Mia Farrow

John and Mary (1969, Peter Yates)

Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow are John and Mary, respectively, and they’ve just woken up after spending the night together. They met at a singles bar. Is it going to be a one night stand or is it going to be something more?

Both come with some baggage, though of different varieties. Farrow’s last serious relationship was with a married politican (Michael Tolan); they spent a lot of their time hiding from his family. Hoffman, on the other hand, had a model ex-girlfriend (Sunny Griffin) who moved in with him and wasn’t a good cook. Seeing as Hoffman’s a neat freak and a control freak, it didn’t work out.

John Mortimer’s screenplay uses a handful of techniques to fill in the backstory. For a while, there’s narration from both Hoffman and Farrow–the film takes place over a day, with the narration mostly taking place in the morning–then there are flashbacks (featuring Tolan and Griffin) and daydreams. Director Yates plays with how the flashbacks and daydreams relate to the present action–he and Mortimer end up using them to generate confusion to cause suspense for the viewer, which is effective enough… only it’s a little cheap.

Despite excellent cinematography from Gayne Rescher and production design from John Robert Lloyd–most of the present action takes place in Hoffman’s apartment, with the flashbacks (and daydreams) expanding to New York City–Yates doesn’t have a tempo for any of it. Farrow’s more compelling than Hoffman, but not because of her writing or because of how Yates directs her; she’s sympathetic. From the start, Hoffman’s a jerk. And as the film peels back the onion, he gets jerkier as things progress.

Yates and Mortimer lean the film’s entire weight on the effectiveness of third act reveals, only all those reveals are with the time shift gimmicks. There aren’t any character development reveals. Sure, it’s only a day, but Hoffman and Farrow’s performances don’t gain anything from all the flashback exposition. That particular failing is more Mortimer’s fault than Yates’s, however.

Though if Yates had come up with better–read, any–integration of the film’s various moving parts, he’d probably have been able to compensate.

Instead, John and Mary gets by thanks to Farrow and Hoffman’s performances. She’s got a better character, turns in a better performance. He’s Dustin Hoffman, he’s got some inherent likability–even if the film does sledgehammer away at it, particularly in the first act. When he does get big moments in the script, no one really knows what to do with them. They’re all kind of trite; someone–Yates, Mortimer, or Hoffman–needs to have a handle on the character. None do. Yet Hoffman is still able to get through. He wouldn’t be able to without Farrow.

John and Mary’s not bad. It’s just not successful. Yates is way too blasé about the whole thing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by John Mortimer, based on the novel by Mervyn Jones; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by Frank P. Keller; music by Quincy Jones; production designer, John Robert Lloyd; produced by Ben Kadish; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (John), Mia Farrow (Mary), Michael Tolan (James), Sunny Griffin (Ruth), Stanley Beck (Ernest), and Tyne Daly (Hilary).


Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

From the first scene of Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski establishes the style he’s going to use until the big reveal at the end. He shoots a lot of over-the-shoulder shots with people moving around out of frame, causing a startling effect when the viewer finds out they’re now in a completely different location. He does it in the first scene with Elisha Cook Jr., who might also be there to encourage unease in the viewer.

The film runs over two hours, but never feels long. There’s a lengthy period at the beginning before Mia Farrow–the titular mother–gets pregnant, involving she and husband John Cassavetes moving into a new apartment. It’s sort of a relationship drama at that point. Cassavetes is the struggling actor, Farrow’s his supportive wife. Throw in the odd neighbors–Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer–and there’s nothing particularly ominous about the film.

Except Farrow has these dreams–three times in the film and Polanski does wonders with them. There’s never a question of whether what’s happening to Farrow is real or not; Polanski never has Farrow outright question it either. It’s like he cut all the scenes with her wondering if she’s crazy and just leaves the before and after. It creates a wonderful effect.

Farrow’s amazing, as is Cassavetes. Gordon’s good, but the role’s not hard. Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy are outstanding. At times, Polanski treats Blackmer like the only real person in the picture besides Farrow. Again, great result.

Rosemary’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; screenplay by Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Sam O’Steen and Bob Wyman; music by Krzysztof Komeda; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by William Castle; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse), John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse), Ruth Gordon (Minnie Castevet), Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevet), Maurice Evans (Hutch), Ralph Bellamy (Dr. Sapirstein), Victoria Vetri (Terry), Patsy Kelly (Laura-Louise), Elisha Cook Jr. (Mr. Nicklas), Emmaline Henry (Elise Dunstan), Charles Grodin (Dr. Hill), Hanna Landy (Grace Cardiff), Phil Leeds (Dr. Shand), D’Urville Martin (Diego) and Hope Summers (Mrs. Gilmore).


Supergirl (1984, Jeannot Szwarc), the director’s cut

Supergirl never really had a chance. The Superman-inspired opening credits lack any grandeur, ditto with Jerry Goldsmith’s lame music. Goldsmith improves somewhat throughout, but the lack of a catchy theme song hurts the film.

The film has a few things going for it, however, including Helen Slater in the lead and Szwarc’s direction. A handful of scenes are quite good, hinting at what a better script might have been able to embrace. Unfortunately, David Odell’s script is moronic. He doesn’t just give Supergirl a dumb villain (Faye Dunaway must have been really desperate for work), he doesn’t even give Slater a story arc. There are hints at one–when Slater gets to Earth, she’s finally smarter. The opening (with Mia Farrow and Simon Ward looking embarrassed as Slater’s parents) suggest she’s kind of slow, or at least unfocused.

The trip to Earth, the film can’t help but implying, matures her.

There are also some excellent special effects. Even when the effects don’t work, it isn’t because they’re not competent, it’s because it’s a dumb idea. Dunaway’s an evil witch. It’s a flying superhero versus a witch. There isn’t a lot of room for good action set pieces with that scenario.

Other than Slater, the best performance is probably Hart Bochner as her love interest. He’s not good, just not terrible. I suppose Peter Cook is only embarrassing himself, not bad. Brenda Vaccaro, Jeff to Dunaway’s Mutt, is atrocious.

Slater’s performance deserves a better film. It’s unfortunate Supergirl doesn’t deliver.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by David Odell, based on a character created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Timothy Burrill; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Helen Slater (Kara), Faye Dunaway (Selena), Hart Bochner (Ethan), Brenda Vaccaro (Bianca), Maureen Teefy (Lucy Lane), Peter Cook (Nigel), Simon Ward (Zor-El), Mia Farrow (Alura), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), David Healy (Mr. Danvers) and Peter O’Toole (Zaltar).


Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)

Crimes and Misdemeanors is not a particularly nice film. It juxtaposes two men in crisis–Martin Landau’s successful ophthalmologist has a girlfriend (Angelica Huston) who is threatening to tell his wife and Woody Allen’s failing filmmaker is crushing on the producer (Mia Farrow) of the his project. Allen’s only on the project, a biography of his brother-in-law (Alan Alda), because his wife insisted.

Landau’s part of the film deals with deception, guilt, regret and greed. There’s a lot about faith and rejecting religion and how family ties strengthen and slacken over time. Landau is stunning in Crimes, because he’s not likable, but he’s always sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Allen’s always likable. His first scene is opposite his niece (Jenny Nichols) and he truly cares for the kid. His scenes with her, and his sister (Caroline Aaron), are touching.

His part of the film is a light romantic comedy, if one forgets he’s married (though his wife, played by Joanna Gleason, is hideously evil). Allen and Farrow are good together; Alda’s hilarious as an obnoxious television producer.

Landau gets the majority of the run time, but around the final third is mostly Allen’s. Until the last fifteen minutes, where things come together and Allen tells the morale of the story.

He’s being intentionally mean to his characters and not worrying about the audience recognizing it. Allen’s never confrontational about it, however. The ending quietly shows the extent of the meanness.

Crimes is an excellent, thoughtful picture. Allen’s direction is utterly sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Susan E. Morse; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Robert Greenhut; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Martin Landau (Judah Rosenthal), Woody Allen (Cliff Stern), Mia Farrow (Halley Reed), Anjelica Huston (Dolores Paley), Alan Alda (Lester), Jerry Orbach (Jack Rosenthal), Joanna Gleason (Wendy Stern), Claire Bloom (Miriam Rosenthal), Sam Waterston (Ben), Caroline Aaron (Barbara) and Stephanie Roth (Sharon Rosenthal).


Death on the Nile (1978, John Guillermin)

I’d forgotten John Guillermin directed Death on the Nile. The opening credits, a static shot of the river, suggest a much different experience then the film delivers–between Guillermin directing, Jack Cardiff shooting it and Anthony Shaffer handling the adaptation. I suppose I should have remembered Shaffer also adapted Christie’s Evil Under the Sun to similar result.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the wondrous Nino Rota score, which starts as the titles identify Guillermin as the director.

Unfortunately, Guillermin does very little with the direction here. I suppose he presents a fantastic travelogue of Egypt–how could he not with Cardiff photographing it–but, otherwise, the direction is little different than if he’d been shooting for television. In fact, Death on the Nile often reminded me (when inside) of a British television drama from the seventies.

But the point of these Poirot films isn’t necessarily the filmmaking or the writing, it’s the all star cast–it must be the cast, since relatively nothing happens for the first hour. And the cast is decent, but somewhat unspectacular, as the roles don’t give any actor much to do.

Mia Farrow is best, since her role gives her a lot of range, and Maggie Smith and Bette Davis are amusing as they bicker. But young lovers Jon Finch and Olivia Hussey? They’re genial, pointless additions.

Particularly–and sadly–useless is David Niven, who plays sidekick to Peter Ustinov’s tepid Poirot. Ustinov plays him here without flair, which is, like everything else, disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, based on the novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by John Brabourne and Richard B. Goodwin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Jane Birkin (Louise Bourget), Lois Chiles (Linnet Ridgeway), Bette Davis (Mrs. Van Schuyler), Mia Farrow (Jacqueline De Bellefort), Jon Finch (Mr. Ferguson), Olivia Hussey (Rosalie Otterbourne), I.S. Johar (Manager Of The Karnak), George Kennedy (Andrew Pennington), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Salome Otterbourne), Simon MacCorkindale (Simon Doyle), David Niven (Colonel Race), Maggie Smith (Miss Bowers), Jack Warden (Dr. Bessner), Harry Andrews (Barnstaple) and Sam Wanamaker (Rockford).


The Ex (2007, Jesse Peretz)

The Ex reminds me of a 1980s comedy, but maybe not. Maybe more a 1990s comedy. I knew it did, but I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized it’s all about the information given the viewer. The Ex starts in New York and moves to Ohio in the first seven and a half minutes and there’s no establishing and no confusion. Regardless of the title and the trailer–the film’s original title, Fast Track, is better but not quite right either–the film doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s a slight, amusing comedy about a couple orienting themselves with a baby. I wasn’t expecting Amanda Peet to be in the film much as a lead, but she and Braff are really partners. Their days are juxtaposed and The Ex has got a really nice present action too–it takes place over about a week. Five days, not seven.

As a leading comedic actor, Zach Braff is amazing. I’ve never seen him in anything before (I tried watching “Scrubs,” but after five minutes I was dislocating my shoulder going for the remote) but from the first second, he runs this film. I can’t even think of a comparable leading comedic actor (except maybe late 1970s Chevy Chase). It’s a joy to watch him. But then Peet shows up and she’s got her own thing going and she’s fantastic too. I always say how much I like her but before The Ex, I’d only seen her in two things. Now it’s three. They’re perfect together.

Jason Bateman. Remember when one thought “The Hogan Family” hearing his name? Now, it’d be “Arrested Development.” It’s never going to be The Ex one thinks about, but it’s going to be something in the future. Bateman acts with this ease and self-assurance–it’s like a comedic De Niro (back when De Niro was good).

Maybe the performances are why The Ex works as well as it does. Charles Grodin shows up as Peet’s father and he’s got some funny moments, but mostly it’s just a Charles Grodin supporting role. Donal Logue’s funny in his bit. But the three leads command the viewer’s attention like leads are supposed to command a viewer’s attention.

The Ex is so fleet-footed it races past some bad traditional comedy snags, but also some requisite storytelling ones. A lot is inferred in a few moments, including things like character motivation. I think the filmmakers realized it too, because they take care of it real quick at the end.

I’d complain it should go longer, but the film’s thin–it has maybe three subplots, with one of them contributing heavily to the main action–and it gets out at just the right time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jesse Peretz; written by David Guion and Michael Handelman; director of photography, Tom Richmond; edited by Tricia Cooke, Jeff McEvoy and John Michel; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, John Paino; produced by Anthony Bergman, Marc Butan, Anne Carey and Ted Hope; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Zach Braff (Tom Reilly), Amanda Peet (Sofia Kowalski), Jason Bateman (Chip Sanders), Charles Grodin (Bob Kowalski), Mia Farrow (Amelia Kowalski), Donal Logue (Don Wollebin) and Amy Poehler (Carol Lane).


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