think people are possessed with demon) plays a big part in the dramatics, the comedy, and the character study. There’s always the possibility for comedy… until the plague shows up. Once the plague arrives, it’s full dramatics for a while. The film doesn’t lose its sense of humor, just—appropriately—doesn’t employ it.

The film tells the story of 17th century medical doctor Robert Downey Jr. (who does an amazing job playing English). Despite innate medical talents, Downey doesn’t like how it’s the 17th century and people die from terrible things all the time. It’s a downer. So when he lucks into a court appointment for the King (a delightful Sam Neill), he takes it. It means he gets to drink and carouse and not go bankrupt from it like if he were a working stiff. Things get complicated when Neill then makes Downey marry one of his mistresses (Polly Walker) to legitimize her because Downey immediately falls for her. This portion of the film, after the gruesome medical realities of the opening, is the most comedic. Especially after Hugh Grant shows up as a portrait painter who annoys Downey so Downey annoys him back. Downey’s also got a sidekick—an affable Ian McKellen—during this sequence.

But it’s 1665 and Downey’s in his position by grace of the King and when the King decides no more grace… down Downey falls. He ends up in the 17th century equivalent of a sanitarium, run by Quakers—Downey’s best friend, David Thewlis is a Quaker, which the film actually never plays for jokes when contrasting Thewlis and Downey in the first act. In fact, Downey’s played for the laughs. A fantastic Ian McDiarmid runs the sanitarium and Meg Ryan is one of the… well, patients. They call them “inmates” though; not treating them unkindly but bound by the Quakerism when it comes to trying to help them. Outsider Downey’s the one who has the idea maybe people suffering mental health problems can (and should) be helped. If one of the better off patients who’s clearly suffering from profound depression and happens to look like Meg Ryan… well, bonus.

The plague’s arrival changes everything—again—and puts Downey through multiple harrowing experiences, some small, some big, some internal, some external. Rupert Walters’s script is never particularly outstanding, but the plotting and pacing are fantastic. Restoration moves at a steady clip, knowing exactly when it needs some humor, knowing exactly when it needs some sympathy. Hoffman’s direction of the actors is quite good, making up for his mostly mediocre composition. He and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton do a fine job showing off the beautiful, ornate Eugenio Zanetti production design—the film’s got some great sets, gorgeous costumes, and so on—but Hoffman’s pretty obvious with all of it. He’s clearly more confident with the lighter elements than the more serious ones. It works out but it’s where Restoration feels like a missed opportunity. Hoffman feels essential when it comes to the performances, but not with the film’s visuals.

Downey’s character only develops because of the people he encounters in his life—Thewlis, Walker, Ryan, Neill, McKellen, Grant—but none of the supporting parts are substantial. Neill has a lot of screen time, but he’s a plot foil. He’s the King after all. Ryan’s kind of got the biggest supporting part, but not really any more screen time than any of the other supporting parts. Her performance (as an Irish woman) is fine; she’s very likable. She and Downey definitely work well together. But not a great part, as written.

Everyone’s good—Walker, Thewlis, Grant. No matter what they do, funny, sad, whatever, it’s all about how they play off Downey anyway. The film’s narrative distance is superbly steady in its tracking of Downey.

James Newton Howard’s score is good. Appropriately lush and dramatic. Restoration is a well-executed production.

The key is Downey, who’s essential to the film’s success even though he shouldn’t be—i.e. that quarter character study. Downey’s experience of the film’s events and how they affect him is the film’s greatest achievement. Downey’s performance sets the tone, everything else has to meet that level. Great performance in a solidly but not superlatively written or directed film. The film’s all about Downey, letting it hinge entirely on his performance. And he excels.

Thanks to Downey, and also Hoffman, Walters, Ryan, Neill, and everyone else in various degrees, Restoration’s consistently successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; screenplay by Rupert Walters, based on the novel by Rose Tremain; director of photography, Oliver Stapleton; edited by Garth Craven; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Eugenio Zanetti; costume designer, James Acheson; produced by Sarah Black, Cary Brokaw, and Andy Paterson; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Robert), Sam Neill (The King), David Thewlis (John), Polly Walker (Celia), Meg Ryan (Katharine), Ian McKellen (Will), Hugh Grant (Finn), and Ian McDiarmid (Ambrose).


Innerspace (1987, Joe Dante)

It’s always a surprise when I remember Innerspace wasn’t a hit (it was also the first movie I ever saw as a letterboxed VHS–it was letterbox only). It’s easily Dante’s most populist work–I don’t think a single Dante “touch,” except for Dick Miller, shows up in the film until the appearance of Kevin McCarthy. Before, it’s all general action comedy sci-fi stuff.

Martin Short quickly establishes himself as essential to the film (his first scene comes a little bit earlier than the narrative needs him to be introduced). He shows up right before Dennis Quaid gets miniaturized, but that sequence is relatively long and detailed. Dante doesn’t worry about giving the audience a lot of immediate information, which might have been another problem.

Once Quaid and Short do get together, Innerspace moves without any slowing. When there is a scene–between Short and Meg Ryan–about taking a breather, it gets interrupted. It’s never a forced pace. In a lot of ways, Innerspace has Dante’s most professional direction. He never goes wild, but he never even hints at a misstep.

Short’s outstanding, Quaid and Ryan are both good.

Great Jerry Goldsmith score too.

Dante’s completely–and, unfortunately, wrongly–confident an audience will be comfortable with so many genres mixing at once. Until the end, there’s not a single sci-fi oriented action sequence–there’s lots of action comedy scenes, as it would be impossible to take Short seriously during any of them.

It’s one of Dante’s best.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser, based on a story by Proser; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Lt. Tuck Pendleton), Martin Short (Jack Putter), Meg Ryan (Lydia Maxwell), Kevin McCarthy (Victor Eugene Scrimshaw), Fiona Lewis (Dr. Margaret Canker), Vernon Wells (Mr. Igoe), Robert Picardo (The Cowboy), Wendy Schaal (Wendy), Harold Sylvester (Pete Blanchard), William Schallert (Dr. Greenbush), Henry Gibson (Mr. Wormwood), John Hora (Ozzie Wexler), Mark L. Taylor (Dr. Niles) and Kevin Hooks (Duane).


Kate & Leopold (2001, James Mangold)

I unintentionally watched the Roger Ebert cut of Kate & Leopold. I originally saw it at a sneak preview with the plot intact. Ebert saw it around the same time and threatened to complain or whatever if they didn’t cut it.

It works all right, but the original cut is available on DVD. I thought that version is what I’d be watching.

But it wasn’t.

It’s a perfectly fine romantic comedy.

Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are way too good for it. Schreiber’s performance is fantastic, of course. Jackman’s continuing his development into this romantic leading man–that role never really took off for him. His most popular role, for female audiences, is Wolverine. That Wolverine movie, over half the audience opening weekend was female.

It seems kind of natural to stick him in a Meg Ryan movie . . . I guess. Except this one’s a post-Russell Crowe Ryan movie, after she’d lost her luster.

It’s amazing how little work goes into making her a character, other than her being Meg Ryan. It’s upsetting–comparing Innerspace Ryan to this film–it’s this watered down version.

Mangold does a good job directing. His script’s long, with too many characters.

All the acting’s good except Bradley Whitford, which is because they cast him as a nasty Adventures in Babysitting Bradley Whitford role . . . only after he was Josh Lyman Bradley Whitford, which doesn’t make any sense.

Breckin Meyer’s good in it.

It’s fine. One should, if possible, see the director’s cut.

But it is long.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Mangold and Steven Rogers, based on a story by Rogers; director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh; edited by David Brenner; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Meg Ryan (Kate McKay), Hugh Jackman (Leopold), Liev Schrieber (Stuart Besser), Breckin Meyer (Charlie McKay), Natasha Lyonne (Darci), Bradley Whitford (J.J. Camden), Paxton Whitehead (Uncle Millard), Spalding Gray (Dr. Geisler) and Philip Bosco (Otis).


Flesh and Bone (1993, Steve Kloves)

Dennis Quaid’s performance in Flesh and Bone is complicated. The character, the hints the film offers into him, is more complicated, but Quaid’s performance somehow encapsulates all those unknowns without defining them. The film has some really strange touching scenes, as Quaid’s character lets down the wall long enough to express himself. And the anguish at not being wooden to everyone plays beautifully on Quaid’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever used wooden as a compliment to a performance before, but here it’s essential. The film wouldn’t make any sense if Quaid were any different.

The surprising performance–it’s no surprise Quaid is good–is Meg Ryan. The kewpie doll almost, but not quite, broken by life’s hardships. Ryan’s great during the “salad days” scenes and the almost comic scenes (Kloves knows how to mix genre), but she’s better during the other scenes. The scenes where she isn’t cute and she especially pulls off the odyssey scene. It’s hard to explain that scene. She walks across endless cornfields, empty of anything else, but full of everything unsaid in her character’s past. It’s a stunning sequence (ably assisted by Kloves and the sound designer and composer Thomas Newman).

As for Gwyneth Paltrow and James Caan… both are fantastic. Caan has one of those beautiful roles–he gets do whatever he wants, but it’s also very grounded and terrifying. Paltrow’s performance suggests dramatic potential she’s never realized.

Kloves’s script and direction are perfect. The script is something singular in its plotting. He gently brings the character relationships to new levels, subtlety, almost with a hands off approach. With the romance between Quaid and Ryan, it makes sense, since their husband and wife status does something for the film. But the odd relationship between Ryan and Paltrow… it’s more impressive. Kloves’s handling of female characters–there are the two main ones, one minor one, and one even more minor–is perfect.

I was a little apprehensive about the film. I haven’t seen it in nine years and it runs over two hours and I remembered it being boring. It’s not boring, not even in a good way. Nothing happens–Kloves’s gimmick, if it qualifies–isn’t an issue for the majority of the film so it’s not getting in the way. It’s a character study with the possibility and ingredients for sensationalism and it never strays. It’s always perfect. Especially given the short present action (four days or so) of the film. It’s exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Kloves; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Mark Rosenberg and Paula Weinstein; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Arlis Sweeney), Meg Ryan (Kay Davies), James Caan (Roy Sweeney), Gwyneth Paltrow (Ginnie), Jerry Swindall (Young Arlis), Scott Wilson (Elliot) and Christopher Rydell (Reese Davies).


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).


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