Melinda Dillon

Captain America (1990, Albert Pyun), the director’s cut

Captain America actually has a few interesting ideas. First is how Carla Cassola’s scientist (she creates the villain, Scott Paulin’s Red Skull, and Captain America—played by Matt Salinger) almost serves as a surrogate mother to the two boys. Well, they’re supposed to be boys when they change. Cassola probably gives the film’s best performance; she manages to imply depth rather well.

Second is how Captain America is a failure. The script touches on it and Salinger tries, but there’s just not enough character development to show it. Instead of focusing on the titular character, Captain America often focuses on the supporting cast.

The film reunites Christmas Story stars Darren McGavin (who’s awful) and Melinda Dillon (who’s just bad). Of course, they don’t have a scene together. Neither do Deliverance alumni Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. Beatty’s bad, but Cox has his moments. One wonders if he wanted to be an action star, as he gets to beat up a bunch of eurotrash.

Oh, that element’s another amusing one. All of Paulin’s gang are eurotrash. It’s sort of funny.

Salinger’s not always terrible, but he’s too physically awkward to be believable. Not to mention the costume being a disaster. His love interest, played by Kim Gillingham, is bad. Except in her old age makeup.

Michael Nouri manages not to embarrass himself too much.

Pyun’s direction is mostly weak, often obviously due to the minuscule budget; he’ll occasionally have a profound shot.

It’s fairly awful, but at least it’s interestingly awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Pyun; screenplay by Stephen Tolkin, based on a story by Tolkin and Lawrence Block and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Philip Alan Waters; edited by Jon Poll; music by Barry Goldberg; production designer, Douglas H. Leonard; produced by Menahem Golan; released by 21st Century Film Corporation.

Starring Matt Salinger (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Ronny Cox (Tom Kimball), Ned Beatty (Sam Kolawetz), Darren McGavin (General Fleming), Michael Nouri (Lt. Colonel Louis), Scott Paulin (Red Skull), Kim Gillingham (Bernice Stewart / Sharon), Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Rogers), Bill Mumy (Young General Fleming), Francesca Neri (Valentina de Santis) and Carla Cassola (Dr. Maria Vaselli).


A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)

I don’t get A Christmas Story‘s continued success. I mean, I get its initial success (I grew up with it, on video, and remember my friends talking about it before I got to see it and the film living up to expectations), but it’s hard to believe people still like it. I mean, what do they like about it? What does someone who thinks Wild Hogs is comedic genius get out of this film?

Anyway, this viewing–it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and I think I always forget how the opening titles play–I realized just what a precious object Clark is making here. Since the last time I watched it, I’ve listened to some Jean Shepherd radio programs and A Christmas Story is remarkably tame (I also notice Peter Billingsley is played as a bit of a doofus for a protagonist, until the end when it’s clear Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin are the real leads).

There are some issues with Clark’s object here–well, some issues with how Reginald H. Morris photographs it. There are about six shots where the lighting is just off, like the film got developed wrong. It hurts the flow. Luckily the excellent soundtrack and Clark’s directorial abilities (has anyone ever commented on how the Chinese restaurant sequence is one magnificent shot–someone should have), make up for any bumps.

It’s amazing how little Christmas itself has to do with the film itself. It could have been called practically anything else.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark, based on a novel by Shepherd; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer; production designer, Reuben Freed; produced by Clark and René Dupont; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker), Darren McGavin (The Old Man), Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker), Ian Petrella (Randy Parker), Scott Schwartz (Flick), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Jeff Gillen (Santa Claus).


Harry and the Hendersons (1987, William Dear)

Harry and the Hendersons has to be one of the most emotionally manipulative movies ever made. Amblin produced it (though Spielberg’s name isn’t on the credits anywhere) and it comes off as the finale part of the E.T. and Gremlins trilogy. Except in this one, it isn’t about a boy and his Bigfoot, it’s about John Lithgow and his Bigfoot, with Lithgow the hunter realizing maybe he shouldn’t be killing animals for the fun of it. (The movie’s on a lot firmer ground, reality-wise, than its predecessors). Maybe that message, the anti-hunting one, the humanization of animals one, is what makes the movie so damn effective.

It’s good it’s effective, no matter what the means, because it’s a really cheap movie. For instance, Lithgow’s only a hunting nut because his father never encouraged his drawing and continues to berate him for even having the interest. The movie’s also a narrative nightmare, with the family playing an important part at the beginning, but then falling off for the middle–when the movie’s mostly about non-speaking extras chasing Harry. Not to mention the son who goes from being important to not between the first and second acts.

The acting is all decent. David Suchet and Don Ameche are both wonderful and participants in two of the film’s three most emotionally manipulative scenes… the one with Ameche actually might not be a manipulation. John Lithgow is mostly okay. He’s believable as the sensitive guy, but not as the gun nut. Melinda Dillon’s unfortunately wasted. Joshua Rudoy’s somewhat irritating as the son. As Harry, Kevin Peter Hall does a great job–though I’m not sure what the puppeteers controlled.

Bruce Broughton’s score sounds almost exactly like the cute parts of Gremlins, which strengthens the informal bond. The technical aspects of the movie are unremarkable, with Allen Daviau’s photography, especially his outdoor photography, being an exception. As for William Dear’s direction… he has some good moments and some not so good ones. Actually, the good ones–when he fits the four family members in frame with Harry–are sometimes excellent.

But the realism, which provides the movie’s easily discernible message, is problematic. It’s just real enough for it not to make sense… it isn’t the existence of the Bigfoot, it’s–first–the reaction of the family (particularly the constantly unbelievable reactions of the daughter) and, second, the ensuing public panic. It just doesn’t make any sense after a certain point… much like the conclusion, which has a big fake ending followed by another set piece. With no real bridge between the two, it’s just another example of the cheapness.

The movie also makes the mistake of dumbing down for kids a little too much, but the positive elements make up for quite a lot.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Dear; written by Dear, Bill Martin and Ezra D. Rappaport; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Donn Cambern; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, James Bissell; produced by Richard Vane and Dear; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Lithgow (George Henderson), Melinda Dillon (Nancy Henderson), Margaret Langrick (Sarah Henderson), Joshua Rudoy (Ernie Henderson), Kevin Peter Hall (Harry), Lainie Kazan (Irene Moffat), Don Ameche (Dr. Wallace Wrightwood) and M. Emmet Walsh (George Henderson Sr.).


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), the director’s cut

This version–now called ‘The Director’s Cut’–originally came out as ‘The Collector’s Edition’ maybe ten years ago (maybe less). The most striking thing about this cut is Dreyfuss’s insanity. In this version, he’s totally nuts… Spielberg edits back in (from the original, excised from the Special Edition) a couple significant scenes. First, showing off Roberts Blossom–one of Dreyfuss’s initial peers–as a complete nut, which is a discreet foreshadowing of when–in the second major addition–Dreyfuss goes completely insane.

One of the significant dilemmas of Close Encounters has always been Roy Neary and his being a bad guy. He goes nuts and drives his family away. In this version, Teri Garr’s put-upon wife is even more put-upon. Where Close Encounters enters in to the unreadable is… well, Dreyfuss isn’t nuts. There isn’t a big reveal at the end when the viewer finds out the UFOs are real and all the pain he’s caused and all the pain he’s suffered are–mildly–justified….

The viewer knows all along Dreyfuss is right and Spielberg manages, in the scenes with the Neary family, to remain impartial. If one stops to think about it, obviously Dreyfuss is a monster. But the film shares his wonder with the viewer and his actions, while indefensible, are completely understandable.

There’s also a lot more ominousness in this version. When Cary Guffey gets taken, it seems a lot scarier, but not for any reasons of addition or subtraction. This echoes at the end, with the silent entrance of the mothership.

The additional scenes give Teri Garr more of an onscreen presence and she’s really great. Melinda Dillon, I probably said it in the Special Edition post, also great. I noticed Truffaut a lot this time too–I don’t think he’s got any extra scenes, but he’s so effective in the last act, it’s a perfect use of him. I’m not sure if Spielberg necessarily got a great performance out of him or just cast him perfectly.

As for Spielberg’s removal of the mothership interior… it really doesn’t change the end result. Close Encounters is on such firm ground, the mothership interior is just a matter of preference….

For example, I’m not actually sure if this cut is better than the special edition.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Gillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary), Adrienne Campbell (Sylvia Neary) and Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary).


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), the special edition

I don’t know where to start with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The jokey open would be something about listing the defects and not having any, but then flipping it and not being able to list everything Spielberg does right because his successes are so difficult to work out, particularly in to an easy-to-read, bullet-pointed list. Spielberg makes strange narrative choices in Close Encounters–to a point of confusion regarding the main storyline of the film… is it Richard Dreyfuss and his personal involvement or is it Francois Truffaut and his official involvement? While Dreyfuss probably has more screen time, quite a bit of that time is spent in expository scenes–introducing the UFOs to the audience, showing the experience of those affected–and then the ending is mostly told from the official point of view. But it never feels funny; Spielberg slaps the two stories together and makes it work–even after, at least for the first two-thirds of the film, it becomes clear we aren’t following Dreyfuss because he’s unique in his experience or even his dedication. Instead, we’re following Dreyfuss because there’s something… I can’t resist… important about his particular experience. It’s something to take a loving family man and remove those components and make him… I don’t know the word. Sympathetic isn’t right, heroic isn’t right. If there’s a word for undeniably correct, that one would be it.

The end of the film–I find it odd it takes place over such a short period of time… the last hour takes place over a day and the first hour probably only a few weeks (something about the readiness of the international response makes it feel like it happens every day)–doesn’t exactly belong somewhere else (it’s a natural conclusion to the story) but there’s an aesthetic beauty to it, a sense of absolute wonderment, missing from the earlier encounter scenes. By the end credits shots of the ship going through space, Spielberg overflows the viewer’s imagination. He shuts it down with too much stimuli, too much possibility–to the point, one can do nothing but sit back and let the film do its work.

Part of–I guess I’ll get to it now–Spielberg’s success, in the 1970s, in his first three films, has to do with his approach to people and how they interact with other people. Sugarland, Jaws, Close Encounters–all of them are visually distinctive in how Spielberg shoots people together at home… People spend time together and, especially in Close Encounters, that time spent is more important to the character than it is to the film. Spielberg shows us people in fantastic situations who are still regular people and it endears them quite significantly. He also has that style to the scenes, deep focus, the composition of the shots, the editing. It’s craftsmanship he seems to have forgotten.

It’s also very big–Close Encounters is very big. The ideas in it are very big and here’s the big change in Spielberg, this film being the best example. Very much like Soderbergh does today, Spielberg used to play to a hypothetical audience–and in Close Encounters, he doesn’t worry about anything. And now all he does is worry….

Have I already said glib in this post? No, it’s the first time. Yay. Close Encounters is Spielberg’s best film and, while watching it, it became acutely obvious how good a filmmaker made this film. At times it reminds of Kane and–nothing specific obviously–I never, even when he’s good or great, tend of Spielberg in those artistic terms… but with Close Encounters, I certainly do.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Gillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary), Adrienne Campbell (Sylvia Neary) and Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary).


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