Mira Sorvino

Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)

Quiz Show is a story about pride and envy. The film’s main plot is about the quiz show scandals in the fifties–big media taking the American public for a ride–and I suppose it could be seen as a loss of innocence thing. But it isn’t.

It’s about pride and envy.

John Turturro’s working class Jewish guy doesn’t have much pride (though he’s gloriously proud of it) and he’s got lots of envy. But not so much for the WASPs, but for more successful Jewish guys. So Rob Morrow’s middle class Jewish guy. Morrow’s character has pride and envy; in this case, it’s envy for the WASPs. Like Ralph Fiennes, who’s got not so much pride but envy. In his case, it’s for his dad–Paul Scofield in a wonderful performance.

There’s a lot about class, there’s a lot about masculinity (the women get what’s going on and try to get their husbands to recognize it to disappointment), there’s a lot about the time period. And screenwriter Paul Attanasio brings it all together beautifully. Quiz Show has an incredibly complex structure, something director Redford and editor Stu Linder fully embrace. Even in its stillest moments, the film is always in motion.

Gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography too.

The leads–Turturro, Morrow and Fiennes–are all excellent. Nice support from David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Allan Rich. Ditto Johann Carlo and Mira Sorvino. Redford’s use of prominent actors and filmmakers in cameo roles works great.

Quiz Show is a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on a book by Richard N. Goodwin; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stu Linder; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, Michael Nozik and Redford; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Mira Sorvino (Sandra Goodwin), Johann Carlo (Toby Stempel) and Allan Rich (Robert Kintner).


Mimic (1997, Guillermo del Toro), the director’s cut

Based on one of the edits, I’m assuming Mimic isn’t exactly a director’s cut (i.e. del Toro finished his cut, the Weinsteins took it and reedited it) as an approximation. He went back and did what he could to make it fit his intent. Maybe there are more examples—I haven’t seen the original cut—but the one I noticed was jarring.

Mimic’s not a bad film, but no one was really trying except the actors. I make that statement assuming Jeremy Northam was trying to be a thinking American action hero… but he just couldn’t do the accent.

The script takes a lot of short cuts. You’re supposed to care about Northam and wife Mira Sorvino because they’re having trouble having a baby.

Sorvino makes Mimic work—her early scenes with sidekick Alix Koromzay do wonders to establish the character.

Having the protagonists be married and in this thriller does show some ingenuity on del Toro’s part. It would work if Northam were good. And if del Toro didn’t have a little autistic kid in danger. del Toro does kill off a couple kids, which is a shock.

The cast is all strong—Giancarlo Giannini as the autistic kid’s guardian, Charles S. Dutton as a transit cop who’s stuck with Northam, Josh Brolin as Northam’s partner.

Oh, I forgot that ludicrous bit. The script has Northam and Brolin acting like movie detectives… only they’re CDC employees.

Great special effects. Terrible Marco Beltrami music. It evens out.

Mimic’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by Matthew Robbins and del Toro, based on a screen story by Robbins and del Toro and the short story by Donald A. Wollheim; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Peter Devaney Flanagan and Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Ole Bornedal, B.J. Rack and Bob Weinstein; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Mira Sorvino (Dr. Susan Tyler), Jeremy Northam (Dr. Peter Mann), Alexander Goodwin (Chuy), Giancarlo Giannini (Manny), Charles S. Dutton (Leonard), Josh Brolin (Josh), Alix Koromzay (Remy), F. Murray Abraham (Dr. Gates), James Costa (Ricky), Javon Barnwell (Davis), Norman Reedus (Jeremy) and Ho Pak-kwong (Preacher).


Barcelona (1994, Whit Stillman)

Barcelona would be, if Whit Stillman had made more than three films and could be accurately categorized, Whit Stillman-lite. The film’s hilarious, with almost every scene ending on a humorous note. These comic moments don’t add up to much. Cousins Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman have a conversation at one point about the lack of critical discussion of text (versus subtext). While one could talk ad nauseam about how Nichols and Eigeman–and their actions–represent the Spanish’s perception of Americans, it–just like their conversation about subtext–is garnish. Barcelona is Stillman’s version of a crowd-pleaser and it’s rather successful as one.

Certain elements of the film–whether it’s Stillman’s way of visualizing flashbacks or emphasizing infatuation with someone looking directly into the camera… and especially Nichols’s narration of the events, which isn’t just illogical in terms of point of view but a very cheap narrative trick to escape non-humorous scenes–don’t work. Nichols is a fine actor and his performance is good, but he’s in no way a protagonist, not even as a joke. Stillman asks a character actor to be Glenn Ford and the result is poor–more confusing is how the viewer is supposed to perceive Nichols. Eigeman is a jerk. He’s very funny, he’s likable, he’s sympathetic, but he’s a jerk. Nichols isn’t funny, isn’t a jerk, but Stillman’s frequently asking the viewer to laugh at him. It’s hard for him to be sympathetic, because the jokes are often on him. Nichols tries his best to play this character, but it doesn’t work out. Stillman gives Eigeman a schtick. It’s like if Laurel and Hardy were Laurel and the other guy. Nichols is the other guy and Stillman doesn’t even know what to do with him. He gets to tell the story, I suppose, but the story should play out instead of being told… something Stillman seems to get by the end, when the narration evaporates.

Stillman does a great job with the location shooting. He rarely treats Barcelona as anything special–there’s one sequence where Nichols gives a disinterested Eigeman a tour, but otherwise Stillman’s passive about the whole thing. The exterior scenes, walking down the street for instance, leave the viewer desperate for a little more time to look around and Stillman doesn’t grant it. There are a couple sumptuous scenes–one at a country house, but the narrative turn of events overshadow any scenery (it’s kind of hard to pay attention to the landscape when one’s eyes are tearing up from laughter), and then one other scene… in America. Barcelona, both as a title and a location, suggest a certain exoticness. Stillman never plays into it and it’s a great choice. His direction, along with the constantly funny dialogue, make the film a joy to watch.

The principal female actors, Tushka Bergen and Mira Sorvino, are both fine. Given their roles, it would have been near impossible for anyone to not do so… unless the performance were really terrible. They’re supposed to be enigmatic and funny and both succeed.

Barcelona‘s a great time. It’s definitely pandering (Stillman certainly didn’t flex any artistic muscles here), but it’s good pandering.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, John Thomas; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, José María Botines; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Chris Eigeman (Fred Boynton), Taylor Nichols (Ted Boynton), Tushka Bergen (Montserrat), Mira Sorvino (Marta), Pep Munné (Ramon), Thomas Gibson (Dickie Taylor) and Jack Gilpin (The Consul).


Beautiful Girls (1996, Ted Demme)

Of the principals, only Michael Rapaport is under thirty (Beautiful Girls hinges on a ten-year high school reunion) and much of the running time can be spent wondering how the viewer is supposed to believe Timothy Hutton isn’t thirty-five years old (he’s actually thirty-six). Hutton gives one of the film’s best performances, frequently transcending the script and its severe deficiencies (almost every event is a sitcom trope). His best scenes are with Noah Emmerich (whose performance is shockingly broad, even in this cast) and Natalie Portman. In their scenes together, both Hutton and Portman stumble through the awkward dialogue and create the film’s only (comparatively) honest relationship.

That relationship doesn’t have to be too real, since every other one in the picture is a hackneyed mess. Screen-“writer” Scott Rosenberg seems to fancy himself a more WASPy Kevin Smith with all the pop culture references. Only Ted Demme’s incredible direction–and it really is fantastic in every area except the film’s writing–saves the film. Besides Demme’s fantastic choice of look and sound for the picture (Adam Kimmel’s photography and David A. Stewart’s score), he also gets a lot of solid little moments in. Max Perlich has almost no function in the script, but under Demme’s direction, his occasional asides are some of the best moments in the film. Rosie O’Donnell basically gets a couple big monologues (I believe these were ghost-written for her; Rosenberg’s unabashedly sexist script doesn’t indicate he’s a feminist), but has some good little moments as well.

Beautiful Girls‘s greatest failings are all script-related, but having some terrible performances doesn’t hurt much either. The three worst performances are from Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman and Lauren Holly. Holly’s got what’s probably the film’s most difficult role and instead she plays it like a poorly articulated mannequin. I know I just got done complementing Demme with actors… but Holly doesn’t have any room for asides. Her character’s all epical, as is Dillon’s. Dillon’s so goofy in the film, it’s like he’s lampooning a former teen actor who can’t catch a break. His character is terribly written (none of the main characters make any sense being in their late twenties… it’s clear they’ve only existed since the end of the opening logo), but even so… Dillon still does a real bad job. Both he and Hutton lower their voices to make them gruff for whatever reason. Hutton it doesn’t work with, but there’s a still a performance backing it up. Dillon doesn’t have that luxury.

Thurman actually should be all fluff material, but the script places so much weight on her character, it’s hilarious to watch her. She’s absolutely incapable of creating even the semblance of a human being. Every one of her scenes is painful to watch.

The best performance is probably Mira Sorvino. She doesn’t have much of a character, but Sorvino essays the role brilliantly.

Otherwise… I guess Martha Plimpton and Pruitt Taylor Vince are both okay. They aren’t bad and they don’t embarrass themselves (why Miramax put Rapaport in this one, I can’t even imagine–he doesn’t have an honest second here).

The only real draw is Demme and his superior talent.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Demme; written by Scott Rosenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by David A. Stewart; production designer, Dan Davis; produced by Cary Woods; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Matt Dillon (Tommy), Michael Rapaport (Paul), Martha Plimpton (Jan), Mira Sorvino (Sharon), Lauren Holly (Darian), Timothy Hutton (Willie), Annabeth Gish (Tracy), Natalie Portman (Marty), Uma Thurman (Andera), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Stanley), Anne Bobby (Sarah), Rosie O’Donnell (Gina), Noah Emmerich (Mo) and Max Perlich (Kev).


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