Michael Keaton

The Squeeze (1987, Roger Young)

I was wondering why, for such a cheap-ish movie, The Squeeze looks so good. Its budget almost doubled, allowing for some really expensive looking sequences on an aircraft carrier, a decent amount of New York photography and… I don’t know, something else. It also almost starred Jenny Wright in the Rae Dawn Chong part, which would have been an improvement of sorts (Mrs. Potato Head would have given a more animate performance than Chong) but not enough of one to make the movie work.

Some of The Squeeze, the parts centering around Chong, seem to be an attempt at a 1940s detective comedy updated to modernity. The parts with Michael Keaton (who’s either an artist or an inventor, it’s never clear) make absolutely no sense. His character makes no sense and seems dropped into the movie, rather than the movie being the story of his life’s most interesting four days. It’s too bad the beginning with Keaton opens well, as he rambles on about “Bonanza,” I thought The Squeeze might be some weird forerunner to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino.

Alas, it is not.

Chong’s performance is so awful, it’d take a line-by-line analysis to appropriately discuss it. Keaton’s okay. He’s best in the first act, when the movie could conceivably go anywhere and at the end, when the conclusion inadvertently shows how the movie could have worked. As Keaton’s friend, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy, but not in it enough. Meat Loaf plays a thug with a sweating problem. It’s a big joke throughout and is maybe the best metaphor for the film’s failure.

On the other hand, Richard Portnow plays a (seemingly) gay Puerto Rican club owner and is great.

As soon as The Squeeze went bad, I had to debate whether or not to finish it. There was nothing compelling me to finish it, so I had to decide if it would be a complete waste of my time….

The big conclusion on the aircraft carrier is kind of neat and the movie, in the third act, all of a sudden decides its going to offer commentary on modern American values… and I guess the close is kind of funny.

But it certainly didn’t live up to the “Bonanza” conversation of the beginning.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Young; written by Daniel Taplitz; director of photography, Arthur Albert; edited by Harry Keramidas; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Simon Waters; produced by Rupert Hitzig and Michael Tannen; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Harry Berg), Rae Dawn Chong (Rachel Dobs), Joe Pantoliano (Norman), Meat Loaf (Titus), John Davidson (Tom T. Murray), Ronald Guttman (Rigaud), Leslie Bevis (Gem Vigo), George Gerdes (Joe) and Richard Portnow (Ruben).


The Paper (1994, Ron Howard)

For a painfully brief period in the 1990s, Ron Howard was one of the best filmmakers working. It didn’t last. The Paper kicked off his run. Howard and the Koepp brothers (I can’t remember for sure, but I think Stephen worked at a newspaper) imbue the film with the traditional Hollywood newspaper movie idealism, but also enough modern cynicism to make the film fit for human consumption. Actually, the traditional Hollywood newspaper has always had the commercialism conflict, in The Paper personified by Michael Keaton and Glenn Close’s printing press fistfight, but along with the rest, it all somehow seems fresh. The rest is Robert Duvall’s aged newspaperman paying the various prices for his life, Marisa Tomei worrying about having her imminent baby with workaholic Keaton, Randy Quaid as a griping, indifferent columnist, and, of course, Jack Kehoe’s search for a comfortable chair. Howard’s special touch was bringing a heartening sense to his films without ever pandering. He could make a movie where a doorman could worry about a tenant in a medical crisis without it coming across as mawkish.

But there’s the technical aspect one shouldn’t ignore. The Paper takes place over a day, twenty-four hours, and while there are occasional visual errors, Howard and cinematographer John Seale do a beautiful job creating that day with wonderful skies. When Tomei is on the street, talking to Keaton on her cellphone, you can feel the warm New York evening. The editing is also very nice–and the Randy Newman score (there is, of course, a Randy Newman song over the end credits too), but the score sets the perfect tone for the film. It’s that extinct drama… the adult comedy.

All of the Koepp brothers’ dialogue is great, so much so, it’s strange David never came back to dialogue-heavy movies. Their characters–and here’s an odd compliment–are just sparse enough the actors can bring defining features to them, since the story doesn’t have any room for them (as written) except as figures moving throughout the story. The newspaper story, the one Keaton can’t get wrong, unfolds wonderfully. The plotting being good, I can figure that one from Koepp, but the dialogue just seems odd coming from him.

The acting is all fantastic. It’s one of Keaton’s best performances, it’s probably Tomei’s best. Randy Quaid’s good in the smallest of the principal roles, but he does get a great payoff at the end. Duvall’s great. Glenn Close probably has the most complicated role and she’s the only one with a eureka moment and she pulls it off. The supporting cast, with Kehoe maybe being the most memorable, is also fantastic. Roma Maffia and Lynne Thigpen being the other two standouts, but they’re all great.

The Paper is largely, I’m guessing because of the cast, forgotten. There’s a lousy pan and scan DVD in the United States and Howard’s shown no interest in the last ten years in forcing an acceptable release. It’s got a place in film history–one of the forgotten films of the 1990s (it won no major Oscars and did not make over a $150 million), an ever growing category and maybe the most depressing–but it really ought to be known for its excellence, not as an entry on a list or as a footnote. It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by David Koepp and Stephen Koepp; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Daniel Hanley and Michael Hill; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Brian Grazer and Frederick Zollo; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Henry Hackett), Robert Duvall (Bernie White), Glenn Close (Alicia Clark), Marisa Tomei (Martha Hackett), Randy Quaid (Michael McDougal), Jason Robards (Graham Keighley), Jason Alexander (Marion Sandusky), Spalding Gray (Paul Bladden), Catherine O’Hara (Susan), Lynne Thigpen (Janet), Jack Kehoe (Phil), Roma Maffia (Carmen), Clint Howard (Ray Blaisch), Geoffrey Owens (Lou) and Amelia Campbell (Robin).


Quicksand (2003, John Mackenzie)

Most of Quicksand plays like a multi-national mystery from the 1970s, filled with familiar faces (or a few familiar faces anyway). About three-quarters of it, approximately. There’s good and bad stuff in those seventy minutes. Michael Keaton’s excellent, which isn’t surprising. Michael Caine shows up for what appears to be a small role (it gets bigger later) and has a fun time. He’s playing a washed up action star who’s too busy drinking and gambling to realize his career’s over. Kathleen Wilhoite and Xander Berkeley also have small roles–the plot moves Keaton from New York to the south of France for the dramatics and, presumably, cheaper location shooting–and both are great. There’s also Rade Serbedzija, in an unfortunately mediocre role. He’s fine, but it’s just a lame character. Unfortunately, the female lead–Judith Godrèche–cannot emote while speaking English. It’s obvious the first time she tries and, after that scene, she always has tears (Visine?) to show she’s upset.

But something happens once Caine becomes more integral to the plot. Quicksand all of a sudden gets neat. The script is very standard thriller fare and, in most ways, the resolution isn’t Archimedes hopping out of the tub, but it’s well-constructed and works.

In the last fourth (maybe third, I didn’t time the end credits), Berkeley gets a much bigger role–Quicksand might be one of his best performances and, given what a solid actor he is, it’s saying something. It’s a simple role–the friend–and he does it perfectly. Godrèche doesn’t really get any better, but the plot requires different things from her and she becomes more appealing.

When the film closes, it’s on a strange uptick, like it took a short cut to an ending it didn’t quite “earn,” but maybe getting to those places and getting a pass on the question means it did.

It’s not a particularly compelling mystery and Mackenzie somehow makes the south of France boring, so I spent a lot of time bemoaning the lack of more Keaton films. (Someone thought, at some point in production, the film was going to get a theatrical release, because they spent money on the casting agency). And then it gradually improves after a point, going from a standard thriller (which seem consigned to direct-to-DVD these days) to a moderately pleasant surprise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Mackenzie; screenplay and screen story by Timothy Prager, based on a novel by Desmond Lowden; director of photography, Walter McGill; edited by Graham Walker; music by Hal Lindes and Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Jon Bunker; produced by Jim Reeve; released by First Look International.

Starring Michael Keaton (Martin Raikes), Michael Caine (Jake Mellows), Judith Godrèche (Lela Forin), Rade Serbedzija (Oleg Butraskaya), Matthew Marsh (Michel Cote), Xander Berkeley (Joey Patterson), Kathleen Wilhoite (Beth Ann), Rachel Ferjani (Rachel), Elina Löwensohn (Vannessa), Clare Thomas (Emma) and Hermione Norris (Sarah).


The Dream Team (1989, Howard Zieff)

I’d forgotten how loud comedies could get. Maybe I haven’t seen enough eighties comedies lately, because watching The Dream Team, I kept wondering how I’d never noticed the music in the film before. I saw The Dream Team back on video, probably in 1990–Michael Keaton as Batman might not have been box office dollars, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who rented his movies thanks to the role. I probably haven’t seen it in ten plus years, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film.

It’s hard not to have one, however, since The Dream Team is so nice. Even the dirty, murderous cops are kind of nice (to a point). The Dream Team takes place in a pseudo-reality but isn’t set there, which makes for an odd experience at times. So much of the film is effortless, I don’t think–besides that tone–I ever noticed the direction once, or even the writing, past some issues with the story structure. It’s a benign experience–one with audible laughs, but it’s so mild an exercise, I almost think there should be a genre called the “Imagine Entertainment Comedy.” They could get a trademark for it and everything.

The comedic acting from Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, Stephen Furst, and even Christopher Lloyd is all great. I was most surprised at Lloyd, only because I’m used to him being so bad. Boyle’s absolutely fantastic and has most of the film’s best lines. Dennis Boutsikaris leaves an impression because he seems like he should have done more–high profile roles–but has not. Lorraine Bracco’s in it too and it was funny I had to think about her original Hollywood film career and how it disappeared so quickly. On the other hand, it reminded me how good at comedy Keaton is….

The Dream Team is actually something of a relic–not just of when comedies used to not be so bad, but when studios still somehow made uninteresting projects interesting, either through casting or production. It’s just worth seeing for the performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; written by Jon Connolly and David Loucka; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by C. Timothy O’Meara; music by David McHugh; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Christopher W. Knight; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Billy Caulfield), Christopher Lloyd (Henry Sikorsky), Peter Boyle (Jack McDermott), Stephen Furst (Albert Ianuzzi), Dennis Boutsikaris (Dr. Weitzman), Lorraine Bracco (Riley), Milo O’Shea (Dr. Newald), Philip Bosco (O’Malley) and James Remar (Gianelli).


Game 6 (2005, Michael Hoffman)

In many ways, Game 6 is the Michael Keaton movie I’ve been waiting ten years to see. He’s the lead, it isn’t a comedy, he’s got a grown kid, it ought to be a return to form. It’s a mildly high profile film, or at least it should have been, as Don DeLillo wrote it. It isn’t high profile though. A film written by DeLillo–or any fiction writer of his stature–won’t excite filmgoers, who tend to shun good literature, and won’t excite fiction readers, who tend to dismiss film as a lesser narrative medium. Unfortunately, Game 6 isn’t a positive example of fiction writers doing films. While DeLillo’s script is good and he’s got some great scenes in the film, too much of what’s going on isn’t going on–in prose, looking at a couple guys sitting on a couch on the street can mean something. In a film, it’s a couple guys sitting on a couch on the street. There are a lot of those moments in the film. Still, I wanted it to work. It’s short, eighty-some minutes, but full of content. Had it worked, I’d be ringing a bell (actually, I probably already rung that bell with Personal Velocity and look how well Rebecca Miller turned out).

Game 6 not working isn’t DeLillo’s fault. While the script gets distracted (and too conventional in the end), the film fails because of Michael Hoffman. Game 6 needs a director who can range from conventional to hallucinatory. Hoffman fails. He can’t create a visually interesting film, much less a visually representation of Keaton’s character’s perception of the world around him. With a stronger director, and maybe eighty-sixing the terrible radio jockey dialogue, Game 6 would have worked out. It has an impeccable cast. Keaton hasn’t been this good in ten years and Griffin Dunne hasn’t been this good ever. Then, near the end, DeLillo sticks Dunne in a TV and has him talk to Keaton and Hoffman didn’t think not to do it (as much as it needed a more visually empathic director, Game 6 needed one who could say no to the higher profile writer). Robert Downey Jr. is a little bit less than he can be–he’s fine enough for the film, but he’s on autopilot, as Hoffman can’t direct his most important scene.

Messing up a film set in a day, in New York City, about a bunch of Red Sox fans during the last game of the World Series should be impossible. I suppose it’s not all Hoffman’s fault. DeLillo skimps on the father-daughter relationship stuff and it end being more important than anything else. Hoffman could have fixed it. A better director would have.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; written by Don DeLillo; director of photography, David M. Dunlap; edited by Camilla Toniolo; music by Yo La Tengo; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, Leslie Urdang and Christina Weiss Lurie; released by Kindred Media Group.

Starring Michael Keaton (Nicky Rogan), Griffin Dunne (Elliot Litvak), Shalom Harlow (Paisley Porter), Bebe Neuwirth (Joanna Bourne), Catherine O’Hara (Lillian Rogan), Harris Yulin (Peter Redmond) and Robert Downey Jr. (Steven Schwimmer).


Scroll to Top